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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. Post-BDM. Mal faces the tunnels again, while the others have their own problems. NEW CHAPTER
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1939 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
The heat hadn’t dissipated on Aegis, and Mal vaguely wondered why he thought it might have. His shirt was already sticking to his back, and as the small group of men made their way down the path towards the mouth of the gorge of all of them only River looked at all comfortable. But that young woman would look comfortable in the middle of hell, Mal considered. He caught her smiling at him, something rather disconcerting in a situation like this.
I have a plan.
Oh, good. He waited for her to elaborate but she didn’t, and Cody jabbed him in the back with Vera to urge him forwards.
Prater was sweating profusely, feeling the wound in his chest nagging with every wrong footfall on the uneven ground. “Couldn’t you have landed us closer?” he complained.
Cody wiped his face on his sleeve. “There isn’t anywhere flatter close enough.”
“You could always have stayed behind,” Mal said lightly. “I’d have brought the statue to you.”
“Yeah, right.” Prater’s tone would have withered the Garden of Eden.
“What, don’t you trust me?”
“Not in a million years. You might have an arsenal hidden in that temple.”
Mal shook his head. “Terrible thing, to lose trust in your fellow man.” He stumbled over a loose rock and barely managed to right himself in time. “Be easier with my hands free,” he commented.
“Just keep going.” Prater skidded on some scree himself, and drew a sharp breath, wincing.
“You should have let Simon take a look at that,” Mal said. “He’s actually a pretty good doctor for a traitor.”
“Then he’ll fetch a high price. Terraforming ships are always looking for medics.”
“Then you’re not planning on letting him and the others go?”
“I’m still considering it.”
“Course you are.”
River had been staring at Cody, and as they finally reached the coolness of the gorge, she began to mutter to herself. Only one word in ten made sense, but those Prater heard drew his attention.
“… sister … betrayal … theft … blood … ship … run …”
“What’s she going on about?” Prater demanded after a couple of minutes.
Mal shrugged. “My albatross? Not sure. She’s not got exactly a strong hold on reality, truth be told, and having a baby’s loosened it more’n a tad.”
“Kinda depends on your definition of the word.” Mal laughed. “I guess the wind’s from the north.”
“You not up on your Shakespeare, Reed? Can I call you Reed? I feel like we’re old friends, the amount of time you’ve spent trying to kill me.”
“You’re crazier than she is.”
“That’s a distinct possibility,” Mal agreed. “Except she’s pretty good at reading folks.”
“What do you mean?”
As they stepped out into the direct sunlight again outside the carved stone façade of Ling Miao, River turned and fixed Prater with her huge dark eyes, like bottomless pools that led into infinity. “Twin souls planning to take what isn’t theirs. Leave bodies in blood. His quietus make with a bare bodkin.”
Prater stared at her, then shot a glare at Cody, who looked innocent.
“You said it yourself, Boss. She’s crazy.” The young man shrugged.
“Yeah, I did, didn’t I?” He continued to contemplate Cody as they reached the entrance, where he paused and turned to one of the other two men they had with them. “Vann, you stay here. Keep an eye on things.”
Vann, tall, bulky and bristling with weapons, nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“And if anyone - and I mean anyone - comes out and I ain’t with them, kill them. Dong mah?”
Vann pulled his rifle around so it nestled in the crook of his arm. “Understood.”
“Boss -” Cody began to protest.
“Just taking precautions,” Prater said, cutting him off. “Come on. We don’t got all day.”
“Technically we do as the planet is in geosynchronous orbit so the day lasts continuously, although saying it would be forever is a misnomer as eventually the sun will decay and the probability is that it will expand to engulf all the planets within a specified area.” River looked at the various expressions on the men’s faces. “I was just saying,” she added, walking into the darkness of the temple.
Mal hid a smile and followed her.
Ethan could feel his father was off ship, and Auntie River was with him. They were neither of them as worried as they had been, and he could almost hear them planning and plotting what to do. It meant he could concentrate on his mother and the others. Bethie was in the shuttle, but wasn’t going to be any help. The woman Sadie was with her, and she was a sucking pit of darkness. Ethan pulled back, feeling guilty for taking down his mental walls, but knowing he had to do something. And maybe, now the bad men were split up, he could.
In the cargo bay Hank was trying to get comfortable, but not succeeding. He stifled a moan as his back spasmed again.
“I’m sorry,” Simon said.
“What for? You didn’t do this.”
“But I can’t give you a painkiller.”
Hank managed a smile. “I’ll live.”
Burkett, the man with the gun watching them, stirred. “You keep quiet,” he ordered.
“We’re just talking,” Zoe said. “Can’t do anyone any harm just talking.”
“And I’m telling you to shut up.”
Simon wriggled. “If you’d let me get him a painkiller, I could -”
The gun swung in his direction. “You wanna be needing a doctor yourself?”
“Not … particularly.”
“Then just keep that pretty mouth of yours closed.”
“Can you at least tell me our children are okay?” Kaylee asked, her face drawn.
“Sadie’s looking after ‘em. That’s all you need to know.” Burkett gestured again. “Now quiet.”
Simon sighed and glanced toward Jayne, who hadn’t said a word, which somewhat surprised the young doctor. Then he saw what the big man was looking at. Jasper had left his knife on top of one of the crates after he’d cut Mal and River’s ankle bindings. Just lying there, the light glinting along its sharp edge. Simon could almost hear Jayne’s mind working. He glanced around, wondering if anyone else had noticed, then saw the intensely worried look on Freya’s face. Her eyes were unfocused, staring into nothing, and she had bitten her lip so hard a trickle of blood ran down her chin.
Frey? he thought as hard as he could. What’s wrong?
She turned her face towards him, and his heart missed a beat.
On the bridge Jasper was checking out some of the sites Cody had talked about from the Cortex logs. One in particular had caught his attention.
“… and it is said that sharp and sudden death awaits those who disturb the temple of Ling Miao, while blood is all that will cleanse the taint of the cursed luck that follows anyone who removes the plaque.”
Jasper shivered. Curses. All he needed. They should have … He thought he heard a slight noise behind him and began to turn, then shook his head. Just his imagination. That was all.
If only Prater had listened to him. They could have killed Reynolds and been on their way by now, a hold full of slaves to sell in the markets on the outer Rim. Or better yet, just put it all down to experience and taken that job Kin Po had offered. Yeah, that would have been best. Left Reynolds and his crew to the curse of Ling Miao.
Need to help, Mama.
Go back, Ethan. For God’s sake, go back!
Want to help. Have to.
Ethan, you do what I say and go back to your sister. Or your Daddy will be angry.
He’s not here. I’m the man of the ship now, Mama, and I’m coming.
“Ethan?” Simon mouthed, then swallowed hard when Freya nodded, a barely noticeable drop of her head. Her eyes flickered to the doorway to the common area.
Hank glanced towards Burkett, who at that moment was examining something he’d unearthed from his nose. He coughed. “So you think your boss is gonna let us go?” he asked.
Burkett looked up, wiping his finger down his shirt. “How the hell do I know? Far as I’m concerned he can leave you here or toss you out the airlock once we’re in space.”
Jayne grunted. “Not like Mal hasn’t threatened to do that more’n once.”
“Not to me,” Hank said. “I didn’t do anything to make him that angry at me.”
“No?” Jayne shook his head. “Like you didn’t leave Zoe here while she was in labour to go gallivanting off to town to get into a fight?”
“That wasn’t the same.”
“We still had to come and drag you out.”
“Enough talking,” Burkett interrupted.
They ignored him. “I’m surprised you weren’t off with some whore or other while River was giving birth.” Hank went on quickly, “And how could you do that anyway? You don’t know who they’ve been with.”
“Probably people like me.”
“You say that like it’s a good thing?”
“I said shut up!” Burkett swung his rifle around.
From the corner of his eye Jayne could see a small, frightened face peering from the hatchway. “Make me,” he said.
Burkett moved forward, the gun raising, butt first. As he passed the girls, Kaylee suddenly jabbed her feet out, her workboots landing solidly on his knee. He yowled and went down, his head in range of Simon, who kicked him with clinical precision just behind the ear. Burkett lay still.
“He dead?” Hank asked quietly.
“Still breathing,” Simon replied.
Ethan ran through the doorway. “Mama?”
“The knife,” Jayne said quickly, nodding towards the crate. “Cut me free.”
The little boy picked up the blade, but shook his head. “Mama first.” He knelt by her feet, starting to saw through her bonds.
“What the hell’s going on down there?” Sadie called, stepping out of the shuttle and looking over the railing. Her eyes widened as she saw the little boy, the captain’s son, intent on releasing his mother. “No!” she shouted, bringing her gun up.
“Ethan!” Kaylee yelled, throwing herself forward to try and put her own body between him and the bullet.
Suddenly a small figure barrelled out of the shuttle, and Bethie shouted, “Leave him alone!” She caught Sadie in the back of the knees, propelling her over the edge.
She attempted to twist in mid-air, but landed on the deck on her back, the wind knocked out of her, the gun clattering from her fingers. As she tried to drag air into protesting lungs, it gave Freya enough time to snap the bindings around her ankles, and she was on her feet in a moment, crossing to the fallen woman and dropping onto her chest, one knee in her throat.
Sadie began to struggle, but she was still dazed from the fall, and Freya wasn't about to let her up. Her face began to congest, hands scrabbling at her assailant, trying to get a purchase on her pants, her shirt, anything to make her stop. She stared into the face above her, trying desperately to make her see she was just a girl, just following orders, just doing what she was told, but the look in Freya’s eyes was merciless.
You threatened my children, Sadie heard in her mind. You don’t get forgiveness.
The shock of a voice amongst her thoughts galvanised her more. Kicking hard, she managed to lift her body enough to reach the knife in the back of her pants, and she ripped it free, about to plunge it into the other woman.
“No,” Jayne said, throwing himself forward, all of his own weight coming down on the hand holding the weapon.
Sadie would have screamed if she could have gotten enough breath, feeling bones break in her wrist.
“Enough,” Freya said, leaning forward. There was an audible crack that echoed from wall to wall, and Sadie convulsed then went limp.
The cargo bay was shocked into silence, save for Freya’s hard breathing as she sat back and a smothered sob from Kaylee. Eventually Jayne rolled away from the body and struggled into a sitting position.
“Ethan,” he said softly. “You come cut me free, okay?” The little boy didn’t move, just stared at his mother. “Ethan.” Still nothing. “Hey, big feller. I need your help here.”
Finally the boy dragged his eyes to his Uncle Jayne. “Is … is she …”
“You don’t need to worry about that,” Jayne said, gentleness no-one had ever heard in his tone. “You come cut me loose.”
Ethan swallowed. “’Kay.” He hurried to Jayne’s back, sawing through the ties in a moment.
“That’s a good boy,” the big man said, taking the knife and cutting the bindings around his ankles. Immediately he stood, picking Ethan up and taking him to the stairs. “Now I need you to go with Bethie. Need you to take care of all the babies, okay?”
“She in the hiding place in your bunk?”
“Then she’s safe for now. You go look after the others. Dong mah?”
Ethan nodded. “’Kay.” His eyes strayed towards the body.
“No, Ethan. You don’t do that. That’s not for you to see. We’ll take care of it. Now you’ve got a job to do. Go do it.” He put the boy on the stairs. “Go on.”
“Yes, Uncle Jayne.” Ethan ran up to Bethie, grabbing her hand and dragging her into the shuttle.
“What the hell …” Jasper, having heard the commotion, had come down from the bridge and now stood in the open doorway.
Jayne scooped up Sadie’s discarded gun in a flash and pointed it at the man above. “You got two choices. You come down here and cut the rest free, or I shoot you and do it myself. Which’d you prefer?”
Jasper slowly raised his hands.
The sound of blood bubbling through a fractured throat finally ceased.
“Told you that wasn’t the way,” Mal said, leaning on the wall. “But do you listen? No.” He crossed his arms. They’d had to cut him free in the hall of the skulls so he could go into the tunnel. It was amazing just how much he could get away with because they were torn between ultimate avarice and total distrust, and that very fact had allowed him to relax a little. He saw River smile.
Cody stepped gingerly back through the centre tunnel. “Can I shoot him? Just a little bit. In the leg or something.”
“You do that and I won’t be in a position to show you anything,” Mal pointed out.
“Gorramit,” Prater mumbled, dragging the com unit from his pocket. “Vann.” He waited for a moment. “Vann.” There was no response. “Jasper. Hun zhang, anyone?”
“They can’t hear you,” River said. “The striations in the rock throw all electromagnetic waves into flux and if there is the slightest alteration in the signal strength -”
“The coms don’t work down here,” Mal translated. “Had the same problem myself.”
“And you didn’t say?”
“You didn’t ask.”
“Just a flesh wound,” Cody was almost begging.
Prater took a deep breath, holding it for as long as he could before releasing it slowly. “Which way?” he finally asked.
“To the right.” Mal extended an arm. “After you.”
Mal shrugged and started forward down the tunnel, feeling River at his back. Plan?
Soon. And don‘t make faces.
Just to be contrary he continued his eye roll.
It was only a few minutes and they were at the end chamber.
“Don’t step on the sill,” River warned.
“Why, what happens?” Cody asked, looking down.
“I don’t know.”
He glared at her, and she had no problems reading what he wanted to do to her. Her nose wrinkled in disgust.
Mal moved carefully into the room and to one side, River following him to stand close. Prater and Cody took huge steps over the rough edge of the opening then stood immobile, staring at the statue. The sunlight still angled down through the vent, making the gems sparkle, the gold luminous, aching to be touched. Even Mal, knowing it wasn’t real, that it was a trap, could feel the tug of need.
Cody coughed slightly. “Boss, we just gonna stand here and admire it, or what?”
Prater dragged his gaze from the prize, and looked across at Mal. “Plaque first?” he asked.
Mal nodded. “Deactivates something or other,” he lied glibly. “Give it to me. I’ll -”
“No.” Prater pointed at River. “She can do it.”
“You really don’t trust me at all, do you?” Mal said, a half-smile playing around his lips.
“Not even a little bit. Cody.”
The young man drew his knife, stepping behind River and cutting the ties around her wrists. “Make one wrong move and you’ll regret it, sweetheart.” He ran the edge of his blade up her forearm, not breaking the skin, just promising.
“Not yours,” she responded, rubbing her wrists. She turned to Prater. “Well?”
Prater handed her the plaque, and for just a moment she studied it, hearing the screams in her head.
“What was that?” Cody asked, turning on his heel to stare down the dark tunnel.
“Nothing,” she said, crossing the chamber and putting it into the waiting niche. “It’s happy to be home,” she added as she stepped away until her back was against the wall.
“You really are crazy,” Cody said, the skin crawling up his spine as she smiled sweetly at him.
Prater licked his lips. “Now for the statue.”
“Boss, wait. What if it’s a trap?” Cody shook his head. “I mean, it’s just sitting there. What if -”
Mal looked over at River, who blinked, just once. “For the love of … I’ll get it,” he said, moving forward.
“No,” Prater ordered. “You stay right where you are. Cody, cover them. I’ll get it.”
“Do what you’re told!”
Mal glanced quickly at River as the man reached for the gold statue.
Against the wall, he heard her say in his mind.
As Prater touched the metal, pulling it towards him, Mal moved back, feeling the rough stone scrape his shoulders even as he became aware of a small vibration running through the rock.
“Boss …” Cody warned. “I really don’t think -”
“It’s beautiful,” Prater breathed, taking the weight more. Then there was nothing beneath his feet as a large section of floor dropped away, and he was falling, a scream ripped from his throat. “Help me!”
Mal leaned gingerly forward and looked into the hole. Four or five feet down there was a spur of rock, and Prater had managed to grab hold. “Huh.”
“Help me!” Prater shouted again. “Cody! Help me!” He could feel his hands slipping.
Cody tried to move, but it was as if he was trying to walk against a high wind. Each time he lifted a foot to swing it forwards, something pushed at him, and he stepped back instead. Staring wildly about, his gaze landed on River, whose dark eyes were fixed unblinking on him. He tried to bring his gun around, to shoot her, stop whatever it was she was doing, but his muscles didn’t want to obey him. Instead he was moving slowly, inexorably, backwards towards the doorway. “Stop it,” he ground out between clenched teeth. “Chou bi.”
Just one word, and he felt terror wash through him. Another step back, and his foot pressed down onto the sill of the opening.
“River, what are you -” Mal began, but stopped as a sound like a small explosion echoed through the chamber, and he turned towards Cody Dean.
The young man was standing still, his eyes wide, startled, his mouth open. He looked down at the front of his shirt, where it had been pushed forward without breaking the fabric. He touched it gently, almost reverently.
Mal watched in horrified fascination as something dripped onto the tented material, and even before Cody looked up he knew it was blood, slipping in thick streams from a mouth full with it. The youthful killer tried to say something, to get words out past the liquid pulsing into his throat, drowning him, but nothing would come. Finally, like a tree cut at its base, he fell forwards, dead before he hit the ground.
“He would have slaughtered us all,” River said quietly, picking Vera up from where she had fallen from nerveless fingers.
“I know, xiao nu,” Mal replied, staring at the wooden stake driven clean through the young man’s body. He turned back to the hole in the floor, stepping carefully to the edge.
Prater glared at him. “Is he dead?” he asked.
“’Less he can get up and dance with a hole the size of my fist through him, yeah, I’d pretty much have to say he is.” Mal squatted down onto his heels. “Which more or less leaves you.”
“Help me out.”
“Because you’re not a murderer.” Prater’s fingers slipped and he had to scrabble to hold on. He risked a glance behind, down the pit, catching a glimpse of sharp stakes in the bright shaft of sunlight. One had a skull attached, the point piercing the empty eye socket. “You didn’t kill me before. You won’t this time.”
“You threatened my family. All of them, even my children.” Mal felt a cold thread run down his belly. “You would have sold them as slaves. Apart from what you had planned for me.” He put his head onto one side. “And you think I should save you?” He stood up and brushed his hands down his pants. “Jayne says I’m too sentimental. If he were here he’d be thinking I was going to get River to hand me the backpack, undo the straps and use it as a rope so you could climb out.” He paused. “He’d be wrong. River, give me Vera.”
She held it out to him wordlessly.
Prater swallowed. “So you’re going to kill me anyway?”
Mal shook his head. “No. Like you said, I ain’t a murderer.” Leaning forward over the hole, Mal knew he was right. The length of the Callahan gave him enough reach for the end of the barrel to touch the gold statue, and he was able to push it back into its niche. In front of him the stone floor began to grind back up into place.
“No!” Prater shouted. “You can’t! Reynolds! You can’t do this! Rey-” His screaming voice was cut off.
Mal turned to look at River. “Think he can get out?”
“Still got that feller out the front to get past, though.”
“I think he’s already been dealt with.”
“Yeah?” He raised one eyebrow. “They okay?”
“Waiting for us.”
“Then how come I can’t hear her?”
Didn’t want to distract you, xin gan.
Mal smiled and held out his hand. “Come on, River. Time to go home.”
As he spoke the planet moved minutely, and the light on the gold statue winked out.
Epilogue with conversations to follow
Saturday, April 12, 2008 3:07 AM
Saturday, April 12, 2008 3:12 AM
Sunday, April 13, 2008 9:19 AM
Monday, April 14, 2008 9:51 AM
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