BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JANE0904

Old Habits - Part X
Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Maya. Post-BDM. Mal tries to find out what happened to Road Runner. NEW CHAPTER


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2148    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

“What are you talking about?” Mal stared at his pilot.

“Road Runner’s gone.” Hank was white as a sheet.

“You’re not making sense,” Mal insisted, although he had a terrible feeling he understood only too well.

“Gone, Mal. Not there anymore.”

“Turn us back.”

“No, look, if we –“

“Turn us back!” He hardly ever used his Sergeant’s voice anymore, so using it now had Hank adjusting Serenity’s attitude before the man had a chance to even think about it.

“What’s going on, sir?” Zoe asked, coming up the bridge steps, Freya at her back.

The Firefly swung around, facing where Road Runner should be.

Wuh duh muh …” Mal murmured, licking dry lips.

“Dear God …” Zoe echoed, although Freya couldn’t speak at first.

Hank had been nearly right. Road Runner wasn’t quite gone, but she was unrecognisable. A spreading debris field fanned out from her midsection, the only part even a little bit whole. Everything else was mangled, blown out by an explosion that had ripped through her.

“No,” Freya said, holding onto the wall to stop herself falling.

“Cap, what was that?” Kaylee asked, hurrying along the corridor. “We hit something?”

Mal didn’t answer her, instead putting his hand on Hank’s shoulder. “Survivors?” he asked, but his voice was bleak.

“I’ve been … no, Captain.”

His face hardened. “Zoe. Prep the suits.”

*

“I don’t think I can do this, Cap’n,” Kaylee said as Zoe fastened her into the space suit. “They were my friends.” Tears were running down her face, soaking the thin t-shirt she was wearing beneath.

“Mine too, Kaylee. All of us.” Mal pulled on his gloves. “I figure we owe it to them to find out what happened, so that’s what we’re gonna do, dong mah?” He stopped, closed his eyes a moment. Then when he looked at her again they were softer, more gentle. “I know this is bad, mei-mei. But you might be the only one can figure out what blew.”

“It won’t bring ‘em back,” Jayne pointed out, shrugging his own suit a little more comfortably around his broad shoulders.

“No. But it’ll make me feel better.” Freya dropped his helmet over his head even as he heard her voice in his mind. No, it won’t.

He looked at her, allowed all the pain he was feeling to show in his face. He knew it wouldn’t help. But he still had to try. She nodded, just a little, and he knew she was giving him all of her vast strength. “Okay, people,” he said, turning back to the others even as she completed the checks, his voice sounding tinny in his ears. “Let’s do this.”

*

She could have done it by herself. Kaylee knew this, even as she pushed off from the open airlock. It was up to her to find what evidence she could as to why Road Runner blew the way it did. Her responsibility to make some sense of the mess ahead of them. The others wouldn’t know what they were looking at, let alone be able to decipher the clues. She could have done this on her own.

But she was immeasurably reassured by knowing she was tethered to Mal and Jayne, that Zoe was standing on the ramp keeping a visual eye on them, that Hank and River were on the bridge, every single system working flat out to make sure nothing untoward happened. Even that Freya was with the children, keeping them busy while the others were occupied with their grim task. Knowing that Simon was waiting in the cargo bay to receive any bodies they might find.

“Coming up on the … on Road Runner now,” she heard Mal say through the radio. He had only spoken normally, but it sounded so loud in her ears. “Kaylee, you see what you can find that was part of the engine, okay?”

Shr ah.” She nodded, even though she knew he couldn’t see, and fixed her attention on the area where the core used to be, blinking away her tears.

*

Freya sat on one of the easy chairs in the galley, the children clustered on the floor at her feet. Ben, Hope and Jesse had no real idea what was going on, and were amusing themselves drawing with some of River’s bright colours on a pad of paper, Maoli and Fiddler doing their best to interfere. Ethan and Bethie, though, were tense.

“Something’s happened to Uncle Burt, hasn’t it?” Bethie whispered, leaning against Freya’s leg.

She stroked the young girl’s hair. “Yes.”

“Something bad.”

“Something very bad.”

“Are they …” She couldn’t finish, but covered her mouth up with one hand.

“I'm sorry, sweetheart.”

Bethie whimpered, and Freya immediately reached down and lifted her onto her lap. “Hush, hush,” she urged. “No need to take on.”

“But –“

“We don’t want to upset the others, do we?”

Ethan got up and put his chin on his mother’s knee. “Did it hurt?” he asked, barely speaking.

“No, honey. It was too quick to hurt.” Dear God, please let me not be lying to them.

“Are they in heaven?”

Freya swallowed and moved along a little so he could scramble up next to her. “Do you think they are?” she asked in turn.

Her son nodded. “Think so.” He glanced up towards the hull, and the stars shining through the observation windows above. “With Uncle Wash. And Uncle Book.” He’d never met them, but his family still talked about them with love and affection, so he did too. “And Alice,” he added quietly.

Freya’s arms tightened on both of the children as her throat swelled with emotion. What she believed, what she’d been taught, wasn't conventional religion, but it did espouse continuation of the spirit, of the soul. Mal, on the other hand, had gone through a long period of believing that there was nothing after death, but lately, since they’d had a family, he was more open to the idea that maybe there was something to come after all. She hoped he’d be able to hold onto that right now. “Yes, Ethan,” she said, pulling him close. “Me too.”

*

Simon watched through the small window in the inner cargo bay door. Zoe had her back to him, holding onto the wall, her concentration on the small figures far out in nothingness. Nothingness, but so much of it. He hated that, being made to feel his insignificance, but he hated more the fact that his wife was out there, and he couldn’t help her. He wasn't even sure which one of them was her.

He turned his back, hoping she’d forgive him, and went to find his daughters. He needed to hold onto something real. Someone alive.

*

Hank looked at River sitting next to him, and wondered what she was thinking. She’d taken to Burton Wyatt and his crew from the first moment Mal had introduced them, and found friends amongst them. Only now they were gone. One minute walking and talking, and the next … just gone.

That was something he was never going to get used to, no matter how often it happened. The total fragility of life out here. Mal, Jayne, Freya … hell, even Zoe … they seemed to take it in their stride, and weren't above contributing to it themselves if needed, if called upon to do so. He’d done it himself, killed folks, but he knew it was never going to be easy. It didn’t occur to him that was one of the reasons Zoe loved him.

River stiffened next to him, her hands clasping at the armrests, staring out at the remains of the other Firefly.

*

Kaylee reached the first of the larger sections that still remained intact, with difficulty recognising it as part of the exterior bulkhead from the rear of the main cargo bay. Pulling herself along, she moved slowly, taking care not to rip her suit on any of the thousands of tiny points of sharp metal lifted from the surface by the explosion.

“You be careful,” Mal said in her ears, and she had to smile a little. A good man, always looking out for them.

“Always careful, Cap’n,” she managed to respond, seeing what looked like a piece of manifold just ahead, and reaching out for it.

Something touched her leg, and she glanced down, ready to push it away if it looked as if it was likely to damage … She screamed.

“Kaylee!” Mal, worry breaking through the anger in him. He and Jayne were with her in a moment, pulling her back from the wreckage, checking her suit for any tears or leaks.

She gulped air, trying to calm her racing heart, then pointed down.

“Kaylee?” Hank broke in. “What is it? Kaylee?”

“What we expected,” Mal answered shortly, putting himself in front of the young woman. “Jayne.”

“Gorramit,” the ex-mercenary muttered, as if his extensive knowledge of Chinese cursing had finally let him down. He moved forward, reaching towards the remains.

It was a hand, ice-white, ending in ragged flesh and bone just beyond the wrist. Blood had frozen into tight red spheres like an obscene bracelet decorated with living rubies. Dead rubies, now though.

He scooped it into the bag at his waist.

“Kaylee. Kaylee.” Mal tried to get her attention. “We knew this was like to happen.”

She swallowed, looking at him through the helmet’s visor. “I know, Mal.”

The anger burned a little hotter in him. She never called him ‘Mal’ unless she was really upset. He managed to soften his tone. “Got us a job to do, xiao mei-mei. Me and Jayne’ll take care of this. You do your part, and leave the rest to us.”

She pulled herself together. “I seen worse,” she said, remembering Corvus, when the Reavers had come.

“That ain't something to be boasting about,” Mal reprimanded, and she had to smile.

“Just a shock, is all.” She took a deep breath. “Let’s get to work.”

Mal nodded. “Good girl.”

*

“Mama?” Ethan asked, patting her face gently.

Freya blinked. “It’s okay.”

“Worried.” He snuggled closer.

“Nothing for you to worry about,” she assured him.

“Not me. You.”

She pushed his hair back from his forehead. “I'm okay, jiao er.” She looked at Bethie. “Did you …”

The little girl shook her head. “Foggy.”

Freya relaxed a micron. “Me too.” At least they hadn’t picked up on what was happening out there.

“Don’t like it,” Bethie admitted. “Not being able to peek.”

“Neither do I. But the measles … I don’t know, it did something to us. Blunted us somehow.” She sighed. “I can only read your Uncle Mal at the moment, and it’s the same for your Auntie River. She can only feel Uncle Jayne.” She looked into Bethie’s wide brown eyes. “Can you feel anyone?”

“Only Ethan.”

Freya smiled sadly. “Sorry about that.”

“Hey!” Ethan complained, but yawned too, remembering too late to hide it with his hand.

Jesse sat up, looking from one to the other, her brow furrowed at the obvious tension. “Mama? Story?” she suggested.

“A story.” Freya pursed her lips. “Okay. I think I can remember one. But you all have to close your eyes, dong mah? Close your eyes and just listen to my voice.” She waited until they had complied. “Once upon a time, so very long ago and far, far away, a princess lived in a tall tower. Her only friends were the birds of the air and the small mice who came to visit at night, feeding on the crumbs she left out for them …”

*

Mal slid another … piece into the bag, half his attention on Jayne doing the same task, and half on Kaylee as she collected metal bits of her own. On the edge of his mind, though, almost like the glow of a far dawn, was his wife’s voice, telling a story about princes and first kisses, and he let it warm him as he continued with his grisly task.

It wasn't the first time he’d had experience of this kind of thing. His first CO, a bastard by the name of Prentice, had thought collecting body parts after a particularly vicious artillery barrage would put spines into his new recruits, stiffen their resolve. All it did was make them throw up, and he’d gone on for days about the weakness of the volunteers. Mal had been one of them, losing what little he’d been able to force down in the way of food, but not wanting to give Prentice the satisfaction of giving in to the urge to run and hide. His small group had been the last to come back, but had done most of the work, handing over full body bags to the burial detail. He’d gained a stripe for that, although it hadn’t lasted. Never could keep his mouth shut.

At least these remains were hard, frozen in the cold of space, more like fragments of marble statues than flesh. Except this flesh used to be his friends, friends he’d been talking to not an hour previously. Mal’s face tightened inside the helmet. Wyatt always operated the same way, same number of crew, which meant there were eleven other people on board when Road Runner blew. A dozen lives snuffed out in an instant. He could feel the rage burning cold in his belly.

*

Jayne wasn’t thinking, at least not consciously. He’d killed too many people in his life to let body parts affect him, unless Reavers had messed with them, but even he knew the only way to get through this was to pretend it was something else, and get on with the job. He’d liked them, this weird crew, from Burton down to … well, all of them. They accepted him as he was, didn’t try to make him out to be anything more than he could be, and that made them okay in his book.

He turned around, checking once more to see if there was anything he’d missed, but he couldn’t tell. Might be, might not. But something that had torn apart a Firefly like this, made so much of it just a heap of crumpled metal … he was surprised they’d found what they had.

He exhaled heavily.

Zhang fu?

Yeah, moonbrain?

Say a prayer.

He nodded, his eyes closing, remembering one from his childhood. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep …”

Kaylee heard the softly spoken words and packed the last of the bits of twisted engine into her pack. They might not be appropriate, but they made her heart keen in her chest, and fresh tears rolled down her cheek.

As Jayne finished, they all heard Zoe whisper, “Amen.”

*

Simon leaned in the doorway of the galley, watching the children sleeping. “How did you do that?” he murmured.

Freya half-smiled at him. “Not sure.”

“If I were a betting man, I’d say you’d hypnotised them.”

“I just told them a story.”

“Just?”

“It was something my mentor used to do. When he first found me I was … uncontrollable. The only way he could get me to sleep at all was by talking, telling me stories, poems, anything. Eventually I’d find his voice calming and I’d relax enough to doze.”

Simon looked at her shrewdly. “You miss him, don’t you?”

She nodded. “So much. He was my father, in every way if not in blood. Gave me my life back.” She glanced down at Ethan wedged against her, at Jesse wrapped around her feet, fingers buried in Fiddler’s fur.

“I know what you mean.”

“I so wish he was here. He might –“ Suddenly the words froze in her throat. “They’re back.”

*

The cargo bay shuddered as the outer doors closed, then the pressure equalised. Kaylee could feel her weight return, and the pack in her arms now dragged her down until she was squatting on the floor.

“You okay?” Zoe asked, taking off her helmet.

“Heavy,” she said.

“I’ll give you a hand.”

Between them they climbed out of their suits, then they carried the engine parts through the common area. Simon, standing on the top of the catwalk, watched them go, before hurrying down the stairs to the airlock. Mal and Jayne had hung back, letting Zoe take the young mechanic away before they completed their own part of the mission.

Helping remove their helmets, Simon looked into the other men’s faces. “Bad?” he asked.

“Not good,” Mal agreed.

Simon opened the lead-lined crate he’d prepared, and Jayne put his bag inside. “Is it worth –“

The big man shook his head. “Can’t tell who they were, doc. Not even enough for a body, least not all of one.” He glanced at Mal. “What’re you planning on doin’ with ‘em?”

“We’re going to give them a proper burial,” Mal said firmly, undoing the bag from his waist and setting it inside the box.

“Prom?”

Mal nodded. “Prom. Reckon they’ll be in good company there,” he added, seeing the small headstone on Prometheus in his mind’s eye that marked the grave of his unborn daughter, and the larger that was for Jethro.

“And the rest?” Jayne looked back towards the remnants of Road Runner.

“Nothing else we can do for ‘em right now, except wait to see what Kaylee comes up with.” Mal closed the lid on the crate. “Where are you gonna put this?”

“Cold storage. If we’re longer than a few days, I’ll have to think of something else.”

Serenity’s captain pulled off his gloves. “Let me know if you need to use the airlock. We can put up with it being cold for a while.”

Simon nodded, his eyes thoughtful. “It might have been an accident, you know,” he pointed out.

“Might.” Mal spoke into his suit mike. “Hank, can we make the Dromor Cluster in time?”

“Nope. Sorry, Mal. Even at full burn we’d be more’n half a day late. Road Runner is … was faster than us.”

“Then I think it’s best we be on our way to Persephone. I got me a Badger I want to talk to.”

In her room in the guest quarters, Becca lay on the bed, her head resting on her clasped hands, her ankles crossed, whistling tunelessly.

to be continued

COMMENTS

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 1:16 AM

AMDOBELL


Oh how I hate Becca! She should be the one floating in the Black in bits and pieces not the crew of the Road Runner. And Badger, what in the *diyu* is he up to? I really liked Jayne's little childhood prayer and the others listening in to it with Zoe giving an Amen at the end. So very sad but part of me is really glad they completed their gruesome task to at least give the remains a decent burial. Ali D
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 1:39 AM

NCBROWNCOAT


Twisted me all up with sadness. The prayer was very appropriate and Becaa, I'm speechless with anger at her. At the very least she's crazier than River.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 4:20 AM

ANGELLEMARCS


No fair making me cry. I've never made you cry, have I?!

Wonderful writing. I loved the fact Jayne said the preayer. It actually broke me up a little. Very good as always.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 5:50 AM

KATESFRIEND


So why can't Becca be sussed out by the Readers? Are you making her more evil than she already is? I sense some righteous indignation coming soon aka the Wrath of Mal.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 2:38 PM

JOLY


I don't have anything enlightening to add, except that I love this story and can't wait for the next chapter.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 5:45 PM

SLUMMING


What a grisly task, and a sad one to boot! I see that you're bringing Mal back into his warrior mode, an awesome sight to see...or in this case, read! (Working on Mal in warrior mode a bit myself at the moment!) Great read!

Friday, June 13, 2008 3:37 AM

WYTCHCROFT


harsh - but nicely wrought.


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