BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JANE0904

Volcano's Edge - Part XIII
Friday, July 25, 2008

Maya. Post-BDM. Mal is being tortured, but there might be light at the end of the tunnel. NEW CHAPTER


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2066    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Kaylee was cold. She could feel the coolness of the metal beneath her reaching up into her body, chilling her to the bone. She managed to pry one eye open enough to see she was only wearing her underthings, and the cotton bra and panties were doing nothing to keep her body temperature up. Her inner voice had been quiet for a while, and she idly wondered if that meant she was freezing to death, but told herself, in no uncertain terms, not to be such a baby. It wasn't that cold. Just … not warm.

Need to get up.

Great. It was back. Can’t, she thought. Nothing works.

Then get dressed. The voice wasn’t sympathetic at all.

Nothing to wear. She felt sure she’d stumped it.

Look.

She didn’t want to. It was so much easier to just lie there, waiting for someone else to make the decision as to what should happen. Maybe she could even go back to sleep. Except it seemed as if the inner voice had control now, and her eyes opened again, falling on her coveralls lying just a few inches from her hand. Except it might as well be half a light year. How? she asked, putting as much venom behind it as she could.

Try.

It was no good. She might be going crazy – hell, going? Already gone, way up in the stratosphere with River. They could probably swap stories using some of those long words the Tams loved so much. No. Stick to the plan. If I have one. She took a deep breath and reached out towards her clothes. Her fingers twitched. Come on, Kaylee-girl, she said to herself. Gotta do this. Relying on you.

This time her hand moved enough to touch the rough fabric, and it seemed to galvanise her. Closing her fingers, she pulled the coveralls towards herself, then wondered what to do next.

---

There was a break in the immediate pain, but Mal almost wished the torturer was still working. Anything to keep Niska’s attention away from Freya.

He was studying her as if she was a specimen under a microscope. His voice, eerie and otherworld, hissed out words without emotion, except perhaps curiosity. “How does it feel?”

“What?” She looked at him, such virulent hate in her eyes he should have fallen dead on the spot.

“When I hurt him. Seeing his blood.”

“I've seen it before.”

“And how many times have you saved him?”

“He saved me.”

Niska smiled his crooked smile. “No more.” He glanced at Mal. “I have great hopes of him. Days, perhaps.”

She spat at him, spattering his cheek. “Hwoon dahn.”

“Words.” He removed the handkerchief from his breast pocket and delicately whipped his face. “Tell me, do you know the writings of Shan Yu?”

“Not that old thing again. Didn’t your Ma give you any other books?” Mal asked, trying to interrupt, but his voice was more cracked than he liked, and Niska ignored him.

“Heard of him. Never read them myself.” She was trying to calm the beating of her heart, her hands curled into fists. “Not really into sadism.”

“He wrote on the true self, and how we can see that self.”

“Something about a volcano, I seem to recall.” She licked the sweat from her top lip, knowing her skin was perversely marred with gooseflesh.

“His writings are something of an inspiration to me,” Niska admitted. “And when I see the tattoo on your back, I wonder if that is the real you.”

Mal swallowed hard.

“It’s just a tattoo.” Freya glared into Niska’s face. “Just ink.”

“I think not. Perhaps I will one day find out what they mean. I think they are old.”

“Think what you like.”

Niska leaned in close. “Perhaps I keep them. As a souvenir.”

It was a relief when the torturer picked up another instrument.

---

There was no way she was going to be able to drag the coveralls on, but at least she could gain some warmth from them. Tugging them as best she could across her body, it still took half a dozen goes before they were covering even a quarter of her, but it seemed to make an immediate difference, and a trembling she hadn’t noticed began to subside.

She closed her eyes for a moment, then jerked as a muscle spasm flashed through her. It made her heart race, and she moaned slightly.

Something clattered to the floor next to her.

---

“We gotta try something else.” Jayne was sweating slightly. “We got three shuttles and the ship. It ain't like there’s that much land around, just islands. There’s enough of us can fly.”

“And if they’re off planet already?” Zoe asked.

“Better’n just sitting here.” He leaned back on the wall.

“You need to lie down again.” Simon was watching him carefully. “Before you fall down.”

“Ain't got time. And they sure as hell don’t.” He stared at Zoe. “It’s been hours already. You think Niska’s just talking to ‘em?”

She didn’t need to think. She’d seen … “Fine. But Simon’s right. You need to go back to the infirmary.”

“Not ‘til they’re home. Ain’t going anywhere ‘til they’re home.”

---

It was a tiny box. She stared at it, trying to make sense of it.

It’s the beacon, her inner voice said. Dummy.

Not a dummy. Just … Something wasn’t quite right. Something with the casing.

---

“Alex, you take this group.” Zoe touched the map on the portable Cortex screen on the dining room table. “If you see anything, you yell, don’t even consider trying to be a hero. That gets you dead.”

“I wouldn’t even know where to begin to be a hero,” he admitted. “It’s not exactly been in my life plan.”

“What was?” Jayne growled. “Sittin’ at home getting more rich?”

He wasn't going to take offence. “Pretty much.”

Zoe ignored the sidetrack in conversation. “Hank will take Serenity and go to the islands on the far side of the world. Same proviso.”

“You’re the boss,” he said, smiling. It faltered. “I mean, you’re not, but since Mal isn’t here right now …”

She put her hand briefly on his, then tapped the screen again. “I’ll take this group, and River … where’s River?”

“She went back to the bridge,” Simon said. “She still thinks the beacon will work.”

Xing bu tong,” Zoe said under her breath. “We don’t have time for this.” She strode out of the galley, calling, “River!”

---

The casing. She squinted, trying to see, then realised it had come apart slightly along one seam. She’d had to use pressure seal, not welding, to hold it together, otherwise she might have melted the parts, and it had given. She’d meant to figure out some way of making it watertight, but –

Don’t think. Do! Her inner voice was getting cranky.

Shut up!

Then just get on and do it!

Promising to ring the neck of whoever it was in her brain, she bit her lip in concentration. Trying to keep the trembling to a minimum, she took hold of the beacon between her thumb and forefinger, cradling her hand in the other in an attempt to be in control. She squeezed.

---

“River, what the diyu are you doing?” Zoe demanded, climbing the steps two at a time. “We tried that and it didn’t work. We need to –“

“Look!” The psychic leaned forward in the co-pilot’s chair, her nose almost touching the console as something flickered, and a beep sounded. Then another. And another.

Hank was running, barely touching the steps as he passed his wife, slamming down into his seat. “Gorramit. She did it.”

“What?” Zoe demanded to know.

He pointed. “The beacon. The huang mao did it.”

“That’s my wife you’re talking about,” Simon said mildly, feeling an odd mix of euphoria overlaid with anxiety.

“Sorry. But it’s working.”

“Where are they?” Alex asked.

“Here.”

“What?”

“Same group, just another island.” Hank snorted. “Very close.”

“Would you have checked these ones?” Dillon asked, feeling Jayne come up behind him, leaning on the bulkhead.

Zoe ground her teeth. “Eventually.”

“Keep your friends close, your enemies closer,” he muttered under his breath.

“Alex, where’s your shuttle?” Zoe turned to him.

“By the church.”

She laid her hand on her gun. “You armed?”

“No, but –“

“Then you’ll fly. We’re going to take a look.” She glanced at her husband. “Hank, help Jayne get the weapons ready for when we get back, and have Serenity warmed over. We might need her.”

Jayne grunted in acknowledgement.

“I’m coming with you,” River said quickly. “If I'm closer I might be able to … to help.”

Zoe looked at her, then nodded. “Then let’s go.”

---

Good.

Kaylee smiled, the corners of her mouth moving just a little. See? Knew I could do it. She closed her eyes. Sleepy now.

No.

Why not?

Can’t sleep. Need to stay awake for the others.

She groaned. Tired.

List the major components of a Firefly’s engine.

What? This was annoying. All she wanted to do now was take a little rest, and that damn inner voice wouldn’t let her.

Sleep and you die.

Just a nap.

No. Major components. List them.

Kaylee sighed. Fine. Well, first there’s the –

No. Out loud.

What?

Out loud. Talking. Remember?

Cun xue jiu.

Fine. Whatever. Just talk. As if you were explaining it to Simon. Or maybe Mal. Captain dummy talk.

Using her fingers to trace the invisible workings of Serenity, Kaylee sighed again and began, this time saying the words, slurring them at first, then getting stronger. “The standard radion accelerator core’s easy. It’s made up primarily of …”

---

“Keep low,” Zoe advised. They’d already taken the shuttle in a big circle to come up on the island from the other side, furthest away from Serenity. “Make it look like you’re going to come in to land. We’ll get as much information on the sensors as we can.”

“They’re not picking anything up at the moment.”

“Can you set for live capture?”

“Sure.” He reached out and flicked a few switches. “Done. We’ll be recording everything as we fly over.”

“Good.” She glanced down at him from where she stood at his back. He was sweating slightly, even though the air inside the small vehicle was cool. “You’re doing great.”

“Like I said, I've no experience of being a hero.” He shook his head. “Not like all of you.”

“We ain't heroes.”

“You are,” he insisted. “Zoe, there are so many people I know who’d have just walked away. Hell, run as fast as they could. Not being willing to risk everything to get their people back.”

“That ain't saying much about your friends.”

He made an odd sound, and she realised he was swallowing a laugh. “Friends? I don’t really have them. Not any more. I have acquaintances, colleagues, and a whole load of employees, but … friends? No, not really.”

“You’ve got your wife. Your daughters. And you’ve got Freya.” She put her hand on his shoulder. “I'm not sure you can handle much else.”

This time the laugh was released. “You know, I'm not sure I could.” He tensed up again. “Coming up on the island now.”

“Take it slow. Don’t make it look like we’re looking, but try and get as much as you can.”

He swallowed. “Will do.”

River, sitting in the body of the shuttle, her legs caught under her, closed her eyes and sent out her mind, more determined than ever to reach through the fog, to cut it to pieces, to see it slide away as she dug deeper.

There.

Mal … in pain as a man twisted a knob to send electricity flooding through a number of probes on his chest. No. In his chest. His back arched, teeth locked together as every nerve ending fired.

She whimpered and moved on.

Freya … using all of her mental strength to bolster her husband, taking some of the agony into herself to try and make it more bearable for him.

She wanted to touch, to tell her they were there, but she was wary of interrupting that intensity, of making it falter. She hugged herself instead and carried on through the minds.

Niska …

She pulled back immediately. Insanity, warped and black, rolling like tar heated beyond endurance, dragging at her, wanting to take her down into the pit with him. And the memories of being a Reaver, tinted with a faint sorrow at having to lose the power, the anger, the compulsion for flesh as they gave him the antidote. She shuddered, searching.

Kaylee … like a breath of fresh air. Talking. Her own lips moved in synch as she recognised the words. And there was something else, almost another entity, making the mechanic talk. River smiled, even as it got fainter as they moved away. Mal called it his ‘inner captain’. It looked as if Kaylee had an ‘inner mechanic’ too.

Zoe turned. “Are they there?”

River opened her eyes and nodded. “Yes. And alive. But we need to hurry.”

---

As the shuttle landed next to Serenity, Hank was already poring over the details of the scans.

“Sensors don’t show a damn thing,” he said as Zoe and Alex joined the others behind him.

“Try the visual.”

The screen flickered and changed to a fast moving image of the sea, and everyone felt a moment’s disorientation. Then Hank drew the image back, and slowed it down, until they could see the individual waves.

“Okay, now forward.” Zoe leaned over the back of his chair. “Slowly.”

“Your wish …”

The picture moved, and Simon had to tell his treacherous stomach that it wasn't feeling seasickness, no, not at all.

The water changed, becoming more choppy as if the land beneath was shelving.

“There.” Dillon’s finger stabbed out.

“See it.” Hank steadied the image.

Zoe’s eyebrows raised. “What the hell …”

“It’s a yacht.” Alex shook his head. “I can’t believe we didn’t see it.”

“That’s a yacht?”

“A Denari class. One of the latest models, too.”

“Looks like a spaceship to me,” Jayne muttered.

“It is. But it’s also designed to float so you can have an ocean-going cruise when you get to wherever you’re going.” Alex smiled. “I looked at them once, before I realised it was just because they were big and shiny, and just another toy for people who wanted to get richer.”

They all stared at the screen, at the grey ship nestled into the small bay beneath the overhang of the cliff, almost filling it, only the bow up against the strip of sand. If this was a boat, it was in capital letters, about the same way a popgun was to Vera.

“How come the sensors couldn’t see that?” Simon said softly. “It’s huge.”

“Camonet,” Hank supplied, tinkering with the readings.

“Now you know I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Then you know how we feel sometimes.” Hank didn’t mean to be snarky, but the tension was getting to him.

“It’s camouflage,” Zoe explained, her voice equally low. “It distorts sensor readings, makes that … thing look like a big rock.”

“So now we know it’s there, and the others are still alive, we’re goin’ in?” Jayne asked, looking at each of them.

“Have to save them,” River whispered, leaning against him.

---

“How’d they save you?” Mal asked bitterly during a lull while Niska fortified himself with another whisky. It had taken several of the old man’s men to tie him down to a flat bench so his feet were slightly higher than his torso, but the remains of the drug in his system coupled with the damage Niska’s torturer had already done made him too weak to do much more than be a nuisance to them, although his shirt now hung off him in blood-stained ribbons. “Turn you back from a Reaver into the bastard you always were?”

“They found me,” Niska said, turning back and sipping his drink. “After two days. Do you know what I did to the bodies locked away with me?”

“I can guess.”

“I do not think you can. But I have to thank one of the technicians. He reported the events to higher up.” Niska waved his hand. “I of course gave him … appropriate recompense for his trouble.”

“You killed him?”

“Eventually. It did take him nearly three days.”

“Looks like there ain't no honour among psychos.” Mal lifted his head. “You should just be glad you ain't dog kibble like your man Crow. Remember him? Big? Like to play with knives? He went through the engine like meat through a grinder. Took us a long time to be rid of the smell.”

Mal, don’t.

He glanced at her, seeing her eyes on him, fear and anger in equal measure in those dark orbs. Gotta keep him occupied, ai ren. Keep him away from you.

Niska tutted, unaware of the wordless conversation going on. “You will not make me angry.” He laid his hand on Mal’s shoulder, tapping gently, as if he was remonstrating with a child. “Is something everyone tried. Make me angry so you die quickly.”

“Oh, I'm still intending it to be you the one doing the dying.”

“Always the wit.” He sighed. “But still not the real you. I think to find that, I have to use something new. Something special.”

“You mean you’ve been using the old and inferior on me?”

Niska chuckled, probably, but it was like someone screwing down the lid on a coffin. “Of course. Just making you ready.” He signalled to his torturer. “Look.”

The man brought over a metal box, opening the lid so Mal could see.

“Dear God, no,” Freya muttered, her face losing all its colour.

Even with the blood moving towards his head because of the slight incline, Mal knew he’d gone just as pale. Inside the box was a glove, a box with various switches and knobs, and a clear glass vial, about six inches long. Inside was a silver liquid which seemed to have a life of its own, moving like mercury, no edge, just all curve. Except it was deadlier than mercury, and took no prisoners.

Niska was delighted. “I see you recognise it.”

Oh, he’d seen it all right. Seen it used once, during the war, or at least the results. “Thought that was illegal. Even out here.”

“Is true. But is still available. For the right money. For a great deal of the right money.”

“I'm flattered.”

“Don’t be. I would have paid anything to procure this, just for you.” If there could be satisfaction in that artificial voice, his lips would have been dripping with it.

“’N’ I didn’t think you cared.”

“Still the wit.” He glanced at the other man. “Ready?”

“Yes, sir.”

He smiled. “Let us see if you can keep that sense of humour, yes?” He stepped to one side, far enough back not to be contaminated, but close enough to see.

“No, don’t.” Freya was frantic. She could see the image in Mal’s mind of the man before, an Independent soldier who’d fallen foul of Alliance fanatics, of how they’d come on his body, newly dead, split open like a ripe melon, all his internal organs pulverised into mush. “Please. Don’t. Do what you like with me, just … don’t.” She was pleading.

“Your turn soon,” Niska promised, and nodded to his companion.

The torturer opened the vial and tipped the silver monstrosity onto Mal’s belly, watching as it ran between the hairs from the dip below his diaphragm to settle at the base of his ribs. It spread out, becoming wafer thin, attracted by the warmth, then slid between the molecules of skin.

He screamed, his body twisting on the table, Freya echoing as the agony pulsed through her too.

Niska smiled, his fingers pressed together in front of his chin.

to be continued

COMMENTS

Friday, July 25, 2008 2:55 AM

AMDOBELL


*Wode ma* that Niska is the living embodiment of everything that is sick and evil. Hope our heroes hurry before all that is left of our valiant Captain is a sticky goo. I felt sure earlier on when Kaylee is hearing voices in her head that it was Freya projecting to her but maybe not, maybe she does have an internal voice to egg her on when needs be. Hurry up with the next part please, preferrably while I still have some fingernails left! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, July 25, 2008 4:50 AM

KATESFRIEND


Um....ick? Is it River in Kaylee's head, or the future Tam to be? Hurry up with the rescuing.

Friday, July 25, 2008 8:39 AM

FREEVERSE


No no no no no no NO! Oh dear! Hurrah for Kaylee talking herself into action (doesn't anyone else suffer from in internal dialogue around here, like when you're trying to get up early in the morning? I do!). Now, River and the big guns, please! And Simon able to put aside his worry for Kaylee and their child long enough to save Mal (with backing from Alex?), but sans Faustian bargains, I hope? And wait, what about the Pax?

So many questions, such compulsive site-checking, Jane!

~freeverse

Friday, July 25, 2008 11:49 AM

WYTCHCROFT


"Mal is being tortured" not half! my god.
actually this was also an action packed and pretty meticulous chapter - lotta strands well woven.

Friday, July 25, 2008 3:16 PM

SLUMMING


Volcano's edge indeed. You've got us all hanging there, Jane! Great work!

Friday, July 25, 2008 5:26 PM

NCBROWNCOAT


I'm hanging here by a thread too and can't wait for the Big Damm Rescue. It better come fast or I'll have a major heart attack.

Saturday, July 26, 2008 4:46 AM

ANGELLEMARCS


SOOO good, but the more I read the more I want to rip my hair out of my head. :)

Though we need to talk about this, torturing Mal?! What's that about?! :))


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