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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. Post-BDM. Problems with Columbine spell problems for Mal and the crew, particularly with the Alliance breathing down their necks. NEW CHAPTER
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1876 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Serenity’s mechanic stood in Columbine’s engine room, her trusty Autoline no. 4 wrench in her hand, and she shook her head.
“Kaylee, I ain't liking the look on your face,” Mal admitted.
“Well, I ain't liking this piece of fei-oo.” She looked almost apologetic as she spoke, as if it was hard for her to be uncomplimentary about any engine. But this time … “It’s a Capisson 45,” she explained. “And it don’t look like they’ve made it much better than the 38 version.”
“Are those the ones that …” He lifted his hand and mimed a ship crashing.
“That’s the ones.”
“Can you fix her?”
Kaylee pursed her lips. “If I had a week or so, and a lot more parts –“
“You got maybe a couple of hours, and nothing more’n what you can find around here.”
She shook her head. “It’s gonna take work, Cap’n. And that’s before I get inside and take a look.”
“Can you get her to limpin?” He stepped closer to her, putting his hands on her shoulders. “We ain't that far from Hera now, but it could be the other side of the ‘verse if I can’t get there. I need to know now, since there’s a decision to be made.”
Alex shook his head. “I don’t want to leave my ship here, Mal.”
“I know that. But time’s wasting, and if she can’t make the trip, then I'm putting everyone on board Serenity and doing it alone.” He looked back at Kaylee. “Well?”
She bit her lip. “Well, if it’s just to Hera … yeah, I can do it. She won’t go full speed, a’course, but fast enough to keep up with Serenity.”
“Good. How long?”
“An hour? Hour’n a half?”
“Shiny. You need any help?”
“No, not really. Although Breed can stay and hold my hand if he likes.” She smiled at Dillon’s partner hanging in the doorway.
“I don’t think I've ever had such a sweet request for my presence,” the black-haired man said.
“Should I be worried?” Dillon asked, exchanging an indulgent look with his lover.
“Maybe,” Kaylee said, grinning widely. “Need to see how he does with an engine ‘fore I decide.”
Kaylee was as good as her word. Eighty-seven minutes later Columbine managed to get going under her own power, albeit with reduced lighting and all non-essential equipment off-line. As she’d said to Mal before they’d uncoupled, “It ain't like she’s actually dead, just losing power somewhere. Like she’s bleeding.”
“Lovely image, xiao mei-mei,” he’d responded, grimacing slightly.
She’d giggled and ducked back inside Columbine’s airlock.
“Are you sure you need to be on board her?” Mal called. “What if something breaks on my ship?”
“Ain’t going that far, Cap’n,” she replied, disappearing into the Vanguard. “Only takes a wave …”
Mal shook his head. “That girl enjoys playing around with other folk’s equipment just a mite too much.” Smiling to himself, he closed the doors, then punched the com with his thumb. “Hank, we’re good to go.”
“Shiny. Detaching from Columbine now.”
There was an odd noise like metal tearing, and Mal made a mental note to check the external couplings next time they were planetside, then he felt his own ship power up. “Take it easy at first,” he added. “Much as Kaylee’s sure she can keep her going, I don’t want to test it too much.”
“Easy it is.”
“Only not too slow.”
There was a pause, then Hank’s voice filtered through again. “You wanna come up here and drive?”
Mal hadn’t commented, and things had been fine. Nothing broke on his boat, and Columbine had accelerated up to what Kaylee assured them was a safe speed, and in the bridge windows they could now see the remains of the moon the surveyors had labelled the Arachnids.
“You know, in a certain light, if you close one eye, you can see what those idiots meant,” Hank said.
“I conjure you’re right.” Mal gazed at the debris. There was one very large, irregularly shaped piece, where veins of harder minerals had resisted the shearing forces and almost dangled like legs beneath. It was accompanied by several hundred fragments with more minerals shot through them, orbiting slowly, occasionally cannoning off each other.
“Very maternal,” Hank added, shivering slightly.
“Never did care much for spiders,” Mal admitted. “We had some big ones, back on Shadow. Bodies the size of my fist.” He glanced down at his hand, then thrust it into his pocket. “Lived in the barn mostly. Harmless, but that ain't exactly a comfort when you come face to face with one when you’re searching for dry feed.”
“I doubt they’re there any more, Mal.”
“Yeah, but scorching the place was a pretty drastic form of pest control.” He studied the cluster. “Can you get close enough to the main rock without damaging us?”
The pilot nodded. “There’s a route round the backside. Tight, certainly for Columbine, but we can do it.”
“There’s no point in taking Alex’s ship in. I’m figuring there ain't no atmo.”
“Nope. Not even a breath of air.”
“Then Jayne and me’ll wear suits. Shouldn’t take us too long to get it planted.”
“You’ll have to use the boosters.” Hank shook his head. “Sorry, but there’s no place to land without ripping Serenity’s belly open.”
“Rather that didn’t happen.” He reached up and pressed the button to talk shipwide. “Jayne, Zoe … need you in the cargo bay. Time we made ourselves legal again. So to speak.”
The Firefly hung as close as possible to the main Arachnid, but it still meant having to manhandle the crates down to the surface. As Jayne did the lifting, Mal secured them by firing pitons into the rock and attaching ropes, criss-crossing them over the equipment. There was a small amount of gravity, but not enough to stop the crates flying off if one of the smaller orbiting ‘spiders’ decided to slam into the ground.
As Jayne tied the largest into place, Mal looked out, into the black, and marvelled at Hank’s skill. He’d managed to negotiate a path that looked barely wide enough for a shuttle, let alone a transport ship, and done it without scratching the paint. Wash couldn’t have done better. Columbine hung further out, her greater size making her appear closer than she was, shining and glossy, but he knew he’d never exchange his Firefly, not even for something as grand as Alex’s ship.
He felt a tap on his shoulder and half turned.
“Mal, if you’re gonna get space happy, I'm gonna have to drag your sorry ass back to Serenity,” Jayne warned. “Only I ain't intending to be gentle about it.”
“Hmn. ‘Gentle’ and ‘Jayne’ in the same sentence. Not sure I’ve ever heard that before.” Mal pretended to think deeply, then added, “And you threaten me, you’re walking to Hera.”
“You’d miss me.”
“Nah, I know I could get Hank to make sure he didn’t.”
The suit radio crackled. “If you two’ve finished playing …”
“She sound pissed to you?” Mal asked conversationally.
“Always does,” Jayne admitted. He pushed off from the rock and sailed back towards Serenity’s open cargo bay doors where Zoe was standing, the starlight glinting off her faceplate, the last set of crates at her feet.
It didn’t take long to secure the final boxes, both men tugging once more on the ropes to make sure they weren’t likely to come adrift. As they straightened up, though, Mal heard Freya’s voice, urgent in his head.
Frey? He wondered why she wasn’t using the com as usual.
Alliance. Coming in hot and fast.
How long? He glanced at Jayne, seeing he was getting the same message from River.
Ten minutes. Maybe twelve.
“Gorramit.” He considered the options for about five seconds, then spoke aloud so Jayne could hear over the suit com. “Frey, get Serenity moving. Jayne’s coming back. You give me a lift, I’ll get to Columbine, get them going too. Unless you can talk to Kaylee or –“
She’s working on the engine. Even if they’d believe it was me, I can’t get through to any of them. It’s like … interference.
“Sir?” This was Zoe, wondering who he was having this one sided conversation with.
Probably. I can only talk to you, zhang fu.
“Okay. We’ll be back on board in a split.”
“Ain't I always?” He had to smile as the impression of the look he knew she was giving him came across loud and clear.
On Serenity’s bridge, Alex was confused. “Frey, sorry if I'm being obtuse here, but why didn’t you use the normal com?”
“The signal gets piggybacked off the Cortex,” she explained quickly. “The Feds might pick it up. Even if they can’t read it, it’s a pretty damn big giveaway there’s someone out here.”
“Shouldn’t we be?”
She smiled, very slightly. “This close in to a black rock, they’re going to be suspicious. It’s in their nature. Better we hide, keep the Arachnids between us, and if they don’t know we’re here, they can’t look for us. Or find the goods.”
Alex felt his heart rate speed up. “Do we have time?”
“Just. If we move now.”
As if by magic Jayne’s voice filled the bridge. “Hank, we’re on. Get moving.”
The pilot didn’t even answer, just eased open the power and began manoeuvring back through the cluster.
River had been studying the screen. “Here,” she said, laying a slim finger on the plexiglass to indicate an area the other side of the debris field. “Big enough for us both.”
Hank glanced over. “Looks good.”
“Will they be able to see us? Surely their sensors have picked us up by now.” Alex watched as the last of the rocks slipped from view and they got closer to Columbine.
“Not unless they’re looking through a window,” Hank said, slowing more. “That’s the thing about the Alliance,” he added. “They rely totally on their instruments instead of good, old-fashioned eyesight.” He nodded outside. “There’s enough metallic minerals in these things to throw their sensors, so we should just look like another couple of hunks of debris.”
“Hank, Mal’s gone.” Zoe’s voice on the ship’s com. “Time to hide.”
Mal didn't seem to be moving, but Columbine was coming up towards him. Twisting just enough, he turned, letting his feet touch down first, clamping to the metal hull with a thud that reverberated up his legs. Whether through luck or judgement, he was barely five yards from the hatch, and even as he watched it slid open.
Hurrying as much as wearing a bulky space suit in vacuum would allow, he stepped inside, reorienting himself so as soon as the internal gravity came on he’d be the right way up. The door closed, there was a hiss of air that pressed against him, and the light turned green.
Immediately the inner door opened.
Breed was waiting, and helped him remove his helmet. “We saw you coming across. What’s going on?”
“Alliance. Heading our way.”
Breed’s eyes widened. “Are we running?”
“They’re faster than us. Tell Dillon to follow Serenity. We’re going to hide.”
The older man nodded, running to the internal com.
“Are they following?” Freya asked, her attention fixed on the sensors. The Alliance were getting too close for comfort.
“Powering up now,” Hank said. “Should just be a moment, then –“
There was a flash of light that filled the small bridge, disappearing almost as soon as it had registered.
“What the hell was that?” Freya said, her head whipping up.
Columbine lurched, throwing Mal and Breed to the floor. There was a distant whining sound, then silence, the lights flickering once before giving way to pitch black. Then the emergency system kicked in, giving everything an odd glow.
Mal staggered to his feet. “What the hell was that?”
Mal! Freya, her mental voice urgent, scared.
He watched as Breed clambered to his feet, holding out a hand to help. It’s okay, Frey. We’re alive. Can’t say the same for Columbine, though.
Kaylee ran somewhat unsteadily into the Vanguard’s small bay, rubbing at a graze on her forehead. “You okay?” she asked.
“Oh, shiny.” He struggled out of the suit. “What happened?”
“Fuel flare, Cap’n. Told you she was bleeding power, only it looks like we’re leaking fuel too. It ignited when we tried to get her moving. Lucky.”
“Could’ve taken us up too, if it had hit something vital.”
“How long to get us going?” Mal asked, knowing he wasn't going to like the answer.
“We’re not. We’re dead in the water ‘til she cools, and I can get in, stop the leak.”
Mal, we’re coming back for you.
“No.” He spoke and thought the word, emphasising it. “You got too many folks on board the Alliance want. Stay safe. Hide, like we planned.”
“Gorramit, woman, will you do what I say for once?”
There was nothing for a long moment, and he wondered if she was going to speak to him ever again. Then … Yes, Mal.
He blinked hard. “Uh ... good.”
Dillon’s voice suddenly rang through the Vanguard. “In case anyone is interested, we’ve just been hailed by the ASV Iolanthe. They want us to heave to and prepare to be boarded.”
Mal sighed dramatically, wishing he was not only wearing his gun, but his brown coat too. He always felt better when dealing with the Alliance if he were properly dressed.
Commander Ubermann leaned over the young ensign’s shoulder. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, sir. Only the one vessel.”
“You said you thought there were two of them.”
“I ...” He swallowed hard, trying not to be intimidated. “It’s the Arachnids, sir. They contain some kind of element that’s bouncing our signal around. I think the other contact must have been some kind of ... echo, sir.”
Ubermann stood upright. “Are they responding to our hails?”
“Then try again. And tell them that if they don’t do as requested I shall blow them out of –“
“Sir.” It was the communication officer. “We’re being hailed.”
Ubermann signalled for it to be put onto speaker. “This is the ASV Iolanthe. Prepare to be boarded.”
A man’s voice, with a border accent, came through loud and clear. “Iolanthe? This is the private vessel Columbine. Well, we’d just about given up hope on help arriving, and here you are.”
“We’re in something of a pickle, you might say. Engine’s down, and my mechanic’s having the devil’s own time trying to get her going again.”
“Is that so?”
“Surely is.” They could almost hear his grin. “Course, I can understand if an important vessel such as yourselves has more important things to do, but we could surely do with a tow.”
“Stand by.” Ubermann nodded towards the com officer and there was a click. He looked across at Lieutenant Bradshaw. “Well?”
The young man was perusing the scans they’d taken. “Her engine is certainly off-line, sir, and there’s evidence of a fuel leak.”
“Is she likely to blow up on us?”
Exhaling heavily, Ubermann signalled for the com to be reactivated. “Columbine, hold position. We’ll continue this discussion face to face.”
On the Vanguard’s bridge, Dillon turned to stare at Mal. “What was all that about?”
“They know we’re hurting, and if we don't ask for help it’s just going to make them even more suspicious. Better they come aboard, see we’ve got nothing to hide, then be on their merry.”
“Do we have time for this?” Breed asked.
“Ain't got the choice at the moment.” Mal shook his head. “When they take a look around, see there’s nothing to find, we can –“ He stopped, noting the look on the other man’s face. “What? Dillon, what?”
“There’s what?” Freya span to face Alex.
“I didn't know what it was,” he admitted. “I found it in the bay, before we landed on Whitefall, and Dillon explained.”
“You’re telling me there’s –“
“There doesn’t have to be!” She stared at him. “Don’t you realise it’s illegal to have it? If the Alliance find it, if they see even a hint of it ...” She couldn’t go on.
Zoe stepped forward. “Alex, is it still in the bay?”
Alex shook his head. “No. He moved it so Patience couldn’t get her hands on it.”
“Is it secure?”
“I don't know.” He looked unhappy and gazed at his sister. “Look, I didn't know he’d brought it with him.”
Freya took a deep breath. “It’s not your fault. I know that. But ...”
“Is it really that bad? I mean, it’s just an explosive. That’s all V59 is. Isn’t it?”
For a long moment all the other people on the bridge saw, in their mind’s eyes, an image of the Alliance’s attempt to build an AI ship, and the devastating detonation that had occurred when just three barrels had been used to destroy it. Nothing left but ash ...
“That’s a bit like saying Reavers enjoy getting out and meeting people,” Hank explained, his hands tight on the control yoke.
“So what do we do?” Alex asked, looking from the pilot to Freya and Zoe.
“Nothing. What we were told to,” Freya said bitterly. “Stay hidden.”
“And Mal? Kaylee? The others?”
“We stay put and hope for the best.” And pray, she added silently.
to be continued
Saturday, November 8, 2008 7:18 AM
Saturday, November 8, 2008 10:38 AM
Sunday, November 9, 2008 1:41 PM
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