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GORRAMITGIRL

Still Flying - Part I
Thursday, May 14, 2009

Next in the Keeping On 'Verse. Mal, Zoe, and company continue to adjust and keep flying, even as trouble appears to be brewing on the horizon. Part I: Mal, Zoe, and River meet with their new contact and Lilah learns how Wash died. Reviews would be lovely.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2105    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Still Flying - Part I

Disclaimer: Firefly, Serenity, and all related characters are copyright 2002-2005 Mutant Enemy, Inc., Universal Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. This is a work of fanfiction. No copyright infringement is intended.

***

The spaceship Serenity touched down on the planet of Greenleaf almost effortlessly, hardly disturbing the cattle herd that was in a nearby field.

“We’re landed, Captain.” The pilot informed Malcolm Reynolds over the intercom.

“Thank you Lilah. Nice landing. This shouldn’t take too long.” Mal said, down in the cargo bay. Zoe and River were busy lowering the mule.

“I’ll keep the com open, just in case.” She insisted.

“Don’t worry. It’ll go smooth.” Mal said, not seeing River and Zoe give each other a look before rolling their eyes.

“Right. I’ll just remind Simon to have the infirmary ready for when you guys get back.” Her voice held a tone of amusement, which Mal ignored. He supposed it was his fault for implying that he was injured frequently, and he could only imagine what Monty might have told her.

“You gonna come with Zoe and me, River?”

“Yes. I want to be useful.” River was dressed much like Zoe, and Mal was more than a little bewildered at the sight of River wearing actual pants.

“Fair enough.”

He, Zoe, and River climbed into the mule, and with Zoe behind the controls, they took off, anxious to see what business could be accomplished.

***

The trip to the bar where they would be meeting their contact was easy enough to find. It wasn’t the kind of bar that Mal was expecting (it was more high-end than he was used to), but he remembered that some parts of Greenleaf had been undergoing renewal efforts to make it a more appealing planet for others to settle on. Despite having the best medical facilities outside of the Core, Greenleaf had been losing its population to other planets for a few decades, though it wasn’t under-populated by any means.

“Mr. Shang?” Mal asked of the well-dressed man waiting at the contact spot. He was short and balding and wearing rounded spectacles, but had a jovial sort of charm to him. He vaguely reminded Mal of a sea-lion, if he was honest with himself. He certainly had the whiskers for it.

“Yes. Captain Reynolds, I presume?”

“That would be me.” Wanting to get down to business, “I was led to believe by a certain Mr. Kristos that you had goods you needed delivered to Beylix.”

Mr. Shang motioned for Zoe and Mal to sit and join him and they did so. Drinks were served and Mal briefly caught River’s eye as she sat at the bar, as Mal had told her to do.

“I do,” Mr. Shang said. “There are several factories on Beylix that want to upgrade and they need the parts to do it. Alliance charges too much for what should be a simple transport job. The Mendel boys are waiting for a shipment, and I’ve been told that you’re honest in what you do.”

“That I am. I’ve run jobs for the Mendel boys before. They’re good and honest folk and it’s good to do business with them. The contact at the Sky Bazaar was new, but he seemed a decent type.”

“Mr. Kristos has been doing this work for a very long time. He is good at matching buyers and sellers and middlemen. It is his gift, you might say, if you were poetically inclined. I shall have my men load the cargo into your ship within the hour, if you’re agreeable. They are trustworthy and should not give you any problems.”

“Right. We’ll be waiting at our ship then. We’re in the last berth at the Quarterport docks, though whoever thought it was a grand idea to place ship docks so close to cattle ranches was not extremely mentally gifted.” He took the small data chip from Mr. Shang and handed it off to Zoe, who hadn’t said a word. Shaking Mr. Shang’s hand, he said, “Pleasure doing business with ya.”

“Indeed. I hope this will be the beginning of a nice and healthy business relationship, Mr. Reynolds.”

They went their separate ways, Mal collecting River from where she had been sitting at the bar, keeping a lookout and enjoying what looked to be a glass of club-soda, complete with some kind of neon-pink twisty straw. And, judging by the few splatters of club-soda around her glass, she’d been blowing bubbles in her drink the entire time.

Great, Mal thought. She's blowing bubbles when we're discussing business. Still, suppose it’s better than blowing bubbles when we're discussing crime.

“River, was he being truthful back there? Or do we need to prepare for a nasty surprise?”

River looked at him as she paid for her drink and gracefully hopped off of the bar stool, bringing the ludicrous straw with her.

“He was truthful. He has worries about the cargo being pinched once it is delivered to the brothers Mendel, but is truthful.”

“That’s a comfort.” Mal said, and Zoe spoke her agreement. The trio walked back together, River spinning her straw in-between her fingers rapidly.

“Is it really necessary to keep that damn thing?” Mal asked, when he noticed.

“Yes.” River said firmly.

***

Back on ship, Mal informed the others that the shipment would be coming within the hour and told Jayne and Zoe to be ready to help load it.

Looking at Lilah, he smirked.

“And here you were thinkin’ we’d need the infirmary. I told you it would go smooth.” Mal strode away smugly, and as he ascended the stairs to the catwalk, he tripped over a step and fell forward, banging his head against the sharp metal. He lifted his head and the others saw that there was a small gash on the side of his forehead…one that would require a weave.

The others shared a look, Jayne outright laughed.

“Not one word. Not one gorram word. I’ll be in the infirmary. Doc, you’d best follow.”

He walked away, head held high.

Simon rolled his eyes and dutifully followed.

***

River took a deep breath as she knocked on Inara’s shuttle door.

Qing jin.”

River entered the shuttle, finding Inara covering up her cortex screen hastily.

“River! To what do I owe this surprise?” Inara asked kindly.

River held up the two bags she carried.

“You said you would help me. I don’t want to be a little girl anymore.” She looked uncertain and very nervous.

Inara stood and took River into her arms, hugging her.

“Of course I’ll help you.” She pulled away to smile at her. “Do you have an idea of where you wish to start?”

River smiled and nodded her head.

“Well then, I’ll go ahead and close the door to insure that there are no interruptions, and then you and I can get to work.”

Xie xie.”

***

Zoe and Jayne met Mr. Shang’s men and giving them instructions, helped load the many metal crates of factory machine parts into the cargo bay. It was boring work and work that they’d both done too many times to count.

As Jayne lifted a particularly heavy crate onto another, he looked up to see River enter Inara’s shuttle, carrying two bags.

“Wonder what the hell the Moonbrain’s doin’.” He casually commented to Zoe, who looked up as well. River continued to shun him and he was surprised to find that it bothered him. Hell, he didn’t even like her. She was a pain in the ass as far as he was concerned and if she wanted to go and get all uppity and high-minded on him, then he didn’t want to deal with her anyway.

“My guess would be that she’s doing girl stuff with Inara.” Zoe said, picking up a crate and carrying it over and placing it next to the two stacked crates. She motioned to a bigger one that the men had just set down before leaving to get another one. Jayne and Zoe lifted up the large crate and, nearly staggering underneath the weight, managed to move it to a place of safety.

“What the hell she wanna go and do that for?” Jayne asked, looking disgusted.

“I don’t know Jayne, maybe because River’s a young woman, and that’s what young women do.”

“Ruttin’ useless.”

“Jayne, she could shave her head and paint her skin purple for all the Captain and I care, so long as she’s happy.”

Jayne rolled his eyes and continued to help Zoe stack the crates and secure them. He left for his bunk when the men had left and Zoe had informed Mal that they were good to go.

***

River sat contentedly as Inara brushed her hair. Her head felt so much lighter than it had in years; she was surprised at just how heavy hair really was, and was grateful she’d let Inara talk her into cutting off a few inches.

“It’s dead hair, River.”

“All hair is dead. Your argument is irrelevant.” River said.

“But it doesn’t look healthy and shiny, like a young woman’s hair should be. That’s what you want, right? To be a young woman? You don’t like fixing your hair, and the shorter it is, the easier it will be to take care of.”

“Long hair is pretty and girly.” River argued, even though Inara was right; River didn’t like fixing her hair, for reasons she simply didn’t want to share with the others.

“Not always, River. Look at Kaylee. Her hair is shorter than yours and she’s still very girly. I promise you’ll still look like a pretty young woman after I trim your hair. It’s so long you’ll hardly notice a few inches missing.”

“Fine then.”

“This feels so nice.” River said.

“Kaylee always enjoys it,” Inara agreed. “There’s something soothing in the repetitive nature of it.”

“You don’t need to worry. She isn’t attracted to the Captain.” River said suddenly.

“What? Who?” Inara questioned, bewildered.

“Lilah. She feels no desire for Malcolm Reynolds.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Inara asked, feeling her face flush.

“Because you’ve been worried that she would develop feelings for the Captain and I wished to ease your mind.”

“I thought that you were working on not reading the crew.” Inara said, slightly chastising.

“I have been. I didn’t read her. People tell you things all the time without saying a word. It’s in her speech and in her body language. She feels no attraction to him.”

“I-…thank you, River. It’s none of my business, but thank you for telling me, even if it’s of no importance. I have no claim on Mal.”

“But don’t you wish that you did?” River queried innocently.

“It’s complicated, River.” Inara said. Switching subjects before the conversation got too out of hand, she continued. “Now, let’s see about those clothes you bought.”

River nodded her agreement and Inara nearly sighed in relief.

***

“Simon, honey, I’m going to be okay. I’ve worked in the engine room before, you know. I’ll be just fine.” Kaylee said, talking with Simon in the engine room.

“You weren’t last time.” Simon said, quietly. “Kaylee, it could have been so much worse.”

“But it wasn’t, Simon. It was a fluke and it ain’t likely to happen again anytime soon. I got careless, is all.” Kaylee reassured him. “And ‘sides, now that I know I got a wedding to look forward to, you really think I’m gonna let myself get hurt?”

Under her smile, Simon couldn’t help but cave.

“Just…promise to be careful.”

“I promise, Simon.” She kissed his cheek and went into the engine room.

She commed Lilah and Mal up on the bridge.

“I’m ready when you all are.”

“Thank you Kaylee.” She heard Mal say. “Take us out of the world, Lilah. We gots supplies to take to Beylix.”

Kaylee monitored the engine systems as she felt Lilah power up and lift Serenity into the air. Everything seemed to be okay; indeed, she’d barely felt a thing. Wash had been able to lift her girl like that too. Kaylee smiled, hearing the purr of contentment Serenity gave that she was very sure only she could hear.

Mal came in briefly to check on her, and making sure that she was okay, left.

Picking up a wrench and a rag that she tucked into a pocket, Kaylee lowered herself onto the floor, and got to work.

***

Zoe had retreated to her bunk, looking through her captures. Some were of just Wash, while the others were of the two of them.

She recalled the captures that were in Lilah’s album, trying to reconcile that Wash with the Wash in her own.

But over and over it kept ringing her head, the same thought, the thought that kept her lying awake in their bed.

Wash had lied to her.

Wash had lied to her. Her, his wife.

He’d lied to her.

And she couldn’t figure out why. And then it made her wonder why he was so irritated when Zoe and Mal would tell their “war stories.” If he’d served, why would it have bugged him? Why would he have resented it so much? Why would it have made him feel like he didn’t belong?

Dammnit, Wash. Why would you do this to me? I thought we trusted each other. Why couldn’t you have trusted me with this?”

***

“These pants are tighter than I like.” River said. “But I can move around in them.” To illustrate her point, she backed away from Inara and brought her leg up past her head, spinning around. “Better for fighting. I could wear these on jobs; I did wear these on the job today.”

“Yes, but even outside of jobs they would be nice to wear. They are very flattering on you, River.”

“I like the other pants. They sway around my legs and feet when I walk.” She smiled. “Not suitable for crime but fun.”

“What do you think of the shirts?” Inara prompted.

“They are acceptable, but I do not like the support I have to wear because of them.” She frowned. “I do not think I am large enough to merit the support.” She looked down at her chest, sadly. “But it is not uncomfortable and I will yield to the wisdom of she who is older than I.”

Inara laughed gaily.

“And now, River, it’s time for you to learn to wear suitable shoes.”

River groaned, much to Inara’s amusement.

***

Mal was walking back up to the bridge when he heard Lilah speak over the com system.

“Captain, there’s a wave for you from a man called Badger.”

Mal hurried up and upon entering the bridge, nodded to her. She pushed a button and Badger’s face appeared on the screen.

“Ah, Captain Reynolds! I see that you’ve got a new woman on board. Who is she? New player?”

“Never you mind. Do you have business to discuss with me? I’m in the middle of a job right now.”

“Just stop by the next time you lot are on Persephone. Last time you all landed and left without so much as a hello to me. It wasn’t very polite of you, you know.”

“Wasn’t sure if we should have bugged such a fine and upstanding businessman like yourself. But if it broke your heart that much, I suppose we could stop by next time we’re around.” Mal smiled, the one where he didn’t really mean it.

“Watch yourself, Reynolds. ‘Ta then.”

“What a little rodent.” Lilah said, after the wave ended. “I feel like I need to scrub down and I only spoke to him for a minute or so.”

“Man has that effect on folk, it seems. But he plays a damn big role in business on Persephone, so it don’t do much good to irritate him, though it is fun upon occasion.” He looked out at the space before them. “How long until we reach Beylix?”

“Most likely four days, barring any exciting adventures like last time.” Lilah said.

“I think we’re all past that phase now.” Mal said, grinning. “Oh, and just a reminder…you’re on cooking rotation tonight.”

“Wonderful.” Lilah deadpanned.

“Look on the bright side, Lilah. It ain’t Simon’s cooking. Hell, last time he cooked by himself some of us got food poisoning. Spent the better part of a day hurling our innards into the toilets.” Mal said.

“Food poisoning from protein? Is that even possible?” Lilah asked incredulously.

“Apparently so. Doc ain’t top three percent for nothin’, it seems.” Mal said. “And you actually get real food to work with, so that’s gotta count for something.”

“Whatever you say, Captain.” Lilah said. “I’ll start dinner here before long.”

“Shiny.”

Mal left and Lilah relaxed back into her chair. That man is so strange. she thought. But then I suppose it would take a strange man to captain a strange crew. And now I’m a part of said strange crew. Interesting, but strange. She sighed, recalling the conversation that had happened in the common area outside the infirmary a few days earlier.

***

“So, Captain. You said you’d answer my questions. I think now is as good a time as any.”

Lilah was sitting on the couch, next to Simon, who was sitting next to Kaylee. Jayne was reclining in a chair (and managing somehow to look almost indecent while doing so) and River was hovering next to the nearest exit. Inara was sitting on the other couch and like Simon, Mal was sandwiched between Inara and Zoe.

“Alright then, Ms. Linn. What do you recall about the Miranda broadcast that got sent out ‘bout a year ago?” Mal asked of her.

“It just about turned the ‘Verse upside down, I know that. Some band of people found a recording and broadcast it. It said that the Alliance was responsible for Miranda essentially being a black rock and creating the Reavers. What’s that got to do with anything?”

“It’s got everything to do with what we’re about to tell you. That broadcast weren’t no lie. Everything on the video was truthful.”

“And how do you know that?” Lilah asked.

“Because we were the ones who broadcast it.” Zoe said. “We found the recording and we waved it to every world spinning.”

“Is that how Leaf died?” Lilah asked. The others obviously weren’t used to her calling him that, but that was how she had known him.

“Yeah. Doc, why don’t you take over the telling of this little tale?” Mal said. “You just about got the prettiest voice out of any of us when it comes to tellin’ things.”

Simon did so, hesitantly at first, before he found his voice and plunged forward, sparing no detail. He told her about how River had been sent to an academy to learn and had instead been locked up there to have her brain played with by surgeon and be conditioned as an assassin. He told her about their coming onboard Serenity, and how River was at first insane. He mentioned her going wild in the Maidenhead Bar on Beaumonde, taking out the entire bar before he’d put her to sleep.

On it went…Haven, a man they had known called Shepherd Book, an Operative of the Parliament, tearing apart the ship so that it would look like a Reaver ship, Miranda and its terrible secret. And he told her about Leaf, about his last flight, dodging ships, Alliance and Reaver alike, and crashing Serenity into Mr. Universe’s moon, and how he was impaled by a Reaver harpoon and killed instantly. He detailed their battle against the Reavers, how River had saved them all and defeated the entire swarm, and how Mal had gotten the signal through.

By the time he had finished, everyone was sitting in stony silence and the mood was very somber.

It was almost too much to take in. The ordeals that this crew had been through together, how strong they’d been…Lilah was in awe. It was amazing that even after everything that they had been through they were still together – still a family.

She looked at River, who was sitting in the doorway closest to the bridge. River wasn’t meeting anyone’s eyes and Lilah felt a deep welling anger at the hun dans who’d decided to play God and cut up a little girl. And somehow, Lilah felt it was important to let River know that she accepted her and appreciated her.

“You’re quite a young woman, River.” She said. “Probably one of the most remarkable that I’ve ever met.” River looked at her, smiling hopefully. “You’re pretty, you’re smart, and you can handle a gun. The boys back home would love you,” Lilah said, thinking the boys where she grew up. River beamed and blushed.

“It’s a lot to take in, we know.” Mal said.

“You all are either completely brilliant or absolutely feng le.” Lilah said.

“Most likely it’s a bit of both.” Simon said wryly. “The warrants on River and I have been rescinded, but we still like to keep a low profile. We can’t trust that the Alliance won’t try and put her back in the Academy if they get a hold of her.”

“Believe me, my lips are sealed.”

“Right. I think that about covers everything.” Mal said, clapping his hands together.

“Shiny.” Lilah said.

She’d later retreated to her sanctuary on the bridge, mourning for her friend who had died a hero. She could picture him threading the space around war-ships and Reaver ships with Serenity. Leaf had been an excellent pilot when under pressure. While others would have panicked, he had always found a calm place and went with it, retreating behind a Zen-like grace.

We always knew you’d do something great, Leaf. We all knew it. I’m gonna miss you. I hope it’s smooth flying wherever you are.

She fiddled with one of the dinos that had been Leaf’s and smiled sadly.

***

Lilah checked her watch and groaned. It was time to go and cook. She set the controls to autopilot, making sure that they were still on course and not flying into a moon or something, and left for the mess.

She checked what was in stock and decided to make something simple. Pulling the hair back from her face into a ponytail, she pulled out what she needed from the fridge and the cupboards, washed her hands, and got to work.

She concentrated on her task, chopping and cutting and grinding and sautéing until she could inhale the aromas that were starting to waft through the mess. She smiled blandly to herself; this particular meal, while simple, had been one of Wendell’s favorites.

“You should do that more often.” She heard. Looking up, she saw Kaylee.

“Do what?”

“Pull your hair back. You’re always pushing it back from your face, but you never pull it back.” She grinned. “You look lots younger with it pulled back.”

“I pull it back when I run, when I weld, and when I cook, that’s about it. I can’t really say why, but it’s a habit, I guess. You know, I used to argue with my mother so much growing up, because I always wanted short hair, and she always said no. Then, when I joined up with the Independents to be a fighter pilot, they cut most of it off.”

“Didja hate it?” Kaylee asked.

“Oh, you have no idea. It was like my hair had gotten into a fight with a machete, and the machete didn’t just win; it put up a flag, established a government and sung an anthem. It was nearly a year before it grew to any decent length. Thankfully by the time I was married it’d grown out more, else I think Wendell would have run off screaming in terror. I swore I’d never get it cut short again.”

“Whatcha cookin’?”

“Chicken and mushrooms along with rice and what I think is some kind of green vegetable protein. The can didn’t actually have a label.” Lilah said, picking up a fork and poking at the cooking green protein suspiciously.

“It smells wonderful.”

“Here’s hoping it tastes as good as it smells.”

“I’m sure we’ll all love it,” Kaylee insisted. “About how much longer, do you think?”

Lilah surveyed the grill and the pans before her.

“Probably about ten minutes, I’d say.”

“I’ll just go and round up the troops.” Kaylee said, walking away cheerfully.

*** River felt particularly cheery after spending a few hours with Inara. She felt somewhat different than usual…happy that she had taken a step towards letting herself grow up and sad that she was finally starting to let go of that little girl inside her. But she was happiest that even after the hair and the clothing and the shoes, she still felt like her. She was still River that that pleased her more than anything. Inara had been very right when she insisted that it wouldn’t change who River was, it would just give her a different outlook, perhaps.

She thought it was rather fitting. She was growing, wearing away new paths for herself, trying to find her place. She felt like she was on the verge of breaking through her cocoon and discovering that she was a butterfly. She giggled softly to herself; she always did have a vivid imagination.

River felt like a girl, like a person, and it meant the world to her after spending three years being conditioned and trained to believe that she was not human nor anything but a weapon.

***

Mal smiled to himself as he sat down with his crew at dinner. The food was good, not the best he’d ever had, but still damn good. His crew seemed happy, for the most part. This latest job seemed pretty smooth and they possibly had work from Badger after their job was completed. River was looking forward to the drop and things just seemed to be falling into place.

The only sore spot was Zoe dealing with what he knew she considered to be a great betrayal from Wash. Truthfully, Mal couldn’t grudge her. She had been starting to come to terms with what had happened and then she’d had Wash’s past (and Wash had been pretty close-lipped about what he used to do before Serenity, now that Mal remembered) laid open in front of her and had her perception of her husband turned upside down. Anyone would have been more than a little sore after something like that.

But mostly, things seemed to be going well for once.

He just hoped that it lasted.

***

I hope you enjoy! Questions, comments, and constructive criticism are greatly appreciated!

GG

COMMENTS

Thursday, May 14, 2009 7:06 AM

NUTLUCK


Interesting, though a bit surprised no one commented on the new clothes, hair and such of river. Especially her brother.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 12:08 PM

AMDOBELL


Uh oh, hope Mal didn't just jinx things with thinking it was all going so smooth. I'm sad that Lilah told Zoe about the Wash she knew and upsetting her even unintentionally. And it was very in character for the thing that pleased River most to be that she was still herself despite the haircut and change of clothes. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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