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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - SUSPENSE
Mal, Kaylee, and Simon head off on their daring theft, counting on the fact that the Santiago crew is coming up quick behind them.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 939 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
"Okay." Mal sat back in the armchair, moaned softly, and then fixed Inara with a hard stare. "Talk me through it again."
"I need to know that you understand it for yourself."
Inara sighed a bit huffily, but nodded and continued. "Jorge's crew on the 'Santiago' have already broken atmosphere, heading right this way. We're not sure on the details, but this head-on dive approach seems to suggest that they have some hardware that's meant to get them past whatever anti-air defences the Alliance is counting on to prevent a fly-by-night robbery. Wash and Zoe's guess is that they won't be stupid enough to fire on the main house or the south wing. Casualties would be too high here at the central building, and in the south, they'd risk crushing the engine that they've come for."
"Right," Mal agreed, keeping one eye on his chrono.
"So they're probably going to land on the roof of the South wing, or next to it, and go in, heavily armed, from there. We can't outfight them ourselves, so if we want to get the thing, we're going to have to beat them to it, and use their approach as an extra distraction. When we move, we move in two teams. You and Simon are going to go south, and slip through one of the supposedly blocked-off passages through to the South wing, timing it so that you go through there just as the Santiago approaches the building. I'm to meet up with Kaylee, get out via the West entrance to the main house, get my shuttle, and land it outside a door on the southeast corner of the South wing."
"Yep," Mal said, smiling at her.
"Kaylee's got the blanking routine with old footage set up to cover all of our movements on the security cameras, but because we're going to have to move early, and we don't want to create an enormous diversion right away, there's a chance that they'll notice that something's wrong with the cameras. To cover things as simply as possible with little chance of an escalation out of hand, Simon has got something prepared that will cause a little bit of disruption in the Crystal ballroom."
"Okay, anything else?"
Inara thought. "That's pretty much it. You guys, I guess, are going to have to improvise a bit when it comes to moving the engine safely. Are you sure that you don't want Kaylee coming with you as well?"
"I'd love to take her," Mal insisted, "but you do need someone watching your back in case anything goes wrong."
"There's a lot less likely to go wrong if I'm just heading outside for a breath of fresh air by myself, instead of being seen with a scientific delegate. We still can't quickly and easily explain how I know Juli Maren."
Mal wavered. "Does it really matter by this point?"
"You'll need Kaylee in the lab. She could be invaluable in half a dozen ways, easily."
Mal thought about that a second. "Okay, I'm sold. And if you're convinced that it's so innocent-looking, you heading down for a walk, then maybe you don't need to be covered on the security system? Give them less fake footage to possibly spot?"
"Alright, I'll get on the Cortex link and let Kaylee know about the change," Inara said, crossing the room from bed to desk. "Oh, that does remind me - Kaylee worked out these microwave link remote control thingees that they're unlikely to spot in an hour or two, to adjust the timing of the security system stuff, because we don't know just when Santiago will get here, and everything depends on that." She cocked her head. "How are you going to tell when Santiago is here? Will you be able to hear it from inside the building?"
"Well, there's that, but also, Zoe will be keeping me informed via the signal pen. We've established a new code for it," Mal said.
"Gotcha. And between Kaylee and Zoe, they've also worked out unlock codes to a few important doors you're going to run into along the way, like the laboratory, and the stairwell in the south wing."
"Yep. They do good work," Mal had to admit.
"So, which passageway are you using to get to the South wing, and how are you unblocking it?" Inara asked.
"Furthest from the place the Feds will be guarding, or nearly. Right-hand corridor on the fourth level, where the main corridor has been blocked by a solid wood wall, fused into the real walls, floor, and ceiling. We wouldn't be able to break it down or shoot it apart in the time that we had, but there's actually another way through. That's something that the Marens happened to mention."
"You know, when Badger pays us, we're going to have to pay the Marens five or ten percent," Inara commented. "That'd be only fair."
"I think that we have slightly different definitions of fair play," Mal joked. "We'll talk about it. In any event, the Badger money isn't going to come soon or in a big lump. After Kaylee found the Maren connection, I re-negotiated to get a share of what *he* makes out of the engine. I have enough faith in his business skills to know that's going to be worth a mint."
Inara turned her upper body around in the chair to stare at Mal. "And... and what about the skills a man like Badger has to hide the money he sees from the engine. Do you have any guarantees, like the right to arrange audits? Or do you just trust Badger to be as good as his word, to actually say he made nine hundred million when he makes nine hundred million?"
"Oh... I guess I hadn't thought of that," Mal admitted. "Usually when we hold out for a cut, it's more immediate and, well, concrete I guess. I realized that this would be a little iffier, but hadn't thought of that - accounting stuff." He sighed. "I... I think I have a little leeway to renegotiate the agreement somewhat, if we DO get the goods, before we hand it back over to the Badge. Do - do you think you could help out with the business side of it? Help - help me figure out just what I should be asking for?"
Inara cocked her head slightly as she looked at him. "I... yes, I'd be happy to. Thank you for asking." She turned back to the Cortex screen. "Kaylee must have been online and just waiting for any late-breaking updates. She's confirmed the change of plans, will stick with Simon and they'll meet you at the agreed-on rendezvous point."
"Good, then that's something going right at least," Mal said with a smile. "We're getting fairly close to the moment of launch." He got up. "Good luck, Inara, and *please* stay out of trouble as much as you can."
"Definitely, on one condition." She got up and hugged him tight. "That you make me the same promise."
Mal stepped back slightly, which made Inara's heart ache slightly, but then she realized it was necessary so that he could take her face in his hands. "I will stay out of the line of fire, I will take care of myself, and I will *come back* to you, Inara Serra."
The sincere feeling in those plainly spoken words knocked the wind out of Inara. Part of her wanted to say that he was making too much of this, that he should make it back for himself, and not for her sake, that she wasn't even sure what they would be to each other when they got back to Serenity. But all that made it out of her mouth was, 'Thank you, mia Cara."
He smiled a little, and she wondered if he knew what the words meant. Mal Reynolds wasn't ignorant or uneducated, no matter what he sometimes liked to pretend. "Remember, if some guard gives you a hard time, your first and best option is turning on the charm. It might not seem dignified, but that's your best strength and the safest to boot."
"Hey, watch it," Inara chuckled. "For some common alley slattern, that might be the truth. But one of the most important parts of Companion training is the art of being charming and dignified at the same time."
"Okay, I have to admit that you've got me there."
"But what if the guard is a woman?"
"I didn't realize that your charm was much less effective on the feminine persuasion," Mal pointed out.
"What if it's a guy, but he likes the..."
"Come on, we don't have more time for hypotheticals," Mal said, putting a finger up to her full lips. "I've got to rendezvous with our Mister and Miz Maren, and you need to be bringing our ride around."
"Yeah," Inara agreed, and they crept out of the room. As they crept in the same direction down the corridor, she whispered, "Mal?"
"If - if there are a lot of guards at the landing field, should I wait until the Santiago gets near before taking off?"
Mal hesitated, leading the way. "Use your judgment. Taking off in the middle of the night before there's anything to cover it could be dangerous, not to mention having to get TO the ship before you even take off. But so could flying through whatever's going to happen when Santiago arrives." He snapped his fingers, but silently. "THAT'S what Kaylee was going to take care of," he said in a whisper. "She had something to distract guards at the landing field."
"Hmm." Inara considered. "I can't go all the way to the rendezvous point with you and double back. Don't you have anything that might help out that you don't need?"
Mal checked in a few pockets. "Just this," he said, handing a slim red rocket, maybe seven and a half inches, over to her. "It's this or nothing."
"Oh, Buddha in a bucket," Inara complained. After a moment, they got to the intersection where their paths split. "You go ahead," she said. "I'll wait long enough for you to be out of sight, and the camera to reset. Then when I come around the corner it'll look normal."
"But that camera will suddenly pick you up first," Mal said, pointing at one vaguely behind her.
Inara held out a hand, and after a moment, Mal gave her a digital controller. She took only a few seconds to make an adjustment. "Not anymore. It'll stay on the bypass for an extra two minutes."
"Okay, good luck." Mal took the controller back, hesitated for a moment, and then hurried away without a backward glance.
"I'm coming as quickly as I can," Kaylee grumbled as she hurried along, next to Simon and about a pace and a half behind him. "When I was going to meet with Inara, I'd planned the timing of *that* route to take into account the difficulty of moving in a tight dress and heels. This is just what we get for last-minute changes."
"We're not more than a few seconds behind," Simon muttered. "And Mal said that we'd probably have time that we'd need to wait once we got past the rendezvous anyway. I can adjust the camera blanking schedule, and he'll wait for us if we're a bit late."
"Well, yeah, if we need to," Kaylee agreed, and obviously tried to hurry the pace.
"Just don't fall and hurt yourself," Simon said, sounding a bit worried. "That, above all, we don't need."
He was also a bit worried about what might happen if they met someone still out and about in the hallways, whether they were security, household staff, or what. Well, other guests probably wouldn't be a problem. They'd talked it over, and decided that staying in formalwear probably would seem less threatening, and thus less suspicious, even though the night's social engagements had pretty much broken apart nearly an hour ago. Simon led the way to a flight of stairs, (since an elevator going from place to place with no security footage of anyone inside would probably by noticed as strange,) and they lost more time as Kaylee climbed to the next level up. Without saying a word, Simon readjusted the camera blackout sequence to give them another thirty seconds along their whole route.
"Simon, can I ask you something?" she asked in a panting whisper, as they approached within three turnings of the rendezvous.
"Umm - yeah, why? I mean, what is it?"
"How long do you think that River is going to be the number one priority in your life?"
That subject startled Simon, to the point that he very nearly stumbled and collapsed headlong on the floor himself. "Umm, I don't really have any idea. As long as she *needs* me to be, why?"
Kaylee reached out automatically to help him straighten up, but even in the dim light he could see the upset and disappointed look on her face. For a moment he wished that he hadn't been so abrupt with her, but that hadn't been the biggest problem, it was the sentiment itself, which as much as he might want to, he couldn't disavow. Assuming that they didn't get killed/captured by rivals/arrested in the fulfillment of this caper, they would be heading back onto Serenity, which was the center of Kaylee's world after all, and the only home that Simon could return safely to at the moment.
But with Serenity, River would come back into his life - he loved her and wouldn't leave her side for anything, obviously, but it was clear that Kaylee sensed that devotion, and wasn't eager about playing second fiddle to little sister in his life, even if they could work out every other issue. This little side trip was probably the only chance that they'd had to indulge without River getting in the way - and Simon had let the mission itself keep him from doing what he so badly wanted to do. And now, certainly, it was too late to even consider...
"Move your butt!" Kaylee insisted in a whisper, and Simon realized that he hadn't automatically started moving, as he ruminated. They were in danger of losing the whole security coverage pattern, and the meeting with Mal - and it was just possible that a human guard, either estate security or Alliance Fed soldier, would happen along. He scurried into as much of a jog as he could manage without making loud footsteps. Even so, Kaylee shushed him silently, urging him with a tug on his arm to slow down.
Nothing more was said for the rest of the hallway and another staircase, and suddenly a tall figure was approaching them. Simon almost panicked before he forced his brain to check for Mal's face, and of course, it was indeed Serenity's captain, no-one other. "Inara should be out to the landing field," Mal muttered by way of greeting. "Not sure if she's going to wait for..."
And at that moment, a shock wave of sound and vibration passed through the chamber where they'd met - Kaylee yelped quietly and lost her balance, toppling over at an angle between forwards and right - Simon tried to scramble around quickly enough to catch her when she fell, but he wasn't able to keep his own balance while moving that quickly and the tremors in the floor hadn't half subsided. As he stumbled, his face more or less collided with Kaylee's cleavage, (by accident, *seriously!*) and the two of them ended up in a somewhat tangled heap, Kaylee breaking Simon's fall and sounding extremely unimpressed by that detail, as he could hardly blame her. He HADN'T planned his manoeuvre to go that way, but then, things often just didn't...
"Are the two of you finished wrestling around?" Mal drawled crisply, and Simon scrambled to his feet, and then offered a hand to Kaylee, but she pointedly refused it and arranged herself into a demure kneeling position by herself. Mal hefted her the rest of the way up. "I guess that's our diversion, just in time," Mal deadpanned, looking around the room. "Things should be busy enough in security central."
"Is - is the main mansion hit?" Simon muttered, worried, as Mal led them across the room. "That felt..."
"Nah, probably wasn't even one of the outbuildings," Mal judged casually, his voice supremely offhand. "Just a warning shot, as it were, but the noise and the blast wave can be powerfully distracting, I do realize that." He bent over next to the blank wall, pulled out some kind of a little pliers-like tool out of an inside pocket, and drew open a three-foot wide panel in the metal base board. "Okay, here's our pathway into the south wing, I do reckon."
"What - what's in there?" Simon muttered. The portal didn't look hardly big enough to - well, if they went in flat on their stomachs, sliding like snakes, there would probably be just room enough, even for a big and broad guy like Mal. But how small would whatever passage inside be, and how dark, and would there be twists and turns that they couldn't navigate through?"
"Service passageway for the household robots," Kaylee muttered. "Pretty standard - didn't you have any of these at home?"
"We, we had household robots at my parents' place, but no little tunnels or cubbyholes for them," Simon muttered, torn between dismay and fascination. "Possibly because it was an old historical house dating to the first settlement of Osiris, supposedly, so maybe consumer automation wasn't so common back then. And in my own apartment - well, I had regular cleaning service, people and machines coming in to take care of whatever, but no regular robots." Somehow the explanation was making him feel a bit better about the whole deal. "How big is the passage inside?"
"Enough talking," Mal insisted. "Except to sort out who's leading the way."
"I'll take up the rear," Kaylee insisted. Both of the men turned to look at her. "Sorry - in this getup, I'd rather that you weren't gaze fixed forward on my ass - at least, not in a 'serious situation' at least."
"Maybe I'd better go first, then." Simon said, taking a deep breath. "Better that than being stuck in the middle. I... I don't do too well with very tight spaces anyway."
"You don't do well with tight spaces," Mal muttered, handing Simon a palm light. "You don't do so well with the big outer spaces either, I seem ta recall."
"So I prefer a happy medium to either extreme," Simon quipped, and began to crawl into the access hole, hoping that this would work out okay. He swung the little light from the small emitter around and back by turning his hand one way and then another, trying to get a sense of the space and where they had to go. He'd hoped that they might be able to go straight through to their destination, but unfortunately encountered a T-intersection almost immediately - the passageway wasn't leading away from the room that they'd been in, perpendicular to the wall, but ran behind the wall and parallel to it. There would be just about enough room to make the turn, but... "Which way is south?"
"Turn right, Simon," Kaylee called helpfully, and Simon flexed his body around in that way, wondering if Kaylee was gaze fixed on any part of him as he contorted. (It was almost too bad that Mal would be in between them... but then, unless there were more flash lights, then Kaylee wouldn't be seeing that much of anybody's butt, or anything else. (Which made him wonder just why she was so insistent about going last...)
"There a problem -- Doctor?" Oh, right. Simon had gotten so caught up in irrelevant thoughts, that he'd stopped crawling with his calves and feet still poking out of the hole. Quickly he rearranged the flash onto the back of his hand so that he could get up onto his hands and feet, without having the light pointing down at the floor, (though having it shine up at his face was a danger from that position,) and made as much progress as he could. After around twenty seconds, he risked a look back, and saw that Mal was still managing the contortion of following him. That made him feel a bit better.
He'd seen this sort of thing on network videos, the brave heroes or clever criminals scurrying through ventilation ducts or what-have-you, (there might have even been a few that mentioned robot passageways,) but none of them managed to convey just how frustrating, tiring, and awkward it was to travel through something this small. At least it was a bit higher than the access door had been, Simon admitted, and they hadn't yet encountered a robot who wanted to come the other way.
"Um, a moment of your time, Mister Tam?" Mal called quietly from behind him.
"I do believe that you've nearly passed by the side passage that we'll need to take to get out of here in an appropriate spot."
"Huh?" Simon let his fingers run across the sides of the passage, and realized that there was indeed a noticeable hole to his side - one that was even shorter and a bit narrower than the tunnel he was currently crawling through. Oh boy. He backed up, (Mal hadn't been following so closely as to make this awkward,) and then managed to climb up into this new conduit of torture. This time, the hands and feet deal was right out, and he had to hump the length of his body into progress as quietly as he could, feeling like an exceptionally awkward snake, since there was really nothing that he could grab onto with enough leverage to slide forward with. "Do I need to watch out for any other turnings?" he called.
"No, in twenty more feet we should be at what seems like a dead end," Mal reported. "Just push on it when you get to it, and it should open up alright from inside."
"Push straight ahead of me?" Simon confirmed, and took the lack of words that came back to him as a 'yes.' Well, twenty feet more he could do - he found the metal plate barring the way in front of him, prodded, and was surprised as the surface fell away entirely. With a desperate grab, he was able to get a hold of the panel so that it didn't fall onto the floor of the room that they had been making towards, which could have generated too much noise.
He helped Mal and Kaylee out of the passage. Nobody talked, or made noise that they could help, because they heard heavy breathing, and muted voices, from not too far away. What did it mean that there were people so nearby? Had extra security been dispatched onto the spot, or were they scientists who had been working late, and emerged from the lab because of the sound of weapons fire? That din hadn't stopped, though Simon hadn't been particularly aware of any impacts during the crawling tribulation - in fact, a little passageway like that was possibly the best place to be while the whole building was shaking.
"Mm?" Mal gestured in front of Simon's face, but he wasn't sure what the captain wanted, so just cocked his head, Choking down a snarl of frustration, Mal retrieved the light from Simon's hand, adjusted it to the dimmest setting, and crept across the small room, gesturing for Simon to follow. There was a rack full of clothes hangers on one side of the chamber - and on each hanger seemed to be an identical set of jacket, shirt, and pants, except for certain variations in size. A set of uniforms capable of serving dozens of men, then, and -- had he seen an outfit like that before? It was so hard to judge colors, in the dim light, but...
Mal thrust a uniform at Simon to try, and he spared only a moment's glance at Kaylee before taking off the fancy party gear that he'd been wearing up until now. Kaylee just smiled teasingly. By the time he'd gotten the shirt on, and the pants, he had a notion who they were dressing up as, though it was still hard to be sure of the effect without adequate lighting, and a mirror. Something in the manner that Mal assumed once he had his own jacket on sealed the issue - the game was pretending to be internal security for the mansion.
When Mal confidently led the way out of the uniform room, Simon had to nerve himself up to follow, especially when he saw the Alliance soldiers with face masks down and automatic rifles pointed in two different directions - and one of them quickly spotted them and flipped around to cover Mal and Simon, muttering new curses under his breath. The other guard noticed what had happened, and switched to cover the northward corridor that his friend had abandoned - which was presumably the main entrance where people might enter from the big house. "State your identity numbers and names, please."
"Jeffer Grant, eight seven three one two four nine oh," Mal rhymed off, and Simon's mind froze as he saw one of the Feds punch that into a computer keypad on the back of his weapon. Mal turned to Simon. "Riggs? Oh, hell, Riggs, did you forget your number again? I keep telling you, you have to at least make an effort to..."
To Simon's silent amazement, one of the Federales smirked. "Your friend not so good with his numbers?"
Without even looking back at Mal, Simon realized what he'd have to do to sell this role, as humiliating as it might be. (The indignities of being under cover, or something like that.) "Hey, I can count up my pay and my bills just fine. Just - just not used to this 'Serial number' niou-se."
Both federales chuckled at that, and Mal joined in, but the one who had his gun trained in their direction worked his keypad. "Mister Simeon Riggs, from Regina. Did you get much of the sickness, before leaving your world, Riggs?"
The sickness? Suddenly Mal remembered the medicine that Mal had stolen, and given back, and what he'd said about it. "No - never did go near a mining town, though I guess I'm lucky even so. Was eager enough to find work that would take me off that world - always been good with a gun or a knife in my hands, so..."
"Speaking of which, where's your armament?" the other guy put in, sounding suspicious. Mal had produced a small pistol to hand in his right hand, with the light turned off in his left, but of course, Simon had never owned a gun, and hadn't thought of taking a scalpel to this mission, especially as Rickard Maren wasn't a medical man. Then again, there was the...Mal turned to glare at him. Had there been guns in the room, that he'd been supposed to take one of, as well?
"There's no time for that now," Mal blurted out. "There's signal jamming here and there, so you that explains why you didn't get the message. Wilson Swann ordered the two of you off to the West doors, one floor down. There were bandits spotted on the internal cameras."
"The hell," Mister suspicious breathed. "Probably they've hacked into the overbuilt computer security system, and put in fake images."
"Maybe," the other Federale said, "but we've got to go check it out. The two of you holding our position here?"
"No, we'll be posting our guard closer to the labs," Simon told him. "That's where somebody thinks they'll be going - after the engine prototype."
"Don't worry about Riggs here," Mal said. "He's got a mean Outback knife, if he can remember which boot he stuck it in, and used to train in Stalking Crane Kung Fu." With that, the Alliance soldiers turned to move off - and then the canny one turned back. "There isn't a door one level down - we're two floors above the ground here."
"The spot right above the door," Mal corrected. "Because they'll head up at least one floor first thing."
Simon wished that he really did have a mean Outback knife in one of his shoes, (he didn't have decent boots on at all, just the black dress shoes,) because he was certain that with that little bit of revisionism, the jig was really up. But somehow even the cynical guard managed to swallow Mal's story whole.
"How did you do that?" Simon whispered, as Mal jogged back to where they'd left Kaylee.
"Wasn't hard," Mal muttered. "I took advantage of our computer access to memorize a few names and numbers, especially the commander of the Alliance guard contingent, which is always a magic word with soldiers of any kind. Trust me, I know. The rest was all bluff, as you might have noticed."
"Yeah," Simon agreed, just thankful that it had worked by this point. Kaylee was nowhere to be found in the uniform room, so Mal brushed past Simon and headed another way through the hallways of the South Wing - trying to meet up with her on the way to the experimental fusion lab, Simon realized.
"Okay, it's now or never," Inara whispered to herself, as guardsmen began rushing out to some of the ships in the landing field. There was no great commonality of style or design in the three ships that had already lifted off to challenge the Firefly-class ship that had been circling around the mansion, so Inara guessed that the Alliance guards had not prepared by bringing armed air vehicles to the conference, (or had been unable to get the request for them approved,) and were simply commandeering guest transport in the hopes of finding something that could take a head-on collision with the attacker without being totalled. Or maybe that wasn't even a requirement. Were these soldiers actually willing to sacrifice their lives in such a situation?
At least nobody seemed to be venturing out to the edge of the landing field where her shuttle was parked, Inara realized as she stepped out, on the edges of the swarm of rushing people - not all soldiers, she realized, spotting a few actual guests who had already made it out of the mansion. With a gasp of surprise, Inara spotted a particular gravity sled rising into the air. Rickard and Juli Maren would really have a claim against Mal's potential profits if that was destroyed, Inara decided, but there was nothing that she could do about that at this point. She could only...
"Halt! What are you doing out here?" a soldier demanded, pointing a snubby mini-machine-gun at her.
"I'm getting the hell out because we're under attack!" she screamed back at him.
"Show me your information and ID card first," the guard barked. "Do it now, or you're under arrest as an accessory to grand theft."
"I didn't have those when I left my room!" Inara wailed, pouring on as much distress as she could. (So much for maintaining dignity.) Actually, she did have both of them, but if she showed her invitation, it would show that she hadn't been invited alone, and she didn't want to answer any questions about where her client was just at this moment.
"Hey, buddy, don't hassle any of us," another guest, one of the theoretical chemists, said, and pointed up into the air. "Save that for the gorram bandits!"
If you only knew, Inara said silently to the man, as she took advantage of the distraction to hurry past and duck behind a still-parked vehicle. She was just as much of a bandit here as the crew of... was it 'Santiago'? Just being a bit more subtle and clever about it.
The rest of her trip to the shuttle was relatively uneventful, and Inara was just about to start the takeoff sequence before she reconsidered. The alliance guards would be paying some attention to anything that seemed seriously out of place, and if she took off, then landed near the south end, close to one of the entrances, that would definitely qualify. She couldn't fail to show up to pick up her friends, but she could be smart about it. Even if somebody had noticed her coming on board, it wouldn't be that unexpected for the shuttle to remain in place - she might be too afraid to take off with airborne chases going on overhead. So... she rushed back to the door, to lock and secure it, and then pulled out her signal pen which was connected to Mal's on the probably-untraceable frequency. 'Query', she signalled, hoping that he would figure out what she was asking. And then she waited.
Kaylee paused just a moment and turned around when she heard footsteps approaching - but it was Mal, and Simon dithering along in his wake, so that was okay. Good thing that they'd shown up at this point, actually, because she knew that she was in the vicinity of the right lab and hadn't been quite sure which one it was and how to get to it. It would definitely have been a bad deal to miss rendezvousing with the guys because she'd gotten lost looking for the right doorway.
Mal just hurried right on past her, looking to his side every now and then, though he probably couldn't catch more than a glimpse of Simon that way because the doctor was a few paces back. Still, Kaylee thought she knew what was on Mal's mind - he thought that he knew the way, but couldn't be sure, because Simon was the only one who had actually gone there. But he didn't want to hang back and let Simon lead the way either, for whatever reason, so was keeping his senses alert for any sign that he was going the wrong way.
It didn't come until the last moment. Mal headed past a doorway, his eyes intent on the next one in that corridor, but Simon stopped and tapped meaningfully at the place designated L6. As Mal turned around to come back, Kaylee took this as her own cue, pulling out a little electronic multi-tester and circuit flasher out of her hip pocket and considering the card reader on the door.
Simon already had access to this place, so they didn't need to worry about that. At least, he'd had access in the past, though it was somewhat hard to say if that was blanket permission, access only at certain times of the day, or specific pre-approved windows. That part didn't really matter too much anyway. If need be, Kaylee could trick the system into thinking that some prior access condition was still valid. On a truly great system that might be beyond her means, but from the specifications she'd already seen this mansion wasn't truly the bomb of security.
One detail was more important, and probably trickier - suppressing the notification that Simon had used his code to gain access here, so that neither a pattern matching system nor a human operator would sound the alarm because Rickard Maren was poking into the lab at a time when he shouldn't be. Once that notification had been cleared, Simon could try his ID bracelet, and Kaylee would be able to continue tweaking if that didn't get them inside the lab at once.
And before she could do anything else, she needed to open up the circuitry on the door without setting off the alarm for tampering. Hmm -- yes, there was more to this than she thought.
Mal and Simon were both watching her. After just a moment, she had her plan. She fished for more tools, and handed a small razor blade and a steel skewer to Simon, and smiled at him. "Ready to operate, doctor?"
He blinked in surprise, and then whispered back. "I'm not used to assisting in somebody else's surgery. Tell me what to do."
"When I say go, jab the skewer down hard into the keypad, right between the two, three, five, and six keys. Then count off two seconds and..." Kaylee paused a moment, figuring out how to phrase it. "Up behind the top of the left side of the panel, there's a magnetically conductive cable that we're going to need to disconnect at just the right moment. I think the best bet is to slit the plastic insulation with the razor first, and then make a decisive stabbing motion through the opening that you've created, yes?"
"Um, okay," Simon muttered. "And what are you going to be doing?"
"Oh, nothing so hard," Kaylee admitted. "Just holding down four function keys at once for five seconds."
Simon considered that for a moment, and then switched the poker and the razor. "Okay, I'm ready."
"Are you sure, like that? You'll have to cross your arms."
"Yeah, I know," Simon admitted. "But I can't work the razor well enough with my left hand, I know that much."
"Alright." Kaylee hesitated, and then got her own fingers into position. "Go!" Simon jabbed, and she started holding down SUP, EFF, PLUS, and GO. "-steamboat, two steamboat!" Simon got to work with the razor.
A few seconds later, the entire panel had popped out, letting Kaylee get to work on the electronic vitals further inside. Access the minor memory module, poll for override flags, flip a few bits. (Who would have thought her school classes in basic computing tech would have paid off like this?) Pump in some testing data while watching the network pipe. "Okay, Simon, we're hidden from central. Try your ID." He swished it over the door sensor, and very obligingly the portal swept open on both sides, letting them rush into the laboratory proper...
And stare at a man who was slumped over on a control console, not moving. For a second, Kaylee thought that he was dead, but even though she couldn't spot his back moving from breathing, (or any other part of him,) it wasn't hard to tell that a faint snoring sound was coming from his direction. Simon moved over a bit more closely, and nodded. The doors went FWOOT, closed, behind them, but from this side they could be opened just by tapping on a pressure button.
"How, how come he slept through the shaking and the noise from outside?" Kaylee asked wonderingly.
"Hard to say," Mal muttered. "Unfortunately, I don't think we can take the chance of just letting him sleep while we go on about our business here. If he *does* wake, and recognize that we're thieving, he's only inches away from sending a silent alarm to the security folks."
"So, what then?" Simon growled back. "Are you just going to plug 'im one?"
Mal scowled at the doctor. "Come on. You should know by well that I'm very loath to kill those that have not yet meant me any harm." He crept closer to the sleeping man, watching him, and tore a rough strip of fabric easily from the hem of his jacket. "Kaylee, you remember how to use this stuff, right?" He tossed her a very tiny little bundle of grey something.
"Hmm? Oh, um, yeah." Frowning a bit herself, Kaylee managed to extract a length of thin but strong cord from the knotted tangle, stretching it between her hands. "Go for the feet first?"
"Yah. Doctor, lend a hand if your conscience doesn't forbid." And with that, Mal was upon the sleeping figure, pulling him away from the console, tipping his chair back, fitting the torn off strip of cloth into his mouth as an impromptu gag, and tying it back at the base of the man's neck. Kaylee, meanwhile, did what she could to force the man's feet, (which he was trying to kick in panic,) together, and seal them together with the restraining wire. Getting his hands bound was a much tougher experience, but overall the whole thing didn't take much more than a minute. Simon did get involved once, when one of the captive's hands had seized on Kaylee's hair. Simon squeezed between the unfortunate soul's elbow and wrist until his grip let go.
"Alright, well enough," Mal said, looking around. "Surprisingly enough, I'd say that things went mostly smooth so far, and - and we've got the goods, that mess over there, right doctor?"
"Yes," Simon replied, making a bitter face. "We should be able to pack it up somewhat without resealing it in a moulded case - but it'll still be tricky to carry out between the three of us."
"I... I recognize this guy," Kaylee said, looking into the face of their unwanted captive. Mal had stuffed some extra fabric into his mouth in a ball-like wadge, to help muffle any wordless cries from deep in the throat he might try to let loose with. "Spoke with him the first night, and watched him in one of the morning panels. He... I can't remember the name, but he was from back home, on..."
"Girl!" Mal called out sternly. "Miz Maren. Don't even say it - he can still hear us, and he'll be able to talk once we're gone, eventually." Kaylee blinked, recognizing that if she had spoken the name of her home world, it might have helped the Alliance authorities trace this caper back to her, and thence to Serenity. "Is there anything in here that might help us move the engine? Somebody wants to know once we're on the move, I reckon." He held up a data pen, one of the ones that they'd been using to transmit signals.
"Hmm." Kaylee swept her eyes around the laboratory, which was quite well lit, compared to the hallways outside, (never mind the access tunnel,) and started to nod in pleasure. "Yeah, umm... we've got most of what I'll need for a jerry-rigged float lifter, using equilibrium force pointers to keep everything bundled together... except - oh, we'd need selenium matchers for the proper current adjustment..."
"Those the little stick-shaped things, about the same size and shape as an antique cigarette match?" Simon asked.
"I, umm, I have no idea what you mean." Simon used his fingers to indicate how long and how thin. "Yeah, that's about right - smooth surface and a sort of a light gray-green color?"
"Yep, that's them. There's a supply cupboard nearly right across the hall."
"Well, that's convenient," Kaylee quipped. "Go, fetch. Mal, make sure that he doesn't have to use the outside controls to get back in. Never can tell for sure."
"Alright." Mal smiled slightly and shook his head, patting Simon benevolently on the shoulder as they headed for the door. Kaylee finished gathering the rest of the parts that she would need, and began the basic assembly, realizing that they were racing the clock. "Huh, well, this is quite an unwelcome surprise," Mal said clearly from out in the hall, and Kaylee looked up in alarm. She was just in time to see Mal step through the door and let it close behind him.
"What was that?" she muttered to herself. Why would Mal have done that, when she had ordered him that-a-way specifically to keep the door open? What was the unwelcome surprise?
There was only one thing that she could think of. He'd met someone, somebody armed, out there. Possibly guards, but more likely... someone from the Santiago crew, also after the engine? Mal would have figured that to let them get into the lab right away would have been to lose their prize, so he'd sealed off the door, with himself outside. He'd have stayed inside if he could, without getting shot, wouldn't he?
And - and what was Kaylee to be doing now??
TO BE CONTINUED...
Thursday, June 04, 2009 11:12 AM
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