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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. Post-BDM. And now we get to the nitty-gritty, and the heist. Both of them. And all while Zoe is hanging around twiddling her thumbs. NEW CHAPTER
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1918 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
As soon as the adults had gone, Bethie gathered her troops and put her plan into action. Hurrying up the stairs, as fast as Jesse could manage, anyway, they congregated in the kitchen, settling Cal in the observation area with one of his stuffed toys to suck.
“Now what?” Hope asked, running a hand through her soft blonde curls.
“Help me.” Bethie grabbed one of the chairs, lifting it with difficulty and carrying it around the counter, her little tongue stuck out of the side of her mouth. Putting the chair down, she pushed it as close under the cupboards as she could. She turned to glare at the others. “Come on.”
Ben looked at Ethan, who shrugged and grabbed his father’s chair. His best friend followed, Hope picking up a third. Jesse helped by the simple expedient of taking hold of a chair and dragging it along the floor, producing a squealing sound that made everyone wince and Fiddler run from the room, his tail tucked under him.
“Why are we doing this again?” Ben asked.
“’Cause I want to ‘pologise,” Bethie said, taking his chair and placing it at the base of the pile. “For making your nose bleed.”
“It wasn’t that bad,” Ben said, sniffing experimentally. “Momma gave me one of her candied fruits to make up for it.” He still sounded a bit nasally from Simon having stuffed his nostrils with cotton wool to stem the flow, which reminded the rest of the children of the time they’d been on Lazarus and he’d pushed a flower bud up his nose. Simon had spent a long time trying to get it out again, and when asked why he’d done it, Ben just shrugged and said that it fit.
“Still need to.” She took Ethan’s and balanced it on top.
“Bethie …” Ethan wasn’t at all sure about this. “Maybe we should get one of the ladders from the cargo bay.”
“They’re locked away,” the girl said, putting Hope’s chair higher up. “And this is better. We don’t know how long everyone’s going to be gone.”
“But this isn’t safe.” He hitched his thumbs behind his little suspenders.
“Just help, will you?” she said, exasperation creeping into her voice.
He glared at her, but lifted Jesse’s chair into place.
Eventually Bethie deemed it high enough, which was lucky because they were running out of seating. The child-made mountain creaked, and Ethan looked at it critically. “It won’t hold your weight.”
“Course it will.”
“No it won’t. It’ll all come tumbling down and you’ll fall and get all squished.” He shook his head. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”
Bethie glared at him, then her eyes drifted across the others until they settled on Jesse. “Maybe …”
“No!” Ethan said firmly.
“It’s not far,” Bethie wheedled. “And we’ll catch her.”
Jesse looked up at her brother. “’Than?”
“She can have extra,” Bethie added.
“No, look, I don’t …” But Ethan’s protestations were cut off as Jesse made up her own mind and began to climb.
The stack settled a little, and the others quickly grabbed hold of the lower chairs.
In his mind’s eye Ethan could see his little sister slipping, falling, and his mother would have something to say if she got hurt, let alone what his father would yell. Still, she seemed to be managing.
Suddenly she was at the top, and by stretching she could open the cupboard, revealing Jayne’s bottle of sour-mash whisky.
“Can you see it?” Bethie asked.
“’Es.” Jesse nodded, and the tower of chairs groaned as Ethan held his breath. She reached inside, past the bottle, and when she leaned back again she had a tin in her hand, covered in pictures of dogs. She passed it carefully into Bethie’s waiting hands.
“Momma thought Uncle Jayne wouldn’t think to look in there,” Bethie said, a wide grin on her face as she pried off the lid, showing them the contents. “Thought they’d be safe.”
“Cookies,” Jesse agreed, licking her lips.
The mini-criminal-mastermind quickly decanted most of the cookies onto a plate, leaving only one and half in the tin, betting that her mother wouldn’t realise, or think too hard on it if she did. Handing it back up, Jesse slid it home and closed the cupboard door, climbing down with even more care than she’d used scaling the heights.
Ethan let out a sigh as she reached the floor, and stood with her little hands on her hips, grinning up at him.
Quickly dismantling the tower, they put the chairs back into their original place.
“Come on.” Bethie led the way down to the common area, letting Ethan grab Cal by the back of his shirt and half walk, half drag him along. The little boy didn’t mind, continuing to mouth at his toy dinosaur, rubbing it where another tooth was trying to come through.
Sitting in pride of place in the old yellow armchair, Bethie waited until the others settled, then put the plate down on the table.
“They’re not going to be back yet, are they?” Ben asked, glancing towards the doorway.
Bethie unfocused for a moment. “No. They’re waiting in line. So dig in.” Leaning forward she snagged one of the cookies and started munching happily. She waved it at the others and said, somewhat indistinctly and spraying a few crumbs, “See? Isn’t it better when you do what I tell you?”
Hope and Ben exchanged a look, and Ethan sighed. “Yes, Bethie,” he said, picking up two cookies and handing one to Jesse. “Whatever you say.”
When the adults returned after voting, and while Mal was supervising the loading of the mule, Kaylee hurried into the common area, breathing a sigh of relief as she saw the children all playing quietly. Hope was drawing, as always, while Ben and Ethan had a board game on the floor and were chasing counters around. Bethie was reading aloud, Caleb and Jesse next to her. Even Fiddler was lying tranquilly under the table, twitching in his sleep.
“Hello, Momma,” Bethie said, looking up and smiling. “Did you have a nice time?”
“Has everything been okay here?” Kaylee asked, somewhat suspicious.
“Shiny, Momma.” She lifted the book, and her mother wasn’t surprised to find it was the one River had given to her about Blackbeard the pirate. “We’ve been good. Just like you told us.”
Kaylee gazed at her daughter, at the innocent look on her face, and at the distinct lack of blood and broken bones. “Well, I suppose …”
“Kaylee!” Mal yelled from the cargo bay. “Where’s the rutting sticky?”
Hurrying back to tell her captain it was exactly where it was supposed to be, Kaylee didn’t see a smug smile cross her daughter’s face. Nor did she ever find out what went on. Although she knew cookies were missing from the tin, she figured Jayne must have gone for a quick drink, and came on them by chance. And knowing the big man, he’d never be able to stop at just one. It never occurred to her that her daughter had inherited her father’s talent for planning and carrying out cookie heists.
The mule trundled through the streets, barely earning a glance from the few people out and about. Freya, bunched in one of Mal’s oldest jackets, looked masculine enough not to draw stares, at least if she stayed dropped down in the seat, while Hank and Jayne rode on the back. Mal was driving.
“But I want to come!” River had said, almost stamping her foot in exasperation.
“You’re staying here,” Mal responded firmly, one eye on his pilot as he checked they had everything they needed.
“I can help.”
“River, you know why you can’t. You did your bit. This is mine. Gotta let me have something to brag about later.”
“It’s not fair.” She pouted.
He exhaled through his nose and turned to look at her fully. “Now look here, young lady. You stop this or …”
“Well, you ain’t too big to be put over my knee.”
“Can’t threaten me with that any more,” River said primly. “I am a married woman with a child.”
“So how come you ain't acting like one?”
She stared at him for so long he thought she’d taken root, then she seemed to deflate a little. “Want to have fun,” she said finally, if still a little petulantly.
“And you can have that. Helping your bro count his supplies in case one of us gets hurt. And making sure nobody tries to steal anything.” He shook his head. “Place like this, anything that ain’t nailed down can easily go for a walk.”
She chuckled, stifling it quickly in case he thought he’d won, even though she knew he had. “I shall prepare the inevitable rescue,” she said, turning on her heel and walking away, back towards the infirmary.
“You do that,” he called. “And when you get bored with that, think on how you’re gonna spend your share.”
“I already know,” she replied, her voice wafting back to him. “I’m going to buy my own ship and tell everyone else what to do.”
He’d laughed. “Good luck with that.”
“Think River’ll get over not being allowed to come with us?” he now asked Freya.
“She understands,” his wife said, leaning into him as they rounded a corner into a narrow side street. “At least you didn’t try and get me to stay behind.”
“Hey, I kinda need all my extremities at the moment.”
“In fact, if anything, you’re the one who should’ve played back-up.”
“How’d you figure that?”
“You’ve only just got over a major operation –”
“And I’m fine,” he said gently. “Real shiny. Otherwise Simon’d have me tied down to the infirmary bed. And don’t think he hasn’t tried it before.” He smiled to hear her suppress a chuckle. “I’m taking it easy, ai ren.”
“Anyways, there’s no time to be arguing this now.” He braked, and the mule came to a halt. “Here we are.”
Jayne jumped off the back and surveyed the area. They were parked behind a row of warehouses that most fortuitously had no windows overlooking their current position, nor could they be seen from the main street. “Good spot,” he said approvingly, then turned his attention to the ground. “So where is it?”
Hank, also on his feet, began poking the dirt with the toe of his boot. “It has to be … just give me a …” He looked up and grinned. “Oh ye of little faith,” he said, going down onto his heels and brushing the earth away.
In less than thirty seconds he’d uncovered a manhole cover, imprinted with Jericho Wells Municipal Works in letters half an inch deep.
“You sure this is the one?” Jayne queried. “’Cause I’d hate to be you if we came up inside the Alliance compound.”
Mal nodded. “Okay, get it hooked up.”
The big man undid the cable from the winch still attached to the underside of the ATV and uncoiled it, using the hooks to wrap it around the handgrips. Mal put the mule into gear and drove the old vehicle forward, bumping slightly as it passed over the line, until the winch was directly above the cover. Jayne started the motor, watching as the cable was slowly wound back onto the spindle and there was no slack. Pausing it, Jayne glanced at Mal, who nodded again in confirmation.
Freya, standing so she could see the entrance to the street, looked back as the motor note changed, the mule taking the strain as the winch lifted. Kaylee had assured them it would be powerful enough, but for one heart-stopping moment she had the mental image of the cover being stuck solid, and the guts of the old vehicle spilling out onto the ground.
Then there was a groan, like something metallic was giving up its last death rattle, and Jayne stopped the motor.
“I told you,” Hank said in triumph. “You can find out just about anything on the Cortex. Jericho has an extensive drain system, and this’ll bring us up right under the …” He reeled back as Mal manoeuvred the mule backwards, exposing a dark hole. “Wuh duh muh, what’s that stink?”
“It’s a sewer, Hank,” Freya said, shrugging out of Mal’s coat. “What did you expect it to smell of?”
“I know, but that’s …” He coughed, waving his hand in front of his face.
“Time’s wasting,” Mal said, turning the engine on the mule off and reaching into the back, passing out the thin plastic coveralls, shaped pretty much like a one-piece babygrow with feet, that Kaylee had picked up for virtually nothing at Leo’s. “Get yourselves dressed.”
“Is it going to keep out the smell?” Hank wanted to know.
“I doubt it.” Freya laughed softly. “I think we’ll all be taking showers as soon as we get back, and the washing machines’ll be doing overtime, but anything’s better than nothing.”
“Just so long as they don’t break down,” Mal said, stepping into his own set and pulling it up past his hips, slipping his arms into the sleeves. The outfits were done up with Velcro from crotch to neck, and as he pressed his closed he looked up at the others, equally attired.
Freya smiled and sat down on the edge of the hole, trying to remember to breathe through her mouth and ignore the way the coverall rode up her backside. “Nobody light a match or the whole place could go up.”
Even Jayne was grimacing, but that might be because his coverall was in danger of splitting if he moved too fast. Only Mal was unconcerned, or had a greater control of his facial features. Grabbing the backpacks from the mule he handed them out, then took a com unit from his own. “Kaylee.”
“We’re in place and heading down. I’ll leave the com on so you can track us through the system.”
“Got you,” she said, her voice tinny through the small speaker. “Good luck.”
“Thanks.” Tucking the small unit inside the pack, he swung it onto his shoulders and smiled at Freya. “Ready?” he asked.
“As I’ll ever be. At least we’ll all smell the same, although I’m not sure Ethan or Jesse will want to come near us for a few days.” She glanced down the hole, her forehead wrinkling. “See you on the other side.” She let herself drop.
“Your turn,” Mal said to Hank.
The pilot approached the drain with trepidation. “Man, I want danger money,” he muttered, holding his sleeve over his nose.
“It was your idea,” Mal pointed out.
“Just ‘cause I can read the Cortex, doesn’t mean you have to go with what I said.”
“Stop whining and get down there,” Jayne said, pushing him slightly.
“I think I'm gonna be sick.”
Jayne looked at Mal. “You think Zoe might notice if I killed him now and stuffed his body down a convenient open drain?”
Mal appeared to consider. “I think maybe she might. Although I’m willing to try if you are.”
“Okay, I'm going, I'm going,” the pilot said, taking a deep breath of fresh air. “Well, here goes nothing,” he added, as he too disappeared from sight.
Zoe was about as bored as a person could get. During the war there had been long periods of inactivity when she’d sat around, waiting for the inevitable flurry of violence and bloodshed that deafened her ears and hardened her heart, but she’d reached the point now where that might actually be preferable.
Mercy slid through two groups of men, all talking much louder than they needed, and sat back down, handing her one of the cups of coffee she’d gone to find.
“Thanks,” Zoe said.
“Don’t be too quick. You haven’t tasted it yet.”
“Mercy, considering what we’ve on occasion had in our cups, it can’t be that bad.”
“Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Zoe took a mouthful, swirled it around her teeth, and swallowed. “Not bad,” she said, wondering if the enamel on her teeth was dissolving.
“Liar,” Mercy contradicted mildly.
Her companion grinned. “Okay. But it isn’t the worst I’ve had, even if it’s coming close.”
“You know, sometimes I hate this place, but at least you get decent food. And they don’t try and price you out.”
Zoe looked at her friend, something she felt she could call Mercy now. “If you hate it that much, why don’t you leave?”
“Because as much as I do hate it on occasion, it’s my home. And if I leave it’d be running away.”
“And you’re not like that, are you?” Zoe smiled. “Someone who runs.”
“I hope not.”
“Maybe that’s my trouble,” Zoe went on, sipping the coffee but her mind elsewhere. “Me and Mal, we’ve been running a long time.”
“Have you?” Mercy half turned in her seat. “Only I don’t see that. Maybe you did at first, after the war …” She blushed, remembering the things she’d heard about that conflict, and what she’d read about Zoe’s military career. “But now you’ve got a husband, a son. A family. Some people would say that was the least like running away that you can get. Something to aspire to.”
“And you’d like that too?”
Mercy dropped her eyes, but not before Zoe saw her glance around the room. “Maybe.”
“Well, I ain’t got a crystal ball, and I can’t exactly predict the future –” Not without River’s help, anyway, she added silently. “But I think maybe you’ve got a good chance. You just be you, and you never know.”
The young woman looked up, her violet eyes bright. “You think?”
Mercy smiled widely, not hearing Kaylee’s voice coming through the tiny earwig hidden by Zoe’s hair. “They’re heading down,” the young mechanic said.
to be continued
Friday, July 31, 2009 7:07 AM
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