BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JANE0904

Masks - Part XIX
Sunday, February 21, 2010

Maya. Post-BDM. The Empress of Sihnon reaches The Halo, and trouble ensues. NEW CHAPTER


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2275    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

Freya was dreaming. She had to be, at least that’s what she kept telling herself. Partly because Eavesdown Docks never smelled this good, nor the sky quite such an outstanding blue. She was walking up to a certain familiar Firefly, and to a man standing on the ramp, his thumbs tucked into his gunbelt, pants just a little on the tight side so they showed off his fine ass.

“Mal?” The sight of him swept away any thoughts that this wasn’t real – he looked perfect, his eyes reflecting the colour of the sky as if they were glowing, although she found she couldn’t rush to hug him, which puzzled her slightly.

“Hey, Frey.” The captain of Serenity grinned at her. “Come to congratulate me?”

“Congratulate?”

“On my wedding.”

Something was wrong. She knew it. Something about the picture was skewed, like looking in a mirror at a familiar room ... something was off. “You got married?”

“I did. Six months ago.” He was grinning even wider. “I can’t believe I ain’t seen you in all this time, Still, you’re here now, and I’m gonna introduce you to the missus.”

“Mal ...”

“What?”

He looked so genuinely happy she didn’t have the heart to express her doubts. “I ... that’s … congratulations, I guess.” She swallowed hard. “Is it good?”

“Real good. Like having the best party all the time.”

“Then I’m ... I'm glad.”

She’d never said, she realised. Never told him how she felt. In all the years they’d known each other, she’d never let him know that all he had to do was crook his little finger and she’d come running, willing to give everything up to be his forever. And now he was somebody else’s.

“Thanks, Frey. Coming from you, that means a lot.” He turned to look into the comparative darkness of the cargo bay. “Saffron? Come out and meet my best friend.”

There were footsteps coming towards them, and a woman appeared at Mal’s side, her red hair caught up in a straggly ponytail from which tendrils were escaping, her very bounteous assets straining the top she wore. Not that Freya was looking there. Instead she couldn’t stop staring at the mound at the woman’s waist. But Mal said they’d only been married six months, and this looked more like eight or nine. She pointed, her hand shaking. “But she’s …”

“Yep.” Mal grinned again, looking so much younger and more relaxed. “You know what I think about having a family. And it don’t matter the kid’s not mine – I’ll raise him right, and when more come along, he can be their big brother.”

Freya felt the world begin to twist, sounds coming to her from a long way off, and as she slipped to the dirt she heard Saffron’s voice demanding to know what was going on, and who was this crazy woman who was fainting at their feet …

Freya sat bolt upright in bed, her heart pounding nineteen to the dozen, sweat on her brow. Her feet were tangled up in the bedsheets, suggesting she’d been active. Looking wildly around the unlit room, she could make out the ormolu chest of drawers in the corner, the large Cortex screen on the wall, the chair with the red satin cover where she’d dropped her clothes the night before ... Yes. The Empress of Sihnon. Her room. Of course.

She lay down, trying to calm down. Saffron. Of all people. And Mal wouldn’t look at her twice. Not even once. Not after the last time. Or the time before that, for that matter. Staring into the shadows over the bed Freya tried to analyse the thought processes that had pushed that conniving, dishonest puo foo into her dreams. But then, that was the point. It was only a dream. Not real. Like the time she’d dreamed that elves had painted the cargo bay sky blue. She’d had to get up and check that one, and Mal had had a damn good laugh when she told him.

Saffron. Freya shook her head, a rueful smile starting to lift the corners of her mouth. Saffron. As if that didn’t take the multi-layered cake ...

The smile grew wider. Mal might have made fun of her earlier in her attempts to explain just why she was mad at Flynn, but this time perhaps the boot was on the other foot. She sent out a mental wave.

Mal?

There was no response. She tried again, but with no more luck. She could feel him, just, a sort of echo in her mind, but that was all.

She glanced at the clock. A little after 10.30 pm, shipboard time. After the day they’d had everyone seemed to feel the need for an early night, so she’d been asleep less than an hour. Time enough to dream, if nothing else. Anyway, that didn’t explain why she couldn’t talk to Mal. Knowing the adjustments the Empress made to the length of the hours, she could figure that he wouldn’t be in bed yet, probably only just starting supper, so why …

Something outside the large window caught her attention, and her head whipped around. Unlike the others who closed the heavy drapes to keep the illusion of night over the reality of space, she preferred to sleep with the wash of starlight over her, as if it made Mal that much closer. Now, though, something was interrupting that view.

It moved slowly, but seemed to scatter the light that hit it, breaking it into a rainbow of colours that reflected into the room, brightening her skin into stained glass.

“Asteroid,” she breathed.

Of course. The Halo. That explained it. River had postulated that the mental link Freya and Mal enjoyed might be disrupted somewhat by the obscure electrical fields bending normal processes out of alignment. Of course, she’d taken a lot longer to say it, with a number of highly technical terms that probably only four or five people in the entire ‘verse could understand, but it basically came down to the fact that there’d be times inside The Halo when they wouldn’t be able to ‘talk’. She wasn’t entirely one hundred percent certain but …

Freya smiled. It looked like the young psychic was right again. So unless they hit a sweet spot, or Serenity was through The Halo herself, there weren’t going to be any more late night chats.

She sighed and pummelled her pillow into submission and a more reasonable shape, closing her eyes to the light display going on outside. There’d be time enough to enjoy it in the morning, when they could all watch the show as they had their breakfast.

Slowing her breathing, she slipped back into sleep, the dream recapturing her, and she wondered why she could see Inara standing on the top catwalk above the cargo bay …

---

As Mal signed off the wave, he wasn’t surprised to hear River’s voice behind him.

“Does Freya know you were planning on telling Jez?”

He turned in the pilot’s seat to smile at her. “Why, do you think she’d be mad, xiao nu?”

“She may have wanted to have the pleasure herself, jia yan.” Her little face was serious, but her dark eyes sparkled.

Mal chuckled. “Yeah, well, I figure she’d understand. Especially since she’d know Jez would want to be at Persephone to give a few words with her errant son.”

Jez, in fact, had been more than grateful for the news. “And he’s all right?” she had asked yet again.

“He’s fine, at least according to Frey. I’ve not seen him myself, but she says he looks fit.”

The captain of Cherokee let out a long, low breath. “We’re changing course.”

“Figured you might.” Mal could see Noah off to one side, obviously recalculating trajectories. “Any idea when you’re likely to join us?”

Jez looked round at her husband.

“If we burn it,” the man said, his eyes half closed as he considered his readings, “I think we can make Persephone about twenty hours after you land. We could get to you a lot quicker, coming in at the angle we … but I’d say within a day for Eavesdown.”

“Shiny. Although I might have trouble making sure Flynn hangs around that long.”

Jez stared at him. “Why? What’s he been doing? I thought you said he had a job looking after –”

Mal explained, as succinctly as he could. “So it’s possible he might just take off.”

“Does he like her?” Noah asked, leaning back into view.

“That’s something you’d need to ask Frey,” Mal said, dodging the question.

“Does she like him?” Jez wanted to know, the mother in her coming out, even if she hadn’t had much practice. She sounded as if she thought any girl would be stupid not to fall for his charms.

“Jez, there’s no point in going for the third degree. I don’t know. You make a list of all the questions you want to ask, and I’ll tell Frey to tie Flynn to a bed so you can get to ask ‘em, okay?”

She didn’t look happy, but nodded. “Okay.” Noah obviously poked her, because she shot him a glare, then said, turning back to Mal, “And thanks. For letting me know.”

“Hey, what’re friends for?”

Jez sighed heavily. “Sometimes I wonder if families are worth it.”

“You give it a while,” Mal said sagely, noting where Noah had placed his hand. “You might be finding out.”

Now, back on their own on Serenity’s bridge, River whispered, “Families.”

Mal nodded. “You can say that again.”

“He won’t listen.”

“Kids don’t. I conjure it’s part of the job description – parents have to try and tell ‘em what’s right, and kids have to not listen.”

“Ethan listens to you.” She slid into the chair next to him.

“Just give him a few years, albatross. Caleb too. Hell, in a decade or so these younguns’ll be running us ragged.”

She grinned happily. “I believe you’re right.” She lifted her bare feet onto the seat and wriggled her toes, even as her eyes slid across the board to make sure everything was okay.

“Just checking?” Mal asked, knowing what she was looking at.

She shrugged, then added, “Yes.”

“Well, we all do it.”

Hank, with her help, had managed to increase their speed somewhat dramatically by using first a comet, then a moon, and finally a heavy-cored black rock to give them a slingshot boost. That, coupled with the fact that Serenity wasn’t stopping for day trips to take in the sights, and could take a more direct route, meant they were finally catching up with the Empress of Sihnon, and almost at the Halo themselves.

“By the way,” she said, once she was sure there was nothing else she could suggest to improve matters, “Ethan’s in with Ben, and Jesse’s with Bethie and Hope.”

“They’re missing their Mamas.”

“I thought they could have supper in bed.”

He nodded. “I think they’d like that. Make it like a big adventure.” A sigh of his own managed to wangle its way up his chest and out through his mouth. “Maybe I should join ‘em.”

“Missing Frey?”

“Counting the hours.” He held back on another exhale. “I never knew two weeks would pass so slowly. Only time it dragged more was back in the war.” Or when I thought she was like to die on me, he added silently, but the expression on River’s face suggested he hadn’t been as silent as all that.

She didn’t call him on it. “At least you’ve been able to talk to her.” She tapped her temple. “Simon and Hank haven’t had that opportunity with their wives.”

“I know, and believe me when I say I’m grateful for that. ‘Cept she’s not exactly answering at the moment.”

“The Halo.”

“Ah.” He remembered the conversation, and the fact that most of it had gone way over his head. “So that’s it?”

“For the moment. At our current acceleration we’ll be passing into The Halo ourselves in about ninety-three minutes and seventeen seconds.”

His lips twitched. “About?”

“I can be more accurate if you’d like.”

“No, no, that’s fine. About is something I can live with.”

She ignored his attempt at wit and went on, “We should arrive at Persephone approximately four hours after the liner.”

“Good. I’ll be glad to get that fei hua outta my hold.”

“We could have spaced it,” she pointed out, flexing her feet and watching the way the tendons stretched.

“And give up on the chance to make Badger eat some of it?” He grinned. “Nah. Mind, he’s gonna be paying …” He stopped, aware she was suddenly still in only the manner his albatross could be. “What is it?” he asked, feeling the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. “River?”

---

The Halo. Supposedly the remnant of a number of planets torn apart by unknown forces back in the mists of time, now an asteroid belt that surrounded the inner core, separating them from the rabble. More than just a physical barrier, it was also the cause of a lot of the ‘them and us’ attitude of planets such as Sihnon and Osiris. Even Persephone, on the ‘us’ side of the border, gave itself airs, although there had been many suggestions in the past to find a way of dragging the planet lock, stock and stinking barrel out beyond the belt, and only some of them were joking.

The other problem, of course, was the annoying fact that The Halo was something of a Cortex blackspot.

The Alliance had done its best, setting up relay after relay in amongst the multitude of rocks, but something in their composition still threw the signals around, and pilots inside it privately called it The Pit. Going around it added days to a journey, so most captains just gritted their teeth and sailed through, hoping not to have an engine blow, or meet pirates hanging around looking for easy pickings, anything they might have to call for help to get over. It could be a long wait for rescue.

For something as big as the Empress of Sihnon it wasn’t usually a problem. Her multiple back-up systems and redundancies could cope with almost anything.

Except perhaps this.

The explosion ripped through the lower control deck, luckily unmanned at that time of night, and in a moment, as the shudder registered across the entire ship, the lights flickered and went out. Other systems tried to cut in, to take up the slack, but they couldn’t cope when the second explosion tore a hole in her side, neatly severing all connections. Emergency bulkhead door bolts blew, slamming shut against the escape of precious air, and sirens wailed.

Passengers and crew who had been sleeping were jerked awake, staring into dark, while those who were still up added to the confusion as panic ensued.

---

Zoe was last into the sitting room by dint of having to take a fraction more time throwing her clothes on because of her shoulder, but only Freya and Flynn had otherwise bothered even partly dressing. Not that anyone noticed as they realised they were still missing two of their company.

“Where’s Inara and Val?” Freya asked, pulling her boots on.

“Val’s not in her bed,” Phoebe said, her arms wrapped tightly around herself, shivering slightly. “It doesn’t look slept in.”

Freya glanced at Flynn, but he managed to look innocent. “What about Inara?”

Kaylee quickly put in, “Nope. I looked. She ain’t in her room either.”

“Gorramit it,” Freya breathed, adding louder, “Then we have to find them.”

“Do you think this might be just a glitch?” Zoe asked the young mechanic.

Kaylee, wrapped in her pyjamas and robe, shook her head. “If we’re still running on emergency lights, it’s pretty bad.”

“It felt like an explosion,” Phoebe said.

“Yeah.” Kaylee glanced around the group. “And you all need to put more clothes on,” she ordered. “I’m gonna see if I can find an internal com that’ll work, see if I can’t figure out what’s going on.”

“And the clothes?” Flynn asked.

“If I'm right, we’re down to bare basics. And if something ain’t done, it’s gonna get cold, pretty fast. Quicker’n if we were on Serenity, since there’s a lot more hull to bleed heat.” She ran out.

“What about Aunt Inara?” Phoebe asked, standing as close to Zoe as she could. “And Val?”

“Inara’s been restless,” Flynn said slowly. “I think she’s been taking walks when you’ve ...” His voice trailed away as the others looked at him. “I’ve had trouble sleeping myself,” he explained, somewhat defensively.

“Not surprised,” Freya muttered. “Maybe that’s all she doing, Val too, but that’s not the point. I want everyone together where we can keep an eye on you.”

“Pirates?” Zoe asked quietly.

“Be a bit of a coincidence otherwise, don’t you think?”

The look on Zoe’s face gave her all the answer she needed. “Mmn.”

Freya turned to Phoebe. “Stay here,” she ordered.

“But Auntie Frey –” Phoebe began, her face scared in the dull red light.

“You’ll be safe if you stay put.” She looked at Zoe. “Got Jayne’s gun?”

“Fully loaded.”

She turned to Flynn. “I’m guessing you’re armed.”

The young man held up a newish Corazon. “Yes, ma’am.”

Freya’s lips twitched slightly. “I think they need to review their security measures.” Sober again she went on, “Good, because you’re going to look after them while we find Inara and Val.”

“Freya –”

“Are you going to argue with me now?” She was becoming exasperated.

“No, but –”

“You do your job.”

He looked like he might protest, but nodded instead.

Kaylee hurried back into the room. “You know, I bet what they’ve done means there’s no beacon, and no time for a distress, even if we weren’t where we are.” She headed for the door.

Zoe stopped her with a hand on her arm. “Where do you think you’re going?”

The young woman was wearing the oldest clothes she had with her, pants and a long sleeved top, her thickest jacket in her hand. “Going to help.”

Freya spoke quickly. “No. As soon as we get the others back we need to stay together.”

“Have to.” The young woman’s normally bubbly personality was now firm, determined. “They’re gonna need every hand they can find.”

For a moment Freya glared at her, then nodded sharply, just once. “Zoe, go with her.”

Serenity’s first mate tucked the Feldman into the back of her pants, ignoring the tug of pain in her shoulder. “You stay next to me, mei-mei.”

Kaylee nodded, glad to have the company. “Sure thing.” She threw open the door, yelping as she almost ran into Val standing outside.

“Where the diyu have you been?” Freya demanded, then saw the frightened look on the girl’s face. She pulled her into her arms, holding her tightly. “You don’t go wandering off,” she said quieter.

Val felt her heart slow its mad rush. “I just wanted to walk. To think.” She glanced over Freya’s shoulder towards Flynn.

“Hmmn.” Freya stood back enough, her hands on her shoulders. “Where’s Inara?”

“I don’t know.”

Freya’s eyes narrowed. “You mean she wasn’t with you?”

“No. I went by myself. I didn’t want any company.”

“Can’t you tell where she is?” Zoe asked.

“Not ...” Freya concentrated, trying to get past the fogginess The Halo was generating, For a second there was clarity, and the bright flame that was Inara burned through. “Yes. Sort of.” The fog rolled back in. “I'll find her. You take Kaylee. Flynn stays here and looks after the girls.”

---

On the Serenity’s bridge Mal stared at River, slowly straightening in his seat. “You sure?”

“Yes.” She stood up, her thin dress moving around her knees.

“I can’t get anything from Frey.”

“The Halo. Busy. Just a flash.” Her mind was obviously elsewhere, probably trying to get through the interference.

“But you –”

“Have to go.” She ran from the bridge. “I’ll call Hank,” she tossed back over her shoulder as she leapt down the steps.

Mal stared after her, then slowly turned back to the windows, staring out at the stars. Something had changed, and now they didn’t soothe him as they normally did, but almost seemed to crowd in on him, making his chest tight, and the scar down his breastbone ache.

“Mal?” Hank leaned in the doorway. “What’s going on?”

---

“Now?”

“Give it a few minutes. Nothing like a little panic to cover up a kidnapping.” Chester Lau smiled, his heavy-set face twisting into a parody of pleasure. “And signal the Dragon to come in. They should be close enough to pick it up, despite The Halo.”

His two brothers nodded, each strapping a gunbelt they’d managed to smuggle on board around their hips.

Jarrett, though, still had a question. “But what if it takes too long?”

Aiden slapped him on the back. “It won’t. By the time the other bomb goes off, we’ll be long gone.”

to be continued

COMMENTS

Sunday, February 21, 2010 12:56 PM

KATESFRIEND


Now I know who the bad guys are and back for a rematch. Very interesting - looking forward to the action soon! You've been planning this one for a long time.

Monday, February 22, 2010 7:14 AM

ANGELLEMARCS


What a twist! Here's hoping all goes well and without too much trouble to our friends. And hopefully, Freya can keep things under control and Mal can keep her in control...LOL!

Monday, February 22, 2010 6:36 PM

NCBROWNCOAT


I'm not liking what's happening but I know you'll put us on a bit of a ride before things straighten out.

Monday, June 7, 2010 9:51 AM

WAFFENMAC


Oh wow the brothers this is very bad.Great chapter.


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