The Bouncing Ball Ch 4
Saturday, October 9, 2010

Jane 0904 and my joint effort... so far so good. Thanks all for reading and thanks 'Ski for the great character loan. Cat feels unwelcome...



Cat ran up the ramp, seeing Kaylee disappearing through the top hatch back towards her domain. Batha was at her heels, a little ungainly from the animal in her mouth, but she was safely aboard when Cat slammed her hand down on the door control. The inner doors slid together, not quite closed before they felt the Firefly take off. "Gorramit," Hank muttered, heading up the metal stairs two at a time. "She's always tryin' to take my job." As he approached the top the floor twisted and he had to hang onto the railing to prevent himself being tossed over the side. The internal dampeners caught up, but only for a second as the floor tilted the other way. A whine, not entirely from the engine room, grew louder, seeming to make the bulkheads vibrate in sympathy, then there was a jerk and everyone was thrown forward. "Missile," Hank said, his knuckles white. "They're shooting at us?" Mal's temper finally snapped. "Those wahng-ba dan duh biao-tze are firing on my gorram ship?" "I think so," Hank confirmed. "It missed us," he added, ever the optimist. Fury tightened Mal's face. He pointed at Cat and Declan. "You - stay here." The redhead shrugged. "No place else to go." "Frey, you ... hey, where are you going?" "To help Kaylee," his wife said. "Like you wanted." "Can I get a damn order out before you read it?" He sounded exasperated, but it wasn't really directed at her. She flashed him a smile and slid away through the hatch. The Firefly shuddered again and Mal glared at Hank. "I'm going, I'm going," the pilot promised, pulling himself up the last couple of steps. "I'll try and stop River turning us into a smear on the landscape." He staggered through the doorway, wondering if he was going to lose his lunch. "I'd take it as a kindness," Mal said, with only the faintest touch of sarcasm. He followed the other man, glancing only once down into the cargo bay. "Well ... this is fun," Declan said as another lurch threatened to deposit him on his backside for the second time that day. Cat's claws grew long enough for her to thrust them deep into a crate to give her stability. "Actually," she said thoughtfully, "this is pretty normal." Batha just cleaned her whiskers and growled low. ==== Up on the bridge River hadn't relinquished her post, staring out of the windows at the mountain range she'd led them to, her hands controlling the yoke as if the ship itself was a part of her. Hank had to content himself with sitting in the left hand seat, eyes straining at the control board. "Honey ..." "Seen it." Indeed, the Firefly was already twisting out of the way of another missile. It exploded on a cliff face in front of them, showering the bow with rock fragments. Mal pulled himself up the steps, ignoring the pain in his shoulder where he'd been thrown into the bulkhead. He could feel blood from the reopened graze running down his arm, but he ignored that too. "Well?" he managed to grind out. "They haven't caught us," River said, her calmness as she wrenched the ship into a roll almost as terrifying as the landscape going by overhead. "Which is odd in itself," Hank added. "They're newer, faster ... I can only figure they're waiting for us to tear ourselves apart." A metallic groan issued from somewhere beneath their feet. "Which we might do," Mal said, throwing himself forward and gripping the back of the pilot's seat. "Not as good as me," River commented. "Not sure they have to be." Mal wanted to close his eyes as Serenity slipped through a gap that didn't look wide enough to swing Maoli, let alone a spaceship. "But they do." For one, brief, horrific moment she let go of the yoke with her right hand and activated the com. "Kaylee. Ready?" "As we'll ever be." "Counting down ..." Everything in Mal's experience told him what happened next was impossible as his body suddenly weighed three times more than it should and his fingers strained to stop him being hurled backwards. Serenity climbed, straight up. "Three ..." And up. "Two ..." And up. "One ..." The Firefly went to burn. They say a man's life flashes before his eyes as he's about to die, but all Mal could see was a moment over a decade before when a Hawaiian-shirted, blond maniac had done the same thing and knocked a Reaver ship out of the sky. He prayed for a similar outcome. In fact, it was slightly different. The private mercs' vessel, while fast and manoeuvrable, had sacrificed some protection in favour of that speed and manoeuvrability. The wash of fire from Serenity's backside caught them full on the less defended belly as their pilot overcompensated for the hard ascent, and in the microsecond of life he had left River could feel him realise his mistake. Then he was incinerated along with his ship. "Good gorram," was all Hank could say as he watched them explode in the rear viewscreen. ==== "Do you think we won?" Declan asked, warily releasing his hold on the mule. "We're not dead." Cat muttered drawing her claws from the crate, still listening. "Good point." 'Hungry.' Batha nosed the dead boar. Cat glanced down. 'Eat, then. It's not like anyone's going to stop you. And you've never worried before.' 'Not home.' The panther sighed, turning the carcase gently over on the metal ground. 'Guts gone. Left for vultures.'

"Good girl. Scavengers need to eat too." 'No scavengers left,' Batha snickered. 'Burned to crisp.' Cat couldn't help the smile, but it faded quickly. "Feels like home," she said quietly.

'But not,' Batha repeated.

"Doesn't change the fact we're standing in her cargo bay with all of them on board."

'Different. Has mate.'

"That never mattered to me. He could have taken Inara or found someone who could have given him a family, if that's what he wanted." Her eyes glowed for a second in anger at the regrets of the past. "I would've lived with that."

'Scare him now. Both do.' Cleaning a paw of the fresh blood, Batha looked at Cat. 'Long way from trust.'

"Still my pack, Bat. Always be my pack."

'Protect the cubs.'

'Defend what's ours,' Cat echoed. Declan looked from one to the other. "You're having a conversation I know nothing about, aren't you?" "This isn't the end of it," Cat said. "I kinda figured that." "We won this time, but they'll be back. The rats and roaches always are." "We?" "Mal and his crew." Declan smiled slightly. "Batha's right - this ain't home." "It doesn't matter." Cat turned her back on him, fiddling with something on her mule. "It never damn well matters." ==== "Kaylee?" "Cap." The young woman tightened the last bolt and slid out from under the engine. "We okay?" "She threw a suspension loop, but considering what you were doing ..." She glared at him. "Could've been a lot worse." "We could've been blown outta the sky," he pointed out. "And if any of her circuits'd fried we wouldn't'a needed the bad guys help." Mal put up a hand. "Okay. I get that. And believe me, I'd've preferred an easy, langourous pick-up myself. They just had a different outcome in mind." "Yeah, well ..." She backed down a millimetre. "I'm still gonna have to do a full check over. And Frey's gonna have to help." She glanced at the other woman standing quietly by the workbench. "You do that," Mal said. "But maybe in a coupla minutes, dong mah? I'd kinda like to have a word with my wife." Kaylee's eyes widened. "Oh. Yeah. Right." She tugged a rag from her pocket and wiped her hands. "Well, I could go a coffee." "You'll have to make some, considering the pot got tipped over. And you might wanna look in on the kids too. Make sure they're okay." "Then ... yeah. I'll ..." She backed up and hurried out of the door. Mal turned to look at Freya. "Well." "Well." "She's on board. So's that damn cat of hers." "Panther." "I don't care." "The kids are fine, by the way. Bethie's got them all in her room. She's reading to them." "Here's hoping they stay put." "Oh, they will. They're very curious, of course, about the newcomers, but they won't come out until we say it's okay." "Only it's not." He crossed his arms, feeling the tug of the graze on his shoulder but ignoring it. "Frey, you went against my orders." "Because they were wrong." She slipped past him towards the kitchen. "They were still my orders!" Instead of continuing towards the dining area, Freya turned the corner and started down the stairs. "Frey, dammit, stand still when I'm angry at you!" "Why?" She looked over her shoulder at him then disappeared. He closed his eyes briefly. "You're gonna be the death of me, woman," he muttered, then followed after her. As he reached the common area, he saw her backside vanish into the infirmary. "Frey ..." "Oh, good, you're here," she said brightly. "Sit down." "What?" "Sit down." She patted the medbed. "What's ... going on here?" Simon asked, looking from one to the other. "Mal's torn open that graze on his shoulder," Freya explained. "I think it needs a stitch." "It doesn't." "Mal, you're still bleeding." He glanced down at his shirt, and the fresh stain. "It's fine." She sighed. "Okay. But I was going to let you tell me off while Simon worked. As it stands, I'm just going to have to -" "Frey." He interrupted her in a heavy voice. "Just ..." Climbing wearily onto the medbed, he started to unbutton his shirt. "Good." All of a sudden she was standing in front of him, her fingers gentle on his cheek, lifting his face to look into his eyes. "I'm not having you get another infection," she said softly. "Dammit, Frey ..." In what seemed to be a single motion she bent her head enough to kiss him, then stood back, her hands behind her. "Whenever you're ready, Simon." Looking like he wanted to be anywhere but in his own infirmary, the young doctor busied himself getting out the various bits and pieces he needed. Mal gazed at his wife. "You brought her on board." The anger he'd felt had died somewhat, but was still there, banked deep, even as he eased his shoulder out of his clothing. "I did." "When you knew I didn't want her here." "She'd be dead." "Not necessarily." "Mal, even those bodies aren't there any more." He had a mental image that he knew wasn't his, of a dozen men being cremated, even their bones turning to nothing but ash, and he bridled ... then Simon stuck him with a needle. "Hey!" "Sorry, did you want the pain to go with the guilt?" Simon asked astutely. "Just ... do your job." He turned back to Freya. "And you ... don't you go dropping helpful little pictures in my mind again." "Sorry, Mal. I thought it might help." "Well, it didn't." "Sorry." She looked so like her daughter caught in the act that he had to take a deep breath to avoid smiling. "Okay, then. Explain." "I can't." "Right. So you just take it into your head to invite a stranger and her cat on board my ship, cluttering up my cargo bay with their mule too, as it happens, and I'm supposed to take it on faith that you're doing the right thing?" "Yes." Simon poked Mal in the area of the wound, but the captain showed no sign of feeling any discomfort. In fact, neither husband nor wife seemed to even realise he was there as he picked up the needle and thread. "You don't even like the woman!" Mal insisted. "I don't have to. I only have to know she's important." "Did you see what she did?" "Yes. And she wouldn't do it to us." "You can be sure of that, can you?" Freya looked into his eyes. "Why are you so against her?" "I'm not!" "Then there's something else." He didn't want to hurt her. He never wanted to hurt her, to see her cry, or to know she felt pain because of him, so he lied. "Nothing, Frey. Nothing." Something fell behind her eyes, like shutters, and he knew she knew. "I see." She turned away. "You'd best give me that shirt when you're done. I'll mend it." She walked to the door. "Frey ... wait." She didn't look back. "Mal, I didn't lie to you. I didn't ask you, but I didn't lie." "You heard." She nodded. "I wanted to keep you safe." "You ever gonna stop peeking?" "I love you." His heart flipped, like it always did when she said those three, simple words. He glanced at Simon, who rolled his eyes but clipped the stitch he was making. Sliding from the bed, Mal crossed the small room and stood behind his wife. "Xin gan, I love you too." He put his hands on her hips, turning her around. "And whatever she says, it wasn't me." She looked into his face, searching his blue eyes for the truth. Whatever she'd seen must have satisfied her, because she nodded. "Then believe me, too. They're important. To us all." "Okay," he agreed. "But if I don't get any better answers, then I'm putting 'em off on Persephone." "Yes, Mal." He had to smile slightly at the meekness of her tone. "You're just agreeing with me, ain't you?" "Yes, Mal." "'Cause you don't really agree with me at all, do you?" She smiled. "You'd better let Simon finish his work. He's got supper to do yet." She ran her palm down his chest, making him tremble, then left the infirmary. "Do I want to know what that was all about?" Simon asked, standing with his threaded needle and scissors still in his hands. "Nope." "Fine. I love living in the dark. I've got so used to it I'm considering changing my name to 'mushroom'." "Don't worry, doc," Mal said, sitting back down again. "You ain't the only one."


AN: Feedback appreciated. Thanks for reading.


Saturday, October 9, 2010 4:23 AM


Heh heh... poor Simon & Mal.

'Tis good stuff, please keep it up.

Saturday, October 9, 2010 4:45 AM


Loved this and Simon should re-think calling himself a mushroom seeing as how they are not only kept in the dark but fed on *goushi*. I am glad that Frey senses Cat and Bantha are important and that she has also picked up their connection to alternate Mal even if she doesn't yet know the fine detail. I'm wondering who was in that ship they fried and whether they got off a transmission before River went to full burn. Shiny as always, my friend! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, October 9, 2010 12:47 PM


Mushroom.... LMAO

Monday, October 11, 2010 12:52 AM


Sometimes methinks it might be better being a mushroom… Nicely done Angelle and Jane0904. I knew there was trouble abrewin when Cat and her crew were invited aboard. Mal seemed to recognize it too. So I’m wandering what will be happening on the way to Persephone?

Ready for more…..BP


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