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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
"Things get pretty bleak for Mal and Zoe but Serenity's crew are determined to find a way to get them back. Meanwhile similar thoughts occupy Nelson and his men, none of them realising that a random factor is at play."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2250 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "A HANDFUL OF STARS"
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: Kaylee/Simon. Mal/Inara.
STATUS: Sequel to "MEMORY LANE".
SUMMARY: "Things get pretty bleak for Mal and Zoe but
Serenity's crew are determined to find a way to get them back.
Meanwhile similar thoughts occupy Nelson and his men, none
of them realising that a random factor is at play."
The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly'
are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.
No infringement of copyright is intended.
"A HANDFUL OF STARS"
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
"I still don't understand how they found us."
Nelson sucked on his bottom lip, deep in thought. Mulling over all the possibilities, which were painfully few. Nothing made sense unless... No. That couldn't be right. If the Alliance had known about their bolt hole all along they would have been rounded up and incarcerated long ago. That reasoning should have reassured him but it didn't. Until he could work out exactly what had happened - and why - he could not relax or let down his defences. Even among his own.
Donnie Banks watched Nelson closely but held his peace. Knew the kind of thoughts that would be driving the man to distraction. Slowly he looked around and mentally reviewed the few facts they had, trying every which way to put all the pieces together. All they could be certain of was that whoever had attacked their hideout had a very specific agenda. Not one of their men was injured beyond a bit of bruising. It had been a quick surgical strike. The black clad figures had swarmed into the hideout and taken out Serenity's Captain and first mate then left as quickly and efficiently as they had come. Simple as that. Only it wasn't that simple. No one was supposed to know about their hideout. His focus turned back to his *laoban* as Portree Nelson got to his feet. Every eye now on him.
"This wasn't the Alliance, we're agreed on that, and although we obviously weren't the targets I'm betting we are under survellience."
His men looked shocked, alarmed then angry. Hadn't they got away? The procession of emotions on their faces nothing less than Nelson would have expected. No one asked questions, waiting for their leader to tell them what they needed to know. That amount of trust was something Nelson would not trade for anything in the 'verse.
"We already suspect it has something to do with Blue Sun because the Alliance doesn't have the equipment capable of penetrating rock to find us. I've also been thinking about how they were dressed, how they moved. Some kind of military trained specialised unit."
"They looked like assassins." Said Roscoe.
Nelson looked at him for a moment then nodded. "We can't rule anything out."
"Yeah but what do they want with Reynolds?" Asked Minty Frost. That part confused him. The man was just a transport ship Captain and it wasn't as if the cargo was that sensitive or on anyone's 'most wanted' list. True, the Alliance was restricting supplies to and from worlds that had stood against them during the War. Trying to choke them off enough to prevent large populations making their homes there. Not that such tactics worked while there were people willing to ferry goods beneath Alliance radar. Besides, the men who had struck so efficiently had made no attempt to locate and impound the cargo. It was as if they already had what they wanted. The haunting question was why. What did it all mean?
Nelson shook his head. "*Wo bu zhidao* that's not our problem. How we get them back is."
Several of the men just stared at him. Was he kidding? Going up against the Alliance was risky enough but Blue Sun?
"Nothing to say, Donnie?"
"*Bu qu*." Donnie might not like the path they would be taking but he could not argue with Nelson's reasoning. "They were under our protection, *laoban*."
Nelson nodded. Pleased. This wasn't about keeping faith with Serenity's Captain though Nelson felt some of that assuredly. No, this was about keeping his word to Marcus that Mal and Zoe would be under his protection while they were on Lilac to pick up the cargo. That events had overtaken them was almost an irrelevance. The fact remained that their trading partners had been snatched from among them and somebody would pay for that. Always supposing they could find out what had happened to them and pin down those responsible. Portree Nelson didn't come from Lilac and neither did any of his hand picked men. They were all from Paradisio. Not only did they know mining inside out, each and every man of them was an expert in explosives and volatile substances. The drink Nelson had tried to share with Mal and Zoe wasn't just an evil alcoholic concoction guaranteed to remove the lining of your stomach it had other properties too. Properties he now wished he had shared with them before the *goushi* had hit the fan. He hoped that they would not simply be able to locate and retrieve their two friends but do so in time.
Zoe was frantic. They had been in tight spots before. Gorramit the Captain kind of specialised in them. This though was different and not in a good way. It was as if her long time friend was fading away in front of her gorram eyes only now she could no longer see him and that set off a level of panic that was so rare it was kind of terrifying. She forced herself to calm down. The others would come for them and there would be a thrilling if seat-of-the-pants rescue. She blinked but the darkness was unremitting and not even a crack of dim light eased the complete and utter knowledge of how screwed they were. The next thought was that no matter how hard Wash and the others tried they would not find them and if they did she was not sure it would be quickly enough for the Captain.
The face was lopsided. No, he was lopsided. He tried to straighten but his limbs no longer belonged to him. Wished his gorram head didn't either.
"I am surprised that a man who dislikes complications would be so willing to harbour fugitives."
Book's mild voice penetrated the mushy fog that was all that was left of the grey matter squishing around in his brainpan. "An' yet they do crop up." The Captain mumbled.
There came a deep and dark chuckle, a delicious irony given his situation. It was official: Malcolm Reynolds felt worse. Sitting slumped against the damp cell wall he figured he must have dozed, would explain why he had been hearing the Shepherd in his gorram head. Blinking barely made a difference to the muddy darkness but it was the quiet that was so rutting unsettling. There should have been something other than the sound of one laboured soul breathing. That was his first clue that the *goushi* he was in had got even deeper. He had to swallow several times before he could speak, his mouth so dry it could be used as tinder.
"Zoe, you there?"
Silence echoed back at him like the Devil's laughter, mocking him. Mal tried to moisten his mouth but had precious little saliva. Not gonna panic. He'd been imprisoned before, tortured to within an inch of his life. He could do this. 'They' could do this. Mal blinked in some forlorn hope that the darkness of his cell would lighten but it was like looking through ink. Still no sound from Zoe. Maybehaps she had fallen asleep?
"Jayne, can you hear me?"
Nothing. He almost fancied the silence had taken on something of a malicious quality which was *shenjingbing* but still. It unsettled him all the same. This was bad. Stretching his legs out he could almost touch the other side of the small cell and by carefully exploring until he could touch the sides with his feet he was able to confirm his growing fear. Zoe was gone. Now Jayne wasn't answering neither. Something in his gut twisted with worry but he shoved it down. Had to think no matter how hard that was. His friends had been taken away, probably to some as yet unimagined torture but Malcolm Reynolds was blessed with an inventive and creative imagination. Some might call it cursed. He imagined all manner of unseemly things being done to Zoe and Jayne but what he couldn't fathom was what the Alliance was after. Or maybehaps they were just settling old scores?
Once his imagination got going the roller coaster would not stop. Mal closed his eyes, moisture seeping from the corners of his eyelids as he pleaded with a fickle deity to come down off his gorram High and Mighty Horse and help them. He did not ask help for himself. Figured any God that fickle had long since got shot of any interest in one Malcolm Reynolds. In fact, might decide not to help his friends if he attached his own self to that little request. Not gonna call it a prayer. Just a polite request for help. Or. In Jayne's case a not so polite one. Whatever. What felt like hours passed and still nothing. *Wei*, he had another thought. God had deserted him and Zoe back in the Valley. Made sense He wouldn't be answering now but what about Inara's naked guy? Buddha?
Mal wasn't sure about Lord Buddha or whether he only answered them as lit incense and bathed regular and such but he was in a fix and not too proud to admit it. Like to pass out any minute so no time to be fussy plus he had a crew to look to and two at least needing saving from the evil clutches of the gorram Alliance. Mal prayed to Inara's God, for Buddha to somehow do what God could or would not. Oddly enough he didn't feel a *baichi*. Insane maybe, just a little bit *chun* but not an idiot. Zoe would doubtless have something pithy to say about that but she wasn't here and that was the gorram point. She wasn't here and he missed her, like half of him was gone and he couldn't quite function without it. He slumped further, weary and in pain, a wave of nausea creeping up his throat while behind his eyes pain blossomed into an unholy agony that caused him to cry out. As he passed out he had the oddest feeling that someone was watching him. Devil or Angel he couldn't tell. Wasn't sure it made a rutting difference.
Wash called everybody to the bridge. Jayne hesitated, he was supposed to watch Book or Brooks or whoever the *diyu* it was. River Tam looked up and met his eyes. "Don't go."
"Huh, don't take orders from you."
"Not an order. Request."
That raised a wary eyebrow. "What the ruttin' *diyu* you playin' at? Wash said everybody."
The girl shook her head, glanced down at Book then at Jayne. Her look expectant, waiting for the coin to drop.
"Well, not him obviously."
"Doc says he's comatose."
"That's what he wants you to think."
Jayne looked surprised. "Simon?"
She shook her head, a flash of irritation in her eyes. "No, him."
He was torn. Stupid as it was to hesitate over leaving a comatose man for a few minutes to find out what had got Wash in such a state, Jayne couldn't help remembering the change in his one time friend. "Ya sayin' he ain't asleep?"
River nodded, relieved. "Not all of him."
"How we gonna do this, *laoban*?"
Nelson huffed but kept his voice low. "As quietly as possible."
"*Dang ran*," said Donnie "take that as a given, it was the how was worryin' me."
"I've had a wave from Marcus, he confirms our friends are no longer on Lilac. Seems to think they've been taken to Hera."
He got startled looks back. "Why Hera?"
Nelson could have spelt it out. Zoe and Mal were Browncoats and the Alliance may have won the War but had long and spiteful memories. He only had to think about what Marcus had let slip about Shadow. A peaceable little Rim world until people started objecting to the Alliance meddling in their lives, imposing taxes they had no call to demand and wanting to tell everybody what to do and when to do it morning, noon and night. No wonder most of the Rim worlds had fathers, sons, brothers, uncles and daughters off to fight for freedom. The Alliance had remembered and chosen a Rim world at random to make an example of, the mass drivers turning the planet into an uninhabitable radio-active ball of scorched earth and burning seas. It would be a long time before anything grew there again if it ever did. Other rumours abounded even more horrific but he was not minded to dwell on them. Bad enough that everywhere the Alliance stretched forth their greedy hands they left grief and devastation in their wake. Only those too frightened or weak to fight were spared, heavy taxes and tithes the exchange for lives lived under the heel of those who would tolerant no dissent or individuality. Some said Paradisio had escaped but Nelson knew better and they were all paying the price. Would until the day every last one of them died.
"It's a *jianyu*."
"*Weishenme*? War's over and Hera surely has no need for one. The place was remodelled after the War into some kind of ruttin' livin' museum or so I hear."
"That it was, to Alliance superiority."
Donnie digested that but didn't ask the obvious question. Nelson saw a look of knowing in Donnie's eyes and knew he didn't have to spell it out. But there were things about Hera the others didn't know. Information from Marcus that had chillded him to the bone. "Alliance didn't build the *jianyu*." He said quietly.
You could have heard a gorram pin drop. His men hung on his every word and waited for the other shoe to drop.
"Blue Sun did."
Roscoe opened his mouth then shut it with a snap. Blue Sun prisons were a euphemism for experimental laboraties but with people as the lab rats. He felt sick, his heart rate quickening before he could calm himself down again. Gorramit, why did Nelson have to go all noble on them now? But he knew why. They all did. Mal and Zoe had been under their protection and it behoved Nelson and his men to get them back. What worried him was how they were expected to pull off that level of impossible.
"We have to DO something!" Said Wash, his voice urgent, the undercurrent of worry obvious to them all.
Inara seemed the calmest of them all but Simon knew that was her Companion training. As cool headed as he was it felt strange to find himself so concerned especially considering all the times he had butted heads with Serenity's stubborn but oddly noble Captain. And then there was Zoe. Although he liked her and there was a mutual respect between them he could not actually claim to really know her. The first mate had an inbuilt remoteness that marked certain aspects of her character off-limits but he trusted her and not only as the ship's second in command. Zoe and Mal had a history, one that bound them as tightly as any marriage, but he had noticed the Captain rarely did anything that did not meet with Zoe's approval still less her support. It reassured him. He did not like to think what would become of Serenity and her crew if they did not get both of them back.
Simon turned his head. "Where's Jayne?"
Wash didn't miss a beat. "Watchin' Book."
A small frown marred the doctor's features. "He's comatose Wash, I don't see him waking up any time soon."
"Doesn't mean he won't."
The voice seemed to come out of thin air but it was River speaking over the ship's com.
"River, what did I tell you?" Her brother said in mild exasperation.
"You know the body Simon, not the mind."
Wash and Inara exchanged a knowing gance, Kaylee was getting anxious. Why was everybody looking so gloomy? "We have a plan though, *dui*?"
Looks were exchanged but none of them filled Kaylee with confidence. *Wode ma*, just how screwed were they? Then her face lit up as something occurred to her. "They got their coms with 'em."
The pilot gave her a 'sorry' look. "I already tried Kaylee, the coms are off."
"No, no, *ni bu dong*. We can track 'em, find out where they're bein' held."
"And if they aren't on Lilac?" Asked Simon softly. He hated playing Devil's Advocat but he didn't want Kaylee raising everyone's hopes only to have them dashed again. They needed to be level headed and realistic.
Meanwhile, in the infirmary Jayne was having doubts about listening to River. "He ain't movin'."
River was not looking at him, her attention completely focussed on the suppine man. "Mind is."
A creepy feeling stole through Jayne. "You can see inside his gorram brain?"
"Don't you shush me you little..."
River raised a hand and Jayne fell silent. How did she do that? Girl was a gorram witch.
In her mind River replied to his sullen thought: 'yes, but not your witch'.
At first she did not understand what she was seeing but when she did everything inside her went cold. Not chilled but cold as ice. Her breathing changed, her eyes widened in shock, a pain shot through her that had nothing to do with any physical harm being done to her body. Rather, it was what she was seeing, hearing and suddenly understanding. The reluctance to believe was overwhelmed by hard fact. She was sitting in a form fitting chair, not bound to it by any obvious physical means of restraint but unable to move from it. For a moment Zoe wondered whether she was kept there by shock.
She was not looking through a monitor screen but a large viewing window that took up all one side of the room. They had assumed it was the Alliance that had captured and imprisoned them but the truth was so much worse. As she watched she could see her Captain and friend in various states of extremis, technicians altering the chemicals in his brain while detailing the results and making adjustments to refine his nightmares. Her eyes momentarily clouded with unshed tears then cleared as they rolled silently down her cheeks. She did not utter a word. Would not give these unfeeling *tamade hundan* the satisfaction. No doubt they were monitoring her own reactions as they played with their latest victim. It was horrible, creepy and obscene. The built in speakers relayed every sound Malcolm Reynolds made, his eyelids taped back so he could not blink, the dark room replicating the cell they had first been placed inside.
When she heard him call out to her Zoe had to fight not to answer, to tell him she was there. By now she knew he could not hear anything, the bubble of his existence reduced to the artificial confinement, his environment controlled while technicians from Blue Sun worked silently to manipulate his mind as well. But why? Beyond the obvious distress they were causing what was the point or did these sick people not need one? What possible motivation could there be for this level of cruelty? A shadowy movement to her left had Zoe turning her head automatically, the inbuilt self preservation that had served her and Mal so well during the war as automatic as breathing. She had not heard the man come in, he was dressed like one of the technicians but seemed more aware. His smile made her want to snap his neck in two but what she lacked was information. If they ever got out of this she could kill him later. Kill them all.
"Why are you doin' this?"
The smile turned smug. "I am Dr Mathias."
The introduction confused her. Didn't he realise she would hunt him down and kill him? An amused glint skated across his eyes and something unpleasant clicked in her brain, something she wished with all her heart to be untrue.
"You can hear my thoughts?"
"I am a telepath, yes."
She meant what did this have to do with being a telepath but he chose to answer a yet unasked question. "A gift is still a gift."
Her eyes narrowed. "Am I supposed to believe it is *ziran de*?"
For a moment the smile slipped. Ah, that had struck home. So, he had been augmented. A thought occurred to her that spilled from her lips before she could stop herself. "Is that what you did to Book?"
The man seemed to want to change the subject: interesting, but Zoe had no time for sight seeing.
"What do you want with us an' why torture the Cap'n?"
His look was almost pitying. "*Ni bu dong*."
"Then suppose you explain it to me."
Dr Mathias, if that was even his real name, seemed to approve the steel in her tone. The hint of a backbone that would not bend. "You are very close."
He waited as if expecting a response. Zoe just stared at him, stone faced.
"I would not be surprised to find some level of telepathic connection between yourself and Captain Reynolds."
Again, his words met with silence but that did not seem to bother him. If he was so ruttin' telepathic he could read her anger and disgust without it needing to be spoken. Dr Mathias seemed to warm up to his subject which just increased the level of revoltion Zoe was feeling towards the slimey creepy little man.
"Your connection, while of mild interest, is not what brings us to this point. It is another." He paused but got nothing back. "The girl," he said quietly, his voice almost hushed in awe "is of prime importance. Imagine our surprise to find there was a connection."
Zoe Washburne frowned at him. What in the nine hells was he talking about? Then it hit like a bombshell, all the more shocking for being so unexpected. He was talking about River! Zoe saw a look of slow satisfaction slide over Dr Mathias's face and wanted to hit him. "You're *shenjingbing*."
The smile was back, this time it was mocking. "And yet you have suspected for some time now."
That surprised her. Had she? As Zoe thought about it little snippets, memories, snapshots flashed through her mind. Moments when it seemed as if, just for a fraction of a second, the Captain and their little genius were in perfect synch. Was there a telepathic connection? River was a given, had shown that kind of ability time and time again until even the most disbelieving of them had come to accept it but the Captain? Mal? No, it couldn't be possible. A horrible thought crept into her consciousness. "Is that what you're after? You thinkin' to use Mal to get to River?"
Dr Mathias radiated warmth and happiness as if she had just won top prize but it was a gift that was tainted with the blood of everyone foolish enough to touch it with a bargepole. "You really are as astute as I suspected." The doctor gave a little mock bow before making his exit.
River was no longer seeing the man on the infirmary bed, her look had gone much deeper. Her breathing slowed to a crawl, her mind a laser than was stripping away the layers that fought to keep her out yet she was a genius. Jayne was getting ansty, creeped out by her but somehow reluctant to leave. A kind of odd fascination kept him in place, the comforting weight of Vera in his hands reassured him that whatever happened he would be able to handle it. River could have told him that he was wrong but couldn't afford the distraction. No. She was inside now, could hear Brooks screaming obscenities at her in at least eight different languages. Were things not so critical she would have enjoyed dissecting them all to see just how inventive he could be but right now she had people to rescue and so little time to do it in.
"This is a gun ship!" Exclaimed Donnie in shock. "No way can we sneak in unchallenged."
Nelson Portree's expression was grim. ""That's because we aren't sneaking."
Roscoe's eyebrows rose up into his hairline and disappeared. Probably in shock. "I wanna rescue 'em as much a you *laoban* but this is *zisha*."
"*Bushi*. I've had Marcus monitoring their transmissions - both the open ones and the scrambled secure lines." That raised even more eyebrows, the men now listening intently. None asking how Marcus had managed that little miracle. "A new contingent is due to make planetfall in the next twenty hours as part of a regular three monthly rotation. Fortunately for us they are coming from different locations so will be going in three waves, the last is a single ship."
"Let me guess, we take the last ship out an' replace it?"
Nelson's grin was feral. His men knew what that meant and felt their own adrenal levels gearing up to meet whatever their leader had planned. "They won't even see us coming, boys."
"How we gonna do that, *laoban*?"
"Let's just say the gun ship has some 'modifications'. Among them is a dampening net."
Now his men were grinning. Oh yeah, better than an EMP. Donnie wanted to ask what else the ship had but the men were talking in excited tones, among each other and to Nelson. Donnie snapped his mouth shut and just watched the by-play a slow smile of satisfaction spreading across his face. This was Nelson at his best and God help any gorram purplebelly or Blue Handed psycho who stood in his way.
It was much later when Malcolm Reynolds stirred, groggy and disorientated. He was lying on the dirt floor of the cell, splayed out like a man in search of a cross. Beneath him the soggy ground soaked him to the bone but he didn't feel it. Did not need to open his eyes to know he was alone. The cell was small, tiny even, with only enough room for two to sit and stretch their legs out. Lying as he was he could pretty much touch every side of his prison.
Throat dry and scratchy he said nothing though from time to time his lips moved in a silent litany. Occasionally broken words would spill out, tinged with pain or desperation not that either mattered now. It was still dark and if he was being truthsome it was kind of claustrophobic. Mal tried to think, find some infinitessimal piece of shiny to cling to but his world had narrowed and compressed into these four miserable walls. Devoid even of the company of friends hanging on seemed pointless, as futile as waiting for their Angels to come from on high and deliver them out of the hands of their enemy in Serenity Valley. By the end of that sorry surrender he had known whose colours God was flying and they weren't his.
His eyes widened, absorbing the dark aspect of his prison cell until it matched that of his soul then paused in his gloomy thoughts and blinked. Everything around him was dark, featureless, depressing, yet now that he was looking up he saw something unexpected. Wasn't much, nothing to get excited about but somehow it lightened his heart. Penetrated the fog of pain in body and soul. Some might call it pathetic, just a handful of stars, but then and there Malcolm Reynolds knew he couldn't give in. No giving up on his boat. In his world of soul destroying darkness and pain he clung to those tiny pinpricks of light as if to a lifeline. For one thing those handful of stars gave him that he didn't have moments before was hope. He didn't know that everything he saw, felt or heard had been carefully orchestrated. A construct of his reality that had been meticulously fashioned so that it could be carefully and slowly dismantled at will along with a *wangu* and very troublesome transport ship Captain. But not yet. Not while he was still useful. No. When his end finally came it would not be swift and definitely not painless but a long exsanguination of everything that made him Malcolm Reynolds. Serenity's Captain would rue the day he had ever placed himself and his crew between Blue Sun and it's chief objective. The recovery of River Tam.
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*laoban* = boss *wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *diyu* = hell
*goushi* = crap/dog shit *shenjingbing* = crazy *wei* = hey! *baichi* = idiot
*chun* = stupid *weixian* = dangerous *dang ran* = of course *jianyu* = prison
*weishenme* = why? *dui* = correct *wode ma* = mother of God
*ni bu dong* = you don't understand *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard
*ziran de* = natural *zisha* = suicide *bushi* = not so *wangu* = stubborn
Sunday, July 10, 2011 5:38 AM
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