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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Freya gazed at him for a long moment, and he felt her stepping through his mind. It wasn’t to find anything, and he wasn’t even sure she knew she was doing it – it seemed more as if it was some kind of displacement activity while she thought. At last she said, “Corrupt it.” [Maya. Post-BDM. Simon explains what he's found, and Mal makes a plan.]
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2337 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
“Mal,” Simon said softly, but it was as if he shouted – he had everyone’s attention. “I think I have something.”
Mal was inside the infirmary before the words had even finished bouncing around the air ducts, but for once the rest of the crew decided to stay outside, probably as a result of the glare their captain threw them, although they did crowd around the door. “Well?”
“There wasn’t anything much in the way of forensic evidence,” Simon said, making a couple of small calibrations in one of his pieces of equipment. “Like I said, it’s been in pockets, handled … there were a number of fingerprints, but I could discount most of them as being River’s, Freya’s –”
“You keep my wife’s fingerprints on file?” Mal demanded suspiciously.
“I keep full body scans of everyone on board,” Simon said simply. “I am a doctor.”
“Hmmn. Yes, well. Go on.”
“So after I removed the ones I knew, and surmised Molly’s – please don’t ask how, because you won’t understand – the only ones remaining were too old and smudged to be of any use.”
“So you’re saying you haven’t found anything?” Mal wanted to know, ignoring the jibe.
“Not on the outside.”
“Doc, I’m on the verge of doing something Frey’s gonna make me regret.”
“See for yourself.” He turned one of his small displays around.
Mal peered at it. “All I can see is a whole lotta nothing. In fact a whole lotta red nothing.”
“It keeps going out of focus,” Simon said, adjusting again. “I think I need a new … there.”
For a moment Mal felt as if he was falling into the screen, then it steadied. “What the hell is that?” he asked as a small area became clearer, and as it grew he could discern tiny shapes and dots within it. “A flaw?”
“I thought so, at first.” Simon’s pale face was still, even less animation than usual. “If it had been, that in itself would have been unusual – Culver never let a stone go out that isn’t perfect. But when I looked even closer …” Again he made a minute adjustment.
Mal’s brows drew together. “That ain’t natural.”
“No, it isn’t.” Simon leaned back on the counter. “And it’s at the molecular level, deliberately placed to ensure it wasn’t noticed.”
“But you found it.”
“I was looking for it. Or something like it.”
“And what, exactly is it?”
“It’s a … a sort of mini program, telling the right computer to do something.” A smile lifted his lips slightly. “They thought they were being very clever, but they were wrong.”
“Can you read it?”
“It’s supposed to be very specifically engineered so you have to have the key, but I remember Orlando playing with something similar at MedAcad, and he got me to … anyway, after what River said Freya had seen, I had an idea of what it might be. That’s what took the time, you see – finding it was relatively easy, but reading it –”
Mal held up a hand. “Doc. You’re good. Top three-percent, we know. Show us.”
Simon paused then nodded, depressing a sequence of keys that flashed bright light over the molecular engraving, leaving Mal blinking back the after burn.
Then … “Shit.”
“What is it?” Hank wanted to know, trying to see into the infirmary to get a better look.
“Names,” Mal said quietly. “Names and addresses.”
It was a council of war, or at least that’s what it felt like. Simon had downloaded the list onto a secure reader, and it now sat in on the old wooden table in front of Mal, the others in their places in the kitchen. Only River was missing, still keeping watch from the roof of the house, but they knew she was listening.
Kaylee shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “I don’t like this.”
“Me neither, mei-mei,” Mal agreed. “My hackles are surely rising.”
“Mine too,” Simon said, earning a surprised look. “Someone went to a lot of trouble and expense to get this done – it has to be important.”
“You figure it’s the reason Philo Cobb’s after Molly.”
“Don’t we all?”
“Mal …” Hank began diffidently. “I recognise a couple of those names.”
“Which ones?” Mal looked sharply at his pilot.
“Henrik Forrester on Albany, Thomas and Lilly O’Shea on Greenleaf, Jenny Coulter … Mal, they’re Browncoats.”
“Well, Cyrus Dunbar ain’t,” Jayne said, taking a mouthful of coffee. “He’s more interested in how much cashey-money he can wring outta his factories.”
“No, but he supported leniency with the Independents,” Zoe said. “He spoke out about the camps after the war.”
“That was just ‘cause the Alliance wouldn’t let him use ‘em as forced labour.” He shrugged at their looks. “What, you think I didn’t know what was going on? I ain’t a total backbirth.”
“I remember,” Mal said quietly. It had been a bad time, before the amnesty, before they were turned out to fend for themselves. “So did Francis Hong, and he’s on here. So’s Jeremiah Smith.” Smith, a Parliament member they’d had dealings with a couple of times in the past, a man who advocated a more tolerant approach to the outer planets, if only in private.
“It’s a death list,” Freya said suddenly.
“Ai ren?” Mal turned to his wife, whose face was pale.
She stabbed a finger towards the reader. “Them.”
Mal glanced at the screen. “Patrick and Emily Wilson. Beaumonde.” He looked back up. “You know ‘em?”
“Yes. No.” Freya shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. “It’s them. From last night.” A farmhouse, a bedroom, blood …
He understood. “The dead folks? How do you know?”
“I know. And they’re not dead. I told you, I can feel them somehow.” Her fingers began to beat an uneven tattoo on the wooden table top. “But someone wants them dead. All of them.”
“Is that possible, sir?” Zoe asked. “There are more than two hundred entries, perhaps three hundred and fifty names.”
“More,” Freya put in, suddenly realising the tapping noise was her, and pulling her hand back into her lap. “There are children as well.”
“So they want to wipe out families?” Hank tried to moisten his dry lips with a quick tongue. “Why?”
War. The word reverberated through all of their minds, River’s distinct flavour in that one syllable.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think our little albatross is wrong.” Mal exhaled heavily. “There’s been talk for a long while of a new war, mostly on the side of the New Browncoats, admittedly, but they’ve got some strong support. We’ve seen it ourselves.”
“Yeah, but killing kids?” Kaylee was appalled.
“No witnesses,” Zoe explained. “And it makes an example to the rest.”
“That’s …” Kaylee gripped Simon’s hand tightly.
Sam shook his head. “I don’t … I can’t agree. The Alliance doesn’t do this sort of underhand thing. Maybe it isn’t what you think it is.”
Freya turned towards him, a look in her eyes he hadn’t seen before, and the short hairs on the back of his neck stood on end.
“They are to be slaughtered,” she said quietly. “They will be torn apart, eviscerated, just because of what they think. I know.”
“Frey.” Mal’s voice was low, but it still cut through the sudden tension.
She closed her eyes, and when she reopened them she was herself again, only this time tinged with sadness. “I’m sorry. But someone wants them all dead.”
“And there’s no saying it’s the Alliance, anyway,” Zoe put in. “Not Parliament, anyway. There’s enough factions within, and leeching onto the outside, who might want to weaken any Independent movement.”
“And killing three hundred people will do that?” Hank asked, unwilling to believe it himself.
“There are some powerful names on here,” Mal said slowly. “Most of ‘em have influence, or ran information routes during the war, least the ones I recognise. Prob’ly the same of the others. Frey’s right – I think it’s a pre-emptive strike.”
“And maybe not the only one,” Freya added darkly.
“You … you don’t think there’s more of these out there?” Kaylee asked, trying to swallow the lump in her throat.
“We don’t know that.” Mal knew Freya was right, but the look on Kaylee’s face was painful. “And we have to decide what to do with this one.”
“How about we send it public?” Hank suggested. “Like you did after Miranda. Broadwave it across the verse.”
“It’s just a list,” Simon pointed out. “We have no proof it’s anything but that. It could be for sending Christmas waves for all we can prove.”
“But we have to let everyone know,” Kaylee said. “Everyone on that list.”
“That’s a given.” Mal considered. “Monty’s coming, he can help.” He looked at Freya. “Your brother?”
“Alex can contact those higher up, but … Mal, this is going to put him in danger.”
“You think he’s the kinda man who’d let this go unstopped?”
She looked almost affronted. “Of course not.”
“You might only’ve been in contact the past coupla years, but he’s more like you than you think, ai ren.”
A tinge of pink coloured her cheeks. “Dillon, too. If Hank and River help, we can get a secure transmission out that nobody’s going to be able to break.”
“That’s what they thought about the Culver,” Sam pointed out.
“Which is still a problem,” Zoe said. “Sir, no matter what we do to try and warn people, some are likely to slip through.”
“I know.” Mal sighed. “I’m leaning towards the idea of destroying the thing.”
“Which won’t help Molly.” Simon shook his head. “Not with Philo Cobb out there.”
“Can you … I don’t know … rewrite it? The program?” Mal asked.
“To do what?”
“Play with the names?”
For a long moment Simon pondered, then shook his head. “No. It would be obvious.”
“Then I have an idea.” Inara spoke quietly. “If you can’t rewrite it, can you replicate it?”
“That would be easier. But what would be the point?”
Freya stirred. “No, Inara.”
“Huh?” Hank looked from one to the other. “What am I missing?”
“She’s thinking of giving them a list of fake names and addresses,” Freya explained.
“Are you reading me again?” Inara glared at her friend.
“No. But I know how you think. And it won’t work.”
Mal nodded grimly. “Fake names’d come back and bite us in the ass. They’d have to figure it was while Molly had the gem it got changed.”
“So what?” Hank looked increasingly uncomfortable. “We give them real names? Even if it was people we didn’t like, who didn’t like us … I don’t think I can be a party to that.”
“Wouldn’t mind seeing Badger strung up,” Jayne commented.
“Even he has a mother, Jayne,” Freya said.
“So?” Then his face changed, and nobody was in any doubt that River had just chastised him.
Mal ignored him, speaking instead to Inara. “Was that your idea?”
“Yes.” She looked crestfallen. “I was going to suggest using my own Culver diamond.”
“I won’t let anyone give these monsters real names,” Freya insisted.
“’Sides, like you said, that diamond of yours is worth a lot of money,” Mal added.
“I don’t care about that.” Inara sighed. “I thought I could help.”
“Perhaps you can.” Freya was biting her lip.
“Frey?” Mal touched her hand. “You got something?”
Freya gazed at him for a long moment, and he felt her stepping through his mind. It wasn’t to find anything, and he wasn’t even sure she knew she was doing it – it seemed more as if it was some kind of displacement activity while she thought. At last she said, “Corrupt it.”
She turned to Simon. “You said it’s a program, the results of which is the list.”
“It’s extremely clever, using nine-sided algorithms and –”
“Is that a yes?”
“Then we copy it. Poorly. Enough so it won’t read. And crack the stone.”
“What?” Mal stared at her. “Frey, if we’re gonna do that we might as well use the original, not let Inara lose hers.”
“Mal, I don’t mind,” Inara said softly, but nobody took any notice.
“If what I’m suggesting doesn’t work, we may have to,” Freya said. “But we can’t let them … whoever they are … get the original.”
“How do we know they didn’t?” Hank asked. “We’re going to all this hassle for something that may have already happened.”
“I don’t think so.”
“But you can’t be sure.”
This time it was Hank on the receiving end of one of Freya’s looks, and he scraped his chair back involuntarily. “No, you’re right, I can’t. But I feel it. Here.” She put her hand between her breasts. “The people on that list are still alive. Lecomb is an intermediary, and he’s just going to pass it on to someone else.”
“Frey, I’m sorry.” Hank ran a hand through his untidy brown hair. “It’s just I …”
The tension between them seemed almost at breaking point, until Jayne said, “River wants to know if we crack the stone, is Lecomb gonna get the blame. ‘Cause she think it couldn’t happen to a nicer feller.”
For a moment everyone stared at him, then Freya burst into laughter. “That’s only because he pinched her the last time we made a delivery.”
“And if it had been any more’n that and he’d have pulled back a bloody stump,” the big man grumbled.
Mal smiled in relief. “Tell your missus if she wanted to take part in this conversation she should have stayed and annoyed us in person.”
Jayne grinned back. “You don’t wanna know what her answer was.”
“I conjure I don’t. But yeah, with any luck Lecomb will be blamed. And that’ll give us time to warn the real folks on the list.”
“But if they don’t have it …” Inara stopped. “Of course. As soon as they realise they’ll just send it again. Forgive me for being stupid.”
“Nothing to forgive,” Sam said gallantly, taking her hand.
“And we keep the proof,” Freya added. “For insurance.”
“Good thinking.” Mal smiled at her.
“This does assume I can do what you ask,” Simon pointed out.
“Of course you can, honey,” Kaylee said, leaning over and placing a soft kiss on his cheek.
“You two stop that,” Mal ordered. “He’s got work to do.” He pushed his chair back so he could stand up. “And while the doc’s doing that, I think it’s about time I had another word or two with Philo Cobb.”
The saloon was called Willoughby’s. Not that a Willoughby had ever run it, but the previous owner had read the name somewhere and liked it enough to change it, and the current proprietor couldn’t be bothered to think of anything else.
Mal pushed the door open and walked inside, breathing deeply of the smell of beer, whisky and people. He almost smiled – even if there wasn’t sawdust on the floor he always felt like there should be. Waiting for his eyes to adjust he moved out of the daylight, automatically presenting less of an easy target should someone decide they didn’t like his face.
Blinking a couple of times he was soon able to make out the bar along one side of the large room, various tables and chairs, some of them occupied even at this time of day, and the ever-present Cortex in the corner giving all the news the powers-that-be wanted you to know. Lies, damn lies, and statistics – one of Ms Gingrich’s favourite expressions. He would have added a free press.
The barman was busy counting tumblers, and only one man, seated by himself at a table for six, took any notice of him.
“Mr Reynolds. Sorry, Captain.”
“I thought we should have a quiet word.”
“And you figured I’d be here?”
“It’s a place where folks like us do business.”
Philo Cobb grunted a chuckle. “You think we’re alike?”
“We both have to make a living, and sometimes that means dealing with the less salubrious members of society to make it.”
“That tends to be a given in my line of work.”
The two men appraised each other for a long moment, then Cobb pushed a chair away from the table with his foot. “So what can I do for you, Captain Reynolds?”
Mal sat down, resting his forearms on the table, his hands well away from the gun at his hip. “It’s more what I can do for you.”
“And that’d be … what, exactly?”
Now Philo Cobb wasn’t wearing his hat, Mal could see the resemblance between him and his gunhand was less marked, mostly because Philo had dirty-blond hair scraped back from his shaved face, curling at the nape of his neck. “Stop you wasting your time.”
“We both know the Grogans ain’t who you’re looking for.”
“Is that so?”
“It is. And it ain’t even really a who, so much as a what.”
“Captain, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Cobb leaned forward. “I have a warrant for them. Signed and sealed. And you’ve just admitted they’re at the house.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Supposing we come and take them?”
“You could try. But some of you are likely to be killed. Maybe you. In fact, I’d do my best to see that you went down first.”
“Then I take you hostage right now.”
“Now that ain’t gonna work either. You’d be dead before you could clear your gun from the leather.”
“You’re not that fast.”
“Just telling it like it is.”
“I know.” Mal nodded towards the bar. “She wouldn’t like it.”
Philo turned his head slowly to look. A tall woman, short brown hair, was smiling gently at him. “I can take her.”
“I sincerely doubt it. But even if you could she’d take you down.” He gestured towards a table just inside the door.
This woman was probably equally tall, if not a little more, dark-skinned and glorious, the Mare’s Leg on her thigh slightly less so.
Philo turned back. “It seems you have me at a disadvantage.”
“That’s always my aim.”
“All your crew female?”
“Sometimes it seems like it.”
“Any more of them about?”
Philo leaned back in his chair again. “Then we’re at an impasse.”
“Nope.” Mal shook his head. “This is just a friendly conversation, like I said. Me and mine are going to walk out of here, and so are you.”
“It doesn’t solve my problem.”
“Which is why I’m here. Why don’t you wave Harper Lecomb?” The flash of surprise on Philo’s face was gratifying. “Ask him if he wants the goods back in exchange for leaving everyone alone?”
“It’s not about goods.”
Philo studied the man in front of him, the open face, and wondered briefly just what was going on behind those blue eyes. “Nope,” he admitted. “It felt fishy from the get go, but it’s good money.”
“Talk to him. Find out. I’ll be at my boat if you come up with the right answer.” Mal stood up, his thumbs tucked into his suspenders and well away from his holster. “I’m sure we’re all gonna be sensible about this.”
“You never know.” Philo inclined his head a notch, as close to an acknowledgement as he was ever likely to get, and watched the man walk out of the saloon as if he owned the place.
The dark-skinned beauty got to her feet and followed her captain, but the other woman didn’t leave immediately. Instead she came to stand at his side. He looked up at her. “Ma’am.”
“You need to listen to my husband,” she said softly. “And don’t wait too long to talk to Lecomb.” She smiled faintly, but he had the overwhelming impression of a cobra ready to strike. Of the three of them he couldn’t help feeling this woman was the most dangerous.
“Soon as I get back to my own ship.”
Her smile grew a little, but he didn’t have time to appreciate it as she strode out, her backside moving attractively in her dark blue pants. He thought for a moment he saw a tattoo sneaking over the top of her maroon shirt, but then she was gone, the door swinging to after her.
“Shit,” he breathed. “If I had a crew like that I might walk into the lion’s den too.”
to be continued
Friday, December 6, 2013 9:06 PM
Friday, December 6, 2013 9:57 PM
Sunday, December 8, 2013 3:08 PM
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