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M52NICKERSON

Firefly - Albatross Chapter 8 and Epilogue
Monday, October 27, 2014

A message from River set the final events into motion.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 4060    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

Chapter 8

Miss Serra, I hope we can meet to discuss a possible business arrangement. Please be my guest at 20:00 hours tonight. My estate is number is 15946. Sincerely Mr. Helm

“That’s it?” Mal questioned as the crew all read the wave displayed on Inara’s personal source box.

“Yes, it has to be from River,” Inara said standing near her bed.

Jayne huffed from the doorway, “Could be this hwoon dahn just wants to get lucky.”

“Anyone that would be interested in contracting with me would know to go through the guild registry,” Inara replied.

Mal scratched the side of his face, “I don’t know, what do you think, Doc?”

“River would be smart enough not to contact the ship directly. I can see her using Inara as a cover,” Simon answered.

“You really think sher found a way onto one of those estates?” Kaylee asked.

“Very well could have, makes sense she would avoid any public cortex screens. They would all have camera in, or near them,” Mal said. “Still, this could be something else.”

“We have to check.” Simon said.

“That’s the plan, Inara and I will…” Mal started.

“Excuse me,” the Companion interrupted, “I will be going myself.”

“Like guay, you will. Were, not even sure this is from River,” Mal responded crossing his arms.

“If it is, she sent it to be discrete, that’s not going to work if you’re with me,” Inara retorted walking up to Mal.

“It’s likely the Feds intercepted this, they might be there waiting,” Mal said sternly.

Inara smirked, “Even more reason for me to go alone. It’ll be hard to say I believed the message was legitimate with you tagging along.”

For a few long moments Inara and Mal stared at each other as if waiting to see who would back down first. No one said anything until Simon began to say, “Perhaps I could go with…”

“No,” Mal cut him off, “She’s right,” he said hating to admit Inara’s points were valid.

“Then I need to get ready if I’m to look the part,” Inara smiled at her victory.

**********

**********

Sleep. In any other situation Zoe would have felt bad about getting any, but she was in the hospital after being in a fire, shot and up all night. All in all she figured she earned a little rest. Besides it was not like she was going to be released while the Feds had an interest in her. “Miss Alleyne, how are you feeling?” a young female doctor asked.

Zoe, shifted and sat up slowly fighting away her sleepiness, “much better.” “That’s good. We should be able to get you out of here pretty soon,” the doctor replied.

“Shiny,” Zoe answered.

“Right now you have a visitor,” the doctor said as she left, “please ring if you need anything.”

Zoe, looked over the corner of her room and saw a women with strawberry blond hair dressed in a dark business suit sitting there.

“We have a problem Mrs. Washburn,” the women said easily.

Zoe sat up fully and responded, “Who are you?”

The women stood up, “I entered into a deal with your Captain Reynolds. He was to keep young Mr. Bernoulli safe and away from his parents while payment by his father could be worked out.”

“So what is the problem?”

“The Feds. They are looking for the boy and a member of your crew. If they find them first, well the deal falls apart. I know a fed was here questioning you earlier, however I doubt very highly you gave him anything useful.”

Zoe eyed the women for a moment before asking, “Then what exactly are you here for?”

“The feds are watching Serenity now. They are also monitoring messages going to the ship. That leaves me unable to reiterate to Captain Reynolds the gravity of the situation,” the woman replied.

“You think he needs to be reminded?” Zoe asked sternly.

“Perhaps, or perhaps he needs some assistance.”

Zoe could not tell if the women was being genuine or simply trying to get information out of her, “You want me to ask when I get out.”

“Exactly,” the women responded heading for the door of the room, “It will be much better for everyone if we have the boy as opposed to the law.”

**********

**********

It was done, her message had been sent.

River Tam leaned back into the large leather chair looking around the large study she had snuck into. Hard wood floors led to darker wood paneled walls. A high vaulted ceiling with rows of soft lights was overhead. Behind her was a huge bookshelf filled with reproductions of famous works. Before her was a large wood desk with a cortex screen mounted to one side. River could not help but be reminded of her father’s study.

River had realized at an early age her family was well to do, even rich. Not nearly as rich as the owners of the floating estate she was now on, but better off than the vast majority of the verse. Perhaps it was having the money to buy things that had made them seem rather unimportant to River. She had never really placed value on possessions. Knowledge was always far more important, and interesting, to her. Now sitting in a very lavish study she contrasted it with her small room on Serenity. It was no contest, her room meant so much more simply because of where it was and the people that surrounded it.

River knew the family of this estate was eating dinner at the moment and would be for a time. She allowed herself to relax for the moment as she thought of the past and where she was now. Quite the journey she had taken and the last twenty four hours had been no exception. She had gone on her first real date and found her first adult relationship. Even with the circumstance around it she was not upset. Once she and Aleksander were safely aboard Serenity this adventure would be one she cherished.

She smiled to herself as she stood up from the chair and started towards the door of the study.

**********

**********

Inara circled the shuttle around the floating estate checking for some sign from River but found nothing. She had hoped the girl would have left her some sign. The only thing she was left with was to land and hope River and Aleksander could find their way onto the shuttle while she acted as if she was responding to the wave she received.

As she landed on the small landing pad she was forced by another smaller shuttle sitting there to land close to a row of hedges. Once on the ground she quickly powered down the shuttle and looked herself over in one of her mirrors. Just before exiting the shuttle she made sure both shuttle doors would remain unlocked.

“Good evening, you must be Mr. Helm,” Inara called to the bald man approaching. His gray uniform gave her the feeling he was not Mr. Helm.

“I am not Mr. Helm, Miss Serra,” the man began, “My name is Inspector King.”

“It is a pleasure meeting you Inspector but I was expecting to meet Mr. Helm,” Inara replied graciously.

“Funny thing is Mr. Helm was not expecting to meet you,” King replied placing his fore finger on his chin in a somewhat rehearsed confused look.

“I’m not sure I follow,” Inara replied.

King smiled slightly, “When I questioned Helm about meeting he did not know anything about it, nor did he know anything about the message sent to you. I find that strange, don’t you?”

“Not at all,” Inara began, “often clients can be a bit embarrassed regarding their contact with Companions. Many falsely see us in the same vein as common whores. I do find it strange and upsetting that you somehow became aware my private communication.”

“I’m not going to dance with you like this, Miss Serra,” the inspector said beginning to walk in a circle around Inara. “I’m certain you are aware Serenity’s first mate is in hospital right now and has had dealing, by her own admission, with a pair of young adults wanted in connection with a murder. So you must have been aware that we would be intercepting any communications involving your ship.”

“I was not aware of any of this. Serenity is certainly not my ship, nor am I a member of her crew. I rent a shuttle for Captain Reynolds, that is all,” the Companion responded.

“Then can you explain why a man would send you a wave and then deign it?” “As I explained…”

“Yes, embarrassment,” King cut her off. “What I mean is, why would he contact you through your personal source box instead of going through the Companion Guild registry as is the norm?”

Inara smiled, “Yes the vast majority of clients will contact me through the client registry but often new clients are unsure how to register or are under the false assumption that I will contract with them outside of official guild channels.”

“Well how…”

“Furthermore,” Inara said cutting the inspector off, “it’s not hard find my private contact information on the cortex. Most of my clients have it as they often sent me waves to inquire about my schedule.”

Inspector King stopped for a moment. The conversation was not going where he wanted so he announced, “That is all well and good but I don’t believe any part of it. I think you are here for some other reason. What that is I don’t know at this point, but I will find out. I believe it has something to do with certain people.”

“What people?” Inara asked letting anger creep into her voice at the inspector’s accusations.

“River and Simon Tam,” King replied sharply.

Inara had not expected his response but replied, “Who?” hoping she had not given any indication.

“I think you know full well who, I think…” King paused having looked over at Inara’s shuttle sitting not so far away.

“You were saying,” Inara said.

“Your shuttle, I’m going to need to look inside of it,” King replied. “No, you will not.” Inara responded sternly.

“Yes, I will. The question is before or after I bind you for interfering with an ongoing investigation.” King said looking at her directly.

“That shuttle is my place of residence, worship and as a Companion, business. You do not have the authority to enter and search without a warrant,” Inara replied confidently.

King turned and headed to the shuttle saying, “Unless it is believed fugitives are being harbored within. I think that is why you are here.”

Inara ran to catch the inspector, “This is absurd!”

“You’re right this whole set of events is absurd,” King replied pressing the button on the small control panel causing the shuttle door to slid open. “I am going to log a formal protest for this,” Inara said following the Fed into her shuttle.

King stopped just inside looking around the interior of the shuttle. Inara had restored it to how it was before she had left Serenity for the training house. For her it was always more than just setup for entertaining clients. It was home and getting it back to how it was she found comforting.

“As you can see, no one is here,” Inara states as King started to move through the shuttle inspecting every nook and cranny. She glanced over at the wall next to her bed. The green drape covering the starboard shuttle door had been moved.

“Perhaps,” the inspector said as he continued to glance behind furniture.

“Are you satisfied?” Inara asked as he looked behind the last section of her couch.

Looking at the bed King replied, “No.” He moved over the Inara’s bed and lifted the covers so he could look underneath. The wooden frame was solid; panels ran around the entire perimeter of the bed. Unhappy he reached down and tapped the wood, and then tried to lift the bed by one corner. It did not budge.

“It’s a very old and heavy piece. The crew had to use a winch to get the frame up to the cat walk and into the shuttle,” Inara replied. King looked around for another long moment before saying, “You will be on your way now.”

“I still have an appointment,” Inara rebutted.

“No you don’t. If you don’t take off as soon as I leave this shuttle I will arrest you for trespassing,” the Fed replied angrily.

“Fine,” Inara replied with a forced smile.

As soon as the inspector was off the shuttle and the door closed Inara ran through the shuttles start up sequence and lifted off. “River?” she shouted behind her into the main part of the shuttle, “River, you in there?” Inara thought she heard a muffled response. It seemed like forever before she was able to set the shuttles auto pilot and run to her bed. Once there she threw one of her pillows out of the way and started feeling along the bed frame at the head of her bed for a small catch. With a “ping” it popped and the foot of the bed came off the ground. A slender hand emerged from beneath the bed, followed by its owner.

“Mei Mei, I’m so glad you are safe,” Inara said helping River out of the small hidden space in the bed’s frame.

“Thanks, I don’t think that was designed for two,” River replied as Inara and she embraced.

“A little help,” Aleksander said having a hard time removing himself from hiding.

“I’m glad I showed you this,” Inara said to River as they helped Aleksander. “All though I never expected for you to have to use it. I thought for sure that fed was going to find it.”

“He knows,” River said somberly, “he knows we were on the shuttle. He is going to have port control on Serenity waiting for us.”

“Then we don’t go back to Serenity…right?” Aleksander asked.

“Have to,” River explained, “he is following us. Won’t be able to just hide under the bed, they’ll find us.”

“So what do we do?” Inara asked hoping River would have a plan. River thought for a moment and then smiled.

**********

**********

“Mal!” Jayne could be heard shouting as he approached Serenity’s cockpit.

“Now what?” Mal asked Kaylee who was across from him in the co-pilot’s chair.

“Mal!” Jayne exclaimed again running into onto the bridge.

“I know we are on the ship but you shouting my name every time…”

“There’s a group of feds at the door saying they need to inspect the ship!” Jayne announced cutting Mal off.

Mal launched out of his seat, swearing in Chinese, and headed down to the cargo bay.

“What about Simon?” Kaylee asked following Mal and Jayne down the stairs.

“Already told the Doc to make himself scarce,” Jayne replied.

“That’s a good job,” Mal replied.

Mal reached the air lock door and peered through the thick glass to see a group of federal port control officers. Make out the lead man mouthing the words “open up.”

“Well what can I do for you gentlemen this fine day?” Mal asked as the airlock door opened that the feds stepped inside weapons at the ready.

“I need to see your crew manifest captain and for all present crew to gather in this cargo bay,” the leader of the group of seven men stated.

“Right away, Lieutenant,” Mal responded seeing the man’s rank insignia. “I need all crew to cargo bay on the double,” Mal called through the intercom on the control panel to the right of the air lock.

“And your ship’s manifest?” the Lieutenant asked as the other officers spread out around the cargo bay.

“Don’t have a current one, is there a problem? I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding,” Mal said trying to deflect the question.

“It’s a violation of Alliance law to fly without an up to date crew manifest, Captain,” the Lieutenant replied. “Where is the rest of your crew? I know you must have more than just these two,” he finished referring to Jayne and Kaylee.

“Well, my first mate is in the hospital and the rest…well they must be off ship,” Mal explained.

“You don’t know if they are or not?”

Mal face grew stern, “My crew is free to come and go as they please while grounded. Unlike some I’m not about to try and control their every move.”

“Fare enough,” the lieutenant replied softening is tone a bit, “How many on your crew and what are their names?”

“Well…you got…” Mal stammered.

“Sorry it took me so long, captain,” Simon announced as he entered the cargo bay from the common area, “is everything all right?”

“Yes, well…you should be…sorry that is. I don’t know if there’s a problem, the good lieutenant here has yet to tell me,” Mal replied.

“There’s a concern your ship maybe harboring individuals that are wanted in connection with recent shootings,” the lieutenant began. “Now no one is saying that those individuals did anything wrong but we simply would like to talk to them a find out what happened.”

“Well, anyone here look like them folks?” Mal asked.

“He might,” the lieutenant said looking at Simon.

“Me?” Simon questioned, “I don’t know anything about a shooting.”

“And who are you?” the lieutenant asked bluntly.

“Thomas Baker,” the doctor replied.

Mal was glad Simon had remembered that name and given it so quickly. Before he left the ship Shepard Book had come up with aliases and short cover stories for Simon and River, sort of a parting gift and something Mal should have come up with himself.

“So than, is this all the crew?” the lieutenant asked turning back towards Mal.

Mal paused for a moment before responding, “Other than my first mate, yes it is.”

“Who then is piloting your missing shuttle craft?” the lieutenant asked.

“The person that rents it, but she’s not crew.” Mal responded.

“Sir”, one of the other officers said walking up and handing the lieutenant a small cortex device.

“Well it looks like we are all just going to stay put for a little while,” the lieutenant announced looking up from the screen.

**********

**********

“What the hell is she doing?” Inspector King asked himself from the seat of his small craft. He was following far behind the shuttle Inara Serra was piloting and she had just taken a hard turn heading to towards the other side of the city. “There is no way she knows I’m following her,” King thought to himself. Perhaps she was just being cautious.

King continued to follow as Serenity’s shuttle found itself over the city’s high end shopping district. Being that some of the residents of the estates still enjoyed doing their own shopping there were numerous shuttles landing areas. Unfortunately before the inspector realized what was happening he lost sight of Inara’s shuttle behind tall buildings at it descended down onto one of these areas. King accelerated to catch up but by the time he landed his own shuttle Inara’s was already down and settled. Quickly he ran from his own around a few other small personal shuttles to the large short range ship. It looked out of place amongst the small atmospheric craft. “Miss Serra!” the inspector shouted banging on the door of the shuttle. It was no use, she was not there and the door had been locked.

“Damn it,” King said to himself as he took the buzzing cortex device from his pocket. The image of a port control lieutenant appeared on the screen of the device, “Yes,” the inspector said.

“Inspector King my men and I are still waiting for you on the Serenity. You need to get here and explain what we are doing here because I don’t find anything substantial enough to hold the ship,” the lieutenant said.

“I’ve run into a problem, I will be there when I can,” King replied still looking around for Inara.

“Fine, but until then I’m lifting the land lock on the ship,” the lieutenant replied.

“Wait, I’ll be right there,” King snapped back angrily and headed for his shuttle.

**********

**********

“So how much longer do we have to wait?” Mal asked impatiently as he and the other members of Serenity’s crew waited in the cargo hold surrounded by Feds.

“Just until Inspector King gets here…” the Federal Lieutenant started, “…and here he is.”

Inspector King marched up Serenity’s ramp, “Lieutenant, have you searched the ship?”

“Yes, and we did not find anyone other than the crew right here,” the lieutenant replied.

“Good, I want the missing shuttle searched as soon as possible,” King ordered.

The Lieutenant moved over to a corner of the cargo hold and motioned for the inspector to follow.

“Is there a problem?” King asked as she did.

Mal slowly followed them, as nonchalantly as he could.

“The shuttle was cleared to leave atmo a few moments before you arrived?” the lieutenant said quietly.

“What, by who?” King responded loudly.

“By me,” the lieutenant said moving a bit further away after eyeing Mal. “Why would you do that? It is likely that…”

“Inspector,” the lieutenant said cutting King off, “Miss Serra asked for permission to break atmo and she was patched in to me by port control. She informed me that you had searched her shuttle. Is that not the case?”

“Yes, but I didn’t have any scanners and it was a quick search,” King answered.

“It’s a small shuttle,” the lieutenant replied starting to show his annoyance. “Miss Serra is a member of the Companion’s Guild. I don’t feel like having to explain my actions to a guild barrister.”

“It is likely there are wanted fugitives on that shuttle,” King said in a lower, but demanding tone.

“If you have any evidence of this, Inspector, I will send up control ships and bring the shuttle back,” the lieutenant began. “If not I’m not going to spend any more time on this, I have a port to run. Now, do you have any evidence?”

King reached into his pocket and felt the folded up warrant that was there but stopped short of pulling it out, “No I don’t. You’re right, Lieutenant, I’ve taken up to much of your time.”

“So does that mean we can go?” Mal asked, having moved next to the two men.

“Captain Reynolds, I am issuing you a citation for not having an up to date ship manifest. The fine of two hundred credits must be paid before you may leave,” the lieutenant announced in his official voice.

“Very well,” Mal smiled as the lieutenant and his men made their way off the ship.

“What about Zoe?” Kaylee asked aloud.

“Well that depends on the good inspector here,” Mal replied looking at King. “I’m not going to hold her. I’m sure Doctor Tam there will take good care of her.” King replied taking the warrant out of his pocket and dropping it on the ground.

“I don’t know…” Simon began to say seeing the image of Rive and himself on the motion paper.

King cut him off, “I would love to know how a person gets any trace of themselves erased from the Cortex. I would also like to know how you all signaled Miss Serra. Thing is a doubt digging any deeper into all this is going to get me any answers. I suspect if I ask too many question someone from the Alliance central command would show up and take all of you into custody without a single word why. I’m just going to have to get use to not knowing a lot of things.”

“That happens sometimes,” Mal replied as King started to walk towards the bay door.

He stopped saying, “This time, Captain, it happened this time. You come back here again and I will get my answers and the cost will not matter to me.”

“Understood,” Mal answered and then waited for King to leave before saying, “Jayne, take the mule and get Zoe.”

What if them doctors ain’t ready to release her?” the merc asked. “Convince them, I’m going to get the fine paid,” Mal explained. “Kaylee you and Simon get Serenity ready to go. I want off this rock as soon as possible.”

“Wait,” Simon cut in, “how do we know for sure Inara has River?

“Only reason Inara would ask to leave the planet, right?” Kalyee responded. Mal smiled, “Have a little faith, Doc.”

**********

**********

River sat at Serenity’s helm trying to get through Serenity’s course calculations as quickly as she could. Her maid’s disguise had been exchanged for very familiar, slightly too large, blue dress.

“You know darlin’, that was pretty good thinking taking that shuttle off world the way you did,” Mal announced entering the bridge and taking as seat at the co-pilot’s console.

“Knew we couldn’t come back to Serenity, that’s all,” River replied continuing to concentrate on the navigation screen.

“Well, it was still…”

“Thank you,” River said cutting the captain off and looking up at him.

“For what?” Mal replied puzzled.

“For letting me go out with Aleksander, for not being mad about what happened,” River explained.

Mal smiled, “Oh, I was mad…at first, but thinkin’ on it, it wasn’t your fault. As much as I’d like to just keep everyone on the ship, folks got a right to have some type of life. Can’t worry about the what-ifs all the time.”

“But you do, can’t stop yourself. So…thank you?” River said sincerely.

“Go, get out of here,” Mal smiled, “I can finish that.”

River popped out of the chair saying, “Yes sir!”

A few moments later River entered the infirmary finding Simon cleaning up. “Well?” she asked.

Simon looked up at her, “He’s fine. Unfortunately the wound already started to heal so there was not much I could do other than clean it out and re-bandage it. He’s going to have a nice scar, but other than that he’s in good shape.”

“Zoe?” River asked almost as an afterthought.

“The hospital did a good job, she will be sore for a while…I put him in his room and gave him a smoother,” Simon said seeing her sister looking out towards the ships passage dorms.

‘I know.” River said focusing on her brother again, “Question is can you deal with this?”

“With what exactly?” Simon asked crossing his arms and leaning against one of the infirmary’s counters.

“I’m going to his room to be with him, can you deal with that?” River replied, hopefulness in her voice.

“What does, be with, mean?” Simon asked quickly.

“Do you really want that answered?”

“No”, the doctor responded.

“Than to my question?” River asked.

Simon’s shoulders dropped as he exhaled, “It’s doesn’t matter, so go. Just promise me that you will be careful.”

River smiled, “I will,” as she walked out of the infirmary.

Simon watched from the doorway as she slowly slid open the door to Aleksander’s room and slipped inside, shutting it behind her.

“Simon,” Kaylee called coming down that stairs next to the infirmary. The doctor did not answer, his eyes had dropped to the floor and he thought.

“You okay?” Kaylee asked with a smile.

“No…yes…I’m…” Simon sputtered.

“Hey,” Kaylee smiled wrapping her arms around him.

Simon looked at her and smiled back, “I’m okay.”

“Good!” Kaylee replied before they kissed.

Epilogue

He waited patiently, as he had done so many times before. It was this patience’s that allowed him to slip into this facility unseen. Now he waited for the second guard in stationed in the security control room to return. The first lay on the floor incapacitated, but not dead. This was a change for him.

Then the door open and he sprung into action. Before the security guard, a man in his early forty, slightly overweight and underpaid even knew what hit him he struck. He jammed the ends of in fingers into the man’s back, just above the right kidney and twisted hard. The guard stiffened up as his nervous system went into overload.

Holding the guard up from behind he took a deep breath before speaking softly into his ear, “I’m not going to hurt you. The paralysis will wear off shortly. When it does you get to play the hero. You are going to activate the alarms and tell everyone to evacuate the facility. I’ve planted explosives; if you act fast no one will die. If you understand give me a sign.”

The guard offered a short grunt.

“Good,” he said as he gently lowered the guard’s still stiff body to the ground.

Moments later the Operative exited to the surface of Whitefall from a well hidden access port. He watch from there as people, mostly dressed in lab coats, exited to the surface from large doors which were disguised to look like rock. Happy with his work he turned and made way for his ship as he could feel the vibrations of his explosives far underground.

COMMENTS

Monday, October 27, 2014 1:52 PM

BUCKSHOTPILOT


What a great ending! I liked the whole series, Thanx


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