BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE

AMDOBELL

NO DOMINION: 8. "Gilded Cage"
Thursday, September 4, 2003

"The crews of Serenity and Enterprise finally meet. Something that is lost is found. But at a cost."


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2448    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TITLE: "GILDED CAGE" AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL FANDOM: "FIREFLY"/"ENTERPRISE" PAIRING: No specific pairing. RATING: PG-13. STATUS: New. SEQUEL to "FAITH". ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where. FEEDBACK: Welcomed. EMAIL: AlisonMDobell@aol.com WEBSITE: http://carlajane.50megs.com/Ali00.html

SUMMARY: "The crews of Enterprise and Serenity finally meet. Something that is lost is found. But at a cost." The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly' are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. 'Enterprise' and its' characters are the property of 'Paramount'. No infringement of copyright is intended.

"GILDED CAGE"

A "Firefly"/"Enterprise" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

ENTERPRISE

Captain Archer could hear the plaintive tones of Commander Trip Tucker arguing with Dr Phlox. It brought a smile to his lips as he approached sickbay. The heated exchange paused as both men turned to see who had entered the infirmary. Commander Tucker was sitting on a biobed, his face flushed from yelling. The bruises on his face muted. Dr Phlox finishing up treating the injury to the side of his head that he himself had inadvertently caused. The Captain saw the funny side of it but decided to put on his diplomatic hat and keep the grin on the inside.

"Commander. Dr Phlox. How's he doing?"

"Fortunately it was only a hairline fracture Captain and I have managed to reduce the contusion considerably. I recommend the Commander remains in sickbay for the next 24 hours under observation. If no other symptoms occur I will be ready to release him back to active duty."

"Captain, I feel fine! There's no way bein' couped up in this menagerie of the doc's - no offense doc - is gonna make me feel any better. In fact I'll just feel worse and ya know how cranky I get when that happens."

"I agree."

Surprised, both men stared at him for a moment. Seeing the doctor about to launch into lecture mode, the Captain held up a hand. "Doctor, the Commander's condition is not life threatening is it?"

"No Captain it is not but I would still like to..."

"Has he shown any sign of double vision, blacking out, that sort of thing?"

"No, in fact the Commander has shown a marked improvement and if..."

"In that case doctor I need him released from sickbay immediately."

Trip tried to keep the smug look off his face but failed miserably. The doctor looked as if he was about to fly into a heated debate on all the reasons why that would be a *bad* idea. Again the Captain forstalled him.

"I wouldn't ask if this wasn't serious. We have a situation, doctor."

Immediately sidetracked a swift look of concern replaced the doctor's annoyance at having his authority usurped. "What kind of situation?"

"Yeah, Cap'n, what's goin' on?"

"It seems when we dropped out of warp we hit another vessel."

The doctor looked concerned. "Was anyone hurt?"

"That's what I intend to find out. The vessel is a small transport ship. Travis is bringing it on board right now. Trip. You up to a first contact situation? Apparently their propulsion and thrusters are damaged from the collision and who knows what else. I thought it might help to ease the situation if we could put right some of the damage we've caused."

"Just give the word, Cap'n."

Captain Archer looked at the Denobulan doctor. "I promise to have Commander Tucker report back for a check-up once the emergency is over."

Somewhat mollified the doctor nodded but he still did not look entirely happy. "I think, given the circumstances, that would be acceptable Captain. In the meantime I will prepare sickbay in case there are any casualties."

"Thank you, Dr Phlox. I knew I could rely on you."

Trip slipped off the biobed and gave the doctor a nod. "Yeah, thanks doc. For *everything*."

Dr Phlox tried not to wince at the allusion to why he was in sickbay in the first place. The Captain clapped a hand on his Chief Engineer's shoulder and turned to go. "Come on Trip, we'd better hurry and catch up with Sub-Commander T'Pol and Lt Reed. I don't want our visitors first view of Enterprise to be a phase pistol in the face."

* * * * *

PERSEPHONE, THE WING ESTATE

"When life held troubled times and had me down on my knees There's always been someone there to come along and comfort me. A kind word from a stranger, to lend a helping hand A phone call from a friend just to say 'I understand' And ain't it kind of funny that at the dark end of the road Someone lights the way with just a single ray of Hope?

Oh, I believe there are angels among us Sent down to us from somewhere up above They come to you and me in our darkest hours To show us how to live, to teach us how to give To guide us with a light of love..."

'Angels Among Us' sung by Alabama

He could not help but watch the gaunt man with a wary sense of wonder. What the gorram made him go and tell Biv about that? All them years ago and all. It was not as if Biv was kin. Not as if they had a history. Yet something about the man had made him feel that he could trust him. Wanted him to understand that his rejection of God was not meant as a rejection of those who still believed in Him. How crazy was that? He had never once felt like justifying himself to Shepherd Book so why Biv? How had the unassuming man slipped under his radar? He must be going soft, that's what. And yet there was a tiny part of him that wanted to embrace what Biv had to offer. To reveal himself to a stranger in ways he could not do with a friend. Friends knew him too well. Were too close to him. Would judge him with a practised eye even if no words should pass their lips. No censure grace their knowing eyes. Would discover depths to him that should not see the light of day. Depths that had the power to hurt and cripple his soul anew. They would treat him differently. View him in a changed light and he did not think he could handle that much baring of his soul. He was a private man. A modest man at heart. Any fallout between him and God was no one's business but his own. That included the Preacher. He blinked and looked back up at the ceiling. He could feel an urgency in his bladder that would have to be addressed soon. He should not have taken so much of the water offered to him last night but he had such a terrible thirst and dehydration was something it was always wise to avoid. Damn the manacles that bound him. Damn Atherton Wing and his sick notion of revenge.

A hand reached out and touched his cheek. Captain Reynolds knew the touch. Turned his head and met the anxious grey eyes calmly. "You know he will not let you go?" Biv whispered.

"Figured as much."

"He will toy with you. Pretend freedom is an option."

The Captain nodded. "Like a cat with a mouse."

Biv nodded. They understood each other.

"Don't suppose you happen to have a skeleton key do you Biv?" Half-joked the Captain.

A look of genuine regret haunted the haggard face. "*Duibuqi* Mal."

He felt mean for bringing it up. "Hey, I was jokin'. I mean. You had a key you wouldn't here, *dui*?"

Biv averted his face, not wanting the Captain to see his shame.

"Biv?" Said the Captain softly.

The man slowly raised his head and looked him in the eye. "I am not imprisoned here, Mal."

It took an effort to hide his sense of shock though an echo of it tinged his voice. "You're not?"

"No."

"*Wo bu dong*." He paused a moment as he thought about that. "Then why don't you just up and leave?"

"Honour."

The answer was unexpected. "Honour?" Anger flared somewhere deep inside him. "That *wangba dan* has no honour, Biv!" "No, Mal, but I have."

For a long moment they just stared at each other. All the anger drained out of the Captain. A deep sadness pervaded his heart and mind, a stirring of profound respect for this quiet gentle man. A pain ached inside him that such a good man should willingly allow a piece of *gos se* like Atherton Wing to treat him in such a fashion. "You are better than he is, Biv."

"It is one of my few comforts." Biv confessed. He did not add that God was the other one.

"I'm gonna get out of here, Biv."

The man said nothing. Sadness touched the grey of his eyes like rain clouds slowly forming on a distant horizon. "There is no escape." He said at last. His voice gentle.

"I ain't acceptin' that."

"Then he will taunt you with the dream of freedom. He will not even have to stand in this room to do it."

The Captain bit back the taste of rising bile. Waited until he could speak calmly again. "Biv. If I can get out of here will you come with me?"

The doctor shook his head. The sorrow of refusal was because he did not want to hurt Mal not because he would not go. "*Ni bu dong* my friend."

"*Nei shi shenme yisi*?"

"It is not your concern."

"Oh, but it is."

The doctor tilted his head and considered the Captain for a long moment. "I knew you were good the moment I saw you." He said quietly. "*Chu jing sheng qing*." He added so quietly the Captain hardly heard him. "But you cannot make my decisions nor carry my burdens for me."

He snorted softly. "Don't go mixing me up with no hero, Biv. The truth's a whole lot uglier I can assure you. Let's be clear on that." Biv ignored his assertion.

"Do you always feel this need to protect people?"

He was not sure what to say.

"I appreciate it. More than you could know."

"Then why refuse the chance to be free?"

"Consider this, *pengyou*. What freedom can there be if I run from myself?"

"Atherton isn't you, Biv. He's not good enough to clean the *gos se* off your gorram shoes!"

The sudden vehemence in the Captain's voice amused the doctor. Warmed his heart. Only the young could have such passion against the inevitable. "If the opportunity comes I will help you, Mal."

A look of concern settled in the Captain's eyes. "Don't be takin' no risks on my account, *dong ma*?"

Again, that tilt of the head. "Yet you would take risks for me?" He countered softly.

"Ain't the same, Biv. It's what I do."

The doctor nodded as if he knew this already. The Captain was about to try a different tack when Biv held up a hand of caution. Both men froze. Seconds later the unmistakable sound of the lock cycling told them Atherton Wing was back.

* * * * *

ENTERPRISE

The doors shut and everyone had to wait for repressurisation. It gave Captain Archer and Commander Tucker time to catch up with Sub-Commander T'Pol and Lt Reed. Trip noticed Malcolm had brought a few of his armoury officers along for good measure. The Captain frowned slightly but so long as they did not wave any weapons around he would accept the extra security. When they opened the hatch the sight that greeted them was not what they had expected. Trip wanted to rub his eyes and pinch himself. What the hell was this? A fancy dress party or a pile of extras from Dodge City?

Zoe stepped down Serenity's ramp cautiously. Not drawing her weapon but keeping her hand on the butt just to be on the safe side. Jayne hung back in the shadows with Vera cradled in his hands. No matter what the wave said he was taking no chances. Wash stood next to Zoe and the others formed a little wary crowd just behind them. Shepherd Book watched through narrowed eyes, taking in the strange uniforms and the open curiosity of the people that waited to greet them.

Captain Archer walked forward slowly, a smile on his face. Trip was openly curious and could not wait to find out these people's story but recent events had made him cautious. Lt Reed was on edge. The Vulcan Sub-Commander stepped alongside the Captain and as she did so Wash felt his eyes go round as saucers. He took a half step back in shock but Zoe stood her ground, her eyes narrowing further. Captain Archer tried to quell the rising tension. "My name is Captain Jonathan Archer and you are aboard the star ship Enterprise. I'm really sorry about the damage to your vessel."

Zoe nodded cautiously and started to walk towards him. Wash put a hand on her arm and whispered urgently. "*Wu de ma*. Are you sure this is such a good idea, *bao bei*?"

Seeing the hesitation, Captain Archer held his hands out to the side. "We aren't going to hurt you. Let me introduce you to my command staff. This is Sub-Commander T'Pol my science officer. Commander Trip Tucker, Chief Engineer and Lt Malcolm Reed my Armoury Officer. The gentlemen you see in the hallway are security officers my Lieutenant insists are on hand in case you attack us."

All this was said with a big smile meant to relax them. A beat passed in silence then a young girl pressed forward. Her eyes were bright and a smile a mile wide was plastered all over her face like a kid in a candy store. She made Trip smile even before she opened her mouth. "Shiny! You have such a pretty ship."

Inara went to take her arm but Kaylee darted forward a few steps, eyes wide with wonder and astonishment. She noticed Trip grinning at her and grinned back, stuck out her hand on impulse and introduced herself. "Hi, I'm Kaylee. Serenity's mechanic. So you're an Engineer huh?"

He laughed and shook her hand. "Yeah, you could say I'm the Chief Mechanic."

"Wow, shiny!"

Book stepped up to Zoe's side and murmured. "Now that Kaylee's broken the ice I suppose we should go and introduce ourselves."

She nodded warily and did just that. Everything was going well until River started staring at T'Pol. Before Simon could stop her she started to babble, her eyes fixed on the Vulcan's. "You don't belong here but you can't go home. Shattered inside but different. They haven't got the glue to put you back together."

Simon slid an arm around her, his flustered face apologetic. "I'm sorry about that, my sister didn't mean to cause any offense."

River was nodding sagely at T'Pol. "She knows but she won't say. She isn't like them. Us. Her people don't care which is why it's dangerous. All sharp edges no curves. They're afraid but she knows different. Can't change the world if you refuse to open your eyes."

Trip looked at T'Pol. Noticed the greenish tinge to her skin tone had darkened a little. As far as it was possible for a Vulcan to do so she looked uncomfortable. He looked at Kaylee. "What did she mean?"

"River don't mean nothin'. Alliance messed with her brain and Simon's been tryin' to find out what they did so he can fix her."

Captain Archer exchanged looks with his crew then stared at the crew of Serenity. "Alliance?"

Zoe's look hardened. "I see you've heard of them." Her look went from hard to permafrost. "Is that gonna be a problem?"

The Captain looked confused. "Not for us. Look, we don't come from round here and we don't really understand what's going on but as soon as we got here we were attacked then boarded. The Colonel in charge said they were Alliance. Accused us of siding with the rebels."

Zoe raised a dark brow. Captain Archer took a wild guess.

"That would be you?"

"During the war me and the Captain fought with the Independents. We lost. War's over."

"But not for everybody?" Said Lt Reed astutely.

She glanced at him. Remembered that Captain Archer had called him his Armoury Officer. He looked slight of build for the job but looked alert and light on his feet. Never paid to underestimate anyone. "Exactly. Some Alliance take it pretty hard that there's some who don't follow their rule. Try to make it hard for folks like us to earn a living."

"And what kind of living is that?" Asked the Lieutenant.

Zoe gave him a stern look but softened it some. They were hardly in a position to piss off a star ship especially when their own vessel wouldn't even fly. This was what the Captain called being stuck between a rock and a hard place. All of a sudden she was weary of the posturing. They didn't have time for this. If these people had intended to kill them they would already be dead. They wouldn't have brought them aboard and be offering to help get Serenity flying again. "Serenity's a transport ship, Firefly class. You got a job, we can do it. Don't care much what it is but the Captain don't hold with the skin trade."

Captain Archer looked at them with open curiosity. "Speaking of your Captain...?"

He saw something flicker darkly in her eyes. "We don't have much time, Captain Archer, and we have an urgent rendezvous to meet. A rendezvous we might not be able to make now."

"And if you miss that rendezvous?" Asked the Captain carefully.

"Our Captain might die. Best hope he's got is us, and now you've put a hole in that plan."

Captain Archer shot a look at Trip. The Chief Engineer nodded quickly. "I'm on it Cap'n. Come on Kaylee, let's see what we can do about the damage to your ship. See if we can't get your bird back in the sky."

* * * * *

ELSEWHERE IN THE BLACK

Laarg looked round at his battered and shaken bridge crew then watched the huge blocky Alliance ship bearing down on Margon's bird of prey. Margon had fired everything he had at the vessel. Laarg had tried a flanking manoeuvre. The truth was they only seemed to scratch the surface. The Alliance vessel had taken out Margon's weapons and was closing in for the kill. Laarg could not help him any longer. Both knew it. Margon's voice came curt, harsh and defiant over the com.

"Go! Go find Archer and bring honour to us all!"

"What will you do, Margon?"

But Laarg already knew what the answer would be. The only one a Klingon warrior could give. With his vessel crippled. His enemy bearing down his throat to finish him off. He would take that enemy with him. "It is a *good* day to die!"

Laarg threw back his head and pushed out his chest with pride. "Your name will be sung around our campfires."

They blessed each other and cursed their enemies in Klingon then Laarg drew back, already searching for and picking up the faint and vanishing warp trail left by Enterprise. He waited only long enough to watch Margon ram his bird of prey into the Alliance vessel. The concatanation of explosions as the vessel blew up was music to his ears and a fitting funeral pyre for the bravest of the brave. The cheer on his bridge turned to one of renewed determination. Laarg turned his attention to finding the human vessel. The bounty on Archer's head meant nothing. Honour was everything. For him. For Margon. And for the whole Klingon Empire.

* * * * *

ENTERPRISE

Captain Archer hesitated. Now the two crews had been introduced he wanted to take them to get something to eat but was politely refused. Seeing his look of confusion Zoe explained. "We're going nowhere without our Captain."

"But you said he isn't here."

She nodded, not breaking eye contact with Captain Archer for a second. Trip was talking animatedly to Kaylee. Realised with time being so critical he could use some more help. "Cap'n?"

Captain Archer turned to him. "Yes, Commander?"

"I need some of my people. If these folks are gonna make that deadline we have to get on this without delay. Even flat out with a dozen engineers working we may not have time."

Inara Serra spoke up. "Let me send a wave to Lord Warwick. Explain the delay."

Zoe nodded. "Good idea."

"He will make no move until he sees us, hears the evidence and makes his judgement."

Zoe nodded. Unhappy with that proviso but resigned to the political fact. Inara disappeared up the ramp, gathering River as she went. Simon hesitated then followed them both inside. Captain Archer looked confused.

"What kind of trouble is your Captain in?"

Wash put a hand on his wife's shoulder but said nothing. Jayne stayed close to the ship on the edge of the ramp, half a cigar gripped between gritted teeth, his favourite weapon Vera held upright but ready to bring into play if things went not so smooth. All of Serenity's crew were still on edge. Fight or flight still options in their minds if not in fact.

"The terminal kind." Said Zoe.

"I think you'd better explain to me exactly what happened."

A stubborn look settled in her eyes. It was Wash who prompted her, his voice quietly and calmly speaking the voice of reason. "Tell him, *bao bei*. Maybe they can help. What have we got to lose?"

She glanced at him. Shepherd Book watched as if detached from it all but there was a subtle readiness in his stance that belied the calm look in his eyes. This was not a man to be underestimated just by the cut of his cloth. Commander Tucker disappeared inside the Firefly with Kaylee as soon as Lt Hess turned up with Danny, Toby Weiss and Eric Mann. Zoe considered her options and reluctantly caved in. It seemed wrong giving away information without the Captain's say so but they had no choice. "We were down on a planet called Bounty. Our Captain, Captain Reynolds, had contacts to meet about a job. It was a set up. They snatched the Captain. We found out who took him and now we're gonna get him back."

Captain Archer blinked. It was the abreviated abreviation. Lt Reed was more interested in the parts of the story she left out than the words spoken. "Who took him?"

"Some men working for Caleb Johnson. Caleb took him to Wing."

There were baffled looks on the Enterprise crew's faces. "Wing?" Asked Lt Read. Was that a name or a place?

"Atherton Wing." Explained Zoe reluctantly.

"Yeah, Cap beat him in a sword fight over Inara and he's a BAD loser." Sneered Jayne with a mixture of pride and glee.

Lt Reed's eyebrows rose. A sword fight? He had already taken keen note of their projectile weapons. It gave them a very dated disreputable look and yet they seemed to walk side by side with technology. He dearly wanted to know their story. Even more than that, he wanted to take a closer look at their hardware only he did not think these people would relinquish their weapons just to satisfy his curiosity.

Zoe shot Jayne a dirty look that froze him in place.

"What? It's the truth. Though what the Cap thought he was doin' gettin' into a gorram swordfight in the first place is beyond me..."

"Jayne!" Snapped Zoe. The crack of command stopped his mouth mid-flight and he flushed a little. It was the only apology she would get. By way of recompense he gripped the stock of Vera so hard his knuckles turned white and settled into a deep scowl almost biting clean through his cigar.

"Now." Said Zoe evenly. Her eyes locked on Captain Archer's. Back in control. Hard as flint. "How does telling you that help us?"

"This rendezvous of yours. Where is it?"

"Persephone."

Captain Archer looked at Sub-Commander T'Pol. She shook her head. The name meant nothing to her. He looked at Zoe. "How far is it?"

"It *was* forty minutes hard burn until you knocked us out of the Black."

He bit back his irritation. It was, after all, their fault. "Okay. How about we take you there in Enterprise? Trip and our engineers can help your mechanic with the repairs to Serenity en route. Would that do it?"

Zoe looked at Wash. He was beaming now. A look of hope for the first time in his eyes. At his nod she turned to nod back. "Yes."

"You'll have to tell us which direction to head in. Like I said, we aren't from around here and we have no data on this area of space."

A kind of truce settled between them and Wash offered to guide them to Persephone. His eyes widened when he got his first glimpse of the Enterprise bridge. As shiny as any Alliance vessel but like nothing he had ever seen before and Wash had seen hundreds of ships. Flown most of them too with and without their owners' permission. This vessel was something else. Wash went back to Serenity to use their own on board sensors to guide Enterprise to Persephone. Captain Archer realised the little crew of the transport were too uptight to leave their vessel so quietly had a word with Ensign Sato. Ten minutes later Hoshi and Liz Cutler brought piles of sandwiches and plates of chicken down to the two working crews. When real honest to goodness coffee was added to the mix the crew of Serenity began to relax for the first time. Maybe this would go smooth after all.

* * * * *

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