BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE

NKYJAY

Things Fall Apart: Chapter 4 - Talks with Weapons
Monday, October 20, 2003

The journey to Nexus 7. River's role becomes apparent, although not to Serenity's crew. Book has an uncomfortable confrontation.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1742    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

DISCLAIMER: All the characters are the property of Mutant Enemy, very gratefully borrowed.

RATING: for language translations

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This chapter has a title because it presented itself. Again, not much action. I indulge in character exploration. Sometimes its a weakness, sometimes its a strength. Some foundation was needed for River's role, as it becomes evident that she has a part to play.

SPOILER warning for anyone who did not see the unaired episodes in the US.

THINGS FALL APART

Chapter 4 - Talks with Weapons

River was good. She let her brother put her into the hidey-hole, a space just large enough for her to lie down comfortably. He put a mattress and a couple of blankets inside, and a sidelight that gave off a glow bright enough to read by. Kaylee gave her a little portable player and headphones, although River wasn't that impressed by her taste in music. There was a bottle of water and some food cubes, enough for a couple of days. Kaylee told her she'd try and smuggle her something a little more tasty after dinner. There was a bucket with a lid on it for her toilet, although using it was going to require a lot of flexibility on her part in such confined quarters. Simon was endlessly apologetic about that and said that if there was any chance he'd try to get her to the toilet. River would have told him that she'd endured far worse - had been made to endure far worse - for people who did not love her, but she knew that would just upset him so she didn't.

All of these preparations were only in case she woke up before it was safe to do so. When Simon gave her the pills she took the first one and swallowed it dutifully. The second she held under her tongue. She'd asked what it was and he'd told her, not thinking it would matter. Twelve hours was enough to sleep, to have her brother check on her a few times and be sure that she was safe. Truth be told she'd rather sleep in this hole than be awake the whole time. The journey to the station took eighteen hours, she'd heard the Captain saying that. Six hours would give her enough time to be over the effects. She'd need a clear head by the time they reached Nexus 7.

River lay in the darkness, listening to the sounds of the ship around her. The engine like a heartbeat, the passage of air like breathing, the distant voices she could still identify even if she couldn't hear the words. All these sounds comforted her, held her to the here and now when thought and time swirled around her in kaleidoscopes of possibility and meaning. It was so hard to find her place, to keep it when the when and the where seemed so incidental. She knew that she got lost. Sometimes she did it deliberately, casting herself into the current and sinking beneath the surface, leaving behind the frail and limited body. But mostly the currents took her without her consent and she had little control over where they went. It was hard to come back those times, and she lived with a constant fear that one day she wouldn't.

She had little control, but she did have some. Part of that control was being able to piece together what it was she saw, stringing moments like beads. Sometimes the string broke and the moments scattered, shattering. But not this time. This time she held onto the thread with everything she had, held onto her place in the when of it, letting the tide of time carry her through events as she knew it would. There was a moment ahead where the possibilities flickered and danced, caught in a whirlpool of choices not yet made, chances not yet taken. River allowed sleep to swallow her, eyes fixed on that moment. "I have promises to keep, and miles to go, miles to go...." ................................. 12 hours later

Mal sat in the Captain's chair on the bridge, staring out into the black. Wash sat beside him, nervously watching the monitors, eyes flickering between screens. "We got six hours before we reach the place, dui?" Mal said irritably. "There ain't no chance they'd be seein' us yet." "Better safe than on the menu is what I say," Wash replied, wiping sweat out of his eyes. "There's a lot of noise out there but not much chatter. Been tryin' to make some sense of it but I don't think there's no sense to be made." He flicked a switch and the wine and hiss of static flooded the bridge. Zoe came through the door and stopped at the noise. "What we listenin' to?" she asked. "Nexus 7's frequency, if the information Xuan gave us is correct," Wash replied. He twisted a dial and there was a hitch, then more static. "That's their ship frequency. Nobody's talkin'." Zoe and Mal exchanged glances. "Our guests alright down there?" Mal asked her. "Right as rain," Zoe replied. "Been askin' how much longer." "Five hours thirty five minutes till we have the station on screen," Wash told her. "Three hours to power down." Zoe nodded and turned to leave. "Hold on, I'll go down," Mal said, getting up out of the chair. "Figure I'd better show my face before they think you're the Captain." She smiled a little, "It's a mite pro-Alliance down there," she warned. "It's not U-Day just yet, think I can manage to stay out of trouble," Mal quipped as he went past.

He found the man who'd been introduced to him as Xuan's head of security in the dining room. Jacques Duvenage was unremarkable, of average height, average build, with dark hair and eyes. He had the kind of face that wouldn't have looked out of place on most of the worlds in the known universe. He also had the reserved, watchful manner of a trained observer. Mal had seen the respect he commanded among his men. He moved with a controlled grace that had Mal suspecting he was not a man who needed weapons, although he obviously knew how to use them. Mal felt a brief stab of regret that he couldn't have River meet the man, it would've been interesting to see what she made of him. What Duvenage would have made of her Mal would have paid a high price to know.

Duvenage was drinking tea with the Shepherd. They weren't talking. When Mal came in he thought he saw a flicker of relief cross the Shepherd's face. "Tea?" Book offered. "Xie xie, don't mind if I do," Mal said, recognizing when a man needed a reprieve. He sat down at the head of the table, met Duvenage's assessing look. "I heard you were wantin' to know how long it would be till we reached the station." Duvenage nodded. "I imagine we're just under six hours away by now," he said in his precise English. "Dui. We'll be going in silent, power down in around three hours. There'll be a warning." "Has your pilot managed to intercept any communications?" Mal shook his head, "Nothin'. Silent as the grave out there."

A slight frown creased Duvenage's brow. He stared thoughtfully at the table, considering this news. "Hmm. I'm not surprised about the station considering that the Reavers do target the communications array, but I am concerned about the other Alliance vessels." "So are we," Mal commented, and caught Duvenage's dark glance. The man had taken in Serenity and her crew in seconds, he knew exactly where Mal's loyalty lay and what line of business they were in. "There were four warships left following the evacuation," Duvenage said, ignoring the irony. "The troupe carrier may have only light weaponry, but there were two Viper-class gun ships and a dreadnought stationed at Nexus 7. It would be most worrying if they have fallen into Reaver hands." Mal shrugged. "Alliance seemed pretty certain that their men could hold them off." Duvenage sipped his drink. "This attack is not the Reavers' usual modus operandi." "That is true," the Shepherd answered, handing Mal a steaming cup. "I've never heard of Reavers attacking together like this before." "They don't much like co-operatin'," Mal agreed. "But to tell the truth there ain't usually enough survivors left to tell us how many set about killin' them. As you say, they knock out communications first. All we find is bodies days later."

"It is hard to be going up against an enemy we know so little about," Duvenage said, and smiled at the Shepherd. "What one hears has one almost believing these men to be devils." Mal's mouth twisted. "Atrocities ain't confined to the Devil, an' civilized men can commit the worst in the name of the Lord." Book's face hardened, "If a man calls upon the Lord to justify his actions then he must be prepared to answer to the Lord." "Makes you wonder exactly what it is that's sittin' up there now, don't it?" Mal threw back at him, knowing that Duvenage was watching this little exchange with interest and annoyed about it.

"So," he said, facing the man, "You ever had any dealings with Reavers?" "Me? No," Duvenage shook his head. "Although I've heard the same stories. They remind me of the histories we used to read of Earth-that-was, the days of the great explorers. They were inevitably running up against some undiscovered tribe out on the edges of the known world. The missionaries and settlers of the old empires were convinced of their cultural superiority, their rightness with God. Their arrogance and ignorance often resulted in tragedy, both for themselves and the savages they discovered." Shepherd Book looked at the other man sharply. "Nah mei guan shi. There were plenty of civilized men who took it upon themselves to pray upon their brothers and sisters. The frontiers were well acquainted with those seeking their fortune away from the restrictions of law and society. Many colonial powers broadened those frontiers using such men to do the dirty work for them. Man's greed has more to answer for than his religion, and arrogance and ignorance are often tempered by faith."

Duvenage put his cup down very precisely, lips thinning. He and the Shepherd stared at each other. "Seems to me most of us is only a few square meals away from savages," Mal glanced between the two men, wondering at the tension in the air. "Seen this 'verse do strange things to people and that's one of the strangest, how a man can go from bein' a gentleman to guttin' someone without a moment's thought. Makes you wonder what the point is of all that civilizin' when we can shuck it off so easily." "Some of us, perhaps," Book said, finally breaking his stare with Duvenage. "But not all. I like to believe that the converse is also true. If there is a savage in each of us, then there is also that which makes us human." "That would depend on what it is that you believe makes us human," Duvenage replied, with a twitch of the lips that might have been a smile. Book raised his eyebrows. "Ah, a philosopher," he said with apparent pleasure, although his eyes remained wary. "Would you care to elaborate?" "Perhaps later," Duvenage said, rising to his feet. "Now I must ensure that all is well with my men. Please excuse me."

Mal studied the Shepherd, and when he was sure that Duvenage had put enough distance between them he asked, "What was that?" "What was what?" Book's expression was distracted. "Zoe told me to stay out of trouble. She should'a been talkin' to you." The preacher looked a little sheepish, but the worried frown remained. "Duibuqi, I didn't mean to give you cause for concern. I shall be mindful of my words from now on." "Don't be concerned," Mal reassured him. "It's just that I never thought to see you argue against the Alliance." "Was that what I was doing?" Book looked surprised. "I thought we were discussing history." Mal grinned at the Shepherd's guileless expression. "They do say if we aren't mindful of history we're doomed to repeat it. What do you think of the man?" He asked by way of changing the subject. Book stared at him for a long moment, then frowned and glanced at the door. "I think he is very dangerous, Captain." "Good," Mal said, getting to his feet. "We're going to need him where we're going."

--------------------------------------------- Four hours later

River carefully tapped the grill, holding it with the tips of her fingers to prevent it from clattering to the deck, and peered out. The gangway was dim and quiet, lit only by emergency lighting. Everyone was in the dining room or on the bridge, waiting out the silent time as they approached the station. She crept out and fitted the grill back into position. It was unlikely her brother would come searching for her now, he'd checked her only a few minutes ago and she'd timed his visits. She had two hours before the next one, and by then she'd be out of reach.

Her bare feet silent on the decking, River padded down the corridor and paused at the end, listening. The mess was to her left, the gangway above the cargo hold and the entry to the shuttle to her right. She could hear voices murmuring from the mess through the door, closed against the cold as the heating had been turned down to reduce Serenity's energy signature. The cargo hold below her was a dark pit. She stared at it with wide eyes, watching shadows shifting. Then with a sharp indrawn breath her head jerked to the left.

There was a knife in the corridor. It wasn't one of Jayne's, she knew all of them by name. He would have liked it though. It was beautiful in the way deadly things could be. (Who are you?) it asked. She frowned at the question. Surely knives weren't supposed to talk? But then, she probably wasn't supposed to hear them. "A weapon, like you," she told it. (Where have you been?) "Floating in the river, dreaming of red. There were flowers, poppies and cherry blossom." The knife regarded her, tasting of metal. (What do you see?) it asked eventually. "I can see the edges. You have been forged, like me," she took a cautious step nearer, fascinated. "But you have a different purpose." It sharpened and she froze, reminded of a need for wariness. (What do you know of my purpose?) it asked coldly. River cocked her head. "To cut out, to cut through, to cut into the heart of the thing. Why do you ask me what you already know?" The knife glistened, reflective. (What is your purpose?) She blinked and frowned. "My purpose?" She felt a sudden panic. "They didn't tell me." (You said you were a weapon. Like me.) "A weapon," she repeated, confused. "Can you not see? I thought the last ones would have made it clear but they didn't finish the job." (If you do not know your purpose, how will you accomplish it?) She giggled and shook her head. "Knife talk," she said, "all cutting edges and questions. If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there." (Where are you going?) River sighed inwardly. Knives were so single-minded. "To see the Fool and keep my promises." (What promises? Who is the fool?) "The Fool and the Hanged Man wait for me at the crossroads," River explained with the patience of a parent to a child. "The Good Book says there are only two roads, the road to Heaven and the road to Hell. But there is another, older story. A third way, one the faithful don't know. The road to middle air." Abruptly her face went blank and her eyes wide. "Rhymes and riddles, tricks and lies, so many choices, so many lives...." And then her gaze sharpened again. She examined the knife, its elegance and simplicity of purpose, feeling something very like envy. "A blade has one path. Choose your master well."

Then there was no more time for talk. Turning swiftly, disregarding the knife at her back - it had another purpose this day - she ran down the catwalk to the shuttle. Opening the hatch, she ducked inside into darkness so complete her vision starred. Putting her mind inside a picture, she shut her eyes and felt her way towards the back. There was a panel here...running her fingers over the wall she found the screws, then slipped the knife out of its sheath and fitted its tip into the grooves. "Jayne'll kill me if he sees me putting you to this use," she muttered to herself as she turned the blade, loosening the screws, careful to keep them in their holes. Then she squeezed herself into the space and lifted the panel back, fitting the screws and twisting them until they would just hold it in place. Curled with her back to the wall, River wrapped her arms around her knees and rocked back and forth. Her teeth were chattering as much from excitement as from the cold. "Soon," she said, almost as though reassuring someone, "Soon."

.......................................................... Two hours later

Wash, Mal, Zoe, Jayne, Book, Duvenage and his second in command, a man called Lessing, were crowded onto the bridge. Everyone was dressed for the cold and the lighting was minimal, coming mostly from the console and the screens they were huddled around. Wash, wrapped in a blanket, was counting out loud. "...four, five, six...seven and eight. I wasn't wrong." He frowned and glanced out of the window towards the star-bright glow that was Nexus 7, although it was still too far away for anything to be seen with the naked eye. "Eight? I thought they said there were twenty ships. What happened, someone get hungry?" "There's a lotta wreckage," Jayne commented, "Mebbe them Alliance flyboys did what they's supposed to." He looked pretty doubtful about that. Mall shook his head, "Nah. Most of the wreckage looks like it comes from the Serendipity. They sure made sure she's not goin' anywhere."

There was a moment of silence while everybody stared glumly at the screen, taking in the dismembered corpse of the Alliance's colony ship suspended in the network of girders at the hub of the wheel that was Nexus 7. Large sections of Serendipity's outer hull had been stripped away and debris continued to drift outwards in an ever-widening radius. The bigger pieces were going to pose a considerable hazard to anyone trying to approach. The ships that remained had retreated, attempting to keep out of the worst of it. That mostly meant that they had attached themselves to the outside of the wheel, leeward of the core. This was good news for the rescuers because it made it easier for them to approach undetected, screened as they were by the bulk of the station.

"So where'd the huh choo-shang tza-jiao duh tzang-huo go then?" Jayne asked. "Got what they came here for an' left," Mal suggested. "Question is, why are the rest of them still here?" "Ain't got what they came for?" Jayne hazarded. "It looks as though most of the station's still got it's own power. There's just this section here," Wash said, pointing to a patch of darkness in the glittering rows of lights that ran around the circumference of the station wheel. "Some kind of explosion?" "Something hit it," Duvenage corrected him. "A ship, gathering from all the wreckage in the area." "One of theirs or one of ours?" Book asked. "Both," Duvenage's second, Lessing, replied, his face grim. "Looks like one of the Viper gun ships." He pointed to a drifting hulk that looked less like a ship than a flattened tin can. "The rest of the wreckage belongs to an Orca strike craft. There weren't any of those stationed at Nexus 7, it was probably the attacker's."

Wash suddenly squinted his eyes and leaned closer to the screen. "Hey, they've got a Doodlebug!" "Shenme?" Jayne asked. "A Doodlebug! I ain't seen one of 'em outside a museum! I didn't think there were any still flyin'. Kaylee's gonna love this," Wash grinned. "There's enough people on this bridge, dear." Zoe remarked from the corner console, where she'd spread out a schematic of the station and was studying it. "Those ships hit the station just about where the grand ballroom was," she said, tracing the drawings with one finger and glancing at the view screen. "The emergency airlock for Section A is right there," she gestured to the middle of the patch of dark on Nexus 7's hull, frowning. "Bu hao. We're going to have to try another point of entry." "No sign of the dreadnought or the other Viper, sir," Lessing said to Duvenage. "I'd hazard they had to retreat or risk being destroyed." "We hope," Mal muttered. Duvenage shot him an icy look, which Mal met. "Other option is the Reavers have 'em. Frankly I'd prefer them in Alliance hands." He surprised himself by actually meaning it.

"What kind of weapons are we gonna be facin'?" Jayne asked. "They a couple of converted heavy haulers, probably miners originally," Wash said, studying the console. "Don't know what's on them but it can't be big guns. Structure won't take it. You don't go nowhere fast in one of them and Kaylee'll tell you how much fuel they take. Still, there's probably thousands between here and the Core and no-one'd look twice at another one, so you wouldn't have to-" "Wash." Mal cut in. "Shenme? Oh, sorry. There's two more Orcas placed on either side of the hub," Wash grimaced, "They got torpedoes and cannon, but it's their scanners we really gotta worry about. We're just outa range where we are now but it's going to be tricky getting the shuttles in close. The other ships mostly look like transport. 'Course, there could be a dozen gun ships parked on the other side of that gas giant and we'd be none the wiser." "You always gotta say it, don'cha?" Jayne growled. "Tamade baichi. Now you probably gone an' jinxed the whole thing!" Wash grinned, "The gods favor a fool and we gotta be idiots to be where we are right now. You got nuthin' ta worry about." "Wangba dan! Will you shut up? You're jus' makin' it worse!"

"How easy is it going to be to get the shuttles in close enough?" Duvenage asked Mal, ignoring Jayne and Wash. "Not easy," Mal said, folding his arms, "But all the debris is going to make it a little less impossible. Gotta be playin' havoc with their sensors. Wash thinks they'd like as switch 'em so that nuthin' too small will set them off. It's the big stuff they'll be worried about, approaching ships and that. Shuttles should be small enough to get by without bein' noticed. So long as nobody takes a look out of the window an' starts wonderin' howcome some bits are drifting towards the station instead of away." Duvenage studied him, then said quietly, "That's all guesswork, isn't it Captain? There's no way of knowing until we're close enough to be caught." "An' that's just getting to the station," Zoe replied. "No tellin' what we're going to find once we get through the airlocks. Could be our troubles are only startin'."

The security chief looked from Zoe to Mal, then a slight smile touched his lips. "You don't strike me as a fool or a martyr, Captain Reynolds. You have survived things that few others can even begin to imagine, fighting the very people you have come here to save. I know you and your crew have no love for the Alliance, and you are not doing this only for the money." It was a statement, not a question. Mal hadn't told Xuan the full reason why they were willing to help with the rescue attempt, not wanting to give him any unnecessary leverage when it came to agreeing the price. Duvenage was a good enough judge of character to know that money wouldn't be the only reason Mal would be willing to risk his ship and his crew, and he didn't want to be walking into a fight with a man who's motivations he neither knew nor understood guarding his back. Mal smiled a little himself, thinking that it would be interesting in itself to see whether Duvenage accepted the real motivation. Could reveal a lot about what the man held important.

"Rest assured I ain't tryin' to get myself or my crew killed. Kinda got into the habit of survivin', don't plan to be changin' that any time soon. There's someone on that station we'll be lookin' for. A friend. Don't know about you but I ain't got enough of those left to be feedin' 'em to Reavers." Duvenage ignored Mal's flippancy, his expression thoughtful. "Must be a good friend," he said. "She was. Is." Mal answered, and tried not to flinch at his inadvertent slip. "Got reason to believe she was at that party they was holdin', so we'll be lookin' for her an' the granddaughter there." "And if you don't find her?" Duvenage asked. Any remnant of humor left Mal's face. "Don't make a diff'rence. We make the attempt, we get out alive. Ain't gonna risk my people more'n I have to." The security chief didn't comment. When the silence stretched, Zoe shifted slightly and looked up at Mal, "Time we did this thing Cap'n. Ain't getting' any younger."

They split into their teams, Duvenage, Zoe and Jayne in one shuttle, Mal, Book, and Lessing in the other. Three of Duvenage's men traveled with each shuttle and two more remained behind with Simon, Kaylee and Wash. The shuttles were crowded. It had been agreed that Mal's shuttle would assist evacuating the wounded if they were unable to fit them all in the one. Serenity would never be able to get close enough. It was a big risk, leaving Mal's team temporarily without an escape. It was also a risk in that there would be more trips between Serenity and the Station, greatly increasing the likelihood that they would be spotted. But it was also true that Duvenage knew exactly where to go to find his man. Mal and his team were working on hearsay and best guess and would have to conduct a search. That was likely to take time, which could be better spent saving lives.

Mal checked his watch against the shuttle's clock and set the timer. Two hours. If by then they hadn't found anything, they were out of there. "We ready?" He asked on the shuttle's com. "They're set, Cap'n," Wash confirmed. "Alright, mark thirty and counting. You be here when we get back, you hear me?" "You be back, sir," Wash replied.

Mal switched off the com. There would be no talking to Serenity until this was over, too much chance of being overheard. He thought of the other times he'd seen Reaver handiwork and what they might find on that station and couldn't help the shudder that inched its way down his spine. Forced himself to think of what might have happened to Inara, might still be happening. For all his resolve he could not think of her as dead, although he knew somewhere down deep in his gut that she would have chosen to die by her own hand rather than die like that.

What really frightened him was that he could not see beyond this moment. It was as though everything that came afterwards depended on it. There had been another time - he had no idea how long it had lasted - during and after Serenity Valley when he'd lived with no concept of tomorrow. Just getting through each hour, each day had been hard enough. He closed his eyes and debated praying, feeling an ache within him that desperately wanted that comfort. Then he opened them and looked out at the black, coldly reminding himself that there was nothing out there. He laughed.

The Shepherd looked up from his prayer. "Shenme shi?" Mal glanced at him. "I was just thinkin'. Strange, innit, how hope can kill you an' keep you alive at the same time? Must be one of them little cosmic jokes." The Shepherd didn't smile. "It is one of the pillars of my religion. I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that it's no easier to understand than faith. Both can be a heavy burden, and then again they can be the very thing that helps you to carry that burden." Mal sighed, half exasperated and half resigned to the fact that the Shepherd would pull a lesson out of the least likely of situations. "Well, between your faith and my hope perhaps we got some chance at livin' through this. Wonder who's givin' out the charity?"

The shuttles detached from Serenity and gave a single burst from their engines, heading towards the station. Simon let out a slow breath as he watched them leave. He could not help but feel relieved to have most of the armed men off the ship for a time. Perhaps now he'd be able to get some sleep without worrying about imminent discovery. No doubt he'd need it later, especially if they managed to pull off this idiotic rescue attempt. He could almost envy River her sleep through the ordeal. He tucked his hands under his armpits to warm his fingers, grimacing at the increasing chill. On that thought he decided to go and find his sister another blanket. It was going to be getting a lot colder before very long.

END OF CHAPTER 4

Glossary:

Dui: correct Nah mei guan shi: That has nothing to do with it. Shenme: What? Shenme shi? What is it? Tamade baichi: fucking idiot Bu hao: Not good. huh choo-shang tza-jiao duh tzang-huo: animal fucking bastards Wangba dan: Bastard

COMMENTS

Tuesday, October 21, 2003 7:13 AM

AMDOBELL


Great, I am enjoying this story and can't wait to see what happens next. Will they find Inara or has she been whisked away elsewhere? And what about the Reavers, are they lurking waiting for Mal and co to enter a trap? Keep up the good work and thanks for a good story. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, October 30, 2003 10:57 AM

TWICEONSUNDAYS


Ah, I love it! Especially the exchange betweeb river and the knife, and the one between wash and jayne. Brilliant. Great minds indeed.


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