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Antebellum - Book I: Chapter Five
Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Fifth Chapter in a Big Damn Sequel series. In this installment: Someone better start stirring the plot, 'cause it's startin' to thicken.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1838    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

Book One – Chapter Five

Huh. How long has that been there?

Simon stared intently at the small, silver scar on his cheek. It was only about two inches long. Maybe even an inch and a half. Through the mirror, he looked different, but he chalked it up to the smudges on the glass. He pressed his finger against the shallow groove the scar created and tried to think back to a time when something cut him enough to cause scarring. Honestly, that could have been any number of events.

It troubled him very slightly when he found scars on his body from wounds he never remembered receiving. Two on his back. One on his right shin. Three on his chest. One on his stomach. One on his left thigh. One on his face. This new one made two on his face, eight total. He often wondered if Kaylee noticed. He was sure she did.

He was mostly sure of this because of how he noticed the new scars on her body. Finding those scars troubled him more. She had one across the knuckles on her right hand. One on her left calf. Two on her hip. One on her stomach. Three small puncture scars on her neck. And one on the back of her head, covered up by her dark hair. She wanted that one hidden from the rest of the crew, so Simon did some world-class stitching without shaving that part of her head. He was happy to oblige to her wishes.

Nine total.

He dabbed his bleeding lip with a wet towel. It kept bleeding, so he put a small bandage on it. He rubbed the scar one more time. He must have cut himself shaving one morning and just forgot about it.

Kaylee had been avoiding him ever since they left Three Hills. She was upset, but something like that didn’t take serious deducing skills. Everyone felt it when Kaylee wasn’t smiling anymore. But Simon felt it the most. He didn’t know it at the time, but he did. He felt it so much that trying to make her smile was more of a selfish act of his own than a service to Kaylee. But sometimes he just couldn’t do it anymore. She’d still physically smile, showing her pretty teeth when talking with Inara and playing with River. But she’d stop smiling at Simon, but saying that she was “fine.”

He would spend many sleepless nights in his old passenger dorm thinking of what could be wrong between them. But then they’d get better, miraculously, and she’d be smiling again, and there’d be air back in his chest.

His relationship with Kaylee wasn’t near as easy as he thought it would be. He knew it’d be some hard work; he wasn’t naïve. But, somehow, it seemed probable that once they finally made it together, then they would be happy more-or-less forever. It didn’t really turn out that way.

It wasn’t Hell. Of course, not. Not by a long shot. But it wasn’t what he expected.

In the mirror, Simon saw Kaylee walk into the infirmary. He swung around quickly and caught her somewhat by surprise. The skin around her eyes was worn a little pink.

“Uh… hi,” Simon said, knowing at least twenty other things to say that would have been more appropriate.

“Hey,” Kaylee responded. “I just had a…”

“Headache?”

“That’s the one,” Kaylee chuckled a bit, pushing her hair behind her ear.

“Here, I’ll get you…” Simon began, moving toward a cabinet that was really closer to Kaylee.

“Simon, I can…” But before she finished, Simon had presented her with two small pills and was readying a glass of water. “Thanks.”

After she had taken the pills to Simon’s satisfaction, there was nothing left to do but shift slowly out into the common area, saying goodbye with a small smile and a quick kiss.

Simon followed her by instinct, not knowing why exactly, but knowing that he didn’t want her to leave just yet.

“Kaylee?”

She stopped in the middle of the room and looked at Simon. Her breath was caught in her chest, as if she was glad he stopped her.

“Yeah?”

Something, Simon thought. Say something. “I’m, uh… About the fruit, I was—”

“Look, forget about it.” Kaylee waved her hand in front of her.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I just… Like Cap says, we can’t do nothin’ ‘bout it now, so… That’s that.” She gave her small smile again and turned to the stairs.

“Kaylee, I just want to—”

“Simon, really. We’re fine.”

“We’re fine?” Simon repeated.

“Yeah.”

There was something caught in Simon’s throat. Just say it, he thought. His mouth opened in preparation to say something. He felt his mouth getting dry after a while of not saying anything.

Kaylee craned her neck very slightly, anticipating his words.

“I… I—”

“All crew to the dining room.” Mal’s voice came over the PA system. “Soon as possible. And by that, I mean now.”

“We should probably…” Kaylee said to Simon, whose mouth was now closed.

“Yeah.”

Kaylee began to walk up the stairs.

“Kaylee, wait. I’ll walk you to the dining room.”

She smiled. A real smile.

“Okay. Thanks.”

***

When everyone had made it to the large wooden table and taken their spots, Mal laid the video sheet flat on the tabletop. Without a word, he pressed the play button and let the news report tell their story back to them. The riot in the federal facility. The newly issued warrant.

The words floated in the air. “Immediately Dangerous.” “Dead or Alive.” “Terrorist.”

Zoe didn’t take to listening to bad news sitting down, so she paced back and forth behind the counter in the kitchen, where she could still hear the report. She looked up once or twice to study Mal’s expression. He’d lock eyes with her and she’d stare him down until he broke her gaze.

Kaylee sat next to Simon, her hand clutching his as if the floor was seconds from being ripped out from beneath her. He stroked her fingers hoping to relieve her, but she just stared at the video sheet, her head shaking slightly.

Jayne slouched in his chair, grumbling angrily. He dug a hole in the side of the table with the tip of his knife and continued to absent-mindedly whittle further into the wood. The others normally despised this form of Jayne’s irritation, but right now they allowed it whole-heartedly. Jayne was bound to be using his knife on something right now, and they actually preferred he take his anger out on the table.

Inara sat silently. Straight backed, as she always sat. Her eyes were closed tightly. Mal figured she was meditating or something. Even with her eyes closed, though, she could still detect the times when Mal was looking at her.

River sat up on her heels, her head bowed. She had heard the report before.

“If you have any knowledge regarding the whereabouts of Malcolm Reynolds or any of his terrorist regime, please contact your local Alliance checkpoint—”

River leaned forward and pressed the stop button, leaving the room in complete silence, save for Jayne’s continuing mumbling and the sound of his knife scraping the table.

Kaylee’s voice broke the silence. “Terrorists? They were talkin’ ‘bout us?”

“Scapegoats is more like they’re makin’ us,” Jayne muttered.

“We was tryin’ to do good though,” Kaylee said, unable to comprehend what she just heard. “We didn’t start no riots, or try to hurt folk.”

“Trouble is,” Zoe said, “the Alliance is probably well aware of that fact.”

“Gorramn sons of bitches!” Jayne shouted, leaping from his chair. “They’re the ones that’re killing ev’rybody!”

“Jayne,” Mal spoke calmly.

“And who the hell are those rioters? ‘Remember Miranda’? They don’t even know what they’re talkin’ about, an’ they’re the ones signin’ our death warrants!”

“Sit down, Jayne.”

With a sneer on his face, Jayne did as he was told.

“Mal.” All eyes turned to Inara. “Do we have a plan?”

Everyone’s head tilted up to the Captain, awaiting their orders. But all could see on his face that there was to be little encouragement in this conversation. Slowly, Mal spoke:

“I got one. Just in the little time that we’ve been given. It’s not really something I’m fond of, but… here it is. Obviously, the Inner Borders are gonna be less of a home to us now. We can pretty much expect every planet to be covered with federal scanners an’ the like, an’ every moon covered with folk lookin’ to make a quick dime. Truth is, we’re like to find those types pretty everywhere.”

“So…” Inara urged on.

“Triumph. Jiangyin. Pacquin. Whitefall. And Auguine. They’re all on the Outer Rim. They all have what we can generally call allies.”

“Sir,” Zoe began. “Not to put a damper on the plan, but no one is likely to take in seven ‘terrorists.’”

“Well, we wouldn’t stay there forever,” Kaylee protested.

“Don’t matter how long,” Jayne joined in. “Everyone knows what happened to the last do-gooders that gave us shelter. Wouldn’t even blame ‘em for turnin’ us in, instead of getting’ all crispy by an Alliance firin’ squad.”

“They wouldn’t even!”

“Kaylee,” Simon said.

“These’re our friends. They won’t turn us—”

“No one invites terrorists to cocktail parties, Kaylee!” Jayne countered.

“现在停止它, both of you!” Inara shouted, standing up from her chair, breaking her serene stance. Her voice broke so slightly that only a few noticed.

“Everyone calm down,” Mal said in a low voice. “Ya’ll are right, though. Can’t risk someone handin’ all of us in, an’ I wouldn’t put none of these folk in the spot where they’d be targets as well.”

“Then what’s the plan?” Simon asked.

River suddenly raised her head, looking incredulously at Mal, her brow slightly creased in confusion. Mal noticed this, but continued on.

“We obviously can’t be puttin’ all our eggs in one basket. An’ sure as hell no one’s gonna take us all. But they might take one or two of us.” There was silence as Mal swallowed. “Each.”

“Mal,” Inara whispered, which was more than anyone else had to say at the moment.

“So… you mean, split up?” Kaylee asked.

“Not a situation that I’m looking kindly at right now, Kaylee. But it’s there. And I’m plum outta the pretty good kinda ideas.”

“Well, I think that’s the dumbest excuse of a plan I’d ever heard,” Jayne growled.

“I’m gettin’ a little too much’a your opinion in my ear, Jayne.”

“Jus’ sayin’ what everyone’s thinking’, Captain!

“Well, you lost your speakin’ privileges when you caused that monument of a ruckus on the moon we just scadaddled off of!”

Jayne was still in the mood to fight with Mal on the point, but when he saw Zoe come out from behind the kitchen counter he rethought that idea.

“Sir, spreading us thin across the Outer Rim isn’t going to make the warrant disappear,” Zoe said.

“I’m aware of that.”

“Then may I ask what you’re trying to accomplish?”

Mal hit the table with the flat of his palm. “I’m trying to keep everyone alive! At any cost!” Zoe stopped talking. “Now I’ve said, repeatedly now, that this is not my favorite plan in our sad, li’l history, so if anyone here has something better to add, now’s the time.”

There was silence once again.

“Uh, um…” Simon began, as he began most his sentences. “I don’t really have all of it fleshed out, per se, but… it basically revolves around the theory of ‘strength in numbers.’”

Both Kaylee and River lit up with smiles. Even Jayne’s sneer changed into a smirk.

“I’m with him,” Kaylee said, biting her lower lip.

The others didn’t have to say another word. Mal knew what the consensus was.

“Fine, then. No one leaves, we stay together. But we still don’t have a destination or a plan.”

“I have a plan.” Inara spoke low. It was clear that she had been thinking of something ever since she heard the report.

“By all means,” Mal said.

She stared up at him with her big eyes, and Mal had an uneasy feeling of where this plan was going. “We should call the Baron.”

“The Baron?” Mal had to laugh out loud, which felt good in his stomach. “I assume you mean the Baron Von Jeffery?”

“Yes, Mal.” Inara never had to try to put the sound of irritation in her voice when talking with Mal.

“Or I got a better one,” Jayne spoke up. “Why don’t we just cut out the middle man and gift wrap the gorramn ship for the ruttin’ Grand Parliament, huh?”

“You do realize, Inara,” Mal’s voice developed a tone of patronage. “The Baron lives out on Persephone. We try sending a wave through Alliance-patrolled space, they’ll snatch him and us up within the confines of an hour.”

“I do realize that, thank you. I’m not suggesting sending a wave from the ship.”

“Then, what—”

“We should… we should go to Neo Sombra.”

Mal’s eyes went large with restrained emotion. It was hard to tell if it was anger he was restraining or if it was sadness. But several were banking on the former.

The tension at the moon’s name was palpable to the others as they all held their breaths.

“And what, may I ask, will we be doing there?”

“Sending a wave with a signal no one will be looking for. We need the help of the Novaks.”

Mal couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He opened his mouth to protest, but nothing came out. That was hardly a suggestion that would even cross his mind. Leave it to Inara to pick out the least… uncomplicated plan to send Mal into. But he couldn’t find it in him to argue against it. All he could picture were six pairs of eyes staring down at him, and he felt useless. He breathed deep and turned to his first mate. If anyone would be able to back him up on the badness of the plan, it would be she.

“Zoe?”

“The Baron owes us a couple. He could very well help us back on our feet. And ‘Nara’s right. They won’t be looking for James’ signal.”

Mal blinked in surprise. Well, that plan kinda backfired, Mal thought. He turned to look at the six pairs of eyes. They were still looking straight at him.

“All right, then. I guess it’s a go.”

“Mal, I—” Inara began apologetically.

“Desperate times, ‘Nara. I’ll set the course, be back with more details in a bit. Class dismissed.”

Mal picked the video sheet up off the table and walked out the door heading for the bridge. About halfway there, he realized that Zoe was following him. He didn’t acknowledge this until he was at the bridge pilot’s console.

“You need something, Zoe?”

“Triumph, Jiangyin, Pacquin, Whitefall, and Auguine? That was your plan?”

“It was kinda spur of the moment. I only just found out about our increasingly shortened lifespans—”

“Don’t say that.” Zoe’s voice was sharp and harsh, causing Mal to look up quickly, confused.

“I’m sorry you didn’t like my last minute plan to save our lives, Zoe, but in case you missed it back there, we’re not going with it. Now if you have something to say—”

“Did you hit Jayne?”

“What?”

“After we picked him and Simon up, did you hit Jayne?”

Mal shifted his stance. “Might have. He caused a lot of stir down planetside, nearly got him and Simon killed down there.”

“Nearly got them killed?”

“Yes.”

“They can handle themselves, sir. All your crew can. They’ve proved it—”

“Well, forgive me for not wanting to take that chance with a ‘Kill Me’ sign taped to their backs!”

“Pushing them and others off the boat is not going to keep them alive!”

“Dammit, Zoe! What the hell do you want from me?”

“I want you to let my husband die!”

The words saturated the air around Mal, and he felt the blood drain from his face. Zoe, meanwhile, was seething. She continued:

“I want you to let Shepherd Book die! I want you to let Tracey die! I want you to let Nandi die! We’re gonna get through this, but we’re gonna do it as a team. As a crew. You’re not going to be able to protect us if you don’t let us work together. Every one of us is here by choice. We signed on to be the crew of Serenity, and at this point, we all know what that means. But none of us like to be reminded of what it means. We all made a conscious choice to be here. Sir.”

Mal’s eyes narrowed at his first mate. His fists clenched, crinkling the video sheet in his hand.

“Wash. Shepherd. Tracey. Nandi. Why stop there? Come on! By all means, count ‘em up, Zoe!”

Zoe hesitated, but kept her jaw solid.

Mal flung the sheet onto the pilot’s seat. “Hell, I’ll do it for you. PFC Bernard Andrews. Corporal Davidson Jiang. Second Gunman Rebecca Morningstar, had two kids, kept their pictures in her helmet. Lance Corporal Thomas Geehan, was getting married in January! PFC Redford Bendis, had a note to his mother he gave to me to deliver, which was confiscated by enemy forces! The ruttin’ list goes on and on! Don’t you dare tell me about the choices made by those under my command! No one signs on to die! That’s the fact! But sometimes… it happens that way. And it happens while I’m watching.”

Zoe stood stalwart, but her harshness was gone.

“You want me to let Wash die?” Mal spoke quietly. “Like I could stop him. Maybe he died the second he stepped on this gorramn boat.”

Zoe’s mouth dropped in shock at Mal’s voice. She had heard that tone of vague defeatism many times before, but she had never gotten used to it and prayed she never would. Her captain turned back to the console, hunched over the panels. She began to leave.

“Is that why you didn’t back me up back there?” Mal didn’t turn around. “To get me to go to Neo Sombra?”

“Desperate times, sir,” Zoe said as she left Mal standing on the bridge.

Mal tried to set the course, but his fingers kept getting in the way. He collapsed in the pilot’s chair and leaned back, hands covering his face. He could feel the back of the chair shifting side to side and it occurred to him that despite the area of two years, he still hadn’t managed to adequately mend the chair that his pilot died in.

“Tell me we’ll be all right,” he said, directing his voice out the door of the bridge.

River came out of hiding and tiptoed her way to the co-pilot’s chair.

“It doesn’t work that way.”

“That’s what you always say.”

“It’s always true. I only know what you know. So what do you know?”

Mal gazed over at the 19-year-old girl. He couldn’t help but ask himself if she too had signed onto this job with the knowledge that she might not make it to twenty. Of course she did. She had all sorts of knowledge at this point.

“What happened to you back there? Back on Three Hills?” Mal asked.

Rivers eyes turned away to look into the vastness that lay outside the windows. She concentrated on every star with her two eyes.

“I don’t know.”

“You beat up a lot of people after having a breakdown and saying words that don’t make too much sense, hon. In the past, that’s spelt an uncanny amount of trouble for all us. Should I be tellin’ your brother ‘bout these turns of events?”

“Antebellum.” The word seemed to exist only in the back of her head, even when speaking it out loud. A memory she never experienced.

“What does that mean?” Mal asked, not liking how River said the word.

River looked dead into Mal’s deep eyes. “It means… this moment here… is the calm.” She looked back out through the window. “A storm is coming. More than one.”

Mal definitely did not like the sound of that.

“Blue eyes,” River whispered, as if it just sprung into her head. “They’ll be waking up now.

***

“I really, really don’t understand, sir.”

Nicolas struggled to keep up with Dr. Chen as they passed by the guards and into the elevator. He stopped momentarily to take in the fact that guards’ weapons were charged and loaded. He never got used to that. He rubbed the bridge of his nose underneath his wire-frame glasses to try and cover up his nervous behavior.

Chen pressed his thumb against a portion of the wall underneath the layout of buttons. The wall lit up underneath his thumb, and the six-inch thick metal doors slid to a close. The elevator descended.

“Well, Doctor,” Chen said to his assistant, not looking at him, “I don’t necessarily expect you understand. I do expect you to do as you are told.”

“Dr. Chen, you know that I have absolutely no problem to do just that.”

“Good.”

“It’s only that I was under the impression that this was a permanent condition. We don’t even know if they’ll…” Nicolas had to take a breath to survive through his disbelief. “What if they don’t come back out? All of our—”

“That is not your greatest concern, is it, Dr. Kelson? You’re afraid they’ll come out perfectly healthy, aren’t you?”

Nicolas dropped his eyes as Chen chuckled a bit at his protégé. But his chuckling met an end very quickly. Dr. Nicolas Kelson was young, but he was far from being stupid. He didn’t match the great Dr. Jonathon Chen, but he came close.

Chen was an old man; he knew it. On every wall, in every room in his facility people could see the greatness of the forty-five years Chen had spent. It was he, and he alone, who had kept their works continuing past protest, past cynicism and skepticism. And every project he fought for had succeeded in furthering his government’s goal.

Nearly every project.

“Dr. Chen,” Nicolas spoke again. “They’re down there for a reason. You always said that—”

“I know what I said, Nicolas, thank you. These orders are not my own.”

“Then whose?”

Chen sighed. “There are wheels within wheels, Dr. Kelson.”

The doors opened again and the two doctors exited. Nicolas flinched again at the presence of the armed guards. There were four more down here.

This section of the facility was evenly conditioned in terms of warmth. Room temperature even so far down. However, one did not get this sense by looking at the room. The room looked cold, like a large walk-in freezer. The lights themselves seemed to be made out of metal even. But it was evenly lit. And evenly air-conditioned.

“Sir,” Nicolas said, following Chen down the corridor. “Tell me that you don’t see this as a last resort. There is still a chance we can find River—”

“Good God, man!” Chen’s voice was hushed. He stopped in his tracks to look at Nicolas in the eye. “I would never stand for this to occur if it was all just for finding that… girl.” He continued down the hallway. “Miss Tam, indeed, is still a threat to the peace of the Alliance. Now, however, there are… higher priorities.”

As they finally reached their destination, Nicolas noticed more armed guards. Men and women in lab coats were walking at increased paces in and out of the glass doorway that was before the two doctors. At the entrance, Chen stopped Nicolas.

“I’m asking you to wait here, Nicolas.”

“What? I’ve been down here before—”

“Trust me, son. I don’t want you to have to be in the same room with these people. Do you trust me?”

“Yes. Of course, sir.”

“Good.” He began to enter through the glass doorway, but Nicolas spoke again.

“’Psychics are a danger to the harmony of the Alliance.’ That’s what they told us.”

“I know.”

“We’re risking our lives with this. Why are we doing this?”

Chen looked away into the glass doorway. He tried swallowing but something prevented this. So his mouth went dry.

“Antebellum.”

“What?” Chen asked, not sure if he heard his superior correctly.

“Antebellum, son. That is why.”

***

Air entered her nostrils, just a little bit. Then more. Then more as it became involuntary to push air back out. Soon she was breathing deep breaths again, pushing her chest up, and then down.

Slowly she managed to part her dried lips from each other and inhaled deeply, sending the moist air around her down her parched throat. Her tongue stretched out to cover her lips. Her lips her soft and loosened to the pressure. At that moment, she realized that she was awake again. The corners of her mouth curled into her smile. She loved her lips. She loved her smile.

She was awake.

Her hands began to move about her body. Yes. It was hers, no mistaking it.

She had no clothes on. She was lying down. She could tell that. It was coming back to her. Her clothes were gone because she was in a cryo-stasis chamber. Her hair was wet and draped across her shoulders and forehead.

Her eyes opened slowly. Her large blue eyes. A vibrant blue that literally lit up the rest of her body. Standing above her was a face she recognized right away.

“Dr. Chen,” she said groggily.

“Yes, dear. I’m here now.” Chen reached down and gently stroked her dampened, blonde hair. She truly was a thing of beauty.

“You said that I wouldn’t be coming back.”

“Well, I suppose that everyone deserves a second chance.”

The girl smiled. Perfect smile. “Even you.”

Her smile vanished. She heard something. Chen’s stomach dropped to see her face look so troubled.

“You haven’t found her,” she whispered.

“No,” Chen said sadly. “No, we haven’t, sweetheart.”

“Where’s River, Dr. Chen?” Her hand moved slowly up to the man’s shirt, and it slowly tightened around the fabric. She pulled him down, slowly, closer to her with unrelenting force. Chen had no choice but to stare into her curious face.

“Where is my sister?”

COMMENTS

Wednesday, January 11, 2006 6:47 AM

SHEPARDGHOST


Wow...wow that was amazing i did not see that coming at all. Great way to end the chapter i cant wait for the next.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006 10:20 AM

BELLONA


whoa.

b

Thursday, January 12, 2006 8:13 AM

AGENTROUKA


Whoa, plot!!

I loved it very much, all of it. From Simon's quietly observant disquiet to Mal's sad and desperate un-plan to the as of yet unlocked mystery of what exactly is making Inara's plan so outrageous. (Yay, Inara had a plan!)

Then Zoe's confrontation was painful and wonderful, cutting straight to the heart of the matter, like she is supposed to with Mal.

Also, more well-written original characters. Nicolas, Chen and... the mysterious sister. Oy. Can't wait to find out more!

I love this series, it hasn't hit a single wrong note yet, and it makes me very eager for every new part!

Saturday, May 6, 2006 6:31 AM

LEIASKY


Ohh, sister?!? Now that wasn't what I was expecting!

And what are these scars that Simon and Kaylee have? And why can't he remember getting them? Is there some plot here that hasn't been explained yet?

Saturday, May 6, 2006 10:30 PM

LEIGHKOHL


Another great installment! I am supposed to be sleeping but instead I am reading! The little spat between Kaylee and Jayne was so poitch perfect! And what was sImon goign tot say to Kaylee?!!! Great Job!


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