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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
The rescue begins while River does some eavesdropping
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2080 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Back to Chapter 11.
* * * * *
Book and Kaylee parked the shuttle on the edge of the city and approached the base on foot. They arrived at the front gate without prior notification, but were courteously shown the way to an inner waiting room.
Kaylee sat still and tried to think tranquil thoughts. Her sweet smile was framed by white: a bandeau across her forehead and a coif wrapping down one cheek and up the other. A black veil covered the back of her head and hung down past her shoulders, covering the top part of the heavy black robe.
It wasn’t long before a dark haired young soldier with deep set eyes and an obviously solid build met them. “Shepherd Book, Sister Kay,” he said with a polite bow to each of them. “I’m Corporal Watson. It’s a pleasure to have persons of the cloth visit the base.”
“Thank you,” Book replied. “We are eager to visit the base chapel. It’s been a long road out in the black, I…” Book paused and turned to Kaylee, “I mean, we… haven’t had a proper place to worship in some time.”
“I’ll show you the way,” the young man turned and started down the corridor.
“Amen,” Kaylee said softly, her eyes traveling lower than any proper nun’s should. Book cleared his throat and she smiled innocently at him.
* * *
Wash landed Serenity on a inaccessible hillside a few kilometers above the remote town of Arcady. They had caught and passed the sunset during the quick ride over from Meleaguer; it was nearly midnight local time when they landed. Inara used the shuttle to drop Zoe and Wash off just outside the green valley where Arcady nestled, then she flew back to Serenity.
As explained by the Prefect in his formal lecturing tone, Arcady occasioned the visit for three reasons. First, it was currently being visited by Alliance auditors who would be updating the local tax laws over the next few days, hence their transport would be sitting unused. Second, the local residents had insisted that the town’s local air field be separated from their village by a small rise so that their sky would be free of traffic, noise and exhaust. No one would notice said transport lifting off in the middle of the night. Third, the woman in charge of landing pad security was a personal friend of Prefect Marone’s. The visiting Alliance accountants would never hear about the temporary absence of their transport.
“You’re sure about this, petunia?” Wash asked Zoe as they approached the gate in the fence surrounding the landing pad.
“Dangran,” Zoe replied. She pushed on the gate; it swung open easily and they passed through. “See, there it is.” She nodded toward the small craft with Alliance markings parked at the edge of the tarmac.
They approached the transport stealthily, Zoe with her carbine in hand in case they encountered anyone unexpected. As it turned out, Wash could have pulled it off without her company. It took him five minutes to get through the outer hatch, another ten to override security in the cockpit, and then they had themselves an official Alliance transport to use free of charge.
Inara docked her shuttle and returned to the common room to find River laying sideways across a chair, shoulders against one arm of the chair and knees folded over the other, eyes closed and hands clasped over her ears. Simon sat near her studying a handheld cortex screen.
“Is River all right?” Inara asked.
“She was talking about artichokes, what do you suppose that means?” he replied with a confused shake of his head.
Inara sat down next to him. “Have you made any progress?” she nodded to the screen.
“I just don’t know enough.”
“Idiot!” River yelled with her eyes still closed.
Simon frowned. “That’s a little harsh,” he said, then he realized that River wasn’t talking to him. He set down the cortex screen so he could reach and put a hand on her ankle. “Who’s an idiot, mei-mei?”
River dropped her hands from her ears and looked up. “I can’t believe he’d think that. Simon wouldn’t do that! Never!” Simon looked at Inara and shrugged. River continued, “And Kaylee wouldn’t even consider it! Not even… fanciful talkin’.” River pressed her lips together and shook her head. “Where does he get these ideas?”
“Who are you talking about?” Simon asked.
River ignored his question, but she tilted her head at him and smiled. “You would make a good couple, though. He’s right about that.”
Simon’s mouth fell open. He glanced at Inara, blushing at her knowing smile. “Um, I should… upload some more medical journals,” Simon stammered. “Can you keep an eye on her?”
“Of course,” Inara replied. “We’ve been enjoying each other’s company the last few days, haven’t we River?”
River didn’t reply. She balled up in her chair like a cat as Simon disappeared into the infirmary. The girl might have been sleeping, except she occasionally sat up, mumbled a few apparently random phases, then settled down again. Inara passed the time idly looking over a few of the new toys that River had picked up on her afternoon out with the Prefect. River had brought them out earlier to show them off, then promptly forgotten about them.
Inara looked up when she heard River moan. The girl’s eyes were open, her face flush. “River, are you okay honey?” Inara asked.
River lifted her head and cast a wide-eyed look at Inara. “On the sofa,” she whispered. “Not the bed. Too much history on the bed.”
“What do you mean?” Inara shifted to sit in the chair next to River’s. She immediately knew what the darkened eyes, flushed skin, and short breath meant, but seeing them appear so suddenly and so intensely confounded her. She set a hand on River’s shoulder.
River stared at Inara’s hand, then up into her eyes. “Want more. More than this.” River pressed her palm against Inara’s wrist, then pulled her hand back and hugged herself. Sweat glistened on her forehead as she closed her eyes.
Inara dropped her hand, not sure what to do. One didn’t need years of Companion training to interpret the look of lust the girl had just given her, but she had never picked up anything like it from River before. The rest of River’s adolescence had been interrupted, Inara thought, her discovery of sex was also not likely to follow the usual path. Inara had plenty of experience with guiding girls through this phase, but she didn’t think Simon was likely to approve of her interference. The common room was certainly not the place for it, in any case, she thought with a wry smile.
But River appeared to have forgotten about Inara’s presence already. The girl clenched her teeth and held her breath. Then she exhaled. “Over, all over now,” she said with relief.
“What’s over, mei-mei?”
River drew a few deep breaths, calming herself. “Not enough.” She looked at Inara again, sadly this time. “Can’t be satisfying when you’re not really there.”
River was still flush but all desire was gone from her face. “Shhhh. It’s a dream now. Dream in a dream. I think it’s important. I need to hear.” She closed her eyes again.
Inara sat back for a moment, watching River silently. The girl’s eyes moved, her head rocking side to side as if she was watching a conversation. Inara rose and went to the infirmary to find Simon seated on a stool by the counter, bent over the cortex.
“Simon, you should come out here.”
“It’s River. She’s okay, she’s just acting… a little odd.” Saying that River was acting odd was a pretty strong statement, Inara figured.
Simon followed her out. “What is she doing?” he asked.
“It’s as if she’s dreaming, but she’s not asleep. At least, I don’t think she is.”
“River?” Simon kneeled in front of his sister. “River, can you hear me?”
“They want to know about the shipment,” River said without opening her eyes.
“It’s not just fish. They don’t think so. This isn’t a dream - he’s remembering it. It happened already.”
“They asked about Ricky. And the cargo.”
“Are you talking about Mal, honey?” Inara asked.
“Wait – shhh! It’s the next morning now. I want to see what happens.” River put her hands over her ears again.
Simon looked up at Inara, who tilted her head toward the infirmary. They stepped just into the room, where they could still see River, and spoke quietly.
“Simon, could she be in contact with Mal?”
“I… I don’t know. That’s doesn’t seem possible.”
“We all know what she’s capable of.”
“No, actually, I think we don’t.” They both looked over to River. Her posture hadn’t changed.
“She’s been talking about ‘he’, things happening to ‘him’,” Inara explained. “Maybe she can see what they’re doing to Mal.”
“What has she been saying?”
Inara recalled the girl’s lusty look and considered who the real source of that look might have been. She was surprised to feel her cheeks heat with a blush. “Nothing… clear. No – remember earlier, she said ‘he’ was awake. And a spider was too.”
“And she said I’d ‘never do that’, whatever that is. And something about Kaylee.”
Inara smiled. “And about you and Kaylee.”
River’s voice suddenly filled the room, “No, don’t talk like that. That’s not true!”
Simon and Inara exchanged a look. They went back to sit on either side of River. “Don’t look at him like that! It’s so cruel,” River said.
“What’s cruel?” Simon asked gently.
River opened her eyes wide, but she turned to Inara, not Simon. “You have to be nice to him when he gets back.”
“Of course,” Inara said, taken aback.
“No matter how he acts. No matter if he’s mean and calls you names. It hurt. It’s not your fault, but he doesn’t know. You have to be nice.”
“I will, bao-bei,” Inara replied in confusion.
River looked away from Inara. They waited while she looked at nothing for a few moments, eyes sad but unfocused. Then she put her hands over her face. “Don’t believe it,” she said in a determined but distant voice. “Don’t believe any of it.”
“Are you talking to Mal?” Inara asked.
River started crying behind her hands, but kept talking in the same faraway tone. “It was so mean. She’s not really that mean. You should know that.”
Inara reached out to stroke River’s hair. “Mei-mei, is Mal all right?”
River sighed and sat still for a while. Then she whispered: She cares.
The loud rush of an engine drowned out further conversation as the ‘borrowed’ Alliance transport landed in the open cargo bay. Wash stayed in the transport to set up the comm system and wait for word from Kaylee, but Zoe got pulled into the infirmary by Simon and Inara so they could have a talk about River.
Kaylee sighed as the comely Corporal left her and Book alone in the silence of the chapel, but she didn’t waste any time finding the grating in the side wall. The nun’s costume was quickly pulled off and tucked under the nearest pew. She removed a power screwdriver from the bag of tools hanging from a strap around her neck and fit the proper bit to it.
“Awful nice of ‘em, puttin’ all the switchboxes for the surveillance system right next to the chapel,” she commented as she unscrewed the cover from the grate.
“It has been said that He works in mysterious ways,” Book said with a smile.
Kaylee straightened the receiver in her ear. “You got the relay box on, Shepherd?”
Book took a small silver box out of his pocket, extended the antenna, and flipped a switch. He set it in the shadows under a window. “All set,” he told Kaylee.
“Wash?” Kaylee said. She listened for a few seconds, then smiled. “Wash, I hear you nice n’clear.” She kept talking while she put the screwdriver back in her tool bag and strapped it tight around her waist. “I’m just goin’ in. I’ll need some time to get everything set up, then I’ll let ya know when I’m ready.” She looked over at Book and gave him a thumbs up. “Have nice prayer time, Shepherd Book!”
“Have nice… hacker time, Sister Kay.”
After her feet disappeared through the opening, Book used a few screws to put the grating cover back up, then settled in a pew.
Inara and Zoe stood outside the infirmary, trying not to stare at River. They were like people at a zoo, waiting for a bored animal to do something entertaining. River considered roaring or swinging from the pipes to see if they’d throw treats.
Instead she sat up and began unfolding a thick sheet of what appeared to be paper. It was one of the gifts the Prefect had bought her on the day she got to be a doll. A doll who looked at pretty things outside her eyes, instead of the strange things that currently played in her head. She found she could easily follow what Mal was doing. She smiled at the question he overheard Kaylee asking as he left the dining room. River knew what ‘struck out’ meant, she’d actually been to a baseball game once.
In her mind, River followed Mal down the stairs toward the gun locker. In her body, she leaned forward to look into the cargo bay, to see if she and Mal would pass by. No one did. It was tricky, being in two realities at once.
She returned to the paper in her lap. When it was fully unfolded, she shifted the hard plastic rods around the edges of it until it snapped into a rigid sheet. Then she triggered it on with her thumb, and the paper filled with a menu of programs. She chose a fairy tale cartoon that she remembered from her childhood on Osiris. Simon came to sit next to her and shared her smile. “Saturday mornings,” he said softly, “if we were up early enough, and mom and dad didn’t catch us.”
“The shagua screen, they called it,” River said. “But everyone else watched it. I never knew what people at school were talking about, because mom and dad wouldn’t let us watch.”
“Maybe they knew what they were talking about. You didn’t turn out to be such a shagua, did you?”
“No. Just crazy.”
“You’re not crazy, mei-mei.”
She looked away from the dancing ducks on the viewscreen, focusing on something far away. “The walls are getting thinner. I can get in easily now.”
“He’s sorting bullets. Thinking.” She shook her head. “Not thinking about the right things.”
“To distract himself.”
“Where is he?”
“I don’t know. But he thinks he’s out there.” River pointed toward the cargo bay.
“River – is he dreaming?”
“You could call it that.”
“Is he all right?”
“Just sad. Hurt and sad. Not crazy yet. The walls are still up.”
River was quiet for a few seconds, her lips moving. Suddenly she sat up, and stared unseeing straight ahead. “You can hear me? Really?” she said in a shrill voice. She took a deep breath to calm herself, then closed her eyes and sat still. After a moment she made a high pitched buzzing noise, then she cursed. “Huai le, Book, not now!” Her eyes snapped open and settled on the viewscreen, where barnyard animals were singing and frolicking. She put her hands over her ears to block it out. “Focus River!” she said to herself, but a few seconds later dropped her hands in exasperation. “Oh, I lost it. Too many distractions!”
“What happened?” Inara asked anxiously.
River looked up with excitement all over her face. “I talked to him! He heard me! I told him about the sound!”
“Can’t explain now. Turn it off! Turn it off!” River slapped the viewscreen off of her lap. Simon picked it up and it shut itself down as he folded it.
“You really believe you can talk to the Captain?” Zoe asked.
“I don’t just believe.” River glared at Zoe. “Now be quiet! I have to try again, and it isn’t easy.”
They all were still while River sat in a ball with her head tucked against her knees, rocking slightly. After a minute she spoke softly: “I have to wait… he’s saying goodbye.” Then she grunted in disgust and started aping someone sarcastically. ‘Easily overwhelmed by the service… What a load of fei-wu!” She peeked at Inara, then squeezed her eyes shut again.
“OK, he’s alone.” Her voice fell to a whisper. They only caught a few words: …going to get weird. Weirder. Just hang on. I’ll keep an eye on you when I can…
Zoe tapped Simon on the shoulder, and they stepped away from River. “You care to explain any of this?” she asked quietly.
He took a breath. “It must be those drugs. Mal thinks he’s on the ship still.”
“The drugs that make him dream? What are they after, doin’ that?”
Simon replied with a bewildered shrug.
Zoe returned to River and knelt in front of her chair, waiting until the girl’s eyes focused on her. “River, can you see where the Captain is?”
“No. I can see where he thinks he is.”
“Are you sure?” River tipped her head to the side and exhaled impatiently. “All right, where does he think he is?”
River pointed at the infirmary, then her finger traced a path to the stairs and up. “Just left the infirmary, going to the bridge,” she said.
“Is he hurt?” Inara asked.
“No. Just headaches.”
“But you can talk to him?” Zoe asked.
“I didn’t know I could do that. Must be because the walls are so thin.”
“In his mind. They’re trying to break down the walls.”
Zoe glanced at Simon to see if he heard that, and her face grew taut with anger. She kept it out of her voice. “Is there any way you can help him, or let him know we’re comin’?”
River looked doubtful. “I’ll try, but I don’t think he’ll let me.”
“I have to play by his rules, and he thinks it’s real.” River tilted her head and looked away from Zoe. “I’ll wait till he’s done talking to Wash.”
“He’s talkin’ to Wash?” Zoe asked.
“On the bridge.”
“What are they sayin’?”
River frowned and bit her lip. “I don’t think I should say.”
“What’s in his mind is private. I shouldn’t be looking either, but I’m scared for him.”
“River, you do whatever you need to help him,” Zoe told the girl.
River nodded, then her focus turned inward again. “He’s alone now.” She was silent for a bit, then she shook her head. “He doesn’t look good. He needs to get out.”
“Can you tell him we’re comin’?”
“I tried, but he thinks I’m just being crazy.”
“Can you help him?”
“It’s so hard to get through, to talk. I can see but talking is hard. I need to be closer to him.”
“We’ll get you there,” Zoe replied firmly. She turned to Simon. “Go tell Jayne to get his multi-purpose new suit on. I’ll talk to Wash, see if Kaylee is plugged in yet. This is goin’ down right now.”
Inara held River tucked under her arm, guiding the girl through the cargo bay and into the transport. “It’s so bright,” River said, although she had both hands over her eyes. Wash and Simon carried a chair from the common room to the transport and Inara settled River into it.
Simon tucked a blanket around his sister. “I think I should come to keep an eye on her,” he said over his shoulder to Zoe.
“Simon,” Zoe responded, “it’s bad enough I’m takin’ River into an Alliance military base. Cap’n will have my hide. I can’t have you there too. Just leave the med bag.”
“But Zoe – ”
“No arguin’. I need you to stay on the ship with Inara. If they’re playin’ with his mind I need you to figure out how to help him. Dong ma?”
Simon nodded, and turned back to River He pushed the hair back from her face; she was wiping her mouth with a shaky hand. How could it be the same gorram kid? she mumbled in a bewildered tone.
“I’ve prepared a few sedatives, just in case,” Simon told Zoe with a nod at the red bag next to River’s chair. “The syringes are in the front flap.”
“Thanks doc. Don’t worry, we’ll take care of her.”
Jayne entered the transport outfitted in a pair of black trousers and a plum colored silk blouse. He looked like an upstanding businessman, or he would if he could wipe the look of disgust off his face. Wash waved him to the side and ran a check of the receiver nestled in his ear, then handed him a forged Alliance military ID.
“You tellin’ me you couldn’t come up with a better name than this?” Jayne complained as he looked at the ID.
“Kaylee helped me come up with it. I did the first name and she did the last,” Wash explained with a proud smile. “We think it suits you real nice, you big lug.” Jayne grunted in reply and tucked the ID into his brand new briefcase with a few other items he’d be needing.
“We all ready?” Zoe asked. She had changed into something appropriate for an Alliance civil servant, dull and respectable, hair tucked cleanly away. Carefully she held the official form the Prefect had supplied, mindful to keep it crisp and clean.
Wash stepped out of the cockpit. “I’m ready when you are. I’ve got Kaylee on the comm, she’s patched in to the base’s surveillance system.”
Zoe took a look around at the crew. “All right. Simon and Inara, keep Serenity locked up tight till we get back. Anything happens, you wave Wash. Let’s go get the –”
She was cut off by a scream from River. “No! Kaylee!”
Simon stooped next to River. “What’s wrong with Kaylee?” River didn’t even look at him.
“That hundan’s got her! Mal can’t help her! They have him!”
Wash ducked into the cockpit, then returned with a shrug. “Kaylee’s on the line, she’s fine.”
River fisted her hands in frustration. “I can’t get in - there’s too much happening!” Then she flinched and put her hand to her temple like she’d just been hit. Simon started to ask if she was alright, but she shushed him impatiently. She sat still with her head cocked to the side, as if she were she were listening to something they couldn’t hear.
Finally Rover focused on the people around her. “We have to go. The walls are coming down.” Her eyes settled on Simon. “I heard them talking. They’re using electrodes, and they said they’re going to ‘debrief’ him later. They’ll tear down all the walls, burn him up so he doesn’t know where he is. Then they’ll ask him the questions again. I have to be closer. Now!”
Inara and Simon stayed on Serenity while Wash set the transport on a course toward the base. Jayne looked over maps of the base one last time as Zoe talked quietly with her husband. She finally told him what she was out to get with the fancy form the Prefect had brought her.
“Are you sure you need to do that?” he asked her.
“It won’t be pretty,” he said as he wrapped his arms around her waist.
“I’ve been though a war,” she said with a smile, and set her forehead against his. “I can take it.”
“If it gets too much for you, just imagine I’m there with you, doing shadow puppets. Juggling goslings. Imagine me naked if it helps.”
“Honey. I don’t want to give myself away by rolling on the floor laughing hysterically.”
River interrupted their affectionate kiss with a horrified moan. “He doesn’t know,” she whispered. “He believes it, he believes all of it.”
Their moment broken, Wash returned to the cockpit to check their course. “We’ll be there in five,” he called out.
River drew further into herself. “Poor Kaylee. I can’t let him believe this. I have to tell him.”
They landed the Alliance transport at the base using the clearance the Prefect had acquired for them. Wash shut down the engine and came back into the main room. He nodded toward River. “I’ll keep an eye on her. You two do your thing. And be careful.”
“I was born careful,” Jayne said as he followed Zoe out of the transport.
Wash stood next to River’s chair. “It’s too much…” she whispered. Her mumbled comments become quieter and quieter as she huddled into a tighter ball. Wash wanted to comfort her, but it was clear that her mind wasn’t in the transport anymore. He shifted to the floor and sat against her chair to wait.
A few minutes later River startled him when she suddenly yelled “Focus Captain!” Wash turned to see her body go limp and her head tip back. “He’s awake,” she said with relief, “really awake.” Without moving her head, she rolled her eyes as far up as they’d go. “Oh – I’ve seen this. I know this.” Her eyes flickered back and forth, then fell closed.
“What are they doing to him?” Wash asked.
“Sedative. They gave him a sedative. Made him go to sleep again, but for real, no dreams.”
“So he’s okay?”
She sat up and looked at Wash, shaking her head sadly. “No. They’ll question him next, and Jayne won’t be able to get to him there. I have to help.” Her face set with determination. “Don’t know if I can get in when he’s awake. I’ll have to concentrate really hard. He'll need me.”
dangran: of course
huai le: shit on my head
mei-mei: little sister
On to Chapter 13.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006 4:48 AM
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