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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Mal has to accept Badger's offer of a job. Meanwhile old enemies seek to take advantge.
Spoilers for the comics. Very light slash.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1389 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
WARNING - Spoiler for the comics. Light slash.
RATING - PG-13
Many thanks to the amazingly smart wedjateye for betaing.
* * * * *
MAKE ME A STONE: Chapter 5
Chickens come home to roost.
It comes out of nowhere - a blinding flash, sudden darkness and excruciating heat searing into her brain. River crumples to the infirmary floor.
She's never sure whether the images that fill her head are her own or someone else's. Particularly when they're so familiar. Whimpering, she curls into a tight ball and waits for the agony to pass.
They thought you were dead when they tossed you out into the desert but they were wrong. Some people cling to life, even when they shouldn't, when they couldn't. An old soldier should have known that.
They thought that the vultures would devour you, skin and flesh and bone, and they might have been right had the old woman not passed that way. Had her own hurt not been fresh too.
“My enemy's enemy is my friend,” River whispers to herself before the tantalizing glimpse of understanding is once again obscured by pain and confusion. Big, fat tears begin to roll down her cheeks.
“Hey now, little one - can't be that bad, surely?” a deep brown voice asks.
River's eyes fly open and fill with horror when she's realizes there's a man crouching beside her - and that he's that man - the one with the smug grin and two perfect blue eyes.
“Tamade erzi de biaozi,” she spits, lashing out with her hands and feet when he tentatively reaches out to her. “Tried to kill me!”
“Whoa there!” Mal objects, recoiling from the angry accusation and flailing limbs. He gets back to his feet and straightens his suspenders. “Ain't nobody laid a hand on you - nor gonna. Not on my boat.”
Not in the least bit soothed by his words, River continues to glare at him, teeth bared. Mal backs away slowly towards the door. Don't wanna be spooking her any more than he already has. But he ain't leaving little sis alone in this state, not in a roomful of drugs and sharp objects.
He yells for Simon.
“Doc! DOC! You hear me? Your sister needs you - ma shang!”
Instantly Simon comes scurrying out of his bunk, encyclopaedia still in his hand.
“River, River - it's okay. I'm here,” he croons, going to her. “I'm here. What's the matter? Were you having a nightmare?”
She stabs a finger in Mal's direction. “He's a killer.”
“He's the Captain,” Simon tells her gently, rather than attempt to deny it.
River's expression shifts from hatred to misery and she pulls at her hair. “I don't know what I'm saying.”
“Apology accepted,” Mal tells her with a pointed look at Simon. “Now xiao mei-mei, you be good for your brother, dong ma?”
Suddenly River giggles. “You first!”
Simon freezes but Mal gives her an indulgent smile. “ 'fraid I got Captainy things to do. Gonna be downin' on Persephone 'fore long. Gotta see a man about a job.”
River lifts her head and gazes up at him, through him. “He'll be waiting,” she says, in a far away voice. “Hasn't forgiven nor forgotten.”
Mal darts another glance at Simon but River is becoming agitated again and all the medic's attention is on his sister.
She reaches for his hand and squeezes it. “Tell him,” she implores. “Make him understand.”
“River!” Simon hisses, aghast. “There's nothing to ...” He grimaces at Mal apologetically. “Her meds must be failing again.”
Mal waits slightly too long before replying and there's a glint in his eye that makes Simon even more uncomfortable.
“Best you see to that then,” the Captain advises briskly and leaves the room.
Simon rounds on River. “Did you have to say that? Have you any idea how awkward that was?”
River flips his chest with the back of her hand and sighs. “Wasn't talking about you.”
Laurence Dobson is in a good mood as he returns to his hideout in the desert. The pieces are finally falling into place. A few more adjustments and his months of planning will come to fruition. He laughs out loud, something he hasn't done since it happened. Malcolm Reynolds will live to regret shooting a Federal Agent. Only, you know, not for long.
His guard Olaf stands to attention as he approaches the entrance to his subterranean lair and grips his rifle more tightly.
“Report,” Dobson orders, by way of greeting.
“All clear,” Olaf replies, equally brief.
Dobson nods and unlocks his door. As he heads underground, he begins to hum, almost cheerily. Despite Badger's obvious untrustworthiness and opportunism, he has a good feeling about their arrangement. So good, in fact, that little details like flying without Alliance clearance hardly seem worth worrying about.
* * * * *
Zoe watches the Eavesdown Docks resolve out of the blur of light and colour as Serenity comes in to land on Persephone. Her hands slide from down Wash's shoulders onto his chest and she leans forward to nuzzle her cheek against his.
“Ain't such a bad place, Persephone, is it?” she asks, reminding him with a throaty chuckle, “You and me have had some good times here.”
Indeed they have, Wash thinks. And if he weren't concentrating on guiding Serenity gently into her berth without putting too much stress on the starboard engine, he'd kiss his wife. Instead he contents himself with promising “And we'll have plenty more, baobei. A whole lifetime of 'em. Here on Persephone -” a light on the control panel reassures him the landing gear has extended - “and on every other planet and moon too.”
The corners of Zoe's mouth twitch. She gives him a peck on the cheek. “Reckon you've got that much stamina, huh? A whole 'verseful?”
Wash eases back on the power. “Absolutely,” he declares, as Serenity sinks gently into her bay with barely a shudder and he cuts the engine. “You're not doubting my manly prowess, are you?”
Zoe moves round to sit on his lap. She takes his face between her hands. “Not for a moment. Though if you were feeling a need to prove it, there's that secluded little beach ... remember?”
“Okay, people,” Mal announces over the ship's comms. “We're down.”
Book closes his Bible and places it back on his bedside cabinet. Persephone. If they were staying longer than a few hours, he would have visited the Southdown Abbey. Sought a bit of the spiritual guidance he's in sore need of. He used to be so sure about everything, about his ability to bring the word to them as needed it ... but now he's finding it hard to hear his own self.
Perhaps he should stay longer.
He decides a walk planetside in the fresh air may clear his head and goes to join the others assembling in the cargo bay.
“Get her fuelled, Wash,” Mal orders, somewhat redundantly. Wash already knows Serenity needs filling up; he also knows they don't have a whole lot of coin.
“With dirt?” he suggests. “With cheap dirt? That's about all this is gonna get us.”
He lets the scant handful of platinum he's holding trickle through his fingers and back into the too-large money bag
Anger and frustration boil up in Mal, but he pushes them back down. Best save both for someone more deserving.
“Get her fuelled as much as you can,” he amends acidly and opens the cargo bay doors. “The rest of you are free to take a walkabout. Do what you need to do. But be back on the ship come sundown - Inara's got a schedule to keep.”
Much as he'd like to keep it hidden, he can't keep the bile out of his voice.
“Mal!” Inara cries, and for a moment he thinks he's reached her, got past the Companion to the woman inside.
But he's wrong. She ain't even looking at him. She's staring at the massive silhouette of a man holding some kind of staff who's planted himself on the cargo bay ramp.
Before Mal has time to process what's so menacing about him, Jayne has dealt the stranger a cracking blow to the jaw. Blood splutters from the giant's mouth and he falls unconscious to the floor.
“Jayne!” Kaylee scolds wearily. “Why'd you go an' do that?”
The mercenary's kind of surprised she needs an explanation but he gives her one anyway. “He was crowdin' me an' I don't know him. I hit people that crowd me I don't know.”
Kaylee opens her mouth to argue but is cut short by a familiar voice.
“It's quite all right, little lady. I don't like the man - which is why I insisted 'e go first.”
Mal and the others turn to see Badger, with three more colossal men in tow, stepping down from an open-topped wagon.
“Mal.” Badger's cocky grin goes from one ear to the other. “Fancy some chitchat?”
Mal's answer is a guarded “I'm listening, Badger.”
“ 'course you are,” the self-proclaimed pillar of the community agrees heartily, as he approaches. “But, just to be sure...”
He looks back at his men and, with a jerk of his head, orders them to ascend Serenity's ramp.
Nobody threatens Mal on his own boat. Not nobody.
She understands. Always does. The door control panel's only an arm's length away. And one pull on the lever is all it takes to activate the gas jets normally used for putting out fire. Turns out they're equally effective at extinguishing trouble of the dumb and muscled kind. Badger's men keel over like felled trees.
It's Mal turn to grin.
“So, Badger, what is it you wanted to talk about?”
They're independents, Dobson realizes at a glance. But independents in the employ of the Alliance, come to take over where he left off. Oh, Dobson's not offended. In fact, he feels vindicated. By calling on men such as these - ruthless men, with no regard for the official rules of engagement - the Alliance has acknowledged the difficulty of the mission they sent him on.
And the mission is the thing. He feels certain he will be able to do business with these men.
“I already got the plan,” he tells them, relishing the flicker of surprise that crosses their faces. “Can make it all happen. Follow me. I've got something to show you.”
He leads them out of the space that serves as his office and living quarters into what he likes to think of as his workshop.
The taller of the blue-gloved men sucks in an astonished breath. “You've given this a great deal of thought.”
“Well, hindsight's twenty-twenty,” Dobson replies modestly.
All three of them take a moment to admire the gleaming, green shuttle. Hand-built by Dobson himself and a couple of other retired Federal Agents with too much time on their hands. Every last penny of his severance pay was spent on this baby and she's beautiful. Too beautiful for mortal eyes to fully appreciate. Fortunately Dobson himself was given an upgrade on the cruiser that picked him up from Whitefall - partly in recompense for injuries sustained in the line of duty, and partly for experimental purposes. Luckily for him, the Alliance was always working on ways to make people better. He sees more clearly now than he ever did.
“Like I told you,” Dobson continues proudly, “I have the method. I have the men. I have the materials to make this happen. The only think I don't have is the Alliance clearance. Would make it all a hell of a lot easier. Now, I had planned on going forward without it, but ...”
A hand grasps his and shakes it. “You need say no more, Mr Dobson.”
Jayne forces Badger into a chair and pulls Binky from her sheath, letting the light glint along her sharp edges.
Mal is standing, arms folded across his chest, glowering down at Badger.
“For someone who came her to talk, Badger,” he comments dryly, “You sure ain't.”
The whine of Serenity's engine rises in pitch as she prepares for take-off.
“Where are you takin' me?” Badger demands, looking at each member of the crew in turn. He knows Mal, Jayne and Zoe ain't got no qualms about kidnapping, but there's a Shepherd on this crew. And a Companion. Respectable people with standards. They can't approve, surely? The little mechanic don't - Badger can tell by the way she's chewing the inside of her cheek. And that dark-haired fella's wearing a similar look of concern and hanging on tight to the hand of the girl beside him - her from the old homestead ...
Hang on a minute! Badger thought they was passengers, not crew. To his certain knowledge, Mal's been from one end of the 'verse to the other in the past six months. Could surely have dropped 'em off wherever they was going en route. What in diyu are they still doing on board?
Unfortunately Badger doesn't have time to ponder the discovery further because Mal's talking again.
“That ain't your concern. Now spill your guts, or I might let Jayne.”
Jayne's face splits into an evil grin and he runs a leather-gloved finger down the blade in his hand.
Book steps up behind Mal. “Captain,” he says, regarding Badger with distaste, “Should we be wanting to hear the likes of him out?”
In a lifetime of things not going smooth, this week's not been one of Mal's best. Consequently he ain't in the sunniest of moods.
“Don't worry, Shepherd,” he replies caustically. “He's got something for us, I'll see you get your cut.”
Book looks stung and Simon winces. Mal's never had time for religion but until recently he's always had respect for Book as a man. It's not like him to cast aspersions on the Shepherd's integrity.
“Mal,” Badger wheedles, “I 'ad nothin' to do with Ott an' 'is crew skankin' your job. Could be it was them two backbirths Fanty an' Mingo turned 'em onto it-”
Mal's patience is running out.
“Then maybe I should be talkin' to them, they make a habit of gettin' their crews the drop,” he snaps. “Now, unless you've got somethin' profitable to add-”
“The Battle of Sturges,” Badger interrupts. The name has the desired effect. Mal flicks a glance at Zoe and both of them stiffen a touch.
“ 'eard of it?” Badger asks, pressing home his advantage.
Mal's eyes narrow. “Everyone's heard of the Battle of Sturges.”
Just in case everyone hasn't, Badger clarifies. “Bloodiest battle in all the war, it was.”
“I'd hold it was a distant second,” Mal contends, “But go on.”
Badger's got their attention now, all right. All eyes in the room are on him.
“Shortest, too, “ he continues. “All those lives ...”
“Wanna hear 'bout coin, not some ruttin' history lesson,” Jayne mutters under his breath.
Badger ignores him. “All those lives snuffed in a blink.”
It riles Mal, the way folk as wasn't part of the war talk of it like they understand.
“A blink's an awful long time when you're on the ground,” he growls.
“We're not requiring a lecture on the subject,” Zoe adds. “Or had you not noticed the colour the Captain and I are partial to wearing?”
Unperturbed, Badger goes on. “ 'ere's what you an' the 'istory books don't know: what the Battle of Sturges was fought for - what all them boys an' girls died for - was a boatload of cash. A boatload that's still there.”
He pulls a disk from the inside pocket of his jacket and waves it in Mal's face. “The coordinates, Mal. Take you right to the battlefield - and the stash of real them browncoats got butchered over. It's just sittin' there for you, or someone near enough you, to snatch it up. Less my percentage, of course. What d'ya say?”
Mal snatches the disk. “I say I'll think about it.”
Badger is babbling a protest when Mal speaks into the comms. “Wash - find us a landin' spot. Soon as you like.”
“Captain, you can't be-” Book begins, but Mal pretends not to hear.
“Want you off my ship 'fore the stain sets,” he explains to Badger with a nasty smile. “Reckon you've got a long walk ahead of you.”
They set down in the badlands, a hundred or so miles south of Eavesdown. Mal watches with grim satisfaction as Badger stumbles off into the twilight. The cheating wangba dan ain't gonna die, but he sure is gonna suffer.
Mal has been sitting at his desk for nearly an hour, staring at his accounts and turning Badger's disk over in his hands, but he's still no nearer to coming to a decision. On the one hand, he got a ship that's limping from one goushi job to another and a crew that wants feeding; on the other, he's got the stomach-churning prospect of visiting a battlefield. Mal ain't normally squeamish about the dead. Even envies them some days. But what Badger's proposing means revisiting the kind of scene that's haunted his nightmares for the past seven years. It might even add to them, make them worse.
He don't know if he can face that.
Not when he's got nothing else to cling to, no hope of a better life.
And the heat that used to come from Simon's grown cold.
When River announced she would be taking a nap, Simon decided to review her records to check once again if he'd somehow overlooked any obvious reason for the declining efficacy of her meds. But he can't settle. His train of thought keeps getting derailed. Badger showed far too much interest in River the first time he saw her, and that interest was still there today. Simon wonders just how far it went. Whether Badger had been on the Cortex, looking ... whether he'd found anything ...
Eventually he gives up trying to make sense of the rows of figures and pages of notes and makes his way up to the kitchen in search of something to drink and maybe a little distraction.
Kaylee has just made a pot of tea.
“Hey, Simon,” she smiles. “Want one?”
He joins her at the counter and takes the mug she hands him.
“Couple of days' time, we'll have biscuits too,” she predicts happily. “If this job's as good as Badger says.”
The prospect of biscuits is far from enough to allay Simon's concerns. “Does it seem right to you to be plundering a war grave?” he asks. “I'm surprised the Captain's even considering it.”
Kaylee sips her tea. “Out in the black, you gotta make the most of what comes your way, Simon. Sounds like there's an awful lot of coin on that wreck an' it ain't doin' those dead folk any good.” She takes another sip of tea and looks about her. “Sure could make use of it round here.”
“I suppose so,” Simon admits.
“Might even be enough for us to treat ourselves,” she suggests, because the medic's still looking glum. “Wou'n't mind somethin' nice to wear for a change - and mayhap I could get my hair fixed.” Warming to the fantasy, she scoops her hair up into a makeshift bun. “What d'ya think?”
Simon smiles. “I think it's fine the way it is,” he replies.
“You do?” she asks earnestly. “I'd've thought you'd prefer somethin' more classy. Somethin' pretty.”
“It is pretty.”
She goes pink with delight and inches nearer. “It is?”
“Kaylee! What in the good gorram are you doin' in here?”
The unexpected sound of Mal's voice and the irritation in it has her jumping back.
“Thought I told you to finish that rewiring job an' get everythin' squared away?” the Captain demands from the doorway. “We've already been on this rock longer than I'd like.”
“Got her on a check cycle, Cap'n,” Kaylee explains. “Ain't much point tidyin' up 'fore I'm sure the repair is gonna work.”
“Go an' sort that ruttin' rat's nest out,” Mal orders. “NOW!”
“Pianzhi de jiuchayuan,” Kaylee mutters as she pushes past him and hurries off down the hallway.
Mal steps down into the kitchen, looking terrible.
“Would you like a cup of tea, Captain?” Simon asks, lifting the pot. “It's still warm.”
Mal gazes at him blankly, as if the words don't quite make sense. Then he shakes his head. “No. I, uh...”
Simon puts the teapot back down, wondering if the Captain's grey features mean he's sickening for something. Then he remembers that there was plague on Constance and his heart misses a beat.
“Are you feeling all right, Captain?” he asks anxiously, approaching for a closer examination of Mal's face.
Mal gives a bitter laugh. “You know somethin', Doc? I truly ain't.”
“Do you still have a headache? Any fever? Chills?” Simon's mind races through the list of possible symptoms. “Swollen glands?”
“Not rightly sure,” Mal answers slowly, a feeling of warmth spreading through him when he sees the undisguised worry in Simon's eyes. He moves a step nearer to him. “Mayhap you should check.”
It takes Simon a second or two to catch his meaning. “Captain!” he admonishes disapprovingly.
“Doctor,” Mal returns softly with a smile calculated to dissolve bones.
But there is no way - no way - that Simon is going to fall for that. He arranges his features into a stern expression. “I don't think it can be anything serious.”
Mal takes another step nearer and touches Simon's hand. “Doesn't have to be serious to need doctorin'.”
Simon brushes him away.
The word comes out sharper than Simon had intended and Mal looks truly stunned. He blinks, swallows and then, with a snap of his suspenders and a hard, bright smile, strides across the kitchen to the far exit.
Simon sinks down onto one of the dining room chairs, suddenly exhausted.
Later that evening Mal summons the crew to a meeting in the dining room. Everything about him is tight and brittle.
“As I'm sure you've all sussed for yourselves, we'll be taking Badger's job,” he announces in a tone designed to quell any disagreement.
Much as Simon dislikes the idea, he tries hard not to let it show but his unease must be written all over his face because Mal slams his hands down onto the table and fixes him with a steely glare - one that Simon suspects isn't entirely related to the matter under discussion. “Anyone has a complaint, they'd best know of payin' work to go along with it.”
Simon would like to speak up but he really doesn't want to push the Captain. Mal seems so weary, almost fragile. As if the tiniest thing might shatter him into pieces. Times have been hard, but that's nothing new.
Simon wishes he didn't know why Mal has been finding it so hard to cope. Why he came on to him just hours ago.
“This is after you've delivered me to my duties.”
A muscle in Mal's cheek tightens. “No, it decidedly ain't,” he growls. “I can't wait on this, Inara, and runnin' a taxi service don't feed mouths. For the record, this job is in the same direction you're so anxious to go an' the only reason we're even venturin' to such a shenme gongzuo dou meiyou corner of space is you. Still, I imagine you're upset, an' I want you to know I'm-”
Wishing he could cover his ears, Simon bites his lip, seeking to blot out one pain with another.
Mal's eyes harden. “I want you to know,” he repeats, “that I wish things could be different. It's just a decision I had to make.”
For a moment there's no sound except for the steady throb of Serenity's engines. Then Inara draws herself up taller.
“Yes. The only one you ever do,” she says with uncharacteristic acerbity before turning her back and leaving.
An awkward silence follows, broken at last by a challenge from Mal. “Anyone else has words, now would be the time.”
“I hate that colour on you,” River comments. “I always have.”
“Shh, mei-mei,” Simon urges but Mal isn't even listening. There's only one thing on Mal's mind. Only one person, Simon corrects himself.
“If that's all, then-” Mal continues decisively but Book cuts him off.
Mal gives an exaggerated sigh and rolls his eyes. “Shepherd Book. Might've guessed.”
“I think you should respect Inara's wishes, Captain,” the preacher tells him firmly. “You gave her your word.”
Mal's nostrils flare and, across the table, Simon notices Kaylee shrink back in her seat.
“Yes, I did,” Mal agrees - although his manner is anything but agreeable. “And you think you're in a position to tell me what that's worth? It's air, Shepherd. Nothin' more, when it comes right down to it. When the goin' reaches the right level of rough. Come to think of it, it's no different than the word you preach.”
Book holds his tongue, but he's clenching his teeth.
Mal's lip curls into a sneer. “Tell me, Shepherd, when things take a turn toward kao, d'you drop to your knees and pray, or d'you steal a vehicle an' do what needs to be done to survive?”
Book doesn't say a word. Just walks slowly and purposefully round from his end of the table to Mal's. He's glaring at Mal now, a decidedly unChristian expression on his face.
Which Mal, of course, takes as proof he's won the argument. And, being Mal, he can't help but rub it in, push the Shepherd that little but further. “To live to repent another day-”
The blow lands squarely, solidly on Mal's jaw. The force of it rocks Mal backwards and droplets of blood fly through the air. Jayne jumps to his feet. Zoe's hand moves to her gunbelt.
Mal looks the Shepherd in the eye and nods once - as if in recognition. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “Yeah,” he snorts in bitter triumph. “That's what I thought. Wash, get us in the air.”
As the rest of the crew scatter to prepare for lift-off, Book makes his way back to his bunk in a bit of a daze, feeling like he's just been held over a volcano.
Inara can't believe he's reduced her to tears again. He's going to let her go - just like that. As if the past year means nothing to him. As if he doesn't care for her at all.
She wipes her eyes and checks her makeup; the damage is minimal.
Mal Reynolds is not the man she was looking for, it's clear. There's no commitment in him, no conviction.
Which means he's not the man the people she works for are looking for either.
With Zoe curled up against him, purring with satisfaction, Wash feels himself floating off into the soft black arms of sleep. His breathing falls into synch with Zoe's and his eyelids droop. He could die here and now in his pilot's chair and be happy.
The loud squawking of the proximity alarm yanks him back into full consciousness. Encircled by his arm, Zoe scarcely stirs.
“Damn technology,” Wash curses, silencing the electronic wail. He takes a casual look out of the viewports, not expecting to see anything more than the odd piece of space trash floating past. They're still half a click away from their destination ...
But the sky around them, as far as the eye can see, is full - full of broken pieces of broken ships: engines, tail fins, ripped and jagged hulls.
“Guaiguai long de dong?!” he gasps and opens Serenity's comms. “Captain! Rise and shine!” he cries. “I think you better have a look at this.” A pause, and then the pilot adds more soberly, “On second thought, I think everyone better get up here ...”
Zoe raises her head from his bare chest. “Wo de tian,” she breathes in astonishment before quickly reaching for her clothes.
Minutes later the entire crew is up on the bridge, staring in shock at the expanse of weightless debris.
Simon doesn't understand. He thought they were headed for a wreck, not total devastation.
“Captain, what am I looking at?” he asks, turning to Mal.
Mal can't seem to tear his eyes away from the terrible sight. “The Battle of Sturges,” he answers quietly. “Or, more to the point, what's left of it.”
The second most bloody battle of the war after Serenity Valley. Simon's only just beginning to understand what that means. What Mal went through.
The Captain swallows, squares his shoulders. “Zoe, Jayne - suit up. Wash, get us in closer. Looks like we're gonna be takin' a bit of a stroll.”
A stroll? Tian a! He means a spacewalk, Simon realizes, feeling suddenly dizzy. Out into all that chaos and nothingness.
“It smells like sex in here,” River remarks loudly out of the blue.
Amid a chorus of embarrassed throat clearing, Simon steers her quickly away.
“One little chink and, in a vacuum, it's useless,” River comments, running her hands over one of the three spacesuits hanging up near the airlock. “But if the atmosphere's Earthnorm, a little hole's no problem. Helps you breathe.”
“Can't you shut her up?” Jayne grumbles at Mal, his mood none too cheery either. Dead folk give him the heebie-jeebies. A promise of what's to come. Always feels the need for a bit of trim after an encounter with 'em and that ain't hardly likely today. Gonna have to make do with a work-out. Again.
Cuz they ain't gonna be going any place Jayne can afford a woman any time soon. Next stop after this job's to drop Inara off. Not gonna be anything there but Registered Companions. The mercenary grinds his teeth. Gorramit, Mal's forever bending over backwards to suit Core folk: if it ain't Inara, it's the ruttin' Tams.
He snatches the spacesuit away from River. “Git, little girl!”
She doesn't move, just smiles at him sweetly, which is all manner of creepifying. Jayne stomps off to a corner to put the suit on somewhere away from them knowing eyes of hers.
River watches him go and then turns to Mal.
“He's not dead yet.”
Mal decides to ignore the shiver that runs up his spine at her words. “No, that he ain't. Hale and hearty like the rest of us. Now, how's about you go find your brother?”
River grips his arm. “He's still alive!”
Mal nods warily. “Certainly was last time I looked,” he agrees.
“Doesn't like you,” River says solemnly. “You hurt him.”
Annoyed him more like, Mal thinks. But he don't wanna be talking about that with anyone, least of all a girl who's part-Reader and part-crazy. He dons and seals his helmet, taking refuge behind the Mylar screen.
River sighs theatrically and marches off, muttering to herself.
“Wash? We close enough in?”
“That's an affirmative, Mal,” Wash's voice confirms through the helmet radio.
Mal nods to Zoe, who's also fully suited up now. “Open her up.”
Her engines idle, Dobson's shuttle hangs silent amidst the shattered remains. Her remaining two occupants watch as three figures emerge from Serenity's airlock and glide smoothly towards the ravaged carcass of the UAV Unity, too intent on their purpose to notice anything else. At length they are swallowed up inside the belly of the ship, dead men going to join their own.
The shuttle's engines fire once. Just enough to propel her underneath Serenity. At the press of a button, the coupling gear is released and writhes sinuously towards Serenity's hull. It latches on and holds tight, reeling the shuttle up and in.
The blue-gloved men smile.
When your attention is elsewhere it's all too easy to miss what's right in front of you. And before you know it, your defences are breached and the enemy's within.
No wonder Malcolm Reynolds didn't see it coming.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006 12:59 AM
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