CHECK MATE: White pawn takes black queen. (1/22)
Sunday, March 21, 2004

What if some of the crew members aren't who we think they are? This fanfic is one of a series of interlocking tales about why they're all on the same ship at the same time. It probably doesn't matter which of the earlier ones you read first.


Disclaimer: Firefly belongs to Joss Whedon.

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CHECK MATE: White pawn takes black queen.

* * * * *


Matron Lenna Jeffries almost never swore these days. The Corporation frowned on senior staff using coarse language. So she had worked hard to keep the colourful phrases from the past from escaping her lips and had been rewarded by a steady rise up the corporate ladder. But sometimes the only appropriate response was a curse.

And the go se was certainly piling up this evening. Two ward security men were dead in the corridor and here was her best nurse, unconscious and bleeding from the temple under the girl's bed. But it was worse than that. The girl was gone. And not just any girl. The girl. The one that was only half-finished.

* * * * *

The torrential, incessant rain had seeped through his clenched fingers, turning the scrap of paper they held into mush. Just as well really, since the men who'd given it to him had ordered him to memorize the information it carried and then destroy it. As if his life depended on it. Somehow, he couldn't bring himself to do it. It was as if this little piece of paper was a talisman, a guarantee that this time he really would succeed in rescuing her. Proof that it wasn't just him against the monolithic power of the Alliance. That there were still good people out there.

Shielding his eyes against the beating raindrops, Dr Simon Tam – until this afternoon a senior trauma surgeon at the best hospital on Osiris – scanned the street in vain for any sign of his new 'friends'. His face was pale and thin, his eyes by turns wary and haunted. He'd certainly chosen a good day for it, he thought bitterly as the cold water droplets trickled down the back of his shirt. The meterology contractors would probably never work again after today's downpour. People on Core planets demanded predictability from all their services, including the weather.

Suddenly he thought he glimpsed them, emerging from a bar at the top end of the street. There was something about the way the tall, ginger one with the scraggly beard walked that made him easy to identify. A shaft of light from a shop window illuminated their faces for an instant and Simon was sure. It was them, thank God! And the frail, female figure between them had to be River. Her head was bent as she delicately picked her way between puddles and she was wearing a headscarf, so he couldn't see her face. But it was them all right.

Simon suppressed the urge to run to her, clasp her against his breast and weep with relief. He knew he had to stay cool. Drawing attention to them could prove fatal. So he concentrated on breathing slowly and deeply as his stomach contracted painfully with anticipation.

The two men kept walking, right past him as though he wasn't there. As agreed in the plan. He fell in behind them, stopping sometimes to feign interest in the goods in a shop front, but always keeping them in his sights. A short-range private hovercraft drew up and the ginger one helped River get in. Simon quickened his pace and caught up with them, swiftly taking a seat alongside her, and then the vehicle moved off. Away from the city. Heading towards freedom. And God only knew what else.

Every muscle in River's body was tense. When the vehicle cornered and she fell against him, it felt like she was something made of glass and metal, not his own flesh and blood. He stole a sideways glance at her, absurdly shy of making eye contact. She was staring straight ahead, brows knitted and lips pursed in concentration. The expression was so typically River, Simon's akwardness melted. He reached out for her hand and squeezed it gently.

“Oh God, River, it's so good to see you again. To know you're all right.”

She turned to look at him but there was no recognition in her eyes. “Silly. I'm half left. Except the points have been switched and the train's going round in circles.”

The ginger one looked shifty and his greasy little companion shook his head mournfully. “They're all like this when we get 'em out, Doc. Probably jus' the dopin'.”

Cheng Ford stroked his beard thoughtfully. “Maybe, Davie. But I'd heard some of 'em never recover...” He broke off quickly at Simon's startled reaction. “Sure that won't be the case with your sis though, Doc. She's got you an' you're a qualified physician. An' I already know how devoted to her you are.”

“Can't put Pandora in the box with no hope,” River interjected as though stating the obvious. “Can't fight all the evil in the 'verse with only a needle.”

“Problem is,” Davie Na said with a meaningful nod in River's direction, “In that state, she's gonna draw attention to herself. An' to you. Last thing you need, eh Doc? Now we can get you to Persephone without too much trouble, even if she goes screamin' crazy like the others. But Persephone's got more'n its fair share of Feds. You're gonna have to be more discreet there.”

And right on cue, River pulled off her scarf and coat and started ripping at her skirt. “She was a girl. Once,” she told Simon and then she was crying, wailing, twisting her hair around her fists. “Now she's a gorram Russian doll. A girl within a girl within a girl. Mystery, conundrum, enigma. They've planted a seed and it's growing. A ticking seed. Tick! Tick!” Her voice has risen to a scream and Simon instinctively pulled her into his arms in an attempt to calm her.

“Yeah, like I was sayin' - discreet. So it's mighty handy, you being a medic. There's that drug ... what they call it? ... puts you into a deep sleep for as long as you like. You give her some of that, an' you can stow her like luggage til you reach some place safe.”

Funny how they hadn't mentioned this part of the plan before now. Given that they'd seen other girls in this distressed and intensely distressing state. However, despite his unease, Simon could see the reason in it. Their pursuers would be looking for a brother and sister, not a man travelling alone.

“Byphodine,” he told them. “The drug's called byphodine. And actually it's only safe for a fortnight, three weeks tops. I'd need a cryochamber too. Changes in heat and atmospheric pressure can cause premature awakening and that can lead to all sorts of complications.”

“Got one all ready for you Doc.”

* * * * *

Rantoong rested his chin on steepled fingers, a self satisfied smile lifting his sagging features.. Across the desk, Parkin smiled back, although on his cadaverous face the effect was more chilling.

“Two men dead, you say? Well, that's a small price to pay in the circumstances. And it does add a certain ... authenticity ... doesn't it? Where are they now?”

“On a refitted military shuttle on their way to Persephone. Should land in about six days,” Parkin told him.

Rantoong nodded, a warm sense of content flowing through him. “Perfect. The whore has an appointment on the fifteenth. Oh – I forgot to tell you. We decided the corporal should have a reward for the information he passed on. Might even get us some more. There's a delightful economy of effot there, don't you think? Reynolds will probably set down in the Eavesdown docks. Only problem now is making sure the boy makes the right choice.”

Parkin snorted. “If he hadn't been so focused on his med studies, he might have taken an interest in politics. That would've made it simple. The name alone would have been enough to reassure him. But... well, you know how hard it is for an outsider to break into the medical profession. Couldn't afford the luxury of a fully rounded education. Not to worry. Ford is under instruction to tell him to seek out the most disreputable-looking ship in dock. Which is bound to be 'Serenity' – unless there's a Reaver ship needing refuelling.”

Both men allowed themselves a chuckle at the thought.

Rantoong flicked through the papers on his clipboard. “Boy was in the top three percent of his year. Can you believe that? Doesn't seem very bright to me.”

“No,” Parkin agreed. “But people see what they want to see. Thankfully.”

Rantoong flipped over another page. “Reynolds. No reports on his schooling. Probably never went. Not on a backwater like Shadow. But the man does have a certain animal cunning and an instinct for survival. If he discovers our little jill-in-the-box, it could ruin everything. How are we going to prevent him from tossing them both out of the airlock?”

It was Parkin's turn to look pleased with himself. “Ah. I've been doing some research into how to get him to see what we want him to see. Seems the gallant Captain has a serious character weakness. Never could resist a damsel in distress. All we need do is make him think the girl's life is in peril and he'll go into full hero mode. Tragic, really.”

“And how are we going to make him think that?”

“By making him think the Alliance will stop at nothing to get her back. For mysterious but doubtless nefarious purposes.”

“A bulletin on the Cortex?”

“That as well. But I was thinking more along the lines of an undercover Federal Agent posing as a passenger. If the girl remains hidden, he can just enjoy the trip. But if Reynolds finds out... then our man starts threatening everyone on board and tries to arrest the Tams. For the authenticity. Reynolds will kill him ofcourse. And having protected the girl once, he'll do it again. Whenever we need him to.”

Rantoong nodded appreciatively. Parkin could be outstandingly creative in situations like this.

“Did you have a particular Federal Agent in mind?”

“Lawrence Dobson. Top of my expendable list.”

* * * * *


Sunday, March 21, 2004 4:59 AM


Oh yes, I like! All that gorram manipulation to get River and Simon on Serenity. Hmm, intriguing. Well done and don't stop now! Did that sound like begging? Was it? Well now, it's always good to learn a new skill... Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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