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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE
Wash is back in prison.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1902 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
“I’m going back out to Number Three,” Wash called, and heard Balch grunt acknowledgement. Wash’s work had identified and helped to correct a number of problems on that line, but Number Three still gave Balch headaches, and he had tacitly let the responsibility for keeping after it fall to Wash. Which was fine with Wash; it gave him something to do besides sit in the block-walled building all day, nursing his wounds and fretting over what the Alliance might be plotting to do next.
As Wash was leaving, Balch appeared at his office door. “Toupin tells me you sent somebody to tune up the front-end loader,” he said.
“Yeah; it was overdue,” Wash said, stopping next to his desk. “I started tracking maintenance records, too, since I was going out picking up stats off the machines. Nobody else seemed to be doing it.”
Balch shook his head. “Anybody told me a week ago that what this mine needed was a man with a head for numbers, I woulda laughed.”
“You did laugh. A lot,” Wash reminded him. The ginger cat jumped onto the desk and pressed its head into Wash’s hand. Wash rubbed its ears absently.
Balch chuckled. “So I did. You are an odd one, Professor. Never would have thought I’d find any use for a man like you, and here you’ve turned me right around.”
Wash thought of Zoe. “You’re not the first person to say something like that,” he admitted, smiling sadly down at the cat.
“So it worries me some that the Alliance seems to have some personal interest in you,” Balch said. “Normally, I wouldn’t ask a man a question like this, but normally I don’t have Alliance officers falling out of the sky on my head. What do they want with you?”
Wash sighed, and sat on the edge of the desk. “Wish I knew,” he said. The ginger cat climbed into his lap, purring. “Yesterday, seemed a sure thing they’d space me. But they put me back down here instead.”
“What kind of trouble you in exactly that landed you here?”
For all Balch’s kindnesses, Wash wasn’t really ready to divulge too much personal information. “I think they thought I could help them get something they want. I told them I wouldn’t. I thought that would be my last act in this ‘verse, actually, when I said it. But here I am, and I don’t know why any more than you do.”
Balch frowned. “I don’t like it, Professor. Don’t sit well with me, having Alliance on top of my operation.”
“It’s not exactly a thrill a minute for me, either,” Wash said, feeling every bruise Folson had given him.
Balch rumbled unhappily. “That situation needs resolving,” he said.
Wash stroked the cat, and didn’t answer.
Balch stared at the animal. “So what’s with the cat, anyway? Now you’re taking in strays?”
“Guess so,” Wash said. “I fed her, I guess that makes her mine.”
“Beast got a name?”
Wash picked up the ginger cat and held her face in front of his. “I think I’ll call her . . . This Cat.”
Balch laughed, his whole body shaking. He turned back to his office. “This Cat.’ Man’s an odd one,” he muttered. “That’s certain.”
Thinking of Zoe, and the Alliance, and Balch’s evident displeasure over their presence, and his own misgivings on that score, Wash made his way, slowly and stiffly, out to the Number Three line. He copied down the fuel cell readings on the various pieces of equipment, and their hours-of-service numbers, and made notes of his observations – including that the fuel cells were correctly installed, but the guards were not, and which of the machines sounded like they could stand to be adjusted or lubricated. He hadn’t noticed the mine’s mechanics acting like they much cared about noticing and doing such things all on their own. And he couldn’t say he blamed them, although for his part, he found it easier to keep busy than to sit and fret.
He’d stopped at the edge of Number Three to talk to a gang leader about putting some oil in the reservoirs, when there was a screech and grinding of metal behind him. Wash turned to look – and threw up his arms to shield his face.
Because in that instant, Number Three exploded in a spectacular cacophony of blasted rock and metal.
The explosion brought Balch out of his chair, and out of his office in two quick steps. At the door to the building he stopped, unable to see anything but a white roiling cloud of smoke and rock dust, punctuated with gouts of flame.
We lost Number Three.
Gang leaders from the other two lines were already visible on the edges of the cloud, pulling out injured workers and turning fire-suppressing equipment on the burning line. Rather than rush in, Balch stood for a moment and watched, and considered.
Going to be a lot of dead miners down in the thick of that. This shift, there were thirty workers on that line. Possibly some mechanics; there usually were on Number Three. Looked like Toupin and the others were pulling some out alive, so probably fewer than thirty casualties all told.
One of them might well be the Professor.
The thought didn’t please Balch; he’d grown both to like and to appreciate the man.
However. There was the matter of the Alliance. Whose interest in his mine might decline a bit, in the wake of the Professor’s demise. And that would be a welcome development, certainly. And Balch could hardly be faulted for an industrial accident that took out a man he was supposed to keep alive. Fate took a hand in these things sometimes, after all.
Balch stumped down the steps. “Toupin!” he called, and the tall man looked back at him. Balch motioned him over. “Professor was out on Number Three. You find him yet?”
Toupin nodded, motioning to an area just beyond the destruction where several dead and wounded miners had been pulled clear, and were lying or sitting about. Balch started in that direction.
Three miners lying on the ground, including a Gang leader, Balch noted. Two sitting. All so covered in dust and gore that Balch had to peer closely to pick out the Professor. He had one hand pressed to a gash on the side of his head. His right ear, along with much of his face, right arm and chest, were covered in dust-clotted blood. But he was sitting up. Alive.
Not so simple, then, Balch thought. But perhaps there was still a solution. “Professor,” Balch said, but the fellow seemed not to hear him. Likely half deaf from the blast. “Professor!” Balch said more loudly, and the man looked up at him dully, his eyes half-glazed.
Balch leaned down and spoke directly into the Professor’s ear. “Can you walk?”
“Go wait in my office,” Balch said.
Another nod, and the Professor struggled to his feet. As he staggered off, Balch could see that his back was dotted with shrapnel wounds, and bleeding.
It would be a near thing, Balch decided. Man in that condition might or might not live. But either way, the Alliance would be gone from Balch’s sky. And that would be all to the good.
Saturday, February 3, 2007 10:19 AM
Saturday, February 3, 2007 1:35 PM
Saturday, February 3, 2007 6:56 PM
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