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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE
B3C10: The Infirmary on Serenity has never been so full, and Mal is fast running out of friends. Now, in order to save Inara from her abusive captor, the crew must turn to a former enemy for help. Loyalties split as Book is forced to step into his past and face the most powerful man in the 'verse!
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 744 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
The next morning found Kaylee at the dining room table, lacing wires through the cage watching Bristles nibble at them. The critter seemed to have more interest in gnawing cables than he did any of the food Kaylee offered. The ship was stirring, but there was no breakfast prepared. Book wandered in, pulled out a few mugs, and started boiling water for tea. Jayne hobbled in as well, sat at the table, and propped his leg up on one of the chairs. He looked hungrily at Bristles, but made no request for food. As the animal curiously pawed at a bundle of cables in the corner, Mal entered, heading straight for the teapot. Instead of his usual mug, Mal drank out of a dainty, floral cup – the one Inara always liked to use.
“Kaylee, get that rat off my table before he pees on everything,” Mal snapped as soon as he’d taken his first gulp. As the others filled their cups as well, their minds seemed to awaken.
“Are you feeding him wires?” Book asked incredulously.
“He likes to chew on them. He only goes for the thick ones… more so if they got power in ‘em.”
“You think he was trained as a mole?”
“I thought it was a hedgehog,” Jayne grunted.
“I mean trained to sabotage,” Book clarified.
“They can do that?”
Kaylee shook her head, still tired. “Don’t know that he’s trained, but he certainly mucked up our ship.”
“Trained or no, get him off the table,” Mal ordered again, pouring himself a second cup.
Mal needed a show of strength if he was going to get anything out of Caddock. The pirate had no fear of brute strength of physical harm, so Mal decided to bring Book along. The Shepherd could outwit Caddock and hopefully Caddock would respect that enough to help them find Inara.
Book came armed with a tray of food and a quiet demeanor. Caddock lay face down on the bed, his arms and legs securely tied behind his back, lice crawling through his thick mange. The stench in the room was worse than some corpses Mal had been unfortunate enough to encounter, but the steady wheezing made Caddock’s persisting life obvious.
“Go away, Captain, you are disturbing my zen,” Caddock groused, not bothering to look at his visitors.
“If you want this food, you better be a whole lot more accommodating,” Mal warned, adjusting the restraints on Caddock’s hands so he’d be able to handle his food.
Caddock sat up and surveyed Mal and Book. “Do I need a preacher today, Captain?”
“You shot at us. What’s in your head?”
“I don’t like you.”
“How do you intend to kill Jantis?” Book interrupted, steepling his fingers.
“I know a place he’ll be. Wild horses couldn’t drag him away.”
“You mean the air show?” Mal interrupted.
“That show covers the entire grounds of his estate. You can’t possibly pinpoint a single location,” Book countered.
“But that shouldn’t matter to you, should it?” Caddock said. “You’re here for the woman. And I know where he buries them.”
Book and Mal both flinched at the word ‘bury.’ Mal steeled himself while Caddock haughtily devoured his plate of food, little crumbs of protein caught by his beard.
“Where is she?”
“Help me kill Jantis, and I will give you a map.”
“And have Jantis’ army chase us out of town?” Mal finished wryly. “No, we get Inara first.”
Caddock laughed into his drink. “No sense ruining a good assassination attempt trying to rescue a woman who is already corpsified.”
Mal shoved the cup aside and grabbed Caddock’s collar. “You talk like that again, you’ll be corpsified and I’ll pry that map from your cold, dead fingers. Dong ma?”
“Captain,” Book warned, though he was smart enough not to get involved.
Caddock found his feet and laughed, unaffectedly. “Ego, Captain. Ego will get you killed.”
“You’re on my ship,” Mal seethed. “Ego gets you killed.”
Zoë awoke feeling hollow and numb. She should not be this heavily medicated. It was not good for the baby. Instinctively, she touched her hand to her stomach, but felt nothing. Was it her hand that was numb or her body? Had she failed to move her arm? She could just barely see past the bandage on her left shoulder to her fingers and though she could not feel them, she saw them wiggle at her command. At least she could still fire a gun with that hand.
Simon came in, a relieved smile falling over his features when he saw her awake. He said a soft greeting, checked her pupil response, then compared the strength of her pulse in her right and left arm. Zoë’s gaze fell sideways to the monitor, watching the rhythm of her own pulse. There was only the one.
“He’s gone, isn’t he?” she murmured with sinking realization.
“Yes,” Simon answered. “I’m sorry.”
“He’s … probably resting. I can call him.”
“No,” Zoë answered.
Zoë watched her heart rate, letting the numbness in her body reach her mind. A part of her wished she had died with her child. But then, a part of her had. And it was her own fault too! She clenched her fists angrily, cursing her stupidity. The pregnancy – her armor was no longer fitting properly – and there she went charging into battle as if everything were in place. How could she be so foolish? How could her son die from her shoulder wound? She wasn’t strong enough to save him! Zoë could understand why Wash wasn’t here. How could he forgive her for this?
“Zoë,” Mal’s voice interrupted her anger. Quickly, she suppressed it, focusing on the job they’d come here to do. She lamented that she could be of little help in her current condition.
“Sir. What’s the job?”
“Wash will be fancy flying us straight into Jantis’ hanger in about a week. We find Inara, find the shuttle, and meet Serenity in the air before the show is over.”
“Plan sounds simple enough.”
“Best to plan it simple. Things get complicated enough of their own accord.”
“That’s why I’m keeping it simple. I’ll handle the plan. You get better, so you can come rescue me when everything goes south.”
Mal stood to leave. “I’ll send Wash down here. He’ll be glad to know you’re awake.”
Inara reclined in wooden chair of Serenity’s dining room, sipping tea from her favorite floral cup. It always delighted her how the chairs were mismatched, so that everyone could manage to find one that suited their body perfectly. Elle sat across the table from her, adding lumps to her tea and stirring thoughtfully.
“You look familiar to me,” Inara mused politely, searching her memory.
“It’s the scar throwing you off, isn’t it,” Elle joked, shifting the scarf on her neck to cover the wound. Inara hadn’t even noticed the scar. She recognized the gentle smile.
“Should I call you Elle?”
“I’ve gone by many names of late. No one has called me Elle for years.”
“I just can’t imagine where I would have met you.”
“I’ve had my place in high society. Still do on occasion. After awhile, it all seems very plastic, don’t you agree.”
Inara furrowed her brow. “It’s ordered. And there are certain expectations.”
“Yes, well, I suppose that’s why you like it here,” Elle smiled, waving her hand to encompass the ship. “Not the chaos, I mean. But at least on Serenity, the people are real.”
Inara nodded uncertainly into her tea, perplexed by Elle’s presence on Serenity. Elle was dead. For that matter, she was perplexed by her own presence. When she looked across the table again, Mal was there.
“Seems your prince wasn’t what he seemed.”
“Gavin?” Inara asked incredulously, squinting her eyes as though trying to see into a past life. “He was trying to protect me.”
“I would have protected you. You should have stayed on the ship.”
“You died! Port Authorities towed the ship!”
“You think I’d let a little thing like death stop me?”
“It’s probably your arrogance that got you killed,” Inara huffed crossly, standing up so quickly that she knocked over her chair.
“You were angry at me when you left.”
“I’m still angry at you.” Inara crossed her arms and tucked her chin to hide her tears. He reached out for her, but there was a barrier between them. She couldn’t feel anything but the burn of her anger.
“You kept stalling,” she cried. “‘One more job, then we’ll drop you wherever you want.’ You always wanted to keep me around for one more job!”
“You had no idea where you wanted to go!”
“You’ve fixed it so I can’t go anywhere now!”
“No! You’re just as fake as the rest of them! Only twice as complicated! Completely unordered! You got yourself killed and now I’m dying too! I’m dying… too...”
Inara awoke in the cold dark cell, the fluorescent light down to half power. Her face was hot, but she was too dehydrated to cry. She forced her eyes to stay open and her mind to think on things not related to the crew of Serenity. How was it that she managed to fight Mal even in her dreams? Her stomach growled, but she dared not move for fear of falling over. She had not seen food or daylight since she’d woken up in this prison. The only marker of the passage of time was the slowly fading light from the fluorescent bulb. That and the lingering beat of her heart, which grew weaker each day.
She wished her heart would stop. She wished she had water so she could swallow the bitter agony on her parched tongue. With the last of her energy, she rolled onto her stomach and examined her assets. There had to be some way to quicken her death.
In the days since their arrival on Siwa, the ship had fallen into dreadful melancholy. Kaylee stood next to Wash, staring out of the cargo bay into the space port, the slightly fuller spectrum of sunlight being the only factor delimiting time in the city that never slept. Wash chewed his nails nervously, the way he always did between planning and executing tough flying. This was the point that Zoë was supposed to take his hand and hold it till he was calm. He never bit his nails around Zoë.
“Why are they coming here?” Kaylee complained as they waited for the pilots that would be flying with Wash Friday next.
“Check out the ship,” Wash answered, turning his attention to the hedge hog gnawing at the side of its cage. “See how she flies. See how I fly with her.”
Kaylee crossed her arms, resenting anyone who dared doubt Serenity. “Maybe we can release Bristles on their ships and see how fast they recover.”
Wash harrumphed. “I am not flying close formation with a sabotaged Firefly.”
“I never heard of anyone formation flying a Firefly.”
“Firefly isn’t meant for it – not in atmo. It’s a stupid thing to do. But we’re the diversion. We gotta keep their eyes off the ground and blow enough smoke so we’re gone before they even realize the show is over.”
Wash circled the cargo bay impatiently, climbed onto the hover mule, revved the engine, and climbed off again. Kaylee watched him, worried.
“Simon told me that Zoë’s doing well. He released her from the Infirmary,” Kaylee ventured.
Wash ignored her. He jumped up to the rungs Jayne had set for chin-ups, attempted one, gave up, and dropped to the floor.
“Have you talked to her?” Kaylee asked as Wash circled the cargo bay again.
Finally, Wash paused. “Call me when they get here,” he whispered, and dashed upstairs toward the bridge.
Mal insisted that Wash and Kaylee meet with Jantis’ pilots in the galley. He’d prefer they not meet on Serenity at all, but since he couldn’t have his pilot and mechanic gallivanting about town unarmed, it was the galley. He’d made it clear to Wash that the bridge and engine room were off limits to their two guests. Kaylee was listening, but Wash was distracted, and Mal worried that his pilot would not be up for an air show in two days time. He also worried that they would not be up for a rescue. Zoë was not fit for walking, Jayne still hobbled about on that gimped leg, Saskia had taken a turn for the worse such that Simon was willing to try a life-threatening surgery. Caddock was being tight-lipped about this map he had and Mal was itching for any intelligence he could acquire. But it looked like he’d be going in blind. Book would be of some help, but when it came to Jantis, Mal could sense the conflict of interest.
He headed to the catwalk overlooking the cargo bay hoping for a quiet moment and a little sunlight, but was met with the loud clatter of falling guns from the armory. Had he replaced that lock after Saskia had broken it? Had Caddock gotten free?
Mal dashed across the ship and found Zoë, standing as much inside the locker as her frame allowed, pale as porcelain, yanking guns out irately and lining them up on the floor. Her eyes flamed furiously and she muttered to herself in a language Mal didn’t even know she knew. He slowed his approach, not wanting to cross her while she was angry and armed.
“Zoë, why are you rearranging the weapons locker?”
“Doc told me to get some bed rest.”
Mal nodded slowly. “I can see how those two might sound the same.”
“This gorram locker has always been poorly arranged. Things we use most are in the back.”
“That’s because the things we use most are illegal.”
Mal tried to remain calm and get closer, but Zoë pulled out a very threatening slug launcher with a tommy-gun style magazine and he stopped dead. That gun could blast a hole the size of a hover mule right through the side of the ship.
“I forgot we even had this thing.” Zoë mused. “Do we even have ammo for this?” “I think it’s better we don’t,” Mal answered.
Zoë set the gun down and reached in for a few more rifles. When she emerged, Mal grabbed her hand and stopped her, then found his most threatening voice.
“Doc told you to get some rest, Zo. I suggest you do it.”
“We got a job to do, sir,” she said evenly. The only thing keeping her upright was that fire in her eyes. That immeasureable, all-consuming fire.
“Not you. You are off this job. Now either return to your sickbed or I will tie you to it.”
Zoë glared daggers at him, but he recognized and appreciated her obedience. He wished again that she would be well enough to go by Friday, but if that were to happen, he’d have to get her to rest now. She handed over the last bunch of rifles, the fire in her eyes still raging.
“Yes, sir,” she muttered with icy slowness, then stormed away. Mal’s thoughts turned to their gou shi of a plan. He couldn’t even be sure Inara was on this planet.
River crept up the stairs, her bare feet making no sound. She leaned against the railing of the catwalk, her arms spread out like she was soaring. Mal noticed her just as her balance was tipping. He rushed over and grabbed her around the waist.
“Whoa, little one, what are you doing?”
River looked back at him, confused. “Can I fly?”
“Ho, ho!” Mal laughed. “Not since Kaylee fixed the gravity. How about you just stay on two feet for now.”
“Two feet,” River nodded, her brown eyes looking deeply into Mal’s soul. “She’s not here.”
Mal looked after his first mate. “No I don’t suppose she is.”
Zoe stormed through the dining room to the foredeck, kicked open the door to their bunk and climbed down. Wash wanted desperately to follow her, but ducked his head quickly studying the flight plan he'd been given. A few chirps escaped Kaylee, but once Zoë disappeared, she went back to uncertainly preparing a plate of food for their guests. The two men, Jared and Walker, were his wingmen in the coming show, but so far as he could tell, neither had much experience with a Firefly.
“Whew! That is a fine looking woman,” Walker hooted, staring after Zoë.
“She's got a fire in her,” Jared agreed, walking over to the galley door to follow Zoë. “Is that her bunk?”
“No,” Wash reproved irately. “That's our bunk, and I'd appreciate it if you not look at my wife like that.”
Kaylee smiled as she set the plate of food on the table, pleased to hear Wash speak so protectively of Zoë – or speak of her at all.
“Wan nao!” Walked guffawed, slapping Jared on the shoulder.
“That's your wife?”
Wash ignored the men sternly, trying to see the flight plan through the visions of Zoë floating in his mind.
“It's true,” Kaylee verified, when Jared looked to her for confirmation.
“She got a sister?”
“These maneuvers look pretty basic,” Wash interrupted, desperate to change the subject. “The formations you have are pretty conservative.”
“Conservative?” Walker repeated.
“Is this a dance recital or an air show?” Wash challenged.
“You want to fly closer? In a Firefly?”
It occurred to Wash that these idiots would be terrible wingmen and that whatever vessels they were flying would have none of his special modifications for maneuverability. Serenity would out-fly them in a heartbeat. Still, he wasn’t about to waste a handful of nail-biting on a pansy run.
“You normally fly a different ship?” he asked, hoping he didn’t sound too disdainful.
“In atmo, I usually don't fly a spaceship,” Jared answered, taking a mouthful of Kaylee’s cookies.
“This is hardly earth norm,” Wash balked, grabbing a pencil and going to town on the formations. “With the air as thin as it is, we could push some real tight moves out of this. Lock into the triangle here, peel-off, roll, buzz by the main building, give the people on the top floor a real rumble.”
“Are you trying to break your ship?” Jared interrupted.
“Mr. Jantis won't like if you change his plans,” Walker added.
“But he asked for a Firefly. We may as well show off maneuvers that only a Firefly can do.”
That evening, Simon climbed down the ladder into the darkness, hoping to find Zoë resting in her bed. What he found was a mess. The small bunk she shared with her husband was tossed and torn, the contents of the tables swept violently to the floor, the lamp broken, the mattress tilted precariously on the bed frame.
The one corner of the room untouched by violence held a small crib that Kaylee had fashioned from an old engine casing. A blue blanket rested over the side of the crib, a mural of miniature spaceships dangled overhead. The area they had set aside for their baby was a surreal calm in the midst of the storm. Zoë’s bloody handprint was smeared on the bureau next to a broken mirror.
Zoë was gone.
As Simon climbed out of the bunk, he noticed the dried blood on the rungs. He’d alert the crew and return to the Infirmary. Hopefully, Zoë would find him there.
The next morning, Kaylee found Wash buried under the control console on the bridge. He’d no doubt been there since the two pilots left the night before. He hadn’t even returned to his bunk to change his clothes. Nor had he showered. Kaylee couldn’t imagine what was in his head, but from the look of the flight plan, her Serenity was in for a taxing ride, a hard burn out of the system, and a mid-black refuel so they could keep running to whatever their next destination happened to be. She’d spent most of the previous afternoon trying to secure enough fuel for their plan without looking conspicuous. Today, she would be micromanaging as some service team from the air show washed the blood and clay from Serenity’s hull. Her blood, from when that hun dan Caddock had kidnapped her.
“Kaylee!” Wash called happily upon seeing her. “Can you help me with this?”
Kaylee laid down next to him and surveyed his wiring job. Fool loved taking power from the grav system.
“You can’t cross these wires here.”
“We’ll be fine.”
“Until we break atmo. Wash, we still need to escape the planet when this is over.”
“I’ll conserve fuel.”
“I’m not worried about …” Kaylee hesitated. She actually was worried about fuel, but she worried about Wash even more. “Are you trying to kill us?”
“Those bien tian sheng de sha gua don’t deserve a Firefly.”
“That show they came up with was a first year training practical. No one would watch that! We need to do the unexpected. Keep the eyes on the ships and off the ground.”
“This is second year stuff. I can do it in my sleep!”
“It’ll be fun.”
Go to Chapter 11
Sunday, March 18, 2007 4:43 AM
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