Wish I Was Somebody Else, 23/26
Monday, April 9, 2007

The Alliance is about to catch a Firefly; Mal makes a last-ditch effort to save his missing crewman.


Do let me know if you like/dislike the chapter/me/my ancestors/fresh bao/whatever.

23. Well, There Goes Plan A

Kaylee screamed when she saw them – a wail of genuine terror.

“Kaylee,” Mal said. Her name was one of the few things he could say clearly, with his face so mutilated.

Recognizing his voice, Kaylee said quiveringly, “Captain?”

“Ready?” Mal asked.

Kaylee nodded. “Everything just like you said, Cap’n. Fifteen minute timer. But, why -- ?” Whatever she had been meaning to ask, she didn’t, as Serenity’s reaver assault team advanced on her. She retreated, whimpering, with both hands almost covering her face.

Mal, Zoe, Jayne and River, armed with the knives, hatchets, and clubs River had gathered, plus some clandestine firearms, and wearing clothes deliberately torn and liberally decorated with blood that Simon had been carefully storing up against their frequent medical needs, climbed aboard the shuttle and waited for Inara’s word.

Her voice came over the speaker. “Mal. It’s not too late to rethink this.”

“Just count,” Mal said. He was having to choose his words more carefully than usual; any phoneme that required his lips to move was impossible right now.

“Closest approach in five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one,” Inara said, and as the shuttle disengaged, she added “Come back. All of you.”

“Ain’t that sweet?” Jayne grunted.


“Are we close enough for a firing solution?” Coles asked.

“Not yet,” came the answer.

“Fire a warning shot when we are,” he said, watching the little transport draw slowly closer.

Assuming the ship he was about to board was the decoy, where was Serenity? Close by, or long gone? And why weren’t the two ships traveling together? If Reynolds had had some warning of Coles’s approach, surely he would not have left behind the man – Washburne? – who was flying this ship. Reynolds wasn’t the sort to leave a man behind, as he had so often proved. If Reynolds was gone, then where? And why?

“Warning shot away,” the weapons officer reported, and Coles watched the forward view as the shot passed in front of the firefly and exploded. The ship shuddered, but held her course.

Her pilot hadn’t flinched.

“I want that ship in one piece, if possible,” Coles said.

The weapons officer glanced back at him, disbelieving. “Not a lot of places on a ship that size that I can hit without destroying her.”

“Take it as a challenge,” Coles suggested icily, and the weapons officer turned grimly back to his work.


He wasn’t going to make it. By the time Wash reached the small planet, Polyphemus would have overtaken him, and have him in their grapples. So whatever he did, he was going to have to plan on doing within range of the destroyer’s array of weaponry.

Having sailed through their warning shot and refused to acknowledge their hails, Wash expected Polyphemus would start shooting in earnest any second. They surprised him when they did – not because they were shooting, but because the shot was clearly intended to disable rather than to destroy. At this point, at least, Coles wanted his prey intact.

Wash dodged the first salvo easily; the second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth, coming one right after another, were more difficult. They were all low-tonnage charges, fired in a starburst pattern that meant evading one would put him right in the path of another. Wash put Lemon’s nose sharply down, because the sixth shot was the lowest one, relative to his ship; he still had barely enough distance on the destroyer, and barely enough speed and maneuverability in Lemon, to evade the deadly spray.

Lemon shuddered as the charges detonated right at the tip of her tail. Wash straightened her out, making again for an orbit of the mesoplanet, and she bucked against him, protesting his rough use.

The evasive maneuvers had cost him time and distance. He wasn’t going to make orbit.

Polyphemus unleashed another salvo.

Playing for every kilometer, every second, Wash shut down every system on the ship that was still active except his short-range scanners, propulsion, and steering. Life support and environmental control, he wouldn’t need. He could fall back on his suit if he was still aboard when the cold crept in and the oh-two ran out. Systems monitoring – well, it hardly mattered at this point how much fuel he had, or whether the ship was overheating, or whether something critical started to fail. Long-range scanners – well, the only problem that mattered right now was extremely short-range, and getting shorter by the second. Gravity – if he’d had the time for it, Wash would have laughed. As it was, he simply flipped the switch, and felt his body shift in the chair’s restraints.

Lemon surged forward. Not a lot, but enough, with some careful maneuvering, to evade Polyphemus’ current salvo. Her final salvo, if Wash guessed correctly -- Polyphemus was getting too close now to have a clear shot. Of course, that also meant they were close enough to use their grapples.

But. He was close enough to the planet, finally, to make orbit.

Wash watched for the destroyer to release its grapples. Lemon still had one trick up her sleeve, but only one, and it would have to be enough.


Wash smiled. He was about to earn himself four minutes.


“Grapples away,” the weapons officer reported. The magnetic grapples on their electrified cables launched from Polyphemus bow and shot toward the small transport, their progress highlighted on the destroyer’s screens in bright gold.

Just before they reached her, the firefly’s main drive winked out, and her thrusters switched to full reverse. Just like that, Polyphemus overshot her. The magnetic grapples twisted downward after her, but before they could make contact, Coles saw the little ship’s thrusters rotate, and the firefly flipped on its back. Her main drive lit, and she vanished.

“No contact, no contact,” the weapons officer reported. “Grapples are negative.”

“Target is aft,” the comms officer reported, and brought up the rear view on the screens.

Sure enough, there was the firefly, lumbering away behind them – their own velocity was taking them away from her faster than she could have flown. Coles allowed himself a bit of grudging respect for her pilot.

As he watched her recede, belly-up to the destroyer, he saw her port thruster flare and die, and the ship veered away from her orbit trajectory. But only for a fraction of a second – before she could get very far off course, her pilot rolled her over, so that she was once again upright in relation to Polyphemus -- and so that he could use her remaining thruster to stay on course. For whatever reason, he seemed intent on going around the planet.

It was a bit of brilliance. Wasted, but brilliant. It would take Polyphemus long enough to completely change direction that the firefly could make a run for cover. But that would last, what? Four minutes? Five? However long it would take for Polyphemus to go around the planet. And then they’d have her.

“What’s our fastest intercept course?” Coles asked.

“Faster if we orbit than if we turn around,” the captain replied.

“Do it,” Coles said. “How long?”

“Intercept in three minutes, if she stays on course,” the captain said. “Longer if she doesn’t go on around.”

Coles nodded. What are you planning? he wondered, as the seconds ticked by in his head.



Deirdre sighed. I always lose. Why do I always lose? At home she’d always been able to beat the computer’s chess program, but since being posted out here at the end of everything, she seemed to have lost her edge. Can’t even beat the gorram computer anymore. She closed the program and stared out at the stars through the station’s control center windows, and wondered what to do with herself for the rest of her duty shift. Not chess. Maybe checkers? I need a hobby. Maybe I should order some canvas and acrylics, and take up painting. But it wasn’t as though there was even anything worth painting, out here.

A telltale lit on her console, with the most insignificant of bleeps. She leaned forward, checking the monitor, and had to wait while the computer decided exactly what the scanners had seen. A shuttle; small, short-range, giving some indications of distress in the form of radioactive core exhaust – and coming in fast, straight for the station.

Frowning, Deirdre hailed the shuttle. “Unidentified shuttle, please state your business,” she said. No response. “Unidentified shuttle, please identify yourself!”

Still no response.

A little more urgently, she tried again. “Unidentified shuttle, you are on a collision course. You must alter your course now. Please respond. Over.”

But the shuttle kept coming. The collision alarm whooped. Deirdre hit the switches that would close all of the station’s blast doors. She fired the maneuvering thrusters, but the station wasn’t really designed or equipped for the sort of maneuverability she’d need to get out of the way of that shuttle – and anyway, the shuttle responded to the station’s fractional change in direction and orientation by altering its course so that it would hit in the spot it had originally been headed toward.

Deirdre stared. “Ta ma duh!” The station was under attack. She froze for several seconds, utterly astonished. A shuttle with core containment problems running full out on a deliberate collision course . . .

She hit the comm. “Mayday, mayday! Alliance Lawforce Post Seventy-Five One-Eleven under attack by unknown hostiles! I think . . . I think it might be reavers,” she finished weakly. She set the message to repeat, and watched, unable to look away, as the shuttle headed straight for the station.


The instant the destroyer vanished over the horizon, Wash cut his main drive and reversed his one remaining thruster to bring the ship to an approximate halt. The maneuver slewed her nose around to point into the black, but that didn’t matter. He flipped the switch that restored the gravity, tore off his belts, snagged his suit helmet off the console and sprinted for the shuttles.

Inside the port shuttle, Wash flipped the switches to initiate launch . . . and nothing happened. He tried a different sequence, but got only a wan greenish glow from the dashboard screens and a few ‘error’ telltales.

Wash slammed his fist against the dashboard. The shuttle had power, the glow proved that, but something was wrong with her ignition. Another three minutes and he could probably hotwire her. But he didn’t have three minutes. Wash raced for the other shuttle. If he couldn’t get back around the horizon before Polyphemus came from the other side, the game was most likely up, and his prize would be either life internment someplace far more unpleasant than Balch’s mine, or death. Probably death.

Will they bury me next to my doppelganger? Wash wondered morbidly, as he tried in vain to bring the starboard shuttle’s engine to life. Or will they make that guy move?

No juice. This bird was even deader than the other one.

Don’t be ridiculous, he told himself. You’re assuming the Alliance will be nice enough to give your body back to your wife. Only thing they’re going to send back to Zoe is . . . maybe another doppelganger.

Wash heard an ominous clanking, and felt the ship shudder.


Polyphemus was here, and Wash’s time was up. Trapped. Just like Odysseus in that gorram cave. And the Alliance like to send my wife a nice new suitor.

No. As Lemon was drawn slowly in to dock with Polyphemus, Wash moved. Odysseus went home. Gorramit, I’m going home too!

He seated his suit helmet into place and abandoned the shuttle, reaching the personnel airlock just as the bay doors clanked against Polyphemus’ docking collar.

I just hope it doesn’t take me twenty years . . .


In the docking bay, Coles found an assault team waiting. He nodded, and they opened the airlock door and spilled through it, weapons drawn.


Wash worked his way across the hull to the port shuttle, and wriggled underneath it far enough that he could reach the manual release on the docking catch. Above him, Polyphemus loomed. Wash grasped the release and tugged, but the lever didn’t budge. He tried again, and failed. Who knew how many decades since this shuttle had been anywhere but right where it was? Wash could be pulling against eighty years of corrosion; the release might break before it gave.

He worked himself around so that he could get both hands on the lever, and braced his feet against the ship. Still, the lever wouldn’t move.

Oh, come on, he scolded himself. What would Jayne say? Put some muscle into it, little man. If you got any. He braced himself and tugged at the lever with a roar. The barely-healed skin across his shoulders stretched in painful protest. Wash leaned into his work, and at last the lever popped free and nearly sent him tumbling into space.

I bet they heard that aboard the ship, he thought with some concern, and looked around for a place to hide.


The cargo bay was empty. The assault team commander started issuing orders to her team, sending some forward, others aft. Before they could disperse, they heard the groan and clang of metal on metal, and all of them froze, looking up.

It occurred to Coles, belatedly, that the ship might be booby trapped; certainly that sound had been ominous. “Get your people out of here,” he called to the assault team commander. “Tell the captain to go to alert status and secure all blast doors.”

“Yes, sir,” she answered, and ordered her team to withdraw.

When they were gone, Coles suppressed a tremor. He didn’t really believe the ship was booby trapped, but it wasn’t impossible, and it was surely convenient.

Coles walked quickly to the bridge, where he tucked the waiting envelope inside his uniform jacket.


Monday, April 9, 2007 11:41 AM


Hmm, this is really gripping. Can't wait to see what happens next. Wash is my hero! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, April 9, 2007 11:58 AM


Ah! I was away all weekend without a computer and I was like "Oh no! I'm missing my story!!" I'm so glad this didn't go too far ahead without me.

Poor Kaylee, she must have been to freaken terrified when she say them all Reaver-ified. I would have been.
Wash is so clever, I definately wouldn't have thought of that. He would totatly be my hero if it wasn't already some random kid in gr.5 at my old school (long story).

Monday, April 9, 2007 9:37 PM


oooh. amazing. absolutely loving this story.

Saturday, April 14, 2007 11:02 AM


Hmm...Wash as Odyessues. why does that give me a positively sinful idea for a tale?


Still...this is some amazing work here, nauticalgal! Between Wash's skillful piloting of the "Lemon" to the faux Reaver attack to the final bit with Wash managing to get the port shuttle released...I was in awe! Definitely can't wait to see how Coles reacts when he gets told of the supposed Reaver assault;)



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The Four Winds, Epilogue
The end...or maybe just another beginning.

The Four Winds, Chapter 25
The rest of the crew return home.

The Four Winds, Chapter 24
Me and Elwood, we're puttin' the band back together.

The Four Winds, Chapter 23
Inara investigates matters; Mal discovers that the impossible has been done in his absence.

The Four Winds, Chapter 22
River needs Mal to solve her problem; Mal is forced to provide information to the Alliance.

The Four Winds, Chapter 21
When Mal tries to recover the cargo, will he lose more than he stands to gain?

The Four Winds, Chapter 20
Mal makes changes to his plan; River puts her plan into action; Inara decides on a plan of her own; Wash finds something he'd lost.

The Four Winds, Chapter 19
Simon gets an alias; Mal gets a look at his client; Wash gets a shock.

The Four Winds, Chapter 18
Our Heroes - and Our Villains - try to figure a way out of the mess they're in.

The Four Winds, Chapter 17
River finds out what's really going on; Simon and Zoe fall into the wrong hands.