BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE

SCHOONER

Joshua (complete)
Thursday, May 3, 2007

Old enemies, relationships, Ivans. Some days nothing goes smooth. Post-BMD, canon pairings.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2485    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

I originally posted the first part separately, but the story turned out to be short enough to publish as a single entry. People who want to skip what's already been posted can click here

This story takes place Post-BDM, about three years after Miranda, or at the end of season five of Firefly in my imaginary world where the series didn't get cancelled. This is a standalone story, a prequel to "Last Act". Standard disclaimers; the verse belongs to Joss Whedon, I'm just excited to be here. Any and all comments are very welcome.

"I am a leaf on the wind. I am a leaf on the wind. Gorramit, it worked for Wash, why not me! Come on, focus. I am a leaf on the gorram wind."

River was, in fact, piloting exceptionally well. She deftly sent Serenity through graceful loops and sudden switchbacks, but even she was starting to run out of tricks. Their pursuer had planned this ambush well. There was no place to run to, no masses to use for cover. The pilot of the pursuing ship was not as skilled as River, but his ship could push out more acceleration for longer periods. For all his planning, he had not expected River's skill, or that a fifty year old transport would be sporting a mil-spec ECM suite. Still, he was slowly but surely closing the distance to where he could tag Serenity with an EMP and end the chase.

The real danger, as far as River was concerned, was from inside Serenity. Her psychic abilities had saved her and the crew more than a few times, but now they were a nearly disabling distraction. The storm of emotions coming from shuttle one threatened to shatter her lucid state. It was taking precious mental resources for River to shield herself, and she needed all her faculties focused on the task at hand.

A new wave of pain mixed with fear and love crashed against River's psyche. For an instant, her control shattered. She jerked in the pilot's chair as she cried out, sending a shudder through the ship. In the few seconds it took River to compensate, her pursuer gained nearly a kilometer. On the stairs leading up to the bridge, Kaylee Tam recovered her balance and came up behind River.

"We're runnin' maxed out, and no problems so far" Serenity's chief mechanic said, "Got her set up for full burn at Cap'n's orders. Won't last but a few minutes with our fuel, though." She looked at her friend's sweat-soaked face,

"You okay, sweetie?"

"Just humpin' shiny. Where's the captain, and how are the others?"

"Cap'n bugged down to check on Inara. Ain't heard no news from there yet. Got Wendy in the cabin, told her to stay there 'til we reach Ariel."

River noticed the comm light flashing. Someone was hailing them. "I need the captain up here. Where are you heading?"

"Check on Inara, then back to the engine room"

"Keep your comm open" a pause, and then "Kaylee, I'm nervous"

Kaylee smiled reassuringly, "Aww, sweetie, you're fine. We'll all be just fine. I'll send the cap'n up"

"Do it quick."

As Kaylee turned to leave the bridge, she felt the ship shudder again. She turned back and saw River white-knuckled on the controls, hunched over as she tried not to cry out. Kaylee turned and dashed from the bridge, her comm already out.

************************

"Well, darlin', guess we can't say you fell and bumped your head this time."

"One more joke, Mal, and I will hit you hard enough to alter your DNA. Dong ma?!"

Inara Serra's beautiful face screwed up as the latest contraction hit. She was lying on her bed in her shuttle. Captain Malcolm Reynolds held her hand and winced in pain from her grip. Simon watched with detached concern. Serenity's medic was actually more nervous than he was comfortable with, but controlled his reactions for his patients' benefit. He would vent his fear later, and took immense comfort to know Kaylee would be there to help him with it.

"Captain, may I have a word? Zoë, will you watch Inara, please?" Zoë nodded from the pilot's chair, then moved to Inara's side, wiping her brow with a cool cloth.

"Doc, uh, is she supposed to be saying stuff like that to me?"

"No, but I can't blame her for wanting to. Really, that's normal. Kaylee cursed my entire family and demanded I leave the ship while I was performing the delivery. Captain, I really wish I could move Inara to the infirmary. This is not going to be an easy birth. Inara's condition isn't stable, and it's accelerating. I couldn't even give her an anesthetic now without risking damage. We need to get her to Ariel. I would prefer-"

"I would have preferred it too, but this child's choosing to be impatient. Fact is the shuttle's safer. Vitelli tags us, the whole rear section's like to get fried. He won't target the shuttles first. Worst case, you all launch here and the rest'll take shuttle two, head for the patrol line. Man can't chase down three targets. I'm counting on you being a better doctor than he is a nuisance."

"I'll do my best."

"I know, Doc. Wish it were easier, believe..."

Mal's comm came to life. Kaylee's voice was tight with urgency "Cap'n, River needs you on the bridge, ma shang!"

"Okay, be there." Mal turned to Simon "Are you sure it'll be okay if I..."

Simon's face softened just a little "Go on, Mal. You take care of River. I'll take care of Inara. Shiny?"

"Shiny." Mal turned to Inara, "Darlin', I'm going to check on the bridge. I'll be..."

"Go. Get rid of that chun zi."

"You sure, cause...?"

"GO!!", Mal ducked the silk pillow that flew at him.

"uh..Yes, dear" Mal said quietly as he hurried out of the shuttle

Simon turned back to the bed, "Inara, you shouldn't throw things during labor."

"Why the hell not? Will it make the situation worse?"

"No. It's just...undignified"

Inara shot Simon a look that spoke volumes.

************************

Mal nearly ran over Kaylee as he raced up the catwalks from Inara's shuttle, to the galley. Jayne was there at the long table, cleaning his guns. The big mercenary looked for all the 'verse like it was just another day in the Black, but a quick glance told Mal a different story. Jayne had Lux, his mini-gat, and his favorite combat shotgun stripped on the table, cleaning and oiling each part with a care that was at odds with his normal self. Years of living in close quarters with the man had taught Mal that the more Jayne was worried about something, the heavier the weapon he selected to clean. During Kaylee's eleven hours of labor Jayne had gone through his entire arsenal, spreading it across the far end of the cargo bay floor where he could, just coincidentally, keep an eye on the infirmary.

"Any news, Cap?" Jayne said without looking up.

"Yeah, my old CO's is trying to kill us, and I think Inara might be pregnant." he responded automatically while covering the length of the short corridor to the bridge.

Mal grabbed his coat off the co-pilot's chair and came up next to River. His brilliant-if-not-quite-right pilot looked pale and drawn, her long black hair plastered to her forehead. Outside the stars spun dizzily as River pulled another maneuver designed to prevent their pursuer's targeting computer from getting a lock. For an interminable second Mal found himself frozen, staring at the wobbly stars and not comprehending why he was here instead of at Inara's side, or why he had gone to Inara when he was needed here.

"You're nervous. Stop it. Now." River said while executing a disjointed Immelmann.

River's calm voice broke his paralysis, "erm, I'm not nervous."

"You are, now stop it. Catalyzer don't work, then the wheel don't turn, we don't breathe, and I want to keep breathing"

"OK, I got no idea what that means, now..."

River took her eyes off the instruments for an instant and her voice took on venom "It means there's one working amygdala in this room. Start using it, and answer that hail."

"Hail?"

River's voice instantly returned to its former calm, "Pursuer's sending out a hail. I'd guess it's a final concerned appeal for us to stop before we force him to kill us in a nasty pyrotechnic manner."

Mal exhaled. Now this he understood. Malcolm Reynolds was in uncharted waters regarding childbirth and relationships, but death threats from old enemies were familiar territory. "Well, to put such a peaceable man in that dilemma." Mal responded gravely, "You need anything?"

"Tactical information"

"Maybe if I try diplomacy." He stabbed the comm button to open a channel.

"Ni how, ji bai! I'll make it quick; you ain't getting what you want. So disengage and gun dan!"

River spared enough resources to roll her eyes. At least he was acting like himself, now.

"That any way to address a superior officer, Sergeant Reynolds?" the mocking, Rim-accented voice answered. Mal saw the weathered older face of the speaker on the view screen. Vitelli looked lean and hard, not at all the doughy man Mal remembered from Hera. From behind him, Mal heard River start to breathe more regularly.

"You were never a superior officer, Vitelli. You and your brother just held higher ranks is all."

"Says the man who retreated at Du Kang. Now, I could reminisce with you some more, but let's get down to business. You have a weapon in your possession that would help the Cause immensely."

"I got nothing of the kind. But if you're referring to my pilot, she don't belong to no-one 'cept herself. Now, it'd serve you right for me to let her come within reach of your throat. I'm sorely tempted. But she told you 'no'. So am I. Seems that concludes our business."

Vitelli sounded regretful, "I wish it did, Mal. I really do. But she's unique, you understand. With her abilities we could hit the Alliance where they live and breathe. Imagine if we'd had her during the war."

"Wouldn't have done much good, I conjure. And the war, Captain Vitelli, is over. Maybe you didn't listen to the news in the last year, but the gorram Alliance may not even exist right now!"

"You may be fool enough to believe that go se, Reynolds, but don't spew it at me!", Vitelli snarled, "Core is Core, they'll be back and worse in a year's time. We got to beat them down, now, and that little hu li jing you're carryin' holds the key to do it. Now, I was nice an' all. Offered good terms for her. Last chance. You gonna hand her over and allow her to serve the greater good, or do I have to be proactive?"

"You think you can be proactive? 'Cause, where I'm standing, I don't see where you're going to make that big an impression with a mothballed Alliance patrol boat."

"Oh, I think you know the facts. My ship is faster than your hunk of fei ou, and armed for bear"

"Biggest gun in the verse still can't hurt what it can't hit"

"True. Oh, did I mention I have a state of the art tactical computer?"

Mal chuckled, "A no-brainer? I remember the tac-coms you bumblebees used. Couldn't win a game of tic-tac-toe"

"I said SOTA you grunt! The best upgrades to the best system M-Blue ever made. Smarter than you'll ever be"

While Vitelli ranted, River jotted a few words on a piece of paper, balled it up, and threw it over the pilot's station down to the foredeck. A few seconds later, one of her screens came to life with flow charts and lines of code.

Vitelli continued, "Now, as I was saying: I am faster than you, stronger than you, and smarter than you. You have nowhere to run. No options remain. Just give me the girl and I'll let you go on your merry"

Mal glanced at the newly active screen as it displayed vectors and probabilities. "Point of interest, but wasn't ending slavery one of the reasons for the war? Don't know about you, but the people I fought with had some pretty strong opinions on the subject."

One side of Vitelli's mouth quirked upward, "The ones you fought with were the losers. No grasp of the big picture. And I'd just as soon destroy a strategic resource than risk it falling into enemy hands. Basic strategy"

"Oh, killing young girls is part of the big picture? Is this something new, or did you have it when you caught the evac shuttle out, Captain?"

Vitelli's expression turned murderous for a second, "I made a strategic decision. A grunt like you would never understand. And it's Colonel. Colonel Garfield Vitelli serving the command of the Border Defense Force. I hated your attitude when you served under me, and I hate it more now. You are a liar and a thief. I am a soldier, with honor, and you will gorram address me as such or I will scatter your atoms across the Black!"

Mal plastered a grin on his face that he had perfected from years of irritating Inara. "Well, when you put it like that, I just can't help but be intimidated. Tell you what. Come back in a few days, when we're in a better mood. We'll talk about this some more, share our feelings. I'll make tea."

Vitelli's eyes narrowed, "You're trying to play a fool Reynolds. It's unseemly. I want an answer, now."

"Colonel Vitelli. Exactly what part of gun dan don't you understand? How about chi shi? Or how about this?" Mal leaned into the camera "I will burn in a special hell before I let you breathe the same atmo as River, and I'll make sure you're there to keep me company."

"You're gonna burn in hell anyway, Reynolds. You aren't worthy of the coat"

Mal put on a hurt expression, "But I like my coat. Got a nice lining and all..."

"Shut up! River Tam, I know you're listenin'. You hand yourself over, else we will destroy you and everything you ever cared about. Crew, family, your whole ruttin' diseased world! It's all gonna burn lessin'..."

"Cao ni ma" Mal said as he closed the connection. He looked over at River. She was still working the controls, eyes slightly unfocused.

"I could go with him." River said in a small voice

"No, and you need to work on this habit of offering to surrender to anyone who looks at us funny. Man knows what you're about. We don't know what else he could know. Might know what poultry find amusing. It's too much of a risk."

A smile crept onto River's face, "Feel better, Captain?"

"Yes, actually. Were you all able to get what you needed?"

A new voice answered from the stairs leading to the foredeck, "Yes, captain, we were. I was able to trace his software and replicate it to the pilot's station. His tac-com is analyzing our flight patterns and feeding his pilot intercept vectors. We should now know his next move before he does. River can keep wrong-footing him unless he unplugs."

Mal turned to see the man climbing up. Te Jian Chan was average height and built wiry. He kept his head shaved and wore pressed coveralls. His polished Londinium accent contrasted with his current appearance. Although Te had been a member of Serenity's crew for over a year, Mal still found the accent off-putting. Too many times in his experience, people with that manner of speaking had wanted to run long pointy swords through him. Te could be trusted, though. He had been at different times a Cambridge don, a hacker, and a gambler. When the crew of Serenity rescued him, he had been a slave on a Border world terraforming station.

"So we'll be able to outrun him to the patrol line?"

Te paused, awkward, and River answered for him, "No. He's still faster. Ariel's gunships won't intercept for another thirty minutes. I can't outpace him, but I can hold him off longer."

"How long?"

Te answered, "He will be have a shooting solution in approximately fourteen minutes"

"So we got thirteen minutes to put a brilliant plan into action"

"You have a brilliant plan?", River asked

"Maybe. River, keep your lead as much as you can, and put some noise out on all frequencies so Vitelli can't wave anyone. Te, I'm going to need you to grab Chatterbox and hook it into shuttle two, then prep the shuttle. I'm going to talk to Jayne and Kaylee."

Mal stopped and turned a grim face toward the darkened viewscreen, "I know what your sin is"

As Mal rushed off the bridge, River noticed the blinking light that announced a hail from their pursuer. She stared for a second, then gave an evil smile.

************************

"Kaylee! How many fuel cells can we pull without affecting full burn?"

Kaylee responded almost immediately "Five that ain't at full charge. I ain't gonna like this plan, am I?"

"Expect not. Come up to the galley," Mal clicked switched his comm channel as he walked into the galley and turned to Jayne, "You and me need to start pulling cells, now. Zoë, you listening?"

"Yes, sir" Zoë answered as Kaylee came jogging in.

After Mal finished outlining his plan, Jayne commented "You know there's a big pile of 'if' in the middle of this"

Mal shot him an annoyed glare, "Zoë, feedback?"

"Hate to broadcast this, sir, but I agree with Jayne. Plan hinges on too much luck"

Mal looked frustrated for a moment, "Any ideas on how to plug it?"

Jayne responded, "Matter of fact I do. Got the equipment for it, too"

"Let's see it, then. Kaylee, I need you to rig our exhaust so we blow plasma at the right time. Can you do that?"

Kaylee nodded quickly, "Shi a, Cap'n. I need to take Wendy to Inara's shuttle, first"

"Course. Zoë, you got anything to add?"

"You sure you don't want me there, sir?"

"You stay there. Keep the shuttle prepped in case this all burns up. Okay, people, let's move!"

Kaylee and Te took off in opposite directions, Kaylee for the passenger dorms, Te for the foredeck. Mal scrambled for the cargo hold, taking the stairs two at a time. As he rushed through the passenger dorm, he glanced at the wing Simon and Kaylee had converted into a home for their family, at the wooden sign proclaiming 'Tam Residence' in elegant script flanked by roses and strawberries. Mal grinned briefly. The sign had been a gift from Jayne. The big man may not have had much book learning, but there was precious little he couldn't do with his hands.

Mal tossed his coat onto a convenient crate as he entered the bay and punched the button to lower the port cargo crane. He grabbed a driver and began undoing the maintenance cover that would give him access to Serenity's fuel reserves. Jayne joined him, carrying a small black box attached to a net of wires. He had Vera slung across his back in her vacuum case . Mal saw what Jayne was carrying and smiled.

"You weren't kidding. Wait! Where the gorram hell did you get something like that?"

"Traded Monty for it a few years back", Jayne replied as he gently set it down and helped Mal yank the two-meter long fuel cells from their racks.

"You've been keeping a detonator in your bunk. What if River had gotten ahold of it?"

"Nui shi, Mal. Without the codes, this ain't nothing but a proximity alert, and the only way to get the codes is out of my head." Mal turned and saw pieces falling into place in Jayne's mind. "Oh, go se." Jayne replied.

"Yeah, exactly. Let's hoist these to the shuttle then you set it up. You got time enough?"

"Time an' more. Heck, I was plannin' on checking in on 'Nara."

"Really?" Mal said as he hooked the cells onto the crane.

"Yeah, figure it's the only time I'll get to see her woman parts"

Mal stopped and took a deep breath, "You're all heart, Jayne"

"Yep. Only thing bigger than my heart's my.."

"Jayne!"

"Mouth," Jayne finished with a smirk, "Hell, Mal. You need to get your mind out of the gutter, you 'bout to be a daddy and all"

************************

Zoë finished prepping the shuttle in time to see Kaylee enter carrying her daughter. Gwendolyn Sharon Tam was a precocious child, with looks that favored her mother. She held onto Kaylee with one arm, and a large battered teddy bear with the other.

"Okay, here we are. Uh-oh, close your eyes, honey. Daddy's working"

"When can I..." Wendy asked with eyes screwed shut

"Many years," Simon said without looking up

Zoë took Wendy and belted her into the co-pilot's seat, then took special care to belt the teddy bear to Wendy's lap. Kaylee stopped to say a few words to Inara. Simon caught her as she was leaving.

"Kaylee, are you sure you can't stay here? Te can.."

Kaylee held up a finger to stop him, "We've had this talk before. Te ain't good enough, yet. Something could go wrong, and he can't think on his feet. I need to be there."

"But.."

"But nothing. We both knew what we were in for when we came back. Ain't like this is a surprise, and I ain't hiding just because the timing's not serendipitous"

Simon smiled, "'Serendipitous'?"

Kaylee returned a smile that seemed to brighten the whole shuttle, "I still have a few surprises, Doctor Tam." She leaned in to give Simon a quick kiss, "Take care of Inara and Wendy."

"You take care of yourself," Simon said as Kaylee turned and left. "I love you" he whispered to her retreating back as the hatch closed.

In the front of the shuttle, Zoë checked the controls for the third time and wished there was more she could do. Wendy stared out the viewport and hugged her bear.

"Aunty Zoë, Mister Badger wants to know why the stars are spinning"

"Well, honey, your aunt River is turning the ship really fast"

"Why is she doing that?"

"So the men following us won't catch us"

"Are we in trouble?"

"No, little one. Captain and Mommy are helping River, and your Papa's taking care of Inara. We'll all be fine. Tell Mister Badger not to be afraid"

"Okay. Is this a game?"

"It's like a grown-up game. We don't want to keep playing, but some people don't know how to do anything else, so they're trying to get us in the game again. Silly, isn't it."

"Oh," Wendy nodded with a look of philosophical comprehension. "Aunty River is overcompensating on her yaw"

After a pause, Wendy said, "Aunty Zoë, Daddy says it's not polite t'stare"

**********************

Te Jian Chan was used to feeling out of control. The past two years had seen him in enough odd situations that he could have written a book on the subject. He took pride in his developing ability to adapt to new situations (starting with being referred to by his last name so as to avoid confusing Jayne), but this was straining his limits. He knew what his part in this scheme would be, and felt he could handle it, but that did little to calm his nerves. He sat in the pilot's seat of shuttle two, wearing a vac suit. In the body of the shuttle, Jayne was also suited up, adjusting the bundle of fuel cells they had lashed together. Neither had their helmets on, yet. To help him stay calm, Te did what he usually did; he started asking questions.

"Jayne?"

The mercenary grunted a response, intent on placing sensors and explosive charges in the right places. His brain barely registered Te's existence.

"Why did you bring Vera to the shuttle with you?"

"Case Mal really does manage to blow the ship up this time. I'd like to have something 'sides my diao when I see this hun dan."

"Why does Vera need a vacuum case? I mean, powder will ignite in a vacuum, correct. Even the captain's gun will fire outside of atmo."

Jayne's hands never stopped moving, "Well, that's cause Vera's special. You see, a Callahan fullbore's designed to fire with atmo. Her sensors read distance to target, motion, temperature, air pressure. Then she calculates the vectors needed to adjust the trajectory, and directs air jets out the vents on the barrel. Gives her sniper accuracy using AP shells and full auto, unmatched in all the 'verse. Course, that all needs oxygen, so that's why the custom case. Why, I conjure Vera has more brainpower than one of your source boxes,"

Jayne stood up, satisfied with his work. He turned to Te, "Now...what was we talkin' about. Wasn't quite payin' attention."

"Uh, nothing. Nothing of import, Jayne. We're just about ready here."

"Good. Get yer headgear on and tether up in the back. I'm pilotin'"

"You?"

"Yeah, me. You heard the captain, right?"

"Yes, but..well, I thought he misspoke."

"When'd you learn to pilot a shuttle, kid?"

"Two months ago."

"Right, I'm pilot. Best tether yourself to something fore the gravity switches off."

Te hurriedly attached his tether to the wall next to the hatch. As he closed the seals on his helmet, he began a silent meditation to emulate the calm of the Buddha. It almost worked, until Te realized that the Buddha had never ridden in a shuttle piloted by Jayne Cobb.

************************

Mal closed the hatch to shuttle two and double checked the seal. He'd only seen this particular maneuver done once successfully. Not great odds, but he couldn't think of better. This whole plan revolved around Vitelli being predictable. Man could have made some powerful changes over ten years, but these last encounters had reinforced Mal's impression that this was the same bumblebee he'd known before, grown bitter and fanatical.

Mal stuck his head into the engine room on the way to the bridge. "Serenity ready to do this?" he asked. Kaylee looked up from splicing the final wires. She snatched the laser solder from between her teeth and nodded. "Shiny, Cap'n," she replied.

Mal jogged to the bridge, pulling his coat on as he went. He jumped up the steps and halted. River was singing happily into the mike.

"Oh, I know a song never ends Yes, it goes on and on, my friends I know a song that never ends And here's how it begins...

"Oh, I know a song never ends Yes, it goes on and on, my friends I know a song that never ends And here's how it begins..."

"Lao tien ye!" Mal thought, "If Vitelli doesn't kill us, she'll have every other ship in the sector trying to."

Mal sat in the co-pilot's chair and made a quick gesture. River nodded and clicked a couple of keys on the pilot's console.

"What was that?"

"You said keep him off the comm. I have a loop playing the song now, so we can talk" River responded with an innocent expression.

Mal struggled to keep from pressing his temples. "Shiny. You understand your part in this?"

"I am to perform an Ivan, and mess it up."

"Right. Mess it up very exactly. You ready?"

River reached above her head and flipped three switches. "Now I am", she said getting up from her chair. She took a step, then screamed and crumpled to the deck.

Mal rushed over to River and helped her up. "River...River Tam! I need you to focus. What's doin' this, girl?" he said

"Can't...breathe. Pain, light, not right. He's not right, sinister, blue..."

Fear raced white-hot up Mal's spine. He hoped his pilot wasn't talking about what he thought she was. He thought about checking on the shuttle, then squashed the notion. Whatever was happening there, he couldn't do anything to help. He was needed here, he needed to handle the situation, and he needed his pilot to do it.

"River, I need you to be here. You're the only one can do this. I need you to block it out, just for a time. You can do this, dong ma? You need to do this."

River fought to concentrate through the pain. She focused the captain's voice, on the mantras Inara had taught her. She remembered the lessons given to her a year ago by a dying, natural Reader. Quickly, she rebuilt her defenses of identity and memory, reconnecting her mind to her body. She stood after a few precious seconds of effort. Mal breathed a silent sigh of relief as she glided to the co-pilot's chair.

Mal took the pilot's chair and checked that the controls were deactivated. The last thing he wanted was to actually by flying Serenity during the next few minutes. He looked over to River and nodded.

River took the controls, took a breath, and adjusted her mike. In an absolutely calm voice she said, "Kaylee, vent now," and wrenched on the controls.

Serenity began spilling glowing plasma from her drive, as much as she would at full burn but without the speed. As she began her turn, the plasma cloud grew into a thick disc of glowing color, expanding outward. For a moment, the Firefly was partially hidden by her own exhaust.

"Launch" Mal shouted into the intercom. In shuttle two, Jayne heard the order and began his part of the plan. Normally, a Firefly's shuttles launch by first sliding out from their housing, then thrusting vertically away from the ship. Like most systems on the famously resilient design, the launch process could be overridden manually. That is just what Jayne did now, disabling the rails and using the shuttle's side thrusters to push away from Serenity near the apex of her turn. As Serenity moved on, shuttle one was left drifting on the far side of a plasma cloud, hidden from view and radar.

"I had no idea you could do that," Te said quietly from his place by the airlock. A moment later Te felt the gravity go off.

"Get impressed later," Jayne said as he blinked through the sweat pouring down his face inside his suit. "Open the gorram airlock, now!"

Jayne launched himself over the seat with an ease no one would have expected. While Te opened the airlock, spilling the shuttle's atmo into space, Jayne positioned himself between the far bulkhead of the shuttle and the bundle of fuel cells. He braced his feet against the bulkhead, activated the small thrusters on his suit, and pushed with all his considerable strength. Jayne groaned with effort as he struggled against Newton's first law. Several hundred kilos of fuel cells began, slowly, to drift through the shuttle door. Te gave a shove to guide the payload out as Jayne's feet left the bulkhead. He continued to push against the payload, letting his thrusters add momentum. As the payload left the airlock, Jayne switched off his thrusters, flipped, and switched his thrusters on again. This was a standard zero-gee maneuver learned by any spacer who needed to be able to stop quickly. Because it was so routine, it came as a shock to Jayne when his thrusters failed to fire. His forward momentum unchecked, Jayne continued to drift out of the airlock. He reached out in a wild attempt to grab the lip of the hatch, but he was a hand's breadth too far. Jayne's stomach knotted.

As he breathed "Ye Soo", a gauntleted hand grabbed his arm. Jayne looked up and saw Te leaning half-way out the airlock, straining to hold on to him. Absorbing the momentum cause Te to spin around on his tether, pulling him outside with Jayne. Te did not panic, he was counting on this. As he spun to face the shuttle, he triggered his thrusters, then grabbed his tether and pulled for all he was worth. The combined force sent them both back in the right direction. Jayne grabbed hold of the bulkhead and pulled himself back in as Te closed the hatch.

"Thanks, kid" Jayne said, "Now strap in. We got all of a tick to get some distance."

"Quite welcome. I had no idea I could do that," Te said, breathless.

"Well, today's just a regular learning experience, ain't it?" Jayne replied.

************************

Once shuttle two had cleared Serenity's wing, River pulled her Ivan. The ship's port engine swiveled one hundred-eighty degrees and fired, sending her into an impossibly tight turn. Once her nose was pointing back the way she came, the engine flipped again. River then called for a full burn. In the engine room, Kaylee yanked a large lever at the back of the room. The room grew bright as the engine spun white hot. Power flowed into Serenity's gravity drive, spewing out as more glowing plasma. The ship surged forward, right at Vitelli's cutter.

Mal sat in the pilot's chair and opened up a channel, "Hey, ji bai! Enough of this fei ou. You want us, here we come!"

"Reynolds, biao zi de ben er zi!" Vitelli responded "What the hell do you think you're doin'? Trying to kill your whole crew?"

"And your whole crew, too. Let's settle this once and for all!"

Vitelli's ship fired an EMP beam that River dodged with a roll that looked almost like luck. The distance had shrunk to the point where missiles were useless. Mal kept yelling, kept it loud. He wanted Vitelli mad, eager to show his power. Come on, hun dan, see through it. You're smarter than me, remember

"Hell, you want to make this short, I'm fine with that. What, you conjured you'd get past me with an Ivan? That trick was old during the war...hey, now, one of you're shuttle's gone missing Reynolds. You know anything about that?"

"Qu ni de, bumblebee! I'm what you got to worry about, right here!"

"Oh, I don't think so. I think you're buying time for your little friend to make a run for it. Brave, Mal. Stupid and pointless, but brave."

Vitelli's cutter accelerated and changed vector, clearing a path with EMP bursts. River managed to avoid the barrage, barely. The cutter flew past Serenity, heading straight for the plasma cloud. Then Te triggered Chatterbox from the shuttle.

Chatterbox was Te's improvement on Serenity's Crybaby. The black box as designed to send broken distress broadcasts, stringing random phrases to give the impression of trouble. Now it was keyed to River's voice. "Cap..bzzz...can't...comm..cationsfzztfunc...surge...mayday, ma...ee!"

Mal shouted, "No! Gorram it, Vitelli, no!!" River started to pull Serenity into a turn, too slow to be able to catch Vitelli.

"Oh, yes, Mal. You lose, again. Now, let's see what's behind curtain number one," Vitelli crowed as his cutter ripped through the glowing cloud.

Standard gravity drives propel a ship by warping space time around it, creating a gravity point just forward of the bow to exert an attractive force. This was highly efficient, but had the problem of attracting space junk from the area around it. In this case, that junk included a lashed bundle of fuel cells and explosives. The bundle, attracted to the ship's drive, moved close enough to trigger the proximity detonator Jayne had traded Monty a case of good Georgian vodka for. Vitelli never noticed the mine. He was focused on the shuttle running away. He was picturing the glory he would receive for bringing back River Tam, when the explosion ripped his ship's belly apart and ignited his own fuel tanks. The blast was massive, easily seen by the Ariel patrol boats far away.

************************

"Ta ma de!" Jayne cursed as he saw the blast wave coming. He started flipping switches above the pilot's controls.

"Jayne, you're shutting off the engines! Why are you shutting off the engines?" Te's voice was tight with anxiety.

"Can't outrun the blast. If it catches us, the backblast'll burn out our core, leave us drifting. We gotta give it our nose." Jayne wrenched the controls, using the shuttle's navigation thrusters to turn.

"You've done this before?"

"Seen Wash do it once"

The shuttle finished its turn. Te saw the leading edge of the blast heading for the front viewport at terrifying speed. Te had time to utter, "Son of a bitch" before impact.

************************

Mal saw the blast wave speed toward them, "Wo de ma. What was that idiot using for fuel?" he wondered

"River, can we out run it?"

"No"

"Give it our belly, then," Mal said as he grabbed the intercom, "Kaylee, shunt all the power you can to offset the impact"

"We should face into it," River said.

"Put as much mass between it and shuttle one as you can."

River calculated angles and vectors in her head. She angled Serenity to present the bottom port side toward the blast wave as Kaylee diverted power from the engines to the grav fields. Mal strapped himself into the pilot's chair. In shuttle one, Zoë checked Wendy's harness. There was a breathless moment before the blast hit.

Serenity was thrown about like a child's toy. The shock wave enveloped the Firefly in superheated plasma, pushed it forward like a leaf caught in a flood. River's shoulders nearly wrenched from their sockets from trying to keep the ship under some control. Sparks flew from a secondary panel. Mal watched the damage control board, seeing data pulse from sensors on the hull and in the engines. The picture they were painting was not encouraging.

In the engine room, Kaylee wedged herself between the bulkhead and the railings surrounding the mechanic's station. One hand held onto the bars; the other was holding a coolant hose in place. "Come on, girl. You can do this, I know you can. Been in far worse spots. Come on."

"Zoë!" Simon shouted from across the shuttle. Zoë leaped from the pilot's chair to hold Inara down as the shuttle shook around them and went dark. Wendy closed her eyes and screamed, clutching Mister Badger. Just outside her viewport, hellfire played around the shuttle.

The blast tore at Serenity's hull. The port extender, weakened and repaired years ago after her crash landing on Mr. Universe's moon, buckled under the strain. Serenity's forward airlock door shuddered, strained, and finally gave way. The heavy outer door pulled free of it's seal, exposing the airlock to vacuum. Mal saw the section flash red. He was unbuckled and across the bridge in a heartbeat. He tumbled down the steps and was on his feet again before he noticed the blast had passed. He paused by the status panel at the end of the crew's quarters, and felt his knees sag for a moment. Green light in the cargo bay. The airlock's inner doors had held. Back on the bridge he said, "Report"

"Rotator cuffs are strained. Mobility limited for at least a day. Serious bruising on my..."

"I meant Serenity, River"

River gave a pout, then started working the controls, "All systems coming on-line. Main feeds undamaged. Port engine at fifty percent. Forward airlock evacuated. Port shuttle dock sustained damage. Shuttle one...on internal power, showing all systems normal"

"So, we're alive?"

River smiled, "We're alive, Captain"

A voice crackled over the speakers, "Hey! Anyone still in there?"

"Jayne!" Mal answered, "Report"

"We're both here. Shuttle's gonna need a new windshield, and we're gonna need new shorts"

"More than I needed to hear. ETA?"

"Couple minutes, Cap"

Mal grabbed the intercom, "Kaylee? Talk to me"

"We're good, Cap'n. Crispy around the edges, maybe. Gonna need new buffer panels, get you a full list by morning"

"Shiny," Mal paused and took a breath, allowing himself the luxury of a brief smile. River had ducked under the navigator's station to check the wiring.

"Captain," Simon's voice sounded painfully clear from the comm, "I..I think you should come to the shuttle..." Mal dropped comm and was halfway to the shuttle before Simon could finish saying "Inara"

Mal vaulted over the last few steps in his hurry. He checked the status light while pulling at the shuttle airlock. Green, the status panel mocked him. He was in a cold sweat by the time he got both doors open and burst into the small space. The lights were on again. Simon was standing with his back to Mal, Zoë by the pilot's station. On the bed lay Inara, smiling and waving tiredly at him.

Mal pointed a trembling finger at Simon. "You. You're psychotic!"

Simon turned his head and considered the accusation, "After serving on this crew, I wouldn't doubt it," Simon then turned, and Mal saw the squirming bundle he held. "And you're a father," Simon said as he handed the baby to Inara.

Mal half-stumbled to the bed where Inara smiled up at him. "Inara. Oh, Inara" was all he could think to say as he reached out to touch her face.

"It's a boy Mal"

"Boy" Mal sat down on the bed to look at the tiny infant. His son. He reached out a finger and the baby grasped it in his left hand. Good strong grip, Mal noticed as he checked that all the fingers and toes were where they should be.

Simon approached with his medkit. Zoë stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.

Simon turned to her, "I really need to"

"To stop being a doctor for a moment, and let them have theirs" Zoë said, not unkindly. Simon nodded, and stepped back

Back on the bridge, River answered a hail from the Ariel patrol ships. "We have visual contact. All five-by, no other hostile traffic. Estimated intercept time ten minutes. Welcome to our sky, Serenity."

"Confirmed. We need a fast ambulance for four passengers. Arrangements have been made for treatment on the surface. Will provide coordinates"

"Can do, Serenity. Just, don't sing anymore, shiny?"

River smiled, "Shiny, Ariel Patrol. Will keep this channel open, over" She ducked into Jayne's bunk, using the pass code he thought no one could guess. She emerged a few seconds later, holding her nose and carrying a wooden box. She made her way down to the port airlock, held the box out as the hatch opened and Jayne and Te emerged. Jayne removed his helmet and placed it on the ground, then grabbed the box of cigars River had fetched. She countered his surprised look with a nod and nudge to the shuttle. Jayne took off running, still in his vac suit. Te stripped his suit off and began walking toward the bridge. River blocked his path.

"Where do you think you're going?" River said sweetly

"Uh, I thought someone should stay and mind the shop. I mean, everyone naturally wants to see Inara and the captain, so I thought.."

River reached out, grabbed Te and spun him around. "There are no ship's functions requiring your attention. There is an important social exercise that your lack of participation would hinder significantly."

River leaned over to whisper in Te's ear, "Besides, if you don't come with us, I'll tell Kaylee on you"

Te stopped for an instant, then nodded and kept walking. He was aware that River was still holding his arm, and her thumb was barely pressing against the nerve point above his elbow. They heard Kaylee bound down the walkway from the engine room, smiling from ear to ear. She said "Awww" when she saw River and Te, and immediately grabbed Te's other arm. As Te let himself be dragged to Inara's shuttle, he wondered why he couldn't quite keep from smiling.

The three entered the shuttle. Te saw Inara lying on the bed, cradling the newborn. Mal sat silently next to her, his expression saying everything necessary. The rest of the crew stood or sat around the shuttle. Kaylee ran to embrace Simon. As they kissed, Jayne turned to Te and River and presented them each with a cigar. Wendy sat on the far end of the bed, near Zoë, torn between watching her parents and the new baby.

Inara turned to Mal, "Malcolm, there's something we need to do. Our child needs a name"

Mal nodded solemnly, "I know, you told me about it. I understand, not a problem. The child of a Companion takes the Companion's name. Keeps bastards like Burgess from using Companions as breeding stock. I, I got no problem with that."

Mal was a little surprised when Inara rolled her eyes, "Yes, Mal, but you never let me finish before agreeing. The child takes the Companion's surname, but the other parent chooses the forenames."

"You mean I...?"

Inara said gently, "Name your son, Mal"

"I...I'm not sure if...Zoë?" Mal said, looking to his first mate.

Zoë looked back with bright eyes, "Go ahead, sir. He'd have been proud."

Mal carefully took the newborn in his large, calloused hands. He looked into tiny blue eyes and said, "Joshua. Joshua Hoban Serra. Welcome to the 'verse, little one. I wish I could guarantee the kind of life you deserve, but I can't. I'll tell you this, though; you're here for all the right reasons. You have a mother and...and a father who love you, and a powerful lot of folk waiting here to introduce themselves."

River watched it all with slightly unfocussed eyes. "Di di" she said.

"Yes, I guess Wendy will have a little brother of a sort," Simon replied absently.

River shot Simon the look that always made her brother feel slightly dumber than his stethoscope. "Not Wendy's di di. Joshua Reynolds, bridge officer of the ISF ‘Ned Christie’, lost with all hands 2511. Wendy's di di will be along soon enough" she added smugly.

Simon quickly looked at Kaylee, who shook her head in confusion, eyes wide as saucers.

Mal looked around at his crew. Zoë watching with a proud, satisfied smile. Simon and Kaylee standing with their arms around each other. Jayne carrying Wendy on his shoulders so she could get a better view. Te, still looking slightly off balance. River, taking it all in with a huge smile of pure joy. Later, Malcolm Reynolds would blame the adrenaline overload, the incense in Inara's shuttle, or the smell of Jayne's cigars. He would never publicly admit to the tears that gathered in his eyes, as his family crowded around to welcome the newest member.

COMMENTS

Thursday, May 3, 2007 4:59 PM

KATESFRIEND


Quite a thrillride packed into your fic. Loved your combination of tension and humor and angst - the perfect recipe for Firefly. Great job! Loved the scifi attention to details, too. Very clear and well explained.

Friday, May 4, 2007 7:31 AM

HERMITSREST


I really loved this story and it read very well as a standalone, especially as I haven't read any of your other stuff - which I will remedy! There were some parts which made me laugh out loud. Thank you

Friday, May 4, 2007 8:49 AM

ELOISA


Utterly fantastic. You handled the action sequences far better than most authors and I loved the tender bits at the end (and the humour in the middle - I giggled out loud when River was singing). On the technical side I am also very impressed by the way you started in the middle of the action and yet nothing felt left out - you are most talented.

Sunday, May 6, 2007 6:32 AM

PLATONIST


This is such a great mix of action/adventure and romance. Gosh, it reminds me of the show, movie, and hopefully the sequel! I demand that you continue to write in this 'verse. Your style works well here.

Monday, May 7, 2007 7:29 AM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Utterly fabulous work here, schooner! The action was brilliantly written and the scenes featuring Joshua's birth were all kinds of shiny:)

BEB

Monday, May 7, 2007 7:51 AM

LEIASKY


Nicely done here.


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