BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

MERRYK

Crew, But Not - Chapter 8
Friday, November 23, 2007

Things are both better and worse for the crew. Simon starts to wonder about River, worry about his duties on the ship, and what was in that cryo box anyway?


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2340    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Chapter 8

Mal was surprised to see Simon coming directly towards him as soon as he entered the kitchen in the morning. He had even left River’s side for a moment, and Mal had previously noted that that was increasingly rare. A good thing, too, considering that the girl might go a whole day without reacting, or might have several episodes in sequence of various intensities.

“Doctor,” Mal acknowledged.

“I need to speak with you,” said Simon quietly.

“That’s what you’re doing, unless you have some fancy definition for speaking,” said Mal.

“I’d prefer to bring this up in a more private setting,” said Simon, glancing around the kitchen. Only Kaylee and Book were near enough to hear besides River, and they were conversing together.

“I think here is as good a place as any,” Mal answered, a hint of stubbornness in his tone. “Don’t go all mysterious, doctor, what’s on your mind?”

Simon looked less than encouraged, but Mal didn’t loosen his jaw even a fraction. “There is a cryo box with active life signs disguised and among your cargo,” said Simon finally.

At first shocked to get a straight answer, Mal then lowered his eyelids and said in a low voice, “You were nosing around the cargo?”

“River was looking around,” Simon defended, “and she touched the box before I could stop her.”

“Why was she anywhere near the cargo?” demanded Mal.

“I was not aware that that area was explicitly forbidden,” said Simon coolly.

“Do I have to lay it out in extreme detail?” asked Mal dangerously. “As a map?”

“As I said, I was in the process of persuading her to leave it alone,” answered Simon. “Once the discovery was made, however—”

“Yeah, I understand,” cut off Mal. He frowned. “Zoe,” he called.

“Yes, sir?”

“We have a problem,” said Mal, crossing his arms across his chest.

“Always do,” Zoe answered under her breath.

“An after breakfast problem, please?” asked Wash.

Mal frowned, but nodded.

Simon had returned to River, and Mal watched his movements, wondering. What was it about that young man that had his hackles raised? He was dangerous—anyone was who took on such a purpose. He didn’t acknowledge authority, either—or rather, he obeyed in rebellion. He was arrogant about his position, too, acting as if the information he desired was due to him. Still, the rest of the crew didn’t seem put out by him, and Mal almost worried about that. They were all a bit too accepting in his mind, and always had been, too. Mal supposed it was the gentle way Simon dealt with River, with soft words and careful guiding that belied the dangerous steel core that Mal saw would lead him to do recklessly dangerous things if he thought they were necessary.

Still, he had told Mal about the cryo box. What could be the motivation behind that, Mal pondered as he stopped watching Simon to prepare his breakfast.

“So, who won?” asked Wash curiously as Inara finally joined them at the table. He looked from Simon to Inara as neither answered for a moment. “Don’t tell me it was a stalemate, I couldn’t bear that.”

“No, Dr. Tam was victorious,” answered Inara.

“It was a long fight, though,” put in Simon as he cut River’s protein cakes. She was eyeing him with a frustrated look, but Simon had already decided not to let her have knives.

“That’s nice,” said Kaylee, sitting on the end between River and an empty chair.

Simon finished cutting and gave the plate to River. She stared at it, and then pushed it back to him. “River, you need to eat,” said Simon, giving it back. She looked directly at him and gave it another push. “Not now, River.” Locked on his for the moment, River’s eyes held what Simon could only call the clarity of defiance, but he did not waver. At last she took the plate and grudgingly ate a piece of protein.

“Why don’t you flavor hers?” asked Kaylee curiously, sitting across from Simon.

“Hmm?” said Simon, not paying attention.

“Doesn’t she like it to taste tolerable?” asked Kaylee, nodding towards River’s food.

“Ah, not really,” said Simon. “That—well, she doesn’t like what I choose. She’ll only eat if I don’t mess with it.”

“Poor thing, eating bland protein,” commented Kaylee. “Why don’t she flavor it herself?”

“Not right,” murmured River in Kaylee’s general direction. “Gourmet flavorings don’t belong,”

Kaylee looked confused, and Simon shrugged and continued eating. What with the many times per day that he had to deal with it, he had almost become accustomed to River’s strange behavior. She had systems, now, that he could only guess at, and things had to be just right—she was also fond of changing the subject. It was as if her mind was as sharp as ever, as systematic and as rational as before, just unable to organize itself. He could see her frustration, even if she did not consciously realize that feeling all the time, and many times he just went with the flow to hide the constant aching in his heart.

“All right, breakfast’s over,” broke in Mal, who had not eaten but simply watched his food while obviously thinking about something else.

“Ten minutes, Captain?” protested Wash. “What kind of problem do we have?”

“That urgent, sir?” asked Zoe more seriously, watching Mal closely.

“It may be it wouldn’t hurt to let another five minutes go by,” said Mal reluctantly. “But all your pretty faces better be in the cargo bay after that.” He rose and walked off, hands in his pockets.

“That’s weird,” commented Kaylee.

“What’s that?” asked Inara, coming down late.

“Mal says we have a problem in the cargo bay,” answered Wash.

“He’s acting all ten kinds of funny,” said Jayne through a mouthful of protein.

“Yeah,” said Kaylee. “Like he’s got a secret.”

One eyebrow raised, Inara cast a furtive glance to Simon, who looked up a little to meet her eyes. Giving a brief nod, Inara took a seat by Kaylee. “I’m sure he has a reason for it,” was all she said.

“Like Mal needs a reason to be strange,” scoffed Jayne.

“A better reason than you have to be all grumpy,” said Kaylee. “Cap’n don’t worry for no reason.”

“Says you,” was Jayne’s comeback.

Wash sighed and pushed his plate away. “Three minutes left, but I’m just curious. I’ll see you all in the cargo bay.”

Jayne got up and followed silently. Zoe nodded, but took her plate and Wash’s to the counter. Wash’s plate she set so he could find it later, and hers went in the sink.

“Did he mean all in the literal sense?” Book asked Kaylee curiously.

“Don’t see why not,” she answered. “He’d have told us privately if it was that secret.”

Simon got up as well, since River seemed well and done with her protein, and Kaylee and Book soon followed. Mal stood in the bay, arms crossed in front of him, staring at the rows of boxes. Wash and Jayne stood behind him, apparently not knowing any more than the others.

“Simon?” began River, looking up at him.

“Hush,” said Simon softly. “I spoke to the Captain.”

“That he did,” said Mal, turning around finally. Everyone was there now, questions on every face. “Why don’t you explain that exactly to us all?”

“Uh, well.” Simon didn’t like being put on the spot. “River came in here yesterday, and she—she was listening to the boxes.”

“What?” asked Jayne.

“Listen, a word commonly associated with the use of ears—” managed Simon dryly before Mal cut it off.

“And it appears there’s another one of those cryo boxes among our cargo,” finished Mal.

“What?” asked Wash. There was some murmuring from Book and Kaylee.

“Wouldn’t we have noticed that, sir?” asked Zoe.

“Well, I’ve yet to actually see this box,” said Mal, “but I’m told it’s disguised.”

“And how’d the doc find this out?” asked Jayne suspiciously.

“That’s not exactly what I’m worried about right now,” said Wash, his brow furrowed.

“Yeah, the problem’s more of what’s in that box,” agreed Mal. He nodded to Simon.

Simon walked down the last aisle, feeling uncomfortable. “It’s this one,” he said, finding the box. He ran his hand under the ridge that River had touched until he found the little latch to open the panel.

“Well, well,” said Mal darkly, coming over. “What is this, I wonder?”

“There are strong life readings,” explained Simon.

“That doesn’t mean anything bad, though,” said Kaylee hesitantly. “Cryo ain’t illegal, is it?”

“No,” said Mal. “But the legal uses don’t give off life readings.” He stepped up to the box, the lower one in the stack, and his hand rested on his holster. “Jayne? Help me get this box where we can open it.”

“It could still be all right, though,” said Kaylee, looking to where Simon had stepped back to join River.

Zoe looked to Kaylee, then spoke up as Jayne and Mal removed the box on top of the cryo container. “Sir? Might there be some danger in opening that box without further information?”

“I have a gun, just in case,” said Mal, shrugging. The other box came down as gently as the two men could handle it, and Mal pulled out the cryo box into the aisle.

“I meant danger to what’s inside,” added Zoe, glancing next at Simon.

Simon was feeling very uncomfortable, but spoke up hesitantly. “It might be better to know more, if we don’t want to induce cryogenic shock.” Next to him he saw River shift at his words.

Mal sighed, and stepped back. “Come and look, then, but make it quick.”

Simon came forward and opened the panel again. He pressed a couple buttons, frowned a little, then stood up. “Whoever’s inside isn’t meant to be removed for another few days,” he said, turning to Mal. At the man’s rather unsympathetic look, he amended, “But there wouldn’t be permanent harm done.”

“Back up, then,” said Jayne, stepping forward with gun in hand. Simon stepped back, and Jayne nodded to Mal.

In a scene that looked a little too familiar to Simon, Mal pulled up the handle to let a release of cold air, then kicked the lid back and let the billowing cloud quickly dissipate. Jayne stepped forward anxiously, and Wash took a couple curious steps over to get a look. Kaylee stood back with Book, looking as if she felt about half the discomfort that Simon felt, while the Shepherd appeared merely patient. River shivered, and drew close to Simon.

“Well?” asked Zoe.

“What is that?” asked Wash, his mouth twisting a little.

Jayne was frowning, his brow narrowed, but it was Mal who answered first. “Chickens.”

“What?” asked Simon, looking suddenly surprised.

“What?” echoed Kaylee, stepping forward to join the others.

“It is chickens,” said Wash, confused.

“I don’t get it,” said Jayne.

They had all drawn around the box, leaving Simon and River and Book on the outside. Simon was itchingly curious, but not bold enough to step in. He looked over at Book, who simply stood with a pondering look on his face, and then to River. She was shifting her weight back and forth, but looked only a little worried.

“So, they’re chickens,” said Wash, after they had all looked for a while.

Mal stepped forward and lifted the lid back. “Yeah, that’s all well and good,” he said, closing and sealing the box again. “I don’t want them waking up.”

“I don’t understand,” said Inara, who had stayed in the background.

“What’s so dangerous about baby chickens?” asked Jayne.

Simon caught a glance between Mal and Zoe, but neither of them spoke.

“So, we don’t have contraband,” concluded Wash. “That’s good, right?”

“Are we missing something?” asked Kaylee, confused.

“Back to the day’s work,” said Mal. “Nothing to see, problem solved.” He began walking back to the kitchen.

“Wait a minute,” began Wash, following quickly, the others behind. “We’re just going to forget about this?”

“No need to nose around the cargo unless we have to,” said Zoe, side by side with Mal.

“Aren’t we gonna at least wonder why there’s chickens?” asked Jayne.

“I have to say, Mal, I thought you would be curious,” said Inara, surprised.

Mal sat down in the kitchen and loaded his plate. “Don’t see a reason. We do the job, we don’t ask questions.”

“Except, you do,” said Inara with amused antagonism. She stood by Kaylee, watching him as he ate nonchalantly.

“This isn’t your business,” answered Mal simply, without looking up.

“I just don’t get this,” said Wash, looking around for his plate. Zoe silently brought it to him from the counter, and he also loaded up for a second breakfast.

“Maybe he likes chickens,” said Kaylee, trying to make some kind of sense. She scratched her head, though, and looked to Inara.

“Save them,” broke in River, who had been silent and still. “Need to save them.”

“Why was she anywhere near the cargo anyway,” demanded Jayne, sitting up as he remembered his earlier suspicions. “What’s she know?”

“I—I don’t think she knows anything,” said Simon, a little hurriedly, putting his hand on River’s shoulder. “She’s just curious.” He saw River looking at him, though, tilting her head and looking at him as if he should be remembering something.

Mal took another bite of food, chewing slowly and diligently. There were no more words for the moment. Jayne leaned back in his chair, disgusted by Mal’s apathy, and grabbed a protein cake. Leaving the table with a little sigh, Inara went to the stove to pour herself some tea, and Book left as silently as he had been in the room.

River finally turned from Simon with a little sigh herself, and walked over to the sofa where she sat and began fingering the tassels with a hint of sulking. Simon was still confused, still wondering, but he told himself that there was nothing he could do anyway.

“What are we doing today?” he finally asked Kaylee.

“Oh, nothing much,” she answered, apparently having given up on getting anything out of Mal. “You’re cooking tonight, right?”

“Ah, yes, I suppose,” said Simon, his brow wrinkling. “That—may be regretted.”

“Never cooked?” asked Kaylee, leaning forward a little with a smile.

“I made a cake once,” said Simon, his tone full of subtext. He rolled his eyes towards River, and Kaylee giggled. “It’s just recipes, though. I can follow instructions.”

“Instructions?” asked Kaylee.

“You do have recipes, right?” asked Simon, looking back.

“Don’t see how that means instructions,” said Kaylee, a little confused again. Simon’s look of dread gave her cause to smile, though. “Don’t worry, you don’t have to do nothing fancy.”

Simon gave a weak smile, and looked again to River. She was kneeling by the sofa, poking at the cushion with one finger. “Excuse me,” Simon said, rising to go and see what she was doing. “River?” he asked, dropping to his knee next to her.

“Surgery,” she said calmly, and he saw that she was poking around in the stuffing of the cushion through a small tear. “He’s showing too much.”

“It’s fine, River, really,” said Simon, gently moving her hand from the hole. “You don’t want to make the hole worse.”

“Not worse,” she said. “Not unless we don’t find it.” She pulled her hand back and poked some more at the stuffing, pulling a little of it out.

“There’s nothing to find, River,” said Simon. First the chickens, now the stuffing—he was starting to get a quietly ominous feeling.

“Found chickens,” she said, reluctantly stopping the ‘surgery’. “You don’t listen to the little ones in danger.” She sighed. “Where’s breakfast?”

“Right where you left it,” said Simon, following her back to the table as her mood changed again. Frowning a little, he felt something was in the back of his mind, some connection he should be making. Glad that the box had not turned out suspicious, though, he still wondered along with the others. Chickens? Then again, should he be surprised on this ship at anything?

River grabbed the salt from the counter and began shaking it over her food. Wash and Kaylee had left, and Zoe was gathering the dishes so she could do her chore. Mal still ate, neither speedily nor slowly, but with a devil-may-care relaxed speed that was frustrating after what had happened in the cargo bay. Simon sat next to River and thought about what he was going to do that day. He glanced at Mal, and wondered what the captain thought of what had happened. Was he upset at the meddling that now seemed without purpose from his medic?

As Simon pondered, Mal then lifted his head and looked at him. “What’re you cooking for lunch?” he suddenly asked.

Simon remembered his chore and he sighed. “I have no idea.”

“Recipes are in the far left cupboard,” called Zoe from the sink.

Leaving River to her meal, over-salted if Simon could judge anywhere near correctly the flow of salt from the shaker, Simon went and found the old, crusted papers. True to Kaylee’s word, they only listed ingredients, and Simon sighed as he realized the rest of the day’s work was already cut out for him. Sitting back down, he got to work, pushing his nagging thought behind everything else. He was a surgeon—cooking couldn’t be too hard. It was all already dead, anyway. No terrible errors to be made...right?

COMMENTS

Sunday, November 25, 2007 10:53 PM

JANE0904


So what's with the chickens? Can't help feeling there's a lot more to this than meets the eye. And looking forward to finding out what it is!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007 3:31 AM

KATESFRIEND


Good mystery developing here - poor Simon, such a fish out of water, and Mal is no help at all to him. Love your River voice, and Jayne being slow on the uptake is perfect.


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