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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE
Surprises all around. Simon and Kaylee find the unexpected when they get back home to 'Serenity'; Zoe and Jayne don't realize how dangerous their new job is.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 887 RATING: 0 SERIES: FIREFLY
At the same moment as Mal and Inara were struggling away from their shelter camp, trying to fight off the effects of bad air from a wildfire, Jayne and Zoe were sitting on opposite sides of a bright campfire in the Ravenor mountains on Boros, enjoying some roasted wild goat. A slight frown developed on Zoe's face, though, as she looked up into the sky. Boros was a large crescent shape, kind of browny-green, while Boros' second moon, Verbena, was in another quadrant of the sky, more than half full but much smaller, a lavender-purple color. It didn't surprise Zoe to know how many people lived upon those colored spots in the sky, but sometimes seeing populated worlds this way did seem a bit surreal.
"Somethin' on your mind?" Jayne asked as he munched. "The radio silence thing??"
"Maybe a little," she allowed. "Not being able to reach the main ship, still - not that important. It's getting into evening in the capital city, and there's all kinds of things that the kids could be up to. But Mal - it's not like him to not answer."
"Well, they'll have landed at the Companion's place by now," Jayne pointed out. "Probably enjoying high tea with her, and getting shown the mansion, and all kinds of things. They wouldn't be in the ship. And maybe he either forgot to link in his portable comm unit, or, umm..."
"Or etiquette would not permit," Zoe filled in, not expecting Jayne to be familiar with the word 'etiquette' for any reason. "Okay, yeah, that's a point." She returned to her own plateful of dinner, making a mental note that when she managed to raise Serenity, she should have them check just to make sure, that the Shuttle's beacon could be found landed on the property of Kazia Laurentis, registered companion.
"Man, this feels good, eatin' off the land," Jayne muttered. "Reminds me of the time that I was poachin' in the Planetary park on Prynus - sheesh, try saying that ten times fast. 'Poachin' in the planet...'"
"Poaching, Jayne?" Zoe asked. "For what?"
"Oh, all kinds of things... don't remember many of the names - there were horned critters and furry pelted ones, all kinds of rare animals in a place like that what would fetch a good price to the right people, either dead or alive." He sighed. "Ranny Kelman, whats-his-name with the ponytail and me, we were well paid to do the huntin', and the critter fence who set the deal up provided us with scattering fields and other stuff to help us hide from the park rangers." Jayne sighed. "But what I mostly remember wasn't even spending the money over on Beaumonde - it was living in the park, camping out, and eating like kings off of anything we could catch that wasn't particularly saleable."
"Did you ever think of trying your luck living as a hunter out in the wilderness?" Zoe asked casually. "In a place like this I mean."
"Yeah, actually, but Ranny talked me outtuv it," Jayne admitted. "It looks like a good and easy life when you're all stocked up with a few of the necessities of survival, but trying to feed yourself and scrounge up money for ammo and stuff at the same time, that's where things start to get tough."
"I suppose that's true. Unless you manage to beat the math, it beats you," Zoe said. "Any idea how late we should head off on our manhunt?"
"Hmm... well, it's already past twilight, but not that late by the Boros clock." Jayne considered, looking around him at the moons. "Which of those do you suppose will set first?"
"Ares," Zoe instantly answered. "In an hour and a half, or so."
"Then we leave in an hour," Jayne decided. "Get into his area just when it's setting that way."
"Okay I guess."
Jayne looked up at her, a canny expression flicking over his face. "Somethin... something on your mind? I mean, well, besides the obvious?"
"Yes, I've got a lot on my mind, Jayne," Zoe told him. "And for now, that's where it's staying." She stood up. "Gonna try to get a bit of rest before we move."
"Like I've ever been late for a job," she said, and that was true. But as Zoe laid down near the shuttle's door, Jayne looked into the dancing flickers of flame and tried to figure out what it was he'd... sensed from Zoe. Something that was on her mind. He couldn't put his finger on it more than that.
Simon, already up to about his shoulders in the tub, got a big grin on his face when Kaylee stepped from the changing passageway into their private chamber and shucked off her robe. She had picked out a simple tank-style suit, in a bright and cheerful pattern of pastel colors (of course,) and looked breathtaking in it.
"Thank you, thank you, hold your applause until the end of the session," she kidded, climbing down into the opulent jacuzzi with him. And she leaned over and kissed him.
"Was that for anything in particular?" Simon asked her, begging the question
"Just because I like you?" she teased back. "And for making me feel like... oh, I don't even know a word for it certain. Like a great lady, except not quite so stuffy and proper."
"Cherished?" Simon hazarded, and kissed her back, on the cheek. "Because you are, and if I can manage to show you just how much..."
"Hmm..." Kaylee considered the word as she settled herself next to him in the warm, bubbling water. "Okay, yeah, that'll do. Yah didn't really need to spend that much of the nanofiber bounty on me an' my..." At that point she drifted off.
"Yeah, it's my engine too," Simon pointed out. "Not like it's yours, or Mal's, but it's the lifeblood and the hope of every single person on board when we brave the vacuum, as has been made abundantly clear several times." He smiled. "And, plus, I wouldn't have gotten nearly as good a price on the fiber without your help selling it, and so it only seemed fair that you should see your cut this way."
"Oh, is that what it was?" she asked playfully. After picking up and inspecting the spools, they had gone to half a dozen different buyers, spread over Amarra City, before one had been willing to offer what Kaylee had considered 'a half-decent price.'
That had taken them into the early afternoon, (Simon had hired out a groundcar after his legs rebelled at the prospect of walking any further,) and after they'd grabbed some cardboard boxes of food from a street vendor and enjoying an impromptu picnic in a small neighborhood park, Simon had insisted that they tour the engine mechanic shops, and pressed her to expand her shopping list further and further. 'What if someone gets aboard and disables the controls, like Saffron, or whatever-her-name is, did twice? Are there tools that would make it easier to fix whatever she might try to do, before it's too late?'
By the time that buying expedition was over, they had been to four more places, (and one of the same ones where Kaylee had refused to let him sell the fiber spools,) and had accumulated about four heavy bags worth of gear. Also, both Simon and Kaylee were hungry, and couldn't wait to get back to the passion pools right after eating. Kaylee suggested a vegetarian eatery where their stir-frys were prepared right in front of them by enthusiastic chefs who seemed to like yelling for no reason that Simon could see.
As the memory of their day together flashed through Simon's mind, he moved over just a bit, closer to his dearly beloved, and stroked the side of her face with wet fingers, which made her giggle softly. "Have... have I ever mentioned how much I adore just the feel of your skin against mine?" he asked her in a low voice.
"Umm, you've mentioned it I think," she said, "but not in any great detail. Tell me more."
Simon controlled his gulp only with difficulty. 'Tell me more' was a game that had gotten him in trouble with Kaylee before, but this time he felt up to the opportunity. "Well, obviously, it's soft, for a start. Poets and lovers have waxed eloquent for millenia on the virtues of soft skin, but I think that there's a happy medium in all things, and you wouldn't want to be TOO soft, with nothing else to say for yourself. There's a kind of a strength to the feel of your skin, and an incredible warmth to it, that always makes me feel weak for the first fraction of a second, and a kind of a muted glow that comes along with the warmth - though I suppose that maybe the glow is off topic, since I started with how it felt, not how it looked, but I think I can be forgiven for straying slightly." And he kissed her again.
"Okay, good skin - soft, strong, warm, glowy, got it. What else??" she probed.
Okay, this was getting trickier. Simon let his mind race to think of other things that he could say, but at the same time he triply reinforced his censoring filter, not wanting to blurt out the wrong thing just because he was nervous. "Your energy and enthusiasm - I know that I've said that one before, but I never stop being blown away by how much you can throw yourself into whatever you're doing, how fully and completely you live every moment of life. It makes me proud that you've chosen to make me a part of that life, and hopeful that I can learn that kind of joie de vie myself, just from being around you." He sighed in relief, knowing that he'd nearly made it home safe. "And the very particular way the edges of your mouth are curving just at this very moment, err, or the one about a second before I said 'moment' actually, because that was when you started to laugh, which is a great thing too, but it isn't the same as an edge-of-the-mouth-only smile."
Kaylee's laugh became predatory in the very best way then, and she turned herself around, holding her torso just an inch or so above Simon's chest, and then collapsed partly onto him because she was using one hand to start tugging down his bathing trunks. "What's a jwaa do vee, anyway?"
"Huh?" It took Simon a few seconds to recognize his own phrase, since Kaylee wasn't getting the pronunciation right. "Oh, it's in... well, it means 'passion for life', more or less." By this point, the wet shorts were down past his knees.
"Oooh, speaking of passion," Kaylee quipped, giving him a steamy hot kiss again and licking at the most sensitive spot that she'd yet found on his neck. "Just how quick do you think you can get this gorram suit off me?"
Once they were back out of the Passion pools building, Simon's chrono was reading nearly midnight in Boros time, but the gate of the landing field was visible down the street. "So," he said, wishing he could reach out to hold Kaylee's hand or put an arm around her, but the bags they were each carrying made this impossible. "Did you grow up in a big family?" She shot him a slightly startled look at the question. "I know - we've talked about a lot of other things, and you've heard some about my family for the obvious reasons, but I've never asked much about what your life was like before you came to Serenity. Hope you don't mind that I'm taking an interest."
"Oh, no, of course not," she insisted quickly. "Just trying to - well, starting with the specific question you asked, I suppose, would be a good place to start, and it's a pretty simple one. Yes, a HUGE family, and me pretty much the baby of them all - six big brothers and two older sisters, along with three cousins on my Daddy's side. Umm... do ye want names and bios for ALL of 'em?"
"Umm, not if you don't want to rhyme it all off right this minute, though I'd like to hear more," he replied after a moment. They got to the gate at this point, and the guard waved them on without demanding a pass, since he was the same one who'd been on duty the night before. "Who was your favorite, or did you have one?"
"Hmm." She considered the question carefully. "Bit hard to say - all of them could frak me off mightily from time to time, and there's a lot of the family that I loved pretty dear the other six days of the week." Simon chuckled. "But maybe it's a good occasion to mention Adan, seeing as he was the one who taught me most of what I know about... well, about trace compression block engines." And she waved up at the shape that they were approaching, not that Simon had needed the hint - really.
"That's what drives Serenity, right?"
Kaylee made a grunt of agreement. "Adan was nineteen when he found the wreck of an Ifrit 4 personnel transport down in the ravine. Wouldn't fly no more without a team of trained aeromautic engineers workin' months on it, but he was gorram sure that he could get the engine turning over again - and put it to a new use. There was an electrical grid in our county, but the generator hadn't been running too steady for years, and... hmm." By this point, they'd gotten to the airlock door, and Kaylee had punched in the simple code that allowed the crew to enter directly under ordinary circumstances. The outer door remained closed. "Hmm... did River feel like she needed to lock herself in?"
"Might not be a bad idea, if she was up in the lounge or anything," Simon said. "Being all alone inside. Seems a bit odd, though."
"Yeah, it's not like we've got somebody just waiting to slip into this well-guarded landing field and..." She broke off and started entering the more complex unlock code, and Simon watched - and then noticed an odd design that had been marked in a pale brown next to the keypad. Where had he seen that mark before? And suddenly, he placed it, and realized the danger, tackling Kaylee and throwing her from the airlock door just as a spark of life flashed from one particular button to her finger...
"Are... are you okay?" Simon asked, not so worried about the - the whatever, as that he might have inadvertently hurt Kaylee himself in his eagerness.
"Err... got the wind knocked out of me, tingles from the top of my head to the toes of my feet, and an odd soreness in my finger, but... but otherwise okay," she assured him. Simon climbed off of her, noticing that her hair looked like it was trying to stand on end, but being still damp, and not having had that much of a static charge, it was just a bit more full-bodied than had been a moment ago. "What - how did you know..."
"The design on the hull next to the airlock," Simon said, pointing at it. "Part of a code system that River worked out when she was seven or so. 'Watch out - boobytrapped.'"
"Well, nice that she warned you a little," Kaylee grumped.
"Probably she expected me to catch on much quicker than that," Simon agreed ruefully. "So - how do we disarm that?"
"Would be hard, from outside," Kaylee muttered. "If River's been as clever as I expect her to be by now. And I don't fancy trying to get to any of the other airlock doors, way we're parked... ooh!" And she withdrew her little communicator device, working on it, and Simon realized that she was establishing a bridge to Serenity's automatic systems. It took a long time to do this, since the electronics had their own security guards and precautions, but finally the doors both opened. "Okay, now the big question - is River *here* or not?"
"If she's not in her room, then probably she's snuck up to a bounty hunter ship that's hovering unseen right above..." Simon started, and Kaylee shot him a sharp look, not quite sure if he was joking about Jubal Early's visit. "Sorry, umm... I guess trying to draw trends from that occasion isn't the best way to go right now huh?"
River was not in her chamber at the stern of the ship, but there was a quickly scrawled note fastened to her door with a small magnetic circle. "Simon - went book shopping in town. Shouldn't be later than 1645." It was signed with the Chinese ideogram for 'river', which almost made Simon smile, but he was too worried. It was many hours after River had planned to be back, no matter whether she'd meant Boros time or... whatever. What could have kept her for so long? K was right beside, reading the words from around his shoulder, (since she was hardly tall enough to see over,) and he heard a quick gasp in her throat as she wrapped a comforting arm around him.
Simon returned the favor with an arm of his own and took a deep breath. "Okay, let's think this through. River's probably not in any immediate danger - she can take care of herself pretty well after all. What's a smart next step? We probably shouldn't be charging back out into the city to search for her ourselves right away..."
"Um - check for messages on the comm spool?" Kaylee suggested nervously. He stroked her hair with as much reassurance as he could manage and headed up for the cockpit. They listened to the conversation between Zoe and Mal, and another ramble from Zoe asking if any of them were back yet, and that was it. No spoken message from River, no matter how much Simon really wanted to hear one. Simon was feeling lost and uncertain as he and Kaylee headed back into the cargo bay.
"I... I should probably disable the zapper, now that we're here," Kaylee said, pointing to a panel beside the airlock door. "Doesn't seem to be much reason to leave it on now."
"No, I guess not." He came over to watch the process of this, and ended up helping by holding things. Just as Simon was starting to fasten the panel back in place, a chime rang out, quite loud because they were so near to one of its source speakers - the basic entry notification. Simon could hardly have resisted the impulse to sweep River up in his arms if he'd wanted to, once he saw her face in the airlock inner doorway. "You... you gave us both a big scare, sister mine. What happened?"
"Umm... it's a bit of a long story," River hedged, as Simon let her go and Kaylee indulged in her own flying tackle. (Not as vehement as Simon's save outside.) "I... I went outside of town with a boy - but not just because I wanted to take off or anything. There was somebody looking for me in town."
"Whaa?" Simon breathed. He'd been so sure that the string of people 'looking' for his dear mei-mei had finally come to an end.
"Yeah, don't worry, he didn't find me and he's moved on to check somewhere else," River continued blithely. "And... and I think it's almost a good thing that he was around, because he might have given me part of the key to the message of the Eight."
"The... the eight?" Kaylee repeated, confusion jumping back and forth across her face. "The Academy escapees who Garcia mentioned - they really did send that signal?"
"Of *course,*" River insisted. "Oh, I called Garcia's number from a public cortex booth in the city. We're to meet him aat another tavern tomorrow, around lunchtime. Draco Etamin. I've got the directions."
Simon was completely beyond words with shock and resentment at this point, but River didn't even notice. "Boy, it really is late. I'm off to bed. May sleep in a bit, but not too late." And with that, she headed off towards the passenger dorms, which she would have to herself tonight.
"Don't let her get to you," Kaylee suggested, pulling Simon close by her arm twined around his. "She's doing what any teenager would do, well sortuv, and she has a lot of catching up to do on her rebel years, the way I figure it. Let things be until tomorrow."
"Alright I guess," Simon said softly, and then started guiding her towards their bunk, his mind working faster and faster at different ideas for things that they could do, now that they were alone in that part of the ship. The passion pools had not slaked his lustiness by a long shot.
Mal was startled out of a walking trance when a cool, fresh breeze blew past him and Inara, and kept right on coming. Breathed deeply of it. "Yeah, that's more the thing."
Inara smiled weakly, tugged the zipper on her jacket down a bit, and took a step away from him, standing on her own. "Yes, I guess that the bad air may have finally started to rise up, so that we're getting fresher stuff coming in from all sides." She looked critically at the horizon in front of them and off to the right a bit. "Don't think that dawn is too far off, and it'll bring some slightly warmer weather with it."
"That's certainly welcome news," Mal muttered. "Can... can we stop and grab a bit of breakfast here, or is it still important to keep driving our poor bodies on?" The snow seemed to be much thinner on the ground by this point, and Mal could see what looked like a few iced-over puddles of water here and there.
"Hmm..." Inara considered that for maybe fifteen seconds, and then took a seat for herself on a rock that was about the right height. "Let's see... self-warming containers of spiced coffee?" she suggested, rooting around in her backpack for the items.
"Yes please," Mal said, sweeping a grassy rise clear of traces of snow opposite Inara and clambering down onto it. He wasn't nearly as high as she was, and thus his gaze seemed to naturally fall about level with the crotch of her pants, which was actually just frustrating since they were more than bulky enough to not show anything. "Umm... we've got syntho-porridge with cinnamon and maple flavors here... want for a helping?"
"Oh, definitely," Inara agreed, so Mal started fiddling with the self-warming pot again. There wasn't enough snow around to dump into it, and he didn't really want to break the ice over a puddle for several reasons, so he used water from his bottle, figuring that they'd be able to refill it soon. "Any notion how far we've gotten since the crash?"
"Hmm..." Mal tried to weigh his impressions of the trip, but all of the dark wanderings were starting to blur together. "Maybe sixteen or seventeen miles - most of it in the right direction I suppose."
Inara made a face as he opened up his coffee and took a long swallow. "Still a ways to go to reach Kazia's, then, but not as long as we've already come I guess."
"Yes probably." Mal started to root around in his pack again, while keeping an eye on the pot, and came up with the mini communicator. "Well... we're definitely past the jammer from Sanchez' ship - or it's not working anymore," he muttered, after turning on the receptor and going through a calibration routine. "Would you want to try calling your friend??" He tried to phrase it as a casual offer, when in fact the words were anything but.
"Hmm... I do, but we shouldn't," Inara admitted. "No way to tell who else we'd be letting know that we're here - and whether they're friendly or not. We can make a distress call if we're really in serious trouble, but better not to draw any attention to ourselves otherwise."
"Very good." Mal smiled, put the communicator wand back in his pack, and stirred the mush.
"What - did you ask me that as a test?" Inara asked, arching an eyebrow. "To see how naive I was about the practicalities of our situation?"
"Maybe, or something like that." Mal sighed. "I... I know that you're a very practical woman, but that the sort of considerations you have to think about aren't the same as the ones I live with every day. Maybe that sort of thing is going to be as much our problem as opening up the lines of communication, or who ends up bringing home the bacon and how."
"So you're already anticipating what our problems will be, in the affair that we haven't yet had a chance to start indulging in?"
"Um, yeah - what, haven't you?" Mal asked seriously. And started serving out porridge for Inara.
They stayed in that spot for a while, reassured by the fresh wind continuing to blow in towards where Inara had seen the forest fire earlier, and Mal felt some strength returning to his body, which probably had more to do with breathing clean air than eating or drinking. After the porridge, Inara found some crunchy stuff to munch on - imitation potato and pork patties, which weren't great fun, as there was no easy way of heating them up, but the tastes were alright for breakfast-time and he knew that they'd be pretty nutritious for continuing their trek. Mal offered to massage Inara's legs for a bit before they got started again, and she accepted and returned the favor. It wasn't as sensual an experience as most massage, because of the bulky clothes, but it did seem to have helped when they got on the move again.
Not long after that, the first speck of sunrise began to be seen above the Ares horizon. Mal tried to look around and get his bearings with respect to the map in the little computer he'd packed, but the shadows of dawn were still too strange to make much out immediately. They didn't have many other tools for navigation other than that map - Ares had no strong magnetic field, which meant that a compass would tell nothing except the location of any iron ore deposits nearby, and while a good passive sat detector would have been able to figure out some useable info from the Boros Positioning System, they hadn't happened to have such a device on Serenity when he was packing.
"Oooh, that feels better," Inara muttered as more sunlight fell on her and melted the snow at her feet. Stopping for a moment, she quickly shucked her snow boots and insulated overpants, and then started the process of taking off her jacket, which was complicated by the fact that she was wearing the backpack over top of it. For his own part, Mal didn't think that the day side was warm enough yet that he was sure about going around in his ship clothes, but the urge to show solidarity with Inara managed to push him over into getting rid of the heaviest stuff himself. They left it puled up beneath a shrub, where it wouldn't be obvious.
"Uh-oh," Mal said, turning around and getting a glimpse into the distance. Far ahead on the plains, between them and a far-distant spot that might be a house, a bunch of vehicles were spread out. Somehow he could tell that the owners and riders of that convoy weren't up to any particular good.
Zoe crept between the trees as silently as she could, gun carried in both her hands, easily making out Jayne's form ahead of her by light of the stars and of Verbena. If their figuring had been right, it shouldn't be too long until they found the camp at this pace, and...
The choice was between thinking about what would happen then, and avoiding walking into trees. Zoe never even got that close to a tree.
Faint moonslight streaming into a clearing. The slightly stronger glow of a survival heat lamp shining on a small tent, and Zoe really had to exercise control not to scoff. There was no need for anybody to be using a heat lamp in this weather, and he hadn't set it up correctly anyhow. Jayne hesitated on the edge of the clearing, and Zoe crept up to him, whispering very quietly. "I'll go up to the tent - you cover me." This rank a fool might require a bit more subtlety than Jayne could manage.
She scooped up the heat lamp as an impromptu light source, holding it with one hand that was still steadying the front of her rifle. Flung away the door flap of the tent, revealing a sleeping man. Oh, dammit, what *was* the quarry's name?? "Snowton? Rickard Snowton??" she barked in her loudest and most aggressive soldier voice.
"Huh?" the guy muttered. "What the..."
"By the authority of the Independent Boros Provisional Government, you are hereby bound by law pending an investigation into serious charges of sabotage and theft," Zoe muttered, dropping the lamp and reaching into the tent to pull Snowton out - without the gun that had been in his vicinity inside the tent. "You may not recognize the sovereignity of an Independent government, but they have the support of the Boros people and are de facto..."
"I, I'm not contesting your authority to arrest me," Snowton muttered peevishly. "Just still waking up, and... do you mind if I get my glasses?"
Zoe was in no mood to be taken in. "Jayne?"
"I'll take him," Jayne said, coming closer with a pistol at his side and one strong hand reaching out around neck high. "Get the spectacles and make sure there's no laser beamers inside or nothing."
Zoe let out a sigh, deciding not to argue about whether a weapon really could be concealed in eyeglasses - there were other things that she could check. "Don't rough him up much, okay Cobb? No need for that."
"Ehh, it's not always about a need," he grumbled, but he restrained the man fairly simply with a loop of good strong wire around his wrists, behind his back. Zoe found the glasses, and also recognized what might be the important papers and parts, right there in the tent. She came back out and gently propped the frames up on his nose and ears.
"How... how did you get here? I didn't even hear you..."
"You were asleep, dipwad," Jayne muttered dismissively.
"Yes, I may have nodded off, but still, I'm a very light sleeper," Snowton replied, shaking slightly. "Now, I've been coming to terms with the idea that I wasn't cut out for life as a fugitive, but..."
"Some people are capable of picking it up more quickly than others, I guess," Zoe muttered. "Come on, no reason to dawdle here. Is that all the stuff you took from the Department, there in your tent, Snowton? It would be a bad idea to lie: even if we don't figure it out, there'll be others who will."
"And you don't want to lose out on the full reward," Snowton guessed. "Well, doesn't matter - yes, that's the lot, and I think you can guess I'm not good at lying with a straight face."
Which was the sort of thing a clever liar might make up, Zoe thought, but she didn't waste too much energy on such musings. He was apparently clueless enough to leave all his eggs in one basket, so why not? She gathered up the contents of the tent, and handed some to Jayne, working out what he could hold and still intimidate a prisoner. Then they headed back towards the shuttle.
None of them noticed the sniper, waiting until they got a bit more than halfway there.
"And Miss Frye has to score at least forty-seven points on her third throw," Simon said in an over-the-top Dyton colony accent, "if she's to have any hope of salvaging the round. Silence from the spectators, please."
Kaylee shot him a look, but he stayed quiet from that point on, and there were no other 'spectators' in the lounge area, since River hadn't woken up and come to see what the two of them were doing together in the middle of the night. She might have been very interested in watching, though.
Kayle took the small yellow ball and chucked it in that unusual overhand style that had gotten her a lot of beginner's luck with her first game of Natcher. The ball flew to the board mounted on the wall and stuck fast where it first touched the board's surface - only a few millimeters away from the triple seventeen zone, but not close enough. "Seventeen," Simon announced. "You know what that means."
"Yeah, yeah." Kaylee capitulated with just a bit of bad grace, unfastening the shoulder strap snaps on her coveralls and letting the fabric fall down at her feet. Then a gleam of buried delight shone in her eyes as she noticed that Simon was unable to wrench his gaze from her legs immediately. "New round, and that means it's a whole new game, Tam. Get ready to kiss that shirt goodbye."
"If you beat me, and that's what I *choose* to take off next, then sure," Simon answered placidly. He unfastened the ball from the board and tossed it back to her. "Loser starts the new round."
Kaylee went for the triple twenty with a backhand, and managed to hit the triple seven, next to it. "Gorram it, last time I go up against you with something you practiced in med school. We shoulda played strip Pony instead."
Simon took his turn shooting, and got the outer bulls-eye. "What's Pony?"
"Umm... it's kinduv like ring-ball, except not regular one-on-one play, just a shooting contest, from various spots on the court, fancier trick shots, and so on."
"Oh, right." Simon remembered seeing Mal and Jayne playing something like that in the cargo bay, and especially the amount of taunting, braggadocio, sly underhanded tricks, and accusations about same, that seemed to accompany each match. "Well, perhaps another night. It's your throw again."
Kaylee went, and got a double fifteen, along with a ten point bonus for straight shooting, which surprised Simon slightly. (He hadn't explained in much detail about the more subtle bonus points.) "Okay, you never finished telling me the story about, umm, about your brother and the first trace compression block engine you worked on."
K smiled and shook her head as she handed him the ball. (Considering the thin clothing she had left, other parts of her body were starting to shake too.) "Gee, now? Umm... well yeah, he had the idea for using it as a generator, to feed into the local electrical system, and I just about begged him to help. Took us over a year and a half to get it running, and we blowed out some transformers. Woulda been quicker work if that hadn't been the year that I discovered an interest in boys, specifically Willam Callan, but..."
"But then you'd have probably blown up ALL the transformers," Simon teased her. "Some of them twice."
"Just throw, doctor."
So Simon went for the triple twenty, and got it. Kaylee made a face, and took the ball to make her last throw. "Would it be too weird for me to ask more about Willam?"
Kaylee nearly flubbed her toss after that one, but steadied and hit the bulls-eye dead on. "Umm... just a bit. I actually love that you're interested, but yeah, talking too much about old flames and such at this point might just be a bigger barrel of grubs than we want to open right now." Simon stepped up to the line and tried to figure out his move. Had to make, what, twenty-seven or more to win? He oriented on the double fourteen. "Though, and this is mighty inconsistent of me, but I sortuv want to know a very general bit of background about you and whether you've HAD any old flames. I mean, well, you sortof know that you're not the first man I've been with..."
"Well, yeah, I had indeed picked that up," Simon admitted. "And if we're just talking about sex, then no, you haven't been my only either, no. I may have always been very focused on some goal - school, my work at the hospital, saving River, keeping her safe... but, well, during the first two stages, there was enough time for the fairer sex."
"Right," Kaylee admitted with a sad smile. "Handsome brilliant medical student, or doctor, probably plenty of Osiris ladies just loved you."
"Maybe, especially before they'd actually met me," Simon joked. "And my parents would have pitched fits if I hadn't been able to find escorts for their society functions. But... but you're the second girl that I've ever loved, Kay Lee, and I think you know who the first was."
"Wha... oh." Kaylee's expression of uncertainty turned into a smile as she got it. "River, of course." Simon nodded, and mode his shot. "Oh, man. Beaten by one point. Simon Tam, you're a showoff... too bad it's just mad skills and not more skin you're showing." And she took off her camisole undershirt, that she'd been wearing underneath the multi-colored top, and focused on the next round with intense determination.
It didn't do her that much good. About twenty minutes, Simon had finally taken off his shirt, but Kaylee was completely bare, and playing to avoid having to complete whatever dare Simon might demand of her if he won another round. That was when a siren started to blare.
"Emergency signal!" Kaylee cried, running up towards the cockpit from force of habit. Simon thought of scooping up some of their clothes before following. "Um, it... either River hit the red button in her room, or it's being relayed in from one of the shuttles. Mal and Inara, on Ares, or Jayne and Zoe, up in the hills."
"And - and if it's either shuttle, we're going to need to lift off and rendezvous with them," Simon realized. Kaylee turned around to look at him, and simon tossed her her shirt and panties. "You check in the cockpit, I'm going to grab River. She's the only one who knows how to fly her, right?"
"Umm, well, I mean I could try, but it's better with her, yeah," Kaylee admitted. "And HURRY!"
Simon did indeed hurry. He knew that the emergency warning wouldn't have been sounded without dreadful reason. Passing the infirmary, (where he suspected he'd be hard at work soon enough,) he saw River hurrying out of her room. "River, you okay?" he managed to gasp out, and she hardly noticed the question. "We... we have to fly and help..."
With that, she blew right past him, running for the cockpit at a speed that Simon couldn't possibly have matched. Well, that was probably for the good. He was in the dining room when Serenity shuddered slightly and took to the air. "Where, where are we goi..." he panted, upon finally arriving at the bridge.
"Mountains," Kaylee replied, hugging him hard. She had found time to get partly dressed again, though Simon still held his pants in his hand. "We... we can't raise anyone in shuttle two, and can't even get a signal at all from shuttle one. Even from Ares, we should've been able to get a carrier - Inara's friend is on the near side right now."
"Well... first things first," Simon muttered. A definite emergency was more important than a mysterious disappearance, though neither were good signs. "How long until we're there at the mountains?"
"Just five or seven minutes at this speed," River said absently.
"Well, then I'd better make sure that the infirmary is prepped," Simon said. Really he just wanted to find something to do to keep himself busy.
"No, don't go just yet," Kaylee muttered, holding onto his arm.
"But... but I need to do something," he muttered, and then thought of something. "We're actually on a friendly planet! I'll call into the Boros authorities, let them know that something went wrong. They might be able to help."
The clearing wasn't big enough to land Serenity right next to the shuttle, but there was another empty one nearby. Rushing back towards the shuttle, they found Zoe and Jayne about half way there along a path. Both of them had been shot, Jayne twice - still alive, but fading fast. Zoe's hand was still wrapped around the panic button that she had used, along with shuttle two's comm relay, to call for help. "Okay, forget the shuttle for now," Simon muttered, trying to think. "And there's no time to move them now - got to do what we can to stop the blood loss and the shock first."
"Doc - doctor?" Zoe said softly, surprising him. He hadn't even realized that she was still conscious.
"Yeah, don't worry," he told her. "You're going to be okay."
"Not... not so much worried about me," she whispered with an odd intensity. "Don't... don't let me lose the baby."
"What?" Simon dropped the bandage that he'd been getting ready.
"Baby?" Kaylee echoed. "You... you've got Wash's baby? Why didn't you tell us yet?"
"Because - because it's bad luck," River whispered in a grim voice, as Zoe closed her eyes.
TO BE CONTINUED...
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