BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

HOTPOINT

Here Be Dragons (Part XVIII)
Sunday, August 29, 2004

The crew make plans for fight or flight and the mystery of the new player is revealed


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3030    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Disclaimer – Everything either does belong to Joss or it should. I’m just borrowing his shiny ‘verse for a while.

The 21st Lancers belong to the British Army so I’m borrowing them too. I hope they don’t mind.

Thanks to my regular readers for making it worthwhile to continue the story and special thanks to my Proof-Reader Landry.

* * *

Serenity/Granite Gorge – Underway – 2520AD

‘Well how in the nine hells did someone manage to sneak up on us?’ Zoe wanted to know. ‘I thought we were past this kind of thing.’

Mal sighed. ‘Well for a start River hasn’t been able to sense things properly for a few days.’

Jayne turned and stared at her. ‘You going loony again?’ he asked directly.

The Captain shook his head. ‘No it’s like back on Macau when she was being jammed, cuts down her ability to read something chronic.’

‘Laura,’ Zoe spat. ‘Want me to feed her out the lock?’

River piped up. ‘I’ve shut her in her room but she didn’t do it deliberately. The timing was just a coincidence she was only jamming me because I announced her private thoughts out loud.’

‘You absolutely sure about that?’ Mal asked. ‘Any doubt and she’s spaced.’

River nodded. ‘As sure as I can be, which given that I just read her mind is a reasonably positive conclusion.’

‘So who’s after us? Alliance?’

‘Can’t be sure. I’m only picking up occasional emotions. The pursuing ship is still a decent way out and gaining very slowly. I’m only getting one person though so I think it’s a small ship.’

‘Shadow didn’t pick them up either?’ Zoe asked.

Wash leaned back in his chair. ‘Shadow is running on passive sensors. If he goes active it screams “I’m here” in every direction. Even so we know from our run-in with the Reavers that he can usually pick up ships, even crewed ones before River can.’

‘So?’

‘I’d say it’s gotta be a military vessel to get this close without Shadow seeing it. If it’s got the engine running hot enough to gain on us but it’s still not putting on enough EM to be seen by the AI it’s either low profile or plain stealthy. Civilian boats just wouldn’t be able to do it.’ Wash stated.

‘How are they tracking us?’

Wash rubbed his eyes. ‘They’re only using passive sensors too but Serenity and the Gorge aren’t exactly difficult to spot,’ he paused. ‘I’ll say one thing though, I doubt whoever it is can track Shadow without active scanning. Heck it’s difficult with active scanning.’

‘At the current rate of gain, how long until you tell who it is?’

‘Based on previous experience perhaps two hours,’ River replied. ‘They are gaining very slowly which is either because they’re not much quicker than Granite or more likely because they’re being sneaky.’

‘If it was Academy they’d know River would detect them unless they used another AI,’ Mal pointed out. ‘I don’t reckon it’s them.’

‘Reavers again,’ Jayne stated. ‘Send the machine over to put the dòngwù down.’

Zoe shook her head. ‘Not exactly their profile. Sneaky and high-tech they ain’t. Could be Alliance Navy. Don’t know about River.’

‘If it was a regular patrol they’d just tell us to stand down for inspection, not that they actually patrol way out here anyhow, and if it was looking specifically for us they’d sure as heck know about Shadow after it shot out the engines on that Cruiser,’ Mal pointed out. ‘If I thought there was a warship out there somewhere I’d sure as heck be actively scanning for it.’

‘Bounty hunter maybe?’ Zoe theorised. ‘Some of those boys have decent hardware, not far off military grade equipment, and I’ll bet the price on our heads might be worth someone’s trouble to try and collect even out here.’

Jayne chuckled. ‘Well low profile ain’t exactly been our thing recently. Maybe they just followed the trail we’ve been leaving.’

‘Corpse, corpse, wreckage, corpse, wreckage, wreckage, atomic crater,’ Wash intoned. ‘Yep, he may have a point.’

‘Well if it’s another Bounty Hunter he’s going to love meeting our pet AI. I vote Shadow torches it and we burn hard in another direction,’ Zoe opined.

‘We can’t go around killing people because we don’t know who they are. That’s stretching self-preservation and paranoia a bit too far don’t you think?’ Wash asked. ‘Doing that sort of thing would definitely damage my carefully maintained perception that we’re actually the good guys.’

Mal looked thoughtful. ‘Gotta go along with Wash here,’ he said. ‘Don’t think we should be in the business of killing folks without cause. Heck we’re so far out it could just be someone wondering what the hell we’re doing out here. We checked out Revelation just for something to do maybe it’s the same.’

‘What about the fact it ain’t a regular civilian boat?’

‘Could be war surplus. Alliance didn’t break up all their old ships. Sold a few of them with the armament stripped out. Still a darn sight harder to see than a privately built boat though just because of the design and materials,’ Mal pointed out. ‘Heck, think of all those Rolling Thunder dropships you see about.’

Zoe grimaced. ‘Those things give me the creeps. Keep expecting infantry to pour out of ‘em.’

The Captain nodded. ‘There you go,’ he said. ‘I reckon we just continue on our way like we don’t know they’re there and wait until they’re close enough for River to get a clear reading.’

‘And if it’s hostile?’

‘River can you give Shadow a rough bearing and distance to the other ship?’

She nodded. ‘I can’t give precise coordinates but I can give him a rough idea.’

‘Good. I want the AI as close to the thing as possible without giving himself away. If you decide it doesn’t exactly have our best interests at heart Shadow takes it out and we run like hell.’

Wash nodded. ‘Kaylee is already getting the engine ready for a sustained full-burn run. Serenity is ready too if we have to ditch this thing for a quick getaway.’

‘We can’t leave Granite behind,’ River said. ‘It’s our home.’

‘It’s just a ship and a slow one.’ Mal said pragmatically. ‘A Firefly can outrun a lot more boats than a Trance Class.’

‘There are crippled tortoises that can outrun a Trance Class especially one pushing another boat’s worth of mass,’ Wash said. ‘Our best bet would be to use Granite like a booster rocket push her drive well beyond recommended maximum for as long as she could take it to build up some momentum then move over to Serenity and burn her as hard as we can too.’

‘Only move things we’ll definitely need over from Granite to Serenity. The less mass we have the less the engines have to push,’ Mal ordered. ‘River, as soon as you know something let me know.’

‘Yes Sir.’

* * *

‘You realise it’s likely that if we hadn’t helped out those colonists on Revelation we wouldn’t be here right now,’ Steven pointed out to Book as they carried cargo from one ship to the other. ‘When we were just drifting not getting involved in things we were pretty much untraceable. I’m telling you no good deed goes unpunished.’

‘And I thought you eschewed the notion that there is some kind of plan or guiding force in the universe.’

Steven grinned. ‘Well if there is one, evidence seems to suggest it doesn’t have our best interests at heart.’

The Shepherd smiled back. ‘We are a very small part of his creation. The plan itself may be beyond our comprehension.’ The smile broadened. ‘In any case it may not be our interests that are destined to be served. We might be here to benefit others.’

‘I’d rather think of myself as the player not a pawn,’ Steven replied, ‘or at the very least a knight,’ he joked. ‘If I ever find out for certain I’m an actor in someone else’s production the director is going to get a punch on the nose.’

‘You can’t give God a nosebleed, Steven.’

‘Maybe not but I’ll be looking to sign up with the other team. Think there’s a job vacancy for a tank commander in Satan’s armies?’

‘You’re definitely putting your relationship with the almighty on thin ice with comments like that my friend.’

‘Hell wouldn’t be so bad. At least it’s a dry heat.’

Book laughed.

‘Unemployment is supposed to be rising there, though,’ Steven continued.

‘Yes?’

‘Lucifer outsourced Brimstone production to Hades because of lower wages.’

The Shepherd smiled. He wondered where this was going. ‘Lower wages in Hades than Hell you say?’

‘Sure. It’s all the wetback labour from across the River Styx,’ Steven replied deadpan.

Book groaned.

* * *

River was sat cross-legged on her own as far away from the others as she could get. Even a little bit more distance helped her block them out one by one until she could only hear her own thoughts.

She reached out with her mind. She supposed this was her equivalent of passive scanning, listening for other thoughts drifting through the verse, the unique signature of a human mind amongst the hard vacuum of space.

The further out from an inhabited world she was the easier things were. Whilst with practice she had learned to suppress the thoughts of the crew you couldn’t do that with thousands or millions of voices, they were white noise that cut down her range considerably.

Out here in the back of beyond she could pick up individuals thoughts from a massive distance.

Emotions, particularly the strong ones; love hate, fear, were the easiest to pick up and could be heard the furthest away. As she got closer to the mind of the other person, River could gradually pick out stray thoughts and feelings.

Closer still she could read exactly what they were thinking right out of their head.

It was a great gift to have. Well it would be if much of the necessary surgery didn’t have to be performed on the subject whilst they were fully conscious and un-medicated. River theorised you couldn’t determine if you were cutting in the right place or stimulating the right neural cluster unless you had clear reading of the subjects brainwaves while you worked.

Actually there aren’t any nerve endings within the brain itself so it’s not the cutting into the grey matter that made the procedure so painful it was the damn electrodes deliberately plugged into the pain centres to keep all those neurons firing that did it. Torture was an inevitable and presumably necessary part of the procedure.

The side effect of sending you halfway insane wasn’t too nice either.

River shook off her mental wanderings. Enough self-pity for now. It was time to use her involuntarily received gift for her own benefit and the benefit of the people she cared about.

The foreign mind was getting clearer and clearer. It would soon be possible to read their thoughts and hence find out who the hell they were. They were apparently female, which was a start, and certainly didn’t feel like a Reaver at least.

River concentrated.

Reavers? The other mind, she was thinking about Reavers herself.

Actually she was wondering if the ship she was following were Reavers.

She hated them. She hunted them.

River stood up and walked to an intercom. ‘Captain, I think we’ve just run into one of Attila’s horsemen,’ she said.

* * *

‘Jayne if we’re going to be boarded I think we’d have enough warning that you don’t need to be carrying that around with you,’ Simon commented as he passed the mercenary in the hallway.

‘Anybody that scares Reavers ain’t to be taken lightly,’ Jayne declared shifting the position of his rifle on its sling. If they come aboard I want Vera between me and them.’

‘Not a lot of help if they blow a hole in the hull.’

‘If I go, I go with a weapon in my hands,’ Jayne replied and headed into the cargo bay.

Simon shrugged. He supposed that all things considered Valhalla was probably a better final destination for the man than the Christian alternative because the idea of Jayne Cobb getting into heaven was likely pretty improbable.

Zoe appeared. ‘Captain says to go get Laura and bring her back here to Serenity,’ she said. ‘You’re supposed to drug her so she can’t interfere with River in case we need her sharp.’

Simon nodded. ‘I’ll grab a syringe,’ he said ‘Are you coming too?’

‘Yep.’

‘Why?’

Zoe held up a stun gun. ‘If she won’t take the injection she gets this.’

‘You know with all the shocks she’s had I don’t know if that’ll be the same kind of threat to her it would be to the rest of us. She must be getting used to them a bit by now.’

‘If that turns out to be the case, Doc, I guess I’ll just hit her over the head with it instead,’ Zoe replied honestly.

‘I think that’s the first time I’ve heard someone think their way around a problem and end up with a brute-force approach. Normally it’s the other way around.’

A hint of a smile appeared on Zoe’s face ‘Sometimes it’s us lateral thinkers that have the most direct methods,’ she said.

* * *

Everything should be nearly done that needed doing Mal knew. He had a good crew. They did what they were told and they did it fast.

Now all he needed to know was whether or not to unleash the AI on the new arrival.

Trying to make sure he wasn’t disturbing her Mal Reynolds watched the girl quietly. She was sitting on the deck eyes staring unfocused at the bulkhead in front of her, her breathing was shallow she wasn’t moving at all.

Mal considered asking but as soon as she knew for certain she’d tell him. If he bothered her he’d just break her concentration and just delay the entire process.

Apparently not only does a watched kettle never boil a watched telepath never reports Mal thought.

‘Relative perception of time,’ River said suddenly. ‘Einstein said if a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. He sits on a hot stove for a minute it's longer than any hour.’

‘I’m sitting with a pretty girl and it doesn’t seem like a minute,’ Mal replied. ‘I thought you were supposed to be reading someone else.’

‘Couldn’t help myself,’ River replied, ‘you were sitting there all intense and determined.’

‘Get back to work that’s an order.’

‘Kuh-ooh duh lao bao jurn.’

‘I am not a cruel boss. And this is serious.’

River stood up in one smooth movement. ‘I’ll certainly go along with serious but as of this moment not particularly dangerous. At least not for us if I can get to the bridge.’

‘What are you talking about?’

River smiled impishly. ‘Well I’d tell you but it would absolutely ruin the surprise and I really want to see your face.’

‘Spill it, River.’

‘All will become clear in the fullness of time. For a start I need to get on the radio.’

‘Why?’

‘I need to broadcast some recognition codes.’

‘What codes?’

‘The one’s I just pulled out of our pursuers head. She’ll assume we’re one of her people.’

Mal put his head in his hands. ‘Why the hell didn’t you say so? Feed them their own IFF codes so they go away,’ he said. ‘Girl, you’re a genius.’

River grinned. ‘No feed them their own IFF codes so they’ll trust enough to dock. It’s a small scout-ship by the way. One-person crew, long range, good sensors but minimal armament. Shadow would have taken it apart.’

‘Well we’ve got the edge in firepower then’ Mal replied as he began to follow the girl as she headed for the Bridge of the Granite Gorge.

‘Well I wouldn’t exactly say that. If Shadow took out the Scout I think we’d make them really mad and then we’d be in a lot of trouble.’

‘But we’re not in trouble?’

‘Not if I give them the Identify Friend or Foe Codes,’ River replied reading the acronym out of the Captains head.

‘You’re keeping me in the dark, River.’

‘Well that’s appropriate given how far we are into the black.’

‘Don’t play games.’

River stopped and turned to him. ‘But games are fun. Especially when you’ve got new players,’ she told him.

* * *

‘What’s going on?’ Wash asked as River suddenly shot through the hatch onto the bridge followed by the Captain.

‘She won’t say,’ Mal replied.

‘I need an open channel,’ River stated. ‘Direct it towards the unknown vessel please.’

‘Captain?’ Wash asked.

Mal gritted his teeth. ‘Do as she says.’

River began punching in a series of letters and numbers onto the keyboard. It was a very long sequence.

Wash looked at the Captain quizzically.

‘IFF Codes,’ Mal said answering the look. ‘She read them right out of our new arrival’s head.’

‘That’s handy.’

‘Would have been a useful trick in the war,’ Mal replied.

Shortly after she finished sending the codes another series of letters and numbers was transmitted back appearing on the main computer terminal.

‘Excellent,’ River said. ‘Hook line and sinker.’

River returned to the keyboard and sent another message. ‘I’ve told her to dock she’ll be latching onto the rear airlock presently.’

‘Gorramit River…’

‘Trust me.’

‘You don’t make it very easy.’

River giggled. ‘It’s not supposed to come easy. It’s earned. Haven’t I earned it?’

Mal thumped the bulkhead with his left hand. ‘Well I hope you’re not about to un-earn it.’

* * *

‘You don’t need that,’ River announced pointing to Jayne’s rifle.

‘We’ll see,’ the mercenary replied

Zoe wasn’t happy. ‘This seems like a really bad idea,’ she said fingering the cut-down lever-action rifle on her hip. ‘Our record with meeting new folks ain’t exactly stellar.’

‘She won’t say anything?’ Steve asked.

‘Not a gorram thing,’ Mal replied.

River pouted. ‘I like surprises but I never really get any so you should be grateful to me for allowing you to have them instead.’

‘But these are the people that have been feeding the Reavers their own entrails… as opposed to their usual diet of other people’s entrails right?’ Wash asked.

River nodded.

‘Shouldn’t we be scared then?’

River considered the question. ‘They can be quite scary.’

Simon sighed. This was like being a child again trying to get a secret from her. She used to keep him guessing with little cryptic clues for days just to annoy him.

A loud clunk echoed throughout the Granite Gorge as the new vessel docked.

‘Shadow got guns trained on that thing?’ Jayne asked.

‘Hell yes,’ Mal replied.

‘That wasn’t necessary either,’ River declared.

Wash coughed. ‘No but it is comforting,’ he commented.

‘No clues?’ Simon asked.

River looked thoughtful. ‘The Iron Brigade,’ she said eventually.

Zoe looked to Mal. ‘Ever heard of them?’ she asked.

‘Not one of ours,’ Mal replied. ‘Alliance?’

River was really grinning now.

‘I expected this,’ Simon said bringing up his encyclopaedia. ‘So I came prepared for the inevitable “clue”.’

Jayne half raised Vera. ‘Airlock’s pressurising,’ he said nervously.

River was practically bouncing off the walls she watched her Captain’s face expectantly.

The Airlock slid open… revealing a very ordinary looking woman in her mid thirties wearing a flight suit and a very confused expression.

‘Who the hell are you?’ she asked. ‘And where did you get our codes?’

Mal straightened up. ‘I’d like to know the same thing about you and given we’ve got numbers I think you should talk first.’

‘Screw you.’

‘Everywhere we go we meet such pleasant polite people,’ Wash joked. Actually he was in a good mood she didn’t appear to be a huge threat. ‘I like the unit patch by the way,’ he said pointing at her flight suit.

Mal turned to his pilot. ‘You know that insignia?’

Wash nodded. ‘Yeah it’s one of the old Aerospace Force badges. Ours. I mean, not the Alliance. I used to know a few pilots who still wore them.’

Mal Reynolds turned and smiled at River. ‘That’s the surprise. She’s an Ex-Browncoat like us.’

River shook her head.

‘Ex nothing,’ the woman stated coldly.

Simon had been reading quietly. He paused raised his encyclopaedia and set it to read aloud.

“Iron Brigade, The: Nickname of a unit commanded by Confederate General Jo Shelby during the American Civil War responsible for several defeats of Union Troops but of which the main claim to fame was that after the defeat of the CSA they followed Shelby beyond the American border to Mexico rather than surrender to the United States Army.”

‘Well we wondered what scares Reavers,’ River said quietly still smiling. ‘Apparently waking up one morning to find a fully armed Independent Navy Taskforce has just arrived on their doorstep will do it.’

River looked at her Captain. Yes that was exactly the expression she’d been hoping for.

Part XIX

COMMENTS

Monday, August 30, 2004 12:17 AM

GUILDSISTER


Shelby... hee, hee, hee. Nice.

Monday, August 30, 2004 5:09 AM

SUVIE


Most excellent way to start a Monday morning! Once again, I anxiously await the next installment. Thank you.

Monday, August 30, 2004 5:33 AM

AMDOBELL


I absolutely adored River's surprise for the Captain. Gorrammit, you make her so much fun she is ultra shiny! Can't wait to find out more about the new arrival. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, August 30, 2004 5:43 AM

SOULOFSERENITY


That is so freakin' awesome!!! An entire Browncoat naval fleet out past the rim probably just itching to kick the Alliance where it hurts. I smell an epic in the making...

See, now I'm all jittery and anxiously waiting for the next installment. Please let it be soon!!!

Monday, August 30, 2004 1:35 PM

MALSDOXY


This is so shiny, Hotpoint...and i loved this
Maybe they just followed the trail we’ve been leaving.’
‘Corpse, corpse, wreckage, corpse, wreckage, wreckage, atomic crater,’ Wash intoned. ‘Yep, he may have a point.’
More Borwncoats!! Who'd have guessed...

Wednesday, September 1, 2004 8:00 AM

ANONYMOUS


Dude, I just read everything you've got on here and I must say you are an outstanding story teller. I love all the old earth references and the character insights. Thanks, and keep'em coming.

-CantonJohn

Thursday, December 16, 2004 6:17 AM

ARTSHIPS


All that, and a Rolling Thunder dropship from another fanfic, too.


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