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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Kaylee gets a shock when Serenity’s stowaway comes out of hiding, Jayne gets handy with a wrench, and Mal has to make a difficult decision.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 854 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Disclaimer thingy: Firefly/Serenity are owned by other folks and not by me, though I appreciate being able to write some stuff purely for fun inspired by the Firefly 'Verse. All constructive comments and feedback from you shiny readers out there much appreciated!
After Leon had felt the ship undock and move off from the prison, relief had rushed through him like strong drink, filling his head with fog. Sitting hidden in the space behind the panel, feeling the pulsing hum of the ship’s engines, his body had become suddenly weary: he slid down until he lay on his side on the floor, head pillowed on one hand. Even the pain from his injured arm wasn’t enough to keep him awake. He sank into exhausted sleep and let everything fall away into darkness.
It was pain that woke him at last. He must have turned in his sleep, twisting onto his other side and jarring his arm. He woke suddenly and uncomfortably, taking a gasping breath as a sharp ache made him shift his weight away from his left side. For a moment he didn’t know where he was: the blackness around him felt choking and panic sent him scrabbling into a sitting position. His shoulder knocked into a wall and he jerked away from it, tried to stand. The top of his head hit the ceiling of the compartment and he crouched down again, his hand going to his head. Shit. Slow down, yu bun duh. He sat back against the compartment wall, putting out a hand to steady himself. His fingers touched metal gritty with dust. Okay. Sit still. Remember where you are now? Stowed away on that ship? So it might be a good idea not to go pounding on the panels with your head and letting the crew know you’re hiding in here.
Leon waited for his thudding heart to slow down, leaning back against the wall. He listened hard for any sounds beyond the panel of his hiding place, but all he could hear was the low hum of the ship’s engine, a comforting gentle vibration. We’re still moving. Going somewhere. And I’ve been asleep, maybe for a long time. Don’t know how long. So we could be a long way from the prison. Far enough? He tried to remember what little he’d managed to overhear from prison guards and inmates about the facility’s location, of any nearby systems or planets. They always said we were well away from any Core planets. That means either a long journey to the nearest Core world… Or this ship is going somewhere in Border territory. He hoped hard that it was the latter. Getting off without being spotted is going to be hard enough, without having to dodge a bunch of go tsao de Alliance dock security guards. And there’s no way of knowing what the crew of this ship is like. Except they were making a delivery to the prison: so they’re not likely to be happy about giving a fugitive from federal justice a free ride. Might get in their way of being hired to do any more nice well-paid jobs for the Alliance.
He rested his head back against the compartment wall. His body ached: he was stiff and sore from lying on the metal deck. He started to stretch out his arms and roll his shoulders, but a burning stab of pain from his left shoulder made him stop, letting out an involuntary grunt of pain. Guay. In the darkness there was no way of checking his arm to see how bad it looked, but he cautiously felt under his sleeve to where the rag bandage was still tied tight. There was no wetness under his fingertips: the bleeding must have stopped. But the rag felt tighter than before, as though his upper arm had swollen. He touched the skin and it felt hot. That ta ma duh securichip. That doctor said it would do something like this if I messed with it. Some of the others in prison talked about it. Said there were people out there you could buy antitox from, if you knew who to ask and could pay their price. He could feel dried blood on his skin, under his fingertips. He gingerly explored the knot he’d made in the rag, wondering if he could loosen it to ease the throbbing. But the cloth was pulled tight; as he tugged on it gently a spike of pain shot up his arm. Sweat broke out on his face and he let go, his good hand falling into his lap. Leave it. Can’t do nothing in the dark, anyhow. Just sit tight and bear it; then when I get dirtside I’ll track down someone who can sell me some antitox. There’ll be some way I can pay for it.
He sat still after that, running through in his head possible strategies for getting off the ship when it landed. His knowledge of Firefly interiors was sketchy, but he assumed the best way to leave would be by the same way he’d got aboard. Wait until the crew disembarked and everything was quiet, then get out of the compartment and just slip out. Preferably without being seen. Then, wherever they’d landed, he’d have to disappear fast. Slide into a crowd and keep moving, avoid any authorities that might be around and go underground for a while. Find a place to hole up in where no-one would ask any questions, then find someone to score the antitox off. And make a deal.
His thoughts failed him here. He could remember plenty of scams from his days on Mawu, but they all relied on one thing: some kind of stake to start with. He had nothing, would have nothing, unless there was something he could take from this ship before he made a run for it. He could search the cargo hold; maybe even look around a little further. But it added to the risk. He musn’t get found by the crew: they’d hand him over to the authorities. Tsai boo shr.
His mind circled the problem again and again, raising possible solutions then discarding them. He rubbed his eyes with one hand, feeling the grime on his face. He was still tired and his head was beginning to ache. There was no workable solution, no way he could see of raising the cash he was going to need. The only thing he could think of that would probably work would be selling himself: finding some customer in a dark corner and letting him do what he’d fought Mitchell to stop him doing. His throat tightened and he had to swallow hard, setting his jaw. Yeah, take a knife in the back not to do it – then go down a dark alleyway with some guy and let him do whatever he likes? Like hell. He remembered back in Eavesdown docks, in the days before Jake had given him a chance at life; the other street kids who had traded themselves for cash. How some of them had wound up diseased, beaten, broken inside. Or just disappeared.
His arm nagged at him and he took hold of it below the elbow, pressing it against his body. I can do this. I have to. Can’t work it out right now, but I’ve got to come up with something. So I will. Whatever it takes. His thoughts, still circling, began to grow fuzzy. His chin dropped down to his chest. Just before he faded back into sleep, he thought, Guay They keep this ship so goddamn warm Like being in an oven. Then he was gone.
A noise jarred him awake: a thud, like a blow, close beside him. His eyes started wide in the darkness and he let out a choking gasp, his head jerking up from his chest. For a long moment there was nothing except the sudden reality of the wall hard against his back and the pounding of his heart – then a heavy thud came again, close through the wall of his compartment. He held himself rigid; then the muffled hum of voices came from somewhere on the other side of the panel. He couldn’t make out words, but more than one member of the crew was out there, talking. More thuds. Someone was moving something across the floor of the cargo bay, shifting or stacking objects. He had a sudden moment of panic at the thought that they might push something against the wall of his compartment and trap him in there: but after a minute he could hear that the scraping sounds were moving away. The voices continued, and the jar of footfalls. He listened tensely, waiting for the crew to go away.
The footsteps took on a lighter note, as if sounding on stairs instead of the cargo bay floor. The voices seemed to recede: then they were gone. Leon took a breath and sagged against the compartment wall. Kao. His body shook slightly: he lifted a hand and wiped at his face. Sweat ran under his fingers. In fact, his whole body was wet with it: his head burned. He moved to sit more upright and a pain like a knife blade ran through his left arm. He caught himself, biting down on the sound he’d nearly let out. His right hand wavered across and gripped the arm below the elbow, fingers tightening to try to block out the stinging pain. Tyen ah. That hurts. He slowly straightened up, eyes open but seeing nothing but blackness, breathing through clenched teeth. Ai ya, wuh de ma. The fiery stabbing faded a little, leaving an insistent pain.
Leon kept still for long minutes, his breathing gradually steadying a little. He swallowed and his throat caught with dryness. The heat from his arm seemed to have spread throughout his body while he’d slept and he became aware of a fierce thirst. He wiped at his face again and his hand shook: he clenched it into a fist. How long was I asleep this time? The note of the ship’s engine was unchanged; they were still travelling through space. When are these ta ma duh hwoon dahn going to land? The pain in his arm and the sweat on his skin tightened a knot of fear in his stomach. Got to get out of here soon. Got to make a move before this go tsao de chip makes me feel so bad I can’t do anything. He tried to swallow again and shivered. Water. Got to find some water. Something to drink. Or I’m not going to make it. So that means I got to take a risk and get out of here before we land.
He listened hard. There was no sound of the footsteps returning, or any voices. He waited for a long time to make sure, then set his good hand against the panel edge and gave it a hard shove.
Light cracked into the space like fire, making him twist his head away for a second. His fingers caught the opening panel edge and he looked back: moved to put his eye to the crack. He could see the cargo bay beyond, empty of people. Gingerly he pushed the panel further open and pulled himself out into the open space, blinking in the light. He looked quickly towards the doorway which led to the rear of the ship, then up at the metal stairway and catwalk. Clumsily, working one-handed, he eased the panel back into place. His hand was grimy with the dust and dirt of the compartment: he left a grey smudge on the panel when it was shut. Quickly he scuffed it off with the sleeve of his jacket, then looked around.
Which way? A faint light glowed in the doorway leading to the rear of the ship. If this was anything like most mid-bulk transports, there’d likely be passenger quarters of some sort back there. He moved instead to the metal stairs. All I need’s a galley, or some sort of foodstore. His legs felt weak and unsteady as he climbed, the metal rail cold under his sweaty hand. He reached a catwalk, saw metal doors on either side. Looks like access to shuttles. He mentally filed this away, continuing on up another flight of stairs. As he gained the upper level he strained his ears for the slightest sound of any of the crew. He came out into a passageway and paused, looking from side to side. To the right, there were hatches set in both walls. Must be crew quarters. He turned and moved cautiously in the opposite direction, coming into a large room with a long wooden table set in the middle. Galley. Jing-tsai.
He moved towards the galley kitchen area and quickly filled a cup with water: gulped it down, then filled it again. He was swallowing the second cupful thirstily when the sound of approaching footsteps brought his head up with a jerk. They were coming from the fore passage he’d come from, and getting closer. Without thinking he turned and ran in the opposite direction, out of the galley and along another hallway. There were steps down, which he took without slowing: a deep humming filled his ears and he stared at the shapes of heavy machinery in front of him. Ai ya. Engine room. The sound of the footsteps in the hallway behind him reached his ears and he moved without thinking, pushed himself behind part of the machinery into a dark corner, crouched low.
The footsteps came closer, clattered down the stairs; with them came the unexpected sound of someone humming a cheerful tune. Leon crouched lower in the gloom, as the footsteps’ owner emerged into the engine room. A jolt of surprise ran through him when he saw it was a young woman. An unselfconscious smile lit her face as she glanced around; then she reached down and picked up a tool from a shelf. Leaning into some part of the machinery she began to adjust something, pausing from time to time to judge the effect of her modifications on the engine.
Leon began very slowly to rise from his crouch, keeping his eyes on the young woman’s back. She seemed immersed in her work, so he started to edge out from behind the machinery where he had temporarily hidden himself. The steps leading up out of the engine room were only a few feet away: if the woman remained facing away from him he would be able to reach them and make an escape, as long as he did it noiselessly. He held his breath as he moved out into open space, then sideways towards the steps.
At that moment the young woman took one last look at her work, laid down the tool she’d been using and turned around with a satisfied grin on her face.
Leon froze: for an instant the woman just stared at him blankly, then her eyes widened. He heard the suck in of her shocked breath and knew she was going to scream; as her mouth opened his muscles came back to life and he lunged forwards to the steps, knocking her out of the way as his foot gained the lowest step and began to propel him upwards. As he dived up into the hallway her cry of shock rose behind him. Another stairway leading downwards came up on his right: grabbing the metal handrail he hurled himself down them.
Just emerged from his bunk and heading into the galley, Jayne’s head jerked up as the sound of Kaylee’s scream reached him. He headed swiftly into the aft hallway and ran towards the engine room. He dropped down the steps and saw Kaylee sitting on the floor: she stared up at him, white-faced. Jayne’s eyes switched from her to the space around them. “What’s goin’ on?”
“Someone – someone was – in here - ” Kaylee’s voice was trembling from shock. “A man – he was - hiding in here!”
“He hurt you?” demanded Jayne, his brows pulling down into a scowl.
“No - He – he – pushed me off balance - ” Kaylee’s voice shook. “Then he – just ran out into the passage.”
Jayne reached down and gave her a hand to get up, sweeping his gaze towards the doorway which led to the passage. “Ching wah tsao de liaou mahng - ” His eyes fell on the heavy wrench Kaylee had been using; he reached down and picked it up. “I’ll find the son-of-a-bitch. You stay here.” With that he moved swiftly up the steps and back into the passage, intent on pursuit.
Left behind, Kaylee moved on wobbly legs to the wall and pressed the com button. “Zoë?” Her voice still shook; she swallowed. The com crackled and Zoë’s voice issued forth. “Yeah, Kaylee?”
“We’ve got someone on Serenity. Someone didn’t ought to be here.” Kaylee pressed the palm of her hand against the metal wall to try to stop it shaking. Zoë’s voice came back like a whipcrack. “You okay? What’s happening?”
“I’m okay. Just got a little shook up, is all. There was someone, a man, hiding in the engine room. He just jumped out while I was down here and took off. Jayne’s gone lookin’ for him. Think he headed down below.”
“Jayne?” Zoë’s voice deepened with concern. “I’ll tell the captain, then I’m heading your way. You stay right there. Stay in the engine room, okay?”
“What about Simon and River and ‘Nara?” asked Kaylee.
“They’ll be fine. You just stay there. Don’t go after Jayne, all right?”
“All right,” Kaylee said in a small voice, slowly sinking down to sit against the engine room wall. Her eyes wandered around the space, checking the darker corners. First that Jubal Early, and now this. Gettin’ so I don’t know who’s gonna come jumpin’ out of the shadows down here. She put her arms around her knees and hugged them against her chest.
In the cockpit Zoë switched the comlink for a ship-wide announcement, standing as she did so. “Listen up, everyone: we got an intruder on board. Might be headed your way. Wherever you’re at, lock the door and stay put.” Zoë then switched the com just to Mal’s cabin. “Captain?” There was a pause, then Mal’s voice, still half-groggy with sleep, came over the com.
“We got a situation. Someone unfriendly on board. Just gave Kaylee a start in the engine room, now whoever it is has taken off down to the lower level. Jayne’s on ‘em.”
“What?” The sleep had vanished from his tone. “Is Kaylee hurt?”
“No, she’s just shook up, I think. I’m heading after Jayne now.” Zoë clicked the com off and headed swiftly out of the bridge, pausing only to lock the door behind her to stop anyone getting access. As she hurried along the fore passage the hatch to Mal’s cabin clunked open and he climbed swiftly out. He looked dishevelled from sleep but ready for action. Without exchanging a word the two of them continued swiftly onwards.
Leon’s feet hit the deck of the lower level running. He had a blurred glimpse of a brightly-lit windowed medical-looking room, some soft furnished chairs as he headed past them towards another doorway. It led back into the cargo bay: he started towards the panel where he’d hidden before, then skidded to a halt. No good, yuh bun duh. They know you’re on board. Can’t hide from them any more. You hole up and they’ll search the ship till they find you, then they’ll hand you back to the feds. The sound of heavy feet pounding through the area he’d just come from jerked his head around: he turned and dodged behind one of the large cargo containers, buying a few more seconds of thinking time. His mind felt blurry: he shut his eyes for a moment and held his head in his hands. Sweat slid under his fingers. Got to get off this ship. Have to get into a shuttle and fly it away before they catch you. He opened his eyes again and lifted his gaze. Ai ya, got to get back up there to access the shuttles -
Leon took a despairing breath, then froze. The footsteps were sounding on the deck of the cargo bay now. He risked a quick glance around the edge of the container: a tall, heavily-muscled man was stepping forwards, his eyes raking keenly around, one big fist clenched around a heavy wrench. Leon pulled himself back behind the container. Tyen ah. That’s a big ugly liaou mahng. Ain’t gonna be able to push him over and run for it. He looked up: above him were the stairs that led back up to the catwalk, to the ship’s shuttles. Got to dodge him, then get to the stairs and back up there. Quick, before the rest of the crew come running. He began to edge along the side of the container, trying to hush his breathing and calm his thudding heart. Sweat stung his eyes and the floor seemed unsteady under his feet, but he kept moving, pure desperation pushing him onwards. Ain’t gonna let them take me back.
Jayne was moving across the cargo bay like a cat, his gaze intently searching the space. A slight sound from behind the cargo containers made him track his eyes sideways, stopping on the spot; then he began to move silently and swiftly in that direction. He drew close to the containers and lifted the wrench, hefting it experimentally for weight and balance. Another faint sound came from behind the nearest container: the soft scrape of movement. Jayne tightened his grip on the wrench and spoke. “Okay, you hwoon dahn – I know you’re back there. You come out where I can see ya.” There was no reply. Jayne’s mouth twisted into a grim smile, anticipating what he liked best: action. “C’mon, now – c’mon out. I ain’t gonna hurt ya.” He paused, then added under his breath, “Much.”
Leon heard Jayne’s words and held still against the container, bracing himself. He’s big. I’ll bet he’s slow. So I move fast past him and keep moving, straight up those stairs. His hand shook and he clenched it into a fist, feet tensing on the floor – then he swung out and around the corner of the container, ducking low to evade what he thought was going to be the big man lunging wildly to grab him.
Jayne was ready for the young stowaway: poised intently by the container, he reacted with the lightning speed that made him the efficient fighter he was. In a blur of movement he swung his arm, lashing out with the wrench in a short powerful arc that connected with the side of Leon’s head. The youth was knocked sideways by the blow, falling full length and skidding a little when he landed. He rolled onto his face and lay still. Jayne advanced on him swiftly, wrench lifted in readiness for a follow-up blow; but Leon stayed unmoving. Jayne looked down on him, eyes narrowed; then the clatter of footsteps descending the stairs made him glance up. Zoë was coming down to the cargo deck, her gun drawn and ready; just behind her Mal was similarly prepared. They both slowed when they saw Jayne.
“It’s all right. I got him,” Jayne declared triumphantly, stepping back so they could both see the unconscious stranger lying on the floor. “Tried to jump me, but I took him down.”
Zoë and Mal approached. After a glance down at Leon on the floor, they holstered their guns. Zoë crouched and swiftly felt down the sides of the unconscious stowaway, then arms and legs. Satisfied, she stood up again. “He ain’t armed.”
“Gwai gwai long duh dong…” Mal was frowning down at the slumped form on the floor. “Zoë, tell the others the situation’s under control.”
Zoë walked to a comlink on the cargo bay wall and pressed the switch. “It’s all right, folks; we got the intruder. Everything’s okay; you can relax.”
Mal looked across at her. “Wouldn’t say everything’s okay. Not seein’ as how I’m starin’ at some go tsao de hwoon dahn got on board my ship without me knowin’ about it.” Zoë walked back across to rejoin him and Jayne, and the three of them looked down at the still motionless Leon. Zoë nodded at him. “Maybe we better get him secured before he wakes up?”
“Maybe.” Mal’s eyes were angry. “Maybe I’ll tie his hands behind his back and let Jayne loose on him, to find out just how the hell he got aboard and whether he’s got any friends still hidin’ away.”
Footsteps sounded above them: they looked up, to see Kaylee and Inara coming down the stairs, leaning over the railing to look down as they came. They reached the deck and Kaylee stared at the huddled form on the deck. “Oh… That him?”
“Less we got any other stowaways runnin’ around,” replied Mal shortly.
“I got him,” said Jayne proudly, drawing himself up to smile at Kaylee. “Won’t be botherin’ you again.” He let the tool he was holding smack a couple of times into the palm of his empty hand. “He thought he could take me, but he didn’t figure on me bein’ the better man.” He smacked the tool into his palm again. Kaylee looked at it, then at Leon sprawled face-down on the deck. “God… You hit him with that?”
“Sure did.” Jayne was still smiling with self-satisfaction. “Son-of-a-bitch didn’t see it comin’.”
More footsteps made them all turn around: Simon had appeared in the doorway from the passenger quarters, with River stepping lightly behind him. They drew closer and Simon looked around at the assembled crew. “What is going on?”
“Jayne caught the stowaway,” said Kaylee, still looking askance at the wrench in the big mercenary’s fist. Simon’s brows drew together. “Stowaway? First I hear Zoë on the com telling us there’s an intruder on board, then five minutes later that everything’s okay…” His voice tailed off as he saw the unconscious form on the deck. “Ah. I’m guessing… that that would be our uninvited guest?”
“Your observational powers are up to their usual standard, doc.” Mal’s voice was clipped.
“He was hidin’ in the engine room. Near gave me a heart attack when he come jumpin’ out on me,” said Kaylee. Simon’s gaze switched to her instantly, full of concern.
“He hurt you?”
“No – didn’t hardly touch me.” Kaylee smiled to try to show her unconcern, but it was a wavery smile. “Just knocked me outta the way tryin’ to get out, was all. Kinda give me a shock, but I’m okay.” Simon reached out and took her hand, looking into her eyes to assess the truth of her words.
Behind Kaylee, Inara spoke up. “How did he get on board?”
“That’s what I aim to find out.” Mal glowered down. “Because the only two damn places Serenity’s docked at in the last two weeks have been that supply ship… and the goddamn prison.”
“Tyen ah…” Kaylee put a hand to her mouth. “Ain’t that kinda like a… prison officer’s uniform he’s wearin’?” They all looked.
“Okay…” Simon spoke slowly, his eyes on the motionless form on the deck. “So, would I be right in thinking, we’ve just assaulted an officer from a federal justice facility?”
“Wasn’t a federal facility. Private company-run facility, under federal licence,” answered Mal, not taking his eyes off the unconscious Leon. Simon’s eyebrows raised. “Oh, well, of course, that makes all the difference.” When Mal turned on him, he lifted his hands. “I just mean, maybe the authorities won’t be as sensitive to those minor details as we are.”
“Guay.” Jayne’s face had fallen; he backed away a little. “Prison officer? Goddamn.” He held the wrench out suddenly to Kaylee. “Here. You better have this back.” She took it reluctantly, staring at it, then at him. Jayne jerked his head down at the unconscious Leon on the deck. “Maybe we shouldn’t wait for him to wake up. Maybe we should just roll him out an air lock before he comes round.”
“What, before he knows you’re the one ‘took him down’, Jayne?” Zoë spoke dryly. Simon looked at the wrench in Kaylee’s hand and a dismayed frown crossed his face. “You hit him with that?” he demanded of Jayne, pointing at the wrench.
“First thing that come handy,” Jayne replied defensively. “Anyways, it’s your woman got to screechin’, made me come runnin’. Woulda thought you’d be grateful.”
Kaylee gasped. “Jayne - ” Inara put a calming hand on her shoulder. Simon shook his head in disbelief, already starting to kneel beside the motionless form on the floor. “Let’s get him turned over. Gently!” He began to pull on Leon’s shoulder, carefully supporting his head: Zoë crouched to assist him. “That’s it – just let him roll onto his back - ” He guided the unconscious youth’s form over: as Leon’s face came into view, the bright flow of blood caught the attention of all Serenity’s crew. River took a step backwards: Kaylee’s hand raised to her lips, as Simon reached out and delicately explored the injury. “Ah… Wuh de tyen…” His eyes narrowed. “We need to get him to the infirmary, now.”
“Why you fussin’ over him?” demanded Jayne. “He’s a goddamn stowaway!”
“So I understand. And if you’d hit him just a little harder, you wouldn’t have needed to push him out of an airlock.” Simon glanced up. “Zoë, Mal, give me a hand to lift him.” They exchanged glances but complied with the doctor’s request.
Once in the med bay the three laid Leon’s unconscious form down on one of the beds. Simon began to move around with swift efficiency, bringing instruments and dressings to the bedside. Mal stood at the foot of the pallet, watching; Zoë leaned back against the second, unoccupied bed, doing the same. Kaylee, Jayne and Inara hovered just inside the doorway, their eyes following Simon as he worked: River kept just beyond the infirmary window, her gaze intent.
“He ain’t got no belt, nor one of those baton things on.” Kaylee spoke hesitantly; she raised a finger to point at Leon’s waist. “Ain’t that kinda weird? All the other guards had ‘em.”
“Looking at him now… Does anyone else think, he looks a little on the short side for a prison officer?” asked Inara.
“He ain’t no prison officer.” Mal spoke curtly. The others looked at him. “Take a closer look. That uniform don’t fit him.” They turned their collective gaze back to the motionless figure on the bed. Mal shook his head, his eyes hard. “He’s a goddamn prisoner. Stole a uniform and busted out, got on board Serenity while we were docked on that facility.”
“But how’d he get on board?” Zoë looked across at him.
“I plan to find out. Soon as the doc brings him round.”
“That might take a while.” Simon spoke whilst examining the side of Leon’s head. “Jayne hit him pretty hard. I don’t know how soon he’ll be able to - ”
“You give him a shot of somethin’ and wake him up right now.” Mal’s tone brooked no argument. “I want to know how this liaou mahng got on my ship.” As Simon seemed about to argue, Mal turned on him. “Don’t be mistakin’ that for a mere suggestion, doc.” Simon hesitated, then moved to a locker and took out a small bottle. “This will speed up his coming back to consciousness. But he’ll be concussed.”
“He’ll be worse than that if he don’t give me some answers.” Mal folded his arms. “And put him in restraints before you give him that.”
“Restraints?” Simon paused with the bottle in his hand. “He’s not going to be in any kind of shape to try anything - ”
“He’s come from that prison, he’s trouble. Put him in restraints, ma shong.”
Silently Simon did as he was ordered, securing straps around the unconscious youth’s legs, chest and wrists. Then he administered the stimulant, watching carefully for any sign of a reaction. Taking up a bowl of fluid and some cotton he began to swab gently at the blood which had flowed down Leon’s face: he also laid a dressing across the cut on his forehead, where Jayne’s blow had connected. All was quiet for some minutes as he worked.
As the blood and grime was wiped away Leon’s face was revealed to the watching crew. Kaylee was the first to speak. “Hey… He don’t hardly look old enough to be in prison.”
“Old enough to do somethin’ bad enough, they saw fit to put him there.” Mal spoke flatly.
“But he don’t look much older’n River,” protested Kaylee.
“And you seen what River’s capable of doin’.” Simon looked up sharply at Mal, his eyes suddenly fierce. Mal met his gaze. “Ain’t badmouthin’ your sister, doc. Just pointin’ out that age don’t necessarily come into it.” He turned and gave a look behind him through the infirmary glass to where River stood, her dark eyes resting on the bed with its unconscious form. Then her gaze moved up to Mal. He shifted under her scrutiny. Okay, little albatross. River leaned her forehead on the window glass.
There was a faint sound from the bed and Mal looked quickly back: the unconscious youth was stirring slightly under the influence of the stimulant. As they watched his head moved slightly; his lips parted and a low muttering sigh came out. Simon leaned closer, laying his fingers gently on the neck pulse. The youth’s eyes fluttered then opened partway, unfocussed; an unsteady breath drew in through his lips. His fingers curled and his arms moved against the restraints on his wrists. For a moment he pulled faintly against them, a frown drawing down his brows. Then he seemed to rouse more and feel the straps against his body and legs. At once he reacted: his eyes widened and with a ragged indrawn breath he jerked on the bed, straining to sit up. “ – N – No - ”
Simon was quickly at his side, laying a calming hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay. Just lie still.” The youth still struggled to move, his breath gasping through gritted teeth. “You can’t sit up. You have to lie still, or you’ll hurt yourself. Lie still.” His reassuring tone and gentle but firm grip seemed to work: after another moment, Leon subsided, slumping back against the bed. But his stare moved jerkily from Simon’s face across the room. “Where – where am I? - ” His eyes were dark against the pallor of his face.
“You’re on board my ship.” Mal spoke loudly from the foot of the bed and Leon’s gaze tracked down to him. “Which come as somethin’ of a surprise. And I really don’t like bein’ surprised.” He stepped around to the side of the bed, looking down on the youth. “So you got just one opportunity to make the best of a bad situation, by tellin’ me who the hell you are and how exactly you got yourself on this ship. And by the way, if you had company and there are any more uninvited guests on Serenity, you better speak up now about them because if I come upon them unannounced I’m like to shoot first and ask questions after.”
“No - No-one else - ” Leon stared up at Mal, his hands clenching into fists against the restraints. “Just me - ”
“Right.” Mal’s gaze didn’t waver. “Better not be lyin’ to me. I ain’t the forgivin’ type.”
“There’s no-one else – with me.” Leon swallowed.
“And you still ain’t introduced yourself. Need to know your name so’s I can send a wave to Governor Pakenham and tell him who we’re bringing back. Because I figure that’s who missin’ you, am I right?”
“My name’s – Rachid. Leon Rachid. But - don’t - send a wave - Don’t tell them - ” Leon struggled against the restraints. “Uhh – Don’t! – Don’t tell them - ”
“Sorry, boy. You ain’t in the position of handin’ out orders. That’s my job. I’m captain of this ship. I keep this ship and this crew safe, and I ain’t about to put them on the line by givin’ a ride to an escaped convict. You’re goin’ back soonest, and you better just pray they don’t think we had anythin’ to do with your goin’ walkabout.”
“No!” Leon strained against the straps. “Don’t take me back – ta ma duh hwoon dahn - ”
“Hoo-tsuh.” Mal spoke harshly. “How long you figure it’d take for Pakenham and his men to spot you’d gone missing? And how long after that you reckon he’d need to remember we was the only ship docked during the time you went AWOL? If he’s half the brains I think he has, he’ll be puttin’ out an alert right now on this ship, and contactin’ the authorities. And if you’ve got me and my crew snared up in your ugly situation, then tyen shiao duh I will put you out an airlock myself!”
“No! - He won’t know - ” Leon struggled to speak clearly, fists clenched. “They don’t know I’m gone - They think I’m dead – Not escaped!” He stared up at Mal. “I swear! They think I’m dead!”
“Talk sense, boy.” Mal shook his head. “How you figure that?”
“Because I was there – when the hull breached. Was in the work detail. Got out – through the door before it sealed. I was the only one made it. The others all – got sucked out.” Leon held Mal’s gaze with his own. “They all died – but I didn’t. Hid away, got onto your ship. But the prison doesn’t know. They think I’m dead, with the others.”
There was a brief silence. Then Mal spoke coldly. “You’re forgettin’ somethin’. Pakenham told us all the prisoners were microchipped, for security. So they’d know full well you didn’t get blasted out with your friends, the moment they ran a sweep of the facility. Which I’m betting Pakenham would have had done, soon as he got notification of that hull breach. Woulda picked up your signal, known you were still alive and on board.”
“No.” Leon shook his head vehemently. “I knew they’d do that – So I broke the chip – right after the hull breached. Broke it so it wouldn’t work.” At that, Simon looked at him.
“You broke the securichip? How?”
“Power tool. Smashed it.” Leon swallowed. “It’s destroyed. They couldn’t have scanned for it. They don’t know I was still on board – Don’t know I got away.”
“Kaylee.” Mal spoke clearly, his eyes fixed on the youth. “Go to the bridge and scan the Cortex and long-range transmissions for any alerts about our friend here. And get a fix on that prison facility and pick up their comms. I want to know if they’re missin’ someone.”
“Okay, cap’n.” With a backward glance Kaylee left the room. Mal, his eyes still on Leon, spoke again. “Inara, Jayne: me and Zoë’ll handle this.” There was a pause, then Mal turned to look at them. The expression on his face spoke loud and clear: both Inara and Jayne retreated from the med bay, with only brief backward glances. Mal watched them go, then his eyes lifted to where River still stood beyond the window, her face pressed to the glass. He crossed the room and stepped outside to stand next to her. She didn’t look at him; her eyes stayed on where the young escaped prisoner lay on the bed.
Mal spoke softly. “River. You get a notion that boy in there’s tellin’ the truth?”
“He’s alone. All alone.” River’s voice was low. “The others, they all died… He saw it happen. He got through the door, saw it through the window.”
“Right.” Mal watched her.
“They all blew out into the dark, breath boiled away, coming apart piece by piece…” River shut her eyes, hands pressing onto the glass. “Seeing the stars come rushing and their eyes freezing over, ice in their eyes - ” She shuddered and her eyes opened again: she looked back through the infirmary window at Leon, then round at Mal. “No-one else. Just him. And he broke the chip to stop it talking to them. In his arm. Switched it off.” She raised her shoulders as if warding something off. “No - Too much - ” She stepped away from the window, shaking her head. “Wetwired. Connection’s broken, leaking out…”
Mal saw Simon regarding him through the glass, watching his sister. As River backed away from the window and her distress became more visible, Simon took a step away from the bed towards the infirmary door. Mal turned back to River. “Okay, nyen ching-duh. That’s enough.” River looked at him and Mal repeated the words. “That’s enough. It’s okay.”
“Okay?” River held his gaze. “I can go now? Switch me off till I’m needed again?” Her tone had recovered; she now sounded faintly mocking. Mal took the implied rebuke without protest, his face acknowledging the justice of her accusation. “Sorry to have to ask you, little albatross. But I needed to know. You know I’m thankful for your help.”
“You’re welcome.” One corner of River’s mouth lifted, then she turned and walked away. Mal took a deep breath, then headed back into the infirmary. Simon met him by the door. “What were you doing?”
“Asking your sister for her input on this situation. Which she gave.”
“She’s not a portable mind-scanner,” Simon said sharply.
“I’m aware of that, doc.” Mal met his gaze levelly; after a moment, the anger in Simon’s eyes died down. They both turned back to the bed, where Leon lay with his eyes fixed on them. Simon moved back to the bedside, resuming his attentions to the wound on the side of Leon’s head. Mal stepped across the room to Zoë, who also sat watching the young prisoner. He spoke low so that only she could hear. “I figure we’ve got a couple of options.”
“A couple, sir?” She spoke equally quietly.
“We turn Serenity around soonest and head back to the prison, sending Pakenham a wave right now to let him know we’re bringing this liaou mahng back where he belongs.”
“We could do that.” Zoë’s tone was neutral. “Best thing to do, if they know he’s gone. Like you said, we’re the only ship that’s docked with them. They’ll figure out he must have jumped ship with us.”
“Or if what he’s sayin’ is true and they’ve reckoned him as one of those dead men…” Mal looked across at the youth. “If they truly ain’t lookin’ for him… There’s another option, where we avoid any more official entanglements. We keep him on board till we reach Beaumonde then put him off soonest. Send him on his way, after making it seriously clear that if he talks to anyone about just how he got his freedom we will track him down and make sure he winds up back where he came from.” Mal folded his arms. “I ain’t too struck on that plan, but it’s the best I can come up with. Short of followin’ Jayne’s suggestion.”
“Putting him out an airlock might be a little drastic,” Zoë said.
“Well, it has certain poetic justice to it,” rejoined Mal. “After all, accordin’ to his story he oughta be breathin’ space like the rest of his work detail. Only pure chance he made it.”
“So we’d keep him on board, if his story checks out?”
“Under lockdown. He won’t be joinin’ us for dinner.” Mal shook his head. “We don’t know what manner of crime our young friend there got sent down for, but I’m bettin’ it wasn’t for littering.”
The com beside them clicked and Kaylee’s voice came out. “Captain?” Mal moved to answer it. “Yeah, Kaylee.”
“Checked the Cortex and long-range transmissions; and pulled up all the facility’s logged communications for the last three days since we left.”
“They ain’t lookin’ for him, cap’n. First there weren’t no mention of escaped prisoners or nothing, and there’s no security alerts posted for this quadrant. Then I pulled up a report about the prison accident. There’s a full run-down on what happened and the list of casualties: three prison officers and six prisoners on the work detail, with a list of names. There’s a Leon Rachid on the list. As far as the authorities are concerned, he’s officially dead.” Mal and Zoë exchanged glances, then both looked over at Leon. Mal leaned in to the com. “Okay, Kaylee. Out.” He straightened up and walked slowly back over to the bed, followed by Zoë. Leon turned his head to look at them. Mal spoke. “Seems like your story checks out. Authorities got you down as walkin’ in space without a suit, along with the rest of your former friends.”
“I told you - ” answered Leon, wincing as Simon taped a dressing over the cut on the side of his head. Mal nodded. “Uh huh. Which still leaves me with a decision to make. Because the way I figure it, you’re still a fugitive from justice. Authorities get wind of the fact you’re on my boat, that’s gonna cause me and mine a whole mess of trouble.”
“So – you’re going to hand me over?” Leon swallowed: his voice was bitterly angry when he spoke. “Give me to the – feds as a present? Get yourself some brownie points with the Alliance government – so’s you can go on working their contracts, taking their coin?” His arms strained against the straps. “You go tsao de Alliance ass-kisser - ”
Zoë took a breath: Mal’s eyes darkened, his mouth pulling into a grim line. “Watch your mouth, boy, or you’ll be joining your former workmates out there breathing vacuum!”
“Then do it!” Leon pushed himself up as far as he could against the restraints, the straps biting into his flesh, the fury burning in him matching the anger of the hard-eyed man beside the bed. “Put me out your goddamn airlock! If you’re planning to hand me back to the feds – then just blow me out into space! I ain’t going back to that place - ” His voice shook and he swallowed, fought to keep talking. “You’ll have to put me out into space! Because I’m not going to be sent back!”
Mal was silent for a moment. Hell. He means it. His own anger still simmered, but he made himself wait a moment before speaking. “Just you settle down, and listen to me.” Leon lay still, breathing harshly, eyes still fixed fiercely on Mal. “Any decision I make on this ship, I make for me and my crew. Alliance government don’t enter into it. You had the faintest notion of my feelings towards them and the federal authorities, you’d know better than to say what you just said to me. So you bear that in mind before you go sayin’ anything else about me and mine. In case you hadn’t noticed, situation you’re in you’d be smart to work at getting’ on my good side; and I’m tellin’ you that you ain’t made a good beginning.” He took a breath. “Now. I didn’t want you on my boat, and I don’t want you aboard any longer than needs be. That bein’ the case, it’s two days’ travel to Beaumonde where we’re headed, which is shorter than turning around and taking you back to that prison. I ain’t plannin’ to waste any more time or fuel on this trip, so this is the way it’s gonna go: we’ll take you to Beaumonde and there you’ll disembark, and disappear. And I mean, disappear.” His eyes held Leon coldly. “I don’t want to see or hear of hide nor hair of you again, you understand me? And if you should ever let slip to someone in a bar or anywhere else how you made your journey to freedom, we’ll revisit the deal: I’ll send an untraceable wave to the authorities with your whereabouts on it, so they can come and pick you up and put you back where you belong. Or failin’ that, I’ll just come find you myself. And I’m tellin’ you: you will not want to be found by me.” There was a brief silence, Mal and Leon locking gazes with each other. Then Mal said slowly and clearly, “Dong luh mah?”
Leon swallowed. The fire in his eyes faded and he let his head fall back against the bed. “Yeah.” His voice sounded suddenly exhausted. Mal watched him for a moment longer, then turned away. “Zoë. You’ll stay here while the doc’s workin’ on him.” He looked at Simon. “You keep the door locked while he’s in here. Soon as he’s fit to move, he’s to be confined. In cuffs.” Simon nodded silently. Mal looked back to Leon on the bed and spoke to him one last time. “You give the doc here or any of my crew any trouble, you’ll be treading space, Rachid. I’ll put you out that airlock door myself and I won’t lose any sleep over it.” He stepped away and headed for the door, speaking back over his shoulder to Zoë. “I’ve got the bridge.” Then he was gone.
Monday, February 11, 2008 1:44 PM
Monday, February 11, 2008 2:06 PM
Monday, February 11, 2008 10:45 PM
Wednesday, February 13, 2008 7:58 AM
Tuesday, February 19, 2008 7:19 AM
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