BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

CBSTEVE

The Return Home - Part 8
Saturday, June 14, 2008

Serenity heads for Hera and Mal and Zoe's past catches up with them. Meanwhile Shepherd Book arrives on Ariel and prepares for his mission.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2223    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

The Return Home – Part 8

Serenity sat in a dry river bed on Oxbridge moon in the outer edges of the Persephone system, a necessary stop to make repairs to the ship due to damage caused in a battle with two Alliance gunships a few hours earlier. After a quick lunch Kaylee got to work patching holes and making the ship air tight again, at least for the time being. As she hung over the side of Inara’s shuttle in a harness, with soldering metal and torch in hand, Kaylee knew it was only a rough patch job and that they would have to land on Hera and go into that shipyard Badger said was there, close by Serenity Valley. The shock his words produced was evident on the Capt’n and Zoe’s faces. Serenity Valley. The last battle.

Badger explained that a cousin of his had a shipyard nearby the battlefield. He had set up shop there years ago after the battle, scavenging metal and tank and high flyer parts from the battlefield, making a tidy profit and then was able to open his own ship repair yard. Mal made no decisions on whether they would go or not and left the table in a foul mood. Kaylee asked Jayne to help her with the repairs and the big merc was glad to get off the boat, and away from the questions he knew everyone except River had about Book’s letter.

They moved about the ship for hours, attached to EVA lines and harnesses, pounding out dents with mallets, pulling spent Alliance heavy slugs from the hull, soldering holes in the back and in Inara’s shuttle. Kaylee’s rad detector signaled that they were leaking rads somewhere from the tail end and she got the feeling that the full burn in atmo they executed to escape the Alliance gunships had caused the ship to overstress itself. There had to be a small hairline crack in the bibulous end but Kaylee couldn’t see, didn’t have the equipment to detect it or repair it and knew it had to be fixed before it caused bigger problems. She patched all the holes she could find in Inara’s shuttle and then Jayne pulled her up to the top of the shuttle and they climbed to the top of Serenity.

“Thanks, Jayne. That’s it for now,” Kaylee told him as she gazed off into the setting star of the Persephone system. It had been a short day, Oxbridge having a fast rotation period, faster than most places she had been.

Jayne had been uncharacteristically silent for most of the repair work and Kaylee thought she knew why.

“Jayne, Book’ll be okay.”

He didn’t say anything for a moment. “Just…way he left…feels like someone told me all the bars and whorehouses in the verse went out of business on same day.”

Kaylee almost laughed at his analogy but checked herself at the last moment when she remembered how shocked and sad she had felt when Book left, especially since he was supposed to marry her and Simon. “Yeah, was strange way to leave Serenity. Feels like ship ain’t whole without him.”

They were silent as they looked at the setting sun, both remembering the last time they saw Book.

Jayne bent to pick up the harness ropes and started to coil them on his arm. “Think she’ll hold together?”

“For a while. But I gotta get into that shipyard.”

“Mal ain’t gonna like going back to Hera.”

“It’s been seven years, eleven if you count the four missing years. He’s gotta get over it sometime.”

“Don’t know. Lots happened to him there. I ain’t never been in no war and don’t ever want to be,” Jayne replied as he picked up the ropes and harness and started toward the open upper hatch. Kaylee grabbed the acetylene tank and her torch and followed him.

“How come you weren’t in the war, Jayne? I mean, you’re older than the Capt’n and Zoe and you for sure don’t like the Alliance.”

Jayne dropped his load by the hatch and helped her with the acetylene tank. “I wasn’t stupid, that’s why. Ain’t no profit in war if you’re doing the fighting.”

She gave him a disapproving look. “They was fighting for their freedom. Ours too, come to think of it.”

“I didn’t ask ‘em to do no fighting for me. And look what it got them. Almost killed, time in a prison camp, nothing but bad memories. For what? They lost, remember?”

“Yeah,” Kaylee said sadly. “Guess we all lost.”

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

While Kaylee and Jayne made repairs Mal took Badger to the bridge and had him send out several waves to various contacts of his and put out the good word for Mal and Serenity. A few of his contacts had heard Badger had some trouble on Persephone and Badger assured them that with Mal and Serenity’s help all would be well again soon and that the shop was still open for business.

“Vultures already sniffing around my still living carcass,” he said in disgust to Mal after he sent the last wave. “Where’s the loyalty? Where’s the love?”

“You know business types,” said Mal. “Seems me and you had a few similar problems in the past.”

“In the past it shall remain. I don’t forget them that helps me.”

“Then sooner you’re back at the shop better for both of us,” Mal said hoping Badger would get the hint.

The little man smiled. “Course, better for both of us, eh? No worries Mal, I got no reason to stay on Serenity. Since you got none to go back to Persephone I’ll find my own way.”

“There’s the little matter of who you know is on this ship,” Mal said and gave Badger one of his stern stares.

Badger just grinned. “Mal, Mal, thought we was gonna be friends now? I got no eye for the Tam reward, either, knowing better than to cross you, but others might not have no such reservations. We get on Hera you keep them out of sight or I won’t be responsible for my cousin and his lot.”

“They’ll stay on board,” Mal said. “What’s your plan?”

“Don’t know,” Badger said as he thought on this. “Got to get back to Persephone, see if I can bribe the local coppers into letting me run things again. Things go better if Cutter’s lackey is gone. And I think I need to have a word with Harrow. First to cuss him out for sending Forbes to me in the first place and second to say thank you for putting in a good word with you.”

”Seems like they cancel each other out.”

“Could be at that. Anyways, to business. What’s it gonna be for your first run after you set Serenity right? Food stuffs from Boros? More cattle to Jiangyin? How about a load of iron ore from Haven?”

Mal didn’t want any of these but he didn’t want Badger knowing they were looking for the lost Miranda either. Haven was closest to where Book said Miranda was.

“Haven sounds good. I know people there and iron ore don’t rot like food or stink up the boat like cattle.”

“Smart call. We get to Hera I’ll get you the details.”

“And we’ll talk about a bigger share for us.”

“Of course. By the by, what ever happened to that cargo you was suppose to deliver to Greenleaf all them years ago?”

Mal looked at him and thought for moment before speaking. “Still got it.”

“Eh? Still got it? After four bloody years? You got into all this trouble and killed him and you still got his cargo? Don’t make sense.”

“Does if you know the cargo. It’s a load of guns and ammo. Alliance cruiser jumped us and we had to run or face a death penalty.”

“So how come you never went back and made good on the delivery?”

“Had a bad feeling. Think we might have been set up. Hid the guns for while, but picked them up again recently. Still in good shape. Know someone needs ‘em?”

Badger smiled. “Now ain’t this a coincidence. It was just what smart boy Forbes wanted me to tell you. That the rebels on the Rim was looking for guns and I had some for sale. I’ll ask the boys on Hera, see what we can do. Might have to take a discount.”

“No problem. Sooner they’re off my boat the better I’ll feel.”

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

Mal was sitting on the bridge in the pilot’s seat, looking over the nav charts, looking at Hera and thinking on the past and what to do about the future. He’d wait for Kaylee’s report but he knew already what she’d say and he figured it was time to face his demons. His conversation with Badger and the chance to get back to doing his real business made him set his mind that Hera was their next destination.

“What happened there?” Inara asked quietly and Mal turned, startled to see her behind him, looking at the nav screen and the picture of Hera.

“Nothing good,’ he replied and then changed the subject. “Shuttle okay?”

She sat in the co-pilot’s seat, all grace and beauty and his heart thumped as he once more took in her lovely form and realized he did love her.

“Few things broken, nothing major. Smells like soldering iron and burnt metal in there now.”

“We’ll camp out in my bunk tonight.”

She smiled. “Your bed’s a bit small for two.”

“Makes it all the cozier,” he said and grinned back at her. “Come here.”

She rose and then came over to him and she gave a squeal of delight as he pulled her into his lap and gave her a big kiss.

“What was that for?” she asked as she nestled in his arms, feeling safe and loved.

“Cause I love you,” he said and there it was, he’d finally said it, not the way he had planned but what the hell, it was the words that mattered, not the setting.

Inara beamed and gave him a steady gaze. “About time,” she said and the look of puzzlement on his face caused her to laugh. “Mal, I’ve known you’ve had feelings for me from almost the first day I rented my shuttle from you. I am a Companion, after all.”

“Right. Which brings up a point we should discuss.”

“You mean my retirement?”

“Ah, yeah. If you…I mean…I ain’t gonna push you…but…it’s your decision…and..”

“You’re a fool sometimes, Malcolm Reynolds. My license has lapsed and you don’t see me pushing you to find a Guild house where I can renew it, do you?”

“Nope.”

“Besides, I wouldn’t want you waiting outside my shuttle to blacken the eyes of every man or woman that I serviced.”

“Women?”

“Really, Mal, you know I’ve slept with women before.”

“Was it…good?” he said with a gulp, the picture of the blond councilor Inara had slept with coming into sharp focus in his mind.

She gave him one of her sexiest looks and whispered in his ear, her hot breath making his flesh tingle all over. “Yes, it was very enjoyable. All sex is. When two bodies are joined as one, flesh gliding against flesh, heat building in hearts and loins and mind, there is not a greater pleasure in life. Unless the one you are with is the one you love.”

Inara could feel him getting aroused as she spoke and she wiggled a little and she could feel him respond.

“You’re driving me crazy,” he said as he nuzzled her neck.

“I think we need to wait until bedtime.”

Mal blinked his eyes rapidly and wiped some perspiration from his forehead. “Right. Bedtime, Captainy things to do first.”

“And yes, Mal, I love you, too.”

He beamed at her. “Enough to stay with me on this bucket of bolts?”

“Well, don’t know about that yet. I do have some substantial savings, you know. Enough to start a new life.”

Mal was surprised. “Savings? You mean as in… money?”

“Yes, money I earned in the legal way, on my back all these years. In a bank on Ariel. Along with some investments I’ve made, enough to retire on. The both of us.”

He was just staring at her, stunned at the idea. “Retire? But what about…Serenity?”

Inara just sighed. “I knew this would happen. You’re more in love with this ship than anything else.”

She got off his lap and gave him a glare. “Someday, you’ll have to make up your mind. This is no place to lead a life or start a family.”

Mal’s jaw just dropped. “A family? You’re not…”

“Of course not,” she said in exasperation. God, men were so stupid when it came to babies. They were barely together a week and already he was thinking she was pregnant. “But Mal…don’t you want…something more than this? What you said to Simon the other day. Did you mean it?”

He stood and took her in his arms and again she felt his strength and warmth and safety. “Every word.”

And he gave her a long passionate kiss.

“This money,” he said after they came up for air. “It wouldn’t be enough to buy a ranch…on Shadow, would it?”

“Could be,” she said and Mal just grinned.

“I miss being a rancher, being on a horse all day, moving through the countryside. Ain’t nothing like it.”

“Then that’s what we’ll do,” she said.

Mal nodded. “But we got other things to take care of first or there’ll be no peace for any of us, you too.”

Inara sighed, worried for them all and knowing the things to come would be dangerous. “I know.”

“Hey,” said Kaylee as she bounced onto the bridge, covered in grim and looking tired but still with a smile and a glow about her. “I ain’t interrupting, am I?”

“No,” said Mal. “What’s the word, little Kaylee?”

“Got her patched up, Capt’n. Like to do some upper atmo tests before we hit the black, just to be sure she’s airtight. Inara, shouldn’t sleep in there tonight, might not be so safe.”

“I’ve already made arrangements,” she said with a glance towards Mal.

“Oh, shiny,” she said and then looked at Mal. “But Capt’n, I’m still picking up rads leaking and I can’t find the source. I need to put down in a shipyard, real soon.”

Mal nodded his understanding. “Looks like we’re going to Hera.”

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

It was almost twenty hours to Hera at seventy five percent power and that’s all Kaylee could guarantee would be safe and no way in the verse they could chance engaging the Kovalev drive, not with the status of the engine uncertain and certainly not with Badger on board. After take off and a few pressure tests in the high atmo on the edge of space Kaylee gave the okay for the run to Hera.

After a shower Kaylee felt rejuvenated and went off to see Simon to patch up a burn she had her left wrist where a piece of hot soldering metal had somehow got inside her glove. She sat on the examining table as he put some ointment on it.

“There, all better,’ Simon said and gave her wrist a little kiss.

“That’s the best medicine,” Kaylee said and grabbed him and pulled him close and gave him a nice long slow kiss.

“You should do that in your room,” said River as she limped past the door.

“And I told you to stay off that leg,” Simon said. “It’s the only way it will heal.”

“I know. But its supper time,” River said and then she stared at the ceiling. “Badger’s cooking.”

Kaylee and Simon didn’t disbelieve her, knowing her too well by now, but Simon warned her to be careful what she said around Badger and she understood. They helped River up the stairs and to the dining table. Unsurprisingly, Badger was there in the kitchen wearing an apron and his bowler hat, making dinner for the crew.

“Evening, ladies and gents, set yourselves down, no need to lend a hand, all is under control,” he said like the host at a high class restaurant. The meal he prepared of roast beef and boiled potatoes and carrots and a salad was bland but filling and all enjoyed it, especially after adding the various spices and sauces they liked. Many hours later the crew retired for the night. Simon checked everyone’s injures before they went to bed and all were doing well. Mal told Kaylee to lock the engine room door in case Badger got to sleep walking. He was the last to bed as usual and crawled down into his bunk and into Inara’s waiting arms for a well deserved bout of lovemaking and relaxation.

And so the crew of Serenity, plus one more or less welcomed guest settled in for the night. But all the crew felt a little sadness, knowing that one person was missing and they all wished Book was still on board. And Kaylee thought on one more person, her father, and knew he knew she was all right but wanted more than anything in the world to talk to him. As she drifted off to sleep in Simon’s arms she dreamed of her father and mother and their little house on Taos and Kaylee remembered it as being the happiest time in her life. That is until she fell in love with the man who held her now.

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

“Hey, I’m home,” Jonathan Frye shouted and his wife Dorothy came out of the kitchen and gave him a big kiss.

“Dinner’s almost ready,” she said.

“Smells good,” he said as he sat in his big armchair.

“Oh, and there’s a wave from Kaylee. She’s got some great news.”

“What news?”

“It’s a surprise. Open the wave. It’s all set up.”

Jonathan reached for the Cortex screen and turned to the Wave Connections page. He found the message and hit the open button. The image of his daughter came on screen and she looked fine except for a bandage on her forehead.

“Ah, daddy…it’s me….Kaylee…I’m okay….ain’t dead or nothing…it’s a long story. I’m still with the ship…you know the one…we’ve had an adventure that you could write a book about. This gonna sound crazy but we’ve been to… Earth….and back…crazy right? It took four years…seemed like only a few minutes but….anyways, lots to talk about when I see you, hopefully soon. We’re about a week away from Taos. Maybe closer if…well, can’t say why just yet….”

As the message finished his wife was sitting beside him on a sofa. “She said they went to Earth? Is that right?”

“Yeah,” said Jonathan as he lit a cigar and took a deep drag. “Got sucked into a wormhole some crazy scientist back on Earth made. Said his name was…can’t remember…some Russian guy.”

“That’s amazing. And all this time that she’s been gone, four years, were they on Earth?”

Jonathan was about to answer and paused for a second. “I thought you died seven years ago?”

“No dear, I’ve been right here all this time.”

“Oh, right. Yeah, so anyway, this girl, ah, River, that’s her, soon gonna be Kaylee’s sister-in-law. Oh that reminds me, Kaylee’s wants your dress for her wedding.”

“Wedding? Who…ah, yes, Simon, River’s brother. Of course, I’ll get the dress out after dinner. Now, what did River Tam say about the missing four years?”

“River said…hey, I didn’t tell you her last name, did I?”

“I’ve met her before, dear.”

“That’s right. Anyway, she said some crazy theory from Einstein, said they only traveled for about four minutes but that two years passed outside the wormhole. So going to Earth and coming home, they lost four years.”

“That’s amazing. And Earth, how is it?”

“Mostly destroyed, they had a nuclear war. Ain’t much left.”

There was a pause and then his wife spoke again. “But how did they manage to travel so fast?”

“This Russian guy, he built an FTL drive right into Serenity’s main engine. And Kaylee and I fixed it so it can fly just below light speed without making a wormhole.”

“Very good. And where was Serenity going next, dear?”

“Hey, I’m sure hungry. Felt like I ain’t ate in days. Dinner ready yet?”

“In five minutes. So, was there any place mentioned?”

“Yeah, ghost planet. Doesn’t exist.”

“What planet was that dear?”

“Miranda.”

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

Adam Cutter sat alone in the control booth of the black room, listening to Jonathan Frye answer his questions, Cutter playing the role of Frye’s wife. It was called Sensory Deprivation and Jonathan Frye had cracked in just over twenty four hours. Cutter had been home asleep when the technicians called him and said Frye was talking to his wife, who was dead for seven years according to their reports. Cutter immediately showered, dressed and alerted his body guards he was heading back to the Ministry of the Interior.

After he arrived in the black room he told all the technicians to get out and he sat in a chair in the control room. He saw Frye in the large tank, still suspended in the translucent whitish material. No matter how much he moved or tried to swim he couldn’t reached the sides, top or bottom. The idea was to totally deprive a person of all contact with the outside world. The diver’s helmet that provide air was completely black, no light or noise could enter unless someone spoke to the subject through its comms link. Test subjects had described being in the Sensory Deprivation tank like being in a black pit with no bottom. Some felt the sensation of continuously falling, others, religious ones, said they thought they had been sent to Purgatory, others felt they were back inside their mother’s womb. All were disconnected from reality and felt the world they knew had disappeared.

At first subjects cursed their jailers, called them everything in the book, let their rage lash out. They struggled and fought and tried to move but couldn’t. Then there was a calm stage, where they sometimes slept and sometimes had nightmares. After they slept most were more afraid than anything else. Some begged for it to end, said they would confess, tell them anything, just please let me free, even if it meant giving away their deepest darkest secrets. All began to hallucinate, began to see things that weren’t there, held imaginary conversations with people, just to hear their own voice and imagined they heard someone else’s.

Cutter first listened to the recordings they made of Frye from the last day, fast forwarding and taking random samples. He went through most of the stages all subjects did., except he hadn’t begged or asked for them to release him. At first he mumbled and then the drugs wore off and he cursed them all and said he’d never say anything and they’d all go to jail since he had done nothing wrong. He tried to swim like the others but got nowhere. And then after a long while he slept. After he awoke he was quiet. Then the technicians recorded him praying, asking his Lord for forgiveness for being weak and allowing himself to be captured. And then at the twenty six hour mark he began to have a conversation with his dead wife.

“Now, Jonathan, dear,” Cutter said into a mic which sent his words to computer banks and turned his voice into an approximate female voice with an accent from Taos attached. “Why are they going to Miranda?”

“They didn’t tell me directly. Heard them talking about it. Said the word few times, said they weren’t even sure it existed. Hey, where’s Kaylee now? Her wedding’s tomorrow.”

“She’s with Simon, River’s brother.”

“Oh, he’s a nice guy. And a doctor, too. Never thought she’d marry a doctor.”

“Where’s he from again dear?”

“Osiris.”

“Ah, yes, Simon and River Tam from Osiris. How long have they been with Serenity now?”

“Don’t know. Long enough for Kaylee to fall in love with him.”

“Yes. It will be a lovely wedding.”

“Yeah just wish her mother was alive to see it.”

“I’m right here.”

“What? Oh, yeah. Hey, I’m hungry. Dinner ready yet?”

“Yes. Let’s go eat.”

Cutter ended the conversation and knew Jonathan Frye had told him as much as he needed. Serenity had an FTL drive, made by a Russian scientist on Earth, an Earth devastated by nuclear war. No doubt the jewelry they had been trying to sell was looted from Earth. And the crew of Serenity knew about Miranda, perhaps from River or perhaps from that accursed broadcast. Whatever the case, if Serenity’s crew went to Miranda they were in for a big surprise. The Reavers would show them no mercy. But now Cutter faced a dilemma. The Reavers would take care of his River Tam problem, but he wanted that FTL drive. That technology was a once in a lifetime prize that could not be ignored. And Jonathan Frye and his daughter knew how it operated and could even manipulate it. Above all they must not die.

He called the technicians back into the room. “All recordings of this man will be destroyed immediately. Remove him from the tank, see that he is given medical treatment and is fed. Place him in one of the more comfortable but secure rooms we have.”

As Cutter walked away they jumped to the tasks he had ordered. Now, Cutter thought, to call Maston Forbes and give him a new assignment. Killing River Tam was still a priority. But an amendment would be made to those orders. Find Serenity but do not destroy it. If that was not possible, then he was to capture Kaylee Frye and bring her to Londinium at once. And if Simon Tam truly loved her, he would be sure to follow, with his sister no doubt. As a last resort he would broadcast on all channels the impeding execution of Jonathan Frye. Kaylee Frye and the others would come to him, one way or another.

*********************************************************************** Someone was coming to Adam Cutter, but it was not who he expected. Shepherd Book’s journey to Ariel had been uneventful, with the exception of the ship’s captain asking him to say a service for the crew and passengers, which Book gladly did. There were only a few passengers and most kept to themselves. On Ariel all of the passengers were subjected to an ID check on leaving the ship, Alliance troopers using scanners to check their cards. One man had no ID and was immediately taken into custody. It was about the rebellion, the trooper who took Book’s ID informed him. Anyone without proper ID was being checked and questioned about their whereabouts and activities. Book had two IDs, one for being a Shepherd and one that got you preferred medical treatment on an Alliance cruiser. The trooper looked tired and Book could smell the sickly sweet scent of sweat and alcohol on him. That boy had been up boozing the night before. As Book’s card went into the scanner the trooper sleepily looked and then removed it and returned his card.

“Welcome to Ariel, Shepherd Book,” he said wearily. “What’s your business here?”

“I’m just a Shepherd going about the Lord’s business,” Book calmly informed him.

“Probably find more heathens on the Rim than here, Shepherd, what with new rebellion and all” the trooper stated and Book smiled.

“Oh, you’d be surprised at where one can find heathens a plenty, my son. Sometimes they are right in front of you and you don’t even know it. For the future, try using aftershave, masks the smell of the booze.”

The trooper just stared at him, gulped, and waved him on and Book smiled to himself, knowing that boy would take a long good look at himself in the mirror when he got home.

Book walked toward the space port departures board, carrying his suitcase at his side. A quick scan of the board showed that the next vessel going to Londinium was not departing till the next morning so Book decided to get a room for the night after purchasing a ticket. He found a small hotel near the spaceport and managed to get the last room. His money he had gotten on Persephone was almost gone but he knew where he could get more. He had some things to do but first needed a rest. These old bones are weary and I need to be in shape for things to come, he thought as he lay down on the bed. His last thoughts before drifting off to sleep were about his friends on Serenity, hoping that they were well and in good spirits.

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

Mal and Zoe weren’t in good spirits at all, returning to a place they had both swore never to set foot on again. As Serenity’s ramp came down, Mal stood and smelled the air of Hera and all it reminded him of was death and destruction. Before them was a jumbled down section of a small town, with a big sign saying “Jamison’s Metal Works” right in front of where they had landed.

“Hello, hello,” said a small man as he walked up the ramp toward them. “Jim Jamison’s the name and business is my game. Where’s Tom?”

Zoe and Mal looked at each other in surprise. “Who?” Zoe asked.

“Tom, Tommy boy, the old Badger!”

“Right here, you wanker!” said Badger as he came out of the cargo bay and gave his cousin a big hug.

“Tom?” Mal said with a smirk to Badger.

“What? You didn’t think Badger was me real name did you?”

“Fits you like a glove,” said Jayne as he came up to them. He looked right at Jim Jamison. “Where’s the nearest whorehouse?”

“Right to the point, eh? Miss Barbara’s is two blocks over. House with the naked lady in neon on the front.”

“Jayne, don’t get lost,” Mal said. “We’re outta here soon as ship’s repaired.”

“Only place I’m gonna get lost is ‘tween a ladies legs,” said Jayne as he went off with a big grin.

Kaylee came out and explained the problems they had to Jamison and as Badger, Mal and Zoe walked off to Jamison’s office, Wash and Kaylee moved the ship into the dry dock and his crew got to work with Kaylee’s help. She fretted over Simon and River still being on board but no one needed to go on the ship since all the damage was on the outside.

“Now, let’s talk about payment,” Jamison said after he returned to his office where Badger was making tea for everyone.

“Kinda short on cash,” Mal said. “We got other things you might want.”

“Such as?” Jamison said as he sat behind his desk with a cup of tea in hand.

“We got a few pieces of fine jewelry we picked up,” Mal told them.

“That so?” said Badger. “Right, remember seeing your mugs on a wanted poster on Persephone. Wonder how they got your names.”

Zoe gave him a dirty look. “So have we. You didn’t happen to say anything to Forbes?”

“Scouts honor, only name he got from me was Mal’s and he already knew that.”

“Don’t know, Captain,” Jamison said. “Alliance put word out about stolen jewelry. Think I’ll pass. What else you got?”

Zoe and Mal exchange glances and then Badger saved them the trouble of telling his cousin about the guns. “Anyone looking for some nice hardware?”

Jamison thought for a moment. “Could be. Know a fella who knows a fella. Always looking for hardware.”

“Well, I got a boatload,” Mal said. “Let’s go have a look see.”

They spent the next half hour in Serenity’s cargo bay going through the guns that Mal and Wash and Zoe brought out from the various nooks and crannies they had them hidden in. Kaylee had seen them coming and had quickly warned Simon and River to stay in their rooms for now.

“Is that an old Earth That Was Springfield ’03?” Jamison asked as he picked up the sniper rifle Jayne had being lovingly cleaning before the whole wormhole mess started.

“Ah, yeah, sure is,” said Mal with a shrug to Zoe the others didn’t see. “Antique worth more than rest put together.” Mal wasn’t sure about that but the way Jamison was talking he was sure it was worth something.

“Maybe,” said Jamison. “All right, I’ll take them four crates of automatics and the Springfield and we’ll call it even.”

"One more thing," Mal said. "We need a new transponder code."

Jamison smiled. "For a Firefly? Might have one about. Cost you two more crates of guns."

Mal couldn’t think of any way he was being cheated so agreed and was glad at least some of the illegal cargo was leaving his ship. One of Jamison’s men drove a forklift into the cargo bay and after the crates were covered over with some cloth, he moved them off the ship.

Mal still had a problem though. “I got bunch more hardware. Know anyone willing to buy ‘em for cash?”

Badger and his cousin went off in the corner and had a long chat as Zoe and Mal stood by. “He’s gonna try to cheat us,” Zoe said with a touch of anger.

“This time I don’t care. I want them guns gone.”

Badger and Jamison came back to them. “Ok, Mal, since we got us a new understanding and seeing as you pulled me ashes out of the fire so to speak, we’ll store them guns here and as we can sell them we’ll give you fifty percent. Deal?”

Zoe was about to say no rutting way but Mal gave her a look and stuck out his hand. “Deal.”

Badger and his cousin broke out into grins. “Excellent,’ said Badger. “Now, what else’s on the agenda?”

“A ride,” said Mal. “Over to Serenity Valley.”

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

Mal drove a small open jeep along a paved road toward the rolling hills that were the eastern side of Serenity Valley. Zoe and Inara were with him, Inara dressed in more outdoorsy clothing, pants, shirt, and boots, than her usual finery. Might be time for a wardrobe change, she thought, if I’m going to be a future rancher. Mal and Zoe were silent the whole way and Inara knew not to talk about what had happened here unless they spoke first. They drove through a narrow pass in the rolling hills of Hera and then they were there, back in Serenity Valley. What Mal saw made his blood boil.

The valley was laid out exactly as he remembered it, every small hill and rise, every fold of cover and every exposed position, the valley still a lot of rock and dirt, and not much good for farming. There was even the odd derelict tank or crashed high flyer still out there, sticking up like a monument to the stupidity of war. But what made Mal’s blood boil were the new things. It was a tourist spot now.

Off to the left side of the road was a parking lot and there were several vehicles there. There was a “Serenity Valley Gift Shop” with a small restaurant attached, a blue and white building with a “Best Tourist Sight, 2521” sign in a window. And on the right side was a huge obelisk monument to the battle with two tanks flanking it, one an Alliance one in prime condition, the other an Independent one, with two big holes in the right side. People were walking about, taking vids and pics of the valley and the monument, standing by the tanks, mugging for the cameras.

Mal pulled the jeep in the parking lot and turned off the engine.

“I can’t…believe it, sir,” Zoe finally managed to say.

“What did you expect?” he snapped at her. “They won, remember?”

“Mal, be calm,” Inara said and he just shook with rage.

“Be calm! This place…a tourist spot!’

And Zoe and Inara sat and let him spew on for a few minutes until finally he ran out of steam. “Sorry, just…well, we’re here, let’s take a look.”

They got out and walked to the gift shop/restaurant building and then they noticed on the back side a large platform with a grand view of the valley and the battlefield. There was huge panoramic relief model of the battlefield and it had markings of the important events and the course of the battle, with pictures of the generals and lists of the casualties. As Mal and Zoe examine this they snorted and said this part was wrong and they got that part mixed up and they even laughed at the ridiculously low casualty figures.

“Excuse me, but you disagree with our interpretation of the battle?” said a small portly man with a receding hairline. He was wearing a blue vest over his shirt and a large pin said “Hera Tourism Board.”

Mal just glared at him. “Mister, you live on Hera during the war?”

“Ah, yes, yes I did. But I wasn’t a soldier.”

“No kidding. Look, you got this part all wrong. Battle didn’t end on May 25. Battle ended on May 18. There was no shooting after that. They just let us rot out there while they negotiated the treaty.”

“You were with the Browncoats?”

“Darn right,” said Zoe fiercely and the man took a step back. “And the battle ended on May 18.”

“I know, I was one of the ones who came out to help the wounded and bury the dead after the 25th. But we all know when the fighting stopped.”

Inara saw Zoe’s face softened a bit as the man said this. “Then why is this thing full of lies?” Zoe asked.

“We were told to put it like that. That’s the official story.”

“Gorramn Alliance,” Mal said quietly, then turned to the man. “Like to take a walkabout.”

“The next tour leaves…”

But Mal interrupted him. “Don’t need no tour guide.”

“Of course,” the man quickly said. “Just be careful and stay outside the red zones. We still have a few landmines down there.”

Mal thanked him for his advice and they went off down into the valley on a trail made by countless boots over the years.

And so they spent the afternoon, wandering from spot to spot, Zoe and Mal sharing their memories with Inara and she felt that it was good for them, to see it again and to recall it and talk about it. But she could also see the anguish and sorrow in their faces. At last they reached a small knoll in the middle of the valley and Mal climbed to the top and stood for a long time, looking out. Then he turned to Inara.

“Our platoon was stationed here at the beginning of the battle. We held this spot for three days and they broke on us like waves on a rocky beach. By the end only Zoe and I and ten others were left out of forty we started with.”

He paused and struggled as he wanted to say something and his face filled with anguish and Inara thought he was going to break down. She wanted to rush to him but Zoe stopped her and held her arm. “He wants to tell you. Let him tell you.”

Mal got a hold of himself. “Those thirty dead men and women, weren’t all killed by Alliance. Second day, they came at us…ten tanks, about five hundred troopers. We shot and fired and killed them by the dozens but they kept coming. We knocked out half the tanks but they still had the other half. Then….two of my guys…Brooker and Samson…they cracked, dropped their guns and started running. I could see the panic in the rest of their eyes. They all started to fall back, Zoe and I chased them, kicking and punching and screaming at them to go back. Most of them stopped but not the first two. I got ahead of them, went after those two…they wouldn’t come back. Brooker…was just a kid, seventeen, eighteen…begged me to let him go….I shot him first…Samson tried to run again…I shot him in the back. They both died. Our troops, they got more scare of me than the enemy. We went back, held the position for another day. Gave our people enough time to set up a new defensive position behind us. But in the end…it didn’t matter one bit. We still lost.”

No one said a word, the wind and dust swirling around them, like the ghosts of the battle, the dead coming to life again, wanting one more day to live and feel the wind on their faces. But it was not to be.

Mal walked off the knoll and Inara was waiting for him with open arms. She held him tight and whispered to him, “You are forgiven.” And for the first time in years Mal felt he may be able to sleep without the nightmares coming to haunt him.

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

Using the x-ray equipment and fine laser soldering gear of Jamison’s ship yard Kaylee was able to find and repair the cracks in the rear of the ship and to do a better patch job on the other holes in the ship and Inara’s shuttle. Jamison liked the way she handled the gear and she did the job better than his men could have so he offered her a job. Kaylee thanked him but she politely said no, she had a job and was happy where she was. Jayne made his way back to the ship in the late afternoon with a big grin on his face. Wash asked him how he paid and Jayne just said that a few ladies in town would be sporting some new rings and necklaces. After Mal, Zoe and Inara returned, Kaylee gave Serenity the green light and it was time to leave.

Jamison came up with a new transponder code for them and now Serenity became the "Constellation".

"Shiny name," said Kaylee with a big grin as she and Wash set the code in the bridge transponder unit. "Just like the stars."

Down in the cargo Mal and Badger had one last thing to settle.

“Mal, old mate, this is goodbyes then," Badger said and he gave Mal a slip of paper. “Here’s the name of the mine on Haven. I sent the owner a wave and they expects you within the week, said he’d have enough for shipment by then. Miss this load old chum and don’t know if I can restore your rep again.”

“We’ll be there,” Mal said and then made his goodbyes to Badger and his cousin and then the ramp came up and the cargo bay doors closed.

“Good riddance to him,” said Jayne as they climbed the stairs to the upper level.

“You spend all our loot?” Zoe asked him.

“Hell no, still ton of that there and no other way to use it. By the by, how you pay for the repairs?”

“Gave them the guns,” Mal said as they walked onto the bridge. “Wash, get us in the air.”

“Roger that,” Wash said and then he started the take off sequence.

Jayne just stopped and stared at Mal. “The guns? All of ‘em?”

“A few to pay for the repairs and the rest they’ll sell and we get fifty percent.”

“Mal, there wasn’t an old rifle in that bunch was there?”

“Sure was,” said Zoe as she sat in the co-pilot’s seat. “Jamison thought it was special”. Jayne just cursed himself blue in the face.

“That was worth least 100,000 credits!”

“Not anymore,” Mal said and then gave Jayne a suspicious look. “And when were you planning on telling us that bit of news?”

“Ah, later,” Jayne said in a kind of a guilty way.

“Right,’ said Zoe knowing it was a lie and Jayne just gave up, knowing Mal was already pissed at him over the thing with Book’s letter. In the back of his mind was always the Ariel thing and while Mal hadn’t threatened him with it in a while, Jayne didn’t want to press the man. Not here, not in this place with all those bad memories Jayne knew about from Mal’s confession under the truth serum on the moon.

Mal picked up the intercom mic and told the crew to come to the bridge. “Head for the valley,” he told Wash after everyone was on the bridge and Wash slowly flew over Serenity Valley, everyone looking out the windows and seeing the place their ship was named after. After ten minutes of slow flying back and forth all had a good look. No one said anything, or had any questions, knowing this place was full of painful memories for Mal and Zoe. Mal took one last look out the window.

“Let’s head to the black,’ he ordered Wash as he silently said goodbye to that accursed place and he hoped it was good riddance to his demons forever.

“Where to?” Wash asked Mal as the ship broke atmo over Hera and sped into the black.

“Miranda,” Mal said and then the crew talked long on how they were going to do this, with the exact location of the planet unknown and Shepherd Book’s warnings about Reavers foremost in their minds.

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

Sleep did not come to Shepherd Book so easily as he lay in his room on Ariel. The dreams came again, dreams he hadn’t had for a long time, dreams about Miranda, and Winifred Collins.

She was dark and beautiful and he knew he loved her from the moment he saw her. Book was young, just out of university, unsure of his life’s path, and was on Miranda as part of the initial settlement program, a volunteer position to help set up the government and infrastructure of the planet. She was a volunteer also, from Sihon, and they hit it off immediately and within a month they were lovers. After six months Book asked her to marry him and she said no to his shock and consternation.

“You don’t need a wife,” she told him as they lay in each others arms in Book’s small room in the complex the volunteers lived in. “You have so much potential. You can be anything you want.”

“I want you at my side,” he said. “That’s all I want. I love you so much.”

“And I love you. But we have to go our separate ways in the world for a while to be what we can be. In a few years we can come back to each other.”

And he had reluctantly agreed. But it never came to be. They kept in touch over the years and she did get married, but not to him. She stayed on Miranda and had children and a wonderful life. And then one day Book came back into her life, almost twenty years later, to warn her to leave Miranda.

“But why?” she asked in fear as he stood before her. Book knew he had changed, knew he was much more serious, was wearing a uniform and looking like a man possessed.

“Miranda may not be safe. Prof. Drummond has warned me of a plan the Alliance is going to use here, an experiment to pacify the population. He said its madness.”

“Then we have to warn everyone! Tell the press, the government!’

“The government knows and they’ve agreed to it. Cutter is in charge.”

“He’s just an official, he can be stopped.”

“No, he can’t. He has too much power now. We must go. Get your husband and children and one bag each, then we must go. I have a small ship waiting.”

“Go…but where?”

“Anywhere but here.”

And then the door opened and there was Cutter with five armed troopers.

“Going somewhere?’ Cutter said with his usually reptilian charm and Book awoke with a start.

He hadn’t had that dream for a long time. Most of it was true, except for the part with Cutter at the end. Winifred and her family had escaped, but at the expense of leaving their friends and lives behind. They had settled on Sihon and he still knew where she was, had known all these years.

Book was still tired and looked at the wall clock and realized he had only slept for two hours. A quick shower later, Book changed into regular clothing, not wanting to be a Shepherd for what he had to do next. He took what little money he had left and went out onto the streets of Ariel. The cool night air of Ariel refreshed him and he stopped and had some noodles at a small sidewalk stall before continuing his trip. After a few minutes he spotted a luggage shop and quickly bought a small bag for a few credits.

Book had been on Ariel many years ago, on a mission for the government, under a different name, and while here he did what he did on every planet where he was assigned: he made a drop box of things he needed. He used safety deposit boxes in banks, paid for with regular withdrawals from a very full account. He reached the bank a little before 8pm, late enough to ensure not too many people would be there but just in time before it closed for the night.

The guard scanned his special ID and immediately took him to the safety deposit box room where Book retrieved his box and was then placed in a small private booth. He entered a ten digit code into a keypad on top of the box. It had been memorized many years ago and was the same code he used for every drop box.

Inside were some cash, about 50,000 credits, and several ID cards, a list of names and wave numbers, plus a pistol. Book checked it and knew it would need some maintenance, having been sitting here for almost eleven years now. It needed cleaning and testing but he knew it could still do the job. He looked through his ID cards and knew that none were as good as the one he currently had. But that one could attract too much attention from Alliance soldiers. No, that one would have to wait until he was close to Cutter, close enough where all the other IDs would do him no good. For now he would still be Shepherd Book, since a man of the cloth certainly didn’t fit the profile of an assassin. Book filled his new bag with the money, IDs, and pistol and then left the bank,

Now everything was arranged. The only thing separating him from Londinium and Adam Cutter was time and distance. With luck, Cutter would be dead within the week.

COMMENTS

Sunday, June 15, 2008 1:59 AM

AMDOBELL


I loved this, especially Mal and Zoe revisiting Serenity Valley and all the memories and ghosts that stirred up. Wasn't sure at first that it was right that Inara was there to but it worked just fine. I am so glad those two are finally working it out between them. One little nit pick, twice you use the word arraign in the wrong context. First Kaylee using arraignment instead of arrangement then again in the last paragraph when Book is thinking about what he has to do - 'Now everything was arraigned'. Again that should be arranged. Arraign means 'to call to account, to put on trial'. It is not a fancy alternative to arrangement. Hope that helps. I was very worried though about Mal and Zoe talking to the man at Serenity Valley in case he recognised either one of them as Browncoat war veterans and turned them in but I got the feeling he would have sympathised with them. Then again when Jayne returned to the ship having paid for his fun in the stolen jewellery, not sure how safe that was. And lastly offloading the guns with Badger especially the really old and valuable one that Jayne had his eyes on. I'm thinking of things that can trace the crew to those things and it makes me nervous though like Mal I am powerful glad those guns are off his boat. Excellent story, can't wait for more! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, June 15, 2008 2:22 AM

CBSTEVE


Thanks for the heads up on the misused words. They creep in sometimes. I'm an English teacher and should know better, but no matter how many times I read it and go over it I miss something. That one is even on my list of common errors. Question about your comments: Why would a tour guide turn in Browncoat veterans? I mean, the war is over, it's a tourist site. American war vets visit Vietnam and have no trouble. And Zoe and Mal did identify themselves as Browncoats. Anyways, off to Miranda and more exciting stuff to come!

Sunday, June 15, 2008 7:09 AM

PLATONIST


Getting caught up, gosh... this one made me tear-up, with Mal and Zoë returning to the Valley.

And, I think Mal wants to tell Inara a lot of things, she's that important. He just can't find the words, but, he needs to do that because that is part of the healing, so, I like this resolution between them.

Sunday, June 15, 2008 10:45 PM

WYTCHCROFT


the 'easy' paced way you write hides a wealth of detail - am enjoying this very much.

Monday, June 16, 2008 3:19 AM

KIMBER


I'm glad Mal told Inara about the war...she does have a way of making him feel better, even if it's just him talking - makes Mal more ready to start a new life as a rancher with her too!

Also like the little backstory of Book... gee, do I want Cutter dead!

Keep flying ;)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008 4:33 PM

KATESFRIEND


You really know how to write a very nasty villain. Sounds like Mal is laying one demon to rest only to meet another.


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