BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

CBSTEVE

The Return Home - Part 10
Monday, June 30, 2008

Mal and the crew find themselves in the midst of Reaver land and Book joins Cutter's expedition, only to discover something unexpected.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1453    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

The Return Home - Part 10

Mal and the crew were sure in a pickle this time. They had just landed on Miranda after eluding the nearby Reaver space fleet, found the mysterious Professor Stanley Drummond, camped out in what appeared to a prison compound, and now the man said he had no intentions of leaving because he was looking for a ‘cure” for the Reavers.

“There ain’t no gorramn cure for them Reavers,” Jayne said as warily eyed the dead Reaver bodies in the courtyard like area Serenity was now parked in. Jayne kept Vera up and ready at his side, not trusting no Reavers, dead or alive.

“On the contrary, Mr…Cobb?” Professor Drummond replied as he smoked his cigar. “The Reavers are human like you and I and they are the result of a dastardly plot perpetrated against the people of this planet.”

“So it’s true,” said Zoe. “The Reavers are the result of some chemical warfare experiment gone wrong?”

“It could never have gone right,” Drummond said sadly. “I tried to warn them but the fools wouldn’t listen.”

“Yeah, that’s all fine and dandy Professor,” Mal said quickly, wanting to get to the point as soon as possible. “But me and my crew ain’t sticking around here while you play scientist and try to find a cure. We got your broadcast, came here to get you out, and that’s the plan.”

“Then by all means leave,” said Drummond, staring Mal straight in the face.

Mal just shook his head. “What’s with you intellectual types? Don’t you know there’s whole mess of Reavers out there in space looking to make you and us a banquet?”

“Of course Captain, I know. But they are my neighbors, and friends and….family. I can’t leave. Not yet.”

“Family?” Zoe said with a touch of anger. “Seems like you killed a lot of your ‘family’.”

The Professor looked about the courtyard at the dead bodies, one even crushed under one of Serenity’s landing legs, and shook his head as if he made a serious error. “Regrettable, but necessary. But they are not to blame for their actions. It was the chemicals that made them what they are.”

“Maybe you could jump right to point about those chemicals,” Mal said, at least wanting to know the whole story before they left.

“Come inside, I will explain all.”

Mal finally relented and called Wash on his communicator and told him to have Kaylee stand by the cargo doors but to lock them up tight and get ready for a quick exit.

Drummond knocked on a set of steel double doors and after a moment they were opened with a groan and a creak and he stepped inside. A very reluctant Mal, Zoe and Jayne followed Drummond into the building, arms out and ready for anything that could happen.

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

“Mal wants you to lock up the cargo bay but stand by case they come back in a hurry,” Wash said through the intercom to the engine room.

“Roger that,” Kaylee answered.

“What do you think has happened here?” Inara asked as she gazed out the windows at the walls and towers that were at eye level with the cockpit.

“There was a fight,” River said from the co-pilot’s seat.

Wash and River and Inara were far from being professional solders and had no experience in battle, well, except for the kind you get on a ship like Serenity, like attacking a Skyplex to save your captain from a psychotic criminal, or on a moon where a mad general had taken over after he started a nuclear war on Earth. Well, maybe they did have more than some experience, but not real battle, not like Mal and Zoe had seen.

A fight there had been and they could see the evidence. They could clearly see barbed wire now, on top of the walls, and some areas of the walls were scorched by fire, others had parts broken and in some places the wire was even cut. The two towers they could see had three missiles each in tube launchers and electrical wiring ran from the launchers along the walls toward what Wash assumed would be the fire control place. There were no radar arrays for the missiles so they had to be heat seekers. Wash explained as much as he could from what bits and pieces he’d picked up from his warrior woman and Mal over the years.

“Don’t like sitting here, not with Reavers about,” Wash said.

“We can outrun them, can’t we?” Inara asked, a little uncertainty in her voice.

“Sure,” said Wash. “Got the fastest ship in the verse right here.”

“But we need to be in the black to use the drive,” River reminded him and Wash had a smart comeback but just let it go cause he knew she was right. Serenity was a sitting duck planetside and that Wash didn’t like one bit.

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

The first thing Mal noticed when his eyes adjusted to the gloomy interior of the building was the number of people here. Had to be at least twenty or more, all looking at him and Zoe and Jayne with wide eyes and grim faces.

“My God, your human!” said one elderly woman and Mal had that old déjà vu feeling again, like when he and Simon and Jayne and first been taken underground on the moon.

“Course we’re human,” Jayne said in irritation. “We ain’t no gorramn Reavers.”

Now Mal could see clear as day and here were about twenty people lined up in a hallway, all staring at him and his crewmates. The hallway had doors leading off to rooms and Drummond was heading toward one beckoning them to follow. All the people were armed with a variety of weapons and all looked sickly in some way or maybe it was just the light playing tricks on Mal’s eyes. Some were old, others young, tall, short, thin and heavy, a mix of races, but they all had that look Mal and Zoe had come to recognize during the war. It was called the ‘thousand yard stare’ and a solider that was too long under fire got that look, a blank look, that looked far away into the distance and didn’t see anything else but death and destruction all around him, a look that was almost catatonic, lacking complete emotion. Those that got it soon went over the edge and had to be taken off the field of battle before they infected the rest. Now Mal was facing a whole mess of those eyes and he knew they had been through hell.

“Howdy folks,” he said. “We’re a rescue party.”

A mummer went through the group. “We don’t need rescuing,” said one tall young guy. “We need help but…” the sentence was never finished as he started coughing and had trouble breathing. In an instant he took out a small container, put it to his mouth and pressed on a button and staring sucking something into his lungs.

“That’s alright, Jerry, we’ll tell him,” said the first old woman. “We aren’t leaving the Professor by himself. He needs our protection. We sure could use your help.”

Mal just looked at Zoe and Jayne and knew what they were both thinking. “Folks, we came to take you all out of here and show the galaxy what the Alliance did here.”

“Why?” asked another and then more questions poured forth, about who they were, and why did they come if they weren’t here to help and on and on until their ears hurt.

“Shut the gorramn hell up!” Jayne shouted and everyone stopped. “Mal, let’s go, this ain’t worth the trouble. They want to be Reaver meat I say let ‘em.”

“No, Mr. Cobb,’ said Drummond who had been silent until now. “We do not want to be Reaver meat. We know all about that, so many we have lost. But these people have dedicated themselves to finding a cure. The Reavers are their friends and neighbors and families, too. You see, we are the last humans that we know of still on Miranda. If we don’t do it, no one will.”

“Why did you make that broadcast?” Zoe asked.

“To let the galaxy know that we are still here, that we are not giving up. But most of all I wanted people to know what their government had done here. It has been almost sixteen years since this monstrosity was done to our people. When we started this quest there were more than three hundred of us. Now we are so few left. But the story is long and there are things you need to see to understand better. Come.”

Mal looked at Zoe and Jayne and knew what they were thinking but they had come this far and needed to know the story, needed some kind of evidence to have as leverage against the Alliance and Cutter. Mal had no faith in the success of Book’s suicide run against Cutter if indeed that was what the man was doing. No, they were here and they would get what they needed before then left. And if these people wanted to stay, then they were welcome to this rock.

Mal started to follow Drummond and Zoe immediately came behind. After a moment’s hesitation Jayne cursed under his breath and followed. As they went past, Drummond told his people to go outside and clean up the remains of the battle.

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

Kaylee was surprised to see Simon outside the ship, by the foot of the ramp, his medical bag on his shoulder and a pistol strapped to his hip. He was bent over one of the Reaver bodies, just staring at it.

“Simon!”

He turned, startled, averting his eyes from the horrible things the Reaver had done to its own flesh.

“Capt’n said we got to close up the ship,” Kaylee quickly told him, her eyes going everywhere, looking for trouble.

“It’s just…I’ve never seen one before,” he said returning his eyes to the body. “Why do they do that to themselves?”

“Because they are trying feel human again,” said a female voice behind him and both Simon and Kaylee nearly jumped out of their skins, seeing the old woman and Jerry and the others, who had started to gather the Reaver bodies.

“Oh. You surprised us,” Simon said quickly and then his manners took over and he stuck his hand out. “I’m Dr. Simon Tam and this is Kaylee Frye, our ship’s engineer.”

Kaylee liked that, ship’s “engineer” had a more formal tone to it than mechanic. “Howdy,” she said as the woman shook Simon’s hand.

“Hello. I’m Brenda, and we are all citizens of Miranda. We just met your captain and the others inside and they are having a talk with the Professor now.”

“So he’s really here?’ asked Kaylee as she walked down, not feeling any fear strangely, with all these folks armed and with haggard looks. Just the weariness in Brenda’s voice made her feel like these folks needed help and had no intentions of harming them.

“Yes,” she said. “He’s still here, after all these years we are all still here. And they are up there.”

Brenda looked toward the sky and they knew what she meant. “Somewhere up there my husband is on one of those ships. If he’s still alive.”

That surprised Simon and Kaylee more than anything else. They always thought of Reavers as mindless automats who feed their desires to kill and devour. Now Brenda had added a human element to the mix.

“You said they cut their flesh so they could feel human again,” Simon started. “Could you explain?”

“Oh, it’s just an idea of the Professor’s. He thinks they are trying to inflict pain on themselves so they can experience something other than rage. He’s…well, he’s studied them since the beginning, when it all started and I guess you could call him the foremost expert on Reavers in the galaxy.”

“And he’s close to finding the cure,” said Jerry as he moved with another person to collect the Reaver body Simon had been looking at. Then he and Kaylee noticed that they were stacking the bodies by the doorway of the building.

“What are you doing with them?” Kaylee asked.

“Studying them,” Brenda said. “Find out as much as we can. Also, find out who they are. Miranda had a planet wide DNA database which the Professor has now. We take their blood and check it against the database, identify them, give them a proper burial if we can, or burn them if we can’t. Put some ashes in cans and bottles and label them.”

Simon was staggered by the effort this took. “But…aren’t they trying to kill you?”

“Yes,” she said sadly. “Sometimes then succeed. And we kill them because it’s the only way. We tried to knock them out with gas years ago but it had little effect on them. We trapped a few and we have had live ones on occasion. But most die in the end.”

“How did you and the others not suffer when the chemicals were put in the air?” Simon asked, most curious about this than anything else.

She sighed. “You’re a doctor you said so I guess you’ll understand. All of us “survivors” in some way have respiratory aliments. Most with asthma, others with bronchitis, emphysema, and at the beginning some with lung cancer, but they are all dead now. And a few very heavy smokers like the Professor. He believes we could not absorb the chemicals like the more healthy citizens and thus through some cruel twist of fate we survived. But some wish they had died.”

Kaylee couldn’t quite get what was going on. “But, why didn’t you leave, there’s a whole verse out there.”

Jerry had come back and heard this last. “We tried, at first. I was just a boy but I remember. After the madness took over they started on a rampage through the cities, killing as many survivors as they could find. Some tried to escape from the spaceports, but the mad ones, they blocked them and then they started taking all the ships for themselves. Some stayed behind, but, don’t know why, but most just left after about six months. They come back now and then to loot and look for us, but mostly they stay out there.”

“Not always,” said Simon and he and Kaylee told them about the Reavers attacking Rim moons and ships.

“We heard about this,” said Brenda. She looked over at the damaged satellite dish. “We didn’t always stay here. They had this place for years, this part of the city. Not all of them went into space. There were storehouses nearby, supplies they needed. They don’t only eat…people. Human flesh is like a…’special treat’ is the only way to put it.”

Kaylee felt nauseous as Brenda talked about the Reaver eating habits. “God, it’s so horrible.”

Simon was equally aghast but saw the logic in what the woman was saying. “It makes sense. If they only ate human flesh there would be more attacks, more activity.”

“There are a lot of myths about them out there, aren’t there?” Brenda said in a way that she was not asking a question, just asking for confirmation of something that was true. “We finally found out just how much when we took this place ten months ago. We came here because of that dish. They destroyed most of the planet wide communications systems in their rage. We finally got on the Cortex after so long and we devoured all the news. The Professor was so angry, the Alliance denying we or the Reavers existed. No one knew anything about us. So he made his broadcast. And a few days later we lost the dish during an attack and haven’t been able to repair it.”

Kaylee looked at Simon and she knew he was thinking the same thing. “We got comms,” Kaylee said. “We can get a vid out to the Cortex.”

“It doesn’t matter,’ she said. “You are the first ones to answer after ten months. We know the Alliance blocked us. That they want us to be forgotten.”

“Maybe its time to do something about that,” Simon said.

But she shook her head. “No, our place is here, protecting the Professor. He has almost succeeded in finding a cure.”

Simon and Kaylee were shocked by this news. “A cure? Is it possible?” Kaylee asked Simon.

“Not sure. I’d really like to have a chat with the Professor and see all his research first.”

Just as Simon said this a loud siren went off and all the people looked with fear at the sky.

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

Mal, Jayne, and Zoe got the same basic story from Drummond, except as he talked he gave them a tour of the place and it was clear that it used to be a prison. They walked down a row of prison cells, the cell force fields now all off, each cell converted to living quarters for the people who were now its occupants.

“The cure is within my grasp,” Drummond said as he walked side by side with Mal trailed by a wary Zoe and a nervous looking Jayne. Zoe saw him fidgeting and gave him a sideways look.

“Prisons give me the creeps,” Jayne said, eyes darting around.

“Ah, but this facility is no longer a prison,” Drummond said as he waved his arms about.

“It’s what I can image them Reavers did to any prisoners they found here gives me the creeps,” Jayne replied thinking what it must have been like to be kept locked in a room while a ravenous Reaver looked in at you and licked it's chops. It almost made a man want to get away from this life of crime. Almost.

“This cure,” Mal said wanting to get back on topic, not wanting to spend one second more than necessary here. “Can’t you finish your research elsewhere? Somewhere safer?”

Drummond shook his head. “The Alliance would track me down if word ever got out people had left Miranda. Also, I need live subjects for testing. What better place than here for finding live Reavers.”

”Live ones?” Zoe asked with skepticism. “You don’t have any…now?”

Drummond smiled. “Of course. Come. Let’s look at my greatest progress so far.”

He lead them to the second floor of the complex and then around a corner to another wing of the prison building. Here were more rows of cells but at the far end they entered what looked like the main prison administration building, constructed as part of the fortress like structure, occupying one whole corner. Drummond led them inside a room and Mal saw right away it was a command post of sorts. There were four people here, seated at computer terminals and video screens. The terminals controlled the force fields and security systems of the prison and its cells and the cameras showed all of the building areas. On one screen they could see the courtyard and Serenity and what to Mal looked like Simon and Kaylee outside jawing with some of Drummond’s people. He was about to get pissed off and yell at Wash to yell at Kaylee to lock up the boat like he asked but then another screen caught his eye and then he noticed that Jayne and Zoe were also staring at it.

It was an interior shot of one of the prison cells and this one was occupied and they could see just off to one side the door’s force field was activated. As he stared at the prisoner Mal could say this was truly and genuinely the most surprising he had seen in a long time and, thinking that and remembering he had just been to Earth and back and was riding around in a boat with an FTL drive, well, Mal still thought this one did sort of take the cake and eat it all.

The prisoner was obviously female and that was the first surprise and the second was that she was a Reaver, or what used to be a Reaver and she had the scars on her face to prove it. Mal and the others had never heard of female Reavers. There had been speculation among folks on the Rim about Reavers and their life style but any talk of them having women or any social structure was dismissed as ridiculous. Now all they thought about Reavers was being tossed out the window.

She was sitting very still on a bed, dressed in a bluish green jumpsuit of some type, what was probably prison garb, reading a book and that was equally shocking. She had long reddish hair and if it wasn’t for the scars on her face where she had mutilated herself Mal could almost say she was pretty. Her age was hard to tell at first glance but she couldn’t be more than thirty years old.

“That ain’t no Reaver,” Jayne said first as they started to recover from their surprise.

“No, Mr. Cobb she isn’t,” said Drummond. “She is a healthy human being who was once what you call a Reaver.”

“No rutting way,” said Zoe next. “There ain’t any Reaver women.”

“What you know about Reavers is but a fraction of what we have learned,” the Professor said and Zoe didn’t feel she had much of a leg to stand on in this area to argue the point. “They have a social structure. Each ship has a captain much like you do. They have leaders and rivalries and yes, even women.”

“And children?” Mal asked hoping the answer was no and thankfully he wasn’t disappointed.

“No, no children,” Drummond said as he looked at a chart on a clipboard that was on a consol next to the vid screen with the Reaver woman. “They are unable to reproduce, an after effect of the pacification process, the chemicals blocking their ovaries ability to produce eggs. The Reaver men show little sexual interest in the Reaver females. Hence the “raids” on the Rim colonies. They are looking for food, sexual outlets, and captives to broaden their ranks, taking normal mentally healthy humans and subjecting them to such torment they become Reavers.”

“Seen that first hand,” said Zoe and Mal quickly explained about their encounter with the derelict survivor who went mad from what he had been forced to watch.

“Yes, we know of this from someone who survived captivity, managed to escape,” Drummond began. “He killed himself not long after we found him.”

“And what about her?” said Zoe, pointing to the prisoner who still sat on the bed reading her book “How did you get her?”

“About a month ago, there was an attack on us,” Drummond started. “She was taken, wounded, unconscious. It was very lucky she was unconscious. Those who are still awake fight and fight and we have no choice but to kill them or be killed. I was able to inject her with a new serum I have been working on and almost immediately she began to return to a state of calm. The first injection lasted for ten hours and in the past few weeks I have been able to increase its strength so that now she can remain calm for twenty-four hours.”

“That’s not a cure,” said Zoe.

“You’re right,” Drummond said wearily as he returned the clip board to the consol. “It’s just a stop gap measure. I’m afraid the facilities here did not lend themselves to completing my research. Once, years ago, we worked at a university, had top notch equipment, even had some assistants who had bio-chemical research training. Now, I am the only one left. And without more assistance, I’m afraid my serum is as best I can make it.”

“Look, Professor, we can do all the story telling away from here,” Mal said, finally losing patience. “Let’s just pack up, take your prisoner and your people and load up Ser…Constellation and get off of this here ghost world.”

“Best idea I heard all day,” said Jayne as he still stared at the woman on screen, still not quite believing she used to be a Reaver.

“No, Captain, once again I stress that we are staying,” Drummond said, a little more forcefully this time. “The Alliance will not come here and it’s the only place I can be certain of that. If you want to help us, then I have a list of supplies I need, equipment, and would be grateful if you could find them and bring them here.”

“We don’t work for free,” Jayne said before Mal could even reply.

“Of course there will be payment,” said Drummond. “The wealth of this planet is still here, in the banks and abandoned homes. Reavers have no use for money and neither do we.”

Jayne would have grinned if he wasn’t deep in Reaver land. “Is that so?”

“Look, Professor,” Mal started again, ignoring Jayne’s obvious greed. “My people and I took an awful risk coming here. Don’t care how much you offer, we ain’t coming back. This boat is leaving now and if you aren’t on it, there won’t be another.”

“I understand, Captain,” Drummond said. Then he took out a clear plastic vid recording disk from his pants pocket. He handed it to a surprised Mal. “Then you must take this and show it to the people.”

“What’s this?” Mal asked as he took the disk.

“Evidence, of the Alliance’s part in what happened here. A research ship that landed soon after the events, we don’t know who sent them but the ship was Alliance, had the markings, the crew uniforms were Alliance. They were attacked, landed, discovered the truth but couldn’t leave, their ship too badly damaged. We found this about six months ago. They recorded their findings but couldn’t leave before they were overwhelmed by the Reavers.”

Mal stared at the vid disk in his hand, wondering what good it would do if no one believed it.

“Professor, this is all…” but before he could finish one of the people monitoring the screens spoke up.

“Professor, she’s looking at the camera again.”

The prisoner was standing on the bed, staring up at the camera, waving her arms.

“She wants to talk,” said Drummond as he flipped a switch and picked up a mic.

“Hello,” she said in a clear and beautiful voice, which creeped Jayne out more than anything else in the verse could ever have done.

“Good morning, Angela,” Drummond said. “How are you today?”

“Angela?” Zoe mouthed to Mal and he just shrugged, wondering if she told them her name or it was something Drummond gave her.

“Fine. How long do I have to stay here?” she asked and Mal got the feeling this question had been asked before.

“Just a little while longer my dear,” he added and Mal sensed something else, almost a parental way Drummond talked to her. “You still need to recover from your accident.”

“Okay. I’m hungry. When is it lunch time?”

“In a little while. Just rest and all will get better.”

“Okay. See you soon.”

Drummond ended the conversation and Mal could see the pain in his eyes and knew all was not what it seemed.

“Accident?” Mal asked.

“She has no memory of what she was. None of them do. Some of them are still so child like, having changed at an early age. It’s almost a blessing in disguise that they can’t remember.”

“Why Angela?” Zoe asked and Mal almost thought he knew the answer before Drummond spoke but he was still surprised.

“Because that’s her name,” Drummond said. “She’s my…my daughter.”

Mal, Jayne and Zoe were speechless, Mal just looking at Drummond for a long moment as the Professor took a long puff on his cigar.

“Is she…really?” Mal finally managed to get out and Drummond nodded.

“Yes. The DNA test has confirmed it. It had been almost 16 years since I last saw her but yes, Angela is my daughter.”

“Does she know who you are?” Jayne asked, and Mal got the feeling even Jayne could understand what this man had gone through.

“No, she also has very little memory of past events. She remembered her name. She knows this is Miranda and it’s her home. She knows she had a dog and her father was an important man, a scientist. She once asked me if I knew him. I…couldn't tell her.”

“Why didn’t you tell her the truth?” Zoe asked with some sympathy.

“It’s too soon. The shock might send her into regression, bring up old memories.”

“What memories?” Mal asked.

But Drummond just shook his head, not ready to reveal this horrible secret to these strangers.

Before Mal or the others could say another word a siren went off and the people in the control room and Drummond were clearly shocked by this.

“What’s happening?” Mal asked. “What’s with the siren?”

“Our early warning system,” Drummond said as the people started flipping switches and all the camera angles on the screens changed to external ones. “We have spotters in the missile towers always looking to the skies.”

Mal understood and Zoe and Jayne also caught on quick. “Reavers,” Mal said grimly.

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

Out in the prison yard everyone was looking skyward as the siren wailed.

“No, no, it can’t be!” said one women with the terror clear in her voice as she pointed to several dark specks high in the sky.

“What’s happening?” Kaylee asked as she too looked skyward.

“They’ve come back!” a man screamed as he pointed a finger to the sky.

“But, the last attack was only this morning,” said Brenda. “It’s too soon. They usually wait weeks, sometimes months!”

“It’s their ship!” said Jerry, pointing at Serenity. “It’s their ship! It’s brought them on us!”

Meanwhile on Serenity just before the siren wailed River got a spooky look and just screamed “Reavers!” which unsettled Wash and Inara’s calm a whole lot. Before Wash could even get on the comms to Mal the siren went off. He looked to his radar screen and could see six dots getting closer.

“Mal!’ he shouted into the comms. “We got Reavers inbound!”

“How many?” Mal quickly asked.

“About six ships.”

“Get the boat ready, we’re on our way back.

Just as Mal said that Drummond shook his head. “No, don’t take off yet. Our missiles are heat seekers. You’re ship will just confuse them. Wait.”

Zoe looked at Mal, “Makes sense.”

“Wash, hang on till those missile get a shot at the ships,” Mal commanded.

“Ah, roger that, Mal,” came Wash’s nervous reply. “Maybe we better load up the boat while we wait.”

“Already on the way.”

“Captain,” said Drummond as Mal turned to go. “We could use your help.”

Mal stopped and hesitated and knew it was the right thing to do but he had his own people to worry about and this stubborn old fool was just looking to get himself and these people killed. How he survived all these years was anyone’s guess but Mal got a feeling people killing and dieing for him was how he’d done it and he wouldn’t add his crew to that lost cause.

“Sorry, Professor, but I have to look out for my own people. You all are welcome on my boat. Just don’t drag your feet.”

With that Mal exited followed by Zoe and Jayne who had finally found something to be even a little bit happy about.

Mal raced through the corridors and he and the others made it outside in record time. Missiles were already being launched from the towers with loud screams as they torn through the air and Drummond’s people were moving up ladders and stairways to the tops of the walls were they would take up defense positions.

“Kaylee! Simon! Get on the boat!” Mal yelled at his mechanic and doctor as they stared at the sky. Mal’s shouts snapped them out of their trance and they scrambled aboard Serenity with Mal, Zoe and Jayne on their tales.

“Close her up!” Mal shouted.

“What about those folks?” Kaylee asked and Zoe just shook her head.

“They ain’t coming,” Zoe said and Simon and Kaylee understood, knowing why after their conversation with Brenda. Kaylee hit the button to close the cargo bay doors and with a heavy heart for those outside she watched them slam shut.

“Jayne, Zoe, stay here and get ready for anything. Kaylee get yourself a weapon,” Mal shouted as he ran upstairs to the bridge.

Kaylee stood looking a little lost. “A weapon? Why I need a weapon? Ain’t we leaving?”

“Not yet,” said Jayne as he went to the weapons locker under the stairs and opened it.

“The missiles,” Simon said as he pulled out his pistol and checked it. “We can’t take off while they are in the air.”

“Exactly,” said Zoe as she started moving crates to form a barricade in the cargo bay. Simon caught on to what she was doing and started helping her as Jayne handed Kaylee a machine pistol and two extra clips.

“Fire in small bursts, so as it don’t jam or heat up,” Jayne said to Kaylee. “Press this button to release the clip when it’s empty. Just let it fall to the floor and shove in another one real quick.”

Kaylee held the weapon like it was something that was going to bite her. “I think I’m needed in the engine room.”

Simon came to her side, seeing how nervous she was. “Not yet,” he said in a calming voice. “Well get through this. I promise.”

She nodded and he could see she wasn’t holding up well. Simon gave her a little kiss and she smiled a bit and then said, “Okay, let’s...get ready.”

They both started helping Jayne and Zoe move crates. The Simon noticed River coming down the stairs and she didn’t say anything to anyone just went to the weapons locker and took a large pistol.

“Reinforcements,” was all she said to Simon’s questioning look and then she suddenly looked toward the ceiling. “Hang on!”

Just as she said this Mal’s voice shouted from the intercom “We going to get hit! Hold on!”

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

Mal raced onto the bridge and quickly shouted orders. “River get to the cargo bay, get a weapon and get ready to fight.”

River didn’t question and was up and gone in a second. Inara cast a worried look at Mal.

“Where’s Drummond? What’s going on?”

As she said this they could see people in front of the cockpit windows, manning the wall, with all manner of weapons and what looked like a box of grenades and a few RPG launchers.

“Stubborn fool ain’t coming and none of his people want to leave either,” Mal said quickly. “Wash warm her up, soon as Reaver ships are down or gone so are we.”

“Already splashed one,” Wash said as he peered at the radar screen. Mal dropped into the co-pilot’s seat and let out a cheer as another Reaver ship disappeared from radar.

“Looks like others are running,” said Wash as he noticed the other four blips retreating off scope with missiles chasing them.

“Don’t mean their gone,” said Mal and then he notice something. “What’s that?”

A blip was appearing and disappearing, getting closer. Wash peered at his screens and then his eyes went wide. “It’s a ship coming in under radar, low to the ground.”

As he said this directly in front of them two of Drummond’s people fired RPGs and the back blast coated Serenity’s cockpit windows with ash and spent rocket burn marks. Just as Mal cursed in Chinese he saw the people give a cheer and then the smoking Reaver ship appeared above the wall, heading straight for them, mortally wounded but still with gravity and its damaged propulsion system pushing it forward. The people on the wall scattered and then Mal knew Serenity was going to be hit. He grabbed the intercom mic and yelled his warning. He then leaped for Inara and pulled her down, covering her with his body as Wash slid under his cockpit control panel.

The burning Reaver ship just missed the cockpit and then with a tremendous smash and metal rending crunch it slammed into the dome and windows over the dining room and bounced into the air and flipped and landed in the courtyard, half leaning on the prison wall and half on Serenity, with part of it pinning the left stabilizer to the ground.

“Wash,’ Mal yelled. “Get us the hell out, take off now!”

Wash leaped into his seat and tried to take off and the right side was rising but the left side of the ship wouldn’t budge. It bounced back and forth as Wash applied full power but nothing was happening. “We’re stuck!”

“Gorramn it!” Mal yelled and then he helped Inara up. “Stay here!” he said and then he was out the door and down the stairs.

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

“No, no, no!” Kaylee almost cried as the shaking stopped. “I just got her put back together!”

“That weren’t no gunfire or missile,” said Zoe as she looked toward the ceiling. Then they felt the ship trying to rise and rock and they all lost their balance a little, but the ship didn’t seem to go anywhere. She headed for the intercom panel and hit the button for the bridge. “Wash, baby, what the hell was that!?”

“Reaver ship knocking on our roof top,” he said after a moment. “And I think it’s got us stuck here for now.”

Then Mal was coming down the stairs. “Get ready for a fight!” he ordered and he moved to the cargo bay doors.

“What in the gorramn hell you think we been doing?’ Jayne said and Mal glared at him.

“Reaver ship is out there and we ain’t leaving till it’s off us,” Mal said. “There's bound to be a few of them ain't dead yet. Let’s go kill us a few Reavers.”

He hit the cargo bay door button and as the door opened the first Reaver was standing in the courtyard ground with a large spear impaling poor Jerry through the stomach and his and the Reaver’s screams were bloodcurdling. Kaylee almost fainted when she saw the horrible scene and everyone was stunned into inaction except River. She calmly raised her pistol and killed the Reaver with one shot to the head and Jerry fell to the ground with a thud as the Reaver let go of the spear and dropped stone dead. River then started moving down the ramp, firing left and right as more Reavers raced toward them and Mal and Jayne exchange looks and went right after her with Zoe not far behind.

The fight was over quickly, not more than ten Reavers surviving the RPG hits and crash and they were quickly dispatched, with River claiming half with single pistol shots to the head and Jayne, Mal and Zoe cleaning up the rest. Simon and Kaylee just stood at the top of the ramp and watched the carnage. The only one hurt was Jayne with a Reaver sword nicking his left arm as one of River’s bullets killed the Reaver the moment he was trying to stab Jayne in the back.

Silence fell over the battle, silence except for the moaning of Jerry and one or two other voices nearby and then Simon picked up his medical bag and headed straight for the poor lad.

“You’re going to be alright,” was the first thing he said and he yelled for Kaylee to get the stretcher. As Simon tended to Jerry, Drummond and some his people gathered and Brenda bent to help Simon with Jerry. Two other lightly wounded came forth and Drummond's own medic appeared and started to help them and Jayne's wounded arm. But Jerry needed Simon if he was going to live. Soon after Kaylee ran back with the stretcher and with some effort they got Jerry on it and Zoe and Simon carried him to the infirmary, followed by a very worried Brenda and a few others.

“The ships have fled,” said Drummond as he found Mal inspecting the left side of Serenity. Drummond saw that the Reaver ship still burning some and he directed his people with fire extinguishers to put out the flames. After a few minutes the fires were out and everyone just looked at it. It was a mess but looked like a type of small shuttle transport, big enough for twenty jammed inside and they could smell the charred flesh of those that died in the ship.

“Suicide run,” Mal said, thinking those on board were chosen to come in low while the other six ships attacked high and hoped the distraction would guarantee them a way in, maybe breach one of the walls or at least knock off some of the defenders. Tactics, from Reavers, another surprise, and Mal had a sneaky feeling that the pilot had deliberately tried to ram Serenity when he knew his ships was done for.

Kaylee found him looking at where the Reaver ship was jammed up against the left extender and pinning Serenity to the ground. Mal just shook his head.

“Sometimes I think no one loves me,” he said as he surveyed the damage. “Of all the dumb luck”

Kaylee saw what needed to be done right away, could see how the ship was jammed tight against the wall of the prison and Serenity. “I’ll get my cutting gear.”

“No, first inspect the roof over the dining room. No sense taking off if we ain’t space worthy.”

“Roger Capt’n,” she said and then she was gone to do her duty.

“Lose anyone?’ Mal asked Drummond.

“No…not yet. But Jerry…”

“Simon’s best doc I’ve ever seen. If he can’t bring him around no one can.”

“He’s a real doctor? On a Firefly?”

“Long story,” Mal said not wanting these people to know anything at all about the Tams. “Think they’ll be back?”

Drummond shrugged. “They may be. Until today they had never attacked us twice in less than 24 hours. Not even twice in a week.”

“Think it might be my ship attracting them.”

“I believe so. Then we must all work to make it ready to take off. The sooner you are gone the better.”

“For all of us,” Mal said, hoping like hell he could convince this man to come with them when the ship was ready. No way in the verse he wanted to be here if any Reavers came back. Or the Alliance.

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

The Alliance was a lot closer than Mal knew, with Maston Forbes’ two gunships just entering the Haven area. He sat on the bridge of one gunship in high orbit over the town of Coppermine surveying the message he received from Cutter and not liking it one bit.

Three Operatives were in Coppermine waiting for him to pick them up. Now I am Cutter’s errand boy, is it? Forbes thought. This mission is mine, Tam is mine to kill and no one else’s! He quickly got control of his emotions, knowing it led to weakness and he needed clear thinking above all. He was coming to some of the same conclusions about Serenity as his boss already knew. That ship had an abnormal drive system, something that allowed it to zip across the galaxy at will. There was no other explanation for the sudden decision to save the ship and the life of Kaylee Frye.

Forbes looked to the young lieutenant in charge of this ship. He was a captain, of a ship, but in name only not in rank. “Please set us down at Coppermine.”

“Aye, sir,” said the officer and he gave orders to his small crew to make preparations for landing. None of them like this ice cold man and all had whispered “Operative” when he wasn’t around.

Forbes left the bridge and went back to the small room that served as his cabin. He had a long leather case on his bed and he opened it and examined its contents. He was a trained assassin, in all ways of killing other humans, and this was one of the first weapons he had trained with. It was a weapon of finesse and secrecy, a long range kill when one needed to escape undetected. As he lovingly handled his sniper rifle, one thing Forbes promised himself. The next time he had either River Tam or Malcolm Reynolds in his sights he was going to kill them. No more knives or fists. One shot, one kill, guaranteed.

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

Far away in the space above Londinium, Adam Cutter sat in the commander’s chair on the bridge of the battle cruiser Dortmunder and observed the fleet he had gathered through the bridge windows and knew it was the biggest seen since the war. He had three cruisers here and ten smaller ships and would pick up two more cruisers in the Haven area, plus Forbes’ two gunships and at least ten more small ships in the area. If the Reavers were there and wanted a fight the Alliance would give it to them. Not close up, but from afar, from thousands of kilometers, and the plethora of missiles his ships held would annihilate them. Then would begin the search and destruction of that man and whoever helped him make and broadcast that signal. Once and for all the Miranda problem would be solved, and this time he had the personal orders of the Prime Minister. And then he would take care of River Tam and Serenity.

“Message, sir,” said one of the radio operators on the bridge of the flagship. "Voice only sir, no vid. Classified."

Cutter put in an earwig and signaled the radio operator who hit a switch and the message was sent to Cutter's device. It was from Forbes. He had landed on Haven and made contact with the three Operatives and he awaited further instructions. Cutter knew Forbes was unsettled by this change in plans and Cutter wanted him to be. No more mistakes from anyone. Cutter composed a message for Forbes to wait until the fleet's arrival but to undertake some recon flights toward Miranda to ascertain the strength of the Reavers. He waved the radio operator away and Cutter sat at his position, typed in the message on a keypad and sent it by flash encryption to Forbes.

Cutter returned to his bridge chair and thought on the mistakes they had made so far, starting as far back as Miranda itself. As he thought on this one of his more recent mistakes came onto the bridge and smiled at him. At the last minute as his shuttle was taking off to join the cruiser this man had coming at a run with orders, directly from Prime Minister Blakely herself, giving him a spot on Cutter’s flagship. As a Shepherd of all things!

Cutter had no use for religion but he knew the crews did and so had merely looked at this Book’s orders and waved him on board. Now he thought that was a mistake. He knew there was more to this man than met the eye. The Prime Minister had wrote Cutter a note, blessing his expedition and asking that Shepherd Book be allowed to serve as fleet preacher. Cutter had gritted his teeth and allowed it. He quickly went through all his files and there was nothing on the man. When confronted he told Cutter he had been in an abbey for six years on Persephone and had been wandering from planet to planet spreading the word of the Lord and had recently made the acquaintance of the Prime Minister. Cutter confirmed his story, a certain Abbot Parsons quickly returning his wave, saying Book had left the abbey five years ago and had kept in touch as he traveled the galaxy.

The trouble with preachers was you could never tell if they were lying. In their minds a lie wasn’t a lie if it served a higher purpose. He sensed Parsons was lying but in no way could prove it. Then there was the report about a preacher on Serenity, but no one had bothered to take his name. All of this troubled Cutter as Book approached him.

“Good morning, Chancellor,” Book said in a warm, friendly way with a big grin added on top.

“Good morning, Shepherd,” Cutter said in his usual icy manner. “I suppose it is time, isn’t it?”

“Yes, sir,” Book said and then he stepped over to a control panel and the radio operator hit some switches and soon Book’s voice was being heard throughout the gathered fleet.

“Brothers and sisters, I ask you to bow your heads for a moment as we ask the Lord in Heaven to bless this expedition and all its many souls. Guarantee us safe passage Lord and bless the safe return of all to their families and loved ones. Know our purpose is a great one and that we shall do our utmost to keep the faith with you Lord as we carry out our worldly duties. Bless our great commander, High Chancellor Adam Cutter and his staff and the captains and crews and all the soldiers of the fleet. Amen.”

A resounding “Amen” was heard throughout the ship as Book handed the mic back to the operator.

“Very nice, Shepherd,” said Cutter. “Now if you excuse me, the bridge of a warship is no place for a preacher. You will confine your duties to the chapel and wherever else people need the comfort of your Lord. Good day.”

“Good day,” Book said as he left the bridge and made his way to a bank of elevators that would take him to the lower levels. As he left he heard Cutter give the orders to move the fleet to Haven at top speed.

As he rode the elevator down Book reflected on how close he was to the man and how he could nothing to him, that is if Book wanted to live. He thought on what River had said the last time he saw her. Sometimes the hand that does the killing must be sacrificed. But not yet. If this fleet does indeed set out to destroy the Reavers that can only be the Lord’s will, no matter if they had once been human or not. Perhaps destroying them would be a solace for the rage that consumed them. The end of the Reavers would be seen as a salvation from God by the people on the Rim worlds. God willing, Book would have other chances to be next to Adam Cutter. And when all was done, Book would wrap his hands around his throat and squeeze the life out of the man.

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

Deep in the bowels of the Dortmunder another man was praying to his Lord, and knowing somehow that his prayers had been answered. He knew that voice, knew that man who had sat in his house and eaten meals with him, the man who was going to marry his daughter and her handsome doctor.

Jonathan Frye was on his knees by his bed, his hands held in supplication to his Lord, his prayers silently said. For the first time in days he felt some hope. Book was on this ship, somehow, someway, he managed to get on this ship as a preacher. And now Jonathan had a burning need to see him.

He stood and went to the force field blocking his exit. “Guard! Guard!” he yelled and after a moment a young Alliance soldier came to the door.

“What do you want?” he asked with a scowl.

“I need to see the preacher. It’s been a whole week since I had the comfort of the Lord’s words.”

The soldier hesitated. “Don’t know. He might be busy.”

“You can ask, can’t you?”

The guard could and he did feel kinda bad for this old fellow. No one told them why he was here or what his crime was but he had been friendly and had caused no trouble. They had a warning that he had beat up three guards on another ship but he seemed very docile now.

“Alright, I’ll ask.”

“Thank you, my son.”

It was a long two hours later when Jonathan’s prayers were answered. He could clearly see the surprise on Book’s face as he looked through the force field at Kaylee’s father lying on the bed. Book quickly recovered.

“I’ve been told you asked for me?’

“Yes, Shepherd. I feel the need to confess,” Jonathan said as he stood from his bed.

“By all means, my son,” Book said and then turned to the guard. “Let me in.”

“Can’t do that Shepherd. He’s a dangerous man.”

“What’s his crime?”

“Ah, I wasn’t told,’ the solder confessed.

“I am a man of the Lord and this man wishes to confess. His rights to religious comfort are guaranteed in the constitution of the Alliance, need I remind you.”

“No, Shepherd, I know the law. I let you in you scream if there’s trouble.”

“Like a little girl,” Book said and the soldier nodded after a moment and lowered the force field.

The force field was raised again as Book stepped inside and sat on the bed. Jonathan knelt and put his hands in prayer as Book put a hand on his head.

“Now my son, what do you wish to confess?”

“I got terrible thoughts, Shepherd.”

“Thoughts can be sins too, my son. You must confess.”

Jonathan leaned forward and whispered. “I got a burning desire to escape and kill Adam Cutter.”

Book would have smiled anywhere else. “Well, my son,” he whispered back. “That’s no sin in my opinion. Now, tell me all about yourself. What’s your name? What was your crime? How did you end up here?”

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

Cutter was watching and listening, of course, wanting to know if these two men knew each other. He had left orders to report anything strange about the prisoner. The request for a Shepherd had set off alarm bells in Cutter’s mind. He allowed it hoping to find out the truth about this Shepherd and any connection he had to Serenity. But the conversation he had with Frye was inaudible, the closeness of the two men and the whispers too low for the mics or the software that enhanced it. Cutter watched for a while and then left after he told the techs to record it all and try to recover anything if possible.

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

As Jonathan told the story Book’s anger toward Adam Cutter grew in leaps and bounds. After talking in whispers for thirty minutes Book blessed him and stood.

“Ten Hail Mary’s and twenty Our Father’s should do it, Mr. Frye.”

“Thank you, Shepherd. I feel much better already.”

“May the Lord be with you,” Book said as he signaled to the guard.

“And with you, Shepherd.”

The force field came down and Book left as Jonathan got to work on his prayer punishment.

Book’s head swam as he headed back to his quarters. What to do, what to do? To help Jonathan escape would bring the whole ship down on both of them. No, that was clearly out of the question. He told Jonathan to be patient, he would think of something. When he heard that he had confessed to Cutter about the trip to Earth and about the Kovalev Drive, Book knew it was much more serious. Cutter wanted Serenity and Kaylee. Now they were all headed in the same direction, toward Miranda and what was going to be a showdown. And Book feared that not all would survive.

COMMENTS

Tuesday, July 1, 2008 4:15 AM

BLACKBEANIE


Co-ol.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008 4:29 AM

WYTCHCROFT


so many things i could single out for praise but for one thing (that i find hard) - you write good Jayne:)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008 1:59 PM

KATESFRIEND


I really liked your reason for the Reavers self mutilation. You've obviously given all your overlapping storylines a lot of thought.


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