BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

CBSTEVE

The Return Home - Part 13
Thursday, July 31, 2008

After rescuing Kaylee the crew takes stock of their situation and an old adversary makes a reappearance.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1561    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

The Return Home – Part 13

Serenity settled down again in the prison courtyard and Drummond left immediately to check on his people and his daughter and to inform them of their recent losses. He knew his people would silently suffer this latest disaster but how much more they could take even he didn’t know.

Simon took Kaylee to the infirmary and checked her out and made sure the blood on her wasn’t hers and then she just lost it and broke down crying over and over again, gasping the story to him. After a long while he took her to the bathroom and helped her undressed and then Kaylee took a long shower, cleansing herself of the Reaver’s blood and the filth of her ordeal.

Simon checked on Jerry and all was well and then he checked Jayne’s arm wound and bruises and aches, and Mal’s leg wound which was still not totally healed, and his new head wound, and Zoe’s arm wound, all the scars of their recent battles, of which there had been plenty. He handed out pain relievers and muscle relaxants to all Serenity’s warriors. And then his sister came into the infirmary and he cleaned and bandaged some nicks and cuts she got from the Reaver fight and asked on her knee problem from the fight with Forbes which seemed so long ago but had been just a few days.

“Much better,” she said and then Simon just looked at her and hugged her.

“Thank God you were there,” he said and River looked him in the eyes, and spoke in her calm way she had when talking about life and death.

“God had nothing to with it, brother. The Alliance made me into a weapon. Tonight was a time to use it for some good.”

Kaylee came in at that point only dressed in Simon’s blue robe, her hair still damp, and she hugged the siblings and told them she loved them and they all had a moment of strong bonding that people who had never had their life on the line could never really understand. Then Kaylee got dressed and they went upstairs to see the others in the dining room where Inara and Wash were preparing a meal of soup and pasta and salad that they all needed badly. Inara broke down and hugged Kaylee and cried and then Mal was there, head bandaged, his face full of guilt, and it was the first chance he really had to talk to her since the fight.

“I’m sorry,” he said and she was stunned by his words.

“For what, Capt’n?”

“For letting them take you,” he said and they could all see he was feeling guilty as hell for not protecting her.

“Capt’n,” Kaylee began gently. “They was all over you and you still tried to save me, that’s all that matters. And I’m here now.”

“Just…when they were taking you…I tried to shoot you.”

The words hung in the air and everyone waited for Kaylee’s reaction.

“I know, I saw it. I don’t know what happened, but I didn’t die. I know you did it for me.”

And then she wrapped her arms around him and said thank you and Mal hugged her back and he held back his tears and he felt much better.

“Ok, let’s eat,” he said and everyone sat and ate with gusto, all except Kaylee, who was still a little queasy from her experience.

“I think I need a drink, Doctor,” she said to Simon and before he could even move Jayne was up and grabbing bottles from cupboards, many of them those they had liberated from the shopping mall in Melbourne back on Earth.

“I second that, Kaylee,” Jayne said as he returned to the table. “My head and shoulder need some liquid medication.”

“Hold on a second,” said Mal. “Wash, check the scopes first.” Wash had told him about the strange ship and Mal didn’t want a drunk crew in case they were attacked.

After Wash said the scopes were clear, drinks were poured for all. They sat around eating and drinking and Kaylee told her story and everyone added what they did. Simon sat by her holding her hand as Kaylee trembled and her voice rose and fell with the emotions of her ordeal. The horror she described, this Colonel, and what he said, the Reavers, all of it made them shudder. She had a quick glimpse of the damaged Firefly and knew she could never repair it outside a shipyard. If they hadn’t come for her….well, she didn’t want to think too much on that.

“Them Reavers is a lot smarter than you think,” said Jayne, stating the obvious, which Wash just couldn’t let go by without comment.

“No kidding,” said Wash with heavy sarcasm. “Let’s see, spying on us, picking out the one person they need, spikes across a road, being organized, having leaders,…mmmmm, Captain, I think Jayne may be onto something.”

“My fist gonna be on your noggin you don’t quit with that,” Jayne shot back.

“Enough,” said Mal, his head aching worse from their banter than the blow he took. “No doubts about the Reavers and their smarts. We get the ship repaired and were outta here pronto.”

“And Drummond, sir?” Zoe asked.

Mal stood and drained his glass of Chinese wine. “Time I had a talk with him.”

“We got the space glass?” Kaylee asked after Mal left.

“Drummond called his people to pick it up,” said Wash.

Kaylee stood also. “Where are you going?” asked Simon with concern.

“Work to do,” she said. “If that glass is here, I can cut it and shape it and have it in in a few hours.” She really just needed to keep busy to stop thinking about all that she went through.

“Let’s get to work then,” said Jayne as he drained the last bottle of self cooling beer they got from Australia “Sooner we fix the boat, sooner we leave this death trap…’fore one of us dies.”

“Where will we go?” Inara asked and they all had to ponder that. They had come to Miranda to find Drummond but now that he didn’t want to leave their plans were coming to an end.

“Don’t know,” said Jayne. “But I got them letters to deliver for the Shepherd.”

“You think he’s OK?’ asked Kaylee, and they all remembered that one of their nine wasn’t here anymore. Everyone looked to Jayne, the secret of Book’s letter known only to him. And Mal and River, of course, but no one else knew that.

“Can’t say for sure,” Jayne finally said. “But you all know the Shepherd. He can handle himself.”

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

On the Dortmunder Shepherd Book was being handled, by being escorted from his chapel to the bridge and then Cutter’s ready room. The four guards with him did not know why he was being taken to see the commander and Book could only surmise that Cutter knew something about his conversations with Jonathan or he somehow was angry about the coded message he had sent to the Prime Minister. Book felt he had taken a chance with that, the code being old, and maybe the computers now could intercept it and even read it.

The guards released Book and he entered Adam Cutter’s ready room alone. Cutter was behind his desk and was cold and emotionless as usual, his wire rimmed glasses perched above his hawk like nose.

“May I ask why I was escorted here under guard?” Book began before Cutter could say a word.

“Because it has come to my attention that you sent an unauthorized message to the Prime Minister.”

“She is an acquaintance. Is it a crime to send messages to people I know, High Chancellor?”

“No, Shepherd, but the code you used, that is what has attracted my interest.”

Ah, so that’s it. “My messages to the Prime Minister are my business, High Chancellor.”

“Everything in this fleet and this galaxy is my business. I am charged with the protection of the citizens of the Alliance from enemies, external and internal. Which are you?”

“Neither. Please come to the point.”

“Shepherd, I am an expert in all matters of intelligence gathering and code making and breaking. But this code I am unfamiliar with it and that disturbs me greatly.”

Book sighed. “Chancellor, as I have already stated, what happens between me and the Prime Minister is our business. If you wish to discuss this with her, I believe it will be morning in Londinium in a few hours.”

“No, that won’t be necessary.” Cutter pressed a button and the doors opened and the guards came in. “You won’t be making any more sermons or sending anymore messages Shepherd. Guards take him to the prison level immediately and place the Shepherd in detention.”

The guards hesitated, not sure if they heard correctly, and more than one of the four thought something wasn’t quite right here. As Cutter glared at them the leader quickly realized he was placing his career in jeopardy and got out his handcuffs.

As the guard placed handcuffs on the prisoner, Book remained calm and just stared at Cutter. “And what is the charge, High Chancellor?”

“Unauthorized communications from a warship during a time of conflict. Detention to remain in effect for the duration of this mission.”

As Book was led away and off the bridge, with more than one curious and even shocked look from the bridge crew, he realized that his mission to stop Adam Cutter and free Jonathan Frye had just taken a turn for the worse.

************************************************************************ Drummond had called his people from Serenity and they had righted the truck and got its engine going and brought the space glass back to the prison compound. The glass was still intact, mostly, with the outer sheet of the bundle having a few pits and scratches from bullets during the battle. The glass didn’t break but those dents made it too risky to use. Mal thanked Drummond for his help as Jayne and Drummond’s people carry the glass on board and Kaylee got to work measuring and cutting it. They also recovered two bodies from the truck crash battle and two were missing and everyone knew what happened to them. After all this, Mal now felt like he owned these Miranda survivors something.

“Professor, I think I might be taking that job you asked me to do,” Mal said as they stood outside Serenity in the cool night air.

Drummond only nodded as he smoked a cigar, almost his last he thought, his supply that he found years ago running out. “Captain, I’d be very appreciative if you did. But don’t do it because you think you owe me or my people something.”

“Hell no, that ain’t the only reason. We’re a bit light in the funds department,” Mal said. “You make a list of what you need and we’ll come to a fair price and see what we can do.”

“Captain, the things I need might attract Alliance attention when you try to buy them. Are you sure it’s worth the risk?”

“Alliance and I have an understanding. I hate them and they hate me, so no worries about that. Besides, I’m already high on their attention list.”

“May I ask the nature of your regular business when you are not trying to rescue stubborn old fools like me?”

Mal had to grin at that last part. “Cargo carrier, mostly legal, sometimes not.”

“It seems your coming here to be a bit outside your normal operations.”

Mal knew this conversation would happen eventually. “Well, Professor, we have our reasons and right now I really don’t know how much I should and shouldn’t tell you, so I’ll err on the side of caution. Not that we don’t trust you, but, well, fewer folks know our story seems to be the better.”

“Understood, Captain.”

Mal had one more thing on his mind. “Your missile batteries, where did you get them and how many missiles you still got?”

“They were part of the prison defenses. This had been the facility for the most dangerous criminals on Miranda and even from a few nearby worlds. The missiles were in case someone try to land and affect a prisoner’s escape. So the prison records tell me. We had over thirty missiles when we came ten months ago. Now, there are only four left.”

“Four!” Mal said in surprise. “That’s not good. If them Reavers come in force…”

“Yes, Captain. It may be time to shift our base of operations to another locale. Let me think on this and in the morning I will decide where to go.”

“Off world seems best.”

Drummond shook his head and let out a puff of smoke. “No, I am staying. But if any of my people wish to leave I won’t stop them.”

“You’re going to die here,” Mal said, not with anger, but more of a plea to have the man come to his senses. Mal needed him to show the verse what Cutter was but he also felt some kinship with him. A desperate man fighting a desperate cause. He was Mal’s kind of hero.

“I died sixteen years ago, Captain, when my daughter killed my wife in her initial stages of her rage. Goodnight.”

Mal was stunned at this revelation and had nothing to say as Drummond walked away toward the prison compound. The horrors the man must have seen. Would they leave, that was the question. He was five people shorter than this morning, with Jerry the only one of those five still alive. Mal wondered how much longer they could hold out. If he did find the stuff the Professor needed and did get it back here, maybe there’d be no one the accept the cargo.

As Mal walked back on the ship, he remembered the vid disk Drummond had given him. He went to his bunk and retrieved it and then went to the bridge and put it in a vid player behind the co-pilot’s position. Wash and Zoe came in just as it started to play. In horror they watched as a female Alliance scientist explained how they had found the dead people of Miranda and about the G-23 chemicals that were used. Then at the end, she was overcome by Reavers and as they began to claw at her and consumed her Mal shut off the machine.

No one said a word for a long moment, all three horrified at what they saw, even Mal and Zoe who had thought they had seen everything in the war. To think that’s what could have happened to Kaylee made them all shudder.

“Alliance knew everything,” Zoe finally said.

“And here’s the proof,” Mal added. “Their own scientist. I get the feeling that her and her people didn’t work for Cutter. He never would have sent them here to find out what happened since he was the one that did it. We need to get this out on the Cortex.”

“It’s just a vid,” said Wash a little downcast. “Drummond’s broadcast was called a hoax. Maybe this will be, too.”

Mal thought on this for a long moment. “Then we have to get Drummond out of here and back to the Core. We have to bring him to civilization. He was once a respected scientist Book said. Maybe only he can show the verse what Cutter and the Alliance did to Miranda.”

“He won’t leave,” said Zoe.

“Maybe he doesn’t have to,” Wash added. “We can make vids of him. Show his experiments, show what he’s doing here.”

“Can we reach the Cortex from here?” Zoe asked and Wash went to a screen and started punching keys.

“Yes, but it's weak. The Reavers must have knocked out most of the satellites around Miranda. Drummond needed that dish for his broadcast. I think we’d better be in the black to make a good connection.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Mal said. “But first we gotta get the boat back in top shape.”

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

Kaylee worked into the wee hours of the morning and as tired as she was she knew this had to be done and done right. The windows had to be fitted from the inside and so they set up a small step ladder on the dining room table and with Jayne standing tall on one side and holding the glass in position, Kaylee stood on the other and bolted each pane into the window frames and then sealed them tight with a special epoxy sealant designed for such a purpose.

Jayne jumped down and Simon handed him a glass of water which he drained in one gulp and then went to the water tank for more as he rubbed his sore shoulder. Kaylee climbed down and Simon also gave her a glass which she drank with gusto. She was exhausted and it had been a very long day for all of them.

“What’s the news, Kaylee?” Mal asked as he and Wash came from the bridge area.

“Sealant needs about five hours to set properly,” she replied wearily. ”Then we need to do a water test from outside to check for leaks and then a high atmo test. After that…we’re ready.”

“So we need to stay for the night?” asked Wash and he sounded none too happy.

“Yup,” she said and wondered not for the first time about pilots who knew nothing about how their ships ran. Wash knew a lot about Serenity but he was still of the class Kaylee called the “press a button and it works people”, those who expected things to run as they should all the time. Maybe that was unfair to Wash but more than once she saw the confused looks he gave her when she tried to explain things to him. Of course, Wash wasn’t alone in knowing nothing about the boat.

“Set the radars and sensors Wash,” Mal said. “I’ll take first watch and then tell Zoe I’ll wake her in four hours.”

“We ain’t getting out of here?” Jayne asked in surprise as he finished his second glass of water. “Gorramnit, Mal, them Reavers gotta be pissed off and they know where to find us.”

“Figure with the missile batteries and the extra hands about and these high walls, this place as safe as any,” Mal said and he didn’t add how few missiles were left. His crew was exhausted, and it was true about the high walls and extra people about. Of course the Reavers knew this place well, but Mal still wanted to convince Drummond to leave and he knew he and his crew was also protecting the Professor and his group. Together they were stronger than apart. As Mal explained this last part, to Jayne and everyone else that made some sense. “Get some rest. Tomorrow we skedaddle after Kaylee gives the okay.”

“Where to?” Simon asked, thinking on the conversation they had had earlier..

“Anywhere but here,” Mal said as he turned and went to the bridge and Wash followed.

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

“It’s about five hundred meters ahead of your position, sir,” said the Lieutenant from the ship to Forbes on his communicator as he walked through the dead streets of Miranda’s capital city. “Looked like some kind of prison from the vids we took.”

“Roger,’ said Forbes. “Will contact when in proximity.”

They had taken many vid scans of the area where the second Firefly had landed and then had gone over the horizon and then flew in low, coming in behind some hills, landed the Reaver ship in a hilly forested area about five kilometers from the landing site. Forbes had rested for a few hours and then ate and prepared himself for the day to come. He examined all the vids, saw landmarks and building she could use as navigation points as he made his way to the prison.

He would go in alone, find that Firefly and then signal the ship to come. At least that’s what he told the Lieutenant. But Forbes had other plans. He had a strong feeling that this second Firefly was Serenity. Closer examination of vids of the Firefly in the stadium revealed what looked like a hole on its left side and no way was that ship spaceworthy. The Lieutenant suggested they attack now, use the Reaver ship EMP to disable Serenity and then capture the crew but Forbes had bitter memories of his failure on Persephone. He had had fifteen men against only four in a narrow street and still he had lost and many of his men had died or were injured including himself. This time he would weaken Serenity’s numbers first and then move in for the capture.

Forbes carried his sniper rifle in its case, his knife and a pistol. He also wore a pair of night vision glasses similar to want Simon had. As he approached the neighborhood of the prison he took more precautions, moving from shadow to shadow in the darkness, using the skills taught to him at the Academy, looking for a high vantage point to bring his sniper rifle to bear. A tall building, about ten stories, what looked like an apartment building, seemed to offer that. The elevators were out so Forbes climbed the stairs, pausing at the top to drink some water. Then he slowly opened the door to the roof top.

Two Reavers were lying prone, facing the prison, and Forbes instantly knew they were after the ship or the people there or both. He lay down his sniper rifle case and slowly drew his knife out and with stealth approached and dispatched the two Reavers before they knew they were in any danger. They had a set of binoculars and both had pistols and knives. Forbes collected their weapons and then went to a spot a few meters away and set up his own observation post. He then began his recon.

Serenity was clearly in view in the prison courtyard and through his glasses Forbes knew it was the ship he was seeking because the left shuttle bay was empty. He could also see the missile batteries on each tower and a few people were awake, looking skyward, as the first signs of dawn appeared. Who were they and why did they have missile batteries? More observations around the prison yard and Forbes could see crashed Reaver ships and suddenly knew this prison had human survivors and they were under siege. The Reavers he had killed were possibly not after Serenity, but the people inside the prison. Who that was, Forbes had no idea. But if people were alive here, maybe they were the ones who made the broadcast. Suddenly Forbes had the feeling that both his targets were in sight.

Forbes took out his sniper rifle and assembled it and then sighted in on the left cockpit window of Serenity. He was facing the left side of the ship but he hoped that when day came and the crew stirred one of his two targets would come out of the front of the ship and reveal themselves to his deadly bullets. At last he was in a position where he held all the cards and River Tam held none. Soon she would be dead. And so would Reynolds or any other of the crew. Except for the one his master wanted taken alive.

As Forbes sighted in his rifle on various targets in the prison, the sun rose and day began to break. He noticed a change in people on the missile towers. And then what he had waited for happened. The ramp on Serenity came down and a lone figure walked out. River Tam.

As Forbes sighted in on her head, she suddenly turned and he had the feeling she was looking straight at him. Unnerved for just a second, Forbes began to squeeze the trigger.

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

On Londinium Prime Minister Susan Blakely arrived at nine am sharp in her office in the Parliament building and immediately began to go through her messages. The one from Book quickly caught her attention and she had to wait five minutes while her computer decoded it and she had a feeling that in the whole galaxy only her computer could do the job. The message was text only with no video or sound.

“Prime Minister, I have been accepted as Shepherd aboard the High Chancellor’s flagship. The mission to Miranda is proceeding as planned and all have great hope of its success. The crew is very aware of what we are doing and where we are going. They know nothing of Miranda’s history but most know that the Reavers are real and there is a sense of purpose here now that they know we are intending to destroy the Reaver fleet. Cutter has revealed nothing that can be used as evidence in his past crimes. All I have is my own recollections concerning events on Miranda. Hopefully we can locate the person who made the broadcast and any other survivors before Cutter can eliminate them. I still have no knowledge of the whereabouts of Serenity or the Tam siblings but if I know Captain Reynolds he is already near or on Miranda. I will send further news when we arrive near Miranda.”

And that was it. Susan Blakely had thought long and hard on what to do about Adam Cutter. She knew he had his spies deep in every government department and knew he could muster enough votes to have her removed from office, by threatening those he had dirt on. But by doing this he would show his hand to all and involve himself directly in the power levels he had thus far avoided in his twenty years as High Chancellor. Oh, Cutter had spread his influence to have certain things go his way but never had he interfered in an election or tried to remove an elected official from office who had not already been exposed to the public for some misdeed. No, Cutter would not try to remove her, unless she tried to remove him. There had to be a way to get to the man.

Then she thought on the Tams, and Athenian Island, and what had happened there. The Prime Minister reached for her Cortex screen and immediately waved her liaison officer with the military forces. Fortunately, the combat military forces were separated from Cutter’s police forces and auxiliary military supports. By giving Cutter command of the fleet to destroy the Reavers, Blakely had set a precedent of sorts and there was some grumbling in the military that one of their men should be in charge. And operation of such size could not be concealed and soon it was well known throughout the Core that a force under Cutter had been sent off on a mission, to do what, not one knew exactly, but it was suspected to put down elements of the rebellion.

‘Good day, Madam Prime Minster,” said the general who was her liaison to the military.

“General MacCready, good morning. I have an assignment for you.”

MacCready was bald and square jawed and didn’t like this woman who was now in charge but he was old school military, had made his bones in the war in combat, and saw this post as a stepping stone to Chief of Staff of all armed forces.

“Ready to serve, Madam Prime Minister.”

“There is a place on Osiris called Athenian Island that I want you to investigate personally. I have received a top secret report that a facility of some sort was operated there and some sort of psychological testing was done without proper authorization. The test subjects were teenagers and some deaths may have been involved. You have the highest clearance for this matter.”

“Madam, I believe such a matter would fall under the authority of the High Chancellor’s office.”

“General, I would agree except for the fact that the High Chancellor is indisposed at the moment. In fact, I do not wish you to use any police forces whatsoever. Keep this strictly military. I want you to personally go to Osiris. Understood?”

“Yes, Madam, I will leave immediately.”

“Very good, General. Report directly to me when you finish your investigation.”

“Yes, Madam.”

“Good day, General.” And with that she ended the transmission. Next she contacted her personal secretary by speaker.

“Joanne? Please get me a wave number in Capital City, Osiris.”

“Yes, Madam. And the name?”

“Gabriel Tam.” It was time to bring the matter of the Tam siblings under more close scrutiny and to see if any crimes have been committed, by them or against them. If the latter, than Susan Blakely had every intention to bring this matter to a close once and for all and exonerate River and Simon Tam for all they had done.

In a few moments the secretary set up the wave and a very surprised Gabriel Tam looked at the Prime Minister of the Alliance. It was evening in Capital City on Osiris and Tam looked like he was getting ready for bed, clad only in his pajamas and robe.

“Madam Prime Minister? This is quite the surprise.”

“Yes, for me, too Mr. Tam.

“To what do I owe the honor, Madam?”

“It’s time we had a chat about your children.”

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

Back on Miranda the night had passed uneventfully for both the crew and Drummond and his supporters. The news that four more had been lost was a shock and there were some tears and lots of soul searching and more than one thought it was time to leave when that ship goes. Constellation or Serenity, whatever the crew was calling it, and some had heard both names, it looked mighty inviting. Drummond knew his grip was weakening and even had doubts for the thousandth time but as he gave his daughter her daily shot those doubts were chased away just from the look she gave him and he felt a connection with her even after sixteen years, even after the terrible thing she had done. She had been so beautiful. The scars on her face and body could be repaired by a good plastic surgeon, he knew that, but the scars on her soul might never heal.

On board Serenity, AKA Constellation, River awoke before everyone else and after dressing and a quick splash of water on her face she went to the bridge where she found Zoe dozing.

“Morning,” River said and Zoe was jolted wide awake.

“Oh, gorramnit, fell asleep,” she said in a groggy voice then looked at River. “Don’t tell…”

“I won’t,” River said before Zoe could finish her thought. “We’re all tired. The last two months have been more than a little exciting.”

“That’s an understatement if I ever heard one,” Zoe said as she quickly checked the scanners and saw the scopes all clear. “Are you my relief?”

“No, but I sensed you could do with waking up before…”

“Morning,” said Mal as he walked onto the bridge, looking fresh despite having only four hours sleep and carrying two wounds and all the responsibility for the crew. If anyone asked Inara she wouldn’t tell them, but Mal slept like a rock the last few nights and she could only surmise it was his confession of what he had done in Serenity Valley that eased his aching soul. “Report, Zoe.”

“All clear, sir,” she said suddenly awake and she smiled at River and mouthed “thank you”.

“Okay, Zoe, get some sack time. I’ll take it from here. What’s the news, little River?”

“All shiny,” said River as she followed Zoe off the bridge.

“You knew he was coming, didn’t you?” Zoe asked as they walked toward the dining area.

“Yes.”

“Do you know what else is coming?”

“Unfortunately, I do not have that skill. The time between knowledge and occurrence is very short.”

“That’s good enough I’d say. A few seconds or a minute can mean the difference between life and death.”

As she said this River said goodbye and then turned and walked down stairs toward the cargo bay. She wanted to see Professor Drummond and his work, she if she could help him, could at least understand what he was doing. The cargo bay ramp came down and River stepped out into the clear cool morning air of Miranda.

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

Kaylee didn’t sleep well at all and twice during the night she awoke with nightmares, of being surrounded by Reavers, of being pawed at and groped, of sheer horror as they started to rip her flesh. She awoke screaming and Simon comforted her and after the second time he insisted she take a shot and she finally relented and then slept more soundly than she had in a long time.

After each nightmare and Kaylee’s return to sleep, Simon had checked on Jerry and the youth was still alive but unconscious still. Simon awoke after getting a few more hours rest and after giving the still slumbering Kaylee a quick kiss and he went to check on River and her room was empty. Then he went in and checked on Jerry again and he was awake, pale and weak looking, but alive and awake.

“Morning,” said Simon as he checked the IV bag. “Feeling better?”

“Yeah, for a guy who had a spear shoved through his middle. You a Doctor?”

“Yes, I am. We met yesterday.”

“Yeah, now I remember. Thanks.”

“No need. You missed a lot of excitement.” Simon quickly filled him in and Jerry didn’t take the news that four people he knew were dead very well.

“Who was it?” he asked in a trembling voice.

Simon realized he made a mistake and that Jerry was getting overexcited. “I’m sorry, I don’t know their names.”

“Brenda, get Brenda, please.”

“Okay, but just calm down. You have suffered a serous injury. You need to relax.”

“Just…I need to know.”

Simon told him he would get Brenda and then he went to the cargo bay and saw River standing at the foot of the ramp enjoying the morning air. As he was about to say good morning she suddenly bent over backwards and flipped into the air back up the ramp as a bullet slammed into the dirt just past where she had been standing and a shot echoed a few milliseconds later.

“River!”

As River ran up the ramp Simon slammed the buttons closing the ramp and the doors and then grabbed his sister checking her for injuries.

“He missed,” she said calmly.

“Who?”

“Forbes. He’s here.”

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

Maston Forbes couldn’t believe he had missed. She was there in his sights and he pulled the trigger. River Tam should be dead. But she had looked straight at him and he sensed that she knew someone was there and as the bullet flew her head moved and he missed and then she was gone. Forbes remembered the rumors about River at the academy, rumors that said she had ‘special’ abilities, but no one ever knew what this meant. There were a few others like River and they were often away from the rest of the classes, doing what no one knew. The day she escaped was like any other day at the academy, for the students at least, and no one knew for many days that she was gone. They were told she had been dismissed and sent home for failing one aspect of the program but Forbes and the others didn’t believe this because Tam had been the best. Now all these years later he learned she had escaped, been taken out by her older brother.

Already he could see the people on the prison towers looking around for where the shot came from and even though they were lower than his post and he was a few blocks away, they might have spotted him. The first rule of being a sniper was shoot and then move. You never stayed in one place for long because soon the enemy will know where you were. Forbes quickly packed up his gear and left the roof top, making his way down to the first floor and he moved backwards away from the prison, out of line of sight of the tower guards. It took thirty minutes of moving, but he managed to shift unseen to another building a few blocks away on the west side of the prison walls. This time he set up in an eight floor apartment, the owner’s bones lying in the open doorway. Forbes found a window and a table and used a stack of books to rest his rifle on.

This time he had a clear view of Serenity and its front ramp. The next person to step off the ship would be dead, as long as that person wasn’t Kaylee Frye.

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

“You sure it was him?” Mal asked as a sleepy crew gathered in the cargo bay after Simon had called them all on the ship wide intercom. River told them what happened and there were some looks of disbelief.

“I’m sure,” she said and Mal had no choice but to believe her.

“How did he find us?” Inara asked in worry.

“Cutter,” Mal said. “Somehow he knows we were coming here. Only thing that makes sense.”

“We didn’t tell anyone,’ said Wash. “Did we?”

“Not Badger or Harrow,” said Mal and then he remembered, sitting in the Frye home, having a drink, talking to the others about Miranda, not when Jonathan was around, but maybe he overheard them. And as he thought this he was looking at Kaylee and he saw some sort of realization dawn on her face.

“My daddy,’ she said almost in a whisper and then all understood. “I think I told him about…Miranda.”

“Then that means…,” Inara started to say but she couldn’t finish the thought, knowing how horrible it was..

“No, that can’t be,” said Simon quickly as he understood Inara’s meaning, trying to reassure Kaylee. “Why hasn’t anyone waved us, told us he’s missing?”

“No one’s knows Serenity’s wave address. Not Mary, no one in the factory. Daddy didn’t keep it in his Cortex screen memory. Only thing makes sense,” Kaylee echoed the captain and then a trickle of a tear fell from her left eye and Simon hugged her as a big racking sob came out. “They got my daddy!”

Simon led her away toward their room as she continued to cry, everyone feeling her pain, more so cause they had met the man and liked him, a whole lot.

“Gorramnit all to hell,” said Jayne. “If Cutter has her father then he knows everything, the FTL drive, Earth, the whole thing.”

“No way he’d talk,” said Wash, thinking on the big tough man who even Mal called ‘sir’.

“They have ways to make you talk,” said River as she looked with sympathetic eyes toward Simon and Kaylee as they went toward the passenger dorm.

Inara started to follow Simon and Kaylee. “It’s been too much for her,’ she said and they all knew what she meant.

“Can we wave him, make sure?” Mal asked Wash after Inara left and the pilot shook his head.

“Cortex signal is awful weak. I doubt it.”

“Then we have to assume they have Kaylee’s father and know everything,” Mal said in a worried tone they didn’t heard often from their captain. But then he almost smiled. “There’s one bright point in this.”

“Sir?” Zoe asked as they all stared in disbelief in Mal, all except River.

“If Cutter knows about the FTL drive,” River began. “He won’t destroy Serenity or harm Kaylee or her father. He wants it and them.”

“Exactly,” said Mal. “Cutter’s no fool or he wouldn’t be where he is today. That FTL drive will make the Alliance invincible, will revolutionize the galaxy, maybe even allow people to expand elsewhere. And he needs the Frye’s to make it work and explain it to him and his people.”

“Then let’s go to the black and throw it off the boat in the deep freeze of space!’ said Jayne with venom.

“Not yet,” said Mal. “It’s the only edge we’ve got. But we got a more serious problem. Forbes or not, there’s a sniper out there and we’re in here. I’m up for suggestions.”

“How good is he?” Jayne asked River, all curious about another sniper, ready to believe it was Forbes.

“It’s the first weapon we trained with,’ River said. “Very good.”

“But you sensed him?” asked Zoe.

“Yes, he was on the roof of an apartment building. He would have moved by now.”

“Yeah,” said Jayne in agreement. “If he knows his stuff, he moved.”

“Think you can take him out?” Mal asked Jayne, their resident sniper expert.

“Trouble is, he knows where we are and we don’t know where he is,” Jayne said. “And anyone walking out the front door gonna be a target.”

“Why not just fly up and have a look around?” suggested Wash.

Zoe shook her head. “He’d just go undercover soon as we take off, even in the shuttle. We need a distraction, something to make him tip his hand.”

“A target,” Mal said and then he noticed everyone looking at him. “What?”

“I bet he hates your guts,’ Jayne said with a smirk.

“After all,” Zoe said. “You did give him a painful memory, sir.”

“No,” said River. “It has to be me. If he sees Mal he will think it’s a set up. But he won’t resist killing me. On Persephone he singled me out. His mission is to kill me so I don’t reveal Cutter’s secrets. He’ll take the shot.”

They were all looking at her and she could sense their feeling of awe and respect.

“Little River,” Mal said seriously. “I ain’t gonna put you in harms way.”

“Not harms way,” she said. “He’ll miss. Just you don’t.” And this last was directed at Jayne.

“But where the hell am I gonna shoot him from? The upper hatch ain’t no good and he’ll see me coming out the front ramp. Too bad them windows are in now.”

“Shuttle two door,’ said Zoe. “We open it and lower the ramp at the same time. His eyes will be on the ramp.”

“That’s awful iffy,” said Jayne. “Wait about ten seconds after the ramp comes down. And what if the angle is all wrong? Ah, hell, Mal let’s just fly the hell out of here.”

“No,” Mal said in his commanding tone. “If Forbes is here, we kill him once and for all. Nothing I hate more than looking over my shoulder and I got enough people back there already without having one more.”

Jayne thought for a second. “Well, ’fore I does any killing, I need some grub and a coffee,” said the big man and he started for the stairs.

With that they all headed upstairs except Mal, who went to Kaylee and Simon’s room, hoping to make his mechanic feel a little bit better.

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

Forbes waited for what seemed like an hour and nothing happened on Serenity or the prison. No one moved about, and even the people on the missile towers were under cover. Then the front ramp came down. Forbes sighted in on the ramp and didn’t have to wait long. There she was, walking down, seemingly calm, not worried about him, and then something told Forbes this wasn’t right. It was a set up. He shifted his scope to the top of Serenity and saw nothing there except a long dent in the roof. He then shifted to the left of the ship, where the empty shuttle opening was just in view. Nothing there or on the prison walls. No one was waiting for him. He shifted back to Tam and she had turned and was heading up the ramp. He could get her, one shot, and she was out of the picture. He took the shot. And missed again.

He had aimed for her back, her head out of view and as he fired she did a little step to one side and the bullet hit the ramp and caromed away into Serenity’s cargo bay. But Tam was still in view. As he lined up for the second shot, all went black before his eyes.

“Got him!” Jayne shouted from his position by the door of the second shuttle entrance. Jayne went back inside and ran down the stairs to join his crewmates, holding his long sniper rifle with loving care.

“Where?” Mal asked.

“Block away, maybe eight, ninth floor. Greenish colored building, open window. Let’s go.”

“Easy, we don’t know for sure, “Zoe said.

“I know, I seen him fly back,” Jayne said with confidence.

“Okay, Jayne and Zoe and River, go get him. He’s still alive, bring him in,” Mal said and knew they’d be surprised. “I got a lot of questions for him.”

“He won’t talk,” said River.

Jayne smiled. “We got ways to make people talk, too.” And then he headed down the ramp and Zoe and River followed.

Drummond had been told of the plan and the magnetically sealed main door was opened for them as they came off the ship, and then moving from cover to cover they made their way to the building Jayne was sure Forbes was in. They went to the eighth floor first, a long walk up the stairs, and then moved with caution towards where Jayne guessed he was. The first they tried was locked and as Jayne was about to break it down River said that he wouldn’t have locked the door, because it would slow his escape. Finally, as they turned a corner, they found the door opened with the body of its owner sticking out.

Forbes was laying in the kitchen, on the floor, unconscious but alive, blood pooling by his head from where Jayne’s bullet had creased his right temple. Jayne quickly disarmed him and Zoe applied a bandage to the head wound.

“Can’t believe we aren’t gutting him,” said Jayne in disgust, also disgusted that he barely scratched him. Getting rusty, Jayne thought.

“Captain’s right, we need to know what he and Cutter know,” Zoe added as she finished the bandage.

“He won’t talk,” River repeated and this time Jayne didn’t say anything, thinking she may have a point.

Forbes wasn’t light, so Zoe got on the communicator and told Mal they had him and he was alive and ten minutes later Simon and Mal showed up with the stretcher.. Grunting and groaning, they managed to get Forbes out of the room and headed back to Serenity. A few moments after they left, a communicator that had fallen from Forbes’ pocket when he had been hit and had slid under a long dead refrigerator began to squawk.

“Sir, are you there, sir? Please respond, sir.” And for the next few minutes the Lieutenant continued to call, unaware his leader was now in the hands of the enemy.

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

As Simon began to treat Forbes wounds, with the same misgivings Jayne had, Mal had Forbes hands tied to the examining table and ordered both Jayne and Zoe to stand over him with weapons drawn. They had seen how good Forbes was and heard Badger’s stories about his skill with the knife. For safety sake Mal had asked Inara take all sharp items from the infirmary.

While Simon was working Kaylee finally emerged from their room, all cried out, and she knew the only thing to take her mind off her father was work. The Capt’n had come and tried to reassure her that Cutter wouldn’t harm him because he needed him, but that was little comfort since Kaylee quickly surmised they were after her, too. Why couldn’t the ‘verse just leave them alone? She suggested destroying the Kovalev Drive immediately but again Mal said no. He knew there would come a time very soon when they were going to need it and need it badly.

Now that Forbes was their prisoner it was safe to go outside. After first checking on the sealant in the three window panes, and making sure it was set, Kaylee asked Inara to stand inside and look for leaks while she went to the roof with a water hose hooked up to the main tanks. Kaylee sprayed the three windows for ten minutes and then went inside to get the good news that there were no leaks that Inara could see. After checking and rechecking the seals, Kaylee gave Wash the thumbs up for the upper atmo test and Wash went to the bridge to call Mal on the intercom and ask for the OK.

Meanwhile in the infirmary, Forbes woke up. Two pistols were in his face, his hands were tied, and he had a terrible headache.

“You’re alive,” Mal said to him. “For how long depends on you cause we all got no qualms about killing you. First, we got some questions.”

“Captain Reynolds. I have one first,” Forbes asked, his voice a bit weak and raspy. “Who got me?”

Jayne smiled. “Yours truly. You had your eye on the ball a bit too long, sonny. Meant to kill you, so count yourself lucky.”

“And Tam? Where is she?”

“Here,” said River as she came into his line of sight, standing next to Simon.

“Ah, the Tam siblings. How did you know I was there, River?”

“Enough of your questions,” Mal said sharply. “What’s Cutter know and what’s his plan?”

“Captain, surely River has told you we have been trained to resist interrogation.”

“Jayne, cut his balls off,” Mal said calmly and there was a sudden shocked silence as Jayne looked in disbelief at Mal, wanting to cut this boy, but not that, never that.

“Mal, ain’t that a bit too…” Jayne started but he never finished the thought as River interrupted.

“There’s no need for torture,” she said. “I can find out what he knows.”

But River never got a chance to probe Forbes’ mind as Wash broke through on the intercom and at the same time the prison siren began to wail, the noise coming through the open cargo bay to the infirmary.

“Mal! We got Reavers coming in! High and low! I count at least….eight ships….and… Drummond just called, said his people see least a hundred of them moving through the streets toward us on all four sides.”

Mal leaped for the infirmary intercom. “Tell Drummond the last call for the last ship off this world is now! Then get ready for take off. Zoe, Jayne, and River, get armed and get on the walls, hold them off long as you can then get back to the boat when I give the call”

As the warriors started to move out of the infirmary Simon looked to Mal and then Forbes. “What do I do with him?”

“If he tries to escape, shoot him,” Mal said and Jayne handed Simon a pistol and then they were gone, leaving Simon and Forbes alone.

“Did you really break your sister out of that facility?” Forbes asked him and that was one question too many for Simon.

“I think you need to shut up for a while,” said Simon as he injected a hypo into Forbes neck. In a second, he was out like a light. Simon closed the infirmary doors, locked them, and then went to find out what the hell was going on.

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

As Mal raced on the bridge Wash, Kaylee and Inara were there, all with stunned looks on their faces, Kaylee’s more of horror than surprise.

“What the hell is going on?” Mal demanded and Wash just reached over to his control panel and turned up the sound of the comms. As Mal was about to get mad a strange voice, with a deep baritone, came from the radio, and Mal instantly pictured who was behind the voice, Kaylee’s description vivid in his mind.

“This is the Colonel. I repeat, surrender the Professor and the Mechanic immediately or all will die!”

COMMENTS

Thursday, July 31, 2008 8:08 PM

CBSTEVE


Sorry it took more than two weeks to post this. It was ready ten days ago but I was in a small town in Russia where the one Internet cafe wouldn't let you upload files to their computers. I'm back in Korea now, land of blazing Internet everywhere. Part 14 is finished and needs proofreading and Part 15 is half done. If you get lost just go back and read Part 12 again. Thanks all you shiny folk out there in the verse for your comments and support.


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