BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

CBSTEVE

The Return Home - Part 15
Thursday, August 7, 2008

There are many endings and beginnings as Simon makes a terrible discovery about Professor Drummond and Book unknowingly finds a new ally.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1780    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

The Return Home – Part 15

Wash and Inara stayed on the bridge to keep an eye on any activity and frankly both were glad because they didn’t want to see what was going to happen to Forbes. Inara knew Mal had no mercy with those who crossed him or were his enemies and she knew Forbes was never going to leave Haven or even stay here alive. Wash was a pilot, not a soldier or a man of action, and even though he himself had killed on occasion, he didn’t have the stomach for it. Like Simon had said, they all had their roles to play, and Wash was glad his was on the bridge. Kaylee normally wouldn’t want anything to do with questioning prisoners either but if Forbes knew something about her father, she had to find out.

As they came into the cargo bay Kaylee saw the Colonel, tied and chained to the stairs, surround by the guns of some of the few Miranda survivors like Jayne had said, a bloody bandage on his right side.

“Greetings,” he growled at Kaylee as she silently looked at him, the huge Reaver less fearful in the light of the cargo bay, wounded and in bonds.

“Hello,” she said quietly. “Guess shoe’s on the other foot now.”

“Yes, I am now your prisoner.”

“Enough chitchat with him, Kaylee,” Mal said as he came down behind her.

“Capt’n, what’s gonna happen to him?”

“Drummond lives, he gets the cure.”

“And if he doesn’t?” Colonel Hopkins asked.

“We ain’t at that bridge yet,’ Mal said. “But when I make a promise I aim to keep it if can.”

No one knew what he meant and Mal didn’t say it out loud but he intended to let the Colonel go, cure or no cure. Mal reasoned that the Colonel was an enemy of the other Reaver leader and if the Reavers were at each others throats the less likely they’d be attacking human settlements on the Rim. But if he told the Colonel he was letting him go, the nearby Miranda people would have a fit and most likely look to kill him right away or later, especially if Drummond died. Drummond’s serum only worked for 24 hours anyway and Mal needed to have a talk with his people to find out how much he had produced and where it was. No one realized it yet, but there was no serum, Drummond’s missing bag forgotten in all the excitement of the last short while.

Simon was still in the middle of his operation when he saw most of the crew enter the passenger lounge and Mal ask the two people guarding Forbes to leave them alone. Kaylee gave Simon a little wave and smile but said nothing, knowing he needed to concentrate.

Zoe just closed the infirmary doors so they wouldn’t disturb Simon and then Jayne threw a bucket of water into Forbes face. He awoke with a start, dripping wet, in pain from his many injuries, and saw all these angry faces surrounding him. He looked straight at Mal.

“Reynolds, how many times do I have to tell you I will answer no questions?”

“You don’t have to,” said Mal and he stepped back from Forbes and River sat opposite her former classmate and just stared at him. Everyone waited and they could see the confusion on Forbes face. His weakened, beaten, recently drugged condition made it easy for River to probe his mind and what she felt at first didn’t surprise her. He was thinking of ways to escape, how to cut his bonds, kill Mal and Jayne and Zoe and her, but, significantly, not Kaylee, no not Kaylee Frye, had to save her, save Serenity, and bring her and the ship to his master. Soon he’ll be here and this scum will be finished once the….

“The Reavers,” River said suddenly. “They’re coming for them.”

“What do mean, River? Who’s coming?” Kaylee asked.

“They are going to attack the Reavers, and destroy them. An Alliance fleet is coming.”

“What are you?” Forbes asked in confused surprise as he looked at River.

“Cutter never told you why I needed to be killed, did he?” River asked and Mal was going to stop this but decided to see where it went.

“No,” said Forbes, not knowing why he was even responding.

“He did something on Miranda, something terrible,’ said River. “And I knew it, not the details, but I knew that Miranda existed and that he had committed a horrible act there. He tried to have me killed many times. All have failed.”

“What horrible act?” Forbes asked, his curiosity outweighing his training which told him to stay silent.

“We now know he created the Reavers,” River answered.

“Created the Reavers?” Forbes questioned, looking from face to face.

“It’s true,” Zoe told him. “Reavers were people like us once.”

“Yeah, but your boss and some egg head scientists decided to play God on Miranda,” Jayne added. “Gassed the whole planet, trying to make them peaceful.”

“But they made a mistake,” Kaylee continued in a somber tone. “And almost everyone died.”

“Except a small percent,” Mal concluded. “That became crazed and turned into Reavers.”

“It’s impossible,” Forbes said after a moment.

"You were there," said Zoe. "Didn't you wonder why all the bodies were in the streets and homes?"

“I thought it was the Reavers," he replied. "Had attacked the planet."

"Reavers don't leave no bodies or bones," said Jayne in low tone. "They pick their teeth with 'em."

"The broadcast. It wasn’t a lie? How could they get away with it?”

“Cause Cutter's running the show,” Mal said. “But now us and those people with us are gonna tell the whole verse and bring him down. Cutter knows it, knows River knows about Miranda and him. And that’s why he sent you after River and us and Serenity.”

Forbes was stunned into silence and Mal looked to River. “What else does he know?”

“Cutter is leading the fleet. They should be here within the day. There are three Operatives on Haven.”

“How can you…,” Forbes began and then he knew, knew how she knew what Cutter knew, that time he visited them at the Academy, why she was away in ‘special classes’. It all made sense now. “You’re a psychic.”

River didn’t answer him but had another question. “How did you get to Miranda?”

Try as he could Forbes couldn’t keep the images of the Reaver ship and its attack on his gunship from his thoughts.

“They were attacked, by the Reavers, but he and his crew won, took over the Reaver ship.”

“What were his orders?” Mal asked next.

“Scout for the Reavers, find Serenity if possible, but…don’t destroy it. Kill all of the crew except…Kaylee Frye.” After River said this everyone looked at Kaylee, but she had only one thought on her mind and looked from Forbes to River.

“Where’s my daddy? What’s happened to him?”

After a few moments River shook her head. “He doesn’t know your father.”

“Cutter didn’t tell me everything,” said Forbes. “But I’m guessing this ship has an FTL drive of some type. And you made it.” The last was said as he looked at Kaylee.

“Don’t tell him a gorramn thing,” Jayne growled.

“Don’t matter,” said Mal and then he glared at Forbes. “Think we got all we needed from you.” And suddenly everyone knew what he was going to do, the same as he had done to Miller back at Earth, and no one said a word this time, not even Kaylee, normally aghast at the killing they sometimes had to do, but not this time, not with this one, who had tried so hard to kill River. It was time for Forbes to die.

Mal grabbed Forbes by the collar and Jayne lent a hand and they dragged him to his feet and the young man knew what was about to happen.

“You can’t win Reynolds, Cutter has too many, he’s too powerful. You kill me and others will take my place.”

“Story of my life,” Mal said as they started dragging Forbes toward the cargo bay, Zoe and River with their guns drawn and on Forbes. Kaylee stayed behind, not wanting to see what was going to happen and decided to look in on Simon who she hadn’t talked to in what seemed ages but was just a few hours.

“What are they doing with Forbes?” Simon asked her as she opened the doors and stood silently watching him and Brenda operate on Drummond, Kaylee trying hard not look too close at the open wound.

“Taking him outside,” was all she said quietly and Simon understood, said nothing, and concentrated on his work. Killing was not in his blood but he knew it had to be done, with this one especially. Simon had killed Chin by accident but he had been trying to kill Mal and Wash so now it didn’t bother him too much and he had killed several Reavers and that didn’t bother him at all. Another year with this bunch and I’ll be killing for the joy of it, he thought. And then he glanced at Kaylee and saw how she looked at him, pride in her eyes, pride at how he could save lives, not take them, and he knew he would never sink to that level, not with this woman by his side.

Then Kaylee noticed Angela sitting on the floor, eyes wet, and Kaylee moved to her and knelt down.

“He’s gonna be fine,” she said to the distraught woman. “Simon’s best doctor in the verse. He’s Core trained you know, was best trauma surgeon on all Osiris. Saved me when I was shot, just like the Professor, and he saved Zoe, and the Capt’n, and many more. Professor gonna make it. You’ll see.”

Angela sniffled and looked at this young woman who was being so kind to her. “He’s my father.”

“I heard, and I heard he’s a fine man, who spent a long time on Miranda trying to find you and fine a cure for your illness,” Kaylee said. “Now, why don’t we go outside and sit on a nice comfortable sofa and Simon let you know soon as he’s done, OK?”

She nodded and Kaylee helped her up and Brenda said thank you to Kaylee as they went out to the passenger dorm, and they sat down and began to chat.

“He’s your man, isn’t he?” Angela said to Kaylee and then looked toward the infirmary and Simon.

“Yeah,” Kaylee said with a smile. “We fell in love on this here ship. I’m the mec…engineer. Do you have…a man?”

“I don’t know,” Angela said sadly. “I can’t remember…anything much. I think I remember the Professor now. I wonder if I have more family. I wonder what happened to my mother.”

“I guess he’ll tell you everything when he gets better,” Kaylee said.

“I can’t wait to know everything,” Angela replied, not knowing the devastating news that awaited her.

And then they heard a shot and both women flinched and Kaylee knew someone was dieing. After a few seconds came another shot, and Kaylee looked up toward Simon to see his reaction.

But inside the infirmary Simon was too engrossed in his work to react to the shots he had also heard. He was exploring Drummond’s internal organs for any last bullet fragments or bleeding holes when he made a terrible discovery. He showed Brenda, explained what it meant, and then she just sat on the stool, too saddened and shocked by the day's event to continue. Kaylee and Angela heard the news also and Angela just wept as Kaylee held her. Simon closed the wound and stitched up the Professor, wondering just how long the man had to live.

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

The last of the Miranda people were in the cargo bay, guarding the Colonel, trying to get themselves settled, all worried on the Professor, and there were many questions that died on their lips as they saw Serenity’s crew dragging Forbes from the passenger lounge, and they all knew what was going to happen and they were glad. Mal was surprised at how few were left, maybe fourteen Miranda people here, and then he had to remember that six had died since yesterday and Jerry, the Professor and the elderly woman Brenda were not present.

Mal hit the cargo bay doors and then a blast of cold air entered the ship. All Serenity’s present crew and many Miranda people followed them outside, shivering in the cold. Mal threw Forbes to the snow.

Forbes shivered as the cold air hit his soaking wet upper body. He managed to get to his knees and looked at them and the young man’s fear was now obvious to all and he had the look of a corner animal, all his years of training useless now, tied up and surrounded by enemies, and Mal felt a grim satisfaction knowing he could put this man in the same place he had been so often in recent weeks.

“Not like this,” Forbes said to Mal, almost a plea. “Let me die in combat. With Tam.”

“No, you’ve had your chance to kill River, three times now, and I ain’t going to give you another. And don’t worry about Cutter, you’ll be seeing him in hell real soon.”

“Noooooooo,” screamed Forbes as Mal raised his pistol and then shot him in head, the bullet entering below his right eye and exiting from the back of his head, the blond hair sprayed with brains and blood and the white snow turned crimson as Forbes fell over. The shot was loud in the empty, silent expanse and more than one person watching flinched and turned away. In the shocking silence that followed Mal walked up to him and fired once more into his head for good measure. Then he turned and saw the looks on all the faces, the Miranda people scared and uncertain of this man who was their rescuer, but glad this murderer was dead, Jayne with a big satisfying grin, Zoe stoic, and River with a calm, serene look.

“And that’s that,” Mal said as he walked back on the ship and more than one person stepped out of his way, not wanting to rile the man. But they also had things to do and questions and one man stepped forward as their spokesman.

“We want to say some words over our fallen,” he said to Mal.

“Okay,” Mal said. “I’ll give you the time. Best take them off the ship and leave them here.”

“We wanted to take them home, to Miranda,” said one woman.

Mal shook his head. “We don’t know when we’ll have chance to go back there. Dead bodies board ship are bad for morale. Leave them here for now and we’ll mark it on our nav system and come back and take ‘em to Miranda if we got time.”

They agreed and soon they were carrying the two men Forbes had shot out into the cold, wrapped in blankets they had taken from the prison. They walked a good spot away from Forbes and lay them down and someone began to say some prayers.

Mal ordered River and Jayne and Kaylee to help them get settled after they finished their service, bring them food and water, and find places for them to rest and get lunch ready and then he and Zoe headed to the bridge.

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

“Is he dead?” Wash asked as they came on the bridge. He and Inara had heard the shots, muffled, but clearly shots, and they guessed Forbes was gone.

Mal had that grim look Inara had seen so often. “Had to be done,” he said.

“Yes,” Inara quietly replied and he knew she didn’t approve but wouldn’t argue.

“He never would have stopped till River was dead,” Zoe said and then she and Mal told them all Forbes said.

“The Cortex, check for any news about this fleet, anything about Cutter. Let’s check how accurate River’s reading is,” Mal ordered and Zoe sat in the third chair and starting punching keys on a Cortex screen.

“Oh, God, she was right,’ she said after a moment and then they all saw the news stories, about a fleet being formed at Londinium, with it’s destination unknown, presumable to end the renewed rebellion. But what caught everyone’s eye was the name of the leader of the fleet.

“Cutter,” Mal muttered. “He’s really coming here.”

“Yes, sir” said Zoe as she scanned the stories, even photos of the expedition leaders, surprised there was so much information, guessing that censorship standards had lapsed since the war.

“How many ships?” Wash asked.

“More than twenty including three to five battle cruisers,” Zoe replied. “Says the Dortmunder is Cutter’s flagship.”

“They’ll destroy the Reavers,” said Inara, and there was almost a hint of sadness in her voice.

“Good riddance,” said Zoe. “I say we hide and get a ringside seat to this show.”

“No,” said Mal. “We got a chance to get Cutter, we take it.”

“Mal, that’s a whole Alliance fleet!” Wash said with something close to despair.

“Not going to fight them, Wash,” he answered and Zoe could see he was thinking on what to do.

“What’s the plan, sir?” Zoe asked.

“We tell Cutter exactly where we are,” Mal said and everyone just stared at him like he had finally lost his mind.

“We make the broadcast of the vid Drummond gave me. Once it’s out there Cutter will pinpoint our location. They won’t shoot us down. He’ll want to talk and then we tell him we want to make a deal.”

“A deal?” Wash asked with skepticism.

“We’ll show him the FTL and how it works in return for Kaylee’s father. We get close to Cutter, we kill him. We get close to Kaylee’s father, we take him back”

“Mal, we don’t even know if they have Kaylee’s father and if they do, what if he threatens to kill Kaylee’s father if we won’t surrender?” Inara asked.

“Then we best hope Book carries out his plan before then,” Mal answered and the surprise on all the faces was evident.

“Book? What’s Book have to do with Cutter, sir?”

“He told Jayne, in the letter, not is so many words mind you, but he told Jayne he was going to kill Cutter. That’s why he left Serenity.”

“But he could be anywhere, Mal!” Inara said.

“He’s on Cutter’s ship,” Mal said and then turned back to the Cortex screen and flipped back to one of the news stories.

There was a photo of an Alliance spaceport with a shuttle and the caption “High Chancellor Cutter leaves for space”. A figure could be seen approaching the ship, carrying a suitcase, and as they all looked at it closely, they could see it was a black man in Shepherd’s garb with the unmistakable white mane of hair that was Shepherd Book’s.

“That could be anyone from his order, Mal,” Wash said. “But…it does kinda look like him.”

“It’s him. I just got a feeling. Book is ex-Alliance,” Mal said. “I’ve known that in my gut for many months now and so have you all. He was on Miranda, and maybe was part of what happened there. He’s all full of guilt and he’s trying to make up for it.”

“He’s right,’ said River from the doorway.

“What do you know?” Zoe asked her.

“Everything the Captain said is true. I promised Book not to say anything,” she said. And then River turned to walk away. “Lunch is ready.”

Mal ordered Wash to stay and watch for trouble while he and Inara followed River, with more than one question on their minds.

“Stay on the bridge, Wash. Watch the scopes Wash,” Wash grumbled to himself. “One day, I’d like to be fed first. Just once!”

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

Later Wash was sort of glad he hadn’t been at lunch because it was a somber affair. As they began to eat Simon and Kaylee appeared and sat down and the two were clearly upset about something.

“Doc…he’s not…?” Mal asked, afraid to say it.

“No,” Simon said. “Not yet. He has…cancer, of the pancreas. He doesn’t have long to live.”

“How long?” Mal asked after a moment of stunned silence.

“A month, maybe,” Simon said as he picked at his food. “It’s advanced, its probably spread to other parts of his body. The pain must be terrible, but he has traces of chemo drugs and painkillers in his system, so he knew he was sick and knew what it was. Brenda had no idea. She’s telling her people now.”

“Angela knows he’s her father,” Kaylee added.

“Drummond told her,” Simon said. “He woke up for a few seconds. I had to give her a shot. She’s sleeping now.”

“There’s nothing you can do?” Inara asked him, Simon having brought so many back from near death, Mal, Zoe, Kaylee twice, it almost seemed like there was nothing he couldn’t fix or cure.

“No, it’s too late,” Simon replied feeling frustrated. “His immune system is already breaking down. He might not survive the gunshot wound. Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do. Sometimes…it’s better to let them go.”

“Guess it’s just his time,” said Jayne as he woofed down some mashed potatoes, the only one who could even think of food at a time like this. Everyone else was quiet and all were lost in their thoughts. They picked at their food and then Kaylee asked the question they all had.

“What we gonna do?”

Mal told them about the Cortex and Book and his plan and Kaylee grew more and more worried, about the Shepherd, and her father, and all of them, but her daddy most of all.

“You think we can get my daddy back?”

“A lot of ‘ifs’ in the plan, Kaylee,” Mal said, not wanting to sugar coat it.

“Can say that again,”’ said Jayne. “I’m for running. Hell, even Earth better than this spot.” And the table erupted into arguments as all voiced their opinions, Mal reminding them all that the Alliance wasn’t going to stop until they were dead and Serenity was in their hands.

“Cutter has to be responsible to someone,” Inara said again, a hint of frustration in her voice. “What if we made another video, one about what happened to River, about the whole story about the Academy? What if…if…we can get it to a news broadcaster?”

“Cutter got them all by the balls,” Jayne said around a mouthful of food.

“Maybe not so much. The Cortex was full of stuff about him and the fleet. Or at least we can get it to Mr. Universe,” suggested Zoe.

“We have no proof,” said Simon. “All we have is our story, our word and we are wanted fugitives. Without proof, no one will believe us. We don’t even know if the facility on Athenian Island still exists.”

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

It did still exist, as General MacCready and his advanced recon team on Osiris was just finding out. He had taken the latest, fastest shuttle from Londinium to Osiris and immediately commandeered transport to Athenian Island. A military recon hover aircraft flew low over the water, approaching the island from the north from the mainland fifty kilometers away, and as the plane banked over the island they could see the buildings of what looked like a medium sized high school or small college. It was well constructed, with tennis courts and a golf course, and what looked like a soccer field nearby, a beach with lifeguard towers, and a small spaceport/heliport. As the plane began to hover on VTOL engines the radio crackled into life.

“Unidentified aircraft, this facility is restricted airspace. You have to leave immediately,” came the man’s commanding voice through the radio.

“This is a military recon under the command of General MacCready with the authorization of the Prime Minister and Parliament to examine this facility,” the pilot replied. “Request landing permission.”

There was a long silence and then the voice came back. “This facility is under the command of the Ministry of the Interior. Request denied.”

MacCready had been sitting behind the cockpit and heard all this and had enough and grabbed the radio.

“This is General MacCready. Now you let us land or I’ll be back in a few hours with a marine landing detachment and ten naval vessels! The orders of the Prime Minister and the Parliament supersede the Ministry of the Interior and Chancellor Cutter!”

After a few seconds of hesitation came the reply. “Permission to land granted.”

The pilot landed and the ten man recon team under the command of a captain emerged and set up a perimeter as MacCready and his aide, a Major, emerged from the craft.

A tall man, in a white coat and wearing spectacles, with thinning grey hair, emerged from a nearby building and ran up to them.

“My apologies General, we weren’t expecting you,” he said in a nervous rush. “I’m Doctor Thomas Sexton.”

“Doctor,” MacCready began as he ignored the doctor’s outstretched hand. “I would like to examine the facility.”

“Yes, of course,” said the doctor.

They walked towards the main building, with its marbled and stone walls and ivy climbing toward the roofs, the armed guards staying close by the General. As they approached the front doors the words “Academy for Advanced Studies” were visible above the door. MacCready didn’t know it but this picture of the main doors is what all the parents saw when shown the vids and brochures of the Academy, not knowing they were sending their children to a school for assassins.

“What is the nature of this facility?” MacCready asked as they entered the main hall and noticed the eerie silence of the place. No one was about, no noise came from this building and the floors look like they hadn’t been dusted or washed in a while. The words “front” and “cover” came to MacCready’s mind.

Dr. Sexton was perplexed for a second. “Ah, General, I…assumed you knew. I mean, that’s why you are here, right? To look over things, our progress, our students.”

“Doctor we are here to find out what has been happening on this island for the last ten years. Adam Cutter and his ministry have kept this facility secret from Parliament and the Prime Minister’s office and the military. Start at the beginning if you please.”

Sexton was more confused than before. “Ah, yes General, I’m sure you have permission of the High Chancellor.”

MacCready smiled. “I do not. I have the Prime Minster’s permission and that is all that is needed.”

Sexton balked for second. “What’s going on here, General?”

“You’re going to start talking. From the beginning.”

“I think I need to contact the office of the High Chancellor.”

“He’s not there,” MacCready replied getting more angry and impatient. “If you haven’t heard by now, Adam Cutter is with a fleet off chasing the rebels on the Rim.” Sexton had indeed heard this news and now he began to understand. Cutter was away and the military was moving in and he had no stomach to challenge their authority. “I have been in charge only for about five years. It was my mentor, Dr. Mathis, who began the program, but we have all the records.”

“Where is Dr. Mathis now?”

“He’s dead,” said Sexton quietly and he avoided the General’s eyes and MacCready knew something wasn’t right.

“How?”

There was a pause and he looked at the Major, the Captain and the soldiers and MacCready got the hint and walked away from them and Sexton followed. “He was murdered, by an Operative of the Parliament after one of the students escaped. Why, I don’t know.”

Operatives worked for Cutter and an order to murder had to come from him. MacCready knew Cutter had the backing of the Parliament in the actions of the Operatives, calling them a “necessary evil” needed to fight crime and Parliament turned its back on their actions.

“Doctor, I believe you have a lot of story telling to do.”

“General, I cannot say anymore. I’m under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior and High Chancellor Cutter.”

“Doctor Sexton, if you don’t start doing some explaining, this whole place will be closed, the students sent home, and you and your staff will be in some very hot water. I am the direct representative of the Prime Minister and the Parliament. Adam Cutter will be the least of your problems.”

Sexton was in a corner. He knew the students here could easily kill these men but blood would be spilled on both sides and Sexton had seen enough of that when he helped take Dr. Mathis body from the records room after the Operative had killed him with his sword. The few who knew how Mathis truly died were all swore to silence on pain of imprisonment or death. Sexton was an expert on narcotics, not a leader, not a cold analytical man Mathis had been, and in some ways he had not totally agreed with the program. But once in there was no out for any of them, as Cutter explained when they were recruited. He had lived with all the secrets for years. He felt almost a sense of relief as he looked at MacCready and found someone he could lay his burdens on.

“General, do I have a story for you.”

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

Back on Serenity on Haven lunch was over and no one had eaten much except Jayne. Mal stood and put on the pot of water for coffee and tea.

“Think I’ll bring my husband his lunch,’ said Zoe as she stood with a plate she had prepared for Wash and then exited to the bridge.

More questions and discussion took place over tea and coffee and then Inara asked what they would do if, when Drummond died.

“We got the vid and we got his people,” Mal said. “And his research.”

“What about the serum?” Simon asked and there were blank looks on all their faces. “Did anyone ask if they brought the serum on board?”

“I’m sure they did, Simon,” Inara answered. “It’s what they had been working toward for so long.”

But Mal had a bad feeling in his gut and so did Simon and both looked at each other and stood and started heading toward the fore hall. After a moment Inara and River and Kaylee joined them, leaving a happy Jayne to eat as much as he wanted from the leftovers on their plates. He didn’t care if the cure was on board or not. In fact, it might be interesting to watch that woman turn back into a Reaver. And then Mal would kill her and the Colonel for sure.

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

“He had it, in his medical bag,” said Brenda, as she stood by Drummond’s side in the infirmary. She had just come back from telling everyone about the cancer, even Jerry, and all were stunned by this latest terrible news. Her eyes were red from crying, and Mal could sense that there was something more to her relationship with the Professor than he had suspected earlier. She held the man’s hand like a lover, not a friend, squeezing it, as she sat by his side.

“Where is it?” Mal asked gently.

“He carried it outside when you met that Reaver,” she replied after a moments thought. “And now…I don’t know.”

“Let’s find it,’ Mal ordered.

Thirty minutes later and all the Miranda people’s baggage, the cargo bay and the infirmary were searched high and low and there was no sign of the bag. The colonel was taking all this in from his position chained to the stairs.

“What are you looking for, Captain?”

“Something we need. No worries.”

“It is not I who is worried it seems,” the Colonel replied. “When do I get the cure?”

Mal stopped and stared at him. “Let’s have Doc look at your wound first. Might have to wait till you heal up.”

“You’re stalling, Reynolds. There is no cure, is there? The woman was a fake!”

Everyone stopped their searching as Colonel Hopkins shouted. Mal looked to Simon.

“You got something put him under for a while?”

“Most definitely,” Simon said and few minutes later Hopkins was out like a light despite his struggles against his chains and protests that he had been lied to. After he was unconscious Simon looked at his wound, gave him a shot for infection, and then applied a fresh bandage.

“Bullet went straight though, missed the lungs and ribs,” he told Mal as they continued the search. After few more minutes Mal called it off and everyone gathered around him.

“Seems we left something behind on Miranda,” he said and there was anguish in their faces.

“What about Angela?” said the man who had asked for the funeral earlier. “She’ll turn back into a Reaver!”

“You know for sure?” Mal asked and there was a silence.

“No,” said the man. “But…we’ve never had one be normal for so long. No one knows what will happen.”

Brenda spoke up. “The Professor was afraid to stop the treatments or even wean her off them. The first time, she started to show signs of changing again after 24 hours. But that was four weeks ago and she’s received a dose every day.”

“Guess we got no choice now,” said Mal. “But meantime, I got me two big brains on this here boat, and maybe you all could get them acquainted with the Professor’s research. Simon, River? Up for it?”

They were both not only up for it but rather excited to have a real scientific/medical problem to solve. “Of course,” Simon said and River’s face just beamed.

“Follow me,” she told the Miranda people and they started gathering the bags and boxes and laptop computers and discs with all the research and headed upstairs.

“Where you going, little River?’ Mal asked, a bit worried now that he had strangers tramping over his ship.

“The dining room,” she said ‘We need a big table. And the bridge. We need its computers and Cortex screen.”

“Hey! Not the engine room!” Mal shouted as River reached the top of the stairs.

“I’m not stupid,” she shouted back and then she was gone, followed by the people carrying Drummond’s research.

Simon stood next to Mal. “Going to join them?” Mal asked.

“Not yet,” Simon replied as he started to walk away. “Need to check on my patients.”

“Doc, about Forbes,” Mal said. “Was nothing you could have done. Drugs should have worked. I’m guessing you’re right. He had some kind of resistance.”

Simon stopped and sighed. “Being right doesn’t help those two dead men.” And then he walked away toward the infirmary.

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

Book thought he was right about something also, something about the young soldier who was guarding him in the afternoons and early evenings, whose last name was Patterson he learned. Book had finished his meal and waited for Patterson to return to take the tray. A plan was forming in his mind, a desperate plan but the situation required it, and he had already taken the first step. Fortunately, the captain of the guard had allowed him to retain his Bible and a pencil for note taking.

“All done?” Patterson asked as he appeared.

“Yes,” Book said, and he slid the tray out. As the soldier took it he stopped in surprise. A piece of paper was under the plastic cup.

“Shepherd, what’s this?” he whispered, a touch of worry in his voice.

“A page from my Bible. It will provide enlightenment and guidance for you and many others I’m sure. Read it and do what you think is right.”

Patterson hesitated and then heard the food cart coming around the corner, a cooks’ helper collecting the empty trays on a rolling cart. The soldier just took the paper from under the cup and put it in his pocket and then the food cart was there and he placed the tray on it and said goodnight to the cook’s helper and continued his patrol of the prison area.

Many hours would pass before his shift finished but he wanted to read the note now and keeping it was dangerous. He saw the other guard, said he needed a bathroom break, and went off to the nearby washroom. Making sure it was empty, Patterson entered a stall, sat down, and locked the door and opened Book’s note.

It was a Bible page all right, but in the margins in tiny handwriting, was a note from Book.

“I am a Shepherd but I am also a representative of Prime Minister Susan Blakely. My mission is to observe Cutter and make sure he follows her orders. I was placed under guard because I contacted the Prime Minster on a secure code which Cutter cannot read. The other prisoner, Jonathan Frye, committed no crime also. He has knowledge that Cutter needs. He has been illegal arrested, taken in the night from his family on Taos. He has been tortured and forced to tell all he knows about certain events which I cannot describe. I implore you to contact your senior officers and impart this knowledge to them. They must contact Blakely and tell her of my predicament. If that is not possible, then I beseech you to find a means to provide our escape. Cutter will execute both of us once the mission is completed.”

Patterson just sat and read it again and then a third time. His mind reeled with all of this. He was just a guard, a soldier and this was way beyond what he could handle. But who to trust? There was no way to know who was a Cutter spy and who wasn’t? Cross Cutter and you die, that’s what everyone knew. He was the boogey man parents warned their children about. And besides, this isn’t my problem!

Or was it? What if the Shepherd was telling the truth? What if the Prime Minster had given him those orders?

Sleep on it, that’s what I’ll do and Patterson exited the stall, put the note in his pocket and then washed his hands and face. As he opened the door, the captain of the guard was standing there.

“Give me that note.”

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

Captain John Billingsworth stood in the prison block observation room, looking over many video screens at the several prisoners, standing behind the chairs of two technicians. There were six prisoners in the cells: two privates for starting a fistfight during lunch yesterday, a young woman who was a weapons technician specialist, caught stealing from her crewmate’s lockers, a sergeant for being drunk and disorderly while on duty, and then his two specials, Jonathan Frye and Shepherd Book. Frye was a civilian, crime classified. Reasons for being here and not a civilian penal colony, classified. Warnings that he was tough and had resisted arrest. And finally Shepherd Book, the biggest surprise of all. The whole fleet knew by now that Cutter had placed him under custody for an unauthorized communication. But no one, not even Billingsworth, knew what it was really all about.

He was about forty-five, tall, brown haired, with a once handsome nose, misshapen from busting up one too many soldiers’ drunken brawls. Soldiers hated military police, and that’s what he was and now he was captain of the guard on one of the best ships in the fleet. Except this time it was being run by Cutter, and Billingsworth hated Cutter.

It all began two years ago, when Billingsworth was stationed on Ariel. His son was just fifteen and had been caught with an illegal substance in a blackout zone. If charged his whole future would be in jeopardy, with many universities and government and military positions closed to those with records. He appealed all the way up to Cutter but the Chancellor had decided to make an example of a military man’s son, to show no one was an exception to the rule. His son did three months in a youth offender’s camp and had a permanent black mark on his civilian record.

Billingsworth didn’t know it but this had happened shortly after Susan Blakely’s son had been caught in similar circumstances on Londinium and Cutter seethed from the fact that she and the press laughed off the whole affair and Cutter had looked for someone to make an example of. Ever since Billingsworth hated Cutter with a passion. He even heard from the Admiral of the fleet that Cutter had tried to have him removed from the Dortmunder before they left but the Admiral had curtly told Cutter that all military appointments were his area of responsibility.

“What was that?” said one of the technicians watching the screens.

“What did you see?” Billingsworth asked, snapping out of the daydream about he events of the past.

“There,” said the technician, as he replayed the scene. “I think the prisoner passed the guard a note.”

They could see the scene now, Shepherd Book clearly seen, the young soldier’s hand, barely visible, in the frame, just outside the force field, and it looked like he took a piece of paper from the tray.

“Maybe it’s a napkin or tissue,” said the other technician.

“Maybe,’ said the first, but he didn’t sound so positive.

“Turn up the sound,” Billingsworth said as they could see Book’s mouth moving.

The sound came but they could barely hear it.

“I think he said ‘right’”, said the first technician.

“No, he said ‘good night’”, said the second. “I told them a thousand times we need better sound gear down there.”

“Forget it,” said the captain. “It was just a napkin. I’m turning in. Have a good night, gentlemen.”

“You too, sir.”

But Billingsworth didn’t head for his quarters. He went immediately to the ship’s security center and looked over the duty rooster and found out who was on duty in the prison block. Patterson and Givens. He headed right for the prison block and after a moment saw Givens on patrol.

“Givens!”

“Yes, sir!”

“Did you take away the Shepherd’s food tray after dinner?”

“No, sir. Patterson did.”

“Where is he now?”

“Bathroom break, sir!”

“Carry on, Givens.”

“Yes, sir!”

Billingsworth walked away and went to the nearest washroom and as he was about to open the door Patterson came out and he looked right at Billingsworth and looked guilty as hell.

“Give me that note.”

“Sir?”

“Don’t fuck with me Patterson! I saw what the Shepherd gave you on the vids. So help me, you’ll be occupying the cell next to him if you don’t give me that gorramn note, right fuckin’ now!”

All this was said in a low fierce whisper which made it more terrifying to Patterson and he meekly handed over the Bible page. Billingsworth opened it and quickly read it and was stunned into disbelief.

“What the hell?”

“I know, sir. Kinda hard to believe.”

Billingsworth glared at him. “You know nothing, you say nothing, you never even think about this again. Understood?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Get back to your post!” Patterson scurried away, glad to be away from the captain.

What to do, what to do? Thought Billingsworth. One thing he wasn’t going to was tell that asshole Cutter anything about it.

But up in the operations room the two technicians had been playing with the recording of Book and its sound, ignoring the vid screens, and they finally found out what Book had said.

“A page from my Bible. It will provide enlightenment and guidance for you and many others I’m sure. Read it and do what you think is right.”

“It was a note,” technician one said. “We need to tell the captain or someone.”

“But he’s gone to bed!” said the second in a whiny tone. “Can’t it wait till morning. I mean, it just sounds like he’s offering religious…something or other.”

The first thought for a long moment. “I guess so. Let’s write it up in the log. That way the captain will see it first thing in the morning.”

“Didn’t Chancellor Cutter also ask to see anything on these two prisoners?”

“Yeah, you’re right. Better send it to his message box, also.” After a moment the first technician started preparing the report and when he was finished sent it off to both Billingsworth and Cutter.

COMMENTS

Thursday, August 7, 2008 12:48 PM

AMDOBELL


Oh crap, now Cutter is going to know about the note. And there was me hoping that Billingsworht would contact the Prime Minister and pass on Book's message. I'm glad Forbes is dead, that man was just plain evil but sad about the Professor. Hopefully River and Simon can use his research to make the antidote for the Colonel. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, August 7, 2008 9:53 PM

JANE0904


Yes, it's funny how we feel sorry for the Reaver. They're certainly more sympathetic than usual, and I wonder if Joss had envisaged them being more than just the scary monsters. I too was shaking my head when the two techies made the decision to put the message in Cutter's box. But I hope maybe he'll be too busy to see it until it's way, way too late.

Friday, August 8, 2008 4:44 PM

KATESFRIEND


You're really working the tension from all angles. Very well done!


POST YOUR COMMENTS

You must log in to post comments.

YOUR OPTIONS

OTHER FANFICS BY AUTHOR

River's Run - Part 19
Things come to a head on Londinium as the plan to win Mal's freedom begins to unravel.

River's Run - Part 18
Mal’s heading for a hangman’s noose. Will a rescue party come in the nick of time?

River's Run - Part 17
As the crew rests and heals, Shin and his confederates take a step closer to power, and Mal faces a new, deadly dilemma.

River's Run - Part 16
As Simon patches up the crew, Mal and his lawyer make plans, and Badger and his cousin have some unexpected visitors.

River's Run - Part 15
Mal finds a new friend on Londinium, his crew makes contact with River and Zoe, and events come to head on Whitefall.

River's Run - Part 14
Battle rages through Serenity as the crew tangles with an Alliance boarding party.

River's Run - Part 13
Shock and a sense of tragedy fill Serenity as the crew struggles to deal with Derek's betrayal. Meanwhile, the Operative comes a step closer to finding Serenity.

River's Run - Part 12
Mal strikes back at the Alliance, a little trip to the bank doesn't go as planned, and the Operative reaches out to River and Derek.

River's Run - Part 11
The Operative makes a plan to trap Serenity, escape plans are made, and those long separated are together once again.

River's Run - Part 10
Inara makes a date with Paulo Chase, Mal gets back his first love, and Shin plans the next move in the galactic chess match.