BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

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The Return Home - Part 16
Friday, August 15, 2008

Prime Minister Blakely starts to put the pieces together but perhaps its too late as Cutter learns of some disturbing events on his ship. Meanwhile, the Reavers make a move that surprises everyone.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1563    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

The Return Home – Part 16

Prime Minster Susan Blakely arrive in her office in the Parliament building on Londinium sharp at 9 am as usual, her bodyguards stopping outside the door and taking up their posts. She said hello to her secretary, who always arrived early, received her daily schedule, and went into her private office. Today would be a busy day, with a new hospital opening, a meeting with her security council concerning Cutter’s fleet and the rebellion, and a million and one other things to do and which couldn’t wait. But the first order of business was to contact MacCready on Osiris and find out what the hell was going on. As she waited for him to return her wave she recalled her conversation with Gabriel Tam just yesterday.

“My children? What…I mean…I don’t understand?” Tam began, shocked that she wanted to speak about his children.

“I know they are wanted by the Ministry of the Interior and that there is a 400,000 credit bounty on their heads, dead or alive.”

“That was four years ago,” he said, subdued, and she sensed he was feeling some shame about his children. “No one can even tell me what crimes they have committed.”

“Perhaps I can shed some light on this matter,” Blakely told him and then she launched into the story Book told her, as much as she dared, telling him about the escape from Athenian Island, about being on the run, hiding from the Alliance, leaving out the stuff about Serenity for now, and of course she said nothing about Cutter and River’s mind reading skills.

He could neither corroborate nor deny Shepherd Book’s story. His daughter River had been selected for an Academy for Advanced Studies, which Gabriel and his wife Regan believed was on the same continent as Capital City was but which was in fact on Athenian Island. Tam had never heard of Athenian Island and was flabbergasted to learn what it was and what Blakely suspected was going on there. They thought their daughter was attending a school for brilliant, genius level students. Now the Prime Minister herself was telling him it was school for assassins? Impossible! She could see the skepticism in his eyes. But then as he started to explain the letters, about the code Simon had said was in them, he slowly began to believe the Prime Minister was right.

Gabriel Tam wasn’t very surprised by the fact that his son Simon had thrown away his career and possibly his life by breaking into the facility and bringing about River’s escape. Tam knew his son would do anything for River. Blakely could see the guilt on the man’s face, guilt because he had done so little.

Then Tam told her of his conversation with Maston Forbes, about the threats made to him and his wife, about the sighting of his son and daughter on Greenleaf and the name of the ship: Serenity. That story confirmed much of what Book told her. Tam was powerless to help his children and she could see the frustration in his eyes.

“How do you know so much about this place, this academy?” he had queried.

“My source is a friend of your son and daughter. He has been with them for the past five years, on Serenity.”

“Then it is true,” he said with some joy. “They’re on that ship and they’re alive.”

“So my source says. Less than a week ago he saw them on Persephone. But he believes they are gone from there.”

“Where to?”

“He wasn’t sure and I cannot say where he suspects they went.”

“I must send a wave to that vessel. If you’ll excuse me…”

“Mr. Tam, that would not be wise. There are matters afoot I cannot discuss. Forces are seeking out your children and I believe they will harm them grievously. The master that may hold Maston Forbes’ lease has a lot of power, power I’m not in position to challenge yet.”

“Cutter.”

She had been silent and she saw that he took this as an affirmation of his guess.

“What will happen to them?” he had asked her, almost pleading. “Can’t he be stopped?”

“Perhaps. This matter will be thoroughly investigated, Mr. Tam,” she had replied. “If there were no criminal acts committed, they will receive full pardons.”

“You said Simon broke into that place, took her away. That’s a criminal act.”

“Justifiable in my eyes, Mr. Tam,” she had answered and she could see some sort of relief on his face.

“And what will happen if this Forbes or a bounty hunter or someone else catches them first?” he had asked.

“Then if you are a religious man, Mr. Tam, I suggest you seek out your God and pray that this does not happen.”

“You have a new wave,” came the voice from her Cortex security channel and Blakely snapped out of her daydream and was looking at General MacCready. It hadn’t taken long for him to return her wave request. It was evening on that part of Osiris and if her calculations were correct MacCready had been there almost ten hours now.

“Report, please, General.”

“Yes, Madam Prime Minister. Athenian Island has housed a facility for the last ten years that has been a school for the making of what I can only call assassins.”

So far nothing new. That tidbit of info Shepherd Book had already told her. But now of course it was confirmed. MacCready continued, with the history of the school in brief, broad strokes, how it was set up underground with a real school on the surface as a cover. He went into the security precautions and also emphasized that Adam Cutter’s name was no where in the records and that the records did not show how the facility was funded.

“I’m sure an examination of the Ministry of Interior’s spending for the last ten years will reveal where the money has come from. Continue.”

He did so and then she stopped him when he got to the matter of the escaped student and the death of Dr. Mathis.

“Who was the escaped student?”

“Ah, just a sec,…ah, yes, a girl, River Tam. That’s it, no report on how she escaped or why she felt compelled to do so. The situation was most likely reported by Dr. Mathis to Cutter or someone in his ministry. Then for eight months life went on as normal here until an Operative of the Parliament came to investigate Tam’s escape and he killed Dr. Mathis and two of his staff. Both were security personnel.”

“Eight months? Why so long?”

“Not sure. There was one witness, a young woman who operated the records room. She told the current administrator, Dr. Thomas Sexton, what had happened and he saw the bodies, helped carry them to be disposed. The woman, she was too terrified to tell him why the Operative was here, but her used drugs on her and got the whole story. In fact Dr. Sexton has been quite helpful and…”

“The story, General, if you please.”

“Of course, Madam. Apparently River Tam was their top student and also she’s a…psychic, a mind reader.”

“This is very interesting news.” Not really. Book couldn’t very well tell her the story of River Tam and Cutter without telling her about Tam’s special ability. It had been difficult to believe at first but now she had further confirmation of the Shepherd’s story.

“Mathis showed her off to some high officials and the Operative believed she read their minds, that she knows many secrets of the Alliance. He ordered the woman to provide him with all records on Tam, especially on her trigger responses. These are subliminal messages that each student, ah, assassin is implanted with so the Ministry can send them orders through normal Cortex screen viewing.”

“Good God…they’ve created…monsters,” she said in awe.

“It seems so. The records indicate fifty-six students finishing the program and being sent into the field over the last seven years.”

“Over fifty assassins roaming our galaxy? And who is in command of these messages and the assassins?”

“Sexton says Cutter…but again…there is no proof.”

“What is the age range of the ‘students’?”

“The youngest on record was 12, the oldest 18. That was when they began training. Dr. Mathis had contacts on many planets, searching for “exceptional” students, above average intelligence, agility, loyalty to the Alliance, eagerness for new challenges. Most finished the training in three to four years. The graduates would all be between 16 and 25, maybe a bit older now.”

“What do they tell the parents?” she asked, thinking on the conversation she had with Gabriel Tam just yesterday.

“They tell them it’s a school for geniuses. They allow them to send letters and waves. But at a certain point in the training, when the students learn exactly what they are being prepared for…some of them refuse to go further. Sexton says that there have been some deaths…suicides…and…executions.”

“What a mess,’ Blakely said, shaking her head, aghast at this news. “If the press ever found out…General, shut it down, now, this very day. The full resources of the Osiris government and military are at your disposal. I’m drafting the orders now. All staff and students to be detained and questioned. All records put under lock and key. I’m sending you a team of crack investigators. They will ascertain the identity of the fifty-six assassins and we will find them and…I guess we need to think about….deprogramming them. Under no circumstances will you involve any member or force from the Ministry of the Interior. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Madam.”

“What I don’t understand is why Cutter needed this place. He has his Operatives.”

“The Operatives are from the past, Madam. I’m not sure but I believe the Operatives are not embedded with mind controlling messages. In fact, they have a certain bit of independence. I think Cutter wanted more control.”

“Sounds like the man,” Blakely replied. “Good work, General. Keep me posted.”

And she ended the wave and began to draft the necessary orders and after thirty minutes all was ready and she sent them out. Then the Cortex voice on her secure screen said. “You have a new wave.”

She looked at the wave sender’s name and saw it was from Admiral Shin, head of the space fleet. Shin would have been the right man to send to Miranda in command of the fleet but she wanted Cutter out of her hair. She had no doubt this call was about Cutter’s appointment. Blakely didn’t see the point, she had already explained to Shin and the others that Cutter’s mission was scientific not military. But none of them bought it. Shin was now stationed on Londinium at fleet headquarters, only three blocks away from her office

“Good morning, Admiral Shin.”

“Good morning Madam. I have grave news from the fleet.”

Blakely immediately grew worried. “Please make your report.”

“Do you know a Shepherd by the name of Book who is the fleet preacher?”

Now Blakely was extremely worried and couldn’t control her facial expression of concern. “Yes, he’s known to me.”

“He is now a prisoner of Adam Cutter. He slipped a note to a guard who gave it to the captain of the guards who has contacted fleet headquarters. The note explained that he is your representative in the fleet and the reason for his incarceration was a coded transmission from him to you that Cutter intercepted. Apparently the whole fleet knows he was arrested and they are…upset. In addition, in the note he claims another prisoner is being held unjustly, a man named Jonathan Frye from Taos Moon. I contacted the Ministry of the Interior and they have no record of a Jonathan Frye being arrested and there is no reason in the verse for him to be on the Dortmunder in a prison cell. Book also claims that Cutter will kill both himself and Mr. Frye as soon as he has what he wants from them. ”

What the hell was going on that fleet? “This is indeed grave news, Admiral. I must inform you that it is true; Book is my representative in the fleet. He did send me a transmission that was coded. However, I don’t see what business of this is Adam Cutter’s. As for Mr. Frye, I have no idea who he is, why he was arrested or why he is on the Dortmunder or why Cutter would kill him and Book.”

“No, Madam, nor do I. What shall I do about this matter?”

“It appears Cutter has overstepped the bounds of his authority by intercepting my message and arresting my representative. If Mr. Frye is also being held illegally, then we must discover what is going on. Please inform Cutter that I wish to speak with him immediately.”

“The fleet is almost at Haven, too far for direct face to face. The message from the captain of the guard took three hours to get here.”

“Yes, I was afraid of that. Three hours? I will compose a message and send it myself to Cutter. Admiral, do you have any loyal officers on board the fleet?”

“They are all loyal to the Alliance,” he replied tersely and he was mad and she knew she made a mistake.

“My apologies, Admiral. I didn’t mean to offend the patriotism of your soldiers. What I meant, is there anyone on that fleet that you can trust and that Cutter doesn’t have anything on. Someone who…doesn’t really like him, let’s say?”

Shin appeared to be mollified by the apology. “Yes, in fact there is one man, the captain of the guard. He and Cutter have had a past…incident. Cutter wanted him removed before the fleet left but I refused to do so.”

“That’s good. Admiral, send your own message to the captain of the guard on the Dortmunder. Ask him to keep an eye on Book and Frye and make sure no harm comes to them.”

“Madam, Cutter appears to be monitoring all fleet communications. He will be very suspicious if the captain of the guard gets a message from the fleet admiral. It’s not protocol.”

“We’ll just have to take that chance. Admiral, keep me informed. Good day.”

“Yes, Madam.”

Blakely was mad now, mad and frustrated. The fleet was so far away. What the hell was going on out there? She composed her message to Cutter and sent it off on the most secure channel. It would take six hours, maybe longer, before she got an answer. Unknown to Blakely or the military, Cutter and his comms techs had perfected a faster wave traffic signal that was the exclusive property of the Ministry of the Interior.

After she finished she sat for a long time thinking on what to do about Cutter. She had sent him to Miranda to find who made the broadcast, capture some Reavers, and if possible find a cure for them. But she knew deep in her heart that he wasn’t going to do that. He was going to destroy them. Book’s story about Cutter and his responsibility for Miranda and the Reavers was still just a story, with no proof but the Shepherd’s word. But as Cutter gathered his fleet and sent out orders she knew that he was gathering a military, not a scientific expedition. That much power was overkill but she didn’t question him, as the military had questioned her. Sending Cutter had been a mistake.

She thought that by having her Operative on board she could keep an eye on Cutter. But the man was craftier then all of them together. Book had been sent to be her eyes and ears in that fleet. She had been a bit skeptical about the Shepherd but now everything was confirmed by the news from Athenian Island. Everything except Cutter’s connection with Miranda and Athenian Island. River Tam read Cutter’s mind, she knows what he has done. She escaped, and she and her brother ended up on Serenity. They have been hiding for almost five years.

But now Book was a prisoner. And who was Jonathan Frye? She punched up her Cortex general screen and began a search for “Jonathan Frye, Taos” on the wave director. A name came up but then she thought, no, the Prime Minister just couldn’t wave people and say “Hi, is Jonathan home?” Then another idea hit her. News reports. The media was everywhere, as she well knew. Cutter didn’t control them with the iron fist he thought he did and they still had some freedom, especially outside the Core. After few minutes minutes she found a story about Jonathan Frye in a small Cortex newspaper on Taos Moon.

“Local businessman Jonathan Frye has been missing for five days now with still no word of his whereabouts. The police are refusing to comment on the case, but say they are investigating. Frye’s companion and employee Mary Crane claims he was arrested after his daughter Kaylee became involved with some jewel thieves and was connected with the shoot out at the spaceport the day before he went missing.”

Blakely immediately searched back for the news report about the spaceport shootout and found it quickly.

“New Shanghai was the scene of some violence yesterday as jewel thieves were confronted at a local shop and then made their escape aboard a Firefly. The shop owner states two men were trying to sell him some illegal goods, reportedly stolen jewelry, when they were stopped by three Alliance policemen. The men and a third person, said to be a woman, assaulted the police, injuring two seriously, and then fled to the spaceport and boarded a Firefly. The ship escaped after a short shootout occurred, with no injuries except for the bruised egos of the local law enforcers. Sources say that the Firefly had been here for three days and that one of the crew members is a local, Kaylee Frye. Apparently there was also a rumor that Miss Frye was about to get married to another crew member. Our source states that he is the medic aboard the Firefly. If they aren’t careful, they will be spending their honeymoon in a penal colony.”

Good God! A medic aboard a Firefly? That could only be Simon Tam and that Firefly could only be Serenity. Jonathan Frye was the father of one of Serenity’s crew! And his daughter was going to marry Simon Tam! Did Cutter arrest Frye to make him a hostage? Was he planning to force Serenity to surrender and give him River and Simon Tam? And where in the verse were Serenity and her crew now?

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

They were in a frozen barren land of northern Haven, trying to avoid the ten Alliance ships parked in orbit just over the horizon near Coppermine. The search for Drummond’s Reaver cure occupied River and Simon for much of the rest of the afternoon and early evening, with Simon checking on his patients periodically. The Miranda people were helping as best they could but no one knew the stuff as well as Drummond and he wasn’t talking to anyone right now. His notes were a mess and unorganized and River spent a long time just sorting them out, trying to find the formula.

Mal decided to stay put for the time being, their rapid descent to this northern quadrant of Haven apparently having gone unnoticed by the nearby Alliance ships. The crew and the Miranda people were exhausted from the several days of fighting, the losses, the mental shocks of all that had happened. Mal ordered everyone to get some rest, and they set a schedule for keeping an eye on the Colonel in the cargo bay and the scopes on the bridge. But not everyone wanted rest, River and some of the Miranda people still pouring over Drummond’s work, Simon helping and occasionally checking on his patients, Kaylee worrying over the ship and her father and all that was to come. Wash and Zoe and Jayne had no trouble sleeping and took a chance to rest and Mal let them slumber through the rest of the afternoon into evening as he sat on the bridge and watched the scopes with Inara and they talked on lots of things. At one point he dozed off and she told him to go to bed and he refused. She immediately asked Simon to come to the bridge and after he arrived, med kit in hand, she asked him to order Mal to bed.

“Ah, Inara, if he won’t listen to you, do you think he’ll listen to me?”

“You men,” she said in a low voice. “Think you can handle anything. Mal you’ve been shot twice in the last month and half, and got an awful bash on your head. And…and…you’re too big to carry to bed if you collapse!”

“Ain’t nothing but a scratch,’ he said as he touched the bandage on his head and then winced.

“See, see!” she said. “Simon! Please!”

“Mal, go to bed,” the doctor said in a stern manner.

“No,” Mal answered back right away. “Say, what’s for dinner?”

“Nobody’s cooking,” Simon said, suddenly feeling hungry. “I could…”

“No!” Mal and Inara said at once.

“No offense, Doc,” Mal began. “But if you cook I think whole crew’ll end up in the infirmary.”

“Alright, alright, I know I’m a terrible cook.”

Mal looked at Inara and smiled. “Would you be a dear and…?”

“Oh, alright. Just…never mind,” Inara got up, gave Mal a worried but not angry look, and then walked past Simon and off the bridge.

“So, how is your head?”

“Hurts like hell. Can you sneak me in a few aspirin when she ain’t around?”

“Here you go,” Simon said, as he handed Mal the pills from his medkit, which Mal took and dry swallowed, making a face as he did so.

“Thanks, Doc. How’re our patients?”

“Jerry will live. He’s off solid food and bedridden for another week at least and then he should be up and around. Drummond…he’s holding on. Still unconscious, but the man’s got a powerful will to live.”

“Yeah, he’s got lots of reasons to live. Guess we all do now. What about the cure?”

“Mal, this cure…we’re understanding it…and I think River has the formula figured out…and Drummond’s people have been helping him make it so they know how…but to make it on Serenity is another problem. Serenity is just not equipped for it.”

Mal knew it would come to this. Serenity was not a floating lab. They hadn’t seen Drummond’s lab at the prison but Mal and Simon both suspected it had a lot of sophisticated equipment. “So…Angela had a shot…what, about twelve hours ago on Miranda?’

“Sounds right. It’s recorded in a log Drummond kept.”

“Well, that gives us twelve hours to figure out what to do with her.”

“And Colonel Hopkins? He’s awake now and getting, how shall I put it, testy.”

“Suppose he’s getting hungry about now, too?”

“He has been eying some of the people guarding him, and I don’t think it was in a romantic way.”

“Time I had a chat with him. What’s Kaylee up to?”

“Last time I saw her she was in the engine room, looking over the drive.”

“Damn thing, it’s a curse and a blessing.”

“You ever think, Mal, what would have happened if we hadn’t gone to Earth?”

“Nope. We did, and things happened and here we are. No use dwelling on what could have been,” he said and then he stood and took the intercom mic. “Time for me to do a walkabout.”

Mal hit the intercom button for Zoe and Wash’s room. “Rise and shine folks. I got some work to do and you’re wanted on the bridge.”

After a moment came Zoe’s groggy voice. “Roger, sir.” And in the background they could hear Wash’s sleepy voice. “Tell that slave driver…” But he was cut off as Zoe quickly closed the intercom.

Mal took in Wash’s words and looked to Simon. “Slave driver, huh? Think so?”

Simon looked kind of embarrassed as he replied. “Well, Mal, I think I better go see on my sister, or Kaylee, or…I just have things to do.” And then he left.

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

Mal didn’t even mention what Wash said as he and Zoe came on the bridge, Wash avoiding Mal’s eye as he sat in the pilot’s seat. Mal told them what was going on and then left the bridge, kicking Jayne’s door open on the way down the hall and waking him up. Jayne grumbled at first but Mal shouted that dinner was almost ready and that Inara was cooking and soon he could hear sounds of Jayne getting up.

Mal passed through the dining area and could see not only Inara cooking but also some Miranda people helping her. River still held center court at the dining table, with books, and notes and charts and all kinds of gobbledygook scientific stuff everywhere and everyone was talking at once and River was just taking in all their words and thoughts and she was piecing it together. On a large pad in front of her were many chemical symbols all connected together and Mal didn’t have a clue what any of it was and just kept walking toward the aft hall and engine room.

“Have that table cleared for dinner, little River,” he said as an afterthought.

“Aye, Captain,” she said and then stood and started clearing the table with the others help.

As Mal continued toward the engine room he thought on the news River had gleaned from Forbes’ mind before Mal had put two bullets through it. The news wasn’t good; a whole fleet of Alliance ships was due to arrive in less than a day, with the mission to destroy the Reavers at the top of the list. But Mal knew High Chancellor Adam Cutter was on board and his mission was to find Serenity, its FTL drive, and one little mechanic who knew all about it. He’d kill Adam Cutter with his own bare hands before he’d let him take Kaylee from his ship and her family.

“How you doing?” he asked Kaylee as he entered the engine room and found her standing and staring at the Kovalev Drive. It was what had brought them to Earth and then home again and now it was attracting all kinds of unwanted attention. More than one crew member had suggested tossing it out the airlock but Mal wasn’t ready to throw away the one advantage they had left.

“Oh, Capt’n, startled me,’ she said as she turned to him and smiled. “Just got my mind on this thing.” And she pointed to the drive.

Her voice always made him feel warm inside and she was his little sister, no doubt about it. Mal Reynolds didn’t cry much and any tears he had he shed a long time ago for his dead father and mother and his lost cause, but when he had seen Kaylee turning blue and gasping for breath on the floor of the ship and then in the infirmary and Simon struggling to save her, he had shed a few tears and thought if he lost her he might go mad. He did love her, as he said to her when he thought the Reavers were taking her to her death, and it was love that made him try to shoot her. Mal still didn’t know if he had missed or his gun was empty but in private he did say a small thank you to someone he had long ago forsaken. Maybe it was time I started talking to him again, thought Mal. Sure could use the help.

“It’s working fine, ain’t it?” he asked as he stepped inside and stood next to her.

“Sure, got all the kinks outta her, so she’s running smooth, no rads now, and ships handling the strain,” she said. “My daddy did…..”

And then she stopped and went quiet and Mal knew what she was thinking.

“We’ll get him back.”

“We don’t even know they got him.”

“Can’t risk a wave, Kaylee. We’re too far from Taos for face to face and any messages might get picked up.”

“I know….just…if they got him…he could be anywhere. Alliance is big, got places we don’t even know about, like that island River was on. And…and …I…don’t wanna see anyone else get hurt trying.”

“I ain’t got no answers for you. Just…I got a feeling he’s with Cutter.”

“What?” she said in surprise. “You mean he’s coming…with the fleet?”

“Yeah, it’s the smart move and one thing we know about Cutter is he’s no dummy.”

“But why would he take….oh.”

“I’m guessing were thinking the same here.”

”A hostage, for me to surrender and you to give him the drive.”

Mal nodded and she was upset and looked to be ready to cry again so he put an arm around her and she just leaned into him and felt warm in his big protective arms.

“You know we’ll do everything we can to get him back.”

She looked up at him and looked and felt better and smiled, just slightly, but still a smile. “I know.”

Mal was about to say something else when suddenly a call came through the ship from the bridge.

“Mal,” Wash’s voice came. “You’d better get up here.”

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

“What is it?” Mal asked as he peered at the scopes. Kaylee had followed him to the bridge and then had been joined by a sleepy Jayne just coming out of his bunk.

“Looks like a battle,” said Zoe as they examined the blips on extreme edge of their radar capability. It had been ten hours since they left Miranda and they all had a sudden feeling that they weren’t the only ones to leave that cursed planet.

“I think the ten Alliance ships are having some visitors,” Wash said. “Unexpected visitors. I spotted them coming in and the Alliance ships did, too. Looks like about thirty plus ships attacking the Alliance.”

“It’s the Reavers,” Mal said. “They’ve left Miranda.”

“I think you’re right, sir,” Zoe said.

“Oh, God,” said Kaylee, expressing the fear they all felt.

“They went higher to meet them, didn’t try to run, stood their ground to fight,” Wash said.

“That’s suicide,” said Jayne.

On the radar they had a clean view of many ships engaged in battle in the night sky. Small fast moving blips were missiles, larger, slower ones ships, and occasionally one of these large ones broke up into smaller pieces or fell toward the planet.

“Visual range?” Mal asked and Wash adjusted the visual scanning scope.

“Just,” he said and then they watched the space battle on radar and in the night sky on visual scanning, gun fire looking like long necklaces of light, piecing the black night, missile explosions blossoming and then quickly dieing in the no atmo of space, pieces of ships falling and burning up in atmo, streaks of blue EMP hitting ships and frying them. Some Reaver ships were destroyed but most of the Alliance ships were damaged, destroyed, or crippled. One ship seemed to be running and the Reavers ignored it in their orgy of destruction.

“One’s getting away,” said Zoe.

“Oh, that’s good,” said Kaylee and they all looked at her. “I mean, they’re Alliance, but they're human…I mean….”

“It’s OK,” said Zoe. “I’m kinda glad they escaped, too.”

“Not for long,” said Wash and then they could see three Reavers ships chasing the escaping Alliance ship over the horizon and the end result was lost from view.

“I can pick up their radio comms,” Wash said and he turned it on and the volume up and they listened as the Alliance ships and their crews died horrible deaths, screaming for assistance that never came. After a few moments Kaylee couldn’t stand it and left and then Mal told Wash to just turn it off.

“What do you think them Reavers gonna do next?” Jayne asked with worry in his voice.

“Coppermine is just there for the taking,” Mal said and as he said this many Reaver ships started heading down toward planet side and went off radar as they went below the horizon.

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

For the people who lived in Coppermine the arrival of the Alliance ships had been greeted with joy. Finally, someone believed them about the Reavers, believed them enough to send out protection. The precious iron and copper ores of the planet were too rich to abandon so in the face of Reaver attacks the people had long ago devised underground shelters in abandoned mine shafts. After being frustrated once too often on Haven the Reavers had left the people alone for many years now. The shelters were still there and were well stocked, but the people hadn’t even bothered with practice drills like in the past and felt over confident with the Alliance ships about. As they watched the night battle in the clear cool skies they suddenly realized that maybe they should be getting to the shelters. In a mad scramble the sirens went off and people move with haste. But it wasn’t fast enough for some and small Reaver ships peeled off from the main fleet above and began to hunt and slash and kill and bring death and destruction to Coppermine.

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

Adam Cutter was hastily awaken just before 5am ship’s time and was told an urgent message was coming through from Haven. Cutter ordered it sent to his quarters and in a moment the calm, passive face of the Chinese Operative was on screen.

“Greetings, High Chancellor. We are under attack.”

Cutter kept cool as usual. “From who?”

“The Reavers have left Miranda and approximately thirty ships are attacking. And we are losing.”

“You must escape, not engage them.”

“I ordered the colonel in charge of the ships to do just that but he refused to abandon the people on the planet. We have destroyed many Reaver ships but they are too many. Now we are the only ship left and we are being pursued by three Reaver ships.”

Suddenly a loud explosion was heard on the ship and panic stricken voices could be heard in the background.

“What’s happening?” Cutter asked a slight hint of worry in his tone.

“Our engine has been incapacitated. We are slowly losing power. Soon they will board us.”

Cutter didn’t know what to say.

“Not to worry, High Chancellor. I and my two companions will take as many of them to hell with us as we can. It has been an honor to serve you and the Alliance. Goodbye.”

And before Cutter could even reply, the Operative ended the wave. Ten ships, gone, just like that. Three Operatives, awaiting battle with the Reavers. Cutter knew they would take many with them but the odds that they would survive were next to impossible. Forbes and his gunship had managed to survive, at least Cutter thought they had. Where was Forbes now? He should have reported by now, told him what was going on, told him if he had found Serenity, if he had found the man in the broadcast. The Reavers were now at Haven, not Miranda. What could have stirred them to move, and in such large numbers? Cutter had no answers but knew he must ready the fleet. Cutter washed and shaved and got dressed and ordered his fleet commanders to be awakened and to prepare for a vid conference in fifteen minutes.

As Cutter was about to start the vid conference, he remembered he hadn’t checked his messages from the Ministry of Interior or the fleet log. He quickly turned on his Cortex screen. A message from Susan Blakely waited for him, a message since they were too far for face to face using the common Cortex technology.. He opened it and she was there, her face not pleasant at all.

“Good day, High Chancellor. This is not a courtesy call. I have been informed by sources that you have arrested Shepherd Book. I find this very disturbing. He is to be released immediately and I want a full report on what occurred to cause his arrest. The Shepherd is my friend and also a member of a recognized religious order. His arrest has caused some grumbling in your fleet. If you do not know this by now then you are not as wise as I thought you were. As for your mission, carry out the orders I have given. The Reavers are not to be destroyed as I suspect you intend. Your mission is to find the people who made the broadcast, discover what happened on Miranda, and try to help the Reavers. I expect your answer as soon as possible.”

The wave ended and Cutter burned with fury. This…this…woman! She…he took a deep breath and calmed himself, letting the anger pass, knowing it was a weakness. The Reavers had just killed or took captive the crews of ten Alliance ships! No, they will be destroyed! As for Book, he could sit in that cell until he rots.

“Sir, the commanders are ready for the vid conference,” came a voice over his intercom.

Cutter composed himself and turned on the vid screen to begin the conference. For the moment, the fleet logs would have to wait.

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

Jonathan Frye knew that something had happened to Book. It had been more than a day since he had seen him and his request for religious counseling had been denied. Escape was at the top of Frye’s mind and he thought he had a way to disable the force field door. It operated on a power source and he just had to disconnect it from its source. He had been examining it for weak points and thought he had found one in frame of the door. Jonathan had his back to the camera on the ceiling and was examining the door again when he saw someone coming

“Breakfast,” said the young soldier, Patterson, as he pushed the plastic tray through the slot and Jonathan grabbed it, his appetite unquenched on this diet of basic food. He was a large man and a large eater but this processed space food and the small portions left him always hungry.

“Where’s the preacher?” he asked Patterson through a mouthful of eggs and ham.

“Don’t know,” lied Patterson. “Must be busy.”

“Where we heading?”

“I’m not allowed to say.”

“Look, son, me knowing where were heading ain’t gonna get you in any kinda trouble.”

Patterson thought for a moment. “No one really knows. Some say to attack a rebel fleet. Others say to hit the Reavers, if they really exist.”

“They do.”

He stared at Jonathan. “You’ve seen them?”

“No, but know folks who have and they ain’t the kind to lie.”

“Just stories.”

“My daughter was one of them. Well, least she seen some folks after Reavers attacked them.”

Patterson gulped. “What…what’d they do them?”

“Nothing pleasant.”

They both went silent. As he wolfed down his food Jonathan almost missed the piece of paper taped and hidden under the tray. He looked at Patterson and the young man mouthed “Book.” Turning his back to where he thought the camera was, Jonathan slowly moved the paper and then opened it and he could just barely read the tiny handwriting.

“It’s Book. I’m a prisoner now. I can’t explain. The young guard is our friend. I’ve sent a message that will hopefully reach the right hands. Stay strong and pray for our salvation. Oh, and eat this note.”

Gorramnit, Book was a prisoner, too! What the hell was going on? As he shoved the paper in his mouth he looked outside the cell and Patterson was there, leaning against the wall, pretending not to notice Jonathan eating the paper.

“How’s breakfast?” he asked.

“Lovely,” Jonathan mumbled then gulped the paper and drank his juice in one shot. “All done.”

He shoved the tray outside and then Patterson took it and was gone. What the hell I’m gonna do now? He sat on the bed and then suddenly felt like prayer was needed like the Shepherd advised. Jonathan got on his knees and prayed to his lord to watch over all he loved, especially a little girl with a spot of grease on her nose on a ship somewhere in the ‘verse.

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

Kaylee was closer than her father ever imagined. After leaving the bridge she made her way to the cargo bay and found Simon and many others discussing the condition of the injured men. Kaylee politely interrupted and told them what had happened in space over Coppermine.

“And then there was screaming from the radios and…I couldn’t stand it,” Kaylee said as she explained to Simon and Brenda and many others and they all started asking questions and discussing the situation.

“It’s him,’ said the Colonel from his position by the stairs. He had been strapped there for more than ten hours now and he didn’t look like he even minded it.

“Who?” asked Mal, as he came down the stairs followed by Zoe and Jayne.

“My rival, the politician. He commands those ships, they came looking for you, looking for me, but they found them instead. Now they will destroy the settlements on this planet.”

“And us?” Mal asked.

“If they are sated they will relax, but then they will search for us. I suggest we leave before then.”

“See?” Jayne said. “Even the Reaver ain’t stupid!”

Mal shook his head. “We’re waiting for someone.”

“Who?” Colonel Hopkins asked.

“Cutter is coming here, with a fleet.”

Hopkins grinned broadly and such a look of joy came to his scarred face that it even made a Reaver seem human, for a few seconds at least.

“Cutter. Oh, how I’ve longed to rip out his throat and eat his heart for dinner.”

More than one person felt a bit queasy after he said this. Mal however grinned.

“So, let’s say we hold off on the cure until Cutter arrives and then you can have a shot at him. OK?’

“He’s mine,” Hopkins said and Mal took this for an agreement.

Zoe, Kaylee, Jayne and Simon were all exchanging glances, wondering if Mal had truly stepped over the bounds of sanity. “Sir, are you suggesting we fight…with him at our side?”

“Why not?” Mal said. “He hates Cutter much as rest of us. And he’ll be a hell of a surprise.”

“And then I get the cure when Cutter’s dead?”

“Of course. You’ll be first in line.”

If they could find the cure, if Drummond lived long enough to make more, or if his people could do it without him.

“How will you fight an Alliance fleet?” Hopkins asked, suddenly all military. “You have one ship and this ship has no weapons.”

Mal wasn’t about to give away the plan yet, least not to him.

“Well…depends on what you mean by weapons” Mal said thinking of River. “But no we really don’t have anything to stand up to even a small Alliance gunship, as I’m sure you already know. You had a Firefly yourself on Miranda and they don’t come with weapons.”

“Unless you add them. Mine has weapons.”

“Yeah?” said Jayne, suddenly interested in talking to the Reaver. “What kinda weapons?”

“An EMP and a missile launcher.”

“Now see, Mal, that’s the kinda ship we need!” Jayne said with a hint of disgust for his captain in his tone. “With them weapons and that engi….” And then he shut up as both Zoe and Mal gave him stern looks. Before anyone could ask what Jayne was about to say Inara’s voice came over the intercom. “Dinner’s ready.”

Mal told everyone to go eat, he’d take guard duty, as they started moving upstairs he looked at Hopkins and the Reaver had a look of longing and Mal knew what he wanted.

“Human flesh is off the menu.”

“What about the man you killed?”

“Well, him I wouldn’t mind you eating, even frozen as he is by now, but some folks might take exception to that. Guess you’ll have to make do with what we have.”

“Some raw meat would suffice. Maybe a drink of wine or beer.”

Mal gulped. “I’ll check the pantry. Jayne, keep an eye on him.”

Jayne was already heading up the stairs, last in line. “Ah, Mal, my stomach’s grumbling something fierce.”

“And you been asleep half the day and others have been working. You eat later.”

Mal walked past a grumbling Jayne who had his pistol already strapped on like he almost always did and then Jayne was all alone with the Colonel.

“So, what is your job on this ship?” Hopkins asked him.

“Killing Reavers and any other scum Mal tells me to.”

“A killer? How interes….”

“Just shut up and maybe I won’t kill you before all this is over.”

“You won’t kill me. You follow Reynolds orders and Reynolds made a deal. I think I know his type. I was once like him.”

“Yeah? Well, you help us kill Cutter, then maybe you get a chance to be your old self again.”

“When will the fleet arrive?”

“Soon. Too soon for me,” said Jayne with a touch of fear and not for the first time he thought about going upstairs and putting a gun to Mal’s head and then forcing him to get the hell out of here. Well, not really, but, hell, anything was better than waiting here to die.

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

“So, that’s the plan,” Adam Cutter said to his assembled commanders on vid screen. It wasn't his plan, it was their plan, but Cutter approved it. He had no choice really. He wasn't a military man and they all knew it. But he knew them, some of them very well, and none disputed his leadership. “We arrive at Haven in less than five hours gentlemen. Prepare the fleet for battle. Good luck.”

They all wished him the same and then Cutter ended the transmission. The news that they would be ten ships short and that the Reavers were at Haven, not Miranda, had been a bit of a shock, but all the commanders were veterans of the war with the Independents and all knew how to fight a space battle. They would be ready. Cutter was the unknown in this situation, more than one commander thought, but did not say.

Cutter returned to his message logs and immediately two things caught his attention. One was a message from the observation platform on the prison block. Book was seen passing a note to a guard. What was more disturbing was the fact that Captain Billingsworth knew about this and had failed to report it. The second thing that caught his attention was a message Billingsworth sent to fleet headquarters more than eight hours ago, just after Cutter had retired for the night. Billingsworth was a captain, a military policeman and had no business sending messages to headquarters. Suddenly it all made sense. Blakely had been informed of Book’s situation by headquarters who had been informed by Billingsworth who had been informed by Book via the note. A plan formed in Cutter’s mind and when it was crystal clear he set it in motion. Cutter hit a button on his consol, calling Billingsworth.

“Yes, sir,” came the captain’s voice.

“Release Shepherd Book.”

After a second of hesitation came the answer. “Yes, sir. Book will be released immediately.”

"That is all, Captain."

After the transmission ended Cutter hit more buttons and after a few moments on his internal ship’s communications screen a young woman appeared. She was plain but slightly cute, with short jet black hair and brown eyes. She wore the uniform and badges of a weapons technician and appeared to be in her quarters, getting ready for the day’s work. The name on her uniform’s right breast pocket said “Taggert”.

“Yes, sir?”

“I have a mission for you.”

“Yes, sir. The target?”

“Captain Billingsworth, captain of the guard. Make it look like an accident.”

“Yes, sir.”

Cutter ended the transmission. After Billingsworth was dead, he had one more target for the young lady, a product of his 'academy' on Athenian Island. The next target would be Shepherd Book.

COMMENTS

Friday, August 15, 2008 3:36 AM

AMDOBELL


Oooh, I really hope somebody finishes off Cutter soon. The evil horrible man. Not sure why he ordered Book's release though, especially as he is going to have Billingsworth killed then Book. Wonder what Mal's plan is? Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Saturday, August 16, 2008 2:42 AM

KATESFRIEND


Hope the crew can pull off their plan soon. Interesting storyline!


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