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The Return Home - Part 19
Saturday, September 6, 2008

Everything comes to a head in the skies over Miranda as Mal and Cutter finally come face to face.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1662    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

The Return Home – Part 19

The first two things that went though Malcolm Reynolds' mind as he opened the airlock to the Reaver Firefly, that they were now calling the Constellation, and he saw about twenty fed troopers armed to the teeth was “Why so many?” and ‘Did our camouflage fool them or do they know this ain’t Serenity?” It was a rush job and in the light of day Cutter could have seen this ship was not Serenity, especially not after he had views of it on his sensors over Haven not six hours ago. But the Constellation was in the deep pitch blackness of night 30,000 feet over the capital city of Miranda and Mal had ordered Wash not to show them anything but the front of the ship.

Mal’s whole reasoning behind using the Constellation was so that there was no way the Alliance could get their hands on Serenity’s Kovalev Drive if things went south. Serenity was still at the stadium in the capital city below them, ready to come to their rescue or take off at a moments notice, with Inara at the controls. Mal would have liked to have her in orbit or at least off the ground but he couldn’t take the chance of that Alliance battle cruiser’s high-tech sensors picking up two Fireflys.

The Alliance troopers were armed but they weren’t pointing their weapons so that was the first good sign that they had fooled them.

“Howdy fellas,” Mal said after his initial surprise quickly passed. Of course, he knew Cutter would bring troops on board, but Mal hadn’t expected this many.

“Name?” asked the first trooper. Looked like sergeant’s rank badges on his arms if Mal remembered his Alliance markings correctly.

“Malcolm Reynolds, Captain of this here ship, Sergeant,” Mal said, blocking the doorway.

The sergeant hesitated and then looked Mal in the eye. “Permission to come aboard, Captain.”

“Granted,” Mal said with a smirk as he stepped aside. The sergeant and his men entered the ship and began spreading out and poking around, ignoring Kaylee and Zoe who were standing there.

As Mal turned towards them Zoe gave him a slightly wide-eyed looked and he heard Kaylee give an “oh, boy” under her breath as they saw how many were coming aboard.

The troopers looked professional but they were confused and someone knew it as soon as they entered the ship. River was high above it all on the catwalk next to shuttle two’s entrance and behind a crate observing all that happened. She was armed with her two pistols and the knife Jayne had given her and she also had a small headset on and was relaying the thoughts of all to Mal.

“They’re nervous, they don’t know what’s going on, Cutter told them nothing, they were hastily ordered to join his shuttle,” she said into the mic on the headset and down in the cargo bay Mal heard it on a tiny earwig in his left ear, trying to keep his head slightly turned so no one saw it. Mal needed to know what was what and for that he needed River close by but still be able to communicate with him. Her job was to wait also, to see how far things would go, and jump in if, when, things got hot. “He’s suspicious of your weapons.”

The sergeant looked at Mal and Zoe’s guns. “Your weapons. Hand them over.”

Mal just smiled, now knowing they had no idea what was happening. “Now why don’t you run along to your master Cutter and ask him who I am and why you’re here. Cause on my ship I don’t take orders from no one, dong ma?”

There was a brief moment of tension and then River said, “He’ll stand down.”

“What’s in these crates and barrels?” the sergeant asked quickly, his face a little flush, trying to forget the weapons issue. He was indicating the objects spread out around the cargo bay, some small, some very big.

“Cargo,” Mal answered quickly before anyone got too nosy. “We were on our way to Haven when we got a little…side tracked.”

Side tracked! No kidding, thought Kaylee. In the past seven weeks they had been sidetracked to Earth and its moon and then Greenleaf and Taos and Persephone and Oxbridge Moon and Hera and Miranda and Haven and then Miranda again!

The sergeant said nothing but approached the biggest crate which was to the left next to Kaylee and he looked like he was going to open it. If he did he’d get a hell of a surprise and things would definitely take a turn Mal hadn’t expected so soon. Just as Mal thought he would have to reach for his pistol the sergeant turned away from the crate and ordered his men to form two ranks in front of Mal and the others and then he went back through the airlock door to the shuttle.

River stretched out her mind and felt the people on the shuttle, searched through them and then was shocked when she felt the mind of Shepherd Book. “Captain, Book is with them,” she said and was about to say more when Mal scratched behind his left ear, the signal for her to shut up for the moment as Cutter and the rest entered the ship.

Kaylee caught her breath as she saw her father come through the airlock, him giving her a reassuring smile, and then just as she was going to yell his name, Book was there too and Kaylee couldn’t help but stare at him, not in disbelief with but with relief, glad to have his strength and wisdom here at this moment. Mal had warned her and Zoe that the Shepherd might be there and he might be under cover so they were not to acknowledge his presence at all, but he had no time to tell them River had sensed him. Kaylee couldn’t help but smile when she saw the Shepherd but he seemed to be ignoring them and was just glancing around the ship as if it was his first time on it, which of course it was. River could feel his confusion and the first thought that went through his head was “this isn’t Serenity” and as she picked up Jonathan thoughts he was noticing the same thing.

Kaylee returned her eyes to her father as Mal said his greeting to Cutter, and then she couldn’t control herself any longer.

“Daddy!” she said in a choked voice and started toward him but the troopers closed ranks, to protect Cutter, not so much to stop this girl from approaching the prisoner. Mal and Zoe could both see the puzzled looks on the trooper’s faces. They really don’t know what’s going on, Mal thought.

Mal put a hand on her shoulder and held her back. “Time enough for hellos later.”

“It’s alright, little Kaylee,” Jonathan said in a fatherly tone. “Everything’s gonna be alright.”

“And why wouldn’t it be?” said Cutter as his opening remark. “We are here to do business, correct, Captain Reynolds?”

No greetings, no hellos, or hey, are you really Malcolm Reynolds the famous space pirate? No, Mal knew Cutter knew who he was, knew who Zoe and Kaylee were. The man was always prepared and information was his gold. But he didn’t know everything, not this time.

Mal had seen a picture of Cutter on the Cortex just the day before but to see the man in the flesh was a different matter. He stood behind the ranks of troopers with his two bodyguards flanking him and the rest behind him. Cutter was taller and older than Mal thought, but there as no mistaking the hawk like nose and the wire rim glasses that were his distinguishing features. He appeared to be unarmed, and was in a plain grey suit with no markings of rank or office and that’s what he was, all business and no pomp or ceremony.

Mal had never been in front of such a high personage before and he was just a good old boy from Shadow who probably would have felt a might nervous in front of this man about ten years or so ago. But the years of fighting and running had left him jaded to the point where he didn’t give a rat’s ass who he was speaking to and this man in particularly had done more than any other to cause Mal and his crew to have a whole pile of trouble in recent days.

“Business I aim to do,” Mal said, keeping a slight friendliness to his tone and then suddenly switched to suspicion. “But you brought an awful lot of guns with you and even a preacher. Expecting trouble?”

“One never knows these days,” Cutter curtly replied. “We wouldn’t want anything to disrupt our arrangement, especially not some foolhardy attempt to change the details at the last moment. I’ve brought everything you’ve asked for, Captain. Have you?”

“Ship’s here and what you want is on board.”

“The person I asked to see?”

“In the infirmary. Don’t be too surprised if he gives you a piece of his mind.”

“I’d expect nothing less from him. I’d like to see him now.”

Mal shook his head. “Not yet. We got other matters to take care of.”

“He doesn’t believe you,” River said in Mal’s ear. “He thinks you left Drummond behind. He’s not too concerned about it though, knows he can always find him later.”

“Then our chat will have to wait,” said Cutter. “What about the brother and sister?”

“They ain’t part of the deal. They’re still on Miranda.”

“Too bad. I would have liked to have said hello.”

Mal grinned. “I bet you would. Oh, and by the way, your man Forbes had himself an accident.”

Cutter tensed at the mentioned of Forbes name. “What kind of accident?”

“Seems he went and got himself shot in the head. Twice.”

River could feel the anger welling in Cutter and the tiny thought of ‘kill them” was beginning to form and as River was about to warn Mal the anger receded and Cutter was his calm cold self again.

“He was a bit of an amateur for such a difficult job,” Cutter replied and Mal knew he had gotten to the man without River even telling him he had. “Now Miss Frye can show my engineering officer what I’m buying. When he’s satisfied, we will conclude our business.”

“But I ain’t quite satisfied as to how much I can trust you, Cutter,” Mal said and River felt the growing confusion and astonishment from the Alliance personnel. Who was this man who spoke to the Chancellor in such a manner? What was going on? What is this “business” than are talking about? And more than one thought, “Who’s Forbes?”

“Feel a might better if half these gun totting boys stepped back aboard your shuttle,” Mal said.

Cutter didn’t even replied, just nodded to the sergeant who quickly ordered the rear rank back to the shuttle. Cutter knew they were but a moment away from coming to his aid if trouble did rear its ugly head.

“Satisfied?” Cutter asked and Mal just grinned.

“Kaylee,” Mal said as he turned to her. “Why don’t you show the nice Alliance fellow what all the fuss is about?”

“Sure thing, Capt’n,” she said and Cutter turned to his engineering officer and gave him a look and the very confused man stepped to the front and began to follow Kaylee. She gave a last, longing look to her father and then her eyes barely flicked across to Book and as she turned to leave Mal he gave her a reassuring nod.

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

Kaylee led the engineer quickly past the infirmary through the passenger lounge where they had hastily thrown Serenity’s sofas and chairs to replace the disgusting ones the Reavers had had and then up to the top of the ship and down the halls barely cleaned an hour ago, still smelling of a mix of soap, disinfectant, and Reaver garbage.

“Would you mind telling me what this is all about?’ he asked as they reached the top of the stairs and entered the aft hallway and started toward the engine room. He was an older man, a bit portly and the climb up the stairs had him sweating and puffing.

Kaylee looked at him in surprise. “Ain’t Cutter told you nothing?”

“Not exactly. I was just ordered to come here but thirty minutes ago. Is there something wrong with your engine? And what’s with all the drama in the cargo bay?”

“Payback,” said Jayne as he stepped out of the engine room and stuck his pistol in the engineer’s shocked face. “Now you play nice and we won’t feed you to the Reaver.”

“I..I…what the hell is…” and he didn’t say any more as Jayne slugged him and down he went.

“Jayne, you didn’t have to do that!” Kaylee said in admonishment. “He doesn’t know what’s going on. Don’t think none of them do.”

“One less fellow to worry about,” Jayne said and then two of the Miranda men were there and they drag the engineer to the engine room.

“How many we got?” Jayne asked Kaylee as they stood by the stairs going down to the passenger lounge.

“Was twenty armed troopers but ten went back in the shuttle. And Cutter’s got two guys standing next to him, look like soldiers too except they just got pistols. And then there’s my daddy with two guys next to him and they both got them Alliance stun guns. And one other guy, officer I think, maybe the lawyer Capt’n asked for, and he’s got a briefcase so maybe that’s him. And then there’s…Book.”

Jayne couldn’t believe what she just said. “Book? Here? On this ship?”

“Yup, not a word of lie. He’s there all right.”

“What the hell is going on?”

“Don’t know, but I gotta go tell Wash what’s happening.”

“I gotta get down there!”

“No!” Kaylee said in anger. “You go down there shooting’s gonna happen and that ain’t good for no one. Just wait for the Capt’n’s signal.”

“Gorramnit!” Jayne said in anger and then he took a deep breath and calmed himself. “Ok, I’m waiting!”

Kaylee gave him another stern look, something she wasn’t used to but with her father down there surrounded by guns she wasn’t gonna be so nice to anyone till this was all over.

She went forward, holding her nose as she went through the kitchen area, one of the places they had no time to clean and then in a few moments she was on the bridge and in Simon’s arms for a brief hug and kiss.

“He’s here!” she said with some small measure of joy and Simon and Wash didn’t have to ask her who she meant. Then she filled him and Wash in on all that had happened so far.

Simon was manning the sensor boards, his medical bag at his side. Originally Mal had wanted to leave Simon behind, worrying over his inability to handle himself in a fight and the need for a doctor to be with Drummond, but Simon’s and many others’ protests that he could be needed brought about the change in plan. Brenda stayed behind to watch over Drummond and the still bedridden Jerry. Simon had wanted to set up in the infirmary but it was filthy beyond belief and there was no time to set it straight and Simon said if he operated on someone in there and they survived the operation they’d be dead of infection in days anyway.

The big drama had come over leaving Inara behind. There had been some debate on whether Wash should fly Constellation or stay with Serenity but Mal wanted the best in the most dangerous place so Wash got the call while Inara stayed with Serenity. She could fly it if she had to but once more she and Mal had a heart to heart on why she was being left behind again.

“Cause I need Wash on the Constellation and I need someone that has at least some flying experience to come pull our ashes out of the fire if need be, whether on Serenity or a shuttle,” Mal had told her and she reluctantly agreed, knowing that he didn’t want her in the danger zone while he was ready to jump in feet first with a big grin on his face at the same time. Who was this madman I’m getting involved with, Inara had thought for the twentieth time in the last week. Then they went off by themselves and had a private moment before it was time to leave.

Wash was using all his skills to keep the Constellation in a hover at 30,000 feet. Hovering wasn’t as easy as flying in a nice relaxing orbit and he had to have hands on and no auto-pilot. The old bird didn’t handle as well as Serenity did but he was starting to get the feel for it.

Then they heard a voice talking as if she was giving the play by play at a sports game.

“River?” Kaylee asked and Wash nodded as he looked to a speaker Kaylee had hooked up next to Wash’s seat. River Tam’s voice was coming from it loud and clear.

“Cutter is wondering where the danger is going to come from, thinking he should send some soldiers to stay with the engineer. Book is thinking on how to take out Cutter’s bodyguards. Jonathan is thinking how he could warn Mal that one of the guards next to him is on our side. The one on his left, the younger one.”

“What’s going on?’ Simon asked in wonder. “A guard is on ‘our’ side?”

“Don’t rightly know,” said Kaylee, also confused. “My daddy does have a way with folks sometimes.”

Then River spoke again. “Cutter needs time, a distraction, Captain. I…can’t see what he’s planning…something…he’s closing his mind.”

Again the three listeners were puzzled, unable to see what was happening in the cargo bay.

Then another warning. “The sergeant, has orders to arrest Cutter!” and River’s quiet voice was filled with the astonishment they now all felt.

“Arrest Cutter?’ Wash said in awe.

“That’s…crazy!” said Kaylee in shock.

“That changes everything,” Simon said. “If Cutter is arrested, we don’t have to kill him, there doesn’t have to be any bloodshed. We have to tell Mal to stop!”

“Don’t worry Simon,” Wash said. “Mal knows what we know by now. Let’s just wait.”

Simon didn’t want to wait and Kaylee was growing more worried but Wash’s words made the only sense in this confusing situation.

Another few minutes passed and then came River’s voice again. “No, no…it’s too much…the rage! Captain…he can’t control himself!”

Then they all heard a muffled gunshot, then another, and then many more coming from the cargo bay.

“Daddy!” Kaylee shouted and before Simon or Wash could say a word she was gone and Simon grabbed his medical bag and was about to follow when suddenly there was a beeping sound from the control panel and Wash and Simon looked to each other with wide eyes, knowing that ominous sound.

“Missile lock!” Wash said in a terrified voice and then Simon turned back to the sensor board and shouted its location and in a second Wash was twisting Constellation in a tight, rapidly descending turn away from the incoming missile.

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

Not every Reaver ship had been swatted from the skies around Miranda. The Colonel’s rival had one of the better equipment and armed ships in the Reaver fleet and he had seen the oncoming Alliance force with his long range sensors. He didn’t even shout a warning to those on Haven but ordered his ship to flee to Miranda immediately. A few grumbles from his crew had been taken care of with some well placed pistol shots and then after six hours they arrived on Miranda and settled the ship in an area far from the capital city, thinking that’s where the Alliance would look first if they came here. For all his posturing and screaming to take the Reaver fleet to the human worlds, he was his old political self when the chips were down and survival became his biggest concern, replacing any Reaver rage he had.

Now in the skies above his hiding spot the sensors saw two ships coming together, a small shuttle and what looked like a Firefly. There could only be one Firefly and that was the one the Colonel had escaped on. Time for him to die! And none disagreed with their leader this time. The engines were fired up and they were soon heading for the meeting spot. As they got within missile range the order to fire was given.

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

A few minutes earlier on the Dortmunder the Commander of the ship was called to a Cortex screen and was surprised to see Admiral Shin staring at him and speaking to him.

“Greetings, Commander. Where is High Chancellor Cutter?”

“Admiral Shin? How is this possible, sir? I mean, the distance...”

“I understand what you mean. We are the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Cutter’s techs had come up with a better wave technology and kept it to themselves. Now, where’s Cutter?”

“Yes, sir. He went off in a small shuttle about thirty minutes ago, took a security team with him, the chief engineer, a lawyer, that preacher and the civilian prisoner. We have them on sensors and they docked with what looks like a Firefly. Cutter had put out a fleet wide order to find this Firefly. Said they were fugitives.”

“Now listen to me Commander and listen good. Cutter has been striped of all his offices by the Security Council and has already been so informed according to what Rear Admiral Byrd just reported from the main fleet at Haven. That means he is in a state of mutiny by disobeying a direct order of the Alliance government. You are to pass the word to the shuttle and tell the security team to detain Cutter and return to the Dortmunder immediately. The civilian prisoner is to be released immediately upon their return.”

“Yes, sir, right away, sir.”

“I’ll stand by,” Admiral Shin said and the Commander immediately had his communications officer send the command to the shuttle.

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

While Kaylee was walking away with the engineer Mal decided to get down to the rest of his business with Cutter.

“Why don’t we take care of them legal matters while Kaylee is showing your man around,” Mal said to Cutter, who had still not come out from behind the soldiers.

“I think I’d rather wait on that until I have confirmation from my engineer,” Cutter said in reply.

“Suit yourself, but that’s gonna take some time,” Mal said and then there was a long uncomfortable silence. “Say, anyone like something to drink?”

Zoe had to smile at that one as Cutter’s face clouded over and then Jonathan almost had her busting out laughing.

“I sure could use a belt,” he said and Zoe even saw a few grins on the soldier’s faces.

“That can wait,” Cutter said sternly. He was getting impatient, Mal could see and knew it was almost time to spring the trap.

“Sorry about all this Mr. Frye,” Mal said. “Didn’t want you mixed up in our troubles.”

“Ain’t no place I’d rather be,” Jonathan said almost in jest.

“They treat you right?” Zoe asked him.

“Chow was OK and they even let me have some time with the Shepherd,” he replied and then looked to Book.

“Yeah, what’s with the preacher, Cutter?” Mal asked.

“I was asked to come along for spiritual guidance, Captain,” Book replied and both Zoe and Mal were happy to hear that voice again, with its calmness and strength. “But I’m confused by all this trouble business Mr. Frye is talking about.”

“Captain, Shepherd, the less we talk on past troubles the better for us all,” Cutter said quickly and Mal took it he didn’t want these soldiers knowing what was what. Cutter then turned to the young officer who was the lawyer.

“He needs time, a distraction, Captain,” River said. “I…can’t see what he’s planning…something…he’s closing his mind.”

“Lieutenant, bring out those forms I asked for and let’s get this over with,” Cutter ordered.

“Yes, sir,” said the lawyer but as he was about to open his briefcase one of the soldiers returned from the shuttle and took the sergeant aside.

“What’s going on, Sergeant?” Cutter asked and before he spoke River told Mal and those on the bridge exactly what was going on.

“The sergeant has orders to arrest Cutter!”

Not much surprised Malcolm Reynolds these days, not after all that had happened to him in the last two months. Traveling through wormholes, losing four years of time, saving Badger’s life, making his true feelings known to Inara and having her reciprocate them, returning to Serenity valley, almost killing Kaylee, making a deal with a Reaver, making a deal with this devil, all that had happened in the last few months and so he thought he was beyond being surprised anymore. But River’s words shocked him and sent a chill up his spine, a feeling he had when danger was near, and he knew once that sergeant said what he came to say, everything would turn to chaos.

“High Chancellor Cutter…” the sergeant began and he couldn’t finish, too stunned to find the right words.

“Yes, yes, what is it sergeant?’ Cutter asked, his impatience clearly showing now.

The sergeant gulped. “Sir, I have orders to…take you into custody…and return you and everyone to the Dortmunder. You have been relieved of all offices by order of the Security Council.”

Cutter just nodded and knew the game was over. He would go quietly and end his days in retirement. But not before he did once last deed as High Chancellor. “Understood, Sergeant.” And then he looked to Mal and Zoe. “As my final act as High Chancellor I order you to arrest these two and everyone else on their crew. They are wanted fugitives.”

There was a deathly stillness in the air as these words were absorbed by all and all thought what this meant. First there was the shock of Cutter being relieved. All the soldiers couldn’t quite believe it, including Cutter’s two bodyguards and Patterson and Givens who were guarding Jonathan. This was Cutter and he was the highest law enforcer in the galaxy. Now he was being taken into custody! But in the next second as he ordered Mal and Zoe arrested there was some confusion and then a slow moving to raise guns in the direction of the two fugitives. Jonathan was happy one moment and then angry the next. Arrest Mal and Zoe and maybe even Kaylee, too! This son-of-a-bitch had him taken him from his home, had him tortured, threaten his daughter’s life and had him dragged half way across the galaxy. He deserves at least one smack in the face before he goes. But now Cutter had done something monumentally foolish and Jonathan knew Zoe and Mal wouldn’t go quietly. Jonathan got ready to tackle the two troopers directly in front of him.

Zoe thought, oh God, there’s going to be trouble now, and she knew even before it happened that Cutter wasn’t going to just walk off this ship. Too many people here wanted him dead. She dropped her hand to her sawed off Winchester and steeled herself for what was to come, her eye already on the crate next to her, tensing her body to jump behind it for cover.

Book had a sudden realization that all he told Prime Minister Blakely had been proven true or at least true enough to satisfy the Security Council that Cutter needed to be removed from office. Then came Cutter’s order to arrest Mal and Zoe and Book knew he had to speak before this descended into madness.

Mal knew the jig was up also and that bullets would fly as soon as Cutter said those words. He saw the troopers hesitate and then guns were coming up and just as he was about to pull his pistol Book spoke.

“Stop this madness!” Book said as he walked forward to stand by Cutter and the sergeant. He looked to the sergeant. “What are your orders?”

“Take the High Chancellor into custody and return to the Dortmunder,” the sergeant answered, unable to stay silent as this preacher’s eyes blazed at him.

“Then that is what you shall do and nothing more,” Book said with the firmness of one used to being in command.

“You have no authority here, Shepherd,’ Cutter said, wishing he had had this man killed a lot sooner. “I am still High Chancellor and the sergeant will follow my orders.”

“My authority comes directly from the Prime Minister. I am her special representative,” Book said, his voice ringing with authority. “Sergeant, take him away.”

“Stay still, Sergeant!” Cutter shouted in a booming voice and all the soldiers were paralyzed by indecision and looked to their sergeant, but he was equally confused.

“I think Shepherd Book got the upper hand here, Cutter,” said Mal and then as Zoe looked at him he realized his mistake.

“I haven’t told you his name,” said Cutter slowly and then Cutter glared at Book and all the pieces fell into place. “Now I know what and who you are now. You aren’t a Shepherd and you have no authority here. You are a member of Serenity’s crew and a fugitive also. You are the preacher that was treated by an Alliance cruiser more than four years ago. You are a criminal just like them. Arrest them all!”

Mal had enough. “No, Cutter, he’s not a criminal like us. Just a preacher that is our friend and shipmate. And I think its time you died!”

“No, Mal!” Book shouted as Mal was about to pull his pistol and the tension level rocketed a few notches higher. “He’s finished! Blakely knows everything! About the Reavers and Miranda and Athenian Island. I told her it all and they believe me. He’ll be taken care of.”

Cutter laughed in his cold, heartless way and then sealed his fate and many others. “Don’t be a fool! They’ll never put me on trial. I already have word from Blakely that I am to be retired quietly. Now, sergeant, arrest these three and then search the ship for the rest of the crew. The ship is to be seized and taken to the Dortmunder.”

And then they heard a scream from above and all eyes looked up and River Tam staggered forward on the catwalk, holding her head in her hands. “No, no…it’s too much…the rage! Captain…he can’t control himself!”

“Tam!” Cutter said in awe. Here she was at last and he would have some measure of revenge for his loss of power and the death of Forbes.

“Kill her!” Cutter shouted. “She’s an assassin!”

But the troopers never had time to follow this latest in a series of confused orders. At that moment the trap was sprung but it wasn’t Mal’s doing. The plan had been simple. Get Cutter on board with as few troops as possible and Jonathan and then kill Cutter after he had signed the pardons for them all. Now Mal and Zoe and the rest wanted to be free of Alliance trouble so the only way they could kill Cutter and still have a chance of being free was to get the Reaver to do the dirty work, which he gladly volunteered for.

Now Colonel Hopkins’ blood curling yell filled the air as he threw the cover off the large crate on the left side of the cargo bay and came up brandishing his massive sword. It was his rage River was feeling, his rage that incapacitated her, his rage that was now directed toward the man he hated more than any other in the ‘verse.

“CUTTER!” he yelled and Cutter and his men and Jonathan and Book and all of them quailed on seeing this terrifying spectacle appear in their midst.

Before anyone could recover from their surprise the sword swung and the nearest soldier was decapitated with one swift blow. As the head went flying and the blood sprayed across his comrades, the soldier’s body hung for a moment and then dropped with a sickening thud to the floor of the cargo bay.

“Kill him!” Cutter yelled. He knew who this was, knew him as the first Reaver and couldn’t believe he was alive after all these years. “Kill them all!”

Mal didn’t need to wait any longer and his pistol was out and got the first shot off. His bullet was heading straight for Cutter but one of his bodyguards had stepped in front of the Chancellor to protect him and took it in the shoulder and went down. More shots rang out, all of them from Alliance soldiers and all directed at Hopkins as he leaped out of the crate and eviscerated another Alliance soldier. Then he was hit by multiple guns shots and screamed in pain and was staggered but not down.

“Cutter!” he screamed. “Time to die!” But Cutter was already heading for the airlock door and safety.

Jonathan had been about to tackle the soldiers in front of him but as he saw this stark raving mad Reaver jump out of a crate and start swinging his sword, he had second thoughts and decided that Reaver needed killing first and those Alliance boys were in the best position to do that. Then he saw Cutter trying to get away and couldn’t let that happen. Just as he was about to head butt Givens, Patterson beat him to it and blasted Givens with the stun gun. Givens had been staring at the Reaver, in shock, the first time he ever laid eyes on one, and the blast caught him on the side and stunned him as he went flying into Constellation’s front ramp.

“Get down!” Patterson yelled as he dragged Jonathan to the deck with him, worrying that they would get hit by the bullets that started flying.

“No, Cutter’s getting away!” Jonathan yelled and then Patterson gave Jonathan the keys to his handcuffs and stood again, aimed his stun gun at Cutter but just couldn’t pull the trigger, not on this man, as Patterson’s nerve gave way.

Everything was happening fast and time slowed for Mal as it always did in combat. He saw Hopkins staggering under the fire that was directed at him, the soldiers hardly able to miss at such a big target at close range. Zoe was yelling for him to get under cover as soldiers turned toward them, but all he saw was Cutter trying to get away and he aimed his pistol at his retreating back. But again Mal missed as another solder got in his way, thrown through the air by a stunning blow from Hopkins’ fist. Mal’s bullet hit the soldier and spun him back and to the deck of the ship.

Cutter was moving back, heading for the door as more shots rang out and chaos reigned and before anyone could stop him he was through the door to the shuttle, his second bodyguard close behind him blocking the doorway.

“Cutter!” Book yelled and then he decked the lawyer who was in his way and then Book was flying after Cutter. The second bodyguard went to shoot him but Patterson had no qualms about blasting him with his stun gun and the guard was bowled over and down and then Book was through the airlock and after Cutter.

Zoe couldn’t shoot at first as Book was in her field of fire behind the soldiers on the right side, but as all the soldiers turned toward Hopkins and then Book charged after Cutter, Zoe had an open field of fire and just as she shot at the sergeant he turned and she only winged him in the left arm. He was momentarily stunned but not down and as he turned toward her firing, she leaped behind the crate and then he was down as Zoe heard gunshots from above and behind her. Looking back and up she saw River firing her two pistols, no longer incapacitated by Hopkins rage as he was now wounded, and then Jayne and the two Miranda men coming from the passenger area, firing their guns, bowling over two more soldiers.

There were now four dead soldiers, a badly wounded sergeant and bodyguard, an unconscious Givens and the second bodyguard, and a cringing lawyer on the floor.

“Ceasefire,” said the sergeant in a weak voice from the floor, realizing these people didn’t shoot at the Reaver, knew it was there but shot at his men, and that something wasn’t right.

But his men were in terror and kept firing at Hopkins, even as Mal dropped one more with a shot to the chest. The big Reaver was on his knees now, the blood pouring from his many wounds. As he collapsed, he said “Cutter” one more time and then he was down and the soldiers turned toward the others.

“Ceasefire,” said the sergeant again, in a louder voice and then it all stopped.

“Guns down!” Mal yelled as Jayne and the two Miranda men came forward and River covered them from above.

“Do what he says,” the sergeant commanded in a weak voice and the five remaining soldiers started to lower their weapons.

Mal turned to Zoe, “Get the Doc.”

But before she could move and or anyone could say anything the whole ship lurched to the right and everyone was thrown off their feet. Then came Wash’s voice booming through the intercom.

“Incoming missile! Hang on!”

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

“Sir! We have a new target! Large vessel, class unknown!’ shouted a radar tech on the bridge of the Dortmunder. “Heading for the rendezvous point."

“Missile lock on that vessel!’ the Commander ordered.

“It’s firing a missile at the Firefly!’

“Open fire!”

A large long range missile streaked away from the Dortmunder heading straight for the Reaver ship.

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

Kaylee was running towards the front stairs to the cargo bay when the ship suddenly twisted and turned and she was knocked off balance and fell down hard. As she started to get up Simon was suddenly by her side.

“Are you hurt?” he asked, all worried about his lady.

“No, I’m OK,” she said as she got up. And then she did let out a yelp of pain as she put her weight on her left ankle. “Owww!”

“Sit down, let me look,” he ordered.

“Simon! There’s shooting and folks probably hurt in the cargo bay.”

Then the ship took another lurch and they both fell against the wall. "What’s going on?” she asked in surprise.

“Incoming miss…”

But Simon never finished the sentence as a shattering explosion filled their ears with noise and the screams of people dieing.

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

Book finally had Cutter where he wanted him, his hands wrapped around the man’s throat. As Cutter ran from the scene of the fight in the cargo bay Book followed him through the shuttle airlock and into the shuttle’s passenger section. The ten guards were here, on their feet, ready to charge into the cargo bay where they heard the shots, but Cutter and Book’s arrival changed all that.

“You son-of-a-bitch,” Book said and then did what he had longed to do: he punched Adam Cutter right in his big nose.

Cutter was staggered by the blow and fell back on a passenger chair, his glasses flying off his face and blood coming from his nose. Before the troopers could get over their shock of having a preacher hit the High Chancellor, Book was on him, choking the life out of him.

“This is for all those who died on Miranda and for all those children on Athenian Island. This is for River Tam and Jane Taggert and all the rest!!” Book shouted as Cutter gasped and his eyes bulged.

But then ten guns were pointed at Book’s head. “Let him go, Shepherd!” shouted one of them.

Book continued to squeeze, knowing once this man was away no one who ever get so close to him again. “He must die! Must pay for his crimes!”

“Shepherd, let go or we’ll be forced to shoot!”

Never in a million years would he let go, Book thought as arms started to grab his and tried but couldn’t pull him off Cutter. Just give me a minute and he’ll be dead, thought Book. But his time was up. The soldier in charge decided that shooting a Shepherd would not set him in a good place with God so he reversed his weapon and slugged Book on the back of the head. Just as Book lost consciousness he heard a scream from the pilot and the shuttle was moving violently.

“Are you mad?” shouted the pilot through his radio to Wash.

“Incoming missile!” yelled Wash. “Seal airlock! Detach! Detach!”

The pilot shouted to the soldiers. “Seal the hatch!”

One of the soldiers moved to do so and then once he gave the OK, the pilot detached the shuttle. As he twisted the shuttle away from the Constellation he hit the defensive systems and four bright flares shot out from both sides.

The missile that had been heading for the Constellation’s right VTOL was suddenly confused by all the new targets as the flares lit up the night sky. As Wash turned to the left the missile chased them past the Firefly and hit one of the flares between the ship and the shuttle and exploded with an almighty crack as the super hot flare tripped the heat sensors in the missiles warhead.

The shuttle was blown through the sky, its side opened up by sharpened and several soldiers were killed and wounded. The pilot fought to control the shuttle as it lost air pressure and it twisted in a spiral and headed for the surface of Miranda far below.

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

In the cargo bay on the Constellation the explosion deafened everyone and sent them all off their feet again and a large gaping hole appeared in the forward ramp. Immediately the cargo bay depressurized and people and things started heading toward that hole. With a scream the lawyer was the first to fly out, his brief case and papers close behind him, followed by the unconscious second bodyguard. Patterson was on his way next but Jonathan managed to hold onto his legs and hang onto him.

“I got you!” he yelled and Patterson’s eyes were wide with terror as Jonathan’s powerful hands and arms pulled him back from the brink of death.

“You’re wounded,” Patterson yelled as they lay against the ramp and Jonathan just looked and could see bloody streaks on his legs where shrapnel had hit him from the explosion.

“Ain’t nothing,” he said and then the pain hit him and he knew that it was something.

Everyone else was down and grabbing onto anything that could keep them from heading toward the gapping hole as the ship turned and was going down. Several of the soldiers were also hit by flying metal and were lying in agony on the floor as they tried to hold onto the metal grating. Zoe had gotten a chuck of something in her chest and it knocked the wind out of her but her body armor saved her life. Mal managed to avoid injury this time and Jayne and River were too far away to be hit.

Up in the cockpit Wash struggled to control the injured ship but the explosion had wrecked the stabilization system. A Firefly wasn’t an airplane and in atmo needed its VTOLs online and running along with a gyro system than kept all parts of the ship in balance. As cargo was added or taken off the gyro system had to be adjusted to keep the center of gravity in the correct position. Now with a big chuck of the front ramp gone and the shock of the explosion, everything was out of whack.

“Emergency landing!” Wash shouted into the comms. “Hang on!!”

Simon held onto Kaylee as they leaned against the wall, not daring to move until the ship was stable. In the cargo bay the suction had stopped as the ship's interior pressure equaled the outside air but everyone suddenly had trouble breathing the thin upper atmo and it wasn’t until they passed through ten thousand feet that all was better for them. As the Constellation was descending through ten thousand feet, Wash could see the shuttle below them on radar and close to the ground. And then there was another missile on sensors and then a bloom as another ship was dieing.

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

Three ships were damaged and falling from the skies. The shuttle spun and then righted itself and the pilot managed to land in a park like area of the capital city, far south of the stadium. The shuttle hit a clump of trees and bounced and flipped over once, tossing it's passengers about, before settling in a mangled heap inside a small forest that was inside the park. Wash brought the Constellation to a bumpy landing just outside the park, closer to the stadium, ripping the landing gear off, and giving everyone some more bumps and bruises, but they were down and safe for the moment. But for the Reaver ship that fired the missile there was no such luck. The Dortmunder’s missile had ripped it to pieces and it fell like a rock and smashed into thousands of more pieces on the edge of the city. As the missile headed toward them and they knew it was hopeless one of the crew cut the head off the politician as a last act of revenge for all the stupidity he had led them to. It didn’t matter because seconds latter the missile hit and they were all dead.

Inara had seen it all from Serenity and already had the ship on the way to where she thought the Constellation had landed. Flying Serenity wasn’t like flying a shuttle, it was bigger and more powerful, but the principles were the same.

“Wash! Wash!”

“Ah, hi Inara, I’m here, we’re here, don’t know if I can take off yet. Think we need a lift. Just follow our transponder code.”

“What’s happening? Anyone hurt?”

“Checking now,” he said and then Wash grabbed his pistol and started heading aft to find out what was what.

The first ones he met were Simon and Kaylee in the corridor leading to the stairs. Simon was trying to look at her ankle for some reason.

“Go, go!” she was saying to him. “People hurt worse than me!”

“OK, but don’t move!” Simon said as he picked up his med bag and headed to the cargo bay.

Wash put an arm around Kaylee as she got up. “I got you.”

“The hell I ain’t moving. My daddy’s down there!” she said and they started down the stairs.

Mal, Jayne and the two Miranda men were stripping the weapons off the soldiers, dead, wounded, and prisoners while Zoe was checking Colonel Hopkins.

“He’s dead, sir,” she said and it even sounded like she felt a little sorry.

Mal let out a sigh. “That’s a shame.”

“A shame?” gasped the wounded sergeant from the floor. “A Reaver is dead and it’s a shame? Who are you people?”

“No one to mess with,” said Jayne as he pointed his gun at the man and then Jayne saw an Alliance guard sitting next to Jonathan.

“Get up!” Jayne snarled at him and Patterson slowly stood, hands raised as Jayne pointed his pistol at him.

“Just a minute Jayne Cobb," Jonathan said. “This boy’s on our side.”

“What the hell…?’ Jayne started. “Our side?”

“It’s true,” said River as she came up to them. “His name is Patterson and he’s been trying to help Mr. Frye escape. I saw him shoot the other guard and Cutter’s bodyguard.”

“That so,” said Jayne in wonder, trying to imagine what else was going to surprise him today. Then he looked around and someone was missing. “Where’s the Shepherd?”

“Cutter’s shuttle,” said Mal as he looked at the gaping hole where the front ramp door had been.

As they were absorbing this news Simon appeared and started looking from person to person, trying to decide who to treat first. As his eyes fell on Jonathan and saw his bloody legs his mind was made up and he headed straight for him.

“Hiya, Doc. When’s the wedding?” Jonathan asked, trying to mask his pain.

“Not till you can stand and walk and give away the bride,” Simon said as he opened his med kit.

“Folks worse than me,” Jonathan said as Simon started cutting away his pants legs.

“Maybe,” said Simon. “But she’d never forgive me if I didn’t treat you first.”

“Daddy!” Kaylee yelled behind them and then she broke free of Wash and hobbled the last few steps and collapse beside her father, hugging him and crying.

“Its OK, baby, I’m here, we’re all here,” he said as he hugged her back.

Then she saw his leg wounds and she looked at Simon in despair. “What’s the matter?”

“It’s superficial, nothing serious,” Simon said as he started to prepare a hypo, ignoring the fact that Kaylee hadn't listened to his orders not to walk on her ankle. He knew she wouldn't listen to him, would ignore him but felt he had to say it.

“What happened?” Mal asked Wash.

“I was about to asked the same thing,” the pilot replied as he saw his wife picking a piece of metal from her body armor. “You OK?” he asked with concern.

“Just a bruise,” she replied and Wash gave her a hug.

“Wash, report,” Mal said impatiently, knowing Inara probably be doing the same to him if she was here.

“Reaver ship, fired a missile at us and then the Alliance cruiser must have hit him. We’re grounded for now. Inara and Serenity on the way,” Wash replied.

“Gorramnit,” Mal said quietly. “Hopkins’ dead, Cutter escaped, Books on that shuttle and I bet that cruiser is coming for us now.”

“I think that shuttle crashed nearby here,” Wash said. “Well, at least I saw something on radar as we came down.”

“Then we head out and get the Shepherd!” Jayne said with determination.

Wash looked at Jayne with sympathy. “Jayne, the missile exploded between us and that shuttle. Even if the pilot managed to land it…” and then Wash just looked at the gaping hole and the wounded and they all got the point.

“We gotta at least look!” Jayne said to Mal.

“We take Constellation's shuttle,” Mal replied after a moment and Jayne grinned. “Just Jayne and me. Everyone else stay put. Zoe, you're in charge. Doc, you get the wounded on board Serenity, leave the dead.”

“And Hopkins?’ Simon said as he jabbed Jonathan with an injection of pain killer.

“Leave him, too,” Mal said.

“I’m coming with you,” River said. “You’ll need me.”

“No, you stay behind this time,” Mal said and Simon voiced his agreement.

But his sister was quiet for a moment, her mind far away. “Book, he’s close by, he’s alive. But…Reavers are closing in on the crash site.”

Mal stared at her for a moment in awe and then looked to Simon. “Sorry, Doc. We need her to find Book.”

Simon understood. “Go. Find him and bring him home.”

“We aims to do just that,” Jayne said and then he and Mal and River were running up the stairs toward the shuttle.

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

Book and the pilot and a few surviving soldiers were sitting in the wreckage of the shuttle, all of them wounded or hurt to some degree. All were armed and were firing their weapons at the Reavers coming through the trees.

“On the left!” Book shouted and they saw three Reavers trying to sneak up on their flank. Several well placed shots and they were down. Then it was quiet for a few moments.

Book’s lower left leg was broken, that much at least was wrong with him. His was also in agony from some pain in his lower back and his head hurt like hell from where he had been slugged by the soldier. The pilot was barely conscious and had a large gash on his head and the six surviving soldiers were bleeding from shrapnel wounds or had many nicks and bruises from their hard landing.

Book looked back in the wreckage at Cutter. The Chancellor was out cold from a hard knock on the head during the landing and also had a broken nose from Book’s fist. The soldiers laid him out on some cushions and had been treating him and each other when the first Reaver arrived and stabbed a soldier in the arm. Book had woken up at that moment and picked up a machine pistol and quickly killed the Reaver. From that moment the soldiers looked to him to be their leader.

In the lull after that last Reaver attack Book discovered their pilot had called for help and the Dortmunder was sending it, but it would take thirty minutes to get to them. Thirty minutes to hold he told the men and they took heart from this news. Book managed to get a better look at their surroundings. They were in a park area, crashed in a thicket of many trees and through the trees Book could see flatter areas with overgrown grass and weeds and some benches and a children’s playground. There was even a small river running through the park with a wooden bridge over it.

“Shepherd,” said one soldier. “Why are you trying to kill the High Chancellor?”

They were all looking at Book, all with the same question in mind. “Son, if I had all the time in the world it could never be explained properly,” Book started as all the soldiers and the pilot listened. “Let’s just say that the things trying to kill us are the creation of Adam Cutter.”

They couldn’t believe what he said. “He…made the Reavers?”

Book nodded. “Him and a lot of damn fools that helped him.”

Then they heard a blood curdling yell and Book saw dozens of Reavers moving toward them and then they were firing like mad and Book knew they would never last thirty minutes. He said a prayer to his God for salvation and at the same time prepared to die.

COMMENTS

Sunday, September 7, 2008 3:07 AM

KATESFRIEND


Quite a cliffhanger there!

Sunday, September 7, 2008 5:33 AM

AMDOBELL


Oh Wow! What a cornucopia of drama and excitement. So action packed and stirring. I am a bit worried though that although Cutter is unconscious he has not been tied up, would be just like him to wake up and sneak away leaving the folks in the shuttle to the mercy of the Reavers. I'm hoping Mal, Jayne and River will stop him getting away and save them. Rip roaring action, can't wait for the next chapter! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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