BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

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River's Run - Part 4
Friday, January 30, 2009

Kaylee and Simon tell a few fibs, Mal and Wash try to repair their broken ship, and River learns many new things about herself.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1366    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

River’s Run – Part 4

“It’s too big,” Mal said into his spacesuit helmet comms to Wash. “Could drive a team of horses right through it. “It” was the big damn hole in the rear of Serenity II. Mal was standing where a couple of passenger dorm rooms on the rear right of the ship had been and now they were nothing but jagged metal and plastic and a big damn hole.

“It can’t be patched up?” Wash asked from the bridge, where he was alone. Trapped on the bridge when the ship had been hit by space scavengers, Wash was the only crew member without a spacesuit. Jayne and Zoe and Mal had put suits on when they knew they were about to be boarded. After a brief and victorious fight against the intruders, the ship that had attacked them hit Serenity II with two missiles, one of which breached the hull and sucked out all air from the lower deck. Now they were stuck on a lifeless moon without any atmo.

“Not a chance,” said Mal as he looked across the grayish, rock and ash looking moonscape and the deep nothingness of the black beyond the horizon. “Not even if Kaylee were here.”

“Let’s just hope she got that message,” Wash said. “Still nothing on comms. I think it might be the antenna. Care to go for a walk and take a look?”

“Sure. Need to stretch my legs anyways,” Mal replied as he walked out the hole and dropped a few feet to the surface. He took this route because he didn’t relish walking through the airlock where five dead people were. He had checked them first when he had come down from the shuttle, hopping that maybe their oxygen tanks had survived three grenade blasts. They hadn’t. Three of the tanks had holes in them, another one had its hose cut, and the last one the helmet faceplate was crack and all the air escaped before they thought of checking the suits. Farnsworth was gone, sucked out the hole when the lower deck depressurized. Mal could now see his body lodged against some rocks and a quick check reveled his tank was damaged and mostly likely empty, too.

He stepped further back from the ship and looked to the bridge. He could see Wash looking out and they waved to each other. Mal walked around to the front of the ship and then to the left side and he groaned when he saw the antennas on the side of the cockpit and they were dangling down and seemed to be only hanging by a few wires.

“Looks like that blast got the antennas also, Wash.”

“Think they can be fixed?”

“We can try,” Mal said. “Better than sitting around doing nothing. I’m heading back inside see if I can rustle up some gear to fix it.”

“Ah, Mal, all the tools are in the engine room.”

“Yeah, I’ll be right…oh shit.”

“Yeah,” Wash said back. “Maybe we can open the doors fast enough if I strap myself into the cockpit.”

“I got a better idea. The upper airlock.”

“How you going to get to it?”

“Somehow,” Mal said with determination and the way somehow was on the left side by managing to pull himself up on the remains of the stabilizer, then climbing the shuttle, and finally that solar panel on the left side and then finally finding groves in the metal where the bulky gloves fit. In twenty minutes Mal was inside with Wash. He told Jayne and Zoe what he had done and in half an hour they were all together again. After a brief reunion, Zoe helped Wash get into the last spacesuit she and Jayne had managed to drag with them. The first thing Jayne did was head for the kitchen and start cooking.

“Jayne, now ain’t the time for making grub,” Mal said as they gathered in the dining area.

“If I’m gonna die on this rock I wanna die with a full belly,” Jayne retorted as he pulled some frozen chicken from the small freezer.

“Well….make enough for all of us then.”

“Ok. Let’s get the tools we need, some EVA ropes and harnesses and off we go,” Wash said to Mal.

“You know what to do baby?” Zoe asked her husband.

“Ah…well…once I see the problem…I should be able to fix it and get off a distress signal. I think.”

“We ever fly again without a mechanic someone kick me in the ass,” said Mal in frustration,

“Gladly” Jayne replied with a smirk from where he was cutting some frozen chicken with a big knife. “Just hope I get the chance.”

Mal and Wash gathered what they thought they needed and then went through the upper airlock to the roof of the ship, carefully made their way to the cockpit, hook on EVA lines and harnesses and slowly made their way to the damaged antenna. Mal watched as Wash examined it and then he looked at Mal and shook his head.

“It’s too badly damaged. It’s got shrapnel holes, and the wires are sheared off except this black one here and I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

“Try,” Mal ordered and they did try, for over an hour, and nothing worked. They had a hard time working in the bulky gloves and they had no idea what they were doing and Mal wished like hell Kaylee was here. She’d smile and say no problem Capt’n, have comms ready in a sec and he wouldn’t even worry. But she wasn’t here and they didn’t know what to do and after an hour of trying and Zoe testing the comms and the Cortex in the cockpit they gave up and Mal and Wash headed inside.

As they sat eating Jayne’s chicken stew, a little awkwardly in their suits, they tried to brainstorm a way out the mess.

“The shuttle?” Jayne suggested but its range was too short to get to Ariel, its comms not powerful enough to reach help, and they might run out of air before someone found them in the vastness of space, even so close to a busy planet like Ariel

One idea after another was shot down.

“Let’s just take off!” said Zoe with a bright smile. “We still have one VTOL and the main engine.”

Wash shook his head. “Sorry, babe, a good idea but…it won’t work. With one VTOL engine the ship will spin and spin and go nowhere, even if I set it at its lowest power setting. The retro rockets could provide some counter stability but once their juice ran out we would spin like a top. We could run for Ariel on the main engine but what about landing? I need two VTOLs and a steady ship to land.”

“Let’s try it,” Mal said and Wash shook his head but reluctantly tried it and what he said happened. As soon as the ship started to lift the force from the right VTOL tried to spin them over to the left and Wash had to use full retro rocket juice on the left side to counter. He tried using less power on the VTOL but it didn’t provide enough lift so he had to set it higher. They barely got fifty feet in the air when the ship took a violent lurch and almost tumbled over and only Wash’s skill got them back on the moon in one piece.

“All piloting decisions are up to you from now on, Wash,” Mal said from the co-pilot’s seat as they all breathed a sigh of relief.

“Thank you!” Wash said in exasperation and Zoe could see he was shaken up by what had just happened.

“We’ll get out of this,” she said. “Kaylee’s coming.”

“I’m sure she is,” said Mal, but even he sounded a little less confident than a while ago.

No one said a word and the cockpit was silent until Jayne finally spoke. “I ain’t even delivered that last letter for the Shepherd yet.”

“You’ll get that chance,” said Zoe. “Kaylee’ll be here.”

“When?” Jayne asked.

“Now!” yelled Wash as he pointed out the window and there was Serenity, coming high over the horizon and hovering in the distance in front of them.

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

“Firefly class vessel…Serenity?” said the pilot as he looked at Kaylee in the co-pilot’s seat. “That damaged ship has the same name as ours.”

“Huh? Isn’t that strange,” Kaylee said in reply as she could see the transponder reader hooked up to the bridge screens flashing the name Serenity and the owner as Zoe Washburne. She could see it was a Firefly and she was all banged up, the left engine detached and on the ground aways from the ship. “We’ll it don’t matter what the name is, they sure look like they need rescuing. Lets go get ‘em.”

“That is not our mission,” said the officer in charge from behind Kaylee. “You said you needed to test the….super..conduc…whatever it was.”

“Ah, Captain…Oren…right?”

“Yes, Mrs. Frye.”

“The test is completed. That ship is in trouble and they need our help.”

“Then why haven’t they contacted us? Perhaps it’s a derelict and no one is on board.”

“I can see lights in the cockpit, sir,” said the pilot.

“It may be a trap. This ship is valuable,” Oren replied.

Oh, brother. You don’t need to tell me that! Kaylee thought. She had to convince them

“We have to check,” said Kaylee. “It’s your duty as Alliance soldiers!”

“Not in this case. This vessel’s safety is my top priority,” said Captain Oren. “That name of the owner…Washburne…it seems familiar.”

“Really?” Kaylee said trying to muster as much sincerity as she could.

Question after question and Kaylee was running out of the energy to lie. She had been lying for the last hour, first to her father and then to the Alliance. Simon had convinced her that the only way they could take Serenity was to make it look like they were doing a test run and then let Mal do what he did best once they rescued them. She thought it was a great plan but he also told her that it was best if her father stayed behind this time. They still needed him to run the show on Taos and after all, they were just borrowing the ship for a little while. She and Simon had returned to Serenity at once and pulled her father outside the ship to explain that Mary needed him at home.

“Oh?’ Jonathan had said. “What for?”

“Ah…ah…” Kaylee stammered and started to turn a little red.

“It’s a surprise!” Simon said, coming to her rescue. “She wouldn’t tell us anything but something smelled good in the kitchen.”

Jonathan broke into a grin. “That woman sure can cook. Alright, let’s go get some supper.”

“We…we need to do a few things here before we go back,” Simon said. “I left some books in my old room and Kaylee has to…check something.”

He could see they were both lying and he confronted them. “What’s this really all about?”

“Oh Daddy it’s…” Kaylee started to say but Simon cut her off.

“Privacy…no privacy…for you and Mary!”

“What in the verse are you on about, Doc?”

“What I mean to say is you and Mary need…some space…some… privacy. And with us living there since we got back…well, there’s no…privacy.” Simon said this last like a school boy caught doing something bad.

Jonathan smiled. “Privacy, huh? Well, if I didn’t know better Doc, I guess it was you and my daughter wanted some…privacy.”

“Ah…well…we sure could do with some… too,” Simon stammered and now he was red faced.

“Might be time we found you kids your own home,” Jonathan said with a big smile.

“No, no,” Kaylee jumped in, catching on to Simon’s plan but still a bit embarrassed to talk about…privacy…in front of her father.. “It’s not that. Its….well, maybe…maybe you’re right.”

“Look Kaylee, you’re a married woman and I know you need your own place. We’ll talk on this tomorrow. You kids go and enjoy some…privacy…and I’m going to go home and have a nice…supper. If I was you I wouldn’t come knocking for two, three hours at least. I got me a mighty big appetite.”

With that he walked past his shocked daughter and a half bemused and half embarrassed Simon and went home with a whistle on his lips, followed by two Alliance guards.

Convincing the Alliance soldiers and engineers on Serenity that they needed to do a test run was a little easier. Kaylee was in charge for the most part, the engineers were behind on the learning curve and Captain Oren didn’t have a clue and had orders to be as accommodating as possible. When he asked Kaylee why her father did not accompany them, she merely said that he had to see to the work being done at his factory, which was still making conventional engine parts for spacecraft until a time when they were ready to convert it to make Frye drives.

Now on the bridge of Serenity high over the crashed remains of another Firefly on the barren sixth moon of Ariel, Kaylee bit her lip and pressed on, trying to convince Oren that those people needed rescuing. When he discovered it was Mal and the others later on, she’d try to show as much surprise as she could.

“We gotta check for people” Kaylee said in an almost whining tone.

“Look!” said the pilot suddenly. “Someone has just come from around the back of the ship. He’s waving his arms!”

“See! People need our help!” Kaylee said, perhaps a bit too enthusiastic.

“Captain, she’s right,” said the pilot. “It is our duty to help those people.”

Oren sighed heavily and then took the ship’s comms mic and pressed the button for ship wide intercom. “All personnel report to the airlock, armed and ready to receive survivors of a crashed ship. Doctor Tam, please join them.”

Then he looked to the pilot. “Set her down, 100 meters in front.”

“Aye, sir.”

Oren and Kaylee moved off to the cargo bay. Now Kaylee could only hope things went well when her old shipmates came on board. As they descended the stairs to the cargo bay Kaylee got a bad feeling. The word “survivors” rang in her ears. Someone could be hurt or…dead! The Capt’n’s message had been so brief and had been before they had been damaged. She knew Simon was preparing for any injuries they had. She just hoped there were none.

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

There were none, thankfully, but Mal felt like giving Jayne an injury, right on his big noggin.

“I ain’t leaving them behind!” Jayne said with determination to Mal as he tried to lug both his duffel bag of weapons and the backpack full of the Melbourne bank swag through the hole in front to the ship.

“Jayne, we don’t know who is on board and I’m guessing Kaylee ain’t alone. No way could she and Simon have taken the ship so I figure they did a bit of fibbing and those Alliance guys are still on board. They ain’t gonna like you carrying a big bag of guns on board with you!”

“Private property!’ Jayne said back. “You all got yours so I got mine.”

As soon as they saw the ship, Mal ran downstairs and out the gaping hole and around to the front waving his arms. He saw Serenity descending and went back inside where the others were trying to gather some personal items from their bunks, the bulky spacesuits making it awkward to get in and out.

“Come on, before they leave us!’ Mal said, taking nothing but his pistol, boots, and long brown jacket and few smaller items.

As they trudged across the moonscape to Serenity the ramp came down and the other airlock doors opened. Mal wasn’t surprised to see at least ten Alliance soldiers with guns pointing at them when the airlock pressurized and the inner door opened. Simon and Kaylee stood next to them and tried to look surprised.

As soon as Mal took off his helmet Kaylee let out a gasp. “Why…it’s Capt’n Reynolds!”

“Oh my God…wasn’t it lucky we were nearby!” said Simon and Mal almost cried, they were so bad at pretending. Just too darn honest.

“Howdy, Little Kaylee, Doc. Sure was nice of you to drop by,” Mal said in his best Shadow drawl.

“Don’t act so surprise, Mrs. Frye, Doctor Tam,” Oren said as he looked sternly at them. “Now I recognize that name, Washburne. You knew all along, didn’t you?”

Kaylee looked down like a bad school girl. “Yeah…they waved me. I knew you wouldn’t come just to rescue them.”

“Ain’t Kaylee or Simon’s fault,” Zoe said. “We were attacked because some scavengers thought we were the real Serenity. I …named my new ship Serenity also and they read our transponder.”

“What a sad tale. Take their weapons,” Oren ordered and his troops moved to do so.

“Just a minute,” Mal said. “These are our private property and under Alliance law a man has the right to carry arms and defend himself.”

“”True,” said Oren. “But on this ship that does not apply. Besides, we will protect you.”

“Now I feel a whole lot better,” said Jayne sarcastically as he handed over his guns, followed by a reluctant Mal and Zoe.

“I don’t have a gun!” said Wash as a soldier examined his bag and pulled out a toy dinosaur. Wash snatched it back. “Hey, that’s…a gift…for my…nephew!”

After all the guns were taken and after they took off their space suits, Oren told them they could stay in the passenger dorms and were not allowed anywhere near the bridge or engine room.

“This is not your ship any longer, Captain Reynolds. It is the property of the Alliance,” Oren said and then turned to Kaylee. “Prepare for the jump back to Taos. Your little transgression will be duly recorded and some suitable penalty shall be applied.”

“Be much obliged if you drop us off at Ariel,” Mal said.

After a brief moment hesitation Oren relented. “Fine, to Ariel. And Captain Reynolds, in the future, this ship will not be coming to anyone’s rescue, so you are on your own.”

“Ain’t nothing new to me.”

Kaylee said a quick goodbye and then she and Oren left for the upper deck with half of the troops and all of their guns.

“Sorry,” Mal said to Simon. “Didn’t mean to get you into trouble.”

Simon shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. Trouble seems to follow you, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Mal said. “Say Doc, we got a line on your sister.”

“Paquin,” Simon said quietly so the guards standing nearby didn’t hear them.

“Right,” Zoe said. “But…we got no transport.”

“Not yet,” said Mal looking around Serenity and feeling at home.

“You’re going to steal her back?” Simon asked in a low whisper, knowing this was coming.

Mal grinned. “Well, steal might be a little too strong a word. We’ll just…borrow it…for a bit.”

“Then what?” Simon asked.

“We do what you hired us to do,” said Zoe. “We find River.”

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

Other people were looking for River and having no luck either. The Saratoga had more important things to do than search for a fugitive. After recovering its search team and the injured Patterson and soldiers were sent to the medical facility, the captain debriefed the survivors and knew they were up against someone who was not so ordinary a criminal as they had thought. He immediately contacted fleet headquarters and after twenty minutes Admiral Shin appeared on a scrambled Cortex line in the captain’s bridge office.

“Do you have her, Captain?” Shin began without any formalities.

“No, sir. As reported earlier, Tam escaped, killed two of my people and a customs official and took one of my pilot’s hostage. She escaped on a Hornet class freighter to Paquin and we suspect she landed and is in hiding down there.”

“You are to maintain stations and search all vessels that leave Paquin.”

“Sir, that will take some effort. I suggest we leave it to the police and military forces on Paquin. Saratoga is scheduled to join the fleet at Haven and…”

“You have your orders, Captain. Find Tam. Begin a ground search for her using your forces alone. Do not involve the military and police on Paquin except to tell them to be on the look out for Tam. Send her photo to them immediately.”

“Very well, sir. The men who fought her...they say she must have had some kind of training. Perhaps we need some…specialists. Perhaps an Operative.”

“I am sending several highly trained personnel to you right now. They should arrive in a day or two. You will maintain vigilance until then. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.” And then Shin was gone.

Why all the trouble for one girl? She was a fugitive, she killed people, but…Anyway, that was Shin’s business. Mine is to capture her.

The captain left his bridge office and came onto the bridge. “Get me the commander of our ground force team and our air squadron commander,” he said to comms tech. Once these two men arrived on the bridge he addressed them as they stood around the tactical battle table.

“You will do a search of the remote areas of Paquin, this more remote side of the planet, that’s where they’ll be,” he said as they looked at a 3D image of the planet that appeared as hologram over the table. “Use electronic, infrared, and noise scanners. Find that ship and then land a ground team. Your orders are to kill the fugitive and rescue Flowers.”

“And what if the fugitive resists as before?” the ground troop commander asked. “She’s already killed two of my men and injured several others. That prisoner, Patterson, they say he warned them about her, that they wouldn’t take her. He knows something.”

“Then question him,” the captain ordered. ‘Find out what he knows. If the fugitive resists, kill her.”

“And if Flowers is in the way?”

The captain hesitated, looked to his squadron commander. “She knows the risks, has had POW training?”

“They all do,” said the squadron commander. “She knows if we have to, we will sacrifice her.”

The captain was silent for a moment, knowing so many had died recently in the skies over Haven. “Gentlemen, you have your orders. Report as soon as you find anything.”

The two officers left and the captain stared out the bridge’s super strong space glass windows towards the blue green world of Paquin. One of his people was out there, hostage to a woman who was a ruthless killer. Perhaps Flowers was already dead.

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

She wasn’t dead, but trussed up and laying on a stranger’s bed in a strange ship with a very…unusual…woman as her captor. Janice Flowers did have POW and survival training, all pilots did, but nothing had trained or prepared her to be in the hands of a mind reader who just happened to be a deadly assassin, trained by the Alliance. How much of River’s story was true or not, Janice didn’t know, but she felt sorrow for the girl, and sympathy for her plight and even a growing attraction for her. Janice had known she was different from her friends as she grew up in a small rural town on Londinium, had known that she was more attracted to girls than boys.

Her first shy attempts at romance in high school had been awkward and difficult, her not knowing who was like her and who wasn’t. She confessed her feelings for one friend only to be rejected and she felt the burning shame of her secret being out. She didn’t know if the friend had told anyone else, and nothing was ever said to her, but after that she kept more to herself. To please her parents, Janice accepted a boy’s invitation to the end of high school dance and had even let him kiss her, but thankfully he was so drunk he had passed out in the back seat of his car. After high school there was no money for university so she elected to join the military, which would pay for university after her three year term of service. Much to her surprise her aptitude tests had shown her suitability for pilot training.

In training school she found her first love, another pilot, a senior trainer who instinctively knew Janice was like her. They had to be careful, the military frowning on same sex relations. While the constitution of the Alliance didn’t allowed for same sex marriages, homosexuality wasn’t against the law. Yet it was still looked down on by many elements of society, especially the rough and ready world of the military. After the six month training period they had to say their reluctant, tearful, goodbyes as Janice graduated and joined the Saratoga. She was only four months on the ship, barely 20 years old, and now she was in more trouble than all the rest of her life combined.

She was exhausted and hungry and all her training told her to rest, as River had suggested. Gradually she did the mental exercises she had been taught in survival school, reaching out for happy thoughts, finding where she had felt the safest, and slowly she thought on her lover, and there she was happiest, and she let images of their time together fill her mind as she drifted off to sleep.

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

Hornet class was no Firefly, that was for sure, River thought as she walked through the ship. It was much smaller and cramper, with no open spaces and even the cargo bay was tiny compared to a Firefly's. She had quickly put their wet clothes to dry on some chairs in the small dining area and then went outside to survey the area.

It was nighttime and River didn’t know how long it would last, being unfamiliar with Paquin’s rate of rotation. The Katya was in a forest but they had no high overhead cover and could be seen once daylight came. River moved back into the ship, closed the hatch and went back to the bridge, hoping to find more information about Paquin on a Cortex screen. As soon as she sat down she realized that a Cortex connection would show up as electronic noise to any sensors sweeping for the ship so she nixed that idea. Even firing up the engines would be noticed if a ship was overhead so moving as also out of the question. It would soon be time to abandon the ship, before daybreak. River sat in the pilot’s chair and stretched out her mind to search for anyone looking for them. After a few moments she realize no one was there except her and Janice Flowers, who was now asleep. And dreaming.

Suddenly River’s heart rate rose and she began to get that feeling she had when looking at Janice’s naked body yesterday. Her mind was defenseless, her medicine with her brother far away, and she was flooded with emotions, Janice’s sexual feelings, as the pilot dreamed of being with a woman, a blonde woman, both of them naked and in a bed, kissing, touching, hugging, stroking taunt flesh, and moaning and sighing and telling each other they loved the other. River felt her breath coming in ragged gasps, her nipples hardened, and she unconsciously spread her legs, leaned back in the pilot’s seat and moved her hand between her legs. It was something she had done before, her young body not totally dead from what the Alliance had done to her. But now it was not enough. As if in a dream, she stood and walked to the bunk where Janice was held.

River stood over her with the knife in her hand and looked down at the sleeping pilot, the dreams still flooding River’s senses. She had trouble controlling herself as she sat on the bed and in swift moves cut Janice’s bonds, all of them, took off her pistol belt and place it and the knife on the wooden dresser. The pilot was suddenly awake as River sat on the bed again, Janice startled out of her sleep, and then she was staring at River, and could see her flushed face and ragged breathing and knew she had felt her dreams. Slowly Janice sat up and lifted a hand to River’s face and touched this beautiful young woman.

“I have never been loved,” River said in a heart wrenching gasp and Janice leaned forward and their lips parted and meet and they slowly kissed, warm soft, and beautiful. She could feel the heat flowing from River and knew what she wanted, what she needed, and slowly Janice pulled her down onto the bed and for the next few hours both were lost to the verse as they brought each other to ecstasy over and over again.

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

“I've told you over and over again that I don’t know where he is,” Inara calmly said to Paulo.

“If he is on that ship he could be anywhere and even here in a few minutes. Just wave Serenity and let us be done with this!”

Paulo was seething with rage and Inara wished Mal could show up now because Paulo was most vulnerable when angry and she was sure Mal could goad him into a mistake. Goading people was Mal’s specialty as Inara learned the hard way, her many lessons learned from their verbal sparring not forgotten, his ability to get under her skin one of the things she loved and hated about the man.

Inara sat on a plush sofa in a small room off of her quarters in Paulo’s mansion. It was a sitting room and a dressing room and all her belongings were here. She refused to meet Paulo in her bedroom and her refused to let her out of these two rooms. A small portable Cortex screen was brought for her to use to contact Mal and she refused and refused and that was the source of Paulo’s anger.

“Serenity belongs to the Alliance now,” Inara said. “That is very clear from these media reports from Taos when the ship brought the Frye’s home.” The latest report was up on the screen, a picture of Kaylee, her father, and Simon standing on the ramp of Serenity with some local official in top hat and many Alliance soldiers behind them. The headline above the photos said “Heroes Return Home”.

“Inara, you can rot in these rooms the rest of your days if you do not bring Reynolds here.”

“Oh, he will come. When I don’t contact him or meet him, he will come. When you least expect it and with a gun and he will shoot you in the back before you know he is there.”

“The man has no honor,” Paulo said in disgust.

“More than you’ll ever have. He fought for what he believed in.”

“As what?” Paulo said in contempt. “A Browncoat? Ran with their tails between their legs at Serenity Valley and surrendered by the thousands.”

“What did you do during the war, Paulo?” Inara said calmly, it taking all of her Companion training not to rise and slap him for insulting what Mal had gone through

Paulo blanched a bit, turned his head away from her and look out a window covered in bars. “My father forbade me from joining the military. I was needed to run the business. We did our share, supplying weapons and ammunition. As you supplied the comforts of the bed for many soldiers during the war I suppose.”

“Of course. How did you think I collected the money to repay you? Funny how all that wealth your family made during the war is now gone.”

“It is not all gone. Look where you are woman! It just...less than it was. And it is all your fault!”

Inara laughed. “My fault? Please.”

“Yes, your fault. After my father died, no one would do business with me or my family. I was dishonored by you and made to pay for your treachery.”

Now Inara did turn livid and rose to face him. “Don’t you dare speak of treachery! After what you did to my father!”

“You broke the vows! I did not! Your family had to pay the penalty for your refusal to stay by my side as my lawful wife!”

“My father died!” Inara said, and she would have cried if she hadn’t been so filled with rage.

“Through no fault of mine! He was old and ill.”

“You took everything from him! He was devastated! Our family ruined by you! That is why no one will do business with you. You forced your father to ruin mine.”

Paulo stood next her face to face and the anger seethed through them both. “Your father frittered away your bride price before the wedding on his failed attempts at expanding his business. He was already ruined before my father took the rest of it away. Your refusal to stay here as my wife and your subsequent career as a whore destroyed my reputation. I had to have some satisfaction.”

“Why Paulo why?!? I don’t love you! I never have! That is why I ran away. I was only fifteen years old when I learned I was already married to you!”

And then she saw his face and she knew why and it was something she knew all along. “But you love me, don’t you?”

He slumped to the sofa and said nothing. “Paulo, there are so many woman on Sihnon who would have taken your hand. You could have had your divorce years ago, have put this behind us.”

“They are not you,” he said in a bare whisper.

“I cannot be your wife. Nor your lover. It is too late for amends.”

“Because of what has happened to your family? And because you love Reynolds?”

She didn’t say anything and he stood and looked at her and his anger was back. “I know you love him. You cannot protect him by hiding your feelings for him. I will duel with him and the best man will win.”

“Then I fear you will die,” Inara said and Paulo just glared at her and turned and left her alone.

Inara collapsed on the sofa and thought on the strange and torturous path that had led her to these two rooms. Paulo was right, her father had never been good at business. Inara was sold to Paulo as a bride; there was no other way to put it. It was an accepted practice among the elites of Sihnon. Except her family hadn’t been an elite family. Her father had been a designer of high end fashion shoes and had a small business manufacturing and selling them. He tried to enter their ranks for years but they always snubbed him as the “cobbler” and he felt the only way to achieve status was to marry his daughter to an elite family. The only thing he had of value was his beautiful daughter’s hand in marriage. Many had sought her out for their sons and he chose the Chase family because with Inara married to Paulo Chase, they would be accepted by elite society. The secret pact was made when Inara was thirteen years old and he received the bride price. But he lost it all, gone in bad investments and too much trust in devious business partners.

Inara’s mother was but a memory, died long ago when she was an infant, Inara’s beauty one thing her mother had bequeath her. But she also had a stubborn streak, something Inara developed too and when she was told at age fifteen that she was legally married to Paulo Chase and would now join him as his legal bride, she rebelled. He was a handsome sort of fellow, five years her senior, but Inara was headstrong and wanted no part of this and decided to run away. It was a foolish act in retrospect, the act of a child who knew not the ways of the world, knew not what would result because of her actions. She had some friends, who hid her out in their houses, but this only lasted several weeks before Paulo’s family detectives found her. She was brought back to the Chase family mansion and held in confinement, much as she was now.

But she refused the marriage bed, no matter what Paulo tried. Finally, she managed to sneak out of the mansion, told the police what had happened and despite the Chase family wealth and connections, a judge ordered them to stay away from Inara and for the two of them to divorce. Inara would have gladly but Paulo and his family refused because once divorced the bride price was forfeited. However, if the bride refused to sleep in the marriage bed or to live with her husband, by law the bride price could be recovered. The Chase family had legal grounds to recover the bride price as long as there was no divorce. On Sihnon both parties had to agree to a divorce. The law was written to protect families from being swindled by those who accepted the marriage and the bride price and then wanted a divorce soon after the money and vows were exchanged. Only after continuous co-habitation of ten years could a divorce be granted without both parties agreeing.

Inara’s father never blamed her for what happened, only himself for not telling her sooner what he had done and his failure to realize that his daughter was as beautiful and stubborn as her mother had been. After the loss of the fortune Paulo’s family had given, her father went downhill, drinking to excess. Paulo’s father demanded the return of the bride price when Inara had refused to live with her husband. There was nothing to return. They took her father’s small shop and factory where he had been making and selling fashionable shoes for decades, took his apartment, took everything until he was alone in a shelter for old men, becoming more ill, until doctors diagnosed chronic heart disease. Within a year he was dead.

Inara had sheltered with friends, tried to find work, but at every turn the Chase family blocked her, put out the word to not employ her. Paulo sent her flowers by the dozens, implored her to return to him, but any chance of that died with her father. And then Paulo learned she had started the training to be a Companion.

It happened after they had lost the apartment and her father was already deathly ill. An all day search for work turned up nothing but a lot of “sorry dear, you are too young and have no skills”, and a few attempts to get her to give away her sexual favors to lecherous men in positions of power. Alone in the world, she was discovered crying on a street by an elderly woman driving past in a luxurious car. She offered Inara a lift and Inara, footsore and without the money for transportation, accepted.

“This is a nice car,” she said, feeling self conscious in her second hand clothing. The only thing nice she had were the shoes her father had made and the woman noticed them immediately, recognizing them as her father’s brand.

“Oh, he’s quite famous with the ladies. We all love his shoes.”

“What ladies?”

“Companions, of course, my dear.”

“You’re a…Companion?”

“Yes. Actually I am the local House Mistress. I train Companions.”

“My father’s shoes are famous with the…ladies?”

“Yes. I supposed him to be a very wealthy man. But to see you, alone on the street…”

“He has no head for business and now….” Inara couldn’t say it and started crying again. She told the House Mistress the whole story and soon found herself eating a lovely meal and having tea inside the Companion Guild House.

“My father would kill me if he saw me here,” Inara said.

The House Mistress was slightly amused. “Well, dear, I didn’t want to say this earlier but…he has been here quite a bit himself.”

Inara was shocked. “My father…here?”

“Yes. And I’ve had my eye on you, too. I must confess, I know the whole story about you and Paulo Chase.”

Inara put down her tea cup and was suspicious. “You were following me, weren’t you?”

“Very bright your father said you were and I knew he was right.”

“You didn’t pick me up by chance, did you?”

“No. I’ve wanted to have this chat with you for some time. I want you to join us.”

“Become a whore?!?” Inara said in shock and immediately she knew she had insulted the House Mistress. “I’m sorry.”

“Quite alright, dear. We don’t use that term around here. We are not…that word. We are Companions, ladies and gentlemen who provide a service. We are ambassadors of pleasure and as such are highly trained and highly rewarded. And I think you will make a wonderful addition to our Guild.”

Inara didn’t accept that day. But soon after her father’s funeral, which the House Mistress paid for, she did return to the Guild House. She had no where else to go. She was sixteen years old, had no one in the world and no skills. That soon changed and within two years she was eagerly sought after by the men, and some women, of Sihnon. The Chase family sought to have her expelled from the planet, the shame of their heir apparent married to a woman in such a position. Inara told them to give her a divorce and this would not be a problem. But the head of the family had died and their fortunes plummeted within him. Paulo had made too many enemies with his duels and with the way he had treated Inara’s father. Her father did have friends, friends who hadn’t tried to swindle him, and he was respected as a master shoe craftsman by many women who had powerful husbands. Paulo, his family fortune dwindling, stubbornly refused a divorce until she paid him all of the money still owed.

And so here she was, trapped in two rooms, behind walls and locked doors and windows with bars on them. She thought of seducing Paulo and knew it would be easy but the thought also revolted her. Then she noticed the Cortex screen, still on the small table, and she didn’t know if he had left it because he was too angry to care or he left it knowing she’d try to warn Mal and he hoped Mal would come.

Inara fought with these ideas for a few moments and then turned to the wave page on the screen. She had to warn Mal. She composed a long message and then sent it off to Serenity for Kaylee, hoping she knew a way to get it to Mal.

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

“Message for Mrs. Frye,’ said the pilot as he glanced at Serenity’s Cortex screen on the bridge. They were still more than two hours away from Ariel, Kaylee and Oren both agreeing that an FTL run in the space corridors around Ariel too risky to chance seeing as someone was out there looking for a Firefly named Serenity. The ship had a transponder, with the fake name Utopia. Kaylee had come up with it after asking Simon what another word was for paradise, the name she had wanted to use, but that was already a ship name in the data base.

Kaylee was with her husband and friends in the dining area, catching up on what had happened to them, with the usual several guards listening in. Mal had given a brief report to Oren who had sent a message to the Ariel military and police describing the ship that had attacked Serenity II and to be on the look out for it.

“So they was dumb enough to come in the airlock?” Kaylee asked in surprise.

“Yeah,” said Jayne. “So we gave ‘em a few grenades to keep 'em company.”

“Some folks just can’t be trusted,” Mal said, half in jest. Just then a soldier came in and told Kaylee about the message, and as she stood up to go to the bridge the ship shook and shuddered and suddenly lurched to one side and then the other and she was almost thrown off her feet. They all ran to the bridge, to hell with Oren’s orders not to be there.

“What’s happening?” Mal asked the pilot.

The pilot looked around confused and shaken. “What’s…Who are…?’

Then came a beeping sound and Wash pointed at the screen. “Missile lock! Turn!”

The pilot froze and just stared at the screen and Jayne just grabbed the pilot by the collar and pulled him out as Wash leaped into the seat. He turned the ship in a wide left turn just as a missile streaked past them.

“Gorramnit that was close,” said Jayne. Just then Oren came on the bridge with two soldiers.

“You aren’t permitted to be here,” he shouted. “Get that man out of that pilot’s chair.”

“Stop!” Mal yelled to the soldier approaching Wash and also to Zoe who was about to slug him. Mal turned to Oren “We’re under attack by someone and Wash is best chance we got.”

“Attack?” said Oren incredulously. “By who?”

“Looks like same fellows as last time,” Wash said, looking at the rear vids. “Must have read our high burst wave to Kaylee and recognized her name and waited for…”

“Yeah, we get it, Wash, just fly the gorramn ship!” Jayne yelled as a crackling blue bolt of EMP shot past them.

“Kaylee, engine room,” Mal ordered and she was gone in an instant. “Everyone else strap in!”

“I am in command here, Captain Reynolds!” Oren shouted.

“You ain’t going be in command of much in a few seconds! Now strap in!” Mal shouted. Oren just glared at him and then he and everyone else ran for the dining area as Mal got on the mic and warned the rest of the ship to strap in. Mal jumped into the co-pilot’s seat before the Alliance pilot could, so he sat in the third seat.

“Where to?” Wash asked Mal.

“Anywhere but here,” Mal said and he saw Wash punched in the name “Paquin” into the Frye drive laptop hooked up to the nav system, and gave Mal a sly wink. In seconds the computer, using the fixed nav sat system, calculated the correct course.

“All ready, Wash!” came Kaylee’s confident words from the engine room and Wash hit it.

In seconds with a blur and a pop and creak and groan Serenity shot to just below light speed and popped away from the Ariel system and their by now frustrated pursuers. A long ten seconds tumbling ride later they popped back into space.

“Welcome to Paquin,” Mal said with a grin to Wash.

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

River awoke with a start and suddenly realized she was naked and alone. Janice was gone. In a panic River leaped out of bed and to her surprise she found her knife and pistols still sitting on the wooden dresser. She grabbed her dress from the floor and was pulling it over her head when the door opened and Janice walked in, barefoot and wearing just a blue, almost see-through, dress.

“Hi, sleepy head. Breakfast is ready,” Janice said.

River thought about grabbing her guns and turning on her but then that thought was replaced by the strangest feeling and suddenly she couldn’t find her voice and felt all shy and awkward. Janice walked over to her and put her hands on River’s shoulders, stroked her arms in a loving caress. “It’s OK. I understand what it’s like the first time…its…”

“Wonderful,” River said in a breathless voice, finally looking her lover in the eye. “I…never…in my whole life…anything like that.”

Janice beamed. “You were…how did you know, where to touch me, where to, how to, I…God, you were amazing!”

“It was like we were one person,” River said. “I could feel your sensations as part of mine. I could tell when you were feeling the greatest pleasure, because I could feel your pleasure, in my mind.”

“That’s incredible,” Janice said in stunned amazement. “I’m still trembling. And I am starving. I found some food. Let’s eat.”

River looked at the guns and knives and Janice looked at them, too. “Why didn’t you take them, tie me up?” River asked.

“I…I…couldn’t, not after….after what we have done, I just couldn’t.”

No more was said. River left the guns and the knife where they were and they went to breakfast. It was fried eggs and some sausage and bread with some coffee and apple juice. They talked about their families and River told her the whole story of what happened to her and about Simon rescuing her, and said he was now married but she didn’t know where he was. Nothing was said about Serenity or Earth or the FTL drive. Janice could sense some gaps in the story but didn’t press.

“Have you had many lovers?” River asked suddenly, as they sipped their coffee.

Janice smiled. “Only one that I loved. The woman I dreamed about. She was a pilot instructor, about ten years older than me. We couldn’t be open, not in the military, so when I finished pilot training we ended it, hoping we’d be together again someday, but knowing that would be difficult. I still keep in touch. Since her, a few others, on the Saratoga, but it’s hard to have any privacy on a warship.”

“Am I a lesbian?” River asked quietly and Janice frowned, wondering when this question would come up.

“God I hate labels, why do people have to label everything.”

“Sorry,” River said.

“No, I’m sorry. Just a beef I have with society. Well, do you like boys…I mean men?” Janice asked.

“Ah, sure…yes, I’m sure I do,” River said, and she was really sure, fondly remembering kissing the nice handsome scientist from the moon and Earth.

“Then no, you aren’t like me. I’ve known I prefer girls since I was about 12 years old.”

“Then, what am I?” For all her training and intelligence, River had no answers for this question.

Janice took her hand and squeeze. “You are a wonderful person who has a lot of soul and love in your heart. Don’t try to think on what you are. Just enjoy the moments we had together.”

“That sounds nice.”

After a few moments of silence River suddenly felt something shift inside her, felt out of place and knew that the madness was coming back. She held it down tight with her mind, fought it and then knew it was time to go, before this wonderful person saw that she wasn’t all right in the head.

River wanted to say sorry first and it came out wrong, in a long stream of words. “I’m so sorry I kidnapped you and took you away from your ship and friends and made you watch me kill that man and tie you up and yell at you, I am so sorry.”

Janice was taken aback at first but could see that she honestly was sorry. “Apology accepted.”

“And I’m sorry that I have to go,” River said quickly as she stood and Janice wasn’t ready for that.

“Go?” she asked in puzzlement.

“It’ll be dawn soon. The Alliance will find this ship. If we try to move it they will find it. I must go.” River said in a fast talking stream. “I can’t stay. People will die. Maybe you…I couldn’t live with that.

“Calm down, River. No one else has to die. Where will you go? When we landed there was nothing around here, nothing for hundreds of miles but forests and lakes and canyons and mountains.”

“I’ll walk out. I’ll be fine.”

“No, you won’t. You will die out there.”

“I can’t stay. They will find me…and kill me and I will kill them. That’s what they do, what I do.”

“You don’t have to.”

“They won’t let me be anything else. I have to go.”

Janice could see River was determined to leave and, not quite believing she was saying the words, she offered a solution. As River paced and listened, Janice could sense that River believed her and knew River could tell if she was lying. After a long talk, River calmed down and they set the plan in motion.

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

“Contact!” yelled a sensor board operator on a small Alliance patrol ship above Paquin. “Ship rising from a forest, 123 kilometers to the south of the Dufferin Range.”

Suddenly a voice came from the ships comms. “This is Flying Officer Janice Flowers of the Saratoga, do not fire, do not fire. I have managed to escape from my captor. She is still on the ground. Request orders.”

“Roger, Officer Flowers, good to hear from you. Stand by.”

The lieutenant in charge of the gunship passed on the news to the Saratoga and they sent back orders. “Flowers, land at Santos City spaceport on the far side of the planet. That freighter’s owner is looking for it. Request coordinates of last known position of fugitive River Tam.”

Janice gave them the grid reference and received the word that search teams were being landed. As she turned the ship toward the far side of the planet, she looked over at River in the co-pilot’s seat. She was back in her uniform and River kept the purple dress and had on her black boots of course.

“They’ll be waiting for me, want to debrief me,” Janice said and then sadly added. “We won’t see each other again.”

“I know,” said River. “But I will always have the memory of our time together. Was it worth you breaking your oath as an officer to help me?”

Janice smiled. “You’re darn right it was. And River, you are a victim here. I believe your story. What they did to you…I can’t imagine.”

They were silent for a long time. Finally they approached Santos City. Janice found a clear spot in a small forest a few miles from the city and got lower and lower until they were hovering a few feet over the ground. They looked at each other and River leaned over and gave her a long lingering kiss that left them both breathless and aching for more. “I’ll never forget you,” River said and then she was gone, leaving Janice Flowers all alone.

River ran to the back, picked up her backpack, and then Janice lowered the cargo bay ramp from the cockpit. In a swift move River leaped to the ground and then was gone into the treeline. As the Katya rose and moved off toward Santos City, River stopped and put on her backpack. She looked up at the ship and smiled. “Thank you,” she said to herself and then she was running, running once again, running where she knew not, but running was far better than waiting for the Alliance to find her and kill her.

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As Simon patches up the crew, Mal and his lawyer make plans, and Badger and his cousin have some unexpected visitors.

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Mal finds a new friend on Londinium, his crew makes contact with River and Zoe, and events come to head on Whitefall.

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

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

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

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

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