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River's Run - Part 5
Wednesday, February 11, 2009

River gets a little help from her friends, Simon uncovers a new problem, and Jayne's life takes a whole new direction.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1369    RATING: 0    SERIES: FIREFLY

River’s Run – Part 5

“He’s not talking,” the ground force commander said to the captain of the Saratoga. “He said he wants a deal on his prison term if he tells us anything about River Tam.”

“We do not make deals with prisoners,” the captain said. “Tell Mr. Patterson that he can talk or he can starve and have his pain medication for that leg injury cut off.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Any word from the search teams?”

“Nothing yet. They’ve covered the area Flowers gave us, but Tam must be long gone. We’ve expanded the search and have infrared scanners on low flying ships searching. Nothing but wild game, no humans, no settlements of any kind, nothing for hundreds of kilometers. It would be very difficult to survive out there for long. She could be dead for all we know.”

“I doubt it,” the captain said. “Not after the way she handled our troops, took an officer hostage, infiltrated a spaceport, stole a freighter and knew enough to disable another freighter and all the comms in the spaceport. I’ve been reading the report from the freighter crew. The captain said Tam didn’t even flinch when bullets were flying around her. Something about this fugitive is not right. Fleet headquarters wants her bad but won’t tell us why. Who is River Tam?”

The commander had no answer.

The captain grunted. “I guess we’ll know soon enough. Very well. Get down there yourself and coordinate things. But first go see Flowers in Santos City and find out what the hell happened and then get her back here for a proper de-briefing.”

“Yes, sir,” the commander said and then he was gone.

“Sir, we have a Firefly class vessel entering the approach corridor for Paquin,” a sensor tech shouted out. "Transponder reads it as the Utopia….it checks out.”

“Very well. Let it pass. We are only interested in ships leaving the planet, not heading for it.”

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

“What’s the Saratoga doing out here?” Captain Oren asked the pilot as they went past the large cruiser, visible in the cockpit windows.

“Do you want me to contact them, sir?” the pilot asked.

“No, we aren’t supposed to be here and we certainly do not want any attention. Once Reynolds and his people have been landed on Paquin we shall make a run for Taos.”

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

“Can’t be done,” said Kaylee in a low whisper. “I won’t do it.”

They were in the infirmary, all six of them, Simon giving the three refugees medical checks for decompression sickness after their ordeal on Serenity II. Mal was on the examining table with his shirt off as Simon checked his lungs and heart rate, which was rising as he got angry.

“I ain’t asking you to bust anything permanent,” Mal said to Kaylee. “Just…a little, enough to fool them.”

“I…can’t!” she protested. “They’ll never believe me anyways.”

“That Oren guy…he’s an engineer?” Zoe asked.

“No, but two others are and they’ll know how to fix whatever I break right aways.”

“She’s right,” Wash said from where he was sitting on the bench. “We can’t fool them. Oren will want to taken Serenity back to Taos.”

“Bet he’s in enough hot water already,” Zoe added.

“Since when do we care about an Alliance scum getting into trouble?” Jayne asked with a grunt.

“We don’t,” Mal said. “But it’s the only way to take the ship and still…seem like we have kept to our deal.”

“Why do you need us to stick around for, Mal?’ Simon asked and more than one of them had that thought.

Mal knew that this question would come up and he had an answer. “Cause this ship is the fastest in the verse. I’m kinda getting used to having it to haul our ashes out of the fire, like it just did. Being in a busted ship on an airless moon ain’t no fun. Sides….I miss her….and….Kaylee.”

“Sweet talk ain’t gonna get me to hurt my baby,” Kaylee said with a frown, but she smiled a second later. And then her face lit up in surprise. “Oh, I got a message!”

After their little escape from the scavengers, Kaylee had forgotten about the message that she had been on the way to the bridge to see when they were attacked. Without another word she raced upstairs to the bridge and in a few moments had the message up on the side Cortex screen, volume down low so the pilot and Oren couldn’t hear it. It turned out it was from Inara to Kaylee’s delight and then consternation.

“Kaylee, you must contact Mal. Tell him….tell him that I must delay meeting him on Shadow. I have to take care of more things here than I expected. And there’s no need to meet me on Sihnon, it won’t be but a few days. I’m sure he is busy taking care of that other matter we discussed. There is also no need to contact me. I hope all is well. Bye for now.”

Kaylee was puzzled by the message but went back to the infirmary and told Mal and he demanded to see the message so she let him. Oren gave him permission to be on the bridge, something that galled Mal to no end. After their escape, Oren thanked him for his quick actions and promised to set them down on Paquin at a spaceport, but asserted his command of the ship and decided to stay on the bridge in case of any more problems.

Mal sat down as Kaylee stood by his side and he saw the message from Inara. Mal was glad to see Inara, even if it was just a message, and felt even better when Kaylee finally got around to telling him Inara knew what he was doing and she had forgiven him. But things got a bit odder.

“Why wouldn’t she want me contacting her”? Mal asked, something in him suddenly suspicious.

“Don’t know,” Kaylee said. “Let’s call her at the Guild House anyways, say hello. The address is on the bottom of the screen.”

“Yeah,” Mal said, distracted as he hit the reply button. The Cortex screen said they were too far away for face to face and asked if he wanted to leave a message. Before he could click the right button, Kaylee stopped him cold.

“Who’s Paulo Chase?” she asked and then pointed to the name on the return wave address.

“Paulo Chase?” Mal said as he read the name on the screen. She wasn’t at the Guild House. “Never heard of him.”

Kaylee shrugged. “Me, neither.”

But Oren knew, not completely deaf to their conversation, since he was in charge and had to be wary of Kaylee receiving any messages now that she was so well known. “Ah, the Chase family of Sihnon. Very old, one of the original families from Earth That Was. Wealthy, involved in many businesses.” Then he chuckled.

“What’s so funny?” Mal asked, his eyes narrowing as he stood and faced Oren with Kaylee at his side, the reply to Inara forgotten.

“Oh, just…well, it’s not my place to spread rumors,” Oren replied, suddenly on his guard.

“Oh, gossip!” Kaylee said with enthusiasm. “Tell us. Please!”

“Yes,” Mal said with some low menace in his tone. “Please.”

Oren paused and then looked at Mal and he knew Reynolds wouldn’t give up till he told him.

“There was a story, about Paulo Chase. That his family had arranged his marriage to a…whore.”

As soon as that word was out and related to Inara, Kaylee knew what would happen. She grabbed Mal’s arm before he could raise it and her gentle touch helped calm him.

“Did this…woman…have a name?” Mal asked with an edge of anger to his voice.

Oren could see that something wasn’t right, could feel Reynolds’ barely contained anger, could see Kaylee’s hand suddenly holding Reynolds’ right arm. “No, I mean, I don’t know.”

“What’s the story about this marriage?” Kaylee asked, more to deflect the tension between Oren and her Capt’n but also because she was very curious.

“The Chase family arraigned a marriage between Paulo Chase, the oldest son and heir, to a young girl, very beautiful by all accounts. Except she rejected him and ran away. Chase’s family ruined hers and they were poverty stricken and so she became a…lady who sells her favors. Apparently, the Chase family fortune declined because of this scandal. That’s all I know. Maybe it is just a rumor.”

Mal relaxed somewhat. Maybe it was just a story. “So, they were never married.”

“Ah, no, not exactly,” Oren said. “The marriage was arraigned between the families and the papers signed. It is an old custom from the early days of colonization when there were fears of a decline in population if marriages were left to the strange currents of love. Many planets have kept the tradition.”

“Then they must have gotten a divorce?” Kaylee offered, knowing what the Capt’n was thinking.

“Perhaps,” said Oren. “After all, it is just a story. But…”

He stopped. “But what?” Mal asked, getting mad again.

“Chase is said to be an expert with a sword and has fought duels over the years whenever anyone insulted his marriage to…that woman. Why would he get insulted and why would anyone mention it if they had divorced long ago?”

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

“Maybe he is just an old acquaintance,” Zoe offered. “You know, she did have a life before she came on board Serenity.”

They were in the passenger lounge, Mal silent, the others wondering what it all meant. He gave Kaylee the OK to tell the story and the others were as puzzled as they were.

“A life we don’t know much about,” Simon said absently and then saw Kaylee give him a dirty look and realized he made a mistake. “But I’m sure Zoe’s right. Just an old acquaintance.”

“Maybe an old client,” Wash said and realized he had also made a mistake when both his wife and Kaylee shot daggers at him. “Hey! I mean…sorry.”

“It’s OK, Wash,” Mal said. “I know she’s had many…clients…in her past.”

“Hell,” Jayne said. “Maybe nothing to it. Just that officer screwing with your mind. He don’t like you taking over his ship. That’s all it is.”

“Maybe,” Mal said. “But I didn’t ask him about Chase. He just told us.”

“So,” Kaylee said after a long uncomfortable silence. “What now?”

“Forget busting the engine,” Mal said and then he looked at Zoe. “Can you do it?”

“Yes, sir,” Zoe said without hesitation. “We’ll find her, get her somewhere safe.”

“My sister?” Simon asked with hope. “But…if you find her, where is safe?”

Mal nodded. “I’m thinking Hera, Badger’s cousin’s shop. Somewhere out of the way.”

“For how long?” Simon asked and he knew there was no answer.

“Until we can make things right,” Mal said. “I still got those vids from Miranda.”

“You try to broadcast them, they will kill us this time,” Wash said and no one disagreed with him.

“And you, sir” Zoe asked after a long silence. “Where will you be?”

“After we land and you get settled I’m booking the next ship to Sihnon.”

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

Not moments after Inara had sent the message to Serenity did Paulo return to the room and remove the Cortex screen. He didn’t say a word but he had a look of satisfaction on his face and Inara knew she had made a mistake. She should have contacted the Guild House, the police, anyone except Mal. She guessed that Paulo had monitored her wave, knew what she had said, but he still seemed satisfied. Inara knew Mal wouldn’t stay away, was too stubborn for that, and maybe she had led him to his death. If that happened she would never forgive herself.

The hours passed and food was brought to her by a servant, just a cold meal of a sandwich and fruit and water, no utensils, no knife she could use to stab her captor in the heart, if he had one. She tried to charm the elderly male servant but he barely acknowledged her and Inara guessed he was well trained and had been with the Chase family for a long time. She knew Paulo had two younger brothers and a sister somewhere. Were they in this house also? Did they agree with what he was doing or did they even know?

Now Inara had wished she had waved the Head Mistress instead of Serenity. She had the power to do something about Paulo Chase. She knew many secrets, had many connections, and could compel the powers that be to release her. Then again if he was watching her, he would not allow her to send a message to anyone but Serenity. How long will it take for Mal to get the message, to come here? Days? Weeks? Maybe they were caught up with trying to find River. She hoped he would stay away and also hoped he would come. So much was uncertain.

Inara was on the verge of panic but calmed herself and let her training take over. I can’t just wait for things to happen, I have to act, Inara thought to herself. There was only one thing to do, the one thing that would give her some measure of freedom and allow her to possibly escape. As odious as it sounded, she would have to do it. She would have to seduce Paulo Chase.

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

“She left the ship,” Flying Office Janice Flowers told the ground search commander at the spaceport of Santos City on Paquin. They were in a military post attached at the spaceport, Flowers drinking coffee, as they sat at a table, a device on the table recording the debriefing “I was tied up, but the bounds were not strong so one hand came free. I made my way to the bridge. I realized she was off the ship, so I closed the cargo bay ramp and took off.”

“That’s it?” the commander asked suspiciously.

Janice was a bit surprised. “Yes, sir. That’s it….Why?”

“It seems odd that this fugitive…River Tam…would make such a mistake. So far she has done everything right to evade us.” “Sorry, sir, but what mistake did she make?”

“Leaving a pilot alone in ship and doing such a poor job confining you.”

“Perhaps it wasn’t a mistake. Perhaps she wanted to leave the ship since it is so easy to track.”

“Yes, I’ve thought of that,” the commander said. “Then why didn’t she kill you so she would have more time to evade us?”

Janice was silent for a moment, looking at her coffee cup, avoiding the commander’s eyes. “Maybe she is tired of killing. Sir.”

“I don’t think so. She seems entirely too efficient at it for it to be something she can give up so easily. She killed three people at Port Williams on the third moon. Explain what happened there.”

Janice told the story of how she was captured and what happened in the spaceport. The memories of River came to her in a vivid flash, especially her killing of the spaceport administrator. She was a cold, ruthless killer one day, a shy but sensual lover that night, and a scared girl in the morning. No one knew who River was, not even herself.

“And then on this ship…the Katya…what happened there?”

Janice looked at him steadily. “Like I said, sir, we landed, she tied me up, I tried to get some rest and when I awoke I freed myself and took off.”

“What did she say?”

“About what, sir?”

“Anything at all could be helpful in finding her.”

“I’ve told you everything.” Well, not everything, certainly not that River could read minds. Flowers wouldn’t tell them that anyway, but if she had, if she didn’t have this special…bond…with River, who would believe her? “Why haven’t we found her yet?” Janice asked. “I mean, I thought it would be easy, since we have infrared sensors.”

“Yes, it would seem to be an easy task. Unless we are looking in the wrong place.”

“The coordinates I gave were accurate, sir.”

“Yes, we found the imprints of a ship landing and the burn marks of the same ship taking off. Trouble is, there is no sign that anyone walked out of there.”

“Maybe she has special training like us, sir. Maybe she isn’t just an escaped prisoner.”

“Of that we are certain. But all we know is that she is accused of high treason, but not the details. So, did she say anything, anything at all about why she was a prisoner or about her background?”

“No, sir. Like I said, she just told me what to do…and I did it.” Janice looked a bit ashamed and embarrassed.

“Now, now, Flowers, no need to worry. You’ve done a good job. You survived. The Alliance has spent a lot of money on your training and we need good pilots. No one blames you for what happened at the spaceport.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I think a few days off will do you good. You will rejoin the Saratoga. A shuttle is waiting for you.”

“Sir, what about Ri…the fugitive?”

“What about her?”

“What will happen if…when they find her?”

“The orders remain the same. We have orders to shoot her on sight.”

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

‘What’s it called?” Simon asked as he stood at the top of Serenity’s cargo bay ramp.

“Santos City, main spaceport of Paquin,” Mal said as he breathed fresh air deep into his lungs, glad to be doing so once again after their recent close call on the airless sixth moon of Ariel. It was a cloudy day and rain threatened, but Mal didn’t care, feeling glad to be alive and knowing once again he had beaten the odds. As he thought on this he also thought on Inara and he wished like hell he knew what was going on with her.

They were at a spaceport, the ship landing in the late morning, having no trouble with their transponder sign of Utopia. Oren was nervous, his guards wary as they stood just inside the cargo bay, trying not to bring any attention to the ship. Zoe, Jayne, and Wash had their bags with them, including their weapons that had been returned, ready to leave. Mal didn’t want to leave, but Oren had refused to take him to Sihnon or Taos and Mal didn’t want to cause any more trouble for Simon and Kaylee. He thought over and over how he could take the ship without making a fuss and there was just no way. Either someone would get hurt or killed or Kaylee and Simon and all of them would be in hot water or, more than likely, both. Once again the Alliance was kicking Mal off of his…their…ship and he didn’t like it one bit.

Mal and Simon turned back to the cargo bay and Kaylee was there saying good bye to the others.

“Thanks little Kaylee,” Mal said as they hugged. “You go home now and don’t worry on us. We’ll be fine.”

“Yes, Capt’n. You keep in touch, no matter where you go. You know where we’ll be…if you need us.” The last was said in a whisper, so no nearby guards could hear. Mal grinned, knowing he could count on her and Simon if it came to trouble again.

Simon fretted as he watched them leave, dieing to go with them to help find River, but he knew Oren would not allow it since he was as well known as his wife now since the vid of their landing on Taos made the Cortex news. He was sure there were plenty of ruthless people who would kidnap him to force Kaylee to help them build a Frye drive. It had only been a little more than a week since River had sent the plans over the Cortex but soon many would come to the same conclusion: building the damn thing was awfully hard. Serenity II’s brush with that scavenger ship reinforced their worries of someone trying to steal Serenity or kidnap Kaylee.

“Say, Doc,’ Jayne asked quietly as he shouldered his duffel bag of guns. “What kind of reward we expect if we find your sister?”

Simon was taken aback and glance worried eyes toward Oren and his men. “I think we should discuss that later.”

“Just I don’t like working less I know how much it’s for.”

“You know my parents are very wealthy and will pay…substantially.”

Jayne grinned. “Well, that sounds fine. Just give me a substantial number.”

“Jayne!” Zoe said from the ramp. “Time to go.”

“Yes,” Oren said. “We have to leave before someone finds out what ship this is.”

Jayne grunted and then moved off with his bag of guns and his other bag with his few personal belongings and the swag form the Melbourne banks. Simon almost laughed, wondering just how much money would ever make Jayne Cobb happy.

Last quick goodbyes were made and then the ramp came up and Simon and Kaylee were alone again. In moments the order was given to take off and shortly after that they were in the black.

“Utopia, Utopia,” came a call on the radio. “This is the Alliance cruiser Saratoga. Stop and prepare to be boarded.”

Oren had just come on the bridge when he heard this. He quickly snatched the mic from the pilot who was about to reply.

“Saratoga this is Utopia. What is the reason for the search?”

“Looking for a dangerous fugitive. Comply or you will be fired on.”

As they looked out the windows they could see fighters approaching. “Should we run, sir?” the pilot asked, itching to try some pointers Wash gave him for evading trouble in the future.

“No,” said Oren. “There are too many ships about and I don’t want anyone to see us use the drive. Also, we can’t risk damage to this ship. We’ll dock and I will go aboard and explain to their captain.”

Fifteen minutes later Oren was standing before the Saratoga’s captain in his bridge office, the search of Utopia put on hold when the boarding party was surprised to find the ship filled with Alliance troops and officers.

“I’m sorry, Captain Oren, but no one told us of your mission.”

“It’s classified, Captain. Our movements must be kept a secret. We are testing the new drive. I’m sure you’ve heard about it.”

“Who hasn’t? Quite amazing coincidence.”

“Sorry. Coincidence?”

“Yes. I saw on the news reports that the inventor of the drive, Kaylee Frye, is married to Simon Tam from Osiris. The fugitive we are looking for, her last name is also Tam. Also from Osiris.”

“River Tam, his sister.” Oren said as dawning began to come to him.

“Sister? But…I don’t know what is going on.”

“I only know bits and pieces. River Tam was the one who put the Frye drive plans on the Cortex. That’s why she was arrested and is now wanted.”

“Very unusual business, Oren. Admiral Shin has taken a keen interest in her. Sending us some special people to handle the matter. Be an awful black eye if I don’t wrap things up before they arrive. Anything you can tell me will be appreciated.”

“About Tam? Oh, there’s nothing I know beyond what I’ve told you. Her brother is a nice fellow and his wife is brilliant of course, when it comes to mechanical things. But…that’s why Paquin!”

“What about Paquin?”

Oren almost grinned, now knowing he had something on Reynolds. “There is something I can tell you about River Tam after all.”

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

It took River a few hours to reach the spaceport of Santos City. The hard part was getting through the first area of forest where Janice had dropped her off. River ran and had to cross a few streams and over some tree covered hills. The exercise was invigorating and she felt good. Her knee injury she had gotten from Maston Forbes was finally healed and running had always been her favorite exercise at the academy. From a high hill she stopped and did some recon, and could see the small city in the distance and saw where ships were taking off and landing. After a half an hour of recon and resting, she started again and managed to find a road and walked along it until the first houses and buildings started to appear.

Traffic was light and no one stopped to offer her a ride. No one bothered her or even glanced at her as she walked through the streets. Her pistols and knife were in her backpack so as to not cause any undue attention. The morning sunshine started to disappear as clouds came from the other side of the city. She decided to head for the spaceport to see if there was anyway she could infiltrate it and sneak aboard a ship. As she got closer she found a park which was on a slight hill and gave her a good view of the spaceport over the tops of some buildings. River stopped and sat on a bench, and took out some food and water and thought on her next move as she ate.

River’s training told her that she had two options. Number one was to lay low until those who sought her gave up or she eliminated them. Option two was to seek to evade her searchers by leaving the area. In this case it meant leaving the planet. River knew that the searchers were not going to stop and to eliminate them would not work since they were so numerous. She also knew the Saratoga was probably still out there in the black, searching vessels leaving the planet. So River came up with a third option. Find a place to lay low permanently.

This meant several things. First, she would have to disguise her appearance in some way. By now her photo was with the police and military forces of Paquin. She could cut and dye her hair, get contacts for her eyes, fatten up a bit. If they had facial recognition scanners none of this would work, but as long as she stayed away from high tech buildings or the spaceport, she might be able to fool random check points. Second, she would need shelter, food, and money. All could be obtained if one had employment. To get employment one usually needed a proper ID card. River did not have one nor could get one because she had no money to pay someone to make one even if she knew where such a person was on Paquin.

So, that meant illegal jobs. She nixed prostitution right away since she could never stomach the idea. Hired killer was right up her ally but it would take time to get acquainted with the local lowlifes and also that kind of work attracted attention. She almost laughed when she thought of the idea of setting herself up as a psychic mind reader. That would also draw attention as she was sure she’d do a good job and become famous. Finally, there was computer work, surveillance, infiltration, all covert operations which River was well trained in. Perhaps even some kind of investigator. River Tam, PI. Nah, that would also draw attention.

River was stumped, something she wasn’t used to and it frustrated her. As she looked back toward the spaceport her feelings suddenly swung the other way. A ship was landing, a Firefly. As River gazed at it all her memories came flooding back and one became very vivid.

“I’m sorry,” her brother said with some sadness. “It’s the only way.”

“I understand. I’m going to sleep.”

“I’ll be there when you wake up,” Simon said and then he kissed her and after a moment River felt a pinch on her arm and warmth flooded her body and she fell into a deep sleep. And then she was awake, on a strange ship, surrounded by strange people. But most of all she remembered the box she had traveled in. That was her way off Paquin. She would mail herself to…her parents!

No, the Alliance would be watching them. It couldn’t be her parents or Simon or Kaylee or Inara or anyone connected with Serenity. It had to be someone no one knew. As River searched her memory one name and one address came to her and she smiled and knew it could work. Now she just needed some money and someone to help her.

Suddenly River’s focus turned back to the spaceport and the Firefly. She could see it, in the far distance and the ramp was down and there was…Simon! And Mal!

River’s heart leap to her throat and she wanted to stand and shout to them but she knew they couldn’t hear her and knew she would just be bringing danger to them. Then everything shifted and River’s mind began to slip to that place where she didn’t want it to go. She tried to focus her thoughts, it taking all of her concentration. She could see Wash’s blond hair and flowery shirt, Jayne’s tall bulk hefting two heavy bags, Zoe’s lithe from striding ahead of them, Mal close behind. All four stopped and watched as Serenity took off.

“Simon!” she screamed and then started to cry, wanting so badly to see her brother, to see Kaylee, and to see home…Serenity. A thousand emotions flooded River’s brain and then one came into sharp focus…danger.

“Hey, little girl,” said a man’s voice. “Whatcha doing all by your lonesome in the park?”

“It’s not very safe these days,” said another voice, in Chinese. “Few people have been mugged here…and worse.”

“Pretty little thing like her, I think she might be in for worse,” said another voice.

River’s mind cleared and knew what she had to do. She turned to them. There were four, all big, looked like teens, and also had the look of street toughs. Two of them had knives, one a small pistol and the last a large stick. No one else was around.

“I have something for you,” River said with a smile as it began to rain.

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

“Gorramn rain,” Jayne cursed as he ducked into hotel lobby just behind Mal, Zoe, and Wash. They had barely said goodbye to Serenity and were talking on their next move when the skies opened up and they and many others ran looking for shelter. Wash spotted the hotel and they all dashed inside. It was small, but neat and modern, with a lobby with some furniture and Cortex screens and a reception area with an Oriental man behind the counter.

“May I help you?” he asked in Chinese and in a few moments they had three rooms, one for Wash and Zoe and one each for Jayne and Mal, who didn’t want to share a room with Jayne’s snoring. Mal paid for them all with his money from the sale of Serenity and used his real name and ID for the check in since he wasn’t wanted by the Alliance anymore and it was required by law. He took a long shower, thinking on what to do, wondering about this Paulo Chase and Inara. He had to go to Sihnon, had to check this out. But first he had to call the Guild House. Each room had a Cortex screen and after a few moments search he found the wave address. Again the distance was too great for face to face so he composed his message and sent it off. He had barely changed into some fresh clothes and was putting on his boots when there was a knock at his door. Thinking it was Zoe, Mal answered it without even looking to see who it was.

“Hello, Capt’n,” River said in a weak voice and then she pitched forward and collapsed in his arms.

Mal got over his surprise and slammed the door shut, picked up River and carried her to the bed. She was soaking wet and blood came from above her forehead and trickled down her face.

Mal pounded on the wall of Jayne’s room and in seconds the big merc was there and then gone to get Zoe and Wash. Soon they were all surrounding River as Zoe looked at her head wound.

“Bullet graze, small caliber, she might have a concussion,” Zoe said, with years of experience of battle wounds behind her observation. River’s eyes fluttered and she focus on Mal.

“River,” Mal said gently. “What happened and where are you coming from?”

“And did anyone follow you?” Jayne asked as he stood by the door with pistol drawn.

“Snuck in,” River said. ”Good at sneaking in places. Saw you landing. Saw Simon. Felt…you.” The last was for Mal.

“Who shot you?” Wash asked.

“Some kids,” River said.

“Kids?” Zoe repeated in surprise. “Are they…dead?’

“Don’t know. Maybe. I can’t remember. I need Simon.”

“He’s gone, honey,” Zoe told her. “He and Kaylee…the Alliance.”

“How is he?”

“Worried…about you,” Mal replied. “Hired us to find you. Guess we can’t take his money cause you found us first.”

“No gorramn way!” Jayne said. “We’s here, she’s here, that's the deal. And we still ain’t off the planet yet. Doc’ll see things my way, you wait and see.”

“Now ain’t the time to talk on this Jayne,” Zoe said sternly.

River sat up. “I’m cold…and wet. My bag…”

“You didn’t have a bag,” said Mal and he looked to Zoe.

“I’ll get her some clothes,” she said and then she opened the door and after a quick look in the hallway, was gone. Mal helped River to the bathroom and ten minutes later she was dressed in a pair of Zoe’s black jeans and a blue shirt. It was a bit big for her but would do for now. The bleeding had stopped but River had a hell of a headache.

She told them what happened in the park, how four teens had tried to rob her. She was sure at least two were dead, shot with her pistol. As she had reached into her bag and took out her pistol one of them shot at her. She didn’t tell them but she sensed the round coming and dropped a few inches as it headed her way. That one was dead for sure, two rounds through the face. Another one ran off with her bag that she dropped as the fight started, a third tired to stab her an got a bullet to the chest and the fourth had gotten a good kick in the head. She would have chased the one with her bag except someone had heard the shots and had come looking so River ran. Only as she got to a street did she realize her head was bleeding and she began to feel woozy. The heavy rain had emptied the streets so no one saw her, she hoped. She knew they were nearby, stretched out her mind, and sensed Mal, waited for a moment when the clerk was busy and then just walked in.

“You were thinking about Inara,” River said to Mal.

“Yeah,” Mal said quietly.

“All is not right.”

“No, it ain’t.”

“Why are you on Paquin?” River suddenly asked.

“Following your trail of death and destruction,” Jayne said almost in an admiring way.

They told River their story and she told them hers, of course leaving out certain parts that were none of their business. She told them she forced the pilot to drop her off near the city immediately after leaving the moon and she had made her way on foot. No mention was made of spending the previous night on the Katya.

“Shoulda killed her,” said Jayne as he checked his pistol to make sure it was loaded. “Now they know you’re here or near here.”

River didn’t reply, knowing they would never understand what happened between her and Janice.

“It’s a sure bet someone spotted her at that park. Police could be on the way here right now,” Wash said with worry.

“We did what we came here to do, sir,” Zoe said. “What now?”

“We’ll never get her off of this place,” Mal said as he paced and thought. “They’ll be checking every ship.”

“I have a plan,” said River and after she told them it they all thought and thought and looked at all the angles and in the end had to agree that not only was it brilliant but it was the only option they had. They were going to get River Tam off of Paquin the same way she came aboard Serenity: in a cyro-chamber.

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

“Someone is following me,” Simon said to Kaylee as they lay in bed at her father’s house back on Taos.

It had been two days since their adventure with their former shipmates. Oren laid down the law when they got back, and Simon was never allowed back on Serenity unless there was a medical emergency. Kaylee’s punishment was to be docked a week’s pay and both were sworn to silence over the matter. The electric fence and guard posts were now up around Serenity and if they ever had to steal it again it would be awful tough to do so. Oren also told them that all messages coming and going to them or Kaylee’s father were being watched.

Then on the second day as Simon was heading to the clinic he thought he spotted someone following him and his two Alliance guards. He said nothing to them and went about his business but saw the same person on the street later that day. It was man, very young, not older than River and he was staring intently at Simon.

“You have to tell, Captain Oren,” Kaylee said with worry. “There’s folks out there that want to know what I know.”

Simon promised to tell Oren the next day after the clinic closed. But as he saw his first patient in the morning, the need to do so vanished.

The young man who had been staring at him walked in. Simon was immediately on his guard. He knew the guards check everyone for weapons and ID, but that didn’t make this man any less dangerous. The young man had jet black hair, dark brown eyes and seemed to be a mix of Oriental and Caucasian.

“What can I do for you?’ Simon asked, doing his job, maybe just being paranoid after all they had been through.

“I’m not sick,” the man said in a whisper. “Not physically anyways.”

Simon gulped. “Ah…then why are you here?”

“I was sent, to watch you.”

“Sent? By who?”

“Admiral Shin.”

“Shin? Yes, I met him once, seemed like an unpleasant sort. What’s this all about?”

“Your sister, Doctor Tam. I was at the academy with her.”

Now Simon understood. He was sent to watch him in case River tried to contact him or come here. Shin was after his sister with a vengance. “Why can’t you people leave us alone?” he said in an angry tone.

“I’m not here to hurt you or River. I’m trying to get away from them. I need your help,” the young man said and it was almost a plea and Simon could now see desperation in his eyes.

“My help?”

“I knew River. I was…like her. You know what I mean.”

“Yes…I do. Get on the table.” He sat on it and Simon took his stethoscope and started checking his heart rate.

“I said I am not sick…not physically sick.”

“It’s for the guards,” Simon said. “In case they or someone else walks in. Now tell me what is troubling you.”

“I have nightmares. I wake up in places and I don’t know how I got there. Sometimes I have blood on my hands. I remember things that never happened to me, that must have happened to other people. You’re a doctor. They told me everything about you and your wife before I was sent here. I was to watch you in case River tried to contact you or come here. You must know something about your sister’s condition…about mine and the others.”

Simon was not totally surprised. To think that his sister was the only one in the verse with psychic ability was illogical. “How many others?”

“There were four of us, who had some separate training from the other students at the academy. Four that I know of, in the years I was there.”

“Does Shin and the Alliance know what you and River are?”

“I don’t know.”

“What’s your name?”

“Derek Bowen. I’m 21 years old. And I am a killer. Please help me.”

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

“Never thought I see the day,” Zoe said with a big grin.

“I think Book would have enjoyed this moment,” Wash said with a barely suppressed laugh.

“I ain’t punched anyone in while little man,” Jayne said with a grimace. “Keep it up and you’ll be next.”

“Now we’ll have none of that Shepherd Cobb…I mean Book,” Mal said. “Holy men don’t go hitting folks.”

They were in a seedy hotel in the seediest part of Santos City. Jayne was dressed in Shepherd’s garb, standing in front of a cracked mirror, looking none too comfortable.

“Do I have to be so grey?” Jayne said in disgust, looking at his hair and beard dyed really only slightly grey by Zoe.

“Need to look the part,” Wash said, still barely controlling his laughter.

“Least let me carry a gun, Mal,” Jayne said. “Feels naked without one.”

“No,” Mal said sternly. “They find one weapon on you the jig is up.”

“What about my guns?”

“We’ll take Vera and your favorite pistol,” Zoe said. “Rest, well, guess they’ll have to stay here.”

“This plan don’t work, I’m a coming looking for all of you,” Jayne growled.

The plan was simple but expensive to pull off. After River was well enough to walk, they skedaddled from the hotel, Mal checking out claiming he didn’t like the rooms. A bartender in a nearby waterhole pointed them in the direction of the bad part of town. It took the better part of two days to find the right scumbags with connections and to put the plan together and it cost them most of the Australian bank swag and a chunk of Mal’s new fortune. A new ID for Jayne was obtained, using Book’s name is case anyone asked questions or checked if there was a real Shepherd Book from the Southdown Abbey. Mal just hoped like hell there was no picture with those records, since Jayne sure as hell didn’t look like Book. But Jayne was the oldest, and if they checked the age Jayne could pass, especially with the grey now in his beard and hair.

A Shepherd’s outfit for Jayne, with proper documentation, a cyro-chamber used for delivering pets on long haul space voyages, and the necessary medicine and documentation for a pet dog were all also purchased. Mal found a freighter captain that would take them to Sihnon for the right price, no questions asked. All they had to do was get into the spaceport with their cargo and avoid the blockade the captain told them was definitely put on Paquin and which was annoying all ships’ captains to no end.

“It’s time,” said Zoe to River and the two women went off to another room they had booked.

In the room were the cyro-chamber and a syringe with the drugs she would need to sleep.

Zoe was nervous as she checked the drugs. “Sure these are the right drugs?”

“Yes,” said River as she took off her clothing. She had been the one who remembered what Simon and she had taken when they entered the hospital on Ariel. “It will keep me asleep for one week. Before one week is over, the chamber must be opened, or I will awake and suffocate.”

Zoe opened the chamber and the now nude River stepped inside. She was calm and Zoe didn’t know if it was false bravado or not. “It’s going to pinch a little,” Zoe said.

“I know.”

“What happens…do you dream?”

“No. Just…it’s very peaceful. The brainwave activity is almost nothing, just enough to keep me alive. I would look dead to anyone who didn’t know better.”

“Just glad it’s not me. Ready?

“Just one more thing.” River reached out and gave Zoe a big hug. “Thank you for coming for me.”

“Least we could do after all you did for us.”

“I’ve been a lot of trouble,” River said like a little girl who has been bad.

“Well, don’t fret none over it. Trouble was never far behind us before we meet you anyways. See you on Sihnon.”

Zoe injected the drug and then in seconds River was asleep. Zoe checked to make sure she had a pulse and there is was, weak but there. She placed River in a fetal position in the chamber and closed it. She read the instructions the man who sold it to them had provided and set the controls.

Now it was up to Jayne to get the package on board and hopefully past the blockade.

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

“Halt,” the guard said at the spaceport main gate. Jayne just smiled, kept his cool and tried to think what the Shepherd would do in a case like this. There were plenty of Alliance around and Jayne could see they had a poster of River up saying “Wanted” with a bunch of details beneath.

“Yes, my son. Here’s my ID.”

Jayne handed over the card and after a moment in the scanner it was handed back. “Shepherd Book, what’s in the cyro-chamber?”

“My pet dog. He’s going to sleep all the way to Sihnon.” The cyro-chamber and his bag were on mechanical lift that Jayne just had to push and an engine engaged and moved the load.

“Documents?”

Jayne handed over the papers, all real, from a dishonest vet who would sign anything for the right price. The guard looked them over, handed them back and waved Jayne through.

“Thank you my son, “a Jayne said in as pious a manner as he could muster. “May the Lord be with you.”

As Jayne headed for the freighter they chartered with his package in tow, Mal, Zoe, and Wash were about five minutes behind him.

“Halt,” the guard said. “ID’s.”

They handed them over. After a few moments the guard’s eyes narrowed. “You’ll have to come with me.”

Mal grew suspicious. “What’s the trouble?”

“Routine check. Just take a few moments.”

Mal pulled out a thick wad of bills from his pocket, which the guard saw right away. He hesitated and Mal knew he had him. “Now, son, I know you don’t make all that much. I’m a businessman and I got a lot of business to take care of on Sihnon. I don’t make this ship, might be days before I can find another. You understand what I’m saying?” As Mal said the last he held out the cash.

“Not here!” the guard whispered fiercely. They went inside a little side office and in a few moments Mal was back with their IDs, a little less poorer but on their way.

“What was it about?” Wash said. “I mean, we got pardons for our past crimes, didn't we?”

“That son-of-a-bitch Oren, I bet,” Mal said through clenched teeth. “Pissed at me for telling him what to do to save his own life. He told someone something. Serenity must have got stopped by the blockade and he talked to them. He must know River is Simon’s sister, thought maybe we are here not by chance.”

“Might be a short trip,” Zoe said. “They'll ID us on the freighter, pull us off.”

“Then Jayne will have to do the job by himself,” Mal said. “Just remember, we ain’t broke no laws. Yet.”

In a few minutes they were on the ship, stowing their luggage in their rooms. They were the only passengers, Mal paying the captain enough to keep anyone else off and him and his crew’s mouths shut in case they got boarded.

Boarded they did get, not thirty minutes off Paquin. As the Alliance troops came on board, the passengers and crew waited in the cargo bay, IDs out and ready.

“We are looking for a fugitive and are doing a search of all passengers and crew and a search of your ship. We appreciate your cooperation,” said the officer in charge to the captain. She was medium build, with long black hair in a pony tail and the name Flowers on her uniform right breast pocket.

As the soldiers fanned out Janice Flowers checked all the IDs. Mal waited for them to be hauled off and questioned but nothing happened and he didn’t know why. Maybe they didn’t know they were on a freighter, maybe they still thought they were on the planet. Mal was right. Janice had no orders to search fro anyone but River Tam. She didn’t recognize their names since River had never mentioned them or Serenity in the brief time they had spent together.

“Aren’t you a Flying Officer?” Mal said to her, knowing his Alliance uniforms.

“Yes, that’s right. Are you a former soldier?” Janice asked. Wash winced, wondering where this was heading. Why couldn’t Mal just keep his mouth shut?

“Browncoat,” Mal said proudly. “Just wondering what a Flying Officer is doing leading a search team.”

Janice had never meet a Browncoat before, the war a brief memory from her childhood. Before Janice could answer, a soldier came up to her. “We found something, sir. A cyro-chamber.”

“Oh, that’s mine,” Jayne said in haste. “Has my pet dog in it.” He produced the documents for the chamber.

Janice looked them over and everything seemed correct. “OK. Let them go. They’re clean. We’re finished here.”

“No, they aren’t, sir,’ said the soldier, who had been on many such searches the last few days. “Protocol says we must open any cyro-chambers.”

Janice was new at this business of boarding ships. She was assigned to this mundane task after a few days rest, there being very little flying to do and the staff over worked by all these boardings of ships. She knew they were looking for River and she hoped like hell she wouldn’t find her. Janice had been barely able to sleep, confused over her feelings for River and her duty to the Alliance. No one had accused her of anything and everyone remarked on how well she had stood up to being kidnapped by a ruthless murderer. But if she didn’t open that chamber as per orders she would come under suspicion.

“Very well, where is it?” she asked her subordinate.

“Hold on just a gor…a gosh darn minute,” Jayne said in a fluster. “Excuse my language Lord. I paid a lot of money for the drugs to put him asleep and for the chamber and that their document. He wakes up, he might get sick and he might die.”

“I’m sorry Shepherd, but I have my orders,” Janice said. “The Alliance will compensate you for your loss if it comes to that. But I have to open that chamber.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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