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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Inara makes plans, Mal and River have a long discussion on what is to come, and Simon and Kaylee arrive back on Miranda, in the company of two assassins.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1393 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
River’s Run – Part 8
River sat at the dining table of the Rose, sipping a cup of herbal tea the pilot had made for her, still suffering from the aftereffects of her cyro sleep. She was dressed now, but still felt naked as everyone kept glancing toward her as they talked about what had happened to get them to this point. They were all sitting around the table, drinking something strong, River didn’t know what and didn’t want to find out.
“No rutting way,” said the Chinese crewman as Mal explained about how River was the one who leaked the plans for the Frye drive on the Cortex. “You all know Kaylee Frye?”
“Yeah,” said Jayne, as he drank more water along with a shot of the strong stuff, still dehydrated after spending what seemed like forever in the cramp hiding space of the Rose’s cargo hole while the Alliance searched for River. “Going on what…how many years has it been?”
Wash put on a drunken, silly, yet puzzled expression, obviously having too much of the strong stuff already. “That depends on how you count. Let’s see….”
“Wash…” Zoe said in a warning tone and Mal jumped right in before Wash said a bit too much.
“Four years,” Mal quickly said as he shot Wash a dirty look. “Kaylee built it and we tested it and the damn thing works. Then the Alliance took it and her away from me. And that’s the story. River’s our friend and crewmate and we are trying to protect her from them that want to see her drop at the end of a rope.”
River felt a suddenly burst of warmness all over as she heard Mal say these words. She let her gaze fall to his eyes and he saw the look and knew what it meant and just nodded slightly.
“Thank you, Captain,” she barely managed to say in a whisper, which no one heard.
“Well, the details don’t add up, Mr. Reynolds,” the Rose’s captain said. “You ain’t exactly explained why and how the Alliance could take your ship if she had an FTL.”
“I said what I said and won’t say anymore,” Mal replied evenly and then reached inside his top shirt pocket and pulled out a stack of Alliance currency which he placed on the table in front of the captain. “That should be enough for the trouble we caused and to end the questioning.”
The captain grinned and his crew’s eyes light up, the trouble seemingly worth it after all. “Fair enough. But I just got one more question,” said the Rose’s captain. “I’m still fuzzy on why that Alliance officer didn’t turn you in off Paquin. I mean, obviously she saw the girl inside the box. But she said it was dog. Strange.”
A sudden silence filled the room as everyone looked to River, Jayne with a big grin on his face. Mal knew what Jayne was thinking and decided to spare River the embarrassment of this line of questioning. He could see her looking embarrassed as she cast her eyes away.
“I’m sure that officer had her reasons,” Mal said. “But not that we know. Zoe, I think River needs to get some rest.”
“Yes, sir,” Zoe said as she helped River to her feet.
“Wait. Only three passenger bunks and they’re all full, less you want to share,” said the pilot. “We weren’t expecting anymore guests.”
“I’ll share,’ said Jayne with a big smile.
“No, she can have Jayne’s,” Mal said as Jayne’s face fell.
“What a sec…,” Jayne started but Mal’s look stopped him short.
“Charlie will fix you up in the cargo bay,” said the captain to Jayne as he looked to the black crewman who drained his glass and moved off. After a few moments giving Mal a dirty look Jayne moved off to clean out his bunk in the passenger area and then followed Charlie to the cargo bay. As soon as Jayne left, Zoe helped River to the bunk.
“There better not be more trouble,” said the captain to Mal. “You ain’t even told me half the truth.”
“More like a quarter,” Wash added, feeling a little tipsy from the booze.
“You’re cut off,” Mal said as he gave him a glare and then turned to the captain. “You know enough to know that I got friends in high places.”
“Yes,” the captain said thoughtfully. “The Prime Minister and her husband.”
“That’s right,” Mal added.
“I’m thinking of dropping you all off at the next civilized place,” the captain said in a calm voice as he stared at Mal. He was older than Mal, look strong and tough, had a weather beaten look about him, but Mal figured he could take him and he knew damn well Jayne and Zoe and River could take the rest. He didn’t count Wash, cause, well, Wash, wasn’t much for fighting, despite proving he could when needed on Niska’s complex.
“Then I’ll be taking some of my fare back,” said Mal calmly and the two men stared at each other. Mal knew what he was thinking, wondering if he could get rid of these trouble makers and liars before they caused more trouble. He was also thinking that this was one of the biggest paydays his crew had had in a while and they really needed the cash. The pile of money was still on the table and Mal knew that made all the difference. The captain fingered it and then broke the stare with Mal and grinned.
“We’ll make Sihnon in three days,” he said and with that he stood and picked up the cash and bid them good night, the pilot and Chinese crewmen following him, off to their bunks, leaving Mal and Wash alone.
“Nice guy,” said Wash as he grinned in a sleepy silly manner. “Good liar, too.”
“Yeah,” said Mal as he relaxed, for the moment. “They’ve been in a spot or two of trouble before, handled themselves well.”
“Our kind of folk,” Wash said as he stood a little unsteadily on his feet. Mal stood and helped him.
“Maybe,” Mal said. “But I’m still sleeping with my gun under my pillow.”
“Thank you,” said River as Zoe helped her sit on the bed in the narrow passenger bunk space. She sniffed the air, wrinkled her nose. “Smells like Jayne.”
“Sorry, the penthouse suite is occupied,” Zoe said with a grin.
“Better than a prison cell,” River said as she took off her boots. She felt weak all over and moved slowly. Zoe reached to help her but River stopped her.
“I can do it,” she said quickly and then felt she hurt Zoe, although Zoe’s expression didn’t change. River could sense it, though. “Sorry. Thanks for…everything.”
Zoe sat on the bed next to her and River visibly flinched and slid away a few inches. River immediately sensed that Zoe though this odd, but River couldn’t help it, just wanted to be left alone, especially after what Jayne had said to her inside the secret compartment. Then Zoe asked the question she had been dreading. “River, what happened down on Paquin?”
“I told you.”
“Right. But I have the feeling you left something out. The Rose’s captain is right. That Alliance officer, Flowers, she opened the box, saw your foot, closed it and said it was a dog to the rest of her team. Then she told me to tell you ‘good luck’ as she left the ship.”
River hesitated and then decided to tell Zoe what she had told Jayne. “She…she understood what had happened to me. I explained, some of it, not all, mostly what had happened to me at the Academy, and she understood. She sympathized.”
“I see,” Zoe said and could tell it was the truth but how much of the truth she didn’t know. She stood and went to the bunk door. “Well, get some rest. We’re still a few days from Sihnon.”
“Zoe…can you get word to Simon…that I’m okay.”
“Can’t risk it. Alliance is listening and watching.”
“I understand. What am I going to do on Sihnon?”
“Don’t know yet. Captain will make a plan.”
“Is Inara there?”
“Yes,” Zoe hesitated to say more and River reached out and pulled the thoughts from her mind.
“Paulo Chase,” River said and Zoe had long ago stopped being startled by River’s knowledge.
River knew that name, from Inara’s thoughts, but never knew more than that she had been married to him once.
“Yes. He’s going to be trouble.”
“I can kill him. I’m already in trouble. One more won’t make a difference.”
Zoe knew she could do it to, if she could get close to Paulo Chase. “I think the Captain wants to handle this all by himself.”
“For Inara? To prove he loves her? She already knows that.”
“He knows. Just something he has to do. I’ve been with him a long time and so have you. You know he has to do it.”
“I can do it better.”
“Maybe you’ll get the chance. Now get some rest,” Zoe said and left River all alone.
River was alone again, what she wanted for now, but not forever. She lay on the bed and wondered where they all were, all those she cared for. Her parents who she hadn’t spoken to in so many years were mostly likely on Osiris, her brother with Kaylee on Taos, and…who else did she care about? Janice. She had obviously found River and let her go. Three people had told the story now. Janice did care for River. Could River care for her? Maybe, but River barely knew her. She knew her in some ways, some very nice and pleasant ways, but she didn’t know her, not really. Janice was with the fleet, somewhere, and that’s all River knew. Maybe it was better to never see her again.
“I need to speak to you before we leave,” Simon said to Captain Oren as the cargo bay doors closed with a clang. “Alone.”
“Can it wait doctor? We are about to leave,” Oren replied, distracted as he handed an electronic clipboard to one of the Alliance soldiers. They had just loaded a large pallet of…something…which was in many plastic crates and now sat in the middle of Serenity’s cargo bay. “Get that to Mrs. Frye so she can calculate the added weight into the journey.”
“Yes, sir,’ said the soldier as he took the clipboard and moved off to the upper decks.
“No, it can’t wait,” Simon said after the soldier left. “If I wait it will be too late. We will be at Miranda.”
Oren looked at Simon sternly and at the other Alliance personnel in the cargo bay and then started walking toward the interior of the ship. “Your office, Doctor.”
Simon followed him and soon they were inside the infirmary and Simon closed the door.
“Don’t ever mention where we are going again,” Oren said to begin. “Officially it doesn’t exist and only three people on this ship know that information. Do I make myself clear?”
“Very,” Simon replied, a little put out to be treated like a school boy. “But I think someone else might have an idea where we are headed.”
Oren was mildly surprised. “Who?”
“Your two passengers.”
Now Oren was more than surprised. “What do you know about our two passengers?”
“More than you I am guessing. When did they arrive on Taos?”
“Doctor, answer my question or this conversation is at an end.”
Simon ignored him and pressed on. “Because I saw one of them in town the other day, in my office, and dressed like a civilian, not an Alliance officer.”
“Which one?” Oren asked now intensely curious to see what was going on in his command.
“The dark haired one. Called himself Derek Bowen.”
“That’s not his name…not the one he gave me. He is Lieutenant Fisk. The other is Lieutenant Ames. And I don't know why they are being sent to Miranda except I have orders to take them there. I don't know if they know where they are going or not or if they know what is on Miranda.”
“Bowen, Fisk, whatever his name is, he’s lying to one of us,” Simon said. "Wait. Who ordered you to take them?"
"Fleet HQ. This is an Alliance ship now, Doctor, and I obey orders."
"And who ordered you to Miranda to pick up this person who is nameless?"
"The office of the Prime Minister. Special request from Blakely. What are you getting at?"
"Not sure. Just seems..odd."
“Not to me. Why did Fisk, Bowen, whoever he is, contact you? Is he ill?” Oren asked.
“No…not physically anyway,” Simon said and then he nodded to the infirmary intercom. “Captain, you better call the bridge and tell them to delay take off for a bit. I’ve got a lot to tell you.”
Shooting Paulo in the head was too good for him, too swift and not painless enough, Inara thought as she lay on her bed, planning on how to go about it now that she resolved to kill her husband. She had already ruled out hiring an assassin. There were such people available, but they could be a complication and the fewer people to know the better. No, Inara had to do it herself, had to do it in a way that no one would ever suspect and could ever trace to her. Paulo was part of an elite and she wasn’t. Nothing could protect her if it was discovered she murdered him.
Poison was the only way. She knew some could be undetectable in the body within a few hours after death. Maybe it wouldn’t be painless but at least he would be out of her life and Mal wouldn’t have to go through the ridiculous duel to satisfy Paulo and society’s honor. Inara sat at a Cortex screen on a desk in the corner of her room and after a thirty minute search she found what she needed. There was only place she figured she could get it and not be bothered by any questions or trouble.
Inara stood and went to a closet where her belongings were. She selected dark clothing, pants and sweater, no dresses or skirts, high brown leather boots with a flat heel, and a long brown leather jacket that belted in front. She top off her outfit with a forest green beret, took a stack of bills from a stash she had hidden in her cosmetics case, stuffed them in her jacket pocket and also took a small pistol she had hidden in another secret compartment in a suitcase. Mal had taught her about guns as she had tried once to teach him about swordplay, with her being more successful at learning the use of a weapon. She checked the slide mechanism and then the clip to make sure it was loaded and then put it in another jacket pocket.
Now to get out without attracting any attention from the Head Mistress. Companions were not slaves and could come and go as they pleased, work when and with whom they wanted, as long as Guild dues and percentages on outside client’s payments were paid per month. But Inara had been kidnapped and had ample reasons to do harm to Paulo Chase and the Head Mistress hadn’t gotten where she was by being a fool. She might have told the guards to not let her out or to warn her if she did. It was a chance Inara had to take.
Inara simply walked down the stairs and out the front door and not even the receptionist who greeted clients paused to look up from her fashion magazine to give Inara a look. It was a boring job, where Inara had herself started years ago. The two burley plainclothes guards at the front entrance just smiled and one of them politely opened the door for her. Inara breathed a small sigh of relief as she exited the building.
It was a bit chilly, almost fall on Sihnon, and Inara shivered a bit as she stood waiting for a taxi. It was a fashionable part of town and safe but where she was going wasn’t. Soon a taxi stopped and she got in.
“Where to, miss?” the driver asked. Inara couldn’t see him well, the backseat of the taxi sealed off from the front by a thick plexiglass, to protect the drivers from robbers. A small speaker was in the partition and a slot to slide in cash and a device for accepting credit and bank cards. Inara pressed the button on the speaker.
“The Dig, please.”
The driver hesitate a moment. “The Dig? Miss, that ain’t no place for a lady to be, day or night.”
“Don’t worry, I know the place well. I used to live there.”
“And you got out. Why the hell you wanna go back?”
“Never mind, I’ll get another means of transportation.”
“Hold on, hold on…just…my company won’t let me take the cab in there, you know? So I have to drop you off on Trumpeter Avenue.”
“That’ll do fine, thank you.”
“Your funeral lady,” the driver said and Inara just leaned back and let her mind think on what she had to do next.
“She took a taxi, here’s the company name and car number,” one of the guards said to the Head Mistress as he stood in front of her desk.
“Thank you,” the Head Mistress said as she took the piece of paper from him and then he left. She entered the number into her Cortex screen. After a few minutes she had the information she needed. She then went to another computer screen, one not connected to the Cortex and heavily shield for wireless protection. It was the Guild client list. She quickly entered some information, scanned it and found want she wanted, smiled slightly, then returned to the Cortex screen and typed in a wave address. After a few moments a burly, bearded man answered. He had streaks of grey in his hair, and soft brown eyes.
“Sunshine Cabs, where to miss?” said the man, barely looking at her, puffing away at a big cigar.
“Good evening, Charles. You remember me, of course?”
Now he looked at her and gulped, quickly put aside the cigar. “Francine?”
“Yes, Charles. It’s been a few years, but I remember you well. You have fallen a bit I see. I thought you owned this company and now you are answering fare waves?”
“The regular girl is out sick. So you need a cab?”
“Not in the least. I need information on a passenger one of your cabs picked up a few minutes ago in front of my place of business.”
“Sure thing, Francine. You got the number of the cab?”
“Yes, but do not contact the driver until he reports he is ready for another fare. I do not wish the passenger to know what is going on.”
“Got it,” the man said as she gave him the number and wrote it down. He looked at her and smiled. “Say, Francine, you still wouldn’t be…you know…entertaining gentlemen yourself these days, would you?”
She smiled and for an instant her years fell away. “Why, I am flattered Charles. No, unfortunately I am retired. All my time is spent keeping this house in order. But thank you my dear. I will be sending a fee to you for these services you have rendered.”
“Jeeze, you don’t gotta do that.”
“I do and I will. Please contact me when you have the information.”
“Will do, Francine,” he said and then the wave ended. She sat and waited for him to get back to her, thinking on her younger years, when men like Charles lined up to be with her. She was picky, as were all Companions, and she selected Charles because he had the look of a lost puppy, who just need someone to hold him for a few hours. He was a gentle lover, someone she might have married if life had turned out differently. He could only see her once or twice a year in those days, his business not affording him the luxury of many Companion visits. Francine had actually looked forward to those days. Then, one year, he just stopped coming. Later she found out he had gotten married. The wave bell brought her out of her reminiscing.
“Hiya, Francine. Cabbie says he dropped the fare off on Trumpeter Avenue, near corner of Whistler Street. It don’t look good. That’s edge of the Dig and he said she wanted him to drive her in there, but I don’t let my guys go in there. Too much scum.”
“The Dig?” the Head Mistress said in mild surprise. “Why thank you, Charles. I won’t forget you.”
He hesitated for a moment, then blurted it out. “My wife died, six months ago. Cancer.”
“Oh, I am so sorry,” she said and then quickly made up her mind. “Perhaps…perhaps…I could make an exception in your case. How does Saturday night sound?”
He smiled like a little kid at a birthday party. “You mean it? Jeeze, that’s swell, Francine. I’ll see you at 8.”
She said goodbye and ended the wave. It had been a while since she had a man. Maybe this time she’ll take one for more than just one night. But now she had more pressing things to do. She looked up her wave address book and selected a number. A voice answered, no image, meaning the user was on a portable comms device.
“Yeah, Miss Curtis?” came a gravelly older man’s voice.
“I need your services, John. The usual fee plus a bonus if it goes well. One of my ladies is down in the Dig, why I don’t know, but I want you to find out. I’m sending an image of her to your comms device now.”
She hit keys on the Cortex keyboard and a picture of Inara appeared and then was gone.
“She’s a looker,” John said after a few seconds. “Where in the Dig?”
“A taxi dropped her off on Trumpeter Avenue and Whistler Street less than five minutes ago. Find her, follow her and let me know what she’s up to, but do not contact her unless absolutely necessary.”
“And what do you consider absolutely necessary.”
“Saving her life.”
The Dig was the slums of Sihnon’s capital city and Inara knew it well from when her father was destitute and they were living down here. They had stayed less than a year, before he died and the Head Mistress saved her, but it was one of the hardest times of her life. Drugs, prostitution, male and female, homelessness, unemployment, too many bars and strip clubs, too much violence all were part of the Dig. It was called the Dig because years ago someone had started a massive construction project for low rent apartments but had never finished the project after digging the big hole for the foundations. The project was tied up in legal wrangling ever since and the hole and the concrete foundation supports remained. Now it was a place where children played in the day and garbage and bodies were dumped at night.
Inara walked with a purpose down a neon lit street full of bars and whorehouses, fingering her pistol in her pocket. People would kill her for even a fraction of the cash she had in the other pocket. There were few people on the streets, mostly johns picking up whores and Inara shuddered at the thought of being one of them. No protection, drugs, beatings, little money, not a life fit for a dog.
A few men approached her but she politely told them no, she was finished for the night. One was drunk, holding a bottle of some bluish liquor, and accosted her in Chinese and wouldn’t take no for an answer so Inara flashed the pistol, pointed it at his crotch, and told him to go fornicated with himself in Chinese and English while he still had his balls. He dropped his bottle and took off running. A few turns here and there and Inara arrived where she wanted to be, Tyler Chemists.
Bars covered the windows and there was no light, but the neon sign said it was still opened. Inara slowly opened the door and went inside. A bell rang somewhere and she guess she tripped some kind of hidden warning signal. She approached a counter that was behind thick plexiglass as an elderly man appeared through a door in the back behind the counter. He took one look at Inara and his hard features softened somewhat. He spoke through a small opening covered by a metal grill.
“Just about to close,” he said in an even calm tone.
“Mr. Tyler, do you remember me?”
“No. Why should I?”
“I used to come here a lot, to get medicine for my father.”
“Sorry, lots of people come here. I don’t remember.”
“That’s okay. I just to need to get something quick,” Inara said and then her mind drifted a bit. She wasn’t sure what she would have done if he had remembered her. Turn around and try somewhere else, if she could find a drugstore opened this late at night. But then again, she came to the Dig because she knew not many people asked questions about what you did as long as you paid well.
“Well, what is it?’ Tyler said a little impatiently when she didn’t continue.
Inara handed him a piece of paper through a slot. He picked it up, looked at it and then stared at her.
“And why would you want this?”
“My…cat….she’s old, she’s ill, and I want it to end and be painless.”
“There’s vets for that. Be cheaper, too,” he said as he stared at her. “You think carefully on how you want to…end it…for your ‘cat’?”
The way he said “cat” told Inara know he knew what she wanted it for. “Yes, I’ve thought about it. It's time my cat moved on.”
“Okay. But you were never here.”
“I was never here.”
Tyler nodded and turned and took out a key and opened a locked cabinet behind the counter. He picked up a pair of glasses and put them on, reading the labels of some bottles until he found it. He took the small brown bottle and put it on the counter.
“Two thousand,” he said and Inara didn’t hesitate or argue just took out the money and paid him.
“Ah…Mr. Tyler…how does it work?” Inara asked.
“Fast…ah, you mean how should you give it to your cat?’
“For what you want a teaspoon in a bowl of milk or its food will do the trick. There will be some pain, but it works fast. The bigger the cat, the more you should use. I’d throw the rest out when you are done. Unless you have more cats to kill.”
Inara smiled. “No. Just one. For now.”
She turned to leave and Mr. Tyler called to her. “Wait.”
She turned and looked at him. He took off his glasses, and his face showed sympathy more than anything else.
“Now I remember your father. He made lovely shoes. He was a good man. I know the story, everyone around here does. You give that son-of-a-bitch the whole bottle. He should suffer.”
Inara didn’t know what to do, her secret known. But she knew Tyler would never say a word to anyone. Inara felt a pain of loss for her father and almost started crying. “I will. Thank you.” she managed to mumble and then was out the door. She walked in a daze, the vial of poison in her pocket, turning and turning and then…she was lost.
“Not lost are we pretty lady?” said a slimy male voice and Inara turned and saw three of them, two men and a women, two with knives, and even in the dim light she saw the vacant stares and thin bodies and knew they were drug addicts. She pulled out her gun and they froze.
“Which way to Trumpeter Avenue?” she asked sweetly, almost hoping they would attack, feeling like killing something, a feeling that would have shocked her in the past. But not now, not that killing was on her mind. Some people just deserved to die.
“Ah…gah…ah…two blocks that way,” said one of the men, all nervous now, knife clattering to the pavement.
“Thanks,” Inara said and then backed up the street keeping her gun on them and then she turned and ran. Within a few moments she was on Trumpeter Avenue and after a long five minutes wait she managed to catch a cab back to the Guild House.
As she sat in the cab it began to rain and Inara stared out the windows at the city of her birth, her home, and felt like a stranger. She missed Mal, missed all of them, even Jayne and his crude remarks, and the old beaten down Firefly. They were her home and the only family she had in the whole verse.
She felt the bottle in her pocket and brought her mind back to the present. How could she get close enough to Paulo to give him the poison? Maybe she would have to seduce him after all.
“She went to a drugstore. It’s closed now but I’ll find out what she bought tomorrow,” John told the Head Mistress on his comms device.
“Was there any trouble?” she asked him.
“Nothing she couldn’t handle. Couple of punks tried to rob her but she pulled a piece on them. She’s tough, this one.”
“Thank you, John. Please inform me after you speak to the chemist.”
“Will do,” John said and was gone.
A drugstore? The Guild House had medicine and a doctor on call. If she was ill, Inara could have gone to him. A drugstore in the Dig? The Head Mistress knew Inara had lived there for a short time, but it was not a place one went unless one was doing something illegal or had no choice but to live there. What are you up to Inara? If she would wager on it, she bet it had to do with Paulo Chase and Malcolm Reynolds. It was time to learn more about Inara’s lover. She logged onto her Cortex screen and began to search for the man who captured Inara’s heart.
Mal couldn’t sleep well, too many things on his mind, and after a few hours got up and went to the kitchen area to get some water to drink. The ship was powered down for the night, in deep gloom except for the glow of small lights from the bridge area, just off the kitchen. Mal tried to be silent, not wanting to wake anyone up on this small ship. It was about two-thirds the size of a Firefly, big enough, but not to Mal’s liking. Not much room for passengers or cargo. The Rose was newer and cleaner than Serenity but he’d still stick to what he knew if he got the chance again. He was just groping in the gloom for a cup or glass when her voice startled the crap out of him.
“I can kill Paulo Chase for you,” River said from where she sat curled up in a chair by the table.
“You damn near just killed me,” Mal said in quiet anger and surprise “Don’t go sneaking up on folks when they ain’t ready.”
“If you were ready it wouldn’t be sneaking,” River replied in a low voice. “Besides, I was here first. You’re doing the sneaking, Captain.”
“Guess you got a point,” Mal said as he sat, forgetting about what he come for. “Why you up?”
“Not very sleepy, just weak. Thinking also…on too much.”
“Yeah. Me, too.”
“I can kill him. It’ll be easy. I’m already wanted for murder.”
“Much obliged for the offer but its something I have to do myself.”
“Zoe said you’d say that.”
“Did she now,” Mal replied not at all surprised. “Woman knows me as well as any other.”
“Inara won’t care how he dies,” River stated plainly.
“No, suppose she won’t. But I do. That man deserves to be tarred, feathered, drawn and quartered and then hung till he’s dead.”
“Those are archaic forms of punishment from Earth That Was,” River said as if reciting a history lesson. “A bullet in the brain pan is just as effective.”
“But not as painful,” Mal answered, almost grinning in the darkness. He and River had few chances to converse since he met her and mostly she was in a messed up state when he had to talk to her. Now it seemed almost they were like old allies planning on how to do in an enemy.
“No, not as painful. Perhaps your plan is better,” River said without emotion.
“You let me worry on the son-of-a-bitch. You got enough on your plate already.”
“Captain, what are you going to do with me when we reach Sihnon?” River asked suddenly, bringing up one of the things that had kept Mal awake.
“Reckon that gunship already got word to fleet HQ about us and where we are going. Cyro box won’t fool them again. Thinking it might be a good idea you stay aboard in that secret compartment till we are in the clear.”
“The crew won’t want that.”
“I reckon not. You can’t just walk in the front door. Sihnon is a Core planet. That means they got high tech everything to keep those they don’t want in out and find those they want to find. No way to get through and land somewhere out of the way. We’ll get boarded and inspected for sure. This time we may not be so lucky. They find you, jig is up for all of us.”
“Sihnon is a big planet. Wash can find a way.” River said with confidence.
“Maybe,” Mal said. “If the captain let’s him do the navigating and flying.”
“He will,” River said again with confidence. “He is in as much trouble as you if he gets caught with a fugitive.”
“I’m thinking he wants to kill us all and toss us out the airlock first.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll know if that crosses his mind the second it does.”
Mal smiled. “Good. Now, let’s get some rest.”
“I slept for two days. I need to think.”
Mal was about to stand and then said something that had been on his mind. He had detected a change in River, had noticed it when they were questioning River on Paquin and earlier tonight on the ship. She felt embarrassed and guilty about something.
“River, in a war situation, you do what you gotta do to survive. That’s all that matters and no one holds it against you if it brings you through the other side. I’ve done…done some terrible things…and let the guilt build up in me for a long time. It eats away at your soul. Don’t let that happen to you.”
“You shot two of your own men on a small knoll in Serenity Valley,” River said matter-of-factly. “You stopped a panic, held the position.”
Mal felt his mouth go dry and he found it hard to speak. “Inara or Zoe tell you?”
“No. I just…you know.”
Mal knew. “How long?”
“Since I started feeling better. After Ariel, when Simon started giving me the drugs, I was able to sort out a lot of thoughts crowding my head. I know a lot of things about the crew. I knew Inara was married to Paulo Chase, I know how Jayne got Vera, why Book became a Shepherd, how Simon and Kaylee loved each other so much before they even knew, how much Zoe loves Wash and he her, even though he is jealous of the relationship you and Zoe have. I just…know. I can’t help it or stop it. It just happens.”
“Did she know you could read minds?”
“You know who. Flowers.”
River did know who but had wanted to avoid this conversation, but at the same time wanted to talk to someone about her. “Janice? Yes, she knew, she knows a lot…about me.”
“Janice,” Mal said, hearing her first name for the first time. “She knew you were in the box, let you go.”
River told him what she had told Jayne and Zoe. As she spoke Mal detected a defensive tone.
“One thing I know is people,” he said after she finished, speaking in a calm, quiet way, not preaching or judging, just explaining. “And an Alliance officer just doesn’t throw away her allegiance and take a chance on ruining her career and ending up on a penal colony just because you told her a sad story. I don’t care what you did to survive, River. Just don’t go carrying any guilt with you.”
“I’ll try,” River said quietly and Mal just nodded and then was gone after getting his drink of water and River was alone with her thoughts. He knew what she had done, they all knew, but not the reasons. They thought she did it to get Janice to help her escape, had seduced her like Saffron had done to Mal and, River knew, tried to do to Inara. But Janice’s help had only come later, and Janice had offered to help, River hadn’t asked, and of course neither River nor Janice had any idea that it would be Janice to board the ship and open her cyro chamber. That was all just coincidence, which happens more often in life than most people think.
No, she had made love to Janice because she had wanted to and nothing more, had wanted to feel love from another human, wanted to be wanted. Now she wanted to tell someone, tell them how wonderfully fantastic it had been to be loved by another human, share it with someone. She started to feel disconnected again, too many emotions clouding her thoughts, and wished her brother was here. She could tell him everything and he would understand and not judge her. Where are you, Simon?
Simon was far away, on Serenity in the infirmary with Captain Oren, explaining the incredible tale of his sister.
“That’s unbelievable,” Oren said as Simon finished the story. Not all of it, nothing about Earth of course, but he told Oren about River and the academy and what Derek Bowen had told him. Simon left out the psychic part. “Two assassins? Right here?”
“Yes, and Bowen is scared. Asked for my help. The programming they underwent has left them unstable. My sister had an almost total psychotic break and I am still not sure what caused it or if she will ever recover. Bowen described symptoms like my sister has.”
“We’ll get to the bottom of this right now,” Oren said as he slid the door to the infirmary opened.
“What are you going to do?” a nervous Simon asked as he followed.
“Find out what they are really doing going to Miranda.”
Simon grabbed his arm and stopped him and then let go as Oren gave him a stern look.
“Sorry,” Simon said. “But I think we should be careful. These are two highly trained killers and they could only have been sent by Admiral Shin to Miranda for a mission and I’m thinking it has nothing to do with Reavers. No telling want they will do if we question them or interfere in the mission.”
“I’m sure we are quite safe. Shin is a serving officer going on four decades now. He is not going to jeopardize this ship and your wife. He knows what they are worth. Besides, I am their superior officer and they will obey me.”
“They are not soldiers, I keep telling you. They only answer to whoever is giving the commands and that’s Admiral Shin. That is if they are stable.”
“And if they aren’t?” Oren said with a slight nervousness in his voice.
“You heard what my sister did on that prison ship?”
He cleared his throat. “I’ve read the news reports.”
“Well, I’m sure they are all true. I’ve seen her do things, unbelievable things. She fought dozens of Reavers to save Kaylee’s life on Miranda. There are two Rivers on this ship.”
Oren’s eyes were wide and Simon knew he said too much. “Doctor, exactly what happened when you were on Miranda?”
Simon hesitated. “What did they tell you happened?”
“Well, as you know I was with the fleet that attacked the Reavers on Haven and Miranda. I was also on one of the teams that landed to find Cutter, so I know that whole heart attack story is bull. When given this assignment I was told a few things. I know that some kind of cure was developed and that the Reavers are being returned to the people they once were. But no one explained how they became Reavers or what role this ship played in this story.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t talk about that…. It’s complicated.”
As Oren contemplated this Kaylee’s voice came over the intercom.
“Captain Oren, boat’s all ready. We got a green light?”
Oren paused and then looked at Simon. “Maybe some day over a beer you can tell me all about it. For now, we do this your way. You try to find a moment to talk to Bowen, alone, and find out what is going on.”
“Be easier if we had more time…if something was wrong with the FTL once we get in the black.”
“Agreed. Inform your wife discreetly,” Oren answered and then went to the intercom and told Kaylee to make ready for liftoff.
Simon got word to Kaylee after they took off and Kaylee informed the pilot that the jump would be delayed while she did a quick diagnostic on the FLT drive. Simon was about to head below to find a way to talk to Bowen when suddenly the young man appeared in the aft stairway as Simon was going down.
“You wanted to speak to me Doctor Tam?”
Simon was startled but recovered quickly. “Yes…how did…never mind, I can guess.”
“I told you I am like your sister.”
“So it seems. Then you know what I want.”
“I don’t know the mission. My companion does, Ames, he does.”
“Is that his real name? I heard you are going by Fisk.”
“I’m sure that his not his real name as mine is not Fisk. All he told me was to get into uniform and come to this ship and we would be going to a place called Miranda. He is well trained in hiding his thoughts, as all of us are. I suspect he might know after all that I am a reader and that my loyalty is in question. He has been very secretive. Perhaps you can tell me why Serenity is going to Miranda.”
“I don’t know. Oren said we are picking someone up and dropping off some supplies.”
“Yes,” Bowen replied. “Oren doesn’t know who you are picking up either, just that it is urgent.”
Simon sighed. “Well, it seems we must wait until we arrive.”
“Your wife can dispense with the fake examination of the engine now.”
Bowen was about to turn back downstairs when Simon stopped him.
“Derek, are you having any more nightmares?”
He paused, looked at Simon intently and Simon sensed some sadness. “Every night. Sometimes…sometimes…I think I am going mad.”
“I can give you something, some medicine. It helped River.”
Bowen shook his head. “No. I can control my emotions while awake. I must be clear headed for what is coming.”
“No, Doctor, I don’t think you do. We are trained for many things, but mostly for assassination. I fear we are supposed to kill someone on Miranda.”
Simon was afraid of that. “Will you follow your orders?”
“Depending on the target. If an enemy of the Alliance, then I must.”
Simon tried not to think of River but couldn’t help it. Bowen smiled. “I would never harm River. She was my friend, as much of a friend as we could have in that place.”
Simon felt some relief. “What if isn’t an enemy?” he asked “What if its one of us or someone who is a part of the Alliance?”
“Then I will kill my companion.” With that he turned and headed down stairs, leaving Simon more worried than ever. If there was fighting to be done, someone was going to get hurt, or worse.
Serenity jumped into Miranda’s quadrant and was soon in orbit. Byrd had been informed of the ships pending arrival by Shin and had moved the fleet away toward Haven, so no one would pick up Serenity's arrival. Byrd was glad, not wanting to be anywhere near the place when Powers was killed. He had too many fiends in the fleet and the news would not be taken well. He ordered the crews to practice a war game, on how to deal with a rebel fleet if the renewed rebellion ever got that far out of hand, which seemed unlikely given it’s meager attempts to fight the Alliance so far.
“What’s this planet?” the pilot asked as they took up orbit.
“You just fly and let me worry about that,” Oren told him. “Once we land you are to vacant the bridge and not look out the windows.”
“Ah…roger that….sir,” the pilot said a bit surprised. “Can I ask why?”
“No, you can’t.” Oren said as he glared at the pilot. “Just follow the nav beacon for the landing point. Set us down and don’t do any sightseeing more than necessary.”
Oren was mad and on edge. Simon told him about his conversation with Bowen and it was clear no one knew what would happen when they landed. That did not make Oren happy at all.
Twenty minutes later they were over the capital city of Miranda and made an easy landing at the spaceport, where Kaylee had once found the glass for Serenity’s broken windows.
With some trepidation, Kaylee and Simon joined Oren and the two assassins in the cargo bay as the ramp came down. Oren had cleared out the rest and told them to stay on the upper decks and not get too nosy if they knew what was good for them. Simon had armed himself with a pistol he had secreted aboard when they had taken off to look for Mal that time and he made sure to take one for Kaylee, too. Oren had looked at them in mild surprise when he saw the guns, told Simon there were hundreds of Alliance people here, all well armed, but Simon simply told him that he would never set foot on this place ever again without a gun at his side.
The ramp came down and Justin Powers, in civilian clothing, a suit and tie, came aboard followed by several men and women in Alliance working uniforms who started unloading the cargo.
“Welcome to…well, you know where,” Powers said with a smile and Kaylee and Simon were pleasantly surprised to see him again.
“Colonel Powers,” Simon said as they shook hands. “I didn’t know you were still here. Good to see you again.”
“You too, Doctor,” he said and then turned to Kaylee. “It’s nice to meet the most famous mechanic in the verse.”
“Yeah, guess I wasn’t last time we met,” she said all bashful. “Wish I still wasn’t.”
“Some day you’ll look back on al this and be thankful,” Powers said and then he turned to Oren.
“Captain, permission to come aboard.”
Oren was flabbergasted to say the least. “Colonel…I was told to pick up a VIP but I didn’t know. I…I served with you in the war. I was just a green lieutenant junior grade then.”
Powers shook his hand. “It’s Mr. Powers now, Captain. I’ve resigned my commission.”
Oren was stunned. “But…but why, sir?”
“You and the verse will know soon enough,” he said and then turned to Bowen and his companion. “Ah, and who are these two officers?”
Oren and Simon’s suspicion radar went sky high. “Sir, you were not informed of their arrival?” Oren asked.
“No, I wasn’t,” Powers said and then he knew, and Oren knew, and so did Simon and, thankfully, so did Bowen. Ames went to shake Powers’ hand and as he did so his hand kept going up, formed a fist, and would have struck Bowen a death blow to the throat except for Bowen’s quicker reflexes which knocked the arm away at the last instance.
And then the fight was on. Powers leaped out of the way with a shout, his combat instincts on full, and his pistol came out of his inner suit jacket pocket as Simon, Kaylee, Oren and several Alliances people all pulled weapons. But there was no chance for a shot as the two assassins fought at close range, trading blows and kicks at blinding speed.
“Traitor!’ Ames shouted at Bowen. ‘He must die! We have orders!”
“You’re the traitor!” Bowen shouted back as he ducked a blow and got in a swift kick.
“Captain, what the hell is this?” Powers yelled as he circled to try to get a shot in at his assassin.
Before Oren could answer a large Alliance sergeant tried to enter the fray and a swift kick from Ames to the throat crippled him. He fell to the floor, gasping, as people shouted in surprise. Simon holstered his pistol and ran to the man.
“Simon! Watch out!” Kaylee shouted and then the fight neared Simon and he just jumped back as a fist swung wide.
Both Bowen and Ames were bleeding now, from the mouth, nose, and hands, and gasping for breath, still on their feet, moving and stalking each other, landing blows.
Simon pulled the sergeant back with some help and quickly saw he would die without an emergency tracheotomy.
Suddenly there was a gunshot and it was deafening in the cargo bay. Stillness came and there were no more grunts or sounds of fighting.
Powers stood with his pistol smoking, Ames shot in the upper right thigh, bleeding bad in spurting gouts. His scream of pain came just as Bowen struck a blow to his throat and then snapped his neck in a wrenching twist before Powers could tell him to stop. The blond assassin slid to the floor and was dead, the only sign of life the spurting blood that soon slowed to a trickle.
In the shocked silence no one moved for an instant. Then Simon was all business. “Kaylee! Get the stretcher!”
She snapped out of her fear and raced to the infirmary. Soon they had the sergeant in the infirmary and Simon was cutting open his throat and sliding in a tube, just in time to save his life, his bluish face turning pink again in minutes. Simon feared he might never speak again but he was alive at least.
Powers and Oren held their guns on Derek Bowen as he sat on the floor of the cargo bay next to his dead former companion. Many more Alliance people came and then Brenda and Jerry and the other Miranda people had arrived to see what all the fuss was about.
“You have some explaining to do,” Powers said with a grim tone to Bowen.
“We were sent to kill you,” Bowen stated flatly, not even looking at Powers or anyone else.
“By who?” Powers asked and he already knew the answer before it was even spoken.
Monday, March 23, 2009 3:39 AM
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