BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - SUSPENSE

CHRISK

The Bellerophon Baty Engine Heist - Chapter 9
Friday, June 5, 2009

Mal, Simon, and Kaylee have their showdown with Allena of the Santiago, and try to get out of the Conference building with their loot.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1090    RATING: 8    SERIES: FIREFLY

Part I

"No word from them?" Wash asked Zoe nervously.

"Nothing from Mal, or Kaylee, since they signalled that they were on the move from their assigned chambers," Zoe said, looking at Serenity's comm screen. "Inara sent a generic query signal through, but I pretty much had to assume that was for Mal, and he doesn't seem to have replied."

"I really don't like this," Wash muttered. "Jorge took his ship in. Why can't we?"

"If things start to look bad enough that there's nothing to lose by abandoning the plan... then we can try it," Zoe muttered. "For now - just have patience. Radio silence can be tough to take, especially if you're not seeing action yourself. We don't know. Things might be more or less on track."

"No, it's not going smooth," River said, in an odd imitation of Mal's speaking cadence and tonal patterns, though it wasn't really an imitation of the sound of his voice. "Why can things never go smooth?"

Zoe turned around to glare at River. "Doing that, it's not helpful."

"Okay, what about if I go down to the passenger's head and leave the hand dryer air blowers on all the way?" River countered.

"Still not the best idea I've ever heard in the 'Verse," Wash decided, "but if it would keep you out from underfoot, my vote is 'go for it.'"

"Nah, that wouldn't keep me engaged for long," River decided after a long, thoughtful moment. "You're stuck with me."

Wash sighed and checked the passive sensors again.

------------

"Mal Reynolds," the muscular, well armed woman said in a despairing groan. "You didn't just do what I think you did?"

"You're a smart lady, Allena," Mal answered evenly. "If you think that I did something, then you're probably right."

"Trying to lock us out of the lab with the goods in it?" Allena bit back. She had very short, orange-golden hair, and bright hazel eyes that seemed magnified by her spectacles, which were strapped around her head with a black rubber band - presumably so that they wouldn't fall off in the midst of a rough-and-tumble when she'd need them the most. Mal didn't have that much firsthand knowledge of this 'lady' - she was a recent recruit to Jorge's crew, from Ariel, but he'd heard that the spectacles served two functions. One, she actually would need them to read something close up, since she'd never gotten contact lenses or eye surgery to correct a mild case of farsightedness. However, the glasses were also rigged to show her computer search results and sensor scans without occupying any space in her hands. At the moment, one of those hands held a sawed-off shotgun, and the other had a mini-trank dart thrower.

There were two other people in the corridor, aside from Allena, Mal himself, and Simon - one of them looked every inch a gunman - not any taller than Simon, and maybe skinnier, but carrying a piece almost as impressive as Vera, and also a nasty glint in his eye that said he was just itching for a chance to use the gun. The last man was skinny as well, and about as tall as Mal, and he couldn't quite get a read on this person. He had a gun and a knife on his belt, but hadn't made a move to grab either yet.

"That's exactly what I've done," Mal confirmed cheerily. "Unless the door you really want is one that was already locked, not the one that I just came out of..."

"I rather doubt that... we're both working off Badger's information, so you know how complete that is," Allena told him with a sneer. Mal honestly wasn't sure if the Badger files could have led him to this door, without Simon's experiences and their further inside research to help them out. "I was planning to simply blast our way in, but... hmm, interesting. You seem to have already compromised the entry panel." Allena considered, then holstered the shotgun on her back and tried pressing the 'open' feed on the mess of door circuits. Nothing happened, except...

Simon launched himself at Allena with a throaty roar. Mal tried to hold the doctor back, but wasn't in time to stop the mercenary woman from firing a dart into Simon's lower thigh. He stumbled and managed to catch himself against the wall, sinking to his one good knee. "Not a wise move, whoever you are," she snapped. "Okay. Terrin, the plastique?"

"You don't need that," Mal blurted out. "We've still got an ID key into that lab."

Allena stared dubiously at him. "Sorry, what? You expect me to believe that you'd make such a point of locking us out of the lab, and then helpfully point out that we can unlock it with your ID?"

"I... I didn't think it through," Mal told her. "No particular reason to force you into using an explosive." He smirked. "I don't really trust you to use it right, and neither of us wins if the engine gets damaged. Not to mention, I lose if *I* get damaged."

Allena's stare got even more intense. "I... I don't really think that you'd have worked some booby-trap or alert into your own code, but... but I do believe that you've got some sort of a plan up your sleeve, Reynolds. First off, hand my friend over here that piece." Mal hesitated, and then passed the gun to the tall man, who had been holding the explosive putty, and put it carefully away. Then Allena bent carefully over to examine the door controls. "These have been adjusted using a circuit flasher, and I can't tell to what extent - but why did you need to make adjustments if you have the access code?"

"We weren't sure that the code would work at night, or that it wouldn't flag a warning this late," Mal said, honestly enough. "So - so I cut off the communication with the central security computer."

"You did this... yourself?"

"Umm, no."

"Buddy over there?" Allena gestured at Simon.

"Yes," Mal lied as smoothly as he could. After poisoning Simon, she probably wouldn't try to interrogate him, and Mal needed to keep Kaylee's presence here a secret for as long as he could. "He's not bad with all that computer stuff."

"Why didn't he just cut the fibre cable?"

"I... I don't honestly know," Mal admitted.

"That might have been auto-detected," the short gunman said, and then mumbled something more quietly, almost like a nervous tic.

"It could indeed," Allena admitted. "Necoy, can you tell if the door circuit is really blocked from central?"

"I think so," he said, drawing out a circuit-flasher-multi-tester like Kaylee's, in the off hand from his gun. "Pump some sample data in, and watch the network line. Instament." Mal backed away slightly, at Allena's gesture, and stepped close to Simon. He'd noticed that the good doctor was fiddling with something in one of his pockets, and whatever was going on, if he could screen it from Allena's sharp eyes, that would be good.

It took maybe two minutes or more before 'Necoy' had confirmed what Kaylee had done inside the door security panel, which was time well earned in Mal's book. He hoped that Kaylee was investing it shrewdly. "Okay, yeah, we're good to go, Reynolds," Necoy finally decided. "Anotherly."

"Huh?" Mal asked. "Another what?"

"Don't pay attention to those words," Allena told him crossly. "He's got a kind of Tourette's."

"Where does he keep them?"

"Reynolds!!"

"The turrets," Mal mumbled to himself, but he headed over to the door, offered his ID bracelet, and let Allena grab his hand and swipe his wrist near the door sensor. There was a moment's pause.

"Okay, why isn't it working, Reynolds?"

"Well - because it's not my ID that has access," Mal told her forthrightly. "I said that *we* still have an ID that would do it, not me."

"Gorram it, if you use a pretext to stall me one more time, then I will take a bit of that plastique, and dab it *under your chin* before setting it off," Allena swore, charging over to Simon and grabbing him by the left arm. For a moment Mal thought of trying to make a grab for Necoy's gun. He'd have done it if he thought that Simon had a fighting chance of taking out Allena, leaving just mister tall - or Terrin, if that was his name - for Mal to settle with. But no, it was a better bet by a wide margin to let them open the door, and see what Kaylee had been doing while she was waiting. She *had* to have understood what Mal was up to, and the lab was full of ingredients to someone with a mind like hers. But had there been enough time to get a recipe mixed up and baked??

Mal tried to back away from the door just enough, without being too far to help out if that was required. The door panel was lying on the floor about five feet away from where it had been fixed, and he gravitated towards that as the only likely weapon to have to hand. Necoy took Simon's bracelet - Allena must have ripped it away from his hand, and swiped it over the sensor. It took a moment, and then the door slowly slid back open. The three robbers from 'Santiago' exchanged looks, then Necoy and Terrin went inside to check the lab out, while Allena stepped closer to Mal, covering him with her gun. Uh-oh...

Mal was expecting it more than Allena when a huge roar of flame erupted from inside the lab, followed by shrieks and howls of pain, but though he was able to grab the panel and draw his wrist back, he didn't quite manage to make a decent throw before Allena shot him. The ripple of pain hit him first, but even as he tried to catch himself, he was thinking: 'Leg shot, well clear of the major arteries and veins. I'm almost insulted that she thinks this'll keep me entirely out of the action - but maybe she really doesn't want to kill me, yet. And I certainly won't be able to manage much, with this little liability, and no real weapons. And Simon's out of action, and Kaylee's spent her big surprise. It'll be all up to her now.'

He was not able to tell what happened inside the lab in the next minute, but Allena forced Kaylee outside at gunpoint, searching her roughly through the black dress, and yelling at her the whole time. "What the hell did you think that you were doing, you little bitch? Those were good men - Necoy is dying, and Terrin might not make it either. You're going to have to help me move the engine, you had some scheme up your sleeve before we showed up, didn't you? And then, I'll take you with me, and we'll see if Reynolds' people will negotiate for their prodigy engineer. No one's going to save you from me, little innocent one - both of your men-folk have been taken care of but good, and..."

"I... I wouldn't count on that," somebody stage-whispered just loud enough to be heard under Allena's rantings. She turned around - and suddenly got a scalpel embedded in her torso just below her collarbone, and Kaylee took advantage of the distraction to struggle free. At least, Mal thought for a moment that Allena was just distracted and Kaylee was struggling against the fierce mercenary woman, who would be determined to keep hold of her prisoner. Then he realized that Allena was collapsing in a heap, and the only struggling that Kaylee was doing was to not end up underneath the other woman.

"What, what's going on?" Mal muttered out loud, bemused. "That's such a small blade, and it didn't hit a vital point. How did that take her out?" Finally, unwillingly, Mal looked up to meet the gaze of the only person who could possibly explain what had happened to Allena - Simon Tam.

Simon was more alert than Mal would have thought, though he was using one hand to prop himself up against a wall. And there was a fierce little smile of triumph on his face. "She - she shouldn't have tried to use poison against a doctor," he muttered. "Just gave me... gave me ideas. Well, one idea, really, aside from antidoting myself, which - well, which I guess was just an obvious response to the sitch - situation."

"You kept your emergency kit under the guard's uniform?" Kaylee confirmed with a bright smile, and Simon nodded benignly. "Smart." Kaylee stepped up to favour her rescuer with a kiss on the cheek, then immediately returned to business. "I don't think all of this action was covered on the security cameras - we have distractions and diversions aplenty, especially courtesy of 'Santiago', but still - considering how valuable that engine is, somebody will be checking on the lab soon. We'd better git. And I'm the only one who's in decent shape?"

"You've got me beat for health, but not by an order of magnitude," Simon insisted. "And Mal - I want to check that bullet hole..."

"Not until we're safely in the shuttle, doctor - WITH our loot," Mal insisted, and followed Kaylee into the lab. This time, the door had been fixed open somehow, and they all saw the two fallen mercenaries in the area near the doorway.

"I... I don't think that they're either of them as badly hurt as Allena said," Kaylee insisted doggedly. "Especially not if Fed coppers catch them. They do give prisoners good medical care, right?"

"Usually, yes," Simon assured her, and Mal kept quiet, knowing that while that wasn't a complete lie, the truth was more complicated. "We do need to leave them to the security forces. Ehm, what about the floater rig?"

"Well, I was *rudely* interrupted in the middle of fixin' that up," Kaylee pointed out. "But it shouldn't take too long to arrange, even so."

"Good enough," Mal told her - or grunted, more like. "Minutes are in short supply here."

"Don't I know it," Kaylee said, grabbing some field emitters and a stretch of power cable.

-------------

"Did you say 'Santiago?'?" Jayne whispered to Book, his entire face drawing down into an angry frown. "Oh, no, that's bad news. Mal's already captured or being tortured or something, I know it for sure. This information is hours old by now, isn't it?"

"Yes, I'm afraid it is," Book said, taking the huge mercenary's arm in a gentle and reassuring way and leading him around the Maren's cottage. "But what makes you so sure that... that the caper has gone so badly south? Malcolm has faced great odds before and triumphed over them. He's a very resourceful man, and an inspiring leader. Whoever Santiago is, can he really be able to stand so surely against that?"

"First off, Santiago isn't a 'he,'" Jayne told the preacher in a witheringly superior tone. "It's... well, it's another ship. A firefly-class like ours, and the Santiago crew is... is one of the meanest band of bandits on this side of Londinium."

"Which side?" Book asked, curious. "I, I mean it doesn't matter, but - if you mean a literal 'side' as in a direction in space, then no planet remains on the same side of another, in the Verse, forever. That's the nature of planets orbiting in a stellar system. And if you mean in terms of the far extreme distances of the system being one 'side' and the deep inner core being the other, then this side of Londinium includes most of the Alliance, as well as the lawless regions beyond... and I suppose perhaps that's the way you intended to put it. Never mind. They're capable criminals, then? Do you have any names?"

"Huh, would I have names?" Jayne chuckled. "Yeah, but you wouldn't know folk like that, Shepherd, now would ya? The thing is, they're not just capable, the Santiago crew are..." Jayne and Wash turned around a corner then to another side of the house, and realized that Rickard and Juli were both sitting out on a sort of a back deck, in wooden armchairs - she was presumably looking at him, and he was looking at the two intruders. As soon as Jayne stopped ranting, Book could hear the faint sound of insects and birds out in the nearby forest. With these kind of acoustics, he had no doubt that the scientists had been able to hear every word that they'd been saying when they got out of the building to 'avoid being overheard'. Right. "Well, hump me for a *da-goo yang*..."

"Please, I'd rather not," Rickard said, with a very self-deprecating and civilized sort of a smile. "In fact, well, not to put too fine a point on it, but this secrecy is almost starting to verge on the ludicrous. You've said nothing that compromises yourself or your own crew-mates, and we'd already deduced that your primary vessel was Firefly-class. As the example of this 'Santiago' makes somewhat more clear, there must be hundreds of parties, many of dubious repute, who have taken to traveling from world to world in exactly such ships looking for work, so the information would be of almost no use in tracking you down." He sighed. "Please. I'm as concerned as you are, though I'm not sure why, and... And I'd like to at least know as much as you do about the danger to your friends."

"'Friends' is pushing it somewhat, and if you want to know more, then... then I'm afraid I have one thing that I really do need to settle out first," Jayne said, walking around and leaning against the wall of the building with sudden resolution in his face. "Juli - did you really drug my coffee when I was on night watch? And why??"

Book groaned to himself. Wasn't it just like Jayne to ask something like that straight out, heedless of the consequences of the forces that he was invoking? But subtleties of the relationship between Juli and Rickard aside, (and Jayne had never really been much of a one for subtleties,) he was right, that they needed to understand Juli's motivations before telling her any more, no matter how tangential it seemed. That fact that they had been keeping from Rickard, out of sensitivity for his marriage, had been the justification for what he considered ludicrous secrecy.

"Drugging you?!" Rickard exclaimed first, beating his better half to a reply. "Why, the very suggestion is preposterous, and if you do not withdraw that... that insinuation against my *wife* this moment, then I'm afraid I'll be forced to challenge you..." He had risen to his feet to this point, and would look somewhat threatening if Jayne weren't so much taller and brawnier...

"Challenge me?" Jayne roared with laughter. "To what, a trivia contest??"

"Rickard, don't try to defend my honour," Juli said softly, and somehow her quiet tones immediately commanded Book and Rickard's attention. Jayne was lost in his own jokes and made a few other jibes at Rickard before he realized that things had changed. "It's rather pointless at this particular point in the sequence of events."

Rickard paled slightly, and tried to back into his chair - without success, and ended up sprawled on the white paving stones. Juli hurried over to help him up. "You - you really did - what, slip him some of your experimental compounds?"

"Potassium pentothal," she explained simply. "It's nothing original to me - something that I was using on the white rats as a sedative, back when I was working on... well, you know. On larger mammals, it can lead to suggestibility and honesty as well as soporiphics."

"And what did you ask me, when you knew that I'd be honest?" Jayne roared. "Did you try some post-hypnotic tricks, as well? WHY?"

"No," Juli retorted, turning to Jayne, her eyes fierce in the planet-shine and starlight. "If I'd really hypnotized you, you'd probably have noticed something remarkable enough to seem unusual about your behaviour since. I'm not that good at it, and not patient enough to leave a trigger that would last for days without being reinforced." Her face quirked slightly. "I admit, I did think of a few irresistible seductress scenarios that were - interesting, but I guess I wasn't feeling quite certain enough to cross the lines that would be involved there. Also, I knew that I didn't have much influence over your friend, so if he happened to figure it out - well, which I guess he did even after I used my self-restraint."

"There's a question that our guest asked and you haven't answered," Rickard said pointedly. "Two actually. What did you ask him while he was under the influence, and why?"

"All kinds of things, okay?" She asked. "I shouldn't tell you all of it, because... because it WILL tend to incriminate them. But that's okay, because when the Alliance police come to look for Rickard and Juli Maren, to ask them about what happened at the conference - I won't be here to answer questions. You can stay or go too as you wish - in fact, if you want to come with me, I... I'd still like that. But - but I won't be going back to a laboratory in the Core like we came from, or another hermit's house like this one. Not sure where I will go, or what I'll do, but - but I can't take any more of this isolation from the rest of the 'verse." She took an unsteady breath, her eyes fixed on Rickard, and Book wasn't sure, but he thought she might be starting to cry. "Not even all my love for you could keep me here, not any longer."

Rickard blinked, then he reached up to stroke her cheek - looked away to Book and Jayne as if resenting the fact that they were observing this moment in his life, but Book wasn't about to move, not without one of the Marens making much more of a fuss about it at least, and Rickard didn't make any particular fuss. "Why... why didn't you tell me like this, that you were so unhappy with the life that we'd made here?" he said so softly. "I mean, well, I'd realized that you were feeling restless, and... and--" He melted into a rich, throaty laugh that had a hint of something dark at the bottom of it. "I'd been thinking of saying something about that to you, about how much time you'd been spending hiking and taking such frequent trips to town, and if you wanted to go somewhere a bit further afield with me come the summer. If - if I'd been too late, if I woke up one morning and you just never came back... how could I have been so foolish as to keep putting it off?"

Juli smiled slightly. "So - so you want to come along?"

"Yes. We'll do it right - pack up everything we need, activate the strongest security setting, and message an estate agent about selling the property - if that's okay." She nodded. "I even have an idea about where to go, somewhere a bit more exciting, where legal issues won't prove much of an issue. There's a short man on Persephone, who's been interested in our work. Calls himself Bushpig or Baboon or something like that..."

"BADGER?!" Jayne exploded. "We bent ourselves over backwards trying to keep our lives a secret from you, and now that it's all over you just take over and go to work for Badger in secret??"

Rickard turned very slowly and stared at Jayne for a while before speaking. "You have a connection of your own to the gentleman in question?"

"Badger is no gentleman, I'd say," Book put in. "However, it is on his commission that we have come here - to steal an unsealed prototype Baty engine and deliver it to him to experiment on, and see if he can replicate it and subvert the Alliance government monopoly."

"So if we go to this Badger fellow, he'll probably put you to work on that, my heart," Juli said with a sigh. "I'm not sure I find that any more appealing than staying here - Persephone is a world under Alliance law, even if the criminal underbelly is notorious. If this Badger is protecting us, wouldn't that mean keeping us in isolation, no matter how crowded the surroundings are?"

"I suspect it doesn't have to be that way," Book said. "Badger would be capable of providing you new ID documentation, with which you can start over and make new lives in Eavesdown."

"And if that isn't enough for you, then we'll look for something else," Rickard promised. "All I ever really wanted was to make you happy - and if I've gotten too set in my ways to see that you weren't, then I deeply apologize." He turned back to see Book and Jayne still watching, and returned to his seat, pulling Juli playfully onto his lap - and she went without any objection. "Does this satisfy your concerns about the secrecy, and Juli's actions?"

Jayne just shrugged, and Book considered silently to himself for a long moment. He was still a bit disquieted by the evidence of Juli's deviousness, but she hadn't given any real cause to suspect that she would betray the Firefly crew, and if she intended to be far away from Alliance law, not even giving a statement to deny involvement in this heist, then certain details could indeed be discussed further. Rickard was a slightly different case - he would only be leaving to be with his wife, and if they had some further disagreement, they might separate and he might try to return to his quiet life here - but he would be drawing suspicion on himself by leaving at this point, and even telling the story about the impostors wouldn't easily free him from that taint. Hopefully he was street-smart enough to realize it. "Yes, I suppose, for the moment. What else do you want to know about?"

"The Santiago and her crew," Juli asked eagerly, her eyes wide.

Book shrugged and gestured to Jayne. "Very serious bunch of scofflaws, definitely. The boss of the gang, Jorge Vasquez, is an accomplished pilot, though he doesn't always fly 'Santiago' himself, and a great criminal mind. Not as great with the inspiring people skills as some that I could mention, but being good with his eyes and an eight-shooter helps to cover up for that lack. Then there's Allena, his new number two, the right-hand woman. Cold as ice and strong as... well, as something pretty strong. What're those big-ass he cows called?"

"Strong as a bull?" Juli asked, trying to stifle a giggle.

"Yah, that'll do."

"What about support staff on the ship?" Book asked quietly. "Ever heard about the non-muscle people working for him?"

"Hmm... can't say that I have, but he probably does have some." Jayne shook his head. "There was a mechanic, a short 'Riental type guy, that I saw when I actually made a tryout to work for Jorge on the Santiago. That was maybe two years back, and he told me that he had enough dumb muscle. Vreh." Jayne spat into the crack between four of the paving stones. "I really don't like that his people are messed up in this, though."

"Still, I think there's a good chance that it'll end okay," Book said calmly. "Unfortunately, we can do little but wait and see, from here."

-------------

Under Kaylee's direction, the break-in party had managed to get to the exterior doors before encountering more problems. Simon was very glad that Mal had made the change in plans to bring her along instead of sending her off with Inara - they'd have been in trouble several ways without her, probably captured by Allena and unable to stop her from getting the engine.

But whatever distractions and diversions Kaylee's programming and the Santiago crew had provided, they hadn't stopped some clever boy, (or girl, or possibly an automated circuit in the computer system,) from locking down the entire sector of external doors to the building. Simon almost got a severe electrical shock from the door handle, but Kaylee spotted the little red danger light just in time - he brushed his hand close enough to get slightly buzzed after she shouted a warning to him, but nothing more than an annoyance, as it turned out.

"Just let me get the signal pen, and talk to Inara," Mal mumbled. "She can blow the door in."

"You're delirious," Simon diagnosed. "First, I don't think there's a prearranged signal for 'blow the door in.' Second, even if there were, what weaponry did you smuggle into the shuttle? Conference security swept every vehicle that landed, remember."

"Don't even encourage him, Simon," Kaylee suggested. "In fact, you take him -" She encouraged Simon to allow Mal to lean against him, and maybe check on the bandaging, "and this as well..." That was the levitator controls. "I'll see if I can do something about the doors..."

"No, come on." With only a little unsteadiness, Simon bent down to the little access panel with a twenty button keypad, little screen, a few larger buttons, and one data access port, into which he quickly inserted a pen. "I... I know that you're used to being Miz fix-it with anything involving machines or inanimate objec... with things that aren't living in the traditional sense. That's good, since usually, I'm not so good on anything WITHOUT a heartbeat." Kaylee tried to press past the floating engine, Mal, and Simon, but found herself blocked for the time being. "But - but I'm not entirely helpless when it comes to computer systems either, Kaylee my dear. Did just about grow up surrounded by them, after all, and I was coding systems before I even decided that I wanted to be a doctor." Now his fingers were fairly flying around the keypad, using multiple taps to enter commands in an alphabet that the system hadn't been originally conceived to handle. "Ash me... ask me what I'm doing."

"I, I'm not going to ask, just to satisfy your ego," Kaylee told him warningly.

"Well, then I'll tell you. I happen to be..."

"You're using backdoor codes and trying to access the system from here, without getting locked out. And doing well, too, but still, I wish that you'd move aside and let me get in there before you..."

"Before I mess up?" Simon exclaimed, not stopping what he was doing. "That's what you think of me, isn't it? Poor Simon, can't do anything without making a mess of it. I didn't make a mess out of Ariel, well, not entirely at least, and the problem with the police at Saint Lucy's was NOT MY FAULT. I... I would be happy to let you take your turn if it weren't simply more convenient this way, and faster, which helps because we don't have the time to juggle around. There are a few things that I can do just as well as you can, Kaylee Frye." He tapped a few last buttons, and withdrew the data pen. "And one of them would be..." He reached out to push on the door handle, and yelped as it shocked him again, harder this time. "Son of a...." Simon whirled around to look at Kaylee, who was struggling with a stray chuckle. "Go ahead, say that you told me so," Simon grumped. "I... I mucked us up right and proper, didn't I?"

"No," Kaylee said, and managed to get close enough to kiss him, as Mal opened his eyes just enough to roll them. "I... I probably didn't give you enough credit, because you did enter every command and access every security code correctly."

"Then why didn't it WORK??"

"Because you weren't patient enough," Kaylee told him, "and the codes didn't take full effect until five seconds after you tried the door. Now, let's get a move on, before they realize what we've done and manage to lock it again."

"Right," Simon said, somewhat dazed by the kiss. He pushed the door handle a third and final time, and this time it did NOT shock him and let him push it open. He hurried out of the building, for the first time in days actually, (not counting an inside patio garden on the fourth floor of the main building,) rushed towards the waiting shuttle - and got zapped in the butt by a powerful charge of invisible energy, collapsing onto the well-mown lawn.

"SIMON!" Kaylee exclaimed. She almost rushed outside herself, but wasn't sure what she could do except get zapped herself. Was that the security forces - or someone that the Santiagos had left to cover their own retreat? (Kaylee knew that she shouldn't call them that, wouldn't like someone else calling her crew the Serenities, but still...) She wouldn't have expected anyone working for Jorge Vasquez to use a non-lethal force, but maybe they thought that it would be valuable in this circumstance.

Before Kaylee realized it, Mal was on the move, pushing past the floating engine, and past Kaylee herself, out the door, with his hand on his gun. Kaylee expected to see and hear him get zapped any moment, but didn't. Instead, she saw and heard Mal aim his gun, and fire - and there was no replying shot, even then.

There arguably wasn't any need for one after a few seconds, though, because Mal lost his balance and measured a good length of the lawn all by himself after that much stress and exertion after the hit that he'd taken. Kaylee waited just a few more seconds herself, and then decided to risk the door herself. If she got zapped - well, then, she'd worry about what happened after that when the stun wore off.

But there was nobody apparently around to shoot a zapper at her - one more fallen figure was on the mansion grounds, near another entrance - Mal's aim must have been true, and presumably it HAD been a confederate of Allena and the others, if he (or she) had been alone. Inara was rushing out of the shuttle too, and Kaylee fumbled for the floater controls, knowing that they had to haul both of the men-folk inside AND get the loot on board, before the real Alliance coppers showed up. And hope that there was nobody ready to intercept the shuttle in the air.

As she remote-controlled the engine in through the cargo hatch, standing next to Simon so that she could do her best to lift him up as soon as that little chore was done, Kaylee noticed the Firefly ship sitting a little further away down the lawn, and she had to fight back the usual sensations of 'that's home' that the simple outline of such a vessel could still bring to her. That ship had to be 'Santiago', and it was not home to her, or anybody like her true family. It irritated her, actually, that such a bunch of scoundrels could live in a Firefly as well, could own her and fly her and keep her in good repair nearly as well as she took care of Serenity. The Alliance might not count that as a crime, but Kaylee couldn't agree with such an assessment, though she couldn't put into words why it offended her quite so much, so...

"Come on!" Inara said, and Kaylee realized that she'd been just standing there lost in thought, after the engine had been lost inside the cargo hatch. Mal was already gone - how had Inara managed to take him inside so fast, especially considering that she'd have wanted to take care with the gunshot wound. Was Inara Serra stronger than she seemed? "I'll take the shoulders and support his genius-ey head, if you take a hold of the ankles? Yeah, okay."

In only a minute and a half more, Simon was lying in one of the bunks to recover from his electrical jolt, and Inara was flying her shuttle up towards a stratospheric reunion with 'Serenity.' "One more good thing about this Jorge character barging in, is that they might figure that we were one of Santiago's shuttles," Inara pointed out. "There was only one docked when she landed - I'm not sure where they other might be."

"Nowhere that it'll cause us more problems, I hope," Kaylee said, though she actually felt the nervousness more than the hope."

"No, I don't think that we'll need to worry about it," Inara said evenly. "Oh, and Book said that there's some interesting news about your alter-egos, the real Rickard and Juli Maren."

"What now?" Kaylee exclaimed.

"You'd probably better be sitting down for this."

"Umm, look to your right."

"Hmm?" Inara spared one glance away from her flying. Kaylee had taken the co-pilot's seat immediately next to her, not touching any controls. "Oh, right, okay. Well, apparently Juli is tired of the hermit's life, so guess where hubby is suggesting that they go next?"

"I, I have no idea," Kaylee mumbled... and was fast asleep before Inara managed a reply.

TO BE CONTINUED...

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Kaylee and Zoe throw a wake for Wash, and River lands them on Hera - a little too hard and in an unexpected setting.

Falling through the Deep Slot - Part Four
The crew rally to save Kaylee when she is knocked out on her spacewalk, but don't get to her before she has an out-of-verse experience.

The Bellerophon Baty Engine Heist - Chapter 10
Kaylee and Simon figure out what their next step is, and Mal gets his bullet wound patched up.

The Bellerophon Baty Engine Heist - Chapter 9
Mal, Simon, and Kaylee have their showdown with Allena of the Santiago, and try to get out of the Conference building with their loot.

The Bellerophon Baty Engine Heist - Chapter 8
Mal, Kaylee, and Simon head off on their daring theft, counting on the fact that the Santiago crew is coming up quick behind them.

The Bellerophon Baty Engine Heist - Chapter 7
Kaylee starts to work her way through the security system protecting the prototype engine, but Wash and Zoe find out that another crew is getting ready to move in on the prize!

The Bellerophon Baty Engine Heist - Chapter 6
As the scam progresses, Simon struggles to control his attraction to Kaylee, and Inara starts to come up with a plan of her own.

The Bellerophon Baty Engine Heist - Chapter 5
The conference's first night proceeds, and a few dangerous lines are crossed.

The Bellerophon Baty Engine Heist - Chapter 4
The conference starts, and Mal isn't as comfortable going undercover with Inara as he expected.

The Bellerophon Baty Engine Heist - Chapter 3
Mal, Inara, Kaylee, and Simon prepare for their undercover mission at a scientific conference, while Book and Jayne find a new calling as hostager/babysitters.


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