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River's Run - Part 14
Thursday, June 18, 2009

Battle rages through Serenity as the crew tangles with an Alliance boarding party.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1273    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

River’s Run – Part 14

Serenity drifted without power in a seldom traveled corridor near the Ariel system. The events of the last 24 hours had brought terror, heartache, and now fear to the crew. A simple withdrawal from a bank on Ariel turned deadly as Alliance police showed up to arrest Inara Serra for the murder of her husband Palo Chase on Sihnon. In the ensuing escape, Mal had killed two Alliance policemen and Jayne had been wounded in the shoulder, again. Not too many hours later Derek Bowen had been awaken from his slumber, had walked to the bridge, received a message to kill the crew, and then tried to do just that. Justin Powers was dead, Mal hurt, and Derek was dead from River’s hand. And now a new enemy was stalking them, an Operative of the Parliament, who had somehow built an FTL ship that had just appeared out of nowhere and zapped Serenity with a blue bolt of EMP. As Kaylee, her father and Mary frantically struggled to get power to the ship, Mal started to set in motion his plan to repel boarders. But before anyone could move, a new crisis struck the ship and its gallant crew.

Kaylee knew it was going to happen, she just hoped she could get power restored before it did. Her father also knew it was coming and was the first to notice as a tiny loose screw in the engine room suddenly floated up and hung in the air in the beam of his flashlight.

“It started, Kaylee,” he said in a worried tone.

“Drat!” she said in an uncharacteristic manner. She was on her hands and knees in back of the engine, just removing the last bolt from a floor grating. Down below were the batteries, a large bank of them, and Kaylee had them set to be off line in case of what had just happened. The batteries were shielded from EMP and she just hoped she had given them enough protection from the bolt that had just struck them.

On the bridge, things also began to float and as people began to move toward the corridor in the semi-darkness to start getting armed, they began to feel lighter and had trouble getting their footing. Mal and Zoe caught each others eyes.

“The grav ring,” Mal said and Zoe just nodded.

“What?” Gabriel Tam said in the darkness from somewhere. “What’s happening?”

“Grav ring needs power,” said Mal. “No grav ring, no gravity. That calls for a change of plans.”

Before anyone could ask what he meant, Mal started heading toward the dining area, grabbing onto things to help him move, his feet barely touching the floor. In the dining room, things were also starting to float and if they could have seen better it would have been very surreal. He made his way to the engine room and yelled down the hall as he moved, followed by the others

“Kaylee!!” his shouted, his head aching from the pain.

“She’s under the grating, going for the batteries,” Jonathan yelled back.

“Tell her to hold off on that for a minute,” Mal said as he finally reached the engine room and was comforted by the flashlights Jonathan and Mary were holding. Have to put few of those on the bridge, he thought.

Kaylee had heard him. “Hold off, Capt’n? We need power, gravity!” she yelled from somewhere below.

“No,” Mal said. “Not yet. Not while no power and no gravity give us an advantage.”

“What advantage?’ Jayne asked from somewhere behind Mal.

“Go get your grenades and I’ll show you.”

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

River felt herself floating, ever so lightly off the deck of the cargo bay and then realized she had been slightly stunned by the missile explosion that had torn away the Cricket.

“River!” she heard her brother yelling.

“Over here,” she said calmly. “Stay there. I’ll make my way to you.”

“What happened to the gravity?” Simon said from the darkness and River sensed where he was and pulled herself along the floor gratings toward him.

“No power, no grav ring, no gravity,” she said. “I studied the schematics of the ship.”

In a few seconds she was beside him. “I can’t find the metal capsule,” Simon said.

“We'll find it later,” River assured him. Then she was silent. “Mal is thinking, making a plan.”

“Hey!” yelled Jayne’s voice from above. “Doc! River!”

“We’re here!” Simon yelled back.

“Mal said get your asses up here, double pronto!”

“Coming!’ Simon said and then spoke quietly to his sister as they pulled themselves toward the stairway. “God, he’s so crude.”

“It’s his way,” was all River said and then in a few moments they were pulling themselves up the hand rails of the stairs as their bodies began to float in the air. As they made it to the top, they heard an ominous clank as something struck the outside of Serenity’s airlock.

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

The ship that disabled Serenity was now mated with its victim, the two ships airlocks connected, in a configuration that had one ship upside down. Or was it the other ship? What was up and what was down was irrelevant in space, but the enemy Firefly still had gravity and its crew and soldiers thought up was toward the ceiling. Twenty-two soldiers and the commanding major assembled in the cargo bay, armed to the teeth.

“Masks on,” the major ordered and all put on gas masks and made sure they were sealed tight. Then at a signal a technician, unarmed, moved in and opened the door in the front ramp of their Firefly and it was lined up perfectly with Serenity’s door in its ramp, except of course, upside down.

“Check the door,” the major ordered next and the tech stepped forward, tried the small door in the front ramp and it was locked, as expected. The tech took a strange mechanical device, which he placed on the door. It operated on magnetic resonance, and in seconds it had easily popped the lock on Serenity’s outer door. As soon as it opened many soldiers moved through into Serenity’s inner airlock, followed by the tech who went straight to the inner airlock controls. No power, still. He swiftly took a large battery that was handed to him, rigged it up to the panel, and when he was ready signaled to the major, who pointed with his hand to four other techs who then pushed two machines on wheels into the airlock.

“You fire and then retreat with your equipment,” the major ordered these men and they nodded through their gas masks.

“Make the bypass. Pop the lock,” the major ordered and then the tech hit the final button and Serenity’s inner airlock opened. Without even waiting to see what was what the major gave the signal and the men fired the devices they held. Each machine started pumping out small canisters, six in all, which flew into the dark cargo bay of Serenity and immediately began filling the ship with gas.

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

“Are they in?” Mal asked River and the teen’s eyes wandered and Mal knew she was searching for the thoughts of the Alliance. They were in the dining room, all of them except Kaylee, her father and Mary, trying to hold on to something, to keep their feet on the deck.

“Yes. The gas is inside, dispersing, staying in the lower levels,” River said. She had sensed what they were going to do, had warned Mal, and they barely got the vents and doors to below sealed before the gas was in the cargo bay. “The leader….he is confused…expected to find us at the entrance….sending his men through the lower levels…looking for….you.”

“Me?” Mal said and River just nodded. They were off by themselves, Jayne close by readying grenades.

“They’re to take you…alive,’ she whispered to Mal, worried to scare the others

“And the rest of you?” Mal asked.

“No….just you. We are to be killed,” River said. In the semi-darkness Jayne overheard this and wanted to curse but kept it to himself. No way he was going without taking some purple bellies with him.

Jayne snared and picked up a grenade from the box of them on the dining room table. “Let’s stop pussyfooting around and get to killing some purple belly scum!”

“To your posts,” Mal said and everyone started moving as fasts as they could in the low gravity environment. It wasn’t completely zero g’s and Mal suspected the gravity field from the other Firefly was having some effect. But he still ordered Kaylee not to connect the power. He wanted darkness, with strangers on board who didn’t know his ship, with his crew that did, and surprise and confusion were his allies. They couldn’t leave anyway, so they had to fight. They were attached to the other ship so couldn’t make a FTL jump. It was starting to get a bit cold but that wasn’t the big worry. If the oxygen levels got too low, he’d have to tell Kaylee to connect the power. He just hoped like hell her backup batteries had survived the EMP.

They were scattered at different posts in the upper level of the ship. Wash remained on the bridge, ready to fly if needed, waiting for the power to come back. Gabriel and Regan Tam stayed with him, guarding the bridge doorway, both nervously looking at the pistols in their hands. Zoe and River stood by the entrance to the front corridor while Mal and Jayne were at the back one. Simon and Inara were in the dining room, both armed, ready to go in either direction if needed, the reserve force. Kaylee was still under the engine floor gratings, ready to connect the reserve batteries when Mal gave the signal, her father and Mary standing nearby, both with guns in case the Alliance got this far. But Mal was not planning for them to get this far. He knew every nook and cranny of his old girl and he knew how to stop these intruders, even if he hurt his old girl just a little bit in the process.

Jayne tied a cloth around his face, covering his nose and mouth. He now held two grenades in his hands. At the other door Zoe did the same thing, also with her face covered.

“Now,” River yelled and Mal and River swiftly pulled the door handles down and slid the doors back and Jayne and Zoe flung their grenades down the corridors, bounced off the walls, and then the grenades went slowly, every so slowly in the low gravity, down the stairs.

Two Alliance soldiers were right in front of Zoe when she threw her grenades past their bodies and before she could blink River had shot them both in the chest and they went down.

“We need the masks,” River said, and they ripped the masks off the dead soldiers and then were inside and the door was closed. Down below they could hear the muffled explosion of the grenades and then screams of agony.

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

The major was sure the crew of Serenity was now in the upper level of the ship, had sealed its vents and stairway doors and his gas attack had been futile. It was a knock out gas, used for riot control, and he had hoped to disable the crew, take Reynolds, and then destroy the ship with the other Firefly’s missiles. The gas would dissipate in a few minutes, not meant to last long so police or military could move in and capture the enemy. Even in a spaceship it would soon be inert. Now apparently, there was no enemy. The lower level was empty as all his men were reporting. In the beams of their flashlights they could see many small objects were floating off the deck and his men were feeling the effects of lower gravity, but they could still move.

“Move to the upper floors,” he ordered and he knew he was going to lose men. Narrow stairways, a determined enemy, with combat experience, a teen assassin on board, he had been told, all of this was just not a very doable tactical situation. He wished like hell they could just stand off and destroy the ship and all on board. But, no, they wanted this Reynolds alive. Orders were orders. As the major thought on this his men moved upstairs. Then came a scream.

“Grenade!”

The major just had time to look up and in the gloom he thought he saw a round black object bounce off the railing of the front stairway and slowly, almost like a rock sinking to the bottom of a lake, the object came down and just as the major went to move behind a crate, it exploded in mid-air.

Shrapnel filled the air and peppered the major and several men. Through his shock and pain the major heard three more distinctive cracks and more screams from his men and he knew they were in deep trouble.

He just hoped the second team was now in place.

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

River and Zoe had put on the gas masks and opened the doorway and stepped over the two bodies as they made there way down the stairs to find the enemy. As they set foot on the top stair River suddenly sensed something.

Zoe was ready to move downstairs, but River was pointing up at the upper airlock. Zoe looked confused at first and then understanding dawned. Someone was in the airlock. She signaled River to back up and they both looked up at the ceiling. The upper airlock inner door opened and a soldier in a spacesuit jumped down, only to be met with Zoe’s bullet through the visor of his helmet. He fell with a bloody, gurgled screeched and then Zoe was firing up into the airlock where one more soldier was sitting. Her shots hit him in the buttocks and legs and he fell to the deck and landed on his dead partner. Zoe dispatched this second intruder with another shot through the visor and then turned as she heard River firing down the stairs. They must have been sent out the other Firefly’s upper airlock or maybe the bomb bay doors and then across to Serenity. Suicide, all the way, thought Zoe.

“Two more down,” River said and her voice came thickly through the gas mask. “That’s four for me.”

“Two for me so far,” Zoe said with a little grin. “Let me take the lead.”

Down the stairway the two warriors crept, feeling their way in the darkness and weightlessness, guns out and reloaded. The dangerous part was now coming, moving into enemy held territory, not knowing where the enemy was hiding, ready to pounce in the semi gloom of the ship.

They reached the level where the shuttles were and moved over the catwalk, trying to be quiet. The grav levels were higher here, the grav force from the other ship making its presence felt, and they could even stand on the catwalk without holding on to something. Down below they could see the beams of several flashlights, some moving, others very still. They could also hear groans and a few whimpers from the wounded men.

The there was another grenade explosion, loud in the confines of the ship, and then shots, not directed at them, but coming from the other side of the cargo bay, toward the passenger lounge and medical bay.

“It’s Mal and Jayne,” Zoe said and she and River quickly moved in that direction.

The next few minutes were chaotic. In the dark they stumbled on soldiers, wounded, some trying to crawl toward the airlock doors. Zoe shot at anything that moved, her mind on fire, in kill mode, and ready to destroy these purple bellies who had invaded her home. River ignored the wounded and concentrated on the living, the dangerous ones. She could pick which was which by whether they were in agony or in panic mode, the senses of the crowd of people almost overwhelming her. Other soldiers were moving away from the passenger lounge, firing back at Mal and Jayne, gunfire flashes lighting up the cargo bay in brief glares, like lightning on a hot summer day, and River and Zoe hit them from behind. Bullets were flying, people were ducking, and screams came from the wounded and dieing. Battle madness was on them all.

Then suddenly the lights were on and slowly they began to feel the effects of gravity returning to full strength. Mal and Jayne appeared in the cargo bay, both in gasmasks. Suddenly Mal took his off and sniffed the air. He grinned across at Zoe and she took off her mask. The gas had dissipated. River and Jayne also took off their masks

“Report, Zoe,” he said very calmly.

“Cargo bay secure, sir!” she said, almost in a shout, battle madness still on her.

Mal and Jayne stepped out from the passenger lounge. “Medical and passenger area secure,” Mal said. He had a fresh wound, a graze on his left upper arm and Jayne also had a fresh wound to his upper left thigh. Zoe had been hit twice, both in the lower back but her ever present body armor had taken the blows and she had quickly dispatched the soldier who had hit her. Now she felt some aches but a check on her pain would have to wait.

“Followed my grenade too closely,” Jayne said, pointing to his leg, limping as he walked into the cargo bay.

Zoe looked toward the open airlock and she saw someone crawling, an Alliance officer, a major. She ran over and pointed her gun ready to pull the trigger.

“Wait,” Mal said. “We need information.”

Zoe stopped and then gave the major her nastiest glare. “Don’t move or I’ll blow your gorramn head off, no matter what the says.”

“I’m dieing anyway,” the major said and Zoe could see that he might be right. He had many holes in him, most likely from a grenade blast.

“Who are you people?’ the major managed to growl through his pain.

“No one you shoulda messed with,” Jayne snarled.

“Who sent you?” Mal asked, bending over, looking at the dieing major.

“I don’t know. He’s an Operative, that’s all,” the major said weakly.

“Just one more scumbag on the hit list,” Jayne snarled through his pain. He could still see the open airlock door, and then turned to Mal. “Time we go pay a visit?”

Mal looked to River first. “No one is there. Their cargo bay is empty,” she said after a moment.

Mal nodded then looked to Jayne. “You’re too beat up. Wait here, take care of things. Zoe, River, on me.”

Jayne was going to protest but for once Mal was right, he was in rough shape from his shoulder and leg wounds. “I’ll get the Doc and the others.”

Mal gave a nod and then looked at his two warrior women. “Ready?” and they reloaded their guns, confirmed they were ready and then with that Mal walked toward the airlock door and entered the other Firefly.

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

Wash’s voice came from the intercom. “Hey, what’s going on? Is it safe?”

Jayne replied to him. “Lower deck secure. Send the Doc down. We got wounded.”

“Roger that,” Wash said from the bridge, wondering why Jayne was giving orders, wanting to ask if Zoe was OK but refrained from doing so.

Simon was down the stairs moments later and was appalled at the carnage his people had wrought. In the immediate area, there were at least five dead Alliance people, not counting the four he stepped over near the upper airlock entrance. He heard a groan from another one and moved toward him when Jayne’s voice stopped him.

“Me first,” he said with some pain and Simon looked around and couldn’t find his sister.

“Where are they?”

“Other ship, checking it out. Little sis is fine, Doc. Now, about my leg?”

Simon stared at him. “The most serious first.”

Jayne looked at him for a long second and then turned away, grumbling, looking at the major in the airlock entrance. “That one is most serious but he’s good as dead.”

But Simon wasn’t paying attention as he ran to the intercom and called for help and moments later, Inara, his father, mother, Mary and Jonathan were there and Simon began to treat the few wounded Alliance people that were still alive. They found three of them, including the major, and Simon had them moved toward the infirmary.

“Where’s Mal?” Inara asked, worried to death he had gone and done something crazy.

“The other ship,’ Simon said as he got to work on the major, with Inara’s help.

Jayne was collecting the dead soldier’s weapons when suddenly he heard shouts, and shots from other ship and then the airlock door slammed shut with a loud metallic clang. Jayne was alone in Serenity’s cargo bay and he hobbled over and saw that the door was closed and locked. “Gorramnit!” he shouted, just realizing Mal and the others had gone over without communicators.

Then Wash’s voice came from the bridge. “Other Firefly is attempting airlock separation!”

Jayne knew something horrible had gone wrong but he had no time now, he had to close their outer door before the ships separated or he'd be sucked into space. He used all his strenght and swung the door closed and at the last moment even felt suction helping him as the door slammed closed.

As he heaved a sigh of relief he thought on what could have happened. There had been shots, but they had moon brain to warn them of danger. What the hell could have surprised them?

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

As Mal entered the other Firefly he felt weary all over, and a little nauseous. The other ship was upside down, or was it? He had to stop for a moment to get used to the other ships gravity and then turned his body and slid to the floor of the second Firefly. Mal was weary from his and Jayne’s fight down the stairs and into the passenger lounge. It had been brief but bloody, grenades exploding, bullets zipping around, flashes of gunfire in the gloom, shouts, screams. His head throbbed from Derek’s bullet and his arm stung from the graze he just got. How many times is that I’ve been wounded? He thought and then realized it was too many to count. During the war he had never been hurt as many times as he had on Serenity. There might be something to Inara’s wish to retire after all.

“I’m tired of all this fighting. Let’s give ‘em a chance to surrender,” he said to Zoe and River as they joined him on the cargo bay floor.

“They won’t,” Zoe said, wondering what was going on in her captain’s head. “If I can guess who is on this ship, we gotta kill them. And they know it”

“She’s right,” said River with certainty.

Mal was befuddled and had no idea what they meant. “Who’s on this ship?”

“Who else knows how to make and fly an FTL ship?” Zoe asked.

Now Mal got it. “The pilot and engineers we let go.”

“Yes, sir,” said Zoe as she warily stepped forward, Winchester up, ready to fire.

“We can’t let them go again,’ River said as she stepped up to Zoe, her mind searching for the crew of the ship.

In front of then were the gas canister machines, which had fired into Serenity at the beginning of the battle.

“Good idea, that gas,” said Mal as he examined the machines that were now a bit off to the side, out of the way. They then headed toward the upper level stairs across the cargo bay.

River froze in mid stride. “Gas masks, we forgot the….,” she said and then. “Gas!”

There were three loud “pops” and three cans of gas were suddenly fired from the gas machines into the cargo bay.

“Back to Serenity!” Mal shouted, all three without gas masks, gas now filling the cargo bay.

“The door,’ Mal said but as he started for it he felt lightheaded, felt dizzy and his legs wobbled.

“Dumb recruit mistake,’ was all Zoe said as she fell forward, Mal falling next to her a moment later.

River tried to hold her breath as long as possible. She was heading for the door, knew the ship couldn’t disengage the airlock seal if the door was open, knew enough about Fireflys, almost as much as Kaylee. Out of the corner of her eye, River spotted a figure in blue running toward the airlock door across the cargo bay through the smoky gas, with a gas mask on, coming from where River didn’t know or care, she just started firing at him. The man reached the door and barely slammed it shut as three bullets entered his body and he slid to the deck with a gurgled scream. River started toward him and the door but then she sensed someone behind her, on the catwalk and River turned and fired as bullets came toward her. Why didn’t she know this was going to happen? Why had her powers failed her?

She heard a scream as a gasmask wearing figure on the catwalk took one of her bullets and fell to the cargo bay floor. She ducked behind a crate and waited for the onslaught but they could wait and she couldn’t. Must get a gas mask. Her lungs were on fire and there were two gasmasks in reach, two dead men with gasmasks and she had to reach one of them. Under the catwalk was the best choice as it offer defilade from the above fire. If she tried to reach the man by the door, she would be fully exposed. Need to open the door…and then she felt the ship move, heard something, not quite sure, but it had to be the airlock seal being broken and the she knew their only chance to live was if she got to the gasmask first. She ran, her vision turning black before her eyes, her brain oxygen starved. She felt bullets wiz past and then she was under the catwalk and it was too late, she involuntarily took a breath and felt dizzy, felt weak all over. Oxygen came but so did gas and as pulled off the gasmask from the man she had shot moments ago she knew it was too late. Already she was too weak to lift up the mask and she fell forward across the body. She was in the hands of the Alliance and River Tam knew she was going to die.

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

The pilot and the two engineers were on the ship and so were five other Alliance people, the tech who had opened the door and the men who operated the gas machines. They were not in the major’s assault force. They waited, ready to follow the major’s orders as the Operative had commanded them. For a long time there was silence from the other ship. Had the gas worked? Then came the muffled grenade explosions, gunshots, screams, yells for help, then silence.

One of the men ran onto the bridge. “I think the assault failed! What should we do?”

The two engineers were majors and the pilot was a lieutenant but they were not combat soldiers. They knew that Reynolds would more than likely kill them if he found they had helped the Alliance build and operate an FTL ship after he had let them go free.

“Close the airlock and we get the hell out of here!” one engineer shouted in a burst of nerves.

“Yes, sir,” the soldier said and then a few minutes later he was back. “They are already on board, three of them. The door is still opened. We got a man in position near the infirmary but….”

“We can’t leave with that door opened,” the pilot said. “I think I would like a gun now.”

“The gas, we can operate the machine by remote,” one of the gas techs said and then held out a device.

“Get that man by the door, ready to close it!” the second engineer said. “Then pop the gas.”

It had all gone off as planned, except for the two dead men. As the ship broke free of Serenity, the Operative waved them.

“How goes things?”

“Ah, not well sir,” the pilot said, the only one on the bridge now. “We lost the assault team.”

“What! Didn’t the major use the gas?”

“Yes, sir. But they were ready for it. Ah…however, we have captured three people and are now free of Serenity.”

The Operative almost smiled. “Capture, who did you capture? Is Reynolds one of them?”

Juts then one of the engineers came back to the bridge. “Yes sir, Reynolds has been capture. We also have Zoe Washburne and River Tam.”

This time the Operative did smile. “Excellent. Kill Washburne and Tam and destroy Serenity.”

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

Wash knew something terrible had happened. The enemy Firefly was pulling away, the EMP cannon and missile racks staring at him like death. He didn’t know Mal, Zoe, and River had gone over there. He only knew the Alliance assault had failed and that an armed vessel was pointing weapons at Serenity. One thing he learned in the last few months was that missiles needed a safe distance from their own ship to operate properly and as he saw the enemy Firefly begin to turn he knew it was going for separation to fire those missiles.

“Kaylee! Kaylee!” he screamed into the intercom.

“What’s going on?’ came the engineer’s voice back from her battle station. “Ain’t no one told me nothing! We winning?”

“Are we ready for an FTL?” Wash said, ignoring her question.

“Yeah….but…”

“No buts…get ready.”

“Where to?” came back the reply and in a flash he had the where, the place he knew he could beef up his baby for the next round, if there was a next round.

He zipped through the nav log and found it, punched in the coordinates and then he hit it.

Wash got on the intercom just before he hit it. “FTL!” he yelled and then they were gone.

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

Jayne heard Wash’s yell just as he managed to reach the intercom to tell him what was going on but then it was too late. With a rumble and then the now familiar joy ride Serenity went through an FTL run.

In the infirmary, Simon was closing the major’s eyes, the wounds too numerous to stop his internal bleeding in time and then he nodded to Jonathan and Gabriel to take away the body and put the next wounded soldier on the table. Just as they were doing this came Wash’s yell and Simon looked at Inara across the major’s body and they both felt a terrible sinking feeling and both suddenly shouted.

“Stop!” but it was too late and Simon and Inara knew Mal and Zoe and River were on that other ship, now far away.

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

“Serenity escaped,” the first engineer said to the Operative. “We were trying to get missile safe release distance when she fired up her FTL and ran.”

The Operative glowered. “I thought you had an EMP?”

“We used it to disable Serenity and we thought she was still disabled but…you know, Kaylee Frye is on that ship and if anyone can find a way around an EMP…..”

“I get the point,” the Operative said. “Please tell me Tam and Washburne are now dead.”

“Ah, getting to that right now,” the engineer said and the Operative told him to take care of it and then the Operative signed off.

The three men on the bridge looked at each other. None wanted to be the one to give the order, but they were the only officers and it had to come from them

“We’re not combat soldiers,” the second engineer said suddenly. “I just wanted to build this ship, make it work.”

“They let us go the first time,” the pilot said after a moment. “Wash, he shook my hand. That’s his wife down there. I’m not a murderer. They should be sent to a prison camp if they are rebels.”

“I’m not killing two women,” said the first engineer and then all three looked at each other and in silent agreement it was decided.

“What do we tell the Operative?”

“That we killed them and tossed the bodies overboard.”

“He’ll see through that lie. There are still three enlisted men on board and they’ll know something is wrong.”

“Just let them go,” said a voice and it was the tech who had opened the airlock, now standing in the doorway of the bridge. The other two men were with him and explained that the prisoners were tied up and still unconscious.

“Not Reynolds. He’s too important. The other two are dangerous,” said the second engineer. “Tam is a killer and Washburne is a war vet. They took out the major’s assault force. They won’t just leave without Reynolds."

“We can keep them under,” said one of the gas techs. “We drop them off some backwater moon.”

The pilot looked through his nav charts. “Here’s one, no Alliance, few people come there, run by some woman.”

“What’s it called?” asked the second engineer.

“Whitefall.”

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

With a pop, groan and a creak Serenity jumped into space over the skies of Hera. Wash was pleased with himself, knew Badger’s cousin could set them up for war. Then like having a bucket of cold water dumped on him, Wash’s grand plan came crashing down.

Jayne’s voice screamed from the intercom. “Mal, Zoe and River is on the other ship!”

Wash felt numbness through his body as his mind whirled in a thousand directions. NO! It can’t be!

He barely managed to find the intercom switch. “Are you sure?” he said in a croak and Jayne’s long string of English and Chinese curse words confirmed that Wash had just made the biggest mistake of his life.

An hour later he felt a little better when all the information was gathered and he was told by the others that he didn’t have much choice since the other ship was turning to fire missiles at them. He especially felt good when a teary eyed Inara gave him a hug.

“It’s not your fault, you did what you had to do to save us,” she said and that more than anything made Wash feel a whole lot better

“Capt’n and Zoe been in tough spots like this before, right?” Kaylee said, sitting in the dining room with the others, trying to comfort the Tams who had just lost their daughter again after finally finding her after so many years.

“Sure,” said Jayne. “And they got moon…River with them and she’s one hell of a fighter. Hell, I bet right now they got control of that ship.”

“Then we should head right back there,” said Jonathan and they did and the space was empty so they stuck around for some time, thinking Mal would force the pilot back here by pistol point but after twelve hours no one came. Simon had finished patching up the two wounded Alliance soldiers and they were in no shape to resist. After most of them tried to have a rest, the Alliance bodies were given a hasty space funeral.

“Why Hera?” Jonathan asked Wash after they dumped the last body into space through the bomb bay doors.

“I want to make Serenity a warship,” he said.

“Think Capt’n might not look too kindly on that,’ said Kaylee.

“Well, I do think kindly on that,” said Jayne with a grimace as he limped on his leg that Simon had finally patched up. “And I say we head to Hera and do it.”

“You ain’t in charge Jayne Cobb!” Kaylee said fiercely and everyone in the cargo bay stopped moving to look at them. “This still the Capt’n’s ship!”

“Which he stole from the Alliance!” Jayne shot back. Everyone was staring at him, some none too kindly. “Look, you all, we got no captain and Zoe is gone so we need someone to give orders.”

“And you’re all ready to volunteer,” Simon said with sarcasm.

“Darn right,” said Jayne. “Who else?”

“Please stop arguing,’ Inara pleaded but it was getting very tense in the cargo bay.

“I’d say we go with age and wisdom,” said Wash. “So I’d like to hear what Jonathan has to say.”

Jayne was flabbergasted. “Him? He’s just a mechanic! No offensive Mr. Frye, but this here’s a strate…starteg…oh hell it’s a war situation.”

Jonathan chuckled. “No offense taken. I am just a mechanic. A darn good one, mind you. Kaylee told me you was always itching to take this ship. But if you want my two credits worth I say we need more information. Why didn’t they just blow us out of the sky when that Firefly first arrived?”

“River said they wanted Mal,” Jayne said recalling that tidbit he had overheard.

“What?’ Inara said, now hearing this for the first time.

“They wanted him…alive?’ Gabriel asked and Jayne confirmed this.

“Why?” Simon asked next and one person knew.

“They want to use him,” said Mary of all people and then they all turned in surprise to the normally quiet companion of Jonathan. “Government, I hate them all. They want to use him. Show people the rebellion, take away pressure from Shin.”

“He’s not the rebel leader!” Inara said feeling exasperated at all these events.

“We know that Inara, but they say he is and the people will believe it,’ said Simon.

“Londinium,” said Kaylee. “That’s where they’ll take them.”

“Then we follow,” said Inara with determination.

“Now that’s crazy!” said Jayne. “Walking into the enemy camp!”

Jonathan just looked at Jayne. “You do want to rescue Mal, Zoe and River, don’t you?”

There was a pause and Jayne suddenly felt like he was back in grade school with everyone staring at him while he tried to answer an easy question. “Course,” he said quickly. “That’s if they’s still alive.” And as soon as he said it he knew it was a mistake.

Regan Tam glared at him. “Don’t you even dare think such things,” she said with fury and then stormed off with her husband following.

“Nice, Jayne, great leadership,” Wash said, not in his usual banter, but with an edge of fury. “Zoe is still alive and so are River and Mal.”

“Course,” Jayne said quietly. “Sorry.”

“We make for Hera first,’ Wash said. “And then we’ll decide what to do.” And Jonathan just said it sounded like a good idea and Wash headed for the bridge. Kaylee went to her station in the engine room, thinking on all the small things she had to fix after the EMP burst. Simon went off to look in on his patients and his parents.

Inara glared at Jayne, her eyes glistening with emotion. “You just don’t know when to shut up, do you?” And she walked away toward her shuttle, needing a good cry to settle her nerves.

"I think we all need a home cooked meal to settle everyone right," Mary said and then after a quick peck from Jonathan she went off to the upper level and the dining room.

“Don’t fret none, son, “Jonathan said to Jayne when they were alone. “They’s all just a little frazzled and she’s right, you do got a way of putting your foot in your mouth.”

Jayne was mad now. “Maybe I’ll just take my cut of that ten million and hightail it to greener pastures.”

Now Jonathan put on his sympathetic face. “Look here, Jayne. Folks need someone to tell them what to do, that’s a fact, but they also gotta trust the guy telling them. Seems you ain’t built that trust yet and maybe never will. But they also need a strong man to fight their battles. That’s you. That’s your role in all this madness.”

“I get it,” Jayne said, less mad. “But it’s madness to go to Londinium.”

“I know it is,” Jonathan said. “Just as it was madness to go to Miranda.”

Jayne smiled. “Yeah, that was more than a little harebrained.” And then the two men left, thinking and talking on what to do, and for the first time in a long time, since Book’s death in fact, Jayne felt like he had a friend on Serenity.

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

“Gorramnit,” Mal said to himself after he woke up and got his bearings. He was in a prison cell, wearing prison issue jumpsuit, grey color, with his name on the left breast pocket. “How long have I been out?’ he mumbled as he stood in the small room.

“Long enough to get you here,’ said Admiral Shin as he stood outside the electrical laser shielded door.

Mal smiled. “Why my old friend,” he said and Shin was taken aback by this, expecting something a little more violent in a reaction. “So how goes the taking over the government?”

Shin grinned slightly. “Good. Better now that we have the rebel leader in custody.”

“Oh? Who would that be? Maybe him and I can share a cell, get to know each other.”

“Mr. Reynolds, your ability to make light of your situation is remarkable.”

“Captain Reynolds to you, bub.”

“Captain? Of what? A ship you stole back after selling it to us? I think not. And certainly not a captain in the Independent forces.”

“It was a battlefield commission and was never made permanent cause the war ended.”

“In Serenity Valley,” Shin said. “You know, I commanded a cruiser in the final battles there.”

“Ain’t that peachy,” Mal said, tired of this chitchat. “Now, am I being charged with anything?”

“The murder of Susan Blakely among many other charges.”

“That wasn’t me and you know it cause it was you with those brain washed kids from Athenian Island. River knows them.”

“She’s dead.”

That took Mal aback and Shin knew he had hurt him. “That’s a lie,” Mal said quietly, hoping it was truly a lie.

“She and Zoe Washburne were executed under military authority as rebels and their bodies were dumped into deep space.”

Now Mal grew angry, so angry he wanted to leap through the electrical laser barrier and end it all with his hands around Shin’s throat but the image of a dark haired woman who he loved kept him from doing that.

“The day I see their bodies is the day I’ll believe they are dead. You know, I did six months in one of your prison camps after the war. And the accommodations were nowhere near as good as these here on Londinium.”

“Oh, you won’t be here that long. First, we’ll have your trial, for the public to eat up. And then there will be your execution.”

“Why not just get it over with?”

Shin was about to walk away but stopped. “All in due time. But first, Mr. Reynolds, we must give the public what they want.”

As he left Mal sat on his bed and looked at the sparse white walls and sighed deeply. Zoe, you ain’t dead. I know it. But where the hell are you?

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

“I think I got hit by a truck,” said Zoe as she sat up. Next to her River was just as groggy.

“Where are we?’ River asked, surprised to find she was still alive.

The two women looked around. They were on a dirt road in a desert like area, shrubs and rocky hills around them.

“Don’t know,’ Zoe said. She stood and wobbled a bit and then got her first good news. “Our guns.”

Off to the side was a small pile of gear, their guns, and a note. Zoe opened the note as River started checking everything else.

“Mrs. Washburne," the note began. “I am the pilot who your husband shook hands with on Serenity when you took the ship back. We had orders to kill you but since you let us go before we decided to do the same. Please remember this if we cross paths in the future. We set you down here on Whitefall and have left a few supplies. As for Captain Reynolds we had no choice but to take him to Londinium. I am truly sorry for these events. Good luck to you.”

“Gorramnit, they took Mal to Londinium,” Zoe said and handed over the note to River.

“Whitefall?” River said. “Why do I know this name?”

“It was back when you were still very…ill. We had a run in with some people here. And this is where we left Dobson, that lawman.”

“He shot Kaylee, tried to take me off the ship” River said remembering more. “I was very ill in those days.”

“Captain killed him.”

They said nothing for a moment and then Zoe started cleaning her Winchester. “What supplies we got?”

“Some water, bit of food, some bread, meat, cheese, a few apples.” River said.

“Let’s eat and then start on this road. Has to lead to somewhere, good or bad.”

Fifteen minutes later they were on the road. For one hour they walked, through hilly land, keeping their eyes open, speaking a little, wondering what had happened to Serenity and how to get Mal back. Then in the distance they saw a small compound of several buildings, with a low wall and a gate surrounding it. Outside were some gardens and a few apple trees. Several horses were inside the compound, hitched to a post. Two of the horses were already saddled.

“No antennas, no dishes, no comms or Cortex,” said River.

“But they got horses,” said Zoe. “Sure beats walking.”

“Don’t Rim folk kill horse thieves?” River said.

“They surely do,’ Zoe replied. “But we don’t have much choice here.”

Zoe looked at the sky and judged it was early afternoon. They could wait for dark but time was important and she needed to contact Serenity or find a spaceship and a way off this rock.

“You sense anything?”

“A family, inside, eating,” River said after a few moments.

“A family,” Zoe said in disgust, not wanting to harm honest folks. “Okay, we just take one horse.”

It went off like clockwork and ten minutes later they had their horse and were on the road again. Zoe saw the family name on the gate and said if she could she’d find a way to get that horse back to that family.

She’d never get the chance because not thirty minutes later the horse was dead. They entered a more heavily wooded area and the trees hide the high walled compound that suddenly came into view not fifty meters in front of them. On top they saw antenna and a Cortex dish and Zoe knew they had to take a chance.

“Let’s just ask real polite like and maybe these folks can give us a meal and use of their Cortex,” Zoe said.

“I don’t sense anything dangerous,’ River said.

Zoe dismounted and walked up to the gate in the wall. She saw it had a camera outside and a vid screen intercom. Fancy for a backwaters farm, Zoe thought and as she went to press the talk button the first shot rang out and their horse dropped dead with a bullet in its head.

Zoe pulled her pistol and River was tossed clear as the horse fell and she scrambled to her feet with guns drawn. When she looked up Zoe was surrounded by four men in the open gate and all had guns. River knew she could take them but then a bullet hit the ground by her feet.

“Drop your guns or you die!” shouted a voice through a speaker. River searched out with her mind and found the sniper, on the wall. All she had were pistols and knew Zoe would be dead before she could get the sniper and the four men. Surrender, and get close and she could kill them with her bare hands.

River dropped her guns, slowly raised her hands and then stood.

“Closer,” said the voice and then River walked up. She made eye contact with Zoe and then Zoe understood what to do. The men had already taken her guns. Just as River was about to strike, the voice came again. “Stop!”

River stopped and then the voice spoke once more. “I can’t believe it. It’s you, River Tam.”

Then River felt a chill in the warm air and knew that voice, knew it when it belonged to a lawman who tried to take her off Serenity, take her back to Athenian Island.

“Dobson,” she said quietly and Zoe’s eyes widened at that name.

A man came to the door, and it was Dobson but not quite Dobson. His face was scared and he had an artificial eye buried in a metal frame, obviously the wound from when Mal had shot him.

“Zoe, right?” he said as he handed a pair of handcuffs to his men who began to cuff Zoe.

“Mal killed you,’ Zoe said in shocked surprise.

“Not quite,” Dobson said as he fingered his artificial eye.

River felt more eyes watching her now, felt more guns on her, saw more men on the walls, and Dobson knew who she was and knew what she could do. He kept his distance and before River could leap that distance she knew she would be riddled with bullets.

“River Tam,” he said. “It’s been so long. Five years, yes?”

“Yes,” River replied, her mind whirling trying to find a way out. But then came a surprise.

“I have just one question, and if I get the right answer, maybe you can go free, both of you,’ Dobson said.

Zoe and River waited, looked at each other and then Dobson spoke.

“Where is Malcolm Reynolds?”

COMMENTS

Sunday, June 28, 2009 1:53 PM

SKILLETO


Just wanted to say thanks for getting up this installment. Some great stuff. Your story line is one of the only ones I'm reading at this point.

Keep up the good work.

Sunday, June 28, 2009 2:50 PM

CBSTEVE


Thanks for the compliment. I'm just so darn busy these days to write fanfic at a steady pace. I contracted with a company to write four English education listening books by the end of July and I am in the middle of the third one now so that has taken all of my time since May. I also have other clients which I do part time work for and they keep sending me stuff to do. The money is great, but I spend all day at a computer writing stuff I don't really care about when I'd rather be doing my fanfic or other personal writing.

Anyways, I'm working on part 15 now and hope to have it up soon but I can only spend a short time per day on it so I don't know when it will be up. Keep on the look out. Cheers.

Steve


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As the crew rests and heals, Shin and his confederates take a step closer to power, and Mal faces a new, deadly dilemma.

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River's Run - Part 10
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