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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - DRAMA
Kaylee and Zoe throw a wake for Wash, and River lands them on Hera - a little too hard and in an unexpected setting.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 831 RATING: 0 SERIES: FIREFLY
"Okay, let's see." I adjusted the computer controls, then smiled as a little numeric display started counting backwards. (It was one of those primitive readouts with seven straight bars in a figure-eight pattern for each digit.) "Little over two minutes now."
"Cool!" Inara decided, looking out at the front window of Serenity. Simon nodded in agreement, but he was looking straight at me, and after a moment, he reached down to casually rest his hand on my shoulder.
"What's cool?" Jayne said, poking a little bit of his head into the room. "Two minutes?"
Simon sighed just slightly. "Until we pass the orbit of Londinium again, from the inner side. It'll mark the end of our close approach with the sun, and the true beginning of our climb back up the gravity well to Hera, in a way."
"Well, 'climb' isn't exactly the right word, err... or at least, it might convey the wrong impression," I pointed out. "You can think of the whole trip like a crazy V-shaped roller coaster, more or less. We've fallen down the one side and looped around the bottom, and are proceeding back up the other side at pretty much top speed. That'll reduce as we get further out of the core of the 'Verse, but still it's not like we're going to have to push ourselves upwards. In fact, soon I'll have to start retro-thrusting - firing the engines to slow us down so that we don't crash into Hera fast enough to dig out a crater."
"Because we were thrusting downwards as we fell, right?" Inara said, and I nodded. "Well, whether we make it out alive or not, this has really been something."
"Oh, come on, Inara," I told her. "All the really dangerous part has already finished. Seriously. The rest of our course is pretty much free of established space travel lanes and mapped out debris fields."
"Imagine how much that reassures me," Inara shot back. "Ever since I got onto this ship, it's been the un-established and the poorly mapped that seems to get us all in trouble."
"Umm..." Well, there was no denying that she had a point there, really. Much as I might want to. Therefore, a change of subject seemed to be called for. "So, how long until the wake starts?"
"I'm not really sure," Inara admitted. "Tried to offer my help, but... Kaylee and Zoe seem to be keeping their preparations pretty close to the vest."
"Really, just the two of them?" Jayne asked. "I thought that I saw Mal helping out, too."
"Well, perhaps," Inara muttered diffidently.
"You'd think that they'd welcome your expertise," Simon put in. "I know that there's something of a gap between a Registered Companion and a professional party planner, but as experts in the social arts, surely there must be some overlap, and..." He considered. "I could say something to Kaylee, if you want, and..."
"No," Inara said, a little crisply. "I offered, and Zoe said that they were okay. That's enough."
"And I asked Zoe when I should show up," Jayne put in. "She said an hour and a half. Think that you'll be able to get away from the big flight board to join in, little River, or will we need to bring some of the party in here?"
"Hmm... not sure," I said. "Depends on how things develop. There's so much that you can't really see that far ahead of you."
"Tell me about it," Inara muttered to herself.
"The moustache," I said, and looked over at Zoe, wondering if she would burst out laughing and let me get it out of me. Unfortunately, she didn't. Zoe hasn't been the 'burst out laughing' type much, and apparently even the occasion that had brought us together hadn't changed that... or not yet. So, I chuckled somewhat awkwardly, having this huge gut-busting guffaw inside of me and not yet feeling uninhibited enough to let it out. Maybe that would come with more time, and more liquor. "We'd have to start with the moustache if it's about memories of Hoban Washburn. Zoe, do you have any captures of him with that moustache?"
"Hmm... maybe packed away somewhere, sir," Zoe said, letting her face quirk in a smile that seemed much too casual to use the word 'sir' with and allowing her eyes to twinkle with the laughter that she wasn't quite up to letting out of herself yet. "But I think that you should have one - in that desk drawer where you keep important things related to ship business. You insisted of making videos of everyone you interviewed for the ship at the start."
"That's right, I did," I said, taking a swallow of the strong whiskey and getting to my feet. "You figure an' it's still in there? That was a while ago, and -- but I suppose I've never cleared that drawer out proper." I took a few steps towards the bunk hallway.
"You didn't make no video of me when you signed me on, did you?" Kaylee asked. "I feel like I didn't get through all the formalities now."
"The formalities didn't last long into our first trip, Kaylee dear," Zoe told her. "You came along later."
"Oh." Kaylee sounded very disappointed. "Well - I remember the moustache." I had gotten over to the hallway entrance by now, but loitered just inside it for a moment, to hear more without the sound getting muffled by distance.
"Not at its finest," Zoe answered. "He'd started to trim it by the time we landed on Three Hills."
"Because he could tell that you didn't like it none," Kaylee answered. "He told me that, the first time I noticed it getting shorter..."
Down in my cabin, I found the stick of video captures right at the very back of the desk. As Zoe had said, there was more than just Wash on here - I'd interviewed several other pilots, and a few mechanics besides Bester, and one or two people for other odd jobs that hadn't been filled, or at least not at the time - one had been a serviceable medic, (who'd been asking more than we were able to pay,) and another a sort of a modern man-at-arms, but back then Zoe and I had had enough of fighting, and didn't think that we'd need another old hand at it anyhow. Things had changed by the time Jayne and his two buddies showed up, on Dyton...
So I climbed back up the ladder to show everybody the capture of Wash with the moustache, and by the time I got back into the dining room Kaylee was talking about something really funny that happened the first time I sent the both of them out together to shill for passengers, on Ezra.
The wake carried on like that for a while, which was good enough by me - just a bunch of friends talking and sharing memories about someone they loved who'd been taken from them, with plenty of alcohol and some silliness. Even Zoe got to laughing, and crying in between as well, which felt a bit odd, but maybe that was what she had to do at this point.
After a little while, though, Kaylee started to get creative. I was nervous about what she might have had in mind, especially as Kaylee... well, I wasn't sure if she'd ever had someone as close to her as Wash die - they were best of friends, inseparable through thick and thin nearly as soon as she came on board. (She'd been shaken when Tracey died a second time, 'specially after they'd been flirting and getting Simon all jealous, but that isn't really the same thing as losing someone that you've known more than a day.) But the first thing that she had in mind just seemed so perfectly appropriate and so funny that it finally let that gut-buster loose - she brought out Wash's toy dinos and had Simon help her put on a half-hour-long dramatic adventure, moving them around a table set with appropriate scenery here and there, and speaking in different voices for each of the reptilian critters. She'd obviously worked out the script well beforehand, but hadn't coached Simon on more than the briefest essentials, so there were some funny miscues half the time that Simon had to use an especially deep voice for the t-rex.
And they wanted to have some music as a feature of the event, which I can understand. Wash wasn't an especially big fan of music, though he liked a tune now and then as much as the next guy, but there was something traditional about having music in a situation like that. They'd probably had to scramble somewhat to arrange everything, and eventually Kaylee asked Inara with about an hour to go, since she was the only one from the group who'd really had any musical training.
Inara had immediately gone to search through her things to make sure that she had an instrument - good thing that that trunk from way back when hadn't still been in the shuttle when it crashed on Ares - and found a mandolin thing that would suit. She did one solo number, and made up a trio with Kaylee, who tootled along on a tin whistle, and one of the passengers who had her own portable music keyboard. And Zoe led us all in an off-key rendition of one of the old folk songs from our Army days - 'Johnny has gone for a soldier'.
As that song died down, there was an eerie sound like a gust of wind blowing through the room, though I didn't feel the breath of air moving, (and where would wind come from in a spaceship, unless from a disastrous fire like the one that...) The lighting even seemed to adjust itself downward from 'moody', like there were candles blowing out in the wind, though we didn't have any burning. (No sense putting extra stress on the oxygen tanks just for the sake of metaphorical 'atmosphere.')
Everybody sort of looked around, and I realized that one by one people were letting their gazes drift to a halt at the hatchway into the bunk hall. Little wonder. A small, but dramatic feminine silhouette was backlit in that doorway - ladies and gentlemen, our very own River Tam. Big round of applause. It was a bit of a relief that she was involved here. The girl was definitely clever enough to whip up the special effects, and she liked to get an impressive effect when she was hatching a scheme.
But nobody was really clapping yet - every eye was on River as she stepped over the threshold, still in her bare feet, and looked around at the assembled company. "I... I'm not sure about it," River whispered, sounding like a little girl younger than the eighteen years I knew she had to her. "This, what I'm proposing to do, I mean. Those of you who haven't just met me know that I... that I'm gifted, or cursed perhaps, with the touching of other people's minds."
"Maybe - maybe I should make my exit now, since the musical numbers are over," the passenger lady muttered. "I, I didn't know Wash, and it's true, I don't really know any of you. Whatever you want to do, you don't really need an outsider..."
"I don't have anything to hide now," River said. "Just for the record."
"Yes, I don't mind you staying," Zoe said graciously as the hostess. "But if you'd rather leave it to us, then I wouldn't be offended either." The lady paused to consider for just a moment, then packed up her keyboard and headed off towards the passenger dorms. "Okay, River, what do you have in mind?" Zoe asked the much younger woman.
"Not sure if this is even in good taste," River continued uncertainly. "But I... I touched Wash, while he was here, before I even understood what I was doing. Now that - that he's been taken away, what I have of his... it seems to be clearer tonight, maybe just from contrast to the original that we can't see anymore. Would you, any of you... want to speak to that echo of Wash, tonight?"
Several people gasped at once, including Zoe, Kaylee, and Simon. Jayne just grunted, and I stayed pretty much mum. "I think I can understand the concerns about if it's -- appropriate, especially tonight," Inara said calmly. "This is supposed to be about... about coming to terms with what happened to Wash, and... well, and speaking to him like he was a ghost from the great beyond in a séance..."
"Wait a second," Kaylee put in. "This echo thing, River... do you think it could have influenced a dream of mine? When I was knocked loopy, outside, I - well, I saw Wash. If you can touch people's heads, then why not..."
"I, I'm not sure," River admitted. It was hard to see much of her face, or anybody's, in the dim light, but she sounded put off by something, either Inara's reaction, or Kaylee bringing up something that with all her mighty fine brains she hadn't expected. "Normally when there's something going on that way, it's something that *I'm* aware of, on some level. I don't think that there's been any evidence to the notion that I can reverse the link and broadcast mental energy to someone else, or let them sense something - especially if I'm not knowing that it's going on."
"Oh, well okay," Kaylee said, and sighed. "Still, I don't see the problem in this, 'Nara. The point is closure, and we've been talkin' about Wash and sharing stories all night. What's this but another way to be in touch with his spirit, one last time? If anything, this is something that we probably shouldn't be doing AFTER the wake, or at least that's the way it seems to me."
"Well, go ahead, then," Inara said. "I think that I won't participate, but I'm not about to stop anyone else."
Kaylee turned very obviously to Zoe, as if putting the question to her. "No, I don't mind, go ahead," Zoe answered calmly.
"You don't want first crack?"
"No, I'll... I'll see how it goes, and keep dibs on the last 'turn', if I choose," Zoe replied.
"Okay, then, how does this work?" Kaylee asked a bit nervously.
"Just... just talk to me as if I was him, and I'll try to answer in the same way," River said. "My voice might not be anything like his, but... if it's not working, if trying gets too ridiculous, say my name. I don't want to make anyone feel bad about this." She paused. "And no references to him being... dead or anything. Might get weird."
"Okay." Kaylee took a deep breath. "Hi there, Wash. Is - do you want me to ask you a question, or is there a memory you'd like to share with us? I... I don't have anything in particular..."
As she was trailing off, River interrupted her in a voice that was somehow reminiscent of my old friend without seeming to unlike her own. "Are - are we going somewhere? Burners are on, light but steady, I can tell that much."
"Yes, we're on the move," Kaylee agreed, after a slight pause for a breath. "Don't worry about the flight controls, I'm sure that everything's fine there."
"What's the destination?" River/Wash pressed.
"Hera," Kaylee answered. "We got a full load of premium cargo, with a bonus for speedy delivery, and a few important passengers to get there."
"Hera." After the answer, Wash seemed to consider. "It's been a while since I've been there."
"Yes, I know. Since before you and Zoe were married, yeah?"
"Right, that's it. But - but I can't remember that far back for some reason. I hope you enjoy your trip, anyway."
Because that was before River and Simon had come aboard the ship, I realized silently. River might have read some memories of back then, but she'd have experienced Wash's thoughts of the time that she was around much more strongly. What - what was a good memory of Wash from that time frame? The clearest thing, the one I wanted to know about, was the time that we'd been grabbed by Niska. But that was no good for bringing up now. Something happier...
Gorram it, was finding a single happy memory such a tough thing in this 'verse?
"What about Higgins' moon?" Simon asked.
"Oh, lordy, that statue!" River exclaimed, and dissolved into Wash-like laughter.
Nobody even got around to cleaning up the gathering until the next morning, ship's time.
I was one of the first people up and around, which was odd, because I don't think I'd had any less alcohol or more sleep than anybody else, particularly. Just sort of found myself in the dining room, blearily picking up empty bottles and dishes that had some sort of food dried onto them by this point. Didn't even occur to me to get some breakfast, or some coffee, until Mal showed up and busied himself with those very things.
"Morning," I said, not quite testing the waters, but wondering what kind of reply I'd get from the captain. Not much of one, apparently. "Could you pass the yeast spread?" He did, still hardly giving me a glance. "So, everything look all ship-shape and Bristol fashion? Whatever that means?"
"I have no idea what's in fashion around Bristol, but..." Mal sighed. "We're doing alright, but I've got a bad feeling about things. Maybe it's just that not too long ago we crashed the ship, and even though she's held up well enough so far, I'm worried about every little test. Maybe... I don't know, maybe it's just because it's *not* Wash piloting. I mean, I like your little sister just fine, she's quite a brain and all kinds of talented. She got us to Boros okay and everything, but..."
"But she's never tried something like this before," I admitted. "And River... she always did have a tendency to get overconfident in her natural abilities, and assume that everything would work out according to her plan. Reality isn't always so accommodating."
Mal smiled. "Is there a particular story that you've got in mind? Aside from - well, I guess in some light volunteering for the Academy could be seen as overconfidence, but that wasn't really the core of the problem there. You were all a mite too trusting, but then..."
"No, that wasn't what I thinking of," I told him as quickly as I could get a word in over-top. "But around five months before... before she left, there was an incident with an underground foot-racing league. Not literally underground, or at least not all the time, but..." I sighed. "I suppose every world, every community, has its own ways for the young adolescents to compete for status. The fact that the activities would not be approved by adults is part of what makes success a status symbol."
"Hmm." Mal considered this a moment. "Yes, you might have a point there." I wondered if he would mention what the equivalent had been on the ranches of Shadow - something involving shooting other people's livestock or... or burying plastic 'treasures' and digging them up again, gorram it, I don't know. (Don't ask me why that would be taboo in the eyes of the adults, the plastic treasure thing. I don't even understand most of the planets that I've been on.) But Mal didn't comment any further, and after a few seconds I realized I wasn't surprised. He's always been close mouthed about his childhood, and I can understand that, Mal being the kind of man he is, and considering that he... he lost his home during the war.
"In the larger cities of Osiris, the competition is fairly simple," I continued. "You race from one point to another, or play follow-the-leader, over the pedestrian sidewalks, and various forms of available public transit. Regular subways aren't that helpful all the time, on account of the time between service, but there are moving sidewalks and -- well, it does get rather intricate when you consider all the possible variations. It's not just a question of raw speed. Intelligence and experience count in a lot of little ways."
"Yes, I can see that much," Mal agreed. "Were you ever good at the foot-racing yourself?" He smiled slightly in response to the look I shot him. "Yes, I know that you were leading up to one of River's exploits, but still I was curious. Or did you never feel the need to prove yourself in this way?"
"I tried a few times," I admitted. "Didn't excel, actually. I could run, still can, and I was able to memorize a lot in terms of the transit information, but... there were a few little ways in which I fell short. Actually putting the knowledge that I had to use in a practical decision while also running at top speed was one issue, not to mention - well, I had some problems with dirty tricks, both avoiding them, and trying to use them in retaliation. Also, I'm too inhibited with authority - other travelers and security watch officers are always trying to stop the foot-racing because it's a 'public menace'..."
"Yes, I get the picture," Mal said dryly. "Go on - River got herself in too deep?"
"Yeah. She'd only tried a few times, and had been doing better and better as she learned, but - well, when she issued her first challenge, with stakes to the winner, she set up a doozy. A very long run, with herself as one of the followers and a more experienced runner as the leader. She put up an antique book that she'd gotten for her birthday and had only just finished reading - 'A brief history of time', by Hawking. I... I *knew* that she was going to lose it, and regret the whole thing, especially because the book meant more to her than winning the entire pot would have, or even the pure excitement of winning. But I couldn't talk her out of it."
"And she didn't win, did she?" I turned around, and saw Zoe in the doorway. Shook my head.
"Nope. She was the second to lose the pack. Took it really hard to her ego, too."
"Ahh. After dinner, I think I'll go up and sit co-pilot for just a little bit. River shouldn't mind." From Zoe's face, things might get ugly if my sister *did* mind. I couldn't blame her for being a bit concerned, though.
Tidying up the rest of the party mess didn't take long after breakfast, and I gave Kaylee a quick re-examination just to make sure that her collarbone and spine were doing great. After that, it was back into our bunk for a little while, to read up on the latest news on the Cortex, (I tried to start with medical updates, but couldn't avoid getting drawn into reports on the continuing unrest,) while Kaylee did some sort of checking on the nav system circuits to make sure that nothing else would go wrong without warning. After she was knocked out, apparently the damaged parts of the radar button that she'd planned on bringing in for further investigation had been lost, flying away and becoming tiny micro-meteoroids in and of themselves. Hopefully when they hit somebody or something, they wouldn't be big enough to cause any damage.
After an hour and half, she called down to me. "Hey, do you want to have lunch with Hasati?"
"Who?" And then I remembered the dark-skinned passenger man, the diplomatic negotiator for the Independents. "Sure I guess. What about River's young friend, the game strategist?"
"Haven't seen him around today, why, do you want to invite him too?"
Paused in thought. "No, not to make a big deal about it. Never mind."
"Okay, if you're sure."
Lunch was enjoyable, if always fairly plain and repetitious on board ship. This ship, at least, and in terms of the food. I love Serenity dearly, because of what she means to Kaylee and River, if not my own self... but the food preparation facilities do lead something to be desired. Just every so often, I wish I could be on one of those luxury yachts...
Wait a second, I realized silently. That's entirely the wrong attitude. You really don't want to be on any other ship, not when Kaylee and River are here, right? So - what about doing what I could to make Serenity just a little bit more comfortable? Nothing was wrong with the general structure, the hull, the engine of a Firefly-class ship. All the rest is just things that are filling space. I still had plenty of purchasing power from the stash on Boros, so it was a question of what kitchen feature I wanted most, and finding one that would be compatible with the ship...
I shook off that notion and returned to the conversation. Hasati was an interesting guy, actually, with a lot of perspective on what was going on around us. Support had apparently been growing for Robert Snyder on at least a dozen worlds while we'd been flying past the sun, and Hasati thought he could see an uncomfortable pattern growing, or at least uncomfortable for him. "The way I see it, Snyder's neo-Alliance will be strong in the core, as the old Alliance always was, and also out on the edge, where they seem to believe in the power of reforms to correct the worst egregiousnesses of corrupt officials. Only four or five border worlds will remain Independent, caught between on the border. Boros, Hera, Santo, Paquin, and maybe one out of Beaumonde or Newhall, but not both. There won't be any overt warfare to begin with, but still, it's a tough spot to be caught in."
"To begin with?" Kaylee asked, worried. "What might start fighting?"
Hasati considered before answering. "No world from one faction will attack a planet of the other side, not just now, so soon after the 'Verse has been turned upside down. But - but if one world has strong adherents from both ideologies, then fighting between them might start too easily."
"And a civil war for one world might draw in neighbours," I said, seeing it and growing worried myself. "Which one will it be - one of the maybes that you mentioned? Newhall, or Beaumonde?"
"Could be one of them," Hasati agreed. "Or - well, I'm worried about Persephone, I'll admit that much. But there's nothing that we can do about it right now. How about some more of these berry-flavoured cookies?"
I woke up in the middle of ship's night by loud voices talking, probably in and around the cockpit. Checked to make sure that I at least had shorts on, and headed up the hatch, meaning to yell at whoever it was to be quiet, but along the way, I heard some words that got me more concerned and worried about other stuff. Don't ask me exactly what they were - you'll get the drift in a moment. "What's going on?" I remember asking that myself.
"Jayne, izzat you?" Kaylee called back. "Umm... we're gonna get to Hera a little bit too soon."
"Too soon for what?" I asked, not getting it entirely yet. "I thought that the deal was the sooner we get there with the cargo and the passengers, the more money we get for 'em." Then a connection went through. "Wait - you don't mean that we're gonna..."
"Not really... or at least, not for sure," River insisted. "But - well, the original plan was to mosey into a low orbit around the planet, take a few quick loops around to find their major spaceport, and then go in for a quiet and calm landing. We're definitely approaching too quickly for that."
"It's not a problem in the engines, is it? For sure?" Kaylee asked.
"No, I've already told you, the engines are doing fine," River insisted, as I got to the cockpit door. "It's my fault, I admit it. I did the math wrong. Wanted to save a bit of fuel, didn't retro-thrust until a little bit too late. Didn't think of the effect the slingshot would have on our reaction time."
"Okay, enough of the blame game chatter," Mal muttered, from over on the co-pilot's chair, (but not touching any of the controls, I noticed.) "What are our options? We *have* to have options."
"Of course we do," River said. "Well, if we do nothing, we're probably going to land hard enough to total Serenity and kill approximately half the hands aboard - and that's assuming that nothing actually goes explodey in the cargo bay, which is surprisingly reasonable considering how well it's been braced against sudden acceleration..."
"Still, that's not a GOOD option," Kaylee put in. "Umm, there has to be something, what about - about missing Hera entirely? Are we far enough away for that?"
"Certainly we are," River said. "We could do a hyperbolic slingshot trajectory through a medium-low orbit, and pass Hera by. The problem is, though we'd have time, and still fuel, to slow down after that, we would NOT be able to get back to Hera by ourselves."
"So we could radio for assistance," Mal said, working it through. "They'd send a tug or some other ship capable of towing us back home, or refuelling Serenity... but it would take time, and there would probably be rescue fees assessed on our payday."
"Plus," Zoe muttered, coming up behind me to also join in the confab, "we've spotted Alliance patrol ships in the vicinity. They might not be about to attack Hera directly, but if they notice something that strange, they might want to board us to investigate what's going on - and when they find out what we're carrying and where it's bound for... that's big trouble."
"Two things," I said. "One, if we can do a low-orbit slingshot thing, why can't we just stay in orbit?"
"There's all different kinds of orbits, Jayne," Zoe told me in her 'you dumb ass' tone, "and the height isn't always as important as the speed. To stay near Hera, we'd need to have a circular or elliptical orbit, which is fairly slow. Hyperbolic orbit is faster, probably much faster in this case - we get to the spot we'd like to be, not far above Hera, but we're still moving way too fast to stop."
"Okay," I nodded, accepting the correction without taking offense. I know that I'm an iggerant bastard about a lot of things, and so cheerfully use my thick skin to ask lots of dumb questions. About the only way that I'll ever be able to learn something. (I can see how it might be an annoying habit in 'every moment counts' situations like this.) "Second, is there any way that we can ask for help before we pass Hera by? Just get their help slowing down as we zoom by?"
"I've been in contact with their orbital control already," River said. "The thing is, if anything in a more conventional orbit tries to intercept us, it'll become a high-impact collision. There are advanced sorts of nets that can be used to slow down ships without impacts, but they don't have many, and not one designed for a Firefly."
"Okay," Mal said. "So much for getting help. Can we somehow manage to land on our own? Err, safely I mean?"
"Depends on just how safe you want," River shot back. "I've heard of something that just might work. Instead of changing course to miss Hera entirely, I adjust so that we shoot down into the atmosphere directly - the same way we'd enter from orbit, but faster and a bit rougher. We'll slow ourselves down by dragging the ship through the atmosphere, letting the speed turn into heat, until it's safe to go down. It probably won't be an easy landing, and there's some danger, but if it works we'll avoid the risk of an Alliance inspection, and the financial inconvenience of rescue fees."
"Well, I've always been one for taking a stupid risk," Mal quipped. "How long before you need to know for sure?"
River checked the board. "Fifteen minutes. I'm already moving us out of the hard crash landing course, ever since I realized the danger - so it's just a question of how hard and how long I keep the thrust on."
"Good girl," Mal said absently, and turned around to look at the rest of us. "Thoughts?"
"Don't be stupid, Mal," I muttered. "We can deal with the feds, and it won't be the first time we ended up owing money at the end of a job. Better that than dying when the warheads in the hold go off."
"There's not much chance of that," Kaylee said staunchly. "I say that we take the risk. If River thinks that she can pull it off with only a few little bumps..."
"She's the one who got us inter this mess!" I flared back at little Kaylee.
"Okay, I think I've got the trend of your objection, Jayne," Mal said calmly, "and your own sentiment, Kaylee. River seemed to think that we'd do better on the direct landing, though maybe I shoulda put it to her directly..."
"Yes, if only to vote against Jayne," River called back from the cockpit.
"And since ganging up on Jayne Cobb is always so fun, I'll join in," Zoe put in. "Always thought I'd rather die on Hera than in black space, no matter what."
"Oh, come on!" I grumbled under my breath. "Not much chance that going my way would lead to any of us dying in space..."
"Well, come on," Mal said. "I'll want to hear from Simon, and Inara, and our three passengers, before committing us to a course. And we don't have that much time."
It took only a few minutes to round the others up, and then Mal summarized the two viable options for them and put 'em on the horns of the dilemma, without explaining the votes cast so far. There was an awkward silence, and Inara spoke first, saying that though it was a difficult choice, she supported taking a risk with the atmosphere drag landing. The three passengers exchanged a few muttered words among themselves, and each of them went that way too. The older ones were probably more scared of being captured as Independent agents than they were of a crash landing - both of them would have been around during the war. And the little squirt, he knew that River was flying, and probably just about worshipped anything that she did, bah.
So it was up to Simon, if I was going to get any support at all for my point of view. Not that it really mattered, Mal had a sizable majority to justify his decision if he wanted to, but I felt like having at least one right-thinking person on the ship with me would soothe my mind somehow. And of course, if Mal was leaning my way, then maybe he wouldn't go with the majority. "I... I don't think I can make a decision," Simon finally said, throwing up his hands. "Scared of both options. Put me down as a pass."
"Alright," Mal said. "We're going to go through atmospheric landing. Everybody prepare to strap down on my mark. I'll go tell River."
This was different than the last time everybody prepared for a rough landing, on Mister Universe's moon. That was sudden, and hectic. Here, aside from River working the controls, there was time to wait and nothing to do but worry about it, at least that's what I found. There's only five spots to strap into in the dining room, which is pretty much the safest place in the whole ship to be in the event of a hard landing - high up, and far from any of the edges of the Firefly. Mal insisted that the passengers get first pick, and then Inara, and then had anybody else interested draw straws for the last one. Zoe won, and then gave up her seat to the Doctor, which was a total rip. If she didn't want it for herself, she should have just bowed out, it's not something like currency that can be traded away.
So I ended up in my bunk, with a few straps around my bed to keep from getting bounced out of it, arranged where I could pull them free when I had to. It's not as bad a spot to be as it looks, in the little crew cabin hanging off the Firefly's neck, or so Kaylee kept telling me. Herself, she stayed back in the engine room 'just in case.' I'd get upset that that spot was a bit more centrally located, except that it strikes me as just possible there might be an engine breach in the middle of whatever happens, and really I don't even want to think about what might happen to her then, breathing in the radioactive by-products and what-not.
So I can't really tell you what the landing looked like. I didn't see any of it. There was noise, a kind of rattling shaking to start with, and a loud howling wind, and the ship seemed to be shaking itself apart all around me, as if my bunk might get torn loose. Things started to heat up, literally, especially anything metal that was in contact with the exterior hull.
After a lot of this, maybe five or ten minutes, the heat, the wind turning into a wine, and the rattling - there was a sort of a dipping tilt, and a thudding impact, and a grinding shaking that was even worse. I knew that that was. We'd dived into the ground, and were gouging a trench out of the ground, until everything came to a halt. Soon as that happened, I made off with the straps, and climbed out of my bunk. Things was slightly ass-kew, so my ladder was leaning back, which made it harder to get up safely, but I was ruttin' well determined. Considered going back down to the cargo bay doors, but they might be damaged, and anyway, I'd be able to get a better view from the cockpit.
Aside from the jaunty angle of everything and one crack in the windows, everything seemed fine, but something bugged me about what I saw outside. We was pointing sort of into a hillside, sloping up and up, with moss growing here and there, but very little else that was green. A few low, flattened bushes here and there, and not flattened by us, because they were where we hadn't gotten to yet.
And everywhere, there seemed to be stones poking out of the ground, regular stones in a way, made by human hands without much of the way of tools, and stuck down to mark... well, in a way, it sort of reminded me, despite the awkwardness, of...
"Is this a graveyard?" I blurted out.
Mal looked up from the co-pilot's seat. "In a way, I suppose. But not really... and I remember when it wasn't."
Uh-oh. "Wait a second, are you trying to tell me that with the whole gorram planet to choose from, we come down in..."
"Right in the middle of it," Mal said tonelessly. "Serenity Valley. The battle that decided the fate of the 'Verse was fought right here. All around us."
"Ruttin' hell," I muttered. "What do we do next?"
THE END - FOR NOW.
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