BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

CBSTEVE

River's Run - Part 15
Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mal finds a new friend on Londinium, his crew makes contact with River and Zoe, and events come to head on Whitefall.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1848    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

*** Apologies for the delays in posting this. Real life and work took time away from it. Enjoy.

River’s Run – Part 15

River and Zoe were under the guns of at least twelve men who appeared to be under the command of Laurence Dobson, the same Laurence Dobson they thought dead by the bullet of Mal. Having been dropped off on Whitefall by an Alliance FTL Firefly where they had been knocked unconscious and taken prisoner, Zoe and River went searching for a Cortex screen to contact Serenity. Now Zoe had four guns pointed at her no more than few feet away and at least eight guns were pointed at River from the high wall surrounding Dobson’s compound. And now Dobson surprised them by wanting to know where Mal was.

River stretched out her mind and in a second knew all there was to know about Dobson, at least in the present. He was in pain, his artificial eye not set right, and he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or more than likely both, and wasn’t thinking clearly. He blamed Mal for his predicament, and he wanted revenge.

“Simon can fix it,” was all River said and Dobson was taken aback and then he smiled in an awful leer.

Dobson walked out a few more steps from the compound, his one good eye looking River up and down where she stood with her arms raised.

“I know you can read minds,” he said in such a low voice that River barely heard him and she was sure Zoe and the men heard nothing.

“Yes, I can,” River replied, talking quietly. “You are in pain and you blame the Captain.”

“Is he near? Is Serenity nearby?”

“Close,” River said. “We just need a Cortex screen to call it. And then he will come.”

“Reynolds? Or your brother?”

“Both.”

Dobson grimaced. “Why are you here? Where is Reynolds?” This was said in louder tone, so all could hear.

“None of your gorramn business,” Zoe said with scorn and looked to River and then back to Dobson. “And ain’t no way in hell we’re telling you where the Captain or our ship is!”

“You will tell, willing or not,” Dobson said slowly. “Serenity. Been all over the Cortex the last month. An FTL ship. Man could use a thing like that, take him where he wanted to go, make him rich, give him back…”

“His dignity,” River finished for him and the look of pain and scorn Dobson shot River told her she hit a nerve.

“Yes….dignity,” Dobson said, and then suddenly asked again, “Why are you here?”

River decided on the truth, well, some of it. “I was captured by the Alliance. I escaped with Zoe’s help.”

Dobson thought on this and looked to Zoe. “Surely you’ve seen all the news of River escaping from a prison ship,” Zoe said. “Killing them folks at that space port and then on Paquin? Been all over the Cortex.”

“Why Whitefall?” Dobson asked next and River was ready for this one.

“We are trying to get to Ariel,” she began. “We are supposed to meet Serenity there, which, if you have also been following the news, you know was retaken by the rebel leader Malcolm Reynolds. Our transport crew was a little more than dishonest, drugged us, took all our money and dumped us here.”

“Why dump, why not kill? Just as easy," one of the men drawled.

Zoe glared at him. “Didn’t have time to ask. Maybe some folks are not as much scumbags as others.” That last was for Dobson and his men, a point clear to all but the dimmest.

Dobson shook his head and spoke quietly to River. “Awful lot of holes in that story. And I don’t for a second believe Reynolds is the rebel leader. But never mind. You’re here, and we have you. Now little River, so far you’ve been nice. You haven’t hit me even though I am most likely within range of your attacking capabilities.”

“You are.”

Dobson couldn’t help himself and took a nervous step backwards. “So now one of my men is going to approach you and put some handcuffs on you. If you hit him I will order my men to fire and you will be dead. Not even you and your kind can dodge eight bullets.”

“No, I can’t. I will cooperate,” River said. As she said this she looked at Zoe, already handcuffed and she smiled ever so slightly and Zoe picked up on it and felt better, knowing River had something in mind.

The cuffs were soon on River, hands in front and she walked to the gates. Soon they were being led inside.

“Take her to the barn,” Dobson said to his men and Zoe was led off in a different direction by three men, giving one last backward glance toward River and the teen was as calm and cool as whenever she was getting ready for battle.

“If she is harmed you will never get Serenity or the Captain,’ River said.

“Not to worry,” Dobson reassured her.

They entered the largest building, River surrounded by armed men. “Take me to a Cortex screen,” she said. “And I will bring Serenity to you.”

“And Reynolds?”

“Of course.”

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

Of course, Mal was no where near Serenity and had no idea what had happened to Zoe and River or his ship for that matter. He was stuck in a ten by ten cell, sitting propped up on a cot on one side and staring at his toilet and sink on the other. Lunch had just been brought, some salad and a soup and an apple and some water and Mal ate it all and could have eaten seconds. One thing he learned fast as a soldier was to eat when food was there because it might be a while before he ate again.

After he ate there as nothing to do. As he thought on his friends and wondered what they were up to, the image of Inara kept coming back to him. She was mad as hell right now, he knew that for sure, and she had every right to be. Stupid recruit move, not disabling those gas machines. One thing he did not count on was River not knowing it was going to happen. That was laziness on his part. He had a super weapon and he got too used to it. She was human after all, and if recalled her early days on Serenity, she was a not quite stable human and like all of us had her flaws. Next time he wouldn’t depend on her or anything else except what had gotten him this far in life.

Which wasn’t very far. A ten by ten cell in an Alliance prison. After his stint in another Alliance prison, years ago now, Mal decided to do a little research on the matter. Jayne helped because he had a wealth of knowledge on the Alliance legal system. How he came across it he never said, but Mal figured Jayne had spent more than one day inside a room like this and was always on the lookout not to end up back there. Mal knew he had the right to legal representation, even if he was charged with treason and killing the Prime Minister. Trouble was he only knew one lawyer and that was the dead Prime Ministers’ husband. Guess I’ll just have to rely on my charm and good looks to win over the jury. If there is a jury, cause they could do it with just three judges if they wanted to.

“Visitor,” said a guard through the laser electric door. Mal looked up and couldn’t have been more shocked. Thomas Blakely.

“Good-day, Mr. Reynolds,” the lawyer said. He was in his late forties, Mal ventured, had sandy brown hair, long and wavy, and wore gold rimmed glasses. He was in a black suit and tie, white shirt, held his brief case in one hand and looked like he hadn’t slept in a week.

“Howdy,” Mal said slowly as he stood up and approached the laser bars, not too close though. “How you doing?”

Blakely gulped a little and Mal could see the man was struggling with the death of his wife barely a week or so ago. “Getting by. Yourself?”

“Been better. You know I had nothing…”

Blakely raised a hand and Mal stopped. “I know,” Blakely said. “That’s why I’m here. The Alliance Constitution allows you legal representation. Mr. Reynolds, I’m going to be your lawyer.”

For the first time since he awoke in his cell Mal smiled.

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

Shin seethed in rage at the colossal arrogance of Thomas Blakely. He was going to represent Reynolds! The consequences were too shocking to ignore. The man who killed his wife was his client. The public will eat it up, the news outlets will have a field day, and questions will be raised. Shin had to do something.

He was in fleet headquarters looking at the reports from the Operative, from Miranda and the Reaver hunt, and on and on through the galaxy. Still their was no Minister of the Interior, so Shin had to shoulder Cutter’s old job as well as take care of the fleet and plot a way around Parliament so he could be placed in charge. So much to do and so little time. At least one of his problems was taken care of. River Tam was dead and he had six witnesses to that fact, if they were telling the truth, but he had no reason to doubt them. He just wished they had kept the bodies on board until they had picked up the Operative at that ion-covered moon with no name. The Operative’s word that they were dead would have ended any doubts. The Operative wasn’t so sure the crew was telling the truth and was with the FTL Firefly now at the dock, and Shin had a feeling he was questioning those men again.

But he had bigger worries. The plan had been to parade Reynolds before the people, to show the face of the rebellion, to break him and make him confess everything, all the rebellion plans, real or not, and then execute him. This would give Shin the final piece of the puzzle to force Parliament to declare martial law, the proof the new rebellion was real and very large. Already he had over half the representatives in his pocket, most afraid the scandals of their life would be revealed to the public. But he needed two-thirds of the Parliament to achieve a declaration of martial law. As he plotted this next step the prison reported Blakely was there and had requested a private room to chat with Reynolds. The prison warden had to allow it, despite the charges, since it was Reynolds’ right. Now they were in there, plotting a plan to escape or whatever and Shin had no way to know what was being said, lawyer-client confidentiality not allowing any surveillance. He was sure that would have never stopped Cutter. No, he would have been planning measures to end the issue before it became public knowledge.

He made the decision right away and contacted the Operative on the Firefly.

“I need your services,” Shin said. “I need a problem here taken care of.”

“I am no longer on Londinium,” the Operative said.

“Where are you?” Shin demanded and the Operative just stared at him passively.

“Chasing two ghosts. Contact one of my brethren. I have important work to do,” he said and then before Shin could ask what the in the verse he was talking about the transmission was cut.

This stun Shin and he felt more anger rising but controlled himself. The Operative knew too much and was getting too arrogant. But he needed him. His brethren? Of course, they were as skilled and would obey. Now if only one of them can find a way to make it look like Reynolds died by accident in his prison cell. Or maybe trying to escape.

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

“Tell me how River Tam and Zoe Washburne died,” the Operative asked the pilot seated at the dining table of the FTL Firefly as it sat in a dock on Londinium. They had been back barely a day and the Operative had things to do first, like report to Shin and take that pesky pirate Mr. Universe to his new jail cell on Londinium, to await trial. He protested that he had helped them find Serenity, but the Operative was in no mood to honor that promise. Besides his facility on that moon was perfect for the Alliance as a new communication and listening outpost.

“And what did you do with the bodies?” the Operative added..

The pilot sighed. “Look we explained all this when we picked you up and in our report to Admiral Shin.”

The Operative gazed at him in a steady glare. “Explain it to me again.”

“The three of them were knocked out by the gas. We secured Reynolds and we put Tam and the Washburne woman in the airlock and sent them out into space,” the pilot said.

After he finished, the Operative just nodded, like he had done with the other five men he had already questioned and then he took a recording device from his pocket and pressed rewind and then play. The pilot’s eyes widened as the recording played back the other five men giving exact or close versions of what he had just said.

“You see,” the Operative began to explain. “When someone plans to lie, they will repeat the same lie over and over in almost the same way. Even if more than one person is part of the lie, if it is planned, it will sound similar from all. So now, tell me the truth.”

“That is the truth,” the pilot said, a slight tremble in his voice.

The Operative said nothing, picked up a communicator from his pocket. “Bring the others in.”

The three enlisted technicians and the two engineers were brought in from the aft hallway after a few moments. Three soldiers with drawn guns were with them.

The Operative stood and without a word drew his sword from its sheath and stabbed one of the enlisted men through the heart. The shock terrorized the rest and as the tech screamed and his eyes grew cloudy, the Operative pulled out his sword and the dead man fell to the floor, crimson blood pooling around his lifeless body.

“Now,” said the Operative with bloody sword in hand. “Does anyone else have to die before I learn the truth?”

“Whitefall,” said one of the engineers in a rush, his voice high-pitched. “We left them on Whitefall.”

“Alive?” the Operative asked.

The engineer just nodded, ashamed at his weakness at being unable to keep a secret.

“Then make ready for a jump to Whitefall,” he said and the engineers and the pilot went to the bridge, in a rush, glad to be away from the dead body.

The Operative turned to the two still living, terrified techs. “Take the body and see he is reported killed in action during the fight against the rebels on Reynolds’ ship.”

They gulped an affirmative and then dragged their comrade’s body away. The Operative looked to the three soldiers, who were also a bit shocked. “You three stay with me. Rest for now, eat. We may have some fighting ahead.”

The Operative left them in the dining room and made his way to the bridge where the pilot was setting the course. Then Shin called and the Operative gave his curt goodbye.

“Engage the FTL drive,” the Operative said to the pilot once they were in space and he was strapped into the co-pilot seat. Shin would have to take care of his own problems. River Tam was the priority and nothing would get in his way of finally completing his mission.

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

“Recorded wave from…River!” Kaylee yelled with delight as she saw the message on the Cortex screen on Serenity’s bridge. “Calling from…Whitefall? What’s going on?”

“Whitefall?” Wash said from the pilot’s seat. “That’s…odd. Well, open it up. Let’s find out what happened!”

They were alone on the bridge and a view out the windows showed they were in dry dock at the Jamison shipyard on Hera. They had arrived three hours ago, making landing near dawn after a quick call to Badger’s cousin Jim Jamison.

“Serenity, welcome home!” said Badger with delight as he met them at the cargo bay ramp.

“Home? Maybe for you that’s still hiding,” Jayne growled as he limped on his leg down the ramp with Gabriel, Jonathan, and Simon beside him, all of them armed, not knowing what would happen, Serenity being so valuable. Inara stood by the cargo bay intercom, ready to yell to Wash to take off at a moment’s notice.

“Have a bit of tussle, did we?” Badger said, looking at Jayne’s wounds, and then he noticed who wasn’t there. “Where’s Mal and Zoe? Not dead, is they?” He actually sounded concerned.

“No,” said Simon quickly and it sounded a bit forced. Badger knew something wasn’t right here. He could see blood on the floor of Serenity’s cargo bay and what looked like burns on the walls and floor

“You did have a tussle. What’s up, Cobb?”

“You friend or foe?” Jonathan asked.

Badger grinned. “Friend, of course! Business is still business and you lot got me and old Jim in the FTL business. I might even be inclined to cut you in on a piece of the action. Of course, we’d like a look see at the original if you don’t mind, see if we got it all down pat. Hate to have customers complain and not be able to help them out.”

“Customers? For an FTL drive?” Simon asked in surprise.

“We’ve already made and sold six of them Frye drives,” Badger said proudly. “And they work, bless little Kaylee’s soul!”

“Six!” said Jayne in shock.

“You ain’t made squat,” said Jim Jamison, finally appearing, wiping grease from his hands. “Just sits in me office all day drinking tea and counting money, all he does.”

“More money than you would’ve made without me!” Badger shot back.

“Tis’ true,” Jamison admitted. “Old Tom’s got a right good head for business. So, you all need repairs again? Whatever you needs, on the house as a thank you for them FTL plans.”

Jayne grinned and Badger frowned. “Jus’ a sec there, cousin. I’m in charge of business around here.”

“Don’t be a cheap miser all your life, Tom,” Jamison admonished his cousin. “We owes them. Where’s the captain, ah, Reynolds, was it?”

Silence, and then Simon looked toward Inara in the cargo bay and she just nodded and Simon spoke. “We don’t know.”

Jamison sighed. “Well, that’s right bad news. Put away them guns and come have a spot of tea or a drink of something stronger if it suits you at this hour of the morning. I guess we all got some storytelling to do.”

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

A few hours later Kaylee and the shipyard crew were busy setting Serenity up with an EMP cannon and missile racks. Jamison had the EMP gear and missile racks, but no missiles, them being a black market item, so that would require a bit of cash and a call around to here and there. The cash the crew had, almost 10 million in fact, but that was something they didn’t tell the Jamison boys.

Mal was the one who would usually do the negotiating, but in Gabriel Tam they had a businessman who knew people of Badger’s ilk, if not exactly his lower social standing. But even more importantly, Gabriel had actually dealt with Badger in the past, not in person exactly, but his private investigators had talked to Badger five years ago when Gabriel had been searching for his children. It was Badger who had told him, for a tidy sum, that they were last seen on Serenity. As Jayne and Jonathan sat by having a drink of good whisky in Jamison’s office, they watched in amazement as Gabriel took a small bit of payback for Badger squeezing him so much when he was in need all those years ago. He and Badger haggled back and forth and around and around until Badger finally gave up and gave them a decent price for the missiles, that is, if the missiles could be found.

Meanwhile, on Serenity the women tried to hide their feelings over who was missing. Inara, Mary, and Regan prepared a big meal for the crew, more of a brunch than anything else since they were a bit out of sync with Hera time. As she carried a big platter of eggs to the table, Regan broke down. She sank into chair and a big sob escaped from her lips.

“I’m sorry,” she said as Mary and Inara came to her side. “I can’t take much more of this. My daughter is missing again.”

Inara was struggling also but kept strong. “She’s with Mal and Zoe and she’s so strong by herself.”

“I know, just…she’s my little girl, my baby! I’ve hardly seen her in so long and now…and all this…Alliance after us, dead people in the streets…dead people everywhere…funerals in space…I…can’t take it!”

Just then came a squeal of glee from the bridge. “River waved us!” Kaylee shouted down the hall.

In a rush the three women reached the bridge, which was a mess of loose wires as Kaylee had been setting up the EMP and the weapons control system. “Where are they?” Mary asked first.

“Whitefall,” Wash said. “Zoe and River are there and they need a pick up ASAP.”

“Oh, thank God,’ said Regan as she sat in the third chair. Then she looked at Inara’s subdued face and realized what was wrong.

“And Mal?” Inara asked with barely concealed hope.

Kaylee and Wash looked at each other. “Play it,’ Kaylee said and Wash hit the play button of the recorded wave.

“Hi, all, it’s me River. Don’t be blue, we just got a little sidetracked and ended up on Whitefall. Sorry, Mal. Tell you the whole story later. We’re fine, Zoe’s fine and she says get your ass here right away and pick us up. We can be found in the same place where we were the first time I came to Whitefall. Remember that valley? We’re at a farmhouse nearby. I guess the valley is a good place because we don’t want any locals to see Serenity. Already had enough trouble over that. Wouldn’t want it to happen again. No need to wave back. We’ll be waiting. Bye.”

“What the gorramn hell was that?’ said Jayne’s voice and it startled them all.

“River and Zoe are alive and on Whitefall,” said Wash.

“I got that much,” Jayne said. “But it don’t make sense. Whitefall? And where the hell is Mal?”

“Why did she say ‘Sorry, Mal’?” Inara asked next. “She knows Mal is not here. Doesn’t she?”

“What’s the wave address?’ Mary asked and Kaylee just let Mary sit at the Cortex screen and her fingers flew over the buttons and she brought up screens and then she gave a whistle. “Unlisted wave number. No name or planet side address. Why would a farmer hide his address?”

“Maybe he ain’t a farmer,” said Jayne and then Badger appeared on the bridge.

“Hey, Cobb, where’s Kaylee…ah Kaylee, just want to….say, what’s with the long faces?”

Jayne glared at him. “Off the bridge! Crew business!” But Inara stopped Jayne as he was about to shove Badger.

“No, wait. Badger, what do you know about Whitefall?”

“Oh, nasty place, did a bit a business here and there but not too much. Like to kill as cheat you they will. Got that woman running the place, forget her name. But she’s taken a bit of a back seat to a new guy there. Sad looking fellow, got half a face, well, one eye missing anyway, name of….what was his name again?”

“One eye?” Wash said slowly, looking at Inara and then Jayne. “Didn’t Mal once shoot someone in the eye? On Whitefall?

“Yeah,’ said Jayne as he cursed. “Lawman named…”

“Dobson,” Badger remembered and they all looked at him. “Met him once, said Reynolds gave him the eye, and Dobson wanted his head.”

Inara looked at him, pleading in her eyes. “Tell us everything.”

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

“That will take time to reach them,” River said after she finished recording the wave. “They aren’t on Ariel or it would have been face to face.”

“Where are they?” Dobson asked, his voice barely hiding his pain.

“I only know what Zoe told me, that we were to meet on Ariel. Cortex only knows that we are out of contact range. Not the distance, not the location,” said River as she sat up from the Cortex screen inside the house, her hands uncuffed since Dobson didn’t want Reynolds to get a glimpse of the cuffs and know they were in trouble.

River stared at Dobson, searching his mind and knew he was struggling to believe her, that whatever he was taking to control his pain was making thinking difficult

Dobson stood about twenty feet away, near the open door to the outside and outside the door in the courtyard were some of his men. River knew that Dobson knew she would do nothing as long as they had Zoe under guard. The trained assassin River Tam would not have cared about Zoe’s life if it got in the way of the mission, but River Tam the friend of Zoe did care, a lot, and would do nothing to jeopardize her life.

They were in a living room like area, that had a large screen entertainment system and many chairs, ashtrays filled with cigarette butts, and a bar along one wall, well-stocked. River started looking around, taking it all in for possible future use.

“For my men,” Dobson said. “But I’m sure you know that already.”

“Yes,’ said River. “I know a lot about your men. And can know more if they are near me.”

“Such as?”

“Who is loyal and who isn’t. Who will shoot you in the back someday. Who thinks that time is soon, as soon as the FTL ship arrives.”

Dobson smiled. “I know those four already. So don’t worry. By the way, your message. You never mentioned your brother or said hi to him. Why not?”

“We have no need to tell each other how we feel. It is understood.”

Dobson said nothing and then waved her out the door and she was cuffed again and then his men took her to the barn.

Dobson went back to the Cortex screen and replayed her message over and over, looking for a hint of a code or something that could warn them what he was planning to do. The part about “already had enough trouble over that” and something about what had happened before could be a warning, but his clouded thoughts just dismissed it. Nothing mattered except killing Reynolds. He would have his revenge.

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

“It’s a code,” said Simon as he watched River’s message, with Jayne and Kaylee's father standing over him and Wash nearby in the pilot’s seat with Kaylee under the control panel working on the EMP wiring. They at least wanted that working when they reached Whitefall. “Blue means Alliance. Maybe it’s not Dobson, maybe the Alliance has them and wants to get back the ship. She used the word ‘ass”. River never swears. It means be careful.”

“Be careful from ‘ass”?’ Jayne snorted.

“As in watch your ass?” Wash ventured and Simon nodded.

“I think the part about someone trying to take Serenity means that someone is planning the same thing again. If Dobson is there and wants revenge on Mal, what better way than to kill him and take his FTL ship. Or if the Alliance wants the ship. Or the word “blue” might be to tell us that the Alliance and Whitefall are connected and the only connection we know between those two is Dobson.”

“Whoever it is, there’s gonna be a trap alright,’ said Jonathan.

“Yeah, but how many and what firepower,’ said Jayne. “I know that valley and there’s good sniper positions up high and it’s mostly open down there. And where are River and Zoe gonna be? With Dobson with guns to their heads?”

“I think the situation will reveal itself as it happens and we will have to improvise,” said Gabriel. “I for one will kill any man who has a gun to my daughter’s head.”

Jayne just looked at him and smiled. “Darn right we will.”

“Wish Mal was here,’ said Wash. “He always has a plan. Doesn’t always work out but you know, at least we always have the beginning part.”

“Quit your jawing and help me down here, Wash. Sooner we get this EMP ready sooner we get to Whitefall,’” said the muffled voice of Kaylee down below the panel and Wash with a rolling of the eyes took some pliers and crawled down with her.

An hour later and it was all ready, the EMP cannon on the nose, the missile racks, currently with no missiles, under the stabilizers, with only enough space for two missiles each. Kaylee had also reinstalled the transponder with the Utopia signal, so they could make landfall on Whitefall without any trouble. They said their hasty goodbyes to Badger and Jamison, gave them half for the missiles they were still looking for, and then after Kaylee redid the weight and balance calculations for the new gear, they made the FTL jump to Whitefall.

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

“I’ll kill him first chance I get,” Zoe said in a whisper through clenched teeth. River just shook her head.

“There’s too many and they know we are not weak.”

They were in a barn, with about ten horses, and they were in an empty stall in the middle. The smell of horse was overwhelming, especially for two women who had not been raised on farms. There were twelve stalls, most filled horses, straw and dung. Zoe and River were still handcuffed and had watchful eyes at both ends of the barn with guns and more than likely more outside. The men guarding them were far off so that Zoe and River could talk, but that was the problem. The men were far off, and knew enough not to get too close, no matter what.

Zoe said nothing and just seethed. Sitting was not to her liking. There were too many things to do, such as finding the Captain and getting that bastard Operative who had sent that Firefly after them. And one more thing Zoe had made her mind up about. If she ever ran into that pilot or those engineers again, she was not letting them go, no matter they did them a favor this time.

The door opened about ten minutes later and someone brought some water and food. He just threw the bottle of water into the middle of the barn and a bag with a few sandwiches and apples. Zoe started gobbling the food, the old soldier’s instinct to eat when you can, while River sat and watched her for a few minutes and then began to eat.

“You thought it was drugged?” Zoe asked in mild surprise.

“You never know. We were drugged on the moon base.”

“No reason to drug us. Easier to let us walk.”

“It’s going to be a trap,” River said.

Zoe sighed. “I know. And Mal ain’t there to make a plan if they got the warning.”

“Simon got it. He understands me. He understood the message. But who’s in charge now?”

“Wash, I hope. Jayne, probably.”

“Kaylee’s father,” River said with some certainty.

Zoe nodded. “Maybe. Better than Jayne.”

More time passed and they talked and made their own little plan of escape, once they got to the valley, and after they settled it, River stretched out her mind and looked for Dobson. His thoughts were guarded but the rage he had for Mal and the spine-tingling delight he was experiencing thinking Mal would soon be here were too much for him to control. She also picked up other thoughts, from his men, about Dobson, about getting rid of him and doing what they wanted with these two fine ladies, of not believing Serenity would come here, and if it did, of capturing it for themselves, and dumping Dobson into the cold black of space.

They were criminals for the most part, or men who stumbled upon this chance job that turned them into criminals. How Dobson gathered them and set up this place would make an interesting story.

The barn door opened again. It was Dobson. “A Firefly was spotted entering atmo ten minutes ago near here. Earlier than I expected. Time to go.”

River and Zoe stood and walked outside. Then the horses were taken out of the barn, saddled, and Dobson and nine men mounted them, while two others remained behind and closed the gate as they left.

“It's about three kilometers to the valley,’ said Dobson as they rode down the road Zoe and River had taken earlier. Zoe and River walked in the middle, with horses in front and behind but only Dobson close to them. “Be night soon. Let’s hope Serenity is in the right place. Let’s hope Reynolds is on board. Let’s hope I don’t have to kill you two.”

“You won’t get the chance,” said Zoe as she spat in the ground. “Mal will finish what he should have finished five years ago.”

Dobson rubbed the metal plate around his artificial eye. “Yes, someone will finish what should have been finished five years ago. But it will be me.”

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

“Here was the spot,” said the first engineer to the Operative as they stood on the dusty road on Whitefall, the FTL Firefly about fifty meters behind them “We left them here, unconscious with food and water.”

“Weapons?”

A pause. “Yes.”

The Operative could see the footprints leading away down the road. “I’ll take the three soldiers and a shuttle. You go to a higher altitude and wait for us.”

In a minute the orders were executed, and a few minutes after that the shuttle landed at the farm where Zoe and River had stolen the horse. The sun was getting low on the horizon and it would be night in less than an hour. A quick chat with the farmer revealed the loss of his horse earlier in the day. The farmer was surprised to see Alliance troopers, said so, and was glad of it because there was this band of crooks just down the road that made him pay in produce for “protection”.

“Funny thing is, rumor has it their leader is an ex-lawman, like you.”

The Operative stared at him. “Does he have a name?”

“Sure, don’t we all.”

“The name?” the Operative said in an icy cold tone.

“Ah…Dobson, Larry or Laurence, yeah Laurence Dobson.”

The Operative asked more questions, about weapons and numbers and then had enough.

“Thank you,” he said and then left.

“Hey, you all the law around here now? What about my horse?” But the Operative ignored him and boarded the shuttle with his three men.

Dobson. One of his predecessors who had failed. Disappeared in fact, last known to have boarded Serenity, and after hailing a cruiser to come pick him and a fugitive up, was never heard from again. Until now.

In a moment they saw the compound from a distance and the Operative was wary. He had only three men and the farmer said at least a dozen people were with Dobson, all armed, all criminal types. And River Tam and Zoe Washburne were somewhere nearby.

They landed the shuttle in some trees and then moved on foot toward the compound. As they got nearer, the Operative told the three soldiers to hang back as he did recon ahead. His nose found the farmer’s horse, off to the side of the road fifty yards from the gated wall, it already beginning to decompose in the heat.

Then the gate opened and the Operative hid on the side of the road. Horses and riders cam out and then, walking, Zoe Washburne and River Tam. There she was, after all these years, so close and even handcuffed. But there were ten men, on horse, and with many guns. He had three men, but their value he was not sure of. Time to assess the situation.

He hid and listened and picked up the conversation as they passed. Serenity, coming here. And Dobson thinks Reynolds is on board. Interesting. After they passed he returned to his men who had also been wise enough to hide.

“Serenity is coming here and they aim to have her. We follow them and then we will wait and see what happens.”

“What do you think will happen, sir?” one man asked.

“I hope they kill each other and we are left to get the prize.”

“Serenity?”

“No, River Tam. I want to kill her personally.”

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

“Another Firefly?" Wash said in surprise as they started to enter Whitefall’s atmo.

“Where?" asked Jonathan from the co-pilot’s seat. He had experience as pilot, twenty years ago, but it was more than the rest had, Inara's expereince mostly with small shuttles. He scanned the radar scopes. “Got it. About two kilometers from our landing spot, about 3000 meters, that’s about 10,000 feet.”

“I’m sure he spotted us too,” Wash said. “We are still squawking Utopia on the transponder box so maybe they will think we are just a freighter like them.”

“Unless they are the same bunch we met last time,” Jonathan said with a grim tone.

“Then let’s hope old Jim Jamison and his bunch know their business,” Wash added. “Because I think that EMP cannon might come in handy right now.”

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

“It’s the Utopia,” said the pilot to the engineers. “That’s Serenity’s cover.”

“What the hell is going on?” the first engineer asked.

“They found a Cortex screen and waved Serenity,” said the second engineer.

“Has to be,” said the pilot. “What do we do?”

“Call him,” the first engineer said and the pilot picked up the comms and called the Operative.

“Serenity entering atmo, sir.”

As usual the Operative was unruffled. “Keep an eye on it, but do nothing for now. When I give the signal take it out with the missiles, on the ground or in the air.”

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

“Hit that son-of-a-bitch!” Jayne growled as he got to the bridge and got the news of the other Firefly just hanging around at 3000 meters.

“EMP gonna suck a lot of power, barely have enough to land," said Jonathan.

“We’ll crash if he hits us first. Get a long range visual,” Jayne ordered and in a second Wash had it up.

“Its him all right, missile rack, EMP cannon,” Wash said.

Jayne decided. “We attack. Now.”

Wash looked at Jonathan and the big man just nodded. Wash grabbed the overhead mic. “Battle stations everyone, battle stations!”

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

The rest had just gotten out of their chairs and straps after the bumping FTL jump and now they were going into battle.

“Not again!’ Regan moaned and then the ship started to lurch and Inara, Mary, Gabriel and Regan strapped in again in the dining room lounge. Simon and Kaylee gave quick goodbyes and worried looks for the others and each other and then Kaylee ran off to the engine room and Simon headed down to the infirmary. Meanwhile Inara headed for the bridge to see what the hell was going on.

“They do that like its second nature,” said Gabriel. “Like they are soldiers running off to their positions.”

“Been a hard time they had,” Mary said as she closed her eyes for a moment while the ship lurched again. “Lucky they have each other, all of them, more like a family than a ships crew.”

“Is it ever going to end?” Regan asked in despair.

Gabriel took her hand and squeezed it. “Soon, it will end soon.” But he knew that was wishful thinking.

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

“What the hell are they doing?’ the pilot asked.

“Moving toward us,” the second engineer said as he looked at the radar scopes.

“I see that, but why?” the pilot asked in bewilderment.

“Fire up the missile lock,” the first engineer ordered. “That will scare them off.”

“Missile lock established," said the pilot but Serenity kept coming closer.

“I got a bad feeling about…" started the pilot but then he never finished as a blue blot of EMP shot from the nose of Serenity and hit the bridge of the FTL Firefly.

The electricity surged through the controls and every panel and bulb and diode and silicon chip burst. The pilots was shot through with electricity and his heart raced wildly and he clutched his chest, keeled over on his smoking, sparking control panel and was dead in a seconds. The two engineers got a dose, not bad, but were sent flying.

Through the acrid smoke and popping flashes the two engineers stumbled to their feet and then just as quickly were sent reeling as gravity sent the ship plummeting out of control toward Whitefall. No one heard their screams except each other as they watched in terror as the planet got closer and closer and there was nothing they could do.

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

“Got the bastard!” Jayne yelled in delight as he clamped a meaty paw on Jonathan’s broad shoulder.

“He’s smokin’ alright!” Jonathan yelled and grinned and then they saw the Firefly tumble and start to fall and then in silence they watched as it went and went and then in massive smash hit the ground on its side and then the wreck went tumbling and finally stopped. Fire and explosions came from it and a greasy column of black smoke rose in the dying daylight to mark the spot.

But there was no time for more celebrating. Serenity began to shudder and Wash felt the controls go all sluggish. “Kaylee! He yelled in to the intercom. “I’m at 30% power up here!”

“You idiots!” she shouted back, very un-Kaylee like. “The EMP was only for emergencies!”

“We had one!” Jayne shouted back to her through the mic. Inara stumbled onto the bridge.

“What’s going on? Who are we fighting?”

“No one anymore,” Jayne said with joy. “We got the bastards!”

“And fried ourselves,” Wash said. “Still not enough power!”

“Turn off all non-essentials,” Jonathan yelled to Kaylee. “And feed power to the control systems and engines.”

She didn’t even answer, just started doing it and all over Serenity the lights went out except on the bridge and engine room. Plunged into darkness, Simon and the others wondered what in blazes was going on now. Simon groped in the darkness and found his intercom but it didn’t work. All this darkness reminded him of the chip from Derek Bowen’s brain that he still had located yet. That was first thing once he had a moment to breathe.

“I got it, it’s coming back,” Wash said as Serenity began to stabilize. “Getting better, we’ll make it for sure.”

“There’s the valley,” Jayne said as he looked out the windows.

In a few more moments they were safe and down, with just a few bumps.

“Now what?’ Wash asked.

Jayne grinned despite the pain of his many wounds. “Let’s go get us a lawman.”

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

“What the hell is that?’ one of Dobson’s men said as he saw the blue EMP fly across the sky. “Look, two ships are fighting!”

“Two Fireflys,” said Dobson who had a pair of binoculars. He glared at Zoe and River. “Does Serenity have weapons?”

“Not last time we were on board,’ River said.

Dobson said nothing and just watched as the ship fell and fell and then they all heard the crash even though it was over two kilometers away.

“If Serenity ain’t got weapons, may that’s her that crashed,” said one of the men. Others agreed. “And if that’s the case, then Reynolds is most likely dead, the ships a burning wreck, and these two ain’t worth nothin’ except for what loving they can give us.”

A few men laughed and one howled. Zoe glowered at them. “You try to stick anything in me I’ll take it right off of you.”

A few catcalls and jeers greeted that. River said nothing, was looking at Dobson, knew what he was going to do. He stared at her and he knew she knew.

“Teddy,” Dobson said to the loud mouth, “Take four men and check the wreck. Gibbs, Tony, Fred, Muldoon. Rest follow me.”

Teddy spit out a wad of chewing tobacco. “All, right, you all with me.”

The men moved off toward the smoking wreckage.

Dobson and his team with River and Zoe moved off. River walked closer to Dobson. “Those five are not as loyal as these,’ she said.

Dobson said nothing about her comment but pointed up. “And that other Firefly is Serenity. It’s heading for the valley. Reynolds is there and he will die.”

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

The battle above him meant that the Operative was without a ride home. He knew which ship had crashed and he now knew Serenity had an EMP. His calls to the ship had been met with silence and so he surmised the comms were out or the men were dead or hurt or both. Then it didn’t matter as the ship fell and crashed.

“We should check it out,” one of his men said. “Could be survivors.”

“Doubtful,” said the Operative. “And if we want to go home, at least in a timely manner, we need to take Serenity and its pilot and engineer alive. So we must hurry.”

They flew the shuttle around to the valley, low to the ground and landed in a place where they moved out to the hills above. They had no long range weapons, but the three soldiers had automatics and many clips of ammo plus under slung grenade launchers on the automatics. The Operative had his pistol and sword and his stealth and wits and experience. He set the three men up in a concealed position from where they could bring fire down on most points in the valley and told them to fire only when he fired first. Almost as soon as they were in position, Dobson and now only four men rode in with Tam and Washburne still walking.

Why only four men now? Had he sent others to check the wreck? He didn’t know which ship was which. But as the Firefly landed, both Dobson and the Operative knew for certain which ship was Serenity.

The Operative watched as Dobson and his men dismounted and hitched the horses on a stout bush. Then, after a moment, River and Zoe were ordered to walk ahead of them, about twenty meters, stopping about ten meters in front of Serenity. After a few more moments the ramp came down on Serenity.

Jayne Cobb and Jonathan Frye walked out, both armed. The Operative could see bandages on Cobb’s shoulder and leg. He tried to creep closer as they talked but the cover was scant. He thought and thought and then knew it was worth the chance. At least he would get Tam. He took out his pistol and lined up on her back. It was a long shot, over sixty meters, and it was near twilight, but he was an expert with the weapon and he had sixteen shots. All he'd need was one. He blanked his mind, closed his thoughts and then he took final aim and fired.

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

“Howdy, Laurence, looking mighty pretty these days,” Jayne drawled as he and Jonathan walked down the ramp. There had been a bit of an argument with Gabriel Tam about who would go out, but Simon convinced his father to stay hidden in the cargo bay with him and the others, all armed.

Dobson moved closer to stand near River and Zoe, but not too close. He didn’t say a word, just stared at Jayne for a moment. Then he let out a big breath he had been holding in. “You are not surprised to see me. Or by this situation. No matter. Where’s Reynolds?” he growled.

“Mal? Oh, didn’t the ladies tell you? Guess not since it happened while they was on R and R. He’s in bad way. Lying in the infirmary, gut shot and the Doc said he ain’t got long. So if you want to say your goodbyes, best do it now.”

“What kind of lie is that Jayne,” Zoe yelled in a strangled voice, picking up on Jayne’s story. “Tell the truth now. He ain’t dying is he?”

“Sad to say,” Jonathan said. “And I’m sure glad to see you all. Jayne here is trying to take over what is rightfully your ship, Zoe.”

“Our ship now,” said Dobson. “Weapons down and off the ship or we will shoot these two down like dogs. You all can go free, except for Wash and Kaylee Frye. And Reynolds.”

His four men still had guns on Zoe and River’s backs from twenty meters behind them. Jayne assessed the situation. Could be snipers anywhere drawing on his forehead right now. Or maybe these five men was it.

“No, Jayne, it's not it. He does have other men,” River said.

“Shut it,” Dobson said swiftly. And then he made his first mistake. He cocked his pistol and came up to River and he got too close to her.

But River didn’t strike. Something suddenly entered her mind, another person, was out there, aiming a…

In a swift move River dropped to the ground on her face as bullets went whizzing by her last position. Suddenly automatics rifle firing was pinging down among them from somewhere. The nearby horses were terrified and started to try to break free. Two of Dobson’s men went down with screams and groans and then a grenade landed and the explosion knocked Zoe and Dobson off their feet.

Bullets hit Serenity and entered the cargo bay and everyone was ducking and hiding. Jayne and Jonathan also ducked and started to fire back, Jayne at Dobson and his men, Jonathan out in the valley behind them. Dobson would have been dead by Jayne’s bullets except the grenade threw him to the ground. There he got a swift kick in the face from River Tam and he was out cold in a second. Bewildered by this fire from behind, the last two of Dobson’s men turned and fired everywhere and then neat pistol shots hit them in the chest and they went down.

“Inside!” Jayne yelled. “Everyone inside!”

River got to her feet and then moved to Zoe as Jayne and Jonathan fired everywhere. Then River was hit as she struggled to help Zoe up the ramp.

The bullet went through the back of her right thigh and came out the front and it was like a dull thwack. She had never been shot before and it didn’t register at first. She kept moving and soon she and Zoe were in the cargo bay and she could see Zoe was bleeding also, from the left arm and side

“There he is,” Jonathan yelled and he could see a man, a black man, move swiftly toward them, a pistol raised and firing and as Jonathan got off two shots toward the man the Operative moved his aim toward him and then Jonathan was hit too, in the chest and went down and back into the cargo bay just as the ramp came up and the bullets pinged off it harmlessly.

“All aboard,” Jayne yelled and then the ship rumbled and moved and in seconds it was flying toward the black.

Then they came out from behind the crates and boxes after the bullets stopped flying. River suddenly screamed in agony as she sat down on a crate and Simon was rushing toward her, med kit in hand, his mother and father not far behind. Zoe collapsed on the floor as Inara rushed to her side and then Jayne turned and saw Jonathan and knew it was bad.

“Doc! Simon!” he yelled as he hobbled over to Jonathan and Mary came running down the stairs and screamed and ran over too.

Simon took one look and also knew it was bad. “Stretcher, now!” he yelled and in a minute Jonathan was on the table in the infirmary and Simon had his chest opened and was fighting for the life of Kaylee’s father.

COMMENTS

Tuesday, July 28, 2009 8:58 AM

MAINEAXE


Keyboard gripping... Great Chapter.. I hope Johnathan put something lead like into the operative.. Man.. hes like a bugger you just cant flick... :)

YES PLEASE!!!! May we have another????


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