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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
In the fifth part of WASH: DOUBLE BOOKED, Mal and Jayne head off to a special delivery, only to discover just how "special" it is. The crew get a guided tour of beautiful downtown Flynt, only to discover there's nothing beautiful about it. And everyone learns why Flynt isn't a nice place to visit, only to discover a reason to have to.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 900 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Jayne sat in the co-pilot’s seat and kept his hands well away from the controls. He didn’t know how to fly the shuttle, and wasn’t much interested in learning. That was okay, though. Mal wasn’t the best pilot in the Verse, but as long as he kept the gorram thing in the air until it was close enough to the ground not to crash ‘fore he landed it, that was good enough for Jayne. Besides, the mercenary had other things to think about.
Like what Linda did when she found her presents. And checked her messages.
And if she had, what the hell was she thinkin’ now?
‘It’s gorram frustratin,’ he thought, ‘Like rollin’ the dice in a game of craps, then getting’ up and walkin’ away for a day or two without bein’ able to see if you won or lost. I rolled the dice. I took my chance, and now I’m halfway dirtside with no way to tell what she’s thinkin’.’
Jayne shook his head. ‘As if I ever knew what she was thinkin’ before.’ He snorted.
“Something funny?” Mal looked over and raised an eyebrow.
“Not so much,” Jayne replied, “Just thinkin’ about how little I know about what goes on in a woman’s head.”
“Any woman in particular?” The captain smiled.
“Well, Linda, mostly,” the other man admitted. “Although Kaylee’s almost easy compared to ‘Nara. Zoe’s just ... well, Zoe. And River?” He shuddered. “She’s just plain scary sometimes. Knows more than she tells, and pro’bly way more than she should.”
Mal nodded. “Good thing she’s on our side.”
Jayne thought about that some. “I reckon so. Still ain’t normal.”
“Ain’t much about Serenity’s crew that is, and that’s a fact.” The captain flicked a few switches and changed the approach angle a bit. “Not complainin’ though. I’m thinking that’s one reason we’re all still alive.”
Jayne thought back to the Reverend, and to Wash.
“Not all of us,” he said. He felt rather than saw Mal stiffen, just a little, and realized he’d crossed a line. Not that he knew what to do about it. Jayne had never been much good at making folks feel better. He usually had more luck making them hurt when he needed to.
‘Didn’t mean to hurt Mal, though,’ he thought, ‘He’s been pretty good about helping me with Linda. And even if it ain’t my job to make him feel better, I need him sharp when we hit dirt, or it ain’t gonna be pretty. Asides, ‘tweren’t like he killed ‘em on purpose, no matter what he thinks.’
The mercenary shook his head. “I ain’t sayin’ it was anybody’s fault, Cap’n. We lost a couple of folks because when you live the life we’re livin’, stuff happens you ain’t expectin’, that’s all. I seen my share of folks die ‘fore I ever joined up with you. Some of ‘em I liked, some I didn’t give a hoot about, but they died all the same, and sometimes all I could do was watch.”
Jayne turned and looked out the window, away from Mal. “Since Miranda, I think I finally figured out that the crew’s a lot more important than just crew to me. Didn’t happen all at once – hell, didn’t even know it was happenin’ until the Skyplex – but it’s the gorram truth, and I’m stuck with it. My job was always supposed to be keeping everybody in one piece, but now I got a better reason to make it happen than cashy money.”
“What about what we’re doin’ now?” Mal said. “This job ain’t safe for anybody. At least with Miranda, there was somethin’ more than coin involved.”
Jayne turned and saw it was the captain’s turn to be looking the other way. He shrugged, even though Mal couldn’t see, and spoke to the back of the captain’s head.
“Thrillin’ heroics don’t pay the bills,” he replied. “You owe this Berenger fella, and that’s fine. But the man’s payin’ us, and that’s fine, too. Your job is to keep us flyin’, and that means sometimes doin’ stuff like this, ‘cause we need the work and we need the coin. And yeah, it ain’t safe, but not much is out on the edge.”
Mal turned and looked at Jayne, but the other man didn’t look away.
“You’re the one who has to make the call,” Jayne said, "‘cause you’re the captain, she’s your boat, and we’re your crew. It ain’t safe, but like I said, stuff happens you ain’t expectin’. That’s why you got me, and Zoe, and even River. If somethin’ happens to put us all in the cè suǒ, it’s our job to pull us out, and the Doc’s job to keep us alive so we can do it again the next time things don’t go smooth.”
It was Mal’s turn to snort, and he shook his head. “Ain’t much of a recommendation for my captainin’ skills, is it?”
“Ain’t your fault the Verse is a stone cold bitch, Cap’n.” Jayne looked down at the moon below. “And after all we been through, Serenity’s still flyin’, so think about it. How bad a captain can you be?”
Mal gave Jayne a long hard look, and sighed before turning back to the controls.
“I’m surprised my own self,” he said, “but thanks.”
Jayne shrugged. “Just the truth, Mal.”
‘And it was, at that,’ he thought. ‘Huh. Maybe River’s right. Maybe I’m smarter than I think I am.’
‘Now there’s a scary thought.’
The crew was gathered on the flight deck, huddled around the small viewscreen and waiting for Jayne to switch on the camera. They were monitoring Mal’s approach on the comms, so they knew the shuttle wasn’t far from landing.
Kaylee had drummed it into Jayne’s head to wait until the last minute before turning on the camera, because “the batteries won’t last longer than a sneeze, with all we’re askin’ ‘em to do.” So it wasn’t until the shuttle touched down and both men reached the cargo door that Serenity’s crew got their first close-up look at Hustler, Flynt’s largest city.
“The docks are like a ghost town,” Inara said slowly. “You’d think a place where cargo comes in would be full of people and ships, but it’s nearly empty. And so quiet.”
Simon looked closer. “We know they don’t really want visitors, Inara. After all, the Alliance wants to hide Flynt so badly, they edited the entire moon out of the encyclopedia – not just the book, but right off the Cortex. I’m surprised they even have a place for Mal and Jayne to land and unload.”
Zoe shook her head. “I’m not. This moon isn’t really large enough to sustain itself. Just a few smallish cities and a lot of empty space, judgin’ from what we’ve seen from up here. They need shipments from outside just to stay alive. Maybe they just don’t need that many of them.”
There were four men waiting outside the cargo door, all dressed in what looked like the latest fashions from Osiris. But Linda was far more interested in what she could see of the city behind the welcoming committee.
“Look. Cutting edge Alliance tech,” she said, one finger following the path of something flying across the skyline on the screen. “This place looks like little more than a settlement, but they’ve got air cars with remote traffic control, and a lot more of them than there should be for a town this small.”
She looked at Inara. “This place is definitely important to the Alliance. They may not want visitors here, but they’re giving these folks the latest and greatest. The only question is ... why?”
River looked down from her perch above the flight deck door.
“Because whatever the people of Flynt are doing for the Alliance,” she said, her eyes glued to the screen, “it’s worth whatever they need to pay to keep them happy.”
Wash sat back in her chair and let the others get a better view. The whole thing felt wrong, and a part of her wondered whether this was what people referred to as women’s intuition, or just the feeling a good pilot gets when something’s about to go horribly wrong.
‘Given that I’m both a woman and a pilot, probably both,’ she thought, then shook her head and smiled. ‘Another line crossed. I just admitted I’m a woman. Although considering how I feel about Jayne now, why should I be surprised?’
It was still strange for Wash to think about loving someone not Zoe, let alone a man. Let alone Jayne. But Wash remembered how hard he fought being attracted to Zoe at first, when he was sure he could never charm her into accepting him as anything other than a nuisance who knew how to fly.
‘Love does what love does,’ she thought, looking over at her wife with affection. ‘Zoe taught me that when she fell in love with me. I knew I wasn’t what she thought she wanted in a husband, until suddenly, she did.’
Was Jayne what Linda wanted in a husband? What Wash wanted? Did Wash even want a husband -- ever? The pilot closed her eyes and sighed.
‘I never thought I’d be asking myself a question like that,’ she said to herself. ‘And it’s way too soon to even think it, let alone ask it. Damn, girl, it’s less than an hour since you realized you loved the guy, and you haven’t even told HIM yet!’
Mal and Jayne stepped forward, and the view from the camera swayed from side to side with the mercenary’s every step. Wash looked back at the screen as the pair approached the welcoming committee.
“Be careful,” she whispered, leaning forward along with the rest of the crew. “Both of you.”
“Captain Reynolds!” The talk, burly man in the front of the group stepped forward, his hand outstretched. “I’m Hugh Aubrey, planetary governor and head honcho here on Flynt. This is Wilson Danbury, mayor of Hustler, and Justin Hammer, dockmaster. That over there is Harris, my number two.”
Mal gave Aubrey a quick handshake and motioned towards Jayne. “This here is Jayne Cobb, my first mate.”
Aubrey shook his head.
“Oh, I doubt that, Captain” he said, the corners of his lips twitching upward. “I believe that would be Zoe Washburn, if Berenger’s wave was correct. A very beautiful woman, to be sure. But not the only one aboard your ship, I believe. Kaywinnet Leigh Frye, your mechanic, is quite winsome, I’ve been told. And Linda Wehr, your pilot, turned a few heads in the depot as well. And of course, Inara Sera, your ... Companion. They’ll all be welcome here, to join our community.”
His smile became a frown. “Except for the whore, of course. She’ll have to die. Way too dangerous to have a strong-willing Guild-trained bitch down here among the sheep.”
Mal’s temper flared and he reached for his gun, only to have his arms pinned to his sides from behind. Someone else tried the same stunt with Jayne, but a quick head butt put his attacker down with a broken nose. The mercenary stepped back over the bleeding thug, and stood with his feet apart, his back to the shuttle, and a Callahan Enforcer in each hand.
“Reckon we’ll be leaving now,” he said, both guns steady. “Best let the captain go before I show you what a good shot I am. ‘Course, being as how you’re all such big close targets, I ain’t gonna have to do much.”
“I think not, Mister Cobb,” Aubrey replied. “You have the remainder of our cargo on your Firefly, and we mean to have it.”
“We’ll push the rest of the crates out the cargo door and let you pick ‘em up in orbit,” Jayne said with a grin, “on our way to anywhere but here.”
“That’s not the cargo I’m referring to.” Aubrey took a step forward, and Jayne waved a gun at him.
“I ain’t dumb, mister.” He shook his head. “There ain’t no way you’re getting’ anywhere near my crew. You’re gonna let my captain go, and we’re gonna get back in the shuttle and be on our way. Or blood’s gonna spill, startin’ with yours.”
Jayne saw a flash of color out of the corner of his eye, and he glanced down to see a single red dot on his chest. It was soon joined by a second, and a third, and a fourth, and he realized that his two Enforcers were no match for a bunch of distant snipers, no matter how good a shot he was. He lowered both guns slowly, and sighed.
“You may not be dumb, Mister Cobb,” Aubrey said, stepping forward and taking both weapons. “But you are hopelessly outgunned.”
“Ain’t the first time,” The mercenary replied, disgusted. “Sure as hell hope it won’t be the last.”
The crew watched helplessly as Mal and Jayne were herded away from the shuttle, hands tied behind their backs. Linda pushed her worry aside and punched in some commands that put the feed from the camera on every screen on the flight deck, and started recording it.
“Everybody take a screen,” Inara said. “Look for street signs, landmarks, anything we can use to figure out where they’re being taken.”
“Good thing nobody’s getting’ in front of ‘em.” Kaylee had her nose nearly pressed against her screen. “Or we wouldn’t see nothin’ but backsides.”
“Standard procedure, if you’re even half smart,” Zoe said, focusing on the video. “Put a prisoner in the middle of a group, and they can cause a lot of damage before you bring ‘em down. And putting prisoners behind you is just plain stupid.”
Simon had an overhead view of the docks on a separate screen. Cloud cover and the shortcomings of Serenity’s external cameras made it blurry and hard to follow, but it was still better than nothing. “From the video, it looks like they’re headed west, into the town. They’re just leaving the shuttle where it landed.”
“What’s in those crates was never what they were really after,” Inara said softly. “What they wanted was Zoe and Linda and Kaylee ...”
“And you dead,” Zoe finished for her. She flashed the Companion a dark look. “That ain’t gonna happen, so you put it out of mind.”
River dropped down next to the secondary flight console and started typing furiously. “Signal strength, vector and power consumption ... Kaylee, what frequency did you use?”
“Same as the short range comms,” the mechanic replied. “Didn’t see much reason to change it.”
“But I bet you played with the power consumption, didn’t you?”
“Had to! Between sendin’ pictures and the comms usually being sound only, and the size of the buckle? Batteries that small wouldn’t last three minutes without a bit of tweakin’ to the power feed.” Kaylee cocked her head. “Why?”
“Because signal strength is going to change the further they get from the shuttle.” River grinned. “And if I can figure out the power and distance ratio ...”
“... we can figure out just how far away from the shuttle they are,” Kaylee grinned back. “Damn, girl, you’re good!”
She came over and started entering some numbers on River’s keypad. “That oughta narrow things down a bit.”
“They’re entering the heart of the town,” Simon said.
“As if this town has a heart,” Linda murmured, and Simon threw her a look. She shrugged.
“Goddess ...” Inara breathed, and everyone’s attention turned to the monitors at once.
Directly in front of Jayne, a man and a woman moved across the camera’s field of view. The man wore a business suit, not unlike the one Simon wore when he first came aboard Serenity with River’s cryo-chamber in tow. But the woman wore nothing, except a metal collar and a pair of sandals, and walked gracefully a short distance behind the man with her head bowed. She carried a briefcase and several bags, apparently full of groceries. They all watched as the man turned to her and delivered what appeared to be a series of orders, then took his case, turned her around, and gave her a firm swat on her bottom.
She smiled over her shoulder at him and walked away. As he watched her leave, another couple wandered past the camera pickup. The woman wore a form-fitting shiny black unitard with cutouts at crotch and nipples, and a form-fitting hood that made it impossible for her to do anything more than see. She crouched beside the man, leashed and collared, hunched over beside him as they moved past.
As Jayne continued to move through the crowd, the crew saw more women being treated as slaves, or pets, or even beasts of burden. It was always women, and always without a single sign of complaint, let alone rebellion. In fact, all of them had the same small smile on their faces. It was shocking and disturbing ... as Jayne would have said, “downright creepifyin’.” But no one could look away.
Except for River.
She sat back, her eyes glazing over as her mind spun through possibilities. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Simon’s screen, still displaying the overhead view of Flynt, and something registered deep inside. She moved closer to the screen, unable to believe what she was seeing, and Simon turned and watched her expression go from intrigued to horrified.
“What is it, mei mei?” he asked, causing everyone else on the flight deck to turn and look at them both. River raised her finger and pointed to a shape on the screen.
“I’ve seen this before,” she replied. “Lots of ‘em in fact. Same basic design. On Miranda, as we flew into the capital city.”
“Just air processors,” Zoe said, switching her monitor to mirror River's view. “Nothing new there. Every terraformed world needs them.”
“At first, yes.” The young girl nodded. “But Flynt’s clearly been terraformed long enough to develop a stable ecosystem. There’s no real need for atmospheric processors anymore. Unless they’re using them for a different reason.”
The doctor nodded, catching up with his sister.
“Like providing a controlled mix of some chemical compound into the air,” he said slowly. “Something designed to reduce aggression, and make people passive and pliable ... like G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate.”
“Something like it, but not exactly,” Inara was still looking at the feed from Jayne’s camera. “It’s clearly modified to affect only women.”
“That makes sense,” Simon said, causing all of the women on the flight deck to stare at him. He raised his hands and continued quickly. “Experimentally speaking, I mean. If you’re trying to code a weapon for a specific human genetic trait, why not choose one that gives you a clear indicator of success? Targeting the XX chromosome pair means that more than half of your experimental subjects could be affected by the altered Pax.”
Kaylee cocked her head. “A weapon? What makes you think they’re makin’ a weapon? Since the Independents lost, the Alliance doesn’t have anyone to use it on! Besides, you’d have to be pretty gorram stupid to mess with the Pax after what happened on Miranda. Why risk it?”
“Maybe because of what we did,” River said softly. “We told the Verse about what happened on Miranda, and that made a lot of people wonder if the same thing might happen to them – and whether being part of the Alliance was really as good an idea as they thought it was when they signed up. So the Alliance needed an edge.”
Simon frowned. “I don’t think so. We might have stirred up some anti-Alliance feelings, but we didn’t cause this.”
“Why do you say that?” Zoe asked, clearly skeptical.
“Because the timeline is wrong,” the doctor replied. “They clearly edited Flynt out of the encyclopedia and the Cortex before the war ... at least ten years back, and probably more. Kaylee heard horror stories about Flynt around campfires back when the Alliance was telling everyone Miranda was a failed attempt at terraforming -- nothing but a dead world. So this ... experiment must have been going on at least since then.”
Inara leaned forward. “You think they set up Flynt at the same time as Miranda?”
“Yes. This is probably a parallel project – an offshoot of the original Pax research. It was no secret the worlds on the Rim didn’t want to join the Alliance. They were probably trying to turn it into a weapon so they could deal with the Independents without firing a shot.”
Zoe nodded. “Makes sense. If there was a rebellion, they wanted a Pax variant they could mix into the atmosphere of a planet or moon that would pacify the planet – and what we’ve seen here indicates they wanted something that would only affect that world’s inhabitants.”
“How could they do that?” Inara stood up and folded her arms, clearly disturbed. “Most colony worlds have a diverse population to avoid having too small a gene pool to survive.”
“Most colony worlds start from the smallest group that can provide that level of diversity,” Simon said. “So there could be a lot of shared genetic markers. But even if there aren’t, they could flip the development process around and create a variant that would affect everyone except those with a specific combination of genetic traits.”
“Why would they want something like that?” Kaylee asked.
River spoke up. “After they use the Pax and the colony world is peaceful and compliant, Alliance troops with that specific combination of traits – like green-eyed women with red hair taller than six feet, for instance – could go down and take the place over without worrying about being affected.”
Linda waved at the screen. “Not only that ... if this stuff works the way it seems to, the Alliance may be able to tell them how to think, and make it stick. This isn’t just pacification. From the look on those women’s faces, it’s mind control.”
The younger girl shook her head. “We don’t know enough about the experiment to be sure of that, jei mei. The fact that they’re still pumping it into the atmosphere could mean the effect doesn’t last once you stop being exposed to it. I’m sure if they could make it permanent, they would. A docile population is so much easier to lead than an aggressive one.”
“This all sounds exactly like something the Alliance would do.” Zoe looked grim. “For all their big cruisers and fancy weapons, we cut ‘em deep enough to make them bleed for a long time after the last war ended. If they knew that we were going to do that going in, finding a way to win without a fight makes a lot of sense. We’re just lucky they didn’t want to win bad enough to wind up with a bunch of dead worlds half full of Reavers on the Outer Rim.”
Inara thought for a moment, then her eyes narrowed. “Now it makes sense. That’s why they want to kill me – and why no woman the Guild ever sent to Flynt has come back alive.”
She looked at the assembled crew and took a deep breath. “This is a Guild secret, so it doesn’t leave this room. Because of the work we do, we are very vulnerable whenever we’re with a client. It would be a simple matter to capture an unwary Companion and use drugs to turn him or her into a sex slave. So the Guild has developed a series of immunizations and mental techniques that make it nearly impossible to play with a Companion’s mind. Companions are conditioned, both physically and mentally, to resist any attempt at mind control.”
“Why didn’t the Guild ever send a man?” Kaylee looked at Inara. “I mean, seems t’ me like if you got a place where women disappear and you send folks out to see why, best chance of getting’ someone to come back and tell you would be to send a guy. There are Boy Companions, right?”
“The Guild has always been led by women,” Inara replied, a little embarrassed. “I think ... I think their first impulse is always to trust a woman more.”
Kaylee frowned. “Guess they ain’t ever been to school with somebody like Becky Larson,” she muttered. “Boyfriend-stealin’ jien huo. Couldn’t trust her worth a damn.”
Zoe stood up and walked towards the front of the cabin, clearly thinking. Everyone watched her for a minute, and then she turned and smiled.
“Well, now,” the first mate said. “I’m thinking we’ve got ourselves some options. They don’t even know Simon’s here. He never got off the boat on Boros, so they don’t know what he looks like. And I’m thinking if we can change the way Inara looks enough to keep them from recognizing her, you two can go down and bring the captain and Jayne back.”
There was a long silence, and then River spoke. “The men at the Depot didn't see me, either. And I think I might be able to go with Simon and Inara - without worrying about the Pax.”
“What makes you think that, mei mei?” Simon asked.
“Because there’s a good chance I might be immune, too,” she replied. “The Alliance wanted to turn me into a weapon, just like the Pax. It stands to reason they would want to make sure I couldn’t be turned against them ... or pacified by the Pax myself.”
“What if you’re wrong?” Zoe looked skeptical. “If you are, you could wind up ordered to fight against us.”
“Well, Simon still knows the sleep command he used on me in that bar,” River countered. “And I can’t do much for – or to – anyone if I’m unconscious.”
Zoe thought for a moment, then shrugged. “Having you down there with Simon and Inara is too good an edge to pass up. If you all have to fight your way back to the shuttle, I’d rather River were fighting next to you every step of the way.”
She grinned “So it looks like we’ve got ourselves the start of a big damn rescue ... just as soon as we figure out where the hell they are. So back on the screens, people.”
As Mal found himself thrown into a plain wooden chair in Hugh Aubrey’s office, his first thought was that the chair seemed oddly out of place. Then as he looked around, he realized that he’d seen rooms almost exactly like this before – too big for one man, full of expensive fèijiù záwù from a dozen different worlds, but strangely empty.
‘Just like Aubrey,’ he thought. ‘Like Badger on Persephone. He's just another suit with attitude.’
“Huh.” The sound escaped before he could stop it.
Aubrey stopped on his way to his chair and turned. “Something to say, Captain Reynolds?”
“Just figured out that this office ain’t really an office,” Mal replied, looking up into the other man’s eyes. “It ain’t a place a man works. It’s a place he brings other folk so they can see how important he is. Hell, maybe you even come here your own self just to sit in that chair and look at all this fine luh-suh ... maybe make yourself think you’re important, too.”
Jayne snorted. “Course with half the folk on Flynt bein’ slaves, I’m thinkin’ he could just order all the girls to tell him he’s the best they ever had. Maybe if they tell him enough, he’ll start believin’ it.”
Aubrey sat in his chair and swiveled to face his prisoners. “As if the opinion of a woman would ever matter here.”
“Well, I reckon you ain’t nothin’ more that a gorram go tsao de hwoon dahn,” the mercenary replied, his lip curling into a sneer. “That’s a man’s opinion, you piece of gos se. How’s it feel?”
“Now, now, gentlemen.” Mayor Danbury spoke as he crossed the room to a small bar in the corner. He began to fix himself a drink. “No need to be rude. After all, you are our guests.”
“That’s an odd word for it,” the captain said, still focused on Aubrey. “I guess on Flynt, it’s fine to greet folks with a twenty-one gun salute – aimed at their heads.”
“Your reputation precedes you, sir,” Aubrey replied evenly. “You are extremely formidable, and if the situation were different, I would have had you both shot dead at the docks. But there’s a ship full of women up there, and if I killed you, I know they’d get a bit ... emotional. Since having the main engines of a Firefly class transport burning a hole in downtown Hustler isn’t going to get me what I want, I need to keep you alive. For now.”
“They could just fly away and leave us.”
Aubrey smiled. “I don’t think so. Berenger told me all about you, Captain Reynolds. In the war, the troops you led were extraordinarily loyal.”
Mal shrugged. “People change.”
“Not as much as you might think.” The man behind the desk shook his head. “No, Captain. Your crew isn’t about to leave you here and ‘just fly away.’ Oh, they’ll wait for you to rescue yourself at first, but if you don’t, they’ll come for you. And then we’ll have them.”
Jayne glared at Aubrey. “And if they don’t? They can wait a long time, yu bun duh. Firefly transports go weeks between touching dirt.”
“That’s why we’re going to give them a deadline.” Danbury spoke from across the room. “And I do mean dead. They’ll come. And if they don’t ... if they just sit up there ...well, we’ll go get ‘em.”
The mercenary shifted in his seat and smirked. “Yeah, well, good luck with that. You ain’t met the crew.”
“Oh, but I want to, Mister Cobb.” Aubrey leaned back in his chair and smiled again. “Rest assured, I want to meet them all, very much. For now, though, let’s let them know where you are. Wilson?”
Danbury reached over and flicked a switch on a small box on Aubrey’s desk. The lights in the room went down, and the walls behind Mal and Jayne flickered and turned into institutional gray brick. High above them, just barely visible, a barred window let in a small amount of washed-out sunlight. Aubrey smiled.
“Call the Firefly.”
They'd watched the group approach a large building and walk past a group of uniformed men to a central lobby. Aubrey activated a private elevator, and the group shuffled into it. Once they reached the office upstairs, they saw and heard everything -- until the
image from the camera stuttered and died.
The audio stayed live for a few seconds longer, just enough to hear Aubrey say “Call the Firefly” before it, too, failed. Almost immediately, a repeating beep sounded from the main console. Linda reached up and flicked a few switches.
“Incoming transmission from Flynt,” she said. Everyone turned to look at her, and she shrugged. “Come on, folks. Somebody has to state the obvious. This time it gets to be me. What’ll I do, Zoe?”
The first mate thought for a second. “Turn our cameras and audio off, throw the transmission on all screens.”
A dim image of Mal and Jayne sitting in a jail cell came up, along with a voice they all recognized as Hugh Aubrey.
“Listen up. We are holding Captain Reynolds and Mister Cobb, to ensure you don’t do anything we’ll both regret. You have 24 hours to land your ship at the Hustler docks and surrender, or they both die. I know you don't want that. And it’s not as if it would be so horrible, joining our community. Life here on Flynt can be very fulfilling for a woman. Once you come down, you’ll discover that you’ll enjoy doing whatever we tell you to. It’s what you were born to do, after all ... surrendering to the will of a man. And you know if you want to keep these men alive, that’s just what you’ll do. Surrender.”
The transmission cut out, and everyone on the flight deck looked at each other. Linda retrieved the recording and put it up on all screens.
“So they’re in a cell at or below ground level,” she said.
“No they ain’t,” Kaylee replied. She overrode several of the screens and put up her own content. “Using the signal strength and power consumption numbers, River and I think they’re in this big building, center of town. City Hall.”
“That’s consistent with a jail cell,” Simon countered.
“Normally yes, sweetie,” the mechanic said with a smile, “but the signal got stronger when they took the elevator to the office, so that means they went up, not down, ‘cause there wasn’t as many buildings between them and the docks. They sent that transmission to Serenity only a few seconds after the camera’s signal died, so they didn’t have enough time to get Jayne and the captain down underground anyway before we got the transmission.”
She pointed to where the picture from the transmission was still up. “And look here. Those boys may think they’re smart, but they ain’t. When you send a holo projection over a standard ship‘s comm, there’s this weird glitterin’. It’s like an interference pattern. The cap’n and Jayne are real, but the walls look like somebody went and sprinkled fairy dust all over ‘em. They can’t see it on their end, but it’s plain as day when it shows up here. See?”
“That means they’re still in the office.” Zoe leaned closer to the screen. Kaylee nodded.
“But they want us to think they’re down in the cells.” She tapped on the picture of Mal and Jayne. “They’re expectin’ us to go down and try a rescue, ‘cause they think we don’t know about the Pax. So we break in, they pin us down, and while we’re fightin’, we’re breathin’.”
“And suddenly, you all decide to stop fighting and do whatever they say.” Simon shook his head. “Not a bad plan, if they were dealing with anyone but Kaylee.” She blushed.
“They gave us 24 hours.” Everyone turned to look at River. She smiled. “That means they’re not expecting us to do anything until the deadline approaches. Like Aubrey said, he thinks we’ll wait for Mal and Jayne to try to rescue themselves, and then try to go in and get them at the last minute.”
She reached out and tapped the screen that showed the fake jail cell walls. “They think we’re going to wait, and then attack the holding cells. But we know where Mal and Jayne are right now. I say ... let’s go get them and bring them home.”
“Just ‘go get them?’ From the office of the planetary governor, above the police headquarters of the biggest city on this gorram moon?” Zoe said, her own smile mirroring River’s. “I’m assuming you have a plan?”
“Oh yes,” the girl replied, her smile becoming an impish grin. “We’re going to walk right in the front door.”
Tuesday, April 6, 2010 3:54 PM
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