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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE
This is a direct sequel to my earlier fic, Wish I Was Somebody Else. That fic takes place approximately one week after the BDM; this fic takes place approximately one year later. As with that fic, all series and movie events are intact, but some things are not as they seemed.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1580 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Suspended in space, the tiny ship appeared almost immobile against the vast backdrop of stars. She was moving, of course; like the delicate nocturnal insect for which she was named, the firefly's abdomen glowed red-gold against the darkness all around her. Had there been anyone to see it, that faint glimmer would have told them that this ship was under power; this insignificant creature of the night yet lived.
But there was no one to see. So there was no one to notice when, in a movement only a careful observer would have caught, the ship began to yaw from her previous course.
Aboard the ship, the scale of things was different. Save for the clear paneled windscreen that fronted the bridge, and some smaller windows set into the top of the firefly's hull, there were no endless vistas here. Everywhere were human-scale enclosures of gunmetal gray: bulkheads and deckplates, inner hull, treads and risers, hatches, handholds. Here was sound: the quiet throb of the engine, the creaks of the ship's structure, the hiss of forced air. Here was atmosphere, pressurized and breathable, a mix of oxygen and nitrogen and the exhalations of eight human beings, one cat, and the infinitesimal molecules that gave her the scent of home -- grease and burnt tofu; coffee and ozone; incense and cologne.
Inside the ship, everything was smaller -- and there were observers here, too, although most of them were sleeping in the dull ship's night. But the ship was their world, and they felt her motion in their bones.
The pilot, more closely attuned to the motion of the ship than the others, felt it first and most strongly. He opened his eyes, wondering what had awakened him, and raising his head from the pillow just enough to disturb the ginger cat who lay asleep in the hollow of his back. The cat's movement, in turn, jostled the narrow bunk just enough to rouse the pilot's wife, who lay alongside him.
"Wash?" she murmured, reaching out to lay a hand on his bare shoulder. When she touched him, she discovered that he was struggling onto his elbows, and she woke even more fully. "What's wrong?"
"Dunno," he said, snapping on the reading light above their bunk. Squinting against the sudden illumination, Zoe studied her husband's profile. His blonde hair was touseled and spiky; his pale face seamed with red welts left by the wrinkles in the pillowcase. His body was taut, his blue-eyed gaze vacant -- he was trying to hear and feel the problem, not see it.
It had to be the ship. If it had been the crew, or some other threat, Zoe would have wakened first. That was what she was attuned to -- people. It was her job, as first mate, to keep the people on the ship functioning smoothly, the way it was her husband's job to keep the ship itself heading in the right direction, in one piece. But Zoe's gaze went distant, too, as she listened, because a problem with the ship could mean a problem with the crew.
Unable to determine anything while lying in their bunk, Wash threw off the blankets and swung his legs over the side, pulling on a pair of pants that had been left in an untidy heap alongside the bunk. At that moment, the ship lurched, pitching Wash forward. He caught himself on the ladder that led up from the bunk to the foredeck corridor. A few unsecured items from the shelf above the bunk fell onto Zoe's head.
Grimly, Wash hauled himself up the ladder and headed for the bridge. Behind him, Zoe reached over the side of the bed and grabbed her clothing off the floor.
Across the corridor, the captain's head emerged from the hatchway of his bunk. Bleary-eyed and stubble-faced, Mal Reynolds shouted after his pilot, "Wash? What's up?"
But Wash didn't reply, pounding barefoot up the steps onto the bridge. Shaking his head, Mal turned toward the ship's stern and caught sight of Serenity's mechanic scrambling up from her own bunk. "Kaylee?" he called to the tawny-haired young woman. "What's going on?"
She stopped, standing just outside her bunk. She was still buttoning her work coverall. "Well, now, how am I supposed to know that, Captain, when I ain't even had a chance to look yet?"
"Go look, then," Mal ordered irritably, and Kaylee jogged off in the direction of the engine room. As she disappeared aft, Simon Tam's dark head poked up through the hatch of her bunk.
"Where's River?" he asked, but before Mal could snap "You better find her!" the ship lurched again, tossing Simon back down into Kaylee's bunk with a thud. Mal threw himself against the ship's motion, clinging to the ladder and avoiding the same fate.
From the bridge, Mal heard Wash give a shout, and knew that the pilot had found Simon's sister. "River!" Wash called. "What are you doing?"
Across the corridor, Zoe came up the ladder from her own bunk. Her dark curls hung loose around her face and down her back, but she was otherwise fully dressed, in a black tank top and brown leather pants, tall boots, and her gun belt. With barely a glance at Mal, she started for the bridge.
On the bridge, Wash had found River standing in front of the pilot's console, weeping. Her dark hair hung long and unkempt around her pale face. Her appearance was striking to Wash; when River had first come aboard, she had worn her hair dirty, her clothes mismatched and askew. After Miranda, though, she'd changed. Cleaned up, calmed down, seemed more normal and less like the troubled, damaged girl Simon had rescued from the Alliance and brought to relative safety here at the fringe of the 'verse.
Now, she looked once again like that troubled child.
She was touching keys on the pilot's console, randomly, as though she didn't know exactly what she wanted to do -- more strangeness. River knew how to fly Serenity, and often shared the duty with Wash. As she moved, she bumped the yoke, causing the ship to lurch again, which had the dual effect of throwing Wash into the hatchway, and letting him know that she had disabled the autopilot he'd set before going to bed.
"No no no," she murmured hysterically. "Don't go there don't go no no no."
Wash dragged himself back to his feet, calling out to the girl: "River! What are you doing?"
She rounded on him, snarling. "I won't let you take us there! Traitor! You'll get us all killed!"
Before Wash could formulate a reply to her raving, she moved, spinning in a roundhouse kick that caught him in the sternum with one booted heel, and slammed him into the bulkhead. He sat stunned, the breath knocked out of him, watching helplessly as she came toward him. There was murder in her eyes, but Wash couldn't move.
Zoe appeared in the hatchway, and River turned on her. Wash wanted to shout a warning, but still couldn't catch his breath. It wasn't needed, though; Zoe stood calmly in the doorway, and said something that made no sense to her dazed husband: "Etta kooram nah smech."
River crumpled softly to the deckplates, like a dropped handkerchief.
Zoe stepped over the girl and knelt in front of Wash, her dark eyes full of concern. "Bao bei, are you all right?"
Wash gasped, pulling in a ragged breath of air that made his chest ache. He managed a nod, and Zoe helped him to his feet.
Mal came through the doorway then, with Simon right behind. The doctor went directly to his sister, pressing two fingers against her neck and pulling up her eyelids to check her pupils.
"She's asleep," Zoe said. "I used the safe word."
Simon shot her a venomous look. "Why?" he demanded. The crew of Serenity were Simon and River's only family, and they all generally felt that it was wrong to use the conditioning that had been done to her by force, without consent, against her will -- Simon most strongly of all.
"She attacked Wash," Zoe said. "I thought it was better than shooting her."
"Are you all right?" Simon asked Wash, leaving his sister asleep on the floor. River's conditioning had included unarmed combat, and Simon had seen the damage she could inflict. They all had.
Wash was rubbing his chest, but waved Simon off. "I'm fine." He went to the pilot's console, where Mal was examining the displays.
"She changed our course," Mal observed unhappily.
"Gee, ya think?" Wash replied, flopping heavily into the pilot's chair. He checked his readouts. "She's turned us completely around."
"Well, turn us back!" Mal ordered. "We got to make this meeting. Can't afford to be late."
Wash nodded and put his fingers on the keys, undoing River's course alteration. "She was saying something about getting us all killed, by the way," he said. River was a reader; psychic. Even when she was crazy, it wouldn't do to completely ignore her warnings.
"Could be," Mal said grimly. "Where we're headed ain't exactly a safe place."
"What in the tien shao duh is going on in here?" The deep bass grumbling filtered in from the foredeck corridor, preceding Jayne Cobb's considerable mass onto the bridge. The big mercenary stomped through the hatchway, still griping. "Ship's jerking around, people yelling, how's a man supposed to sleep in a situation like that?" He took in the tableau of River in the floor with Simon kneeling next to her, and Mal and Zoe standing to either side of Wash in the pilot's chair, and jumped to the most obvious conclusion: "Girl's gone nuts again, ain't she?"
Simon glowered up at him.
A woman's voice filtered over the intercom: Inara, checking in from her rented shuttle. "Wash? Mal? Somebody? What's going on? Are we being attacked?"
"Mal," Jayne said, his tone gone wheedling, "we ain't gonna go through this all over again, are we? I thought she was better."
"We don't know what's happened yet," Mal began. He reached across Zoe, pulling the intercom from its hook above the pilot's station, intending to answer Inara. "No need to --"
"Wash?" Zoe said, laying a hand on her husband's shoulder. "What's wrong?"
The pilot had leaned forward, head down, clutching his console so hard with his left hand that his knuckles had gone white. His right hand was pressed against his breastbone, and his face was twisted in a grimace of pain. "Wash!" Zoe cried, catching him as he collapsed and lowering him to the deckplates.
Simon was instantly on his feet. "Get him to the med bay now!" he ordered.
"I'll do it," Jayne said, shouldering past the doctor and Mal. The captain dropped the intercom, reaching to help, but Jayne needed no help. He grabbed the pilot's hand and pulled him off the floor, slinging Wash unceremoniously over his shoulder. He drew Simon and Zoe in his wake as he stomped aft, leaving Mal alone with River on the bridge.
Mal knelt next to River, brushing her hair back from her face and laying a hand along her cheek. "Well, little albatross," he said, "We been here before, I guess, but I sure didn't think we'd be here again so soon." Then, just as he had done in the Maidenhead, he slipped one arm beneath her neck and the other beneath her knees, lifting her gently, and carrying her away.
The intercom dangled forgotten just behind the pilot's chair. "Mal?" said Inara's voice to the empty bridge. "Wash? Is somebody there? What's going on?"
Wash first felt the pressure of Zoe's hand in his -- he didn't know how he could be so certain it was her hand, but he had no doubt. He could hear voices, too, although they were indistinct at first, and didn't resolve themselves until he opened his eyes, and took in the people in the room.
Kaylee was there. She stood pressed up against the hatchway, looking as though she was about to burst into tears. Inara was standing next to Kaylee; the Companion had one of Kaylee's hands in hers and was stroking it, murmuring something to the younger woman. Simon was there, moving in and out of Wash's field of vision, above his head. Jayne was there, too, one hip hitched up on the countertop, rumbling something about Simon's crazy sister, to which Simon retorted peevishly. And Zoe was there, of course, sitting next to him on the med bay's rolling stool, holding his hand.
"Welcome back," she said.
"What happened?" he asked.
She only shook her head in reply, and leaned down to kiss his forehead lightly. Then Simon was there, shining bright lights in his eyes, and saying "This time, you very nearly went someplace where we couldn't come to get you."
"You had a heart attack," Jayne put in from his perch on the counter.
"No," Simon corrected, "he didn't."
"Sure he did," Jayne insisted. "You said it was . . . par-ticular ventilation, or whatever that is, that happens when somebody has a heart attack."
"Ventricular fibrillation," Simon corrected, his tone edged with impatience, "and it isn't necessarily caused by a heart attack."
"Oh," Jayne said, finally asking the question Wash very much wanted an answer to. "Well then what did happen?"
"The technical term is commotio cordis," Simon said, checking Wash's reflexes. "Blunt-force blow to the pre-cordial area -- the chest --" he clarified, glancing at Jayne, "at just the wrong instant causes a chaotic electrical rhythm in the heart. Eventually it knocks the heart out of a normal sinus rhythm -- into v. fib, usually. It's very rare in adults, though. Usually you see it in teenagers. So maybe you're just young at heart?" he said to Wash, although typical of Simon, he did not even crack a smile at his own joke.
Also typical of Simon, his comic timing was completely off. Wash's chest still ached, and he was not too much in a mood to joke about his own near-death experiences. He tried to smile, for Simon's sake, but managed only a grimace. He wanted to sit up. He slipped his hand out of Zoe's and pushed against the table. Zoe reached to help him.
"Or maybe due to her training, River knows just where and how hard to hit, to maximize the chance of throwing someone's heart out of rhythm," Simon speculated glumly. He put one hand on Wash's shoulder, and helped him sit.
"Yeah, about that," Mal said, stepping into the med bay, arms folded across his chest. "What's going on with your sister, doc? Why is she attacking my crew again?" To Wash he added, "Glad you're back with us. Gonna need you to make sure we get where we're going on time."
Wash nodded wearily, and silently forgave the captain for his apparent callousness. He knew from experience that Mal would lay everything -- the ship, and everyone on it -- on the line for him, but it didn't quite take all the sting out of the implication of Mal's unthinking words: that the captain was only glad he was still alive because it meant he could get back to his job.
"She's off her meds," Simon said to Mal, "It makes her unpredictable."
"Off her -- why?" Mal demanded.
Simon was carefully peeling ECG leads off Wash's chest and stowing them in their case. "Because -- like I told you at our last stop, and the stop before that, I have been running low on her meds. I ran out completely two days ago, just like I told you I would, and now she's unpredictable. But you wouldn't let me off the ship to get more, and you didn't bring them back yourself like you promised you would," Simon accused.
"But I thought since Miranda --" Mal protested.
Zoe touched Wash's arm, drawing his attention away from the doctor, and the captain. She had a shirt for him; one of his bright printed ones. Everything in space was so dark; Wash liked his colorful shirts. They made things seem less dreary out here, somehow -- at least, to him they did. He put one arm in a sleeve, and Zoe settled the collar around his neck while he pulled on the other sleeve.
"You thought she didn't really need the meds anymore?" Simon had rounded on the captain, angry now. "They cut. Out. Part. Of. Her. Brain," he said, biting off each word. "She will always need the meds. Do you believe me now? Or does she have to kill somebody else before you will?"
Wash raised one hand. "I vote we get River her meds," he said.
"Me, too," Jayne put in. A rare thing, for Jayne and Wash to be in agreement that way, but River had given Jayne a drubbing back at the Maidenhead, and slashed him across the chest with a butcher knife once before that, and Wash thought Jayne might be just a tiny bit scared of the waif-like girl.
Wash rubbed his bruised breastbone, grimacing, and figured he agreed with Jayne about that, too.
"This ain't a gorram democracy," Mal said. "I would think that the way our last two stops turned out, you would have understood why I didn't want to let you off the ship in the first place, and why I couldn't work in a drugstore run along with all the other running we was doing!"
"And I would think, given the way I just had to defibrillate Wash, that you might see your way clear to giving River's medical needs a little higher priority," Simon snapped. He stopped, glancing past Mal. "Where -- um, where is she, by the way?"
"I put her in her bunk," Mal said.
"I'll go check on her," Kaylee said from the doorway, her voice shaking. "Make sure she's okay."
"I didn't hurt her!" Mal protested irritably.
"I'll go, too," Inara said, with a hard look at the captain.
"Oh, for -- Zoe's the one who used the safe word on her!" Mal said. "All I did was put her in her bunk! I didn't even cuff her!"
"Not like it does any good to, anyhow," Jayne said.
Mal frowned, watching the two women go. He reached up and rubbed the back of his neck. "Nassau Point ain't a great place to be stopping for drugs," he said.
"Actually, I can't think of a better place for that," Jayne said, earning an exasperated glance from Mal.
"Jayne's right," Zoe put in. "Doc could certainly get whatever he needs at Nassau Point."
"Well, I'm sure they got it there," Mal acknowledged,"but what am I going to do, send our pretty little city boy here out into a pirate's nest all alone? He wouldn't come back!"
"Hey! I'm not helpless!" Simon protested, but Wash shook his head.
"No," he said, catching the doc's eye. For all his education and smarts, and even courage, Simon was still so young, and so green. "Mal's right. Nassau Point's no vacation spot. The whole station's overrun with people who'd pick your bones just for laughs. You don't want to go walking around there alone."
Simon sobered, but wasn't yet ready to give up. "It's a space station. It can't be such a big deal!"
"It is," the four of them assured him, in unison, and Simon frowned.
"But the Alliance --" he said.
"Alliance set up Nassau Point as a way station for colony ships heading out this direction," Mal said. "But during the war, when there were no colonists and the Alliance had bigger fish to fry, it got away from 'em. Pirates own it now. It ain't a place for decent folk. But," he hesitated, staring down at the deckplates, "It is a place where you could get what River needs."
They waited in silence while Mal considered his options, staring darkly at the floor. Planning, of course. One of Mal's infamous plans; the kind that always went wrong. The way this job had already gone way, way wrong -- it was supposed to be Mal, Jayne, Zoe, and River delivering the cargo to the client, while everybody else waited on the ship, and then they all got out as quick as possible. Only Inara had already made that impossible, scheduling a job of her own while they were docked. Zoe had tried to talk her out of it, and failed. Wash wondered if Mal knew about it.
At length, Mal said, "Zoe could go with you."
"No!" Wash said, and Jayne agreed -- "No way, Mal! Zoe's going with us! How we gonna go, just the two of us, hauling that thing?" The cargo they were supposed to deliver was a wooden crate about three meters long, and heavy enough they had to have an antigrav sled to help lift it. Even with the sled, it was miserable to maneuver, barely fitting through a standard doorway; it had to be stood up at an angle to make a tight corner, and they'd been warned against letting it get banged around too much. "We already lost River, she was s'posed to go! You can't send Zoe off somewhere else! Those people there are animals!"
"We'll leave the cargo on the ship," Mal decreed. "Buyer wants it, they can send some manpower to get it. Me and Jayne will go get them and bring them back. Zoe can take Simon to get River's meds. Wash and Kaylee can keep the ship warm. It'll work."
"Why can't Zoe take Simon shopping after we meet the buyer?" Jayne wanted to know.
"'Cause I don't want to be here any longer than strictly necessary," Mal said. "Did you forget the part where these people are pirates? Anything particular makes you think a ship like Serenity won't look pretty attractive to some of 'em, we sit there long enough? And we ain't exactly got a small private army to defend her if they come. No. I want us in and out of there."
"What about River?" Wash asked.
"I'll ask Inara to look after her," Mal said.
Wash looked at Zoe, thinking, I'm not going to tell him. That's your job.
"What?" Mal asked.
Zoe said evenly, "Inara's got a client."
"A client?" Mal fairly exploded. "She can't have a client! Nobody was supposed to leave the ship on Nassau Point except to do our job! Did I not very clearly say that? It ain't safe!"
"She said her client could guarantee her safety -- probably better than you could," Zoe said.
"Can he guarantee she'll be back here if we have to leave in a ruttin' hurry? And if she ain't back here when we go, will he fix her up nice until we can get back? How come nobody ever believes me when I say don't get off the ship?"
Zoe simply stared at him, her dark gaze inscrutable. Mal threw up his hands in exasperation and turned for the door. "Now I have to go talk to the stubborn little --" he stomped out, muttering.
"I don't like it, us all splittin' up this way," Jayne said.
"It ain't for you to like," Zoe said sternly. "We got work to do, and you're going to do your part."
"Yeah. Me too," Wash said with resignation. He swung his legs over the side of the exam table, and slipped onto the floor. He wondered if he ought to take the time to stop by his bunk and get his shoes.
"Where do you think you're going?" Simon asked.
"Um . . . the bridge? You know, that whole flying the ship thing I do sometimes?"
Simon shook his head. "Commotio cordis doesn't do any physical damage to the heart, but irregular rhythms can crop up for a while afterward; I need to keep you under observation for the next couple of days."
"Then set up shop on the bridge," Zoe said. "We lost a lot of time, thanks to your sister, and we need Wash to make sure we make it up."
Simon sighed, and started gathering up his equipment.
Thursday, May 12, 2011 9:59 AM
Thursday, May 12, 2011 12:17 PM
Thursday, May 12, 2011 8:46 PM
Friday, May 13, 2011 2:57 AM
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