BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE

NAUTICALGAL

The Four Winds, Chapter 3
Friday, May 13, 2011

Simon is grateful. River is ungrateful. Mal and Jayne have nothing to be grateful for yet.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2965    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Wash stood in the middle of the cargo bay, muttering to himself as Simon walked by. The doctor heard the pilot repeating softly, "Etta kooram nah smech. Etta kooram nah smech." Simon's anger, hearing the pilot mutter that foreign phrase, surprised him. Of course Wash needed some defense against River, if she should attack him again; of course the safe words were better than a gun -- which River would probably turn against him anyway. But it shouldn't have to be this way. Mal shouldn't have left getting River's medications this long. Simon should have insisted more strongly than he had. But it wasn't really Mal's fault, or Simon's, either. What had been done to River should never have been done to anyone. That it had been done to his sister, his brilliant, beautiful, bratty little sister. . . that anger went so deep, and was so powerful, Simon wasn't sure he'd ever master it. He walked on past to where Zoe, Mal, Jayne and Kaylee stood in a knot near the bay doors. Wash fell into step behind him, still muttering. The pilot's wife was dressed for business, Simon observed, with her long curls bound out of her way in a neat updo, and her brown coat covering her bulletproof vest and whatever weapons she was carrying. "Ready?" she asked as he approached, and he nodded. He had dressed carefully, too. His medical kit strap was slung across his chest, and his money tucked safely away in a pocket inside his waistband. All of his money, and some he'd taken from River's stash, too, which he felt more than a little guilty about -- but who could tell what sort of exorbitant price a pirate at the edge of the 'verse might charge for drugs that would be readily and cheaply available anywhere in the Core? He was, he supposed, as ready as he'd ever be to go walking through a den of thieves to buy six months' worth of psychotropic drugs. He stopped next to Kaylee, and she turned to face him, unecessarily adjusting his vest with trembling hands. "Do you have enough money?" she asked. "Who knows?" he answered, settling his hands on her waist. "I think I do, but how will I know until I get there?" "Well, take this too," she said, and tucked a stack of folded bills into the inside breast pocket of his vest. "No," he protested, "I can't take your money." But she grasped his hands, and wouldn't let him retrieve the cash. "You might need it. And if you don't need it, well . . . you just bring it right back to me," she said earnestly, her honey-colored eyes serious and worried. Simon nodded, afraid of saying the wrong thing, as he so often managed to do at the worst possible moment. Instead, he leaned forward to kiss her lightly on the forehead. But it was awkward, standing there facing her, her hands clasped in his, saying nothing as he was leaving, so he ventured "Take care of River for me," even though he didn't need to. Kaylee would look after his sister, as tenderly as he himself would. It was one of the things that still amazed him about her. Here was this woman, a mechanic with no formal education -- someone he never would have met, at home; even the mechanics he knew were well-educated, for mechanics -- and him a doctor, with some of the best education money could buy. He'd resisted the notion of himself with Kaylee for a long time; in the Core, if he had seen her, if he had thought about her at all, it wouldn't have been more than a one-night stand. Certainly the thought of bringing Kaylee home to his folks never would have even crossed his mind, and if he'd proposed to live with her, his parents would have been apoplectic and insisted she was only grasping after the family fortune. That would probably have been what he'd have thought, too. But Serenity was changing him, the way that River's coded messages had changed him, making him capable of things he never would have thought he had inside him -- like loving an uneducated mechanic from a working-class family. When he thought about the women he had known in his life before, the women he had dated or wanted to date, he knew that not one of them would have been willing to take his damaged and dangerous little sister into their hearts the way that Kaylee had. A broken little sister would have been worse baggage to bring into a relationship than a broken son or daughter; he could imagine what they would have said. Put her in an institution, or, let your parents deal with it. It's not your responsibility -- by which they would have meant, why would you foist this inconvenience on me? But here was Kaylee, who had taken River into her own heart as fully as Simon himself had, unbegrudging, accepting not only River's brokenness, but the danger and hardship she and Simon had carried with them when they joined the crew. It was more than Simon could find words to express, and when Kaylee's lips quirked and she said "'Course I will, silly," he drew her into a hug and stroked her hair, and felt very lucky. "All right, listen up," Mal said, and Kaylee broke away from Simon's embrace to pay attention to the captain. Mal had raised his voice enough to take in Inara, who had just appeared at the back of the cargo bay. She was dressed for her own appointment -- somewhat differently than the rest of them, in a sari of flowing silk printed with green and golden flowers. She carried a small suitcase. Mal paused noticeably when he caught sight of her. "Listen up," he repeated, after his brief pause. "Jayne and I are meeting the client; we'll bring them back here for their cargo. Zoe and Simon have an errand to run, they'll come straight back when they're finished. Wash will keep the ship ready, and Kaylee's going to keep an eye on River. Inara --" he hesistated again, then plunged ahead -- "If this goes right, won't take more than a couple of hours. Think you can be back here?" "Don't worry about me," she instructed. "Take care of yourselves. I'll see you later." Jayne stepped forward to open the heavy bay door for her, and Inara passed through it and into the company of three burly, heavily armed men. "Right," Mal said heavily, watching her go. He looked at Zoe and Simon. "Don't dawdle." Zoe kissed her husband. "Be careful," he said, and Kaylee said to Simon, "You be careful, too." "Wouldn't know how else to be," Zoe replied, smiling at Wash. She turned to Kaylee. "We'll be back soon." They left with Jayne and Mal, but soon parted company in the clamorous dockside area of the station. Zoe strode purposefully through the crowd, her long stride forcing Simon to jog to keep up with her as they made their way toward the dealer's lair. ** Nassau Point had been designed to accomodate ships and travelers passing through, but also to house a garrison of soldiers and a small fleet of ships that would serve this region once it was settled. There was no garrison here now, of course, and the soldiers' quarters had been broken up and repurposed for the use of the station's current denizens. Those denizens had no use for the gymnasium that had been constructed for the soldiers. It had become something of a scrapyard, where items that might have some utility left were crammed from floor to ceiling in perilous piles. It was here that Mal and Jayne were meeting their buyer. And Mal didn't like it at all, because there were too many exits from the cavernous space, and a balcony surrounding it from above, and he couldn't keep enough of it in view all at once for his comfort. "Looks like a nice place for an ambush," Jayne observed, and Mal nodded agreement. "Coulda used Zoe with us," Jayne added, and Mal started to get a mite irritated. He knew perfectly well how this job had been supposed to go. It wasn't going to go that way, and nothing to be done about it now. They needed to work with what they had, not stand around wishing for what they weren't going to get. "I'm going up to that balcony to reconnoiter," Mal said, thinking to get away from Jayne as much as to get a better look at things. He could see that a set of metal stairs went up to the balcony at the far end of the gym. Jayne nodded, hefting his gun in a silent 'I'll cover you' gesture. Mal set off through the maze of garbage, careful at the blind corners, but he encountered no one, and made it up the stairs without incident. What he saw there didn't encourage him. There were a lot of doors giving access, and many of them were locked from the other side. Nice place for an ambush, indeed. The longer he was here, the less he liked the deal. He made his way back down to Jayne. "We're setting up under the balcony here," he ordered, leading Jayne back a few steps toward where they had come in. "I want our backs to this door." "Suppose somebody comes in behind us?" Jayne asked. Mal scrounged among the junk until he found a piece of metal pipe, which he laid near the door. "Close it off and stuff this in it if we have to. Backup plan is to go that way," he pointed down a narrow path through the piles, off to their right. "There's another door down there we can get to." "Or they can get to us through," Jayne said unhappily. "Mal, I got a really bad feeling about this. Worse'n usual." "Me too," Mal admitted. "Nothing to do for it now except get out of this room fast as we can, back to the ship. Can't go back to the client empty, not with this cargo. And I won't feel a whole lot better until that thing is off my ship and gone." Jayne nodded a warning, and Mal followed his gaze. Their buyer, recognizable by a shock of dyed red hair Mal had seen when they had spoken on a broadwave, was approaching through the maze, accompanied by another man and a woman. Above them on the balcony, half a dozen men and three women appeared, spreading themselves along the rail and looking alert. "Where's the cargo?" Redhead said, with a pleasant smile. "It's safe," Mal said. "I'd like to see the color of your money." "I'd like to see the cargo," Redhead replied, still pleasant. Mal was beginning to think maybe leaving the cargo with the ship had been a lucky break, from the looks of things. He and Jayne were outgunned and possibly completely surrounded here; at the ship, they couldn't be surrounded and they could definitely get away. And he might even be able to demand that only a few of redhead's hands come along. "You got all the advantage here," Mal said, glancing significantly at the personnel on the balcony. "I think you could give a little." Redhead pondered this for a few seconds, then motioned to the woman who stood at his left shoulder. She walked forward, slipping a shiny black backpack off her shoulders as she came. She dropped the pack on the floor in front of Mal. It clanked. Mal knelt and opened the flap on the bag. Jayne was supposed to be watching the other people with guns, but when Mal opened the bag, Jayne glanced down, and instead of looking back up right away he stared, wide-eyed. Lot of money in that bag. Mal made sure, running fingers through the coins to make sure the bottom of the bag wasn't weighted with base metal. Those coins were the same shiny platinum as the ones on top. He stood back up, suppressing a grimace as his knees popped -- What am I going to do when I get too old for this business? -- and nodded to the buyer. The woman hefted the backpack. "Bring three hands with you, and follow me," he said. Redhead considered again. "Ain't what we arranged," he said. "It's what I got to offer you right now," Mal replied. "You want your cargo, you bring the manpower to haul it off." Redhead's eyes narrowed, and Mal's heart skipped. He knew exactly what the fellow was thinking. If Mal had the manpower to promise to bring the cargo along when the deal was made, why didn't he have it now? And was his weakness an opportunity? Well, don't give him time to think such thoughts. "Come now, or don't come at all," Mal said brusquely, and turned to go. Before he could take one step toward the door, though, Mal was shoved roughly sideways, behind the towering pile of junk that had been his right flank. Jayne. As he rolled, the gunfire began. ** Inara had been teaching Kaylee to make tea. It was their secret, of course; Kaylee was no initiate, bound by honor and tradition to a House and to the Guild. If Kaylee's lessons were discovered, Inara would be subject to censure. But when Kaylee had expressed concern, Inara had only said "If anyone should ever ask you, tell them you learned by spying on me." "They wouldn't do anything to me?" Kaylee had asked, ashamed to think that she would worry about herself in such a situation, but the truth was that she would, and the shameful words slipped out before she thought not to say them. Inara had only laughed, though; the sound joyful, unforced, and reassuring as she wrapped her arms around her friend. "We don't discourage people from being curious," she had said, and Kaylee was glad, because she had wanted very much to learn the Companion's tea ceremony. And not just any Companion tea ceremony; House Madrassa's tea ceremony, used on Sihnon, the most civilized planet in the 'verse. Kaylee had performed the tea ceremony for Simon, but although the doctor had tried to be polite, he had clearly found the whole thing befuddling. Kaylee didn't think he had really appreciated the elaborate service, and had been disappointed by his reaction. She'd sulked for a while over it, but had decided, today, that perhaps River could use cheering up, and possibly Simon's more perceptive sister would be more likely to appreciate the formal ritual. "River?" she said, stepping into the young woman's quarters with the tea tray held in front of her. "I thought we could have, you know, a tea party! Just to pass the time until the Cap'n and Simon get --" she stopped, staring around. River was not in her room. "River?" Kaylee had left the girl just waking, complaining of thirst and a headache. There were pain tabs on the tray, with the tea, that Kaylee had picked up on her way to the passenger dorm. But now, just moments later, River was gone. "River?" Kaylee called again, turning slowly. Where had River gone? "I told him not to bring us here," River said, her voice coming to Kaylee disembodied. A chill ran through the mechanic, and she tried to call out to her friend, but found she couldn't speak past the hard lump of fear in her throat. "I told him they would kill us all." There was River, coming around the panel into the room, clinging to it, pressed up against it as though she were trying to disappear into the bulkhead. "He didn't listen. No one ever listens." River's eyes gleamed, dark and black, her pupils fully dilated. Kaylee took a step backward. "Now I have to go," River said. "Now I have to lead them away, or they'll find you. They'll find you all, and everyone will die." "River," Kaylee whispered. What had River done to Wash? Kicked him in the chest? Kaylee raised the tea tray defensively, even though she knew it was no protection. River knocked the tray upward, out of Kaylee's hands. "Tea?" she shrieked, "You brought me tea? Next time bring a fiddle! Don't you know Rome is burning?" River started to sob. Kaylee stared around at the shattered tea set, and her shattered friend, and felt the tears come hot to her own eyes. "Oh, River," she murmured, stepping toward the girl. But River shoved her backward, and Kaylee fell hard onto the floor, onto the shards of the tea set, her back scraping against River's bunk as she fell. "No!" River screamed. "Don't you see? It's up to me now! You can't follow me! Now I have to protect all of you, because you wouldn't listen to me!" Kaylee cowered away from River's rage. The young woman stood over her for a few more seconds, then turned abruptly and left. Kaylee got to her feet, brushing shards off her clothing with trembling hands. She knew she had to follow; River had spoken of going, of leaving, which had to mean leaving the ship -- and here, of all places, Nassau Point, a place even the Captain didn't like to come to. Kaylee had promised Simon she'd look after River. She forced herself to move, placing one heavy foot in front of the other, plodding doggedly toward the cargo bay, which was where River would have to go if she was planning to leave the ship. When she got there, she saw River unlocking the personnel door set into the sliding cargo doors. Kaylee picked up the intercom. "Wash?" she said, her voice barely a squeak. "Kaylee?" his voice came back to her, worried. "Is something wrong?" "It's River. I think she's --" the intercom was knocked from her grasp, and Kaylee was pushed roughly away. "Don't stop me!" River shrieked down at her. "You little fool, don't try to stop me, I'm doing this for you!" "River --" Kaylee pleaded, sobbing. "Ai ya," Wash said through the intercom. "Etta kooram --" but River grabbed the hanging handset and clicked it off before he could finish the phrase. "No sleeping this time," she said, tsking at the intercom. She shook her finger at Kaylee. "You should both know better." Then she stalked across the cargo bay, and out the door.

COMMENTS

Friday, May 13, 2011 7:35 AM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Oh damn...things have really started to go pear-shaped, haven't they? Mal and Jayne are outnumbered in a gunfight in a location they can't properly control...River's flipping out over an impending danger that we don't know is related to the job that brought Serenity to Nassau Point...and Lord knows what kind of fei hua Simon & Zoe are gonna encounter trying to get River's meds...

Still, this is an awesme story so far and a great follow up to your previous story, nauticalgal :D

Friday, May 13, 2011 7:40 AM

NUTLUCK


Interesting.

Friday, May 13, 2011 10:57 AM

NAUTICALGAL


Thanks, y'all!

Saturday, May 14, 2011 10:12 AM

AMDOBELL


Why doesn't anyone ever listen to River? Mind you, that would make for a mighty short story :~) Ali D
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Friday, May 20, 2011 3:29 AM

NAUTICALGAL


LOL, AMDobell!

Thursday, June 23, 2011 6:55 AM

DANCINGOTTER


Enjoying this as I do all of your stories!


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