The Four Winds, Chapter 5
Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mal is forced to abandon most of his crew to their fates.


There was something familiar about the girl with the long brown hair that hung in uncombed hanks around her face, as she made her way, shuffling and uncertain, along the concourse below. River kept trying to figure out what, but she couldn't quite bring her thoughts into focus. A sister? But I don't have a sister. Do I? She was sure of a brother -- Simon! -- and parents, somewhere. But the sister . . . a young woman passed in front of her, with thick straight auburn hair, bright amber eyes, and a ready smile. Sister, River thought, turning, but the young woman was gone, leaving only a sense of loss. Kaylee . . .

River turned her attention back to the trembling, shuffling girl on the concourse. She was drawing attention to herself, poor child, with her odd gait, her muttering, her handwringing. People drew away from her, leaving a circle of clear space around her, like the clearing around a fort so that no one could get within a bowshot -- or a gunshot -- without being seen. So, of course, she saw them. Two by two, hands of blue. River screamed. Just like that, she was back inside her own body, looking out through her own eyes at the two men in their neat suits, their blue hands balled into fists and partially hidden inside their sleeves. There was one thought in both their minds: her. They moved toward her, through the clear space, and River backed away.

She plucked a thought -- a dark thought; an unhappy thought -- from the mind of a man nearby. "It's him!" she cried, pointing at the men with blue hands. "It's Mackey!" She had no idea who Mackey was; it didn't matter. The man turned, saw the men with blue hands, and his suggestible mind saw his enemy. He pulled his weapon. Under cover of the suddenly-scattering crowd, River fled. Her father was running alongside her. "River, stop this nonsense right now!" he ordered. "Daddy, help me," she pleaded. Behind her, she heard gunshots, and screaming, and other, more frightening sounds. The man who hated Mackey had realized his mistake, but too late. River briefly regretted having sacrificed him to save herself. "I can't help you if you won't listen to me," Gabriel Tam said. "River, you're shaming all of us." The tears in River's eyes made it hard to see. Behind her, she could feel the blue hand men coming closer. She had to get away, get somewhere safe, get off the station. The space station. Nassau Point. What was her father doing on Nassau Point? She turned to ask him, but he was no longer there. The men with blue hands were still there, though. Their menace pushed her forward like a wave, and she rode it through in terror, fearing the menace underneath. If menace pushed her, hope pulled. River followed an instinct, a thin thread of recognition, through the warren of Nassau Point. It whispered escape in her mind, and help, and it grew stronger as she followed it. The door it led her to was closed, locked. She knocked on it timidly, afraid to draw the attention of those around her. It opened, and she was drawn inside by trembling hands that wrapped themselves around her thin biceps. The door closed again, the locking mechanism clicked, River was pushed back up against it, and the man who held her arms breathed a faint phrase that might have been an oath . . . or a prayer. "You," he said, more loudly. She didn't recognize him, long black hair and black eyes, skin a shade too sallow, clothes a little too loose, and fraying under the cuffs -- he'd been on station a while, and his resources had grown thin. His name, she gleaned from his mind, was Henh Ly, but it meant nothing to her; rang no bells. Yet he knew her. And she knew that he was where her thin thread of hope had led her. But would he help? Could he? "Two by two, hands of blue," she said. "Here?" he asked, his eyes widening. She nodded. "Where's your brother?" Simon. "Buying drugs," she said matter-of-factly, and Henh blinked, surprised by the possibilities of that flat statement but passing no judgements. "I don't know where. I thought I was going to him. But hope led me to you." "You have to leave," he said. "You're not safe here, they'll find you." "I know." "Come." He pulled her away from the door, back through a tiny apartment with a raised sleeping platform, a single-unit kitchenette, a bar with two small stools, a couch. Into a tight lavatory, where he pulled open a cabinet under the sink, and emptied rolls of toilet paper and a bottle of liquid soap into the shower. He pulled the curtain to hide them, and then tugged at the panel on the floor of the cabinet until it came free in his hands. He rolled it up, stiffly, and gestured. The hole was just large enough to climb through. There was darkness beyond, but no time to hesitate. River slipped through. Henh followed her, pulling the cabinet closed and locking it from the inside; he replaced the floor, noisily, in the dark. He stepped on her hand as he came down. "Crawl straight ahead," he ordered, and she followed his instruction. He was taking her to safety. They were in a pipe chase, shimmying along on top of racks of smooth round pipes that vibrated under their weight. River had to twist sideways to slide between pipe supports as they went, and writhe her way around pipes that suddenly split vertically. Her eyes adjusted as they went; faint light filtered into the pipe chase from the places where the pipes split out into different areas of the station, and River was barely able to make out upcoming obstacles before she jammed her fingers on them. "Go up," said Henh from behind her, and River looked up into an opening that seemed impossibly narrow. "Square peg," she said. "Round hole." "Story of my life," Henh responded irritably. "If I fit, you will. Go." Maybe this, and not penury, was the reason Henh Ly had grown so skinny, River thought. She wriggled onto her back in the tight space, and reached up into the opening. The only handholds she found were the three pipes that ran up into it, so she grabbed them and pulled herself up into the opening. "Push your way out," her companion instructed. River had pulled herself up to a standing position when she felt the smooth surface he spoke of. She pushed firmly at it and felt it give. She grabbed it by the edges and rolled it the way she had seen him do with the floor of the cabinet under his sink. A plastic bottle fell onto her head, and several soft rolls of toilet paper. River stifled a gasp. Light spilled into the narrow space. Wherever it opened into was unoccupied, though; River could sense that much. She hauled herself upward, and pushed through another cabinet door. A lavatory, very like the one they'd just come from. Henh Ly came through behind her, preceded by the bottle of liquid soap and the rolls of paper that had fallen on River's head. He fell into her in the tight space, and River tried to get out of his way by squeezing in between the toilet and the shower. "Here," she said, holding out the rolled plastic of the cabinet floor. He unrolled it and snapped it back into place, then settled the toiletries back on top of it. River learned from his mind that they had passed from the poor residential area where she had found him, into an equally poor area that was closer to the rimside docks. Farther from Serenity, docked on the Core side of the station. He meant to put her on a ship. Good, that's good she thought. It would be good to get as far from Serenity as possible, get away to somewhere the blue handed men would follow, and leave her crewmates alone. Alive. When the man in the loose and threadbare suit stood and grasped her hand, River let him pull her to her feet, and followed. But she could not parse his motives, beyond the immediate one of surviving by putting her somewhere far from himself, so she asked him, "How do you know me?" He led her through the small apartment by the hand, out the door, into the crowded dockside area. Threaded his way through the crowd, still holding her hand, his gaze taking in each ship as they went. Finally he stopped, and spoke in Chinese to a dark older woman. To River the woman's aura was bright and clean. They were leaving soon. They would take her. Henh Ly turned and took both of River's hands in his. "Go with them. You'll be safely away from here," he said, and River gasped. Not because he had actually brought her to safety, but because the answer to her question lay in the front of his mind, even though he could not bring himself to say it. This is the second time I have rescued you, River Tam. ** Mal came through the cargo bay door with Jayne almost on top of him. He heard the mercenary slam and bolt the door; heard the bullets pinging ineffectively off the heavy alloy of the hull. He started for the intercom -- Wash, he was thinking, get us out of here -- but drew up short when he saw his pilot half-kneeling at the back of the cargo bay next to his mechanic, who was sitting on the deck looking dazed. Whatever the explanation for that was, it didn't matter right now. "Wash! Get us out of here!" he snapped, but his peremptory tone wasn't strong enough to move the pilot. Wash only looked up in surprise and opened his mouth to protest. Mal could see it in the pilot's face; knew of Wash's tendency to dig in his heels and buck authority at the worst possible moment. He steeled himself, preparing to physically haul the pilot to the stairs and shove him in the direction of the bridge. But it was Kaylee who spoke, and her heartbroken tone checked him. "River's gone," she said. "Gone where?" Mal asked, confused. "Run off," Kaylee said, and Mal stood for a beat, just staring at her. From behind him Jayne's voice came, anxious and heavy with foreboding. "They're riggin' explosives." Mal recovered himself. It didn't matter who was on or off the ship, right in this moment. "Wash. Now!" "But, Zoe --" the pilot began, not moving. "And Simon . . . River . . ." Kaylee added, her eyes filling with tears. "They're gonna blast their way in," Jayne warned from his position by the small window in the airlock door. Mal grabbed Wash by the straps on his flight vest and hauled him to his feet bodily. "I said get us out of here!" he roared. "We don't move, there ain't gonna be a ship for the rest to come back to!" Finally, the pilot was moving in the right direction, up the steps, toward the bridge, tail between his legs. He wouldn't like it -- nothing to like about it, leaving half their crew on Nassau Point for who could say how long, but it had to be done -- and now that he was moving, Wash would do it. Mal turned toward the bay doors, his mind working, trying to think how he'd drive the wolves off this time. "Zoe's out there," Jayne said, just as Mal felt the ship begin to move. As the ship pulled back from the docking collar, the alarms inside the station began to whoop. The mercenary force -- Mal had no doubt that was what they were -- outside his ship scrambled, and Mal heard one command clearly: "Blow it! Now!" Mal and Jayne leaped for the interior of the cargo bay as the explosive outside the ship detonated. ** Zoe stopped in a corridor just beyond the bay where Serenity was docked. Simon stopped just behind her; she could hear him trying to stifle his labored breathing. A quick glance around the corner showed her that two men were guarding the entrance to the bay. She couldn't see beyond that, but she knew from earlier that there were at least ten armed hostiles between her and the ship. The hostiles were the only ones there; the station's other denizens had readily recognized somebody else's fight, as Mal had fled through the station, and by the time they'd arrived at Serenity, all other souls had vanished. So it was just Zoe and Simon here in the corridor, and the bay beyond where the hostiles were.

But Mal was on the ship, and if Mal was watching, he'd know when she made her move. And he'd move back; they'd have the enemy caught between Mal and Jayne, and maybe River if she were lucid enough, on one side, and Zoe on the other. And Simon, Zoe added in her mind, thinking belatedly of the doctor. She unholstered the pistol inside her vest, and passed it to Simon behind her back. He was slow to take it. "What are you doing?" he breathed, as he reluctantly accepted the weapon. "We can catch them in a crossfire," she said. "Wait until I fall back to reload, then if they come around the corner at us, shoot them." She pulled her Winchester and checked it reflexively. "Do you really think this is a good idea?" Simon asked, but Zoe ignored him and stepped from cover into the center of the corridor leading straight into the bay. She leveled her weapon and shot the two men guarding the entrance, but the sound was lost in the whooping of the station's breach alarms. From her new vantage, Zoe could see Serenity. The ship was moving; pulling back from the docking collar without first having closed the locks. If Serenity was already moving, Mal must be expecting that the enemy would -- The hostiles beyond the bay doors scrambled sideways, and a flash of flame erupted from Serenity's hull just as she broke the collar. Air rushed past Zoe, through the breach, even as the station lock at the bay entrance pinched closed from top and bottom in front of her. The hostiles in the bay started for the closing lock, coming directly for her. "Zoe!" Simon cried, barely audible over the whooping alarms. She glanced backward, and saw that the airlock door into the corridor she'd come from was closing, too, cutting her off from Simon. The first hostiles tumbled over the narrowing lip of the docking bay entrance, and Zoe looked back into their eyes. They raised their weapons at her. She stepped back through the doorway to stand with Simon, letting the lock cut her off from the enemy on the other side. "What happened?" Simon asked. "Ship's gone," Zoe said. One of the hostiles pressed his face against the window in the lock that separated them, and studied her and Simon through narrowed eyes. Zoe smiled coldly at him. "What do we do now?" Simon asked. "Get off this station," she replied. "But, the ship!" Simon said. "Mal will come back for us. Won't he?" Serenity wouldn't be able to come back for them, Zoe realized. Not with her bay doors blasted open. She couldn't dock with a collar in that condition, even if she dared to come back to Nassau Point right away. No. Mal couldn't come back to get them. Not soon enough to help them escape from the man studying them through the window, anyway. They needed to get off the station, and quickly. But it would only worry Simon to tell him so. "We'll have to meet up with him somewhere else," Zoe said. "Come on." She gave their observer one last, icy smile, and led Simon back into the den of thieves.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011 10:25 AM


Very cool, but the crew is scattered all over now. maybe Zoe and Simon will end up with River.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 3:29 AM


Oooh, very exciting! I loved that River's rescuer was returning a favour she had once done him and not remembered. Tore me up that Mal and Jayne had to get Serenity in the air to survive the gorram explosives the bad guys wanted to blow them up with. Good to have Zoe thinking and plotting and scheming even if she couldn't yet tell Simon. As for River, just a huge relief that she got away from the Hands of Blue just in time. Very much enjoying this, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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The Four Winds, Epilogue
The end...or maybe just another beginning.

The Four Winds, Chapter 25
The rest of the crew return home.

The Four Winds, Chapter 24
Me and Elwood, we're puttin' the band back together.

The Four Winds, Chapter 23
Inara investigates matters; Mal discovers that the impossible has been done in his absence.

The Four Winds, Chapter 22
River needs Mal to solve her problem; Mal is forced to provide information to the Alliance.

The Four Winds, Chapter 21
When Mal tries to recover the cargo, will he lose more than he stands to gain?

The Four Winds, Chapter 20
Mal makes changes to his plan; River puts her plan into action; Inara decides on a plan of her own; Wash finds something he'd lost.

The Four Winds, Chapter 19
Simon gets an alias; Mal gets a look at his client; Wash gets a shock.

The Four Winds, Chapter 18
Our Heroes - and Our Villains - try to figure a way out of the mess they're in.

The Four Winds, Chapter 17
River finds out what's really going on; Simon and Zoe fall into the wrong hands.