The Four Winds, Chapter 9/28
Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Simon, River and Zoe remain at large; Mal makes a worrisome discovery.


Inara had chosen "Tuscan Villa" from the list of themes in Jerrode's sitting parlor, but even the endless, discreetly animated vista of rolling hills and vineyards bathed in golden light that now decorated two of the room's walls could not relax her. When the door swung open behind her, she jumped. She felt a moment's relief -- until she turned, and saw that the three people entering the room were Jerrode and two strangers, and that Zoe and Simon were not with them. Jerrode shook his head in mute apology. "They weren't there," he said. "When my men arrived, your friends were gone." Inara's throat closed up. She swallowed, forcing her voice past the blockage. "Did someone else get to them first?" "I don't know, but I will find out," Jerrode said. He walked across the room and took her hands in his, while the two men with him took up station on either side of the door. "I have the resources to turn this station inside out. And I will do so, for you. I will find your friends." "Thank you," Inara said, although she wouldn't believe them found until they were here with her, and safe. "In the meantime, be sure that you don't leave my home without bodyguards," Jerrode instructed, grim-faced. Inara nodded acquiescence. "I don't know how I can ever repay your kindness." He dismissed the offer with a gesture. "It's not too much kindness for such an old, dear friend," he said, and kissed her cheek lightly. He glanced at the walls, and changed the subject. "Tuscan Villa. I like this theme; it's a personal favorite. Do you see the workers harvesting grapes out there in the west, just beyond that rise? Occasionally you can glimpse them. I think we should dine in here." He moved away, to the comm on a nearby side table, and spoke briefly with his kitchen staff. Inara really wasn't all that hungry, but she smiled as Jerrode led her to the room's small table, and accepted the wine that he served her when it arrived. She stared westward at the walls, catching a glimpse of the harvesters Jerrode had mentioned. There were three of them, and her fretful mind saw the indistinct figures as Zoe, Simon, and River. Blinking back tears, Inara looked quickly away. ** "That -- grav sled -- broke?" Jayne huffed, as he and Mal shoved the crate up the steps from the cargo bay toward the shuttles. "I think -- it has trouble -- on the slant --" Mal gasped, trying to ignore that the rough wooden crate was cutting into his palms, and that it felt like it was about to break his shoulder. He feared, though, that Jayne might be right, and that something might be wrong with the sled, or with something, because it had cost them more effort than it should have to move the crate to the bottom of the steps in the first place. Moving it hadn't been this exhausting before. He felt like he was about to drop dead from the exertion. Next to him, Jayne grunted. There was an odd clanging, scraping sound as the big mercenary's foot slipped out from under him. Jayne yelped a warning. The full weight of the crate suddenly landed on Mal's shoulder, knocking him backwards. He scrabbled for the handrail as the crate barrelled past him, banging against his hands and knees. It raced down the stairs on its grav sled, leveling out at the bottom. Inertia sent it sliding across the bay. Toward the doors. The doors that were airtight only because they had long sheets of thin plastic duct-taped over them. "Jayne! The crate!" Mal leaped down the steps, swearing as he landed hard on his banged-up knee. Jayne, who had fallen from the steps already, turned his head and watched as the crate slid in what seemed like exaggerated slow-motion toward the bay doors. The mercenary was picking himself up, slowly, too slowly, as Mal lunged for the crate on the power of an adrenalin surge. He fell onto it with his upper body, dragging the toes of his boots along the grating behind it. A handsbreadth short of the plastic sheeting, the crate came to a stop. Mal drew a ragged breath. Jayne appeared next to him, hands on hips, still breathing hard. "Nice save." "Thanks for the assist," Mal grumbled, as he straightened up and dusted himself off. "Hey, I saved your bacon twice today already," Jayne replied with a shrug. "You owed me." He cast a doubtful eye in the direction of the stairs. "I don't think we're gonna be able to get it up that way." "No," Mal agreed. He cast about for another option. "Lower the mule," he said finally. "We'll use the chains to swing it up to the landing." Jayne nodded, and walked away. Mal struggled with the crate until Jayne returned to help him propel the recalcitrant object toward the chains. Together, they finally raised it to the landing and shoved it along as far as the shuttle door. There, they ran into another problem. The crate was too long, and completely inflexible. They shoved, they grunted, they contorted themselves, they raised up one end of the crate and lowered the other. Nothing worked. The thing stuck out through the shuttle doorway by a fair half-meter. "We could take it out'n the crate," Jayne suggested at last, and Mal reluctantly agreed. They all knew what it was now, anyway -- or at least, they knew as much as he did -- so what difference did it make? They pulled the crate back onto the landing, manhandled the torpedo-like cargo out of it, and jammed it into the shuttle. Inside, it took up most of the interior. Its nose was jammed into a rear corner on the pilot's side; its tail lay on the headrest of the copilot's chair. Wash'll have to crawl underneath to get to the pilot's seat, Mal thought, but he was too weary to care, or to try for a better arrangement. "Good enough," he said to Jayne, who had slumped against the side of the shuttle. "Shouldna been that hard," Jayne said, his speech slurred with exhaustion. "No," Mal agreed, pressing his fingers to the bridge of his nose. He was working on a monster headache. "Going down to the med bay," he said. "Painkillers." "Me too," Jayne said, pulling himself to his feet. They trudged together down to the infirmary and shot themselves full of analgesics. Mal walked out of the infirmary, meaning to head for his bunk and what he felt was a well-deserved nap. He stopped when he saw Kaylee, sitting on the ratty sofa just outside the med bay, staring blankly at the wall. "Kaylee?" he asked, and she shuddered as if suddenly awakened. She turned her head slightly, her gaze focusing on him. "Cap'n?" "You okay?" "I --" she reached up to rub her temples. "You said to . . . think of ways to make the ship more stable . . . so I sat down to think. I guess I just . . . zoned out." "Med bay," Mal said. "Let's make sure you're okay." Obediently, Kaylee stood and followed him back into the infirmary, where Jayne was still leaning against the counter. She climbed up onto the table and curled into a fetal position. Mal pulled Simon's scanner out and ran it over Kaylee, then checked the readout. A bright red warning flashed on the screen, amidst the jumble of vital signs. O2 Sat. What was that? Mal wondered. O2 would be oxygen, but what did 'sat' mean? And why would an O2 Sat of 83% be bad? Wasn't 83% a passing grade in most things? He shook himself and decided that maybe if he had a normal reading to compare it to, it would make more sense. So he turned the scanner on Jayne, and then checked the readout again. O2 Sat 85% the readout told him, in bright warning red. Mal turned the scanner on himself and checked it a third time. O2 Sat 84% it told him. Something was wrong with their oxygen levels. Mal opened cabinets until he found where Simon had stored the medical oxygen. He hooked up a mask and took a deep breath. His head suddenly cleared -- he hadn't realized he was that fogged-out -- and he felt miraculously stronger. O2 Sat. Of course. Oxygen saturation level in the blood. It should have been much higher than 83%. They weren't getting enough air. Because they'd lost so much through the bay doors before they got them sealed. It all came clear in his mind, then. They'd sealed off the bay while they were trying to stop the leak; he'd felt the oxygen going then, before they suited up. After, he'd gone to the bridge, while Wash and Kaylee went out to have a look at the damage and Jayne cleaned up the other suits and put them away. The air pressure had been slowly stabilizing throughout the ship in the interim, and it would be lower than usual. Low enough, apparently, to be affecting them. Mal slipped the oxygen mask over Kaylee's face, and saw her instantly perk up. He tossed another mask and bottle to Jayne, and punched Simon's comm. "Wash," he said, "What's our pressure?" "What? Pressure? Wait a sec --" said Wash through the comm. "It's . . . ummm . . . wow. Ten p.s.i. Mal, that's really low," the pilot observed. "Yeah. We seem to be feeling it, too -- at least down here we are. You okay?" "I, uh . . . well, there should have been alarms when we lost pressure," Wash said. "Why weren't there alarms?" "Did you cut them off?" Mal asked. If Wash had cut off the alarms when the hull was first breached, and the pressure dropped, they'd have stayed off until he cut them back on again. "I, uh, probably," Wash admitted. That he couldn't clearly remember, Mal took as a sign that the pilot was affected too. "Reset the alarms, and let me know if it goes any lower," Mal told him. "Right," Wash said. Mal pressed his fingers against the bridge of his nose, trying to think. His first thought was to wish for Zoe -- having grown up shipside, she'd probably be a lot more conversant in the ins and outs of depressurization and hypoxia than he was. But he couldn't have Zoe, and unless he got himself together enough to get the ship fixed somehow, and go get her back, he wouldn't have Zoe. So he'd have to rely on himself. Yes, that always works out so well his hindbrain said sarcastically, and Mal pinched the bridge of his nose, hard. Hypoxia. Headache, fatigue, lack of stamina, impaired judgment. What else? Did it matter? Those symptoms alone could sink them. Mal made a rough mental estimate of the amount of bottled oxygen on the ship: the space suits worked like the ship's own atmospheric charging system -- by filtration and chemical retrieval, converting the carbon dioxide they breathed out back into breathable oxygen. He didn't know offhand how much carbon capacity was left in each suit before it would need reconditioning, which was something they typically did on the ground. Probably they ought to save the suits if they could. Simon had maybe a dozen bottles of oxygen here in the med bay -- not enough to repressurize the ship. And if Mal's worst-case scenario came to pass, and it took weeks to straighten out the mess they were in, certainly not enough for that. They needed to save the medical oxygen, too. Hypoxia, he seemed to remember, was something the body could adjust to -- to a point, anyway. Could they adjust to 10 p.s.i.? Surely. If the pressure had dropped below what they could adjust to, they'd be dead already. Ships that depressurized too far, or too fast, ended up as floating coffins, ghost ships, and Serenity was no ghost ship yet. They'd adjust. Their blood would thicken up, carry more oxygen . . . he couldn't remember the mechanics, couldn't guess how long it would take. But if they left the supplemental oxygen alone, they ought to adjust eventually. In the meantime, there was work to do. Somehow. "Put it away," he said, taking the oxygen bottle from Kaylee and motioning to Jayne to do the same. Kaylee whimpered; Jayne started to protest. Mal shook his head. "Might need it more later," he said. Talking was an effort -- no, choosing words was an effort. His brain was not working well. Right now, when he was in a terrible mess and really needed it, his own brain was betraying him. He put the bottles back into their cabinet, making sure to turn off the regulators, and shooed the mechanic and the mercenary out of the med bay. "Go check the engines," Mal ordered Kaylee, who obeyed with a weary nod. "Go check your weapons," he ordered Jayne, who frowned. "Might need those, too." Jayne shook his head, but left. It didn't matter about the weapons, not really. Not right now. What mattered was that Jayne was gone, and wouldn't see when Mal locked the med bay doors.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011 3:30 PM


Oh, this is good.
Is Inara a prisoner in a gilded cage? "Never go out without body guards" can work two ways. I don't trust her client a bit.
Interesting to see the others dealing with hypoxia. Mal doesn't do his best thinking when he's hypoxic, does he?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 5:46 PM


Very cool.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 9:06 PM


You would think that after "Out of Gas" that Mal would be a bit more aware of hypoxia or asphyxiation due to decompression. Just glad Mal notice the scanner's readouts on O2 levels :(

Thursday, May 26, 2011 8:52 AM


Oh dear, I hope realises he needs to break out those oxygen masks again, *mashang*! This is entirely the wrong time for him and the others to be overcome by the gorram hyopoxia... 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.