BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE

NAUTICALGAL

The Four Winds, Chapter 13
Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mal has to tell the client the job's gone bad; River finds a hiding place; Wash has an idea that upsets Kaylee and Jayne.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2570    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Mal took Zoe's advice, and was very glad that he had. Ten minutes of supplemental oxygen at regular pressure had relieved a lot of his symptoms, although it couldn't relieve the terrible dread he felt as he put the call through to the woman who had hired him. She appeared on the broadwave screen, looking just as she had when he had first met her. Schoolmarmish, he had thought to himself then, with her graying hair pulled straight back into a neat bun, a white blouse that sported both a high collar and ruffles down the front and at the wrists, and eyeglasses with rhinestones at the temples. He braced for a scolding. Or worse. "Captain Reynolds," she said, folding her hands neatly on the desk in front of her. "Do you have a report for me?" Supplemental oxygen notwithstanding, Mal felt suddenly unequal to his task. He fumbled briefly for words, and settled on bluntness. "Job went bad," he said. "There were uninvited guests at the meetup. Unless you invited 'em to kill us all?" Oops. He hadn't meant to be quite that blunt. The woman on the screen looked nonplussed. "Of course I didn't --" she stopped, frowning as though something had just occurred to her, and cleared her throat. "Er . . . how then do matters stand?" she inquired, with strained politeness. ""Cargo's stowed away safe," Mal said. "My ship's badly damaged, though, and I don't know what happened to your buyer. Far's I know the folks who crashed our party are still hanging around, too. We been keeping out of their way." "I see," the woman said, and seemed not to have anything further to say. Maybe that execution will hold a bit, Mal thought. "Well then," his client added after a moment, "I shall have to contact you again when I have . . . when . . . I have further instructions for you. Goodbye." Mal stared at the blank screen, perplexed. The noose he'd already been feeling around his neck seemed to ease. When I have further instructions for you? Mal had dealt with contacts, middlemen, front-men before; the bigger the job, the more elusive his actual client was like to be. But in this case, his contact seemed inconceivably ill-suited for the job -- as if she were working from a script, and didn't know how to improvise. As if this weren't really her line of work. Maybe she really was a schoolmarm. It was almost as if he were dealing with the client's secretary, instead of the client. Or the client's mother. Well, whoever -- whatever -- she was, he'd have to wait until she got back to him before he'd know what to do with the cargo. In the meantime, he had a ship to fix and a crew to recover. While his head was still somewhat clear, Mal set his mind to the problem of finding a repair bay where he could fix Serenity. One he could afford. His head didn't stay clear near long enough.

**

River was good at finding hiding places. Even on Serenity, which was not a very large ship, and was known very well to its crew, she had found places to go where no one would find her if she didn't want to be found. She couldn't always remember where they all were, of course, and sometimes she'd fall asleep in one of her boltholes and wake up so disoriented that she could only quiver in fear for half an hour or more, but it was important to be able to be alone, and well-hidden. Her best hiding-place ever, of course, had been on Jubal Early's own ship; she was still proud of that one.

So she was more than a little surprised when the Abbot, Brother Matthew, suddenly loomed over her hiding-spot within the abbey -- a forgotten corner behind an vat once used for winemaking, since replaced with newer equipment but not yet removed.

"What are you hiding from?" he asked, which was the second surprise. How could he know she was hiding, rather than simply desiring to be alone?

She tucked her hands more tightly into her armpits. "Lucky guess," she accused.

"You could have solitude within the abbey in far more comfortable places," Brother Matthew said. "The monks respect those seeking solitude."

"Oh." Not a lucky guess, then. Brother Matthew was a thinking man.

"You didn't answer my question," he said. He hunkered down next to her -- not an easy thing for such a large man to do, in the tight space between the vat and the rough stone wall. River appreciated his determination not to intimidate her by looming, and wondered if he had enough information to understand that her half-suppressed smile was amusement at the sight of the bulky abbot squatting in a dusty corner.

"You look silly," she said.

"I'm not going to let you avoid the question," he persisted. "And you can't run away without attacking me." This time he was the one who smiled faintly. "A chance I hope I won't regret taking."

"Me, too," said River, and meant it.

"Well?"

River looked away from him. Maybe he's a hallucination, she thought, half-hoping. If she was going to see things that weren't really there, shouldn't it work in her favor sometimes? Although the medication he had given her didn't seem illusory. It had given her words back. Maybe it had taken her hallucinations with it. In exchange, it seemed to have given her the shakes something terrible. She readjusted her hands within her armpits.

When she looked back, Brother Matthew was still there. Waiting.

Well, if he were a hallucination, it wouldn't hurt to talk to him -- right? It would be kind of like having a conversation with herself. Right?

"I saw a dead man," she said. It wouldn't be enough to send him away. She would have to explain. Did knowing that about him make it more or less likely that he was real? "One of the brothers. Only he was alive. Except that maybe . . ." she couldn't make the words come out so that they made sense. River shuddered.

She stole a glance at Brother Matthew. Still there. Still looking thoughtful and concerned.

"Maybe what?" he prompted.

"Maybe . . . Maybe I didn't really see him," she said. "Maybe he wasn't really there."

"You believe you saw a ghost?" Brother Matthew inquired. He sounded faintly surprised, but without condemnation.

The possibility actually had not occurred to River. She considered it, and discarded it. She had, after all, seen ghosts, and that experience had been nothing like this.

"Hallucination," she offered.

"Ah," said Brother Matthew. He drew a deep breath. "Well. If he's real, he can be found. If he cannot be found, then perhaps he wasn't real, and we can try to find you some more effective medication."

"I would like that," River admitted, surprised to hear the relief in her own voice.

"If we're to find this mystery brother, you'll have to give me some more information," Brother Matthew began.

"His name was Book," she said, "Darriell Book."

If the name had any meaning for Brother Matthew, he didn't let it show in any way that River could pick up. Instead, he said, "We have no active brothers by that name, although some one of them may have used that name before arriving here. Our brothers leave their old identities behind when they come to us, and we do not ask their former names."

"No," River said, "That was his name when he left here before."

"Before?" Brother Matthew seemed genuinely confused.

"Before. Before he was on Serenity, Shepherd Book was here, at Southdown Abbey. He left here. He came to Serenity when we did -- Simon and me. His name was Book then."

"That . . . must have been before my time," Brother Matthew said.

"I tore pages out of his Bible," River said. "He had a hard time forgiving me. Also, he was very good at shooting people."

"I begin to see, perhaps, why he left."

"But why did he come back?" River demanded, and the weight of it all landed on her again, heavily, like an ocean wave because it came with fresh salt tears. Back to the living, back to the Abbey, back to her. "He wouldn't tell me," she sobbed. "He wouldn't speak!"

Brother Matthew laid a hand on her arm, awkwardly. "That may be our first clue," he said.

She sniffed, and looked sideways at him from behind the curtain of her hair. "Clue?"

"Many of our brothers take vows of silence, when they first arrive. It gives them time. Lets them put the past behind them, begin to fill up the space with their new lives. One year is typical. So if, indeed, this brother did not speak to you, then he is probably newly come to us."

"There were bells," she said, thinking that perhaps she was mistaken; perhaps that was why he had not spoken.

Brother Matthew wrapped his fingers around her upper arm, and drew her gently from her hiding place.

Outside, the bells began to ring.

***

"No," Kaylee said, forcing the sound through her suddenly-dry throat. "No, never. Not that. Anything but that."

"Not what?" Mal said, forcing his leaden legs to carry him up the steps onto the bridge, where Kaylee and Wash had their heads bent together over Serenity's collection of 'verse maps. "Anything but what?"

Jayne clumped up the steps in Mal's wake, arms stacked with gear. They'd been sealing off every compartment in the ship that they could get by without, and bleeding off the air into Serenity's fore compartments. It meant Kaylee couldn't get to the engine room, and everything in the cargo bay and med bay was also inaccessible -- but maybe it also meant that they'd have better air pressure and breathing air for the time being, which would help to clear their heads and get them through this. It meant maybe they wouldn't die in minutes if the plastic sheeting failed to hold. Mal's eventual plan was to get Kaylee to turn one of the hallways into an impromptu lock, and use the spacesuits Jayne carried to access the rest of the ship if necessary.

"There's a place we could go to refit," Wash said, "Orbital repair facility, should have everything we'd need, no Feds, no docking fees."

"That's a crazy fantasy," Jayne said. "Mal, the low pressure is affecting his brain."

"Unlike you," Wash said dryly.

Before the two men could get to sparring, Mal said, "Where?" He drew a deep breath; it seemed to him already that his head was clearing some.

"Cap'n, no," Kaylee warned. Her eyes brimmed with tears. What in the 'verse could Wash be suggesting that sounded so ideal, and made Kaylee cry? He looked at Wash.

"Miranda," the pilot said.

Mal's whole body went cold.

"Straight through reaver-space," Kaylee said, barely audible, "and the ship already damaged and all. Cap'n, no. Please no."

"You go there, you let me off first," Jayne said.

There were dark circles under Wash's eyes as he regarded Jayne with weary exasperation. "Well, put on a suit, and you can get off anytime you like. Or, better yet, you can just get off right now and leave the suits for the rest of us." To Jayne's vicious glare, Wash said, "If I could dock somewhere and let you off, believe me, I'd be all over that."

Jayne snarled at the pilot, and thumped across the bridge to dump his armload of suits on the copilot's console.

"We have to refit," Wash insisted. "Or else take the shuttles and abandon ship."

"No," Mal said, reflexively. Abandoning Serenity was the one thing he would never do, never even contemplate. This ship, damaged as she was, was everything he had left in the 'verse.

Wash sighed. "Or, yes, Door Number Three is to sit here until we die. Do you know if you're mountain climbing in an area with air pressure this low, it's called a 'Death Zone'? Because the whole time you're there, your body is eating itself just to stay alive. There's a physiological limit to how long we can do this, and we're burning into it as we speak."

Kaylee stared at the floor. Something glinted; Mal realized that it was a tear, falling from Kaylee's face to splash against the deckplates. Death or Reavers: what a choice. Might amount to the same thing in the end. But sitting here was certain death. Reavers they had faced before, and lived, so at least there was hope there. Not much hope, but he'd hung from thinner threads than this.

"Do it," he said dully, and Wash nodded acknowledgement. But as the pilot turned back to his console, alarms whooped, startling all of them.

Kaylee gasped. Jayne swore. Wash cut the alarms with a vicious right-handed swipe.

"Now what?" Mal asked.

Wash checked his displays. "Ching-wah tsao duh liou mahng." He turned to look at Mal.

"Got company," he said.

COMMENTS

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 7:44 AM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Awhttp://www...Miranda?! Miranda's the only freaking option for getting Serenity patched up?! Things have really taken a turn for the pooched, haven't they?

:S

Still...your skills are really on display here, nauticalgal, since we're getting some serious tension and mystery here!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 9:13 AM

NUTLUCK


Wondering whats up with the book not book. Maybe a younger brother? Or maybe a army of book clones?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 10:28 AM

AMDOBELL


Uh oh! Did the woman who hired Mal and his crew send help? Somehow I don't think they would have got there so quickly which leaves me with the sinking news that whoever has turned up is more bad news. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 10:47 AM

NAUTICALGAL


Ali - Can you see my evil grin? I think in any really fun novel, the author is the very worst villain, for all the stuff s/he puts the good guys through :-)


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