BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE

NAUTICALGAL

The Four Winds, Chapter 21
Wednesday, June 15, 2011

When Mal tries to recover the cargo, will he lose more than he stands to gain?


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1421    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Getting back into the shuttle was a deal more difficult than Wash would have thought it would be. He certainly didn't remember getting out of the shuttle being so difficult. But then, last time, he'd only been worried about himself. Now he had to worry about not only what might happen to him, but what might happen to a child he hadn't even known about, then. The damned torpedo had a lot more snags, this time. And Jayne... well, Jayne was just beyond unbearable.

"Get a leg over, little man," Jayne said, as Wash struggled around the torpedo. Wash, breathless from the effort, could make no retort. But then Jayne emphasized the imperative by grabbing Wash's trailing boot and giving it a forceful shove. Wash flailed, felt the suit catch, felt it let go, reached desperately to check and found the suit intact; by then he was heels-over-head in the pilot's seat.

"Watch it!" he groused, as he struggled to right himself.

Jayne wedged himself in next to the torpedo with a snort of derision. "Gotcha there, didn't I?"

Wash fastened his belts and started his pre-launch checks. Everything looked good; everything powered up. He felt the engines come to life beneath his fingers. In moments, they were off the ground, heading for home. Slowly. The shuttle strained against the torpedo's weight.

"Thing's blinking," Jayne commented from the back of the shuttle, his voice tinny inside Wash's helmet.

"What's blinking?" Wash asked.

"This thing," Jayne said, "This torpedo thing. The cargo. 'S blinking. Just all of a sudden lit up like Christmas."

That didn't sound good. That just didn't sound good at all. "Can you make it stop blinking?" Wash asked.

"Don't know why it started blinking in the first place," Jayne insisted.

Wash thought about his suit catching, as Jayne hoisted him over the torpedo. And then coming free, undamaged. Had they tripped something? Activated something? Flipped a switch somewhere that they shouldn't have?

No way could Wash spare the time or attention to try to fix whatever the problem was. "You figure it out," he said to Jayne. "Figure it out, make it stop." Inwardly, he scoffed, and worried. But if this torpedo thing was some kind of weapon, well... weapons were at least a subject Jayne had a chance of knowing something about.

Wash hoped.

*** Eusabian was discussing his next move with his staff when his personal comm blinked. The message came from the co-pilot, on the bridge of the yacht, and it read, Shuttle disengaged.

Who...? Eusabian wondered, but he knew the answer almost before he could form the thought.

Inara. When had she figured it out? After that last comm with Reynolds, he decided. And she had done a brilliant job of letting him think herself fooled.

He messaged his bridge crew back: Close comms. If there was a chance to get Inara back, he wanted her secured before Reynolds knew she'd gotten free. The command to close comms would shut down the Nightrunner's comms to any ship that didn't belong to Eusabian.

He sent his staff out, and opened a secured comm to the Nightrunner. He also opened a monitor to track the shuttle on his screen.

"Inara," he said, smiling, when she appeared on the screen. "You didn't like my party?"

She smiled back at him. "You always throw the best parties, Jerrode. But I have another engagement. And you did seem to be rather busy."

"Business before pleasure," he replied. Inara wasn't making straight for Reynolds and Serenity. Clever girl. If he wanted her back, he'd have to abandon Serenity; if he wanted Serenity, he'd have to let her go. Without the Nightrunner, he had no immediate way to maintain contact with both. "I'm sorry you couldn't stay."

"You needn't worry about the shuttle," she said, "I'll set its beacon and put it where you can retrieve it easily."

Eusabian couldn't have cared less about the shuttle. What he cared about was losing the hostage he had hoped to use as a bargaining chip to obtain the cargo Reynolds had been carrying. But this conversation confirmed that Inara knew the score; she would not now come back to him willingly.

"I had no idea you were a pilot," he said. It was the one thing that griped him about her escape; he'd had no idea she could fly a spacecraft. Had he known, he could have prevented it.

"I'm full of surprises," she said, giving him one of her gorgeous, enigmatic smiles.

"Indeed you are," he acknowledged. "Safe journey to you."

"To me and mine, I hope," Inara said, and this time her smile was underlain with ice.

To that, he only nodded. Inara signed off. Eusabian sat back in his chair and considered what to do next.

His personal comm blinked again. This time the message was, Serenity has sent a shuttle to the planet's surface.

Eusabian's eyes narrowed. His initial, direct approach to obtaining Reynolds' cargo had failed; his follow-up, indirect approach had also failed. But here, perhaps, was another chance.

Eusabian hit the toggle, to speak with his pilot.

***

Mal had barely stripped out of his space suit when Kaylee called him to the bridge. He arrived, still wiping sweat from his face and hands with a ragged ship's towel, to find her sitting with the pilot's seat swiveled around to face the entrance from the crew's quarters. Her hands were pressed together between her knees.

"What's up?" Mal asked.

"Few minutes after you left, that pirate's scoutship disengaged." Kaylee said. "They traded some comms, but it was all secured. Scoutship's gone now. I don't know where."

Mal nodded. Whatever had passed between Eusabian and his scoutship shouldn't be Mal's concern for too much longer.

"Then that yacht took off," Kaylee went on. Well now thought Mal, that's an interesting development "And now Coles is calling."

Mal drew a deep breath. "Put him on," he said. Kaylee flipped the toggle.

"Captain Riddle," the Admiral said, and Mal wondered how long he was going to be stuck with that alias. He'd meant it as a joke. Which should have been obvious, really. He'd have to chose his aliases with more care in the future. "Is your cargo secure?"

"Still working on that," Mal replied. "Ought to be squared away, soon."

"Well, let me know as soon as you have it, and I will provide you with new delivery instructions."

Another light blinked on the console: incoming comm from Wash, in the other shuttle. "Uh, hold on just a minute," Mal said, and reached across Kaylee to switch the channel over.

"Mal, we got trouble," Wash's voice said, disembodied. He was using the suit comm.

"What kind of trouble?"

"This... the cargo... Mal, it's blinking. Whatever it is, it's... well, it's armed itself. I'm afraid it's going to blow."

"Wo men wan le. Hold on!" He switched back over to Coles. "Admiral, we seem to have a problem with your puppy," he said. "You wouldn't happen to know how to, er, disarm it, would you?"

"Disarm...?" Coles processed that for a second, and then paled. "No, no, I'm afraid I do not know that."

"Well, in that case, let me get back to you," said Mal, and switched back to Wash.

***

"This thing's gonna blow!" Jayne yelled, unhelpfully. "Mal, what do you want me to do?"

Wash answered. "Get rid of it! Get it off the shuttle!" The pilot was climbing, striving for altitude. If he could break free of surface gravity, he and Jayne might make a break for it in the suits, but the torpedo was heavy, and the shuttle was struggling. It seemed almost to be getting heavier, as it initiated itself. Wash had shut down everything nonessential. There just didn't seem to be quite enough power.

This, Wash thought with great irritation, is no way to start a family. This is just really not the way to do it, at all.

He heard Jayne grunting; the gunman was trying to maneuver the torpedo out through the shuttle's open door. The unwieldy, armed, and increasingly heavy torpedo. But Jayne was giving it everything he had. Wash felt the torpedo shift alongside him.

"Ten seconds!" Wash called, "Ten seconds and we're clear! Get it out or we have to abandon ship!" As if he could go anywhere. Would Zoe think it was okay for their kid to have a dead hero for a dad? Or was dying in a botched act of industrial espionage not really heroic?

"Wash!" Mal's voice now, right in his ear. "Company, coming up fast!"

Wash spared a glance for his display. Yes, there was another ship, coming in fast and low along the planet's surface.

"It's Eusabian," Mal said. "That's his yacht."

"If he wants this thing, we're about to give it to him -- good and hard!" Wash yelled.

"I got it!" Jayne called. Next to Wash, the torpedo made a terrible grinding noise as it slid backwards, out through the shuttle door. The shuttle surged forward as the torpedo fell away toward the planet's surface.

Jayne swore viciously into the mic.

"We're clear," Wash called, twisting around.

He was just in time to see Jayne's space-suited fingers lose their grip on the half-closed shuttle door, as the big merc was sucked out through the open shuttle door in the torpedo's wake.

Seconds later, the torpedo exploded.

***

"Wash! Wash! Jayne! Wash!" Mal and Kaylee were both screaming into the pickups. Below them, the screens had dimmed against the brightness of the blast. Serenity was too far out to feel the impact, but Mal felt it anyway, in his gut. He'd killed Zoe's husband, the father of her child. For real, this time.

It might just be the most awful thing he'd ever done. And this was the third time he'd done it. Or thought he had, anyway.

"Inara..." Kaylee whispered faintly. Eusabian's yacht was gone, just gone, vanished in the blast. "Oh no..."

"Mal! I'm clear!" Wash's voice came loudly through the comm, but Mal felt only the cold chill of a loss too great to believe just yet. Inara...

"Mal?" Wash's voice. Mal barely registered it.

"Mal," Wash sounded rough. "Jayne's gone. I lost him." He repeated himself, as if he weren't quite convinced. "He's gone."

"No..." Kaylee choked on a sob.

Mal stared grimly out through the shielded glass at the of the cockpit at the fading halo of the explosion.

"Mal, I'm so..." Wash's voice was breaking up, crackling in the speaker. "He saved my life."

Mal nodded. Wash wouldn't hear that. It didn't matter. Inara. Jayne.

Mal hit the toggle. "Wash," he said, woodenly, struggling to make himself heard over Kaylee's sobs, "Come on home."

COMMENTS

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 2:38 AM

EBFIDDLER


Yikes! Fast and furious action. You had me on the edge of my seat. Now I'm hoping, really, really hoping that Jayne's floating around somewhere in his suit, comfortably situated with a nice homing beacon on him so they can swing by and pick him up, and that Inara was good and clear of Eusabian's ship before it blew.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 2:39 PM

NUTLUCK


Until I read about someone laying eyes on Jaynes corpse I don't think he is dead and even if they did I would be sure. I mean the smell would be convincing enough granted but he always smells that way.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 4:36 PM

NAUTICALGAL


Yay for the edge of your seat!

Also, it ain't over 'til it's OVER!

Friday, June 17, 2011 6:50 AM

AMDOBELL


Holy *goushi*! Very excited and I loved Inara figuring Eusabian out and getting away before he realised but oh no, Jayne! I'm hoping there is some really insane but clever way that he somehow survived. Can't wait for the next part, this rocks (literally!). Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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