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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - SUSPENSE
The crew meets the locals, and Book makes a horrible discovery.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1039 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
"Explain to me again why I had to come along."
Wash had to shout to be heard over the thundering rain. Zoë and Mal, who were leading the party, both turned to look at him. Or rather squint at him, as they found it hard to keep their eyes open with all the water pouring down their faces.
"You're gonna help Kaylee look for the parts she needs," Mal shouted back. "Besides, you couldn't send your wife out in the rain and then stay behind your-own-self, snug and dry, on the boat. That wouldn't be gentlemanly."
Zoë almost laughed at the expression that fell over her husband's face, a funny mixture of annoyance and shame. He never offered the captain any reply though, just pulled his coat tighter and kept trotting on.
They'd parked Serenity about a mile outside Shahadeva's main settlement (not an easy task in this weather apparently, Wash had complained a lot about the restricted view as he executed it), but what should have been a short walk seemed a lot longer in these conditions. All of them were bundled up in anything that remotely passed as waterproof, but they'd still been soaking wet before they had even gotten as far as thirty paces away from the ship.
"People live in this?" Kaylee said, an unusual comment coming from her, as she was always so tolerant and open-minded and probably the last person in the 'verse to pass judgment on other people's ways.
"For eight months every year," Shepherd Book replied, prompting Zoë to cast a glance in his direction. Of the five of them he was the only one who'd left the comforts of the boat willingly. He'd said something about diplomacy skills and the captain's lack of it, and decided it would be best if he came along. Mal had either agreed or not bothered to argue with him.
The settlement, or town or whatever they called it, was situated at the bottom of a long and narrow valley. To get to it they had to cross a river, and it was as they reached a rusty iron bridge that something hit Zoë as not right.
"One would think," she began as she stopped halfway across the bridge and peered over the railing at the flowing water below, "that with all this rain the river would be bigger."
The others had stopped too, and Mal took out his binoculars and looked westwards, upstream, through them. "Yeah," he agreed. "And here's why." He pointed out the direction as he handed the binoculars to her.
It wasn't easy to make out through the pouring rain, but she saw it. The valley ended in what at first glance looked like a big concrete wall. "A dam?" she said.
"It's huge!" Kaylee exclaimed. She shielded her eyes with her hand and squinted against the rain to admire the wonder before her, or the little she actually saw of it.
"Anything about this here on the Cortex?" Mal asked the Book, who had borrowed the binoculars and was studying the dam himself.
"Not that I saw," the shepherd replied. "But it did say the locals were mostly industrial workers. Might have something to do with that."
Mal turned back towards the town. "Well, not that it matters, we're not stayin'. Come on, let's find whoever's in charge here. And hope they have what we need."
"I hope they have a roof," Wash said.
A few minutes later they were carefully making their way up the town's main street. Zoë kept a vigilant eye on her surroundings, taking in the details, mapping out the landscape in case of trouble. The houses here were small and crude and looked like they were made up of any material the people could get their hands on; a sharp contrast to the impressive dam they'd just seen.
"Where is everybody?" Kaylee asked. The settlement seemed completely deserted.
"Probably inside, like anyone in their right mind would be," Mal replied.
"Okay, now I'm officially wet everywhere," Wash suddenly declared. Zoë sent him an impatient look.
Just as she turned back she spotted movement next to one of the nearby buildings and reached out an arm to stop her captain. "There." He saw, and they both put their hands on their guns but didn't draw them. Best to look friendly until the others proved not to be.
They counted five people emerging from the shadows, slowly and carefully approaching them. They all carried rifles, but weren't pointing them at them at this point. Kaylee still took a nervous step backwards and raised her hands.
"We come in peace," Mal shouted.
"Who's there?" came the reply. It was the man leading the party who had spoken, and as he came closer Zoë could make out the worn and rugged face of a middle aged man under the hood of his raincoat.
"Name's Malcolm Reynolds," the captain introduced himself. "I captain a Firefly."
"Yes, we saw your ship." The man came to a halt a couple of yards away from them. He looked a little skeptical, but not really hostile or threatening.
"These are my crew," Mal continued and pointed to each of them in turn. "My first mate, Zoë… Wash…. Kaylee… and Shepherd Book. We're having some trouble with our engine and had to make an emergency landing. We don't mean to impose."
The man eyed them for a moment, obviously feeling them out, but then he uncocked his gun and dropped the arm holding it. "I'm Torsten Norby," he said. "But let's not talk here. Please, come inside."
Kaylee instantly relaxed. She grinned broadly, apparently exited by the prospect of meeting new friends, and looked to her captain in anticipation. The idea seemed to go down with Wash as well. "Getting out of the rain sounds good to me," he said.
Mal nodded and they followed Torsten and his men to a house a little further up the street. "Please forgive us our somewhat harsh welcome," Torsten said as he opened the door and entered, then stepped aside to let the rest of them through, "but we don't get visitors very often."
"You'll want to be careful," Shepherd Book stated. "Very understandable."
Zoë studied the room as she stepped into it. It was small and dark, the windows were barred with shutters, and the only source of light was a couple of small lamps on a dinner table by the far wall and the yellow flames in the fireplace. There was a young woman at the table, preparing a meal, and she put down her carving knife and came to greet them when she saw the strangers. "This is my daughter, Dicte," Torsten introduced her.
"Please, let me take your clothes," the young woman said. "Come warm yourselves by the fire."
Wash and Kaylee weren't hard to convince. They were soon stripped of everything but their overalls and huddled in front of the fire while Dicte hung the rest of their clothing on a clothesline in an attempt to dry them. Zoë was, along with Mal and the shepherd, a little more wary but ended up following their crewmates' example.
Not long after, when they'd warmed up by the fire and been served a hot beverage (a toddy of some kind), the captain's shoulders had slumped considerably. Zoë guessed hers had as well, though not all the way. These were certainly friendly people, but she had learned to never let her guard down completely.
"So, is there anything we can help you with?" Torsten asked. The men he'd had with him had slithered off to somewhere else and it was just him and his daughter left in the room with them.
"Well, like I mentioned earlier, we're havin' some engine trouble," Mal said. "My mechanic, Kaylee here," he gestured towards the young woman who was sitting in front of the fire, talking to Dicte, "tells me a few parts need replacin'. And so we were wonderin' if you happened to have a scrap yard around here she could look through for what she needs."
Torsten raised his eyebrows for a moment, but then just shrugged. "If you think you'll find any of our junk useful, you are of course welcome to it."
"Thank you," Book said before Mal had even opened his mouth.
Torsten turned towards his daughter. "Dicte, show them the junk yard outside the old factory. That would probably be the best place to start."
"Yes, Daddy." Dicte stood and offered Kaylee her arm, which Kaylee gladly accepted. Both women giggled as they got dressed and made their way to the door, and seemed to have established a fine rapport between the two of them already.
"Wash?" Mal prompted.
"Yes, yes, I'm going with them," Wash muttered. He reluctantly scrambled to his feet and pulled his half-dry clothes back on, before he ventured back outside together with the girls.
Mal watched them leave, with the shadow of a malicious smile on his lips. Book saw it and shook his head and turned to Torsten instead. "If you don't mind my asking, how do you make a life for yourselves out here, in these… challenging conditions."
Torsten smiled bitterly. "It ain't been easy. But you get by somehow when you don't got no choice."
"You're dam builders?" Zoë asked.
"Not at all," the man replied with a little sad chuckle. "I'm a welder by trade. I came out here with my daughter lookin' for a new start after her mother died. I found this. I can tell you it wasn't what I'd dreamed of." He stared down into his cup for a short while before he continued. "No, the Alliance built the dam. They had these grand plans about how they was gonna take advantage of the heavy rainfall and let hydropower cover all our energy needs."
"I guess it didn't turn out so well?" Mal said. It didn't really sound like a question.
Torsten shook his head. "After a few years they must have decided it wasn't worth the trouble and they packed up and abandoned everything, taking with them anyone who knew how to operate the gorram thing."
"They just left you here," Zoë stated. She wasn't at all surprised by Torsten's story, but as always it pissed her off to hear how the Alliance sometimes treated their citizens.
"Then how do you survive?" Book asked.
"We grow food in special agricultural domes further down the valley. There's animals in the forests and hills we can hunt, and there's fish in the river when there's a river. Occasionally the Alliance still ships us supplies if we beg hard enough for it, but nothing too reliable."
They were quiet for a moment, each of them steaming in their own silent rage against the government. Well, maybe not the preacher, Zoë thought to herself as she glanced up at him; he had contracted his eyebrows and looked like he was thinking hard.
"Would it be possible to have a closer look at that dam?" he eventually asked.
"Sure," Torsten answered. "I can take you there in my truck right now." He looked at Mal and Zoë. "You're coming too?"
"It's not like I got sumthin' better to do," Mal replied, and Zoë just nodded.
The truck turned out to be a battered, old off-roader but it climbed the winding trails leading up to the dam as true as Serenity sailed through the Black, and it took them less than twenty minutes to get there. They stepped out of the car and walked up to a building that was probably the dam's abandoned control center and stopped in front of it to look at the dam itself.
Seeing the construction up close made Mal realize how incredibly huge it really was. It rose close to a thousand feet from the bottom of the valley and measured about half a mile across. The artificial lake on the other side was more than full; the water was already spilling over the top.
Book was standing next to him, taking in the impressive sight. "If this thing bursts it will flood the entire valley," he said in a gloomy way that was a little unlike him. "Taking the whole town and all its people with it."
Mal cast him a sideways glance. "I'm sure it was built to last, Shepherd."
"If it was run and maintained properly, yes," Book retorted. "Look, the spillways are closed. They ought to be open now with all this water putting pressure to it."
Torsten had heard him. "We've tried," he said. "But they're stuck somehow. Like I told you, there's no one here knows how to operate it."
"Do you have your binoculars?" Book asked Mal, and Mal handed them to him. The preacher always made him feel a little uneasy when he behaved like this. So determined, so seemingly in control, and yet so secretive.
For a long while he was just studying the dam through the binoculars. "There are cracks in the concrete," he eventually declared.
"They grow bigger every year," Torsten said, which earned him a don't-you-see-the-danger-you're-in?-look from the shepherd. "But they're superficial and it's holding."
"It won't hold forever," Book said, sounding strict. "You're gonna have to evacuate your settlement right away." He turned to the others. "This isn't a question of if the dam will burst, but when. And that when will be very soon."
Saturday, December 31, 2011 6:11 AM
Friday, November 23, 2012 9:28 AM
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