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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
There were a few moments of thoughtful silence. Jayne scratched himself, couth as a bear at a tea party. "So how long's this gonna take?" (Understanding)
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1242 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Most of the day had been too hot by far for working outside when Kaylee and Zoë had parked the hovermule among some piles of scrap, the air wavering as it rose off the shimmering dunes. Kaylee had given the mule a long look, but figured she didn't need to disable it, since no one was around in this heat anyway and she had to admit it kind of blended in. Kaylee felt bad for the machine, in that way most other folks thought was crazy - she didn't always have the parts to keep everything on Serenity better than mint, including the mule, and while she might be able to look at the heart of things and see something shiny there, everyone else always just saw something broken down and good-for-nothing. Maybe that's why she'd been drawn to the people she was. Her crew had a lot in common with her ship.
So she and Zoë had holed themselves up in the shade of the grandmother of Serenity, a model 01 Firefly, waiting for the cooler hours. The Susanna didn't have the part she needed, she'd found it earlier on a Huey and she'd checked the Firefly already the first time she'd been by. They could still use some of the other stuff though, because except for a few modifications on the extenders, the Firefly models hadn't changed much. The ship was dead, its family scattered. But everything lived on in some way or another.
They both worked quietly at first, Kaylee only speaking to point out what they wanted and explaining how to take things apart. Kaylee had always looked up to the warrior woman for her strength, but she had some trouble communing with her - when Zoë wasn't focused on work, she also wasn't much for girl talk. Sometimes she'd taken to asking Zoë about the war, with some mixed results. Nowadays making chatter was even harder. Used to be she could talk about Simon, and Zoë would talk about Wash, but that had changed too, with her and the doctor carrying on while Zoe was in mourning.
She found herself really missing Wash and his jokes and his easy conversation. As a pilot he'd had at least some idea about electronics and engineering. Captain tried, but the only piece he'd ever memorized what it was and where it went after almost ten years was the catalyzer he'd nearly died for. So usually Wash went with her on her errands, and they always got to gossiping about all the shipboard romance. He'd never failed to give her good counsel, he'd probably know exactly what she could do about Simon and solve all her problems.
Last time she and Wash had been scavenging was just before Miranda. They'd snuck into a shifty impound yard and nearly were caught before they'd taken cover in another aught one Firefly, though Wash was shoulder-shot in the confusion. Captain and Zoë went looking when they hadn't come back timely, but they'd only found them after she'd had to jury-rig the gravity and Wash had flown them to a pick-up point and made contact.
Kaylee had been more aware than him, what with Wash bleeding out like he was, and she'd had to try to assure him that the others would come for them. Wash hadn't thought so; his wife was nothing if not practical.
"But she loves you," she'd insisted.
"Like air," he'd answered. And here Zoë was, still breathing, but missing something that made her work right. Like air.
She'd wondered at the time what it would be like to lose someone. Nothing really could have prepared her for the reality. So she asked, breaking into the easy routine they'd sunk into, her loosening the pressurizer from the housing while Zoë kept tugging at the radiator. People always overlooked the coolant systems. "How come Cap'n left you behind?" Not easy to miss they'd been at odds for a while, but she never would have thought she'd see the day Cap favoured Jayne over Zoe on a dangerous job. A shift like the shudder before gravity gave out and set everyone drifting.
The part had come out, and Zoë was crouched down putting it in their rucksack when she paused a moment as though thinking it over. "Maternity leave."
Something clattered to the metal grating underfoot, not that Kaylee was paying much attention to her tools at the moment. "Xi cóng tian jiàng!" she exclaimed, clapping her hands together in joy and almost singing. "Wash woulda been downright delirious!" She wasn't far off from that herself. The whole engine room seemed to bounce until she settled herself back down and she dialed her voice down to something not so high-pitched. "Oh Zoë," she breathed, "You an' him always wanted kids, he even said so. You remember? When we had all that money and we were talking 'bout what we all were gonna do with it?" The mother-to-be smiled, a little pensive, and Kaylee realized she ought to get back on subject. "What'd the captain say?"
The hope glowing in Zoë's face dimmed. "Nothin'. Just stood there."
Even in full steely mode Kaylee could see she was hurt. History like they had, much as he depended on her, and Zoë got the brush off like that? Kaylee shook her head. "He'll be all smiles, soon as his heart catches up with his brain." She frowned at his image, then scooped up her wrench and yanked the water reactor's control nozzle out. "Bèn zhuo de mù gùn," she muttered. Then she had the cooler free and in the bag, and saw Zoë waiting, hand at her waist and all business again.
"We done here?" Wasn't a question. Kaylee nodded, Zoë slung the sack of goodies over their shoulder and they made their down the stairs and out.
The sky had seemed to come ablaze, spilling fire out onto the ground like doomsday. Kaylee wondered at it. A baby. All that back and forth between Zoë and Wash over kids, and there was a little half-Wash and half-Zoë on the way after all. She looked up at the mule as Zoë lifted the swag into the back and climbed in, and had one more question. "Zoë? You had your tiffs with Wash. How'd you get through 'em?"
Zoë's hands clenched on the wheel. She closed her eyes like to take in the last of the fading warmth. When she opened them again, they were stern. "You don't fight now and then, you don't know how you'll take the hard times when they come." Kaylee drew closer and settled on the seat next to her. "And when they do, you got that choice, to stay together or go it alone. And if you both want it," she trailed off, a tremor in her voice, and then continued strong, "You hold on to each other. You don't give up until the end, and sometimes not even then. Sometimes you say sorry, and sometimes you don't have to, but you live every moment like it's the last."
The advice was almost lost in the noise as Zoë released the brakes with a clatter. The engine rumbled as they sped away, floated out over the glittering reach of sand.
- - - - -
Port control was housed in the only building on the airstrip, a monitoring tower atop a sandstone bunker. Like some kind of fortified lighthouse.
They were boasting a system more high-tech than the usual gun-wielding thugs, though it had that too, whole army of professionals camped out on the perimeter. Mal surveyed the contrivance by the steel blast doors, thinking that if Kaylee were here, she'd be in already.
No thanks to Jayne, whose idea of cracking the entry was to mash his palm into the keypad. "Access denied," chastised a benignly calm and matronly sounding computer, "zhe duàn, tong xíng zhèn." Mal found his lungs again and blew out hard. No auto-fire, no one to come investigate the sound. The mercenary shrugged at him.
After he told himself Jayne looked contrite, he turned to the three ladies, who were staring at the spectacle. Mù bù ren shì. "'Scuse me, don't suppose any of you know the pass code?" he asked, playing the goof casual.
"Move," said one of the blonde twins, not even giving him the time to drag Jayne out of the way. Probably June, who talked more, terse though she was. She entered a series of numbers until the digital display read off "maintenance," while her sister Lena knelt, ripping out the wiring behind the panel and stripping some down to the metal. Jayne sat himself up against the stonewall in a sulk after recovering his rifle and grumbled about them, about the security, and about not having any charges to fix this all right up.
He was worrying over anti-tampering alarms and whether their specialists knew what they were doing - disconcerting when he was dealing with folks more reckless than him - when the smallest girl shouldered a gun almost larger than herself awkwardly. "We all used to work here," Iris explained, her dark eyes far away and staring up at the view screen in the traffic tower high above, affording a vantage over all the docks. "June was on the Cortex, Lena was on the electronics and monitors, and I was a pilot hired on for flight information and navigation."
That explained how they were planning to take out the antlion then. He wouldn't have thought it to look at them, the only other cyber-techs he'd ever met were non-combatant types. These ones knew their way around firearms and clearly didn't trust him, and that had him on edge. They reminded him of when Zoe was new to the Overlanders and doubted he had the brains to fill a rooster's skull - not that she had changed her mind any after near on a decade of friendship. "So why all the gunshow?" he asked, and attitude, he thought, and already had his guess.
Iris had pulled into herself, hugging her arms and her weapon close. She glanced at him, then away, hiding behind her chin-length black hair, but it set her talking again. "One day, the Federal Marshall stationed here, Folsen, he decides he doesn't want to pay us anymore. Ties us up, sells us off to Shosenk." Her voice went very quiet. "Took months before we could get away."
Slavers. Chái láng shi tú. He had really wanted to be wrong. "Folsen," Mal repeated, and the girl shrank even more at the name. "Bleached hair, the one we killed?" He kept his tone level. She nodded. Too bad. He wished the monster was still alive so he could shoot him again.
There were a few moments of thoughtful silence. Jayne scratched himself, couth as a bear at a tea party. "So how long's this gonna take?"
"Bypassing voice command," Lena answered brusquely, with the implication for them all to bì shang zui ba so their jabber didn't set it off. Another pair of wires crossed, and they looked over at the door expectantly. Nothing happened. She frowned, inspected her work intently and then sighed, unbraided part of it, started re-weaving. This time the latch clanked aside and the steel split open down the middle to surprise them. "Done," Lena told him, pointedly, holding up the correct wire combination.
They moved into the hall as the lights flickered on, and Mal stopped for a moment just inside the entry. He'd expected more sandstone, a tunnel like Jordan village out in the grasslands where they found safety. The Alliance apparently liked to standardize all their facilities with their penchant for too bright, stark, ultramodern corridors. He didn't notice his own recoil until he bumped up against the door again. Trapped. This ain't a dream, he reprimanded himself, and made himself take a step forward, then another. Get a grip.
Now that he was looking, he saw the differences, not some dead end with no way in or out and he had no idea how he'd gotten there. There were two alcoves to either side leading to other rooms and stairs at the far end. Their specialists were set on heading up to the cortex source box at the top of the tower, but Jayne was more curious about the other rooms. The man caught his eye, and Mal ignored the girl's impatience and went over to take a gander himself. Jayne was a lot of things, most negative, but he was also one to know danger when he saw it.
Turns out there was plenty to see. There was some kind of lab behind a barrier field, separated in two with a prep/decon staging area and a cleanroom. Scientists in what looked like EVA suits were gathered around a table, hard at work even going late into the night.
"Why're they messin' with them grenades?" Jayne muttered.
Mal squinted - they were. Flash bangs, not frag, but they had them scattered around in parts for reassembly. "Looks like they're laced with something," he guessed. "Probably smoke powder. Disorients for longer." But he wasn't sure himself. He'd never seen the stuff packaged in vials like that, or needing that amount of caution. He thought back to the immobilized soldiers they'd seen in the med tent, the warning about some kind of reaction. This looked like the cause, whatever it was.
Inara. She'd been in some kind of explosion at the councilor's mansion. Mal sucked in air at the rush of energy that seared along his nerves, and barely heard June insisting that they hurry up. They needed to know what that chemical was and the medicine they were treating it with.
He ignored the complaints to check the other side of the hall, which turned out to be a storeroom. Amid all the crates there was a fortune to sell on the blackmarket, everything from extra fuel cells to ration bars. Jayne broke into a grin at the sight, and they started searching the inventory. The girls stood waiting impatiently in the doorway. "What are you doing?" June demanded.
Mal didn't bother answering, he thought it was pretty obvious. Especially with Jayne grabbing about everything he could shove into the cargo pockets of their disguise uniforms from off the shelves, with particular interest in some sort of antibiotic inhaler. A new thought occurred to him. "Those concussives you used earlier, were they Alliance made?" he asked.
She was so taken aback by the unexpected question, she managed a full answer with more than four syllables. "No, they were from one of our old stockpiles." He nodded to himself. At least they wouldn't also succumb to whatever had laid down the Alliance ranks.
Then he found the vials.
- - - - -
Every now and then, Serenity was actually quiet. He settled on the beaten yellow common room couch outside the infirmary with his medical encyclopedia. Nothing to organize, he'd finally gotten everything back in place after the crash, and he'd given a glance at the cryochamber, looking after his patient. No change.
Simon had long since become accustomed to the dichotomy of life aboard the ship - spikes of terror amid long stretches of boredom. Perhaps he had changed since he had left Osirius with River, looking over his shoulder. He used to relish those breathers. Now he looked forward to port leave as much as everyone else, anything to break up the tedium of travel, and yet despite the close quarters and high tensions that sometimes resulted, he worried about the crew when they were gone. Well, not everyone on the crew. He couldn't quite manage any concern for the captain or Jayne at the moment, but what had happened to Inara wasn't any fault of her own.
If he had to admit it, he was missing one person more than others. Specifically, he missed Kaylee's smile. Which was strange, because Kaylee wasn't in any danger, and she hadn't even been away for long. They'd been distant after his confession, and then after he hurt her again like an idiot.
"She's sorry," River said. He hadn't realized she'd been watching him.
This was a huge risk they were taking, not waiting out the blockade. If the Alliance stopped them in their getaway, if they boarded them, they might find River. He'd spent so much time trying to keep her safe from them, and now they were flying right into their hands. "You have nothing to be sorry about," he assured her, angry on her behalf, "the captain shouldn't put you in danger like he does."
His sister looked at him like he had graduated top three percent in stupidity. "You're so alike," she said. "I know you tried to save me. Still are. You never failed me, Simon." Her mouth curved upward, but her eyes were sad. "Evangeline drowned in the River. The blame game has to end, because everyone has lost."
He'd understood her to the last part, and that confused him more than chastised him. He returned her smile anyway, apologetic; it had really seemed like for a moment she had shone through the fog that settled over her for the past week. "Evangeline?" he echoed.
"Captain's mèi mei. Her eyes were blue," she explained.
Simon couldn't reconcile the concept; Malcolm Reynolds, black hearted tyrant, taking them back aboard despite the Alliance hunting for River and Simon's subordination, his big brother role for Kaylee, the tolerance for Jayne, human catastrophe of manners only looking out for his own blood and kin.
Before he could decide what to think, Mal spoke over the ship's loudspeaker. "Doc."
He pushed aside his questions as he stood, clapping his hand on his knees, resigned, strode out from around the cluttered end table and stepped up to the intercom. Normally the crew didn't ask for him on a job unless someone was injured. "Captain," Simon acknowledged. "Is everyone all right?"
The captain hurdled right past the inquiry. "Got something here, need your expertise. What's Fuss-fo-no Math-y Kwin-o Zal-in Deen?" Mal had to repeat himself twice before Simon could catch the entire chemical name.
"Phosphono-methyl-quinoxaline-dione?" Simon translated. He had to rack his memory a little, and vaguely remembered it from something he had been researching in regards to River's condition. Specifically he'd been interested in the opposite effect, as the compounds tended to increase psychotic and schizophrenic behaviour. "It's a family of chemicals that affects neurotransmitters - nerve cells signaling between each other. Why?"
Mal already sounded serious, but his voice took on a grim edge. "Because the Alliance has a whole lot of people out here in the same state as Inara, and they're putting this stuff in grenades. I'm thinkin' that's the reason."
"That's not possible," the doctor dismissed automatically, consolingly, but his mind was already working. There was something he wasn't quite recalling, that seemed important. He ran a search in his databook. It all clicked together, and Simon went numb. G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate. "Oh, tian ya. It's the Pax."
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