Indigo - Part XXIX
Friday, April 20, 2012

Maya. Post-BDM. River finds the slaves, Mal is getting anxious, and Jayne has an idea ... but the bad guys aren't going to take everything lying down. NEW CHAPTER


It took Zoe longer to get to the area of the camp than for Mal to sound equal parts relieved that the kids were safe, and annoyed that she’d come after him. “The shuttle ain’t armed, Zo.”

“I thought I’d take a page from Hank’s book and use the downdraught as a distraction.” She was taking a wide arc around the hills to come up towards the camp from the back.

“Could,” Mal agreed. “But you’d whip up a hell of a snowstorm. Hide the bad guys so we wouldn’t be able to see ‘em.”

“They wouldn’t be able to see you either.”

“Glad to see you’re concerned for my hide.”

“I was thinking more of Freya, sir.”

A chuckle came across quite clearly. “Yeah, me too.”

It was time to be frank. “We need to leave, sir.”

“Not finished, Zoe.”

“Sir, this misplaced sense of honour has got us into trouble before.”

“And I reckon it will again, but that don’t mean I want my shuttle shot up. Do you have any idea how much a replacement would cost?”

“Then what do you suggest I do?”

“Hang back, but don’t come in ‘til I say. I’ve a notion we’ve got ‘em confused, and if that’s the case and if we use you at the right moment, things should work out shiny.”

Zoe didn’t sigh, but rolled her eyes. She knew this Mal of old, the one who had faith in his plans, even as they were falling apart at his feet. Still, he was her captain. “Yes, sir.”

“Oh, and Zo?”


“Keep the engine running in case you have to make a daring rescue.”


Wes Tanner swung himself up into the saddle and looked down at Brad, still standing morosely by the hitching post. “What are you waiting for?”

“It’s not our fight. Let Pederson deal with it.”

“We’ve got a lot of money invested.”

“There’ll be other opportunities.” Sometimes Brad could be very stubborn, about as immovable as the mountains that surrounded the town.

Wes held back a sigh. He knew his brother could outdo a mule, but he also had a good notion of what would work. “Cobb’ll be there.”

Brad’s hand went to the scar on his neck. He could still feel the heat, hear his flesh crackling as the oil burned, thinking he was about to die as he went into shock from the pain. Only Wes’s quick thinking had saved his life, but he hated owing his brother like that. “We won’t get there in time.”

“We will if we take the shortcut.”

“Yeah, but even then the horses won’t –”

Wes played his ace. “The hover’s at the stable. You can drive.”

Brad’s eyes glittered with malice and gave in to the pull of revenge. “Shiny.”

--- It had been a long climb down, with a number of narrow turns and switchbacks, but now River stood in the first of the lower levels of the camp. It was dark, with only a single lamp panel in the roof still giving any kind of illumination, and that was poor, flickering occasionally.

The klaxon was still booming, but even as it seemed to make the air molecules dance in wild gyrations she heard it lessen, then die to nothing, and somewhere in the distance she could finally discern someone crying, a low sound that set the hairs on the back of her arms standing.

There was no sign of any guards, but that didn’t mean they were all up on the surface, waiting for intruders. Taking a shallow breath and releasing it gradually, she sent her mind out through the camp, the edges of her consciousness diffusing into the surrounding countryside, delicate as a spider’s legs on a web.


“How much longer, do you think?” Mal asked, squatting down by the air vent and causing a miniature avalanche of snow to slide into it.

Freya shrugged. “It took Sara a long time to climb out. River knows the way in, but it’s still tricky.”

“I just wish ...”

She half-smiled. “I know.”


River’s mental voice startled them both.

“Albatross? You found the slaves?”

Not yet. Close. But there’s something else.

“What?” Mal demanded.

The wolf cubs are coming to play.


Romulus and Remus. Sons of the she-wolf.

“You wanna try that in captain dummy talk?”

“The Tanners,” Freya realised. “She means the Tanners.”

“Shit.” He stood up, drawing his gun. “How long ‘til they get here?”

They have a hover. Big. New. Armed.

Gou niang yang duh.” He glanced towards where he had imagined Zoe had parked the shuttle. “Looks like we may be needing that heroic rescue after all.”


They’d separated, giving the slavers the impression there was more of them, rather than just two men with an arsenal attacking a Barracuda-class ship, but River’s mental message to Jayne had the big man hurrying to find his old friend.

His hunter’s instincts flaring, Jayne called out, “Indigo! I'm coming in. Don’t you gorram shoot me!”

Indigo laughed. “Don’t tempt me.” Then the smile slid from his face as he saw Jayne’s expression. “What?”

“They need help.” Jayne explained quickly, ending with, “Trouble is, we leave and the whole kit and caboodle follow us, straight to the camp.”

Indigo peeked over the boulder they were crouched behind. “Yeah, that’d make it worse.” He sat back. “What about your captain? Won’t he have any ideas?”

Jayne’s lips thinned into a somewhat cruel smile. “Mal? Sure. Only his ideas have a tendency to end up with someone gettin’ shot, usually him.”

“So what do we do?”

Jayne’s brow drew down in thought, then a slow grin burned into his features. “There is one thing we could try.”

Indigo sighed. "I’m not going to like this, am I?”


Pederson had made the decision not to split the men he was leading. Well versed in the art of sneaking up on folks – otherwise known as ambushing the unwary – he knew a small handful of men could hold down a ship if needed. Hell, he’d been planning to do just that to the Firefly, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a lot more attacking his vessel than the couple he anticipated.

Still, it was something of a gamble to leave the camp to fend for itself, despite what had to be superior numbers doing the defending, and as they entered the foothills, their horses finding the going easier now they were away from the town, he began to rethink his options.


The man behind him spurred his horse to catch up. “Boss?”

“Take Grogan and get back to the ship. Tie up the loose ends and get us ready to leave.”

“What about the delivery?”

“We’ll take the cargo with us. Maybe one or two more besides, if it can be arranged. Head for Whitefall. Patience has those mines of hers, and she might pay a pretty penny for some good workers. Or maybe Racine, put ‘em up in the market.”

Macdonald nodded. “I take it we ain’t gonna be working for the Tanners no more?”

“For bastards who can't even get off their backside to help us?” Pederson sneered. “Let ‘em rot in hell for all I care.” He glanced back at the men. “I’ll take Marsh and the others, find out what’s going on at the camp, let you know if we need assistance.”

“Boss, Marsh is good, but I’m –”

“Yeah, I know. And that’s why I’m sending you back to the ship with only Grogan. Between the two of you there shouldn’t be much trouble in mopping up. My boat gets damaged then we’re stuck here, and I don’t know about you but this ain’t the place I want to spend my retirement.”

“The girls at Vic’s ain't even worth it.” Macdonald grinned. “Don’t worry, boss. I’ll see we’ve still got a ride at the end of it all.”

Pederson nodded once, not even bothering to watch as Macdonald gave the orders. Instead he peeled down a sidetrack and headed for the Alliance camp.


The cold air deep underground was stale, permeated through with the odour of people kept together, no access to anything but the most basic facilities, and a hopelessness that could have decayed any colour, had the corridors not been of unrelenting grey. If desperation and despair had a perfume, River considered, this would be it. Even the crying, more of a low sobbing now, tasted of it.

She idly wiped her hand down her thigh, leaving a smear of blood from where it had oozed from the cut on her forearm, her eyes flickering from one cell door to another from where she stood, her bodysuit and stillness blending her edges.

The locks were electronic, no hint of rust on them, unlike the doors they kept sealed. There was a stench of mould from somewhere, probably where groundwater had seeped into the lower levels, but the slavers didn’t care about that. All they worried about was stopping the merchandise from escaping.

Not River’s word, but the one at the forefront of the guard’s mind. He sat slumped in front of the control panel, apparently not at all concerned about the possibility of intruders. Instead his eyes were ranging over the small vidscreens showing the weak points around the camp perimeter, the comlink ready by his hand to inform his compatriots as soon as he saw something to shoot at.

River recognised the image on one, not twenty yards from where she’d gone into the duct. A smile played briefly over her lips – not looking in the right place, she mentally chided even as she moved silently in the shadows, oozing up behind him.

For a nanosecond she considered cutting his throat, particularly as what he planned doing to one of the female captives when time allowed made her skin crawl. Jia yan, though, wouldn’t approve, not in cold blood. Another nanosecond passed as she considered that odd saying. Cold blood. Whose? The one doing the killing, or the one being killed? And blood was warm anyway, so it was all something of a moot point, to be debated with Simon or Freya one day when there wasn’t work to be done.

She lowered the unconscious man to the floor, her arm having swung the handle of her knife with more force than was strictly necessary, and noted the laboured aspect to his breathing. Without medical attention he would die within the hour, but technically she hadn’t yet committed murder, a subtle distinction Freya was sure to want to discuss.

Studying the board for a moment she pressed the correct sequence of keys to open the cells. Somehow she felt there should be a fanfare, but all she heard was a click, and felt a faint movement of air on her cheek. She lashed out, catching the guard sneaking up on her across his throat with her knife. Arterial spray decorated the wall, and he dropped his gun to scrabble vainly at the wound, trying to stem the flow even as he slipped to his knees.

River grimaced faintly at the liquid that now stained her grey bodysuit a darker colour. It wasn’t the first time she’d dripped blood, but that didn’t mean she liked it. Besides, now she was a wife and mother she was far more fastidious in her habits, even going so far as being told off for using all the hot water in the shower room on more than one occasion. She hadn’t been alone, of course, but Mal didn’t need that sort of increase to his blood pressure.

She flicked her hair out of her face, red drops flying to splat on surrounding surfaces, and stepped delicately over the still twitching man to the first of the cell doors. She wrenched it open.


Jayne climbed, his bulk for once playing second fiddle to his unexpected agility. The narrowest of ledges became a toehold, a crack somewhere to wedge his fingers as he scaled the rock face. At one point he thought he was going to fall, his body to end up shattered and broken below as his boot scrabbled for purchase, but a superhuman effort had him pulling himself up by his fingertips until he could reach another foothold. He paused for a moment, a rictus grin on his face as his heart thumped painfully behind his ribs, then as the rhythm slowed he continued his ascent.

Indigo, looking up and just managing to catch a glimpse of his friend, shook his head. Jayne had had some hare-brained schemes in the past, some of which had actually been successful, but this one was more than usually crazy. Still, if the element of surprise was anything to go by, it might just work.

Jayne finally reached his goal and stood up for a moment, letting blood back into his extremities, then scrambled carefully to the other edge until he could look down. He nodded in grim satisfaction – the pilot of the slaver’s ship had been good but he could just see the nose of the Barracuda gleaming in the faint sun. The guy had obviously backed her under the overhang, but that didn’t matter. From what Jayne remembered of that particular class of vessel, what he wanted was just above the bridge anyway.

Tugging a fine line from one of the pouches at his waist he looped it around a tree, tying it off securely before moving back to the edge of the overhang. “Well, here goes nothing,” he muttered, and stepped out into the cold, clear air.


“I know I’ve said this before, but it’s taking too long.” Mal could feel the cold seeping into his thighs where he was still squatting by the vent, and stood up to let the blood flow back into his muscles.

“Do you want to go down there yourself?” Freya looked down the hole. “Only I’m not coming to get you if you get stuck.”

“I ain’t that fat.”

“I didn’t say you were. But I’m still not coming to get you.”

He smiled, just the lift to one side of his mouth that was all he allowed himself at times like this. “Nice to know who your friends are.”

Freya went to make another comment, probably highly derogatory and possibly obscene, but River’s voice in their heads stopped her.


“What?” Mal asked before he could stop himself.

Adults. The cells are all adults.

Mal swore, then saw the look of infinite sadness on Freya’s face. “Sorry, ai ren,” he murmured.

She conjured the shadow of a smile. “Not your fault. At least these won’t be sold.”

He felt his love for her swell in his chest until it was like a physical force burning behind his ribs. Even now, when the thought had to be going through her head that the children were somewhere else out of reach of their help, she still ... understood.

“No,” she said, breaking into his musings. “It’s not done.”

“Nope. You’re right about that.” He concentrated elsewhere. “River, can you get them out?”

There was a moment, and he could imagine any number of plans going through her head, most of them being discarded.


“Front or back?”

Front. Zoe can assist.

“I'm sure she’d love to. How long do you need?”

It will take me a few minutes to convince them I’m not going to eat them.

“Huh?” Mal looked at Freya, with a confused expression, but she didn’t seem any more enlightened.

I will tell Zoe when I need her.

“River?” But he was alone in his head again. He sighed heavily. “Sometimes I wonder if that little girl doesn’t need to be put across my knee.”

“She’d probably enjoy it,” Freya pointed out. “And then Jayne would shoot you for even thinking about it.”

“Probably.” He half-turned to pick up the Sharps rifle leaning against a boulder when something hit the rock, throwing up slivers into his cheek, followed a moment later by the crack of a rifle shot.

to be continued


Saturday, April 21, 2012 4:51 AM


Uh oh, always trouble a-coming. Absolutely pleased as punch to see you have posted another chapter. Love this story to pieces and you write so well. Can't wait for more, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, April 23, 2012 3:44 AM


Jayne’s lips thinned into a somewhat cruel smile. “Mal? Sure. Only his ideas have a tendency to end up with someone gettin’ shot, usually him.”

Don't they just.


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