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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1148 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
The Alliance labcoat inspected the boxes on the shelves, each in turn, the storeroom lit up as brightly as the hall outside. Soon as the selection was only just set out on the counter, the low thrum of a pressure wave gave a hello from off to the side, and the medic dropped, out cold. Captain Reynolds rose from where he was crouched between some crates. No sympathy for the headache the man would have. Mal might've been wearing stolen colours now, the black and purple uniform of a marine Federal, but former and still defiant insurrectionist he was, his hand was itching for his Independents-issued service pistol from the war. Even that might be too good for these folks.
He stepped over the self-righteous fallen, plunked the sonic rifle down as he pulled out his army knife and a radio handset from a pocket in the tactical vest. "Diazepam," Mal read off, and broke the packaging seal, pulled out a vial of unhealthy looking pale yellow. "This the right medicine?" he asked, doubtful.
A burst of static. "Diazepam," his own fugitive doctor mused, and Mal could just see the boy's thoughtful frown. "But that's a sedative."
And that would be no help for Inara. He put the glass back, and considered his informant, sprawled out limp and lying at his feet. Some plaything, tossed aside and abandoned. Young, gangly, mousy haired, lightweight. Easy to hoist up against the trestles, hang him with some engineering tape by the wrists, the ankles. Wheezing around a cinched garrote. Less like the expected monster. Maybe even a real human being.
"We always treated the wounded," Mal commented idly as the charlatan stirred in discomfort, looked around dizzily. Then the Alliance doctor saw him, and jerked alert, though he at least had the sense to not tug on the bondage and bring the whole shelving unit down on him. "Wasn't that we were fighting against your soldiers - that was more about survival. We just had all these values and principles, and they weren't gonna uphold themselves." Less so much after Shadow, of course, but he'd tempered the loss, the outrage, because of those ideals, because he just knew he was on the right side, so he figured he ought to act like it. "Sometimes the brass ordered us otherwise, but they usually weren't around long enough to make much everhow, and didn't tend to notice if some purplebellies got snuck in to our medics."
The doctor was glaring at him. "I heard - about - your butchers," he choked out, not more than a gravelly whisper.
Mal folded his arms. "Rim world medicine, sergeant. Our own troops got the exact same treatment, an' we lost plenty. Conditions in the field were near to dì yù and we had no medical supplies and little training. Most of ours only prior experience they had was with livestock." He stared the doctor down. "Do no harm." Mal shrugged. "Not so easy as it seems. I surely can make no claims over you." He lifted a clear vial of the Pax. "I really can't," he said, pensive, and jabbed the a syringe through the gel cap. "Then again, I got another code I live by. Do unto them as they'da done onto mine."
The hypodermic filled and the doctor paled. "What - You can't-" he coughed.
The captain peered over at his captive. "So you do know." A dangerous note crept into his voice as he advanced on him with the needle. "You knew all along, and you've been lacing your grenades and concussives. Letting the PAX spread throughout the city, all those good Alliance citizens, waitin' for the cortex to come back up so they can call in and surrender. Treating your own forces while everyone else is holed up in a church bound for kingdom come." He kept his volume level, but the tone got rougher until he was almost growling. "Or maybe that was your plan all the while. Come in with the answer to a problem you created, and be welcomed and cheered on like salvation."
"That - dilution - is harmless," he objected.
Did he really believe that? Dumb kids eating up every bit of propaganda thrown their way, told what to think and not using their own eyes and brains to see the proof otherwise in front of them. "What about those soldiers you're treatin' out there for exposure? They think it's harmless?"
The quacksalver shut up promptly. Mal watched him mull it over then sag in the restraints. "Your intentions?" he rasped.
He held up the auto-injector again. "Lookin' for the remedy to this for them out there who need it." Any minute now, the cortex blockade will be coming down, and his hulking brute should be around with their exit. If neither of them were persuasive enough, the PAX would be. Should have just enough time to get guided right-ways before the effects kicked in.
To his surprise, the medic chose to cooperate. "There - on the table." Mal eyed him, skeptical, then reached out and loosed the slipknot, with a warning look against shouting for the guards. The doctor caught his breath, almost thankful for the air. "The incapacitating agent is volatile, but it disperses quickly in air, diminishing to safe levels in seconds," he continued, his throat still hoarse over his polished Londinium accent. "When we do see an overdose, one injection is usually sufficient."
Even he could gather that much. "Overdose?" he scoffed, "There's people out there, dyin'." Mal planted his hands hard either side of the boy's head, the needle point very close to his scrawny neck. "I have zero time for games. So how about we try that again, this time with the truth. Even were I the trustful type, I ain't givin' them somethin' that'll make 'em worse."
"It won't," he answered, sincere but with a bit of growing exasperation. "Look, I'm not a biochemist, but that's what I've been administering, and it's effective up to forty-eight hours from onset."
Simon chimed in from his pocket radio. "I think that might work," he pronounced, unaware of what he was interrupting.
Mal glanced at the captive, who was watching warily. "Guess my second opinion agrees with you." He left the syringe on the shelf and went for his handset. Whatever had changed Simon's mind, he wasn't taking any chances. "She's unconscious, doc, she don't get much more sedate than that."
"The diazepam will have the exact opposite effect against the Pax," Simon insisted. "How much is there?"
"'Bout a whole case, couple dozen fingers worth," the captain apprised.
"Get as much as you can. There's no telling if we might need more of it when all this is through." That was a fact. Entire planet of Ezra might need some of the medicine, if the Alliance kept up their pacification efforts. Mal nodded to the other doctor, picking up the roll of tape and ripping off another piece.
The medic fought against the bindings a little. "Hey, wait -"
Couldn't untie him or the alarm might be sounded. He shrugged and muzzled him again. "Sorry, doctor. Got me another appointment to get to." He grabbed the box from the counter and hustled his way out to the hallway. "We only have one shot at this," Mal said into his comm, "You're sure?"
Simon answered with all the pride of someone who'd just figured out a contrivance of a puzzle. "The Pax shuts down an important neural protein, the NMDA receptor, which is essential for nerve impulses and signaling. At lower doses it induces a mildly euphoric state, at higher doses it causes hallucinations and eventually a complete loss of self-awareness. In the meantime, it displaces glutamate, which begins to accumulate."
"The what?" He was moving casually now, but quick, checking around the too bright hallway for anyone who might stop him, especially the lab where those scientists were working with all the chemicals.
"Glutamate. It's one of the essential amino acids, the building blocks of proteins." Simon explained. "And it also happens that glutamate is an important neurotransmitter, a substance that excites the neurons. Stimulates them." A slight hesitation. "I thought her genetic condition had manifested, because of the amount of glutamate in Inara's blood samples after she collapsed. And that's the biggest danger. Glutamate activates a lot of other neurotransmitters."
"Wouldn't that make her more alert?" Mal asked.
"It kills the brain cells," Simon answered grimly. "Not right away, the neurons can resist high levels of glutamate for a while before the condition is irreversible and permanent damage occurs, but they become flooded with ions. It would be like having a non-convulsive seizure. For days." The horror of that sunk in. Inara. That was what was happening to her. "If they survive that, then they'll either continue to be catatonic when the initial dopamine spike from the PAX falls, or, if their dopamine stays elevated, their behaviour will become erratic, increasingly aggressive and paranoid."
Reavers. "And we can save her from that." Wasn't a question that time.
"The diazepam will indirectly compete with the PAX and moderate the glutamate, dopamine, and ion flow," the doctor said. There was a smile in his voice. "We can save her, Mal," he confirmed.
There was something else too, something knowing, an assurance that bothered him. "Tell River and Kaylee to have us ready. I want us off world soon as the fuel we got hits the tank." He didn't wait for the boy's response, went radio silent. The less he hoped, the less likely he was to have those hopes yanked out from under him. He strode out from the vault doors into the brisk desert night. Gorramn Alliance. Thought that the bigger and more intimidating and technological something was, the more security it had. He rounded the corner of the bunker, where the armored transport they'd hotwired was parked.
He popped the driver's side hatch and tucked the box under the chair for safe keeping. His browncoat dropped onto the cushion, and he looked up, almost thrown for a moment. "Jayne." The man was looking bored in the passenger seat, chewing on one of the liberated nutrient bars, one big paw curled around the wrapper and the other around a laser rifle. Mal thought he might've been gone already with their bounty. "Any surprises?"
A siren rose, blaring out over the tired camp. Jayne rolled his eyes. "Just had to ask, din'tcha," the mercenary huffed at him, like this was his fault. The captain guessed it was his luck at least.
Mal glanced in the back. Empty. Two rows of seats where the troops would sit until they were deployed. Where were the saboteurs? They were to meet them out there for the rousing getaway. If they weren't there... Only one place they could be. He craned his neck back to look at the air control tower. Just this once, he thought, why couldn't it go according to the gorramn plan? If the girls failed, the antlion would still be in place, the cortex would still be down, and they would be grounded. Ripe pickings for the Alliance to march up and arrest them all.
He'd have to depend on Jayne. "I'm going after them. Get everything back to Serenity," he ordered. Something had gone wrong, as usual. But there was one thing he could ensure, and damned if he didn't.
The man's brow furrowed in confusion. "What, y'mean right now?"
"I'll find another way back." Even as he said it, he knew how unlikely it was. Jayne was staring at him. He understood. "Don't have to tell you what's at stake here." Begging off Jayne. Well, he could die proper now. His pride wasn't ever going to recover from this. "Do whatever you can to get that medicine out."
"Yeah Mal." Jayne swung himself over into the driver's seat. "I was there," the mercenary told him, quieter. "Saw Miranda too."
His throat tightened in gratitude, so he thumped the steel frame instead. "Go," he managed.
- - - - -
Jayne scowled, hands clenched tight on the wheel to keep himself from fidgeting. Mal was taking his time a-rescuing. Probably stopped for a kitten on a ledge, then he'd do something stupid, like try to blow up the PAX and himself with it, spread it everywhere. If Mal somehow managed to not get himself exploded or gunned down, he'd come back and give hell over not following commands, but there was no-way no-how that Jayne would go up to Serenity without the dumbass or Zoë would kill him. No matter how much life-saving medicines and acts of heroism he was bringing with him.
This job wasn't the most steady pay, and three years ago hadn't been even a month Jayne had been aboard that he'd seen the captain had no kind of clue about money or how to earn it. The crew had the skill, but Mal still went for the copper a dozen low profit work with all the circling vultures instead of the big takes with less competition.
Weren't so long ago all he ever wanted was one heist that'd keep him in coin and beer and cigars with women up to his waist for the rest of his days, but that'd changed. Rather than growing old and retiring, he could have Serenity and the crew for himself, keep on living how he was accustomed and go out in a blaze of glory.
As he'd thought about it more, being captain meant all Mal did for his share was yell a lot and shoot interlopers, and the more he thought he could do that easy. Be better at it, too; already kind of was, Mal's problem was he was soft-hearted when he should be hard, but Jayne never had any trouble intimidating or strong arming. There were sometimes he'd agree with Mal on one of his crusades, like that business on Miranda even though it'd cost them, but Jayne was just more practical and looked out for himself too. Couldn't survive this verse if a person didn't. Jayne even emblematized the interests of the crew more than Mal did, by always thinking on their wallets and doling out wisdom whenever Mal went astray.
Then he found out Mal wasn't bunked with all or even any of the womanly pieces of tasty they had around, mindboggling as that was, and wasn't sly and wasn't deviant, and that clinched the ineptitude. When Jayne was in charge, that'd be the first thing he took care of. Couldn't have a captain less than focused because he had the blue balls or because he was too busy trying to impress a skirt.
Finally one time he had his chance and took over, but no-one joined the mutiny or listened to him. So maybe his own ship and his own crew would obey. A loyal and wanton harem for him. He'd stay with Serenity until then, and he probably wouldn't even betray any of them when he left, unless someone got in his way.
He'd given some thought to the trio while the captain was setting up his ambush. Who wouldn't? Blonde twins with long legs and big chests, and Iris might've knocked him out before but least she was polite. If he just got Kaylee and another ginger, maybe that tricky Saffron woman who hated Mal, and they all forgot what clothes were for, he'd be made. That was, until he saw the three strolling towards his transport - finally - and Mal wasn't with them.
"This is our escape strategy?" June asked, like some gorramn queen who saw a spot of dirt on her chariot. "Leave it. We're stealing one of the gunships, when the cortex reboots they won't be able to chase us."
Jayne furrowed his brow suspiciously. "Where's Mal?"
Iris turned sad brown eyes on him. "He's been captured. Bought us the time to get away. They're taking him in a shuttle up to their big cruiser."
June crossed her arms, glaring at him. "I don't intend to let his sacrifice go to waste. Are you coming or not? I've had enough of this world."
And Jayne could understand that. He had the meds for his little brother, who was getting weaker and could barely breathe from the damp lung, and couldn't get there too soon. This world was a mess and looking to get worse, if it didn't tear itself apart altogether. And an Alliance military craft, with missiles and guns, that was traveling in style.
But Lena was twitchy, and was reaching for her sidearm. And something about this just wasn't feeling right. "Can't land an ASREV on a Firefly," he answered bluntly. "Got some important deliveries to make or some people I know're gonna die." Then he knew. "And seein' as how you called the alarm down on Mal, I don't expect I'd survive the experience. I got a powerful fondness for livin'."
They stared at him, Iris looking scared and upset, then June shrugged, tossing her blonde hair over her shoulder. "That's a shame." Her sister Lena drew her carbine and trained it on him, and she copied the motion. June shook her head at him. "I'm just glad your captain is the one who took the bait. Now that they've found him they won't be looking for us." Her eyes flashed at him. "But that's only true as long as there's no witnesses left to turn us in."
Jayne grumbled and put his hands up. "An' what if I were to say I wouldn't?"
"I don't trust you," June snapped, something brittle and painful in her voice. "It doesn't matter either way, because I can't take that risk." He'd been threatened by many a desperate type before, but they'd never looked so small and broken to him before. "You don't know what it's like, what they did to us. An Alliance marshall turned slaver. We won't go to jail for this. We won't go back to the slavers. We're going far away, and they won't hold us down ever again."
Well, that was wishful thinking if he ever heard it. "Ain't gonna work," he said.
The anger was back. "Why not?" she snarled.
The explosion rocked them, but then a few bombs mixed with a squadron of fueled up and fully armed gunships would do that. Or, a squadron of fueled up and fully armed molten scrap. The fire worked it's way down the row along the fuel lines, and there were already people running towards the crisis from the canvas tents, shouting and hollering. Jayne hadn't exactly planned on going back to Serenity and being blown out of the sky when they took off either.
The girls startled at the distraction, taking their eyes off him, and that was all it took. He revved up the anti-grav generators and left them in a cloud of dust.
- - - - -
She'd stood over broken battlefields and among desolation before, even said goodbye to her husband in a lilac coloured wasteland. The night wind gusted around them as the stolen military skiff pulled up to the chapel, where Zoë was waiting with Simon, stoic by the mule. The doc had insisted he come, that he administer and distribute the miracle cure himself both as a moral obligation and to test the efficacy and look for side effects before trying it on Inara.
Jayne exited the driver's side, alone, climbed down the side of the transport to rummage through the cabin. The subdued merc dragged his feet over to them, passed the box of medicine over, then held Mal's rawhide coat and holster out to Zoë. Her fists clenched around the leather.
They were quiet a moment, then followed Simon in as he began seeing to the sick refugees. There was a group of them, separated, some cared for by family and the priests, some with no one, alone. The doctor worked down the line, administering the treatment, explaining and tending. Most were dehydrated after a few days in the dry climate, and would recover, but some, those who had been hit early on in the occupation, they had shakes that would never go away.
Zoë found herself sitting by the littlest patient again, the girl seeming asleep as the medicine worked. An orphan. Zoë held her and wondered how much more the Alliance could take from them.
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