BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

MARKOMI

Angels We Have Heard (Part 5/5)
Saturday, January 4, 2014

Mal teams up with Simon to search for some hidden crates on the ice planet of St. Albans. They find something else instead.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1631    RATING:     SERIES: FIREFLY

The next morning Simon woke about two minutes before Mal did, and he spent an embarrassingly large amount of those two minutes just watching his captain sleep. He didn’t think he’d ever seen the man sleep before; he had seen him drugged and/or knocked unconscious, but not peacefully asleep like this, and for some reason he found it fascinating. Around him the Hensleys and their neighbors were already up and preparing the meager feast they called breakfast, and soon Mal woke and glanced up at him with a quizzical frown.

“It’s morning,” Simon needlessly told him.

He got to his feet and began folding up his bedroll, and the captain soon joined him. John Hensley came bustling through the door leading to the little observation room, and threw them a smile. “You’re in luck, my friends,” he greeted them, “the storm’s quieting down. It’ll be safe to venture outside in an hour or so, I’d say.”

“Good,” Mal nodded, and then turned to Simon, adding in a whisper, “We’ll head back to the ship for the shuttle before continuing our search. Might as well, our presence here’s definitely not a secret anymore.”

“Yes,” Simon replied absentmindedly. His eyes were focused on the pale children already seated around the table, waiting patiently for their ration of the ‘food’. He turned back towards Mal. “Do you mind if I stay? While you go back for the shuttle? These people have shown us great hospitality. Perhaps there’s something I can do for them in return.”

Mal nodded slowly. “Mayhaps there is.” He threw a short glance towards the children. “Alright, I’ll pick you up afterwards. And have a look at my army buddy over there while you’re at it, will you?” He gestured with his head towards the blind, one-legged man still on the cot in the corner.

“Sure.”

“And,” he lowered his voice even further, “also the weed.”

“The weed?”

“Or whatever it is they’re smokin’. ‘Cause I don’t think it’s tobacco.”

Simon quietly agreed. He’d noticed the hazy eyes of the smokers the night before. “I’ll have a look,” he promised.

And so the captain went back out into the snow, while Simon made his intentions clear to their hosts, and soon he was busy checking bad coughs, rashes and old wounds with what little supplies he had with him. He was relieved and also a bit surprised to find that the general health of the Hensleys and their friends wasn’t all that bad. They were malnutritioned and underfed, of course, but nothing too serious. Even the war veteran, Richard, seemed to be doing okay, all things considered. But still Simon looked at his blind, unseeing eyes and the stump that had once been a limb, and felt a knot of sadness and anger in his stomach, because he knew that back in the Core the man would long since have been fitted for a prosthetic leg and perhaps even biotic eyes.

Not out here, apparently. Not without contacts, money and the ‘correct’ political alignment. All Simon could offer was medication to take the edge of the phantom pains, and even that wouldn’t last very long.

Richard seemed to sense his reaction, because he reached out a hand and courteously thanked him, even though he had already done so. Simon shook his hand and used the opportunity to inquire about the weed, and Lieutenant Hensley had soon procured a bit for him to study.

It wasn’t hard to identify the drug. “It’s not really a weed,” he told Richard as he sat down beside him on the cot, keeping his voice low. “It’s synthetically made to resemble cannabis in both appearance and effect.” He paused to see how Richard would react to this, but the man didn’t say anything, only nodded, and so he continued. “It’s not the strongest of drugs out there, but it dulls the senses a bit. The good news is that the physical addiction is quite easy to kick.” He paused again for a moment, before adding, “The psychological addiction on the other hand…”

“No,” Richard calmly said. “Let them have it.” Simon frowned and somehow the blind man must have sensed it. “It’s the only means of escape they’ve got left. I can’t take that away as well.”

And in that very moment Simon realized just how crushing the Alliance could be.

***

The doctor seemed relieved when Mal returned.

Zoë had already prepped the shuttle by the time he’d reached Serenity, ready to do the sweep-over they’d discussed, and so they had just spent a few minutes exchanging words when he got there. He filled her in on the situation (but left out all unnecessary details about starving children and broken war veterans), while she informed him that Jayne’s condition remained the same – not better, not worse, but bad enough. Mal thought he noticed just a little bit of concern in her voice.

Since when was Zoë’s voice colored by her emotions?

He didn’t press the matter. Somehow he didn’t want to know. He didn’t want to see the changes in her. The changes in all of them.

Complications, that’s what they were. And he had complications enough already.

He picked up the pale and weary Simon, and they bid their hosts adieu and took the shuttle to the nearby hills. It wasn’t hard to locate the caves, and as they began searching them from top to bottom, the doctor told him what he’d discovered about the weed.

“I’m not surprised,” Mal said.

“Richard Hensley didn’t even want me to tell the others,” Simon finished. “Said he didn’t want to take their last means of escape away from them.”

“I’m not surprised by that either,” Mal said.

After that, Simon remained silent. He seemed a bit shaken, truth be told, lost in his own, Mal guessed, not-so-pleasant thoughts. Not that the captain didn’t mind the silence. He had his own things to ponder on, caught in an unfamiliar place between anger and release that felt… empty.

Well, empty was always better than conflicted. But alas, it wasn’t to last.

Because he found the crate.

It was well hidden. You couldn’t blame an untrained eye for not seeing it. Mal’s eyes, however, were well experienced at this sort of thing, though when he caught sight of a piece of camouflage tarp behind a rock at the very back of the cave, he really wished they weren’t.

Gorram it! Of course it had to be here, of all places!

For a moment he and the doctor just stood there looking at it, Mal’s hand clutching the tarp so firmly that his knuckles whitened. Then Simon spoke, “Mal?”

“No,” Mal replied.

“No?”

“No.”

He couldn’t even consider it. It couldn’t be helped. They couldn’t screw this one up. They had to finish this job. Because who knew when and where they’d come across another.

Simon seemed to come to the same conclusion all on his own, because he said no more. Not before they’d hauled the crate onboard the shuttle and neatly placed it in the cargo compartment. “Do you even know what it is?” he asked then.

“I make a point out of never asking,” Mal said.

Simon looked blankly at him. “You’re taking this onboard your ship without knowing what’s in it?”

“You of all people should be glad that’s my policy,” the captain pointed out.

But he glanced at the crate one more time and thought about if for another moment, and then retrieved the crow bar from the toolbox. No harm in checking. Perhaps if it were something completely useless to the Hensleys, he could walk away with a clear conscience.

But of course he wasn’t that lucky.

It was foodstuffs. Protein bars. Several layers of it. Enough to keep the Hensleys and all their neighbors and friends well fed for the next three years or so, not to mention the substantial amount of money it was worth on the black market, should they choose to sell it.

Again Simon said, “Mal?”

Again Mal replied, “No.”

And he slammed the lid shut and stomped his way to his seat. Simon quietly followed him. He seemed to understand that there was no point in arguing, and he settled into the co-pilot seat without voicing any complaints.

Still, Mal could feel his strong disapproval. It engulfed him like a smoky cloud, felt like angry stares at the back of his head, like teeth gnawing on the very roots of his heart.

For a while it was uncomfortably quiet, only the low hum of the shuttle’s engine as they flew over the snow-covered landscape.

Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains…

“Will you stop it?” Mal snapped.

Simon flinched in his seat. “What?”

“Stop singing that song!”

“What the hell are you talking about? What song?”

“The one about the angels. If it’s some cheap way of trying to bring on a guilt trip…”

“Mal,” Simon calmly cut him off, eyes wide with honesty and worry. “I wasn’t singing.”

He hadn’t?

Mal frowned and shifted his gaze back outside. He could vaguely make out the shape that was Serenity.

“I know which one you mean, though,” Simon muttered absentmindedly. “My mother used to sing it.”

Mother…

And it was all too much.

“Gorram it all!” Mal hissed through gritted teeth and yanked the stick sideways, turning the shuttle abruptly around.

“What are you doing?” Simon exclaimed, gripping his seat as if afraid to fall out.

“You better get in the back,” Mal told him.

“Why?”

“’Cause I need you there to push the crate out once I open the hatch.”

Simon only stared at him for a second or two, as if carefully analyzing the words and the situation. Then an ear-to-ear grin split his face, and he happily jumped to his feet and scrambled back into the cargo area, like a child approaching the Christmas tree on Christmas morning.

“Just don’ fall out along with it,” Mal yelled after him.

The crate smashed into the ground a few hundred yards from the still smoking chimneys of the village, the impact made the lid pop off again. Mal saw it all on the live feed from the shuttle’s aft camera, and as he took in the sight, it was as if a heavy, suffocating blanket was lifted off of him.

And there – in one fleeting moment – he felt it.

The long lost joy of Christmas.

A smile was tugging at the corners of his mouth and he did nothing to stop it.

Ho ho ho,” he muttered to himself. “And to all a good night.

fin

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COMMENTS

Sunday, January 5, 2014 2:46 PM

BYTEMITE


Aww. :) Very nice. Love how you handled the change of heart.


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