BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE

CBSTEVE

River's Run - Part 18
Saturday, November 15, 2014

Mal’s heading for a hangman’s noose. Will a rescue party come in the nick of time?


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2465    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

This is a long delayed entry in a continuing story that started with The Return and The Return Home. Read those first to catch up.

River’s Run – Part 18

“Now listen up, cause I got time to explain this only the once,” Badger said into the wave screen. “I heard it through the crime vine that he and his bunch pulled a stunt at a bank on Ariel and got away with a lot of coin. Legal coin, all theirs, mind you, but the coppers tried to stop them for other stuff and a few people got stuffed.”

“What people?” asked the blond haired woman at the other end of the wave connection.

“Coppers, no real people. So, his crew got the coin and you know Mal always pays what he owes, eventually, so…there’s the thing.”

“Why do you care?” she asked, suspicion in her voice and eyes.

“Cause Mal set me and my cousin up with a sweet deal and I kind of owe him. Besides, the deal has now gone to shit and we need coin, more coin than I can lay me hands on to avoid the coppers and other blue belly types. So you tell Zoe I gets 50%.”

“Twenty.”

“Fuck. All right, forty.”

“Twenty-five.”

“Bitch,” Badger said in a low voice.

“What was that?”

“Thirty.”

“You called me a bitch. Which I am. But now it’s twenty again.”

“Will saying sorry help, love?”

“No. Twenty.”

“It’s highway robbery!” Badger lamented. “I’m the one setting up the deal.”

“And I’m the one risking my neck.”

“All right. Twenty. But you’ll need a big crew to pull this off. He’s being held in a maximum security prison on Londinium.”

“No, he’s not. He’s being moved in a few hours to a military prison.”

“How the gorramn hell do you know that?”

“Because you know I’m on Londinium right now and have been following things a lot more closely than you have it seems,” she retorted. “Parliament just declared martial law and that means all civil liberties are suspended. A connection of mine says Mal is first to go before a military tribunal, which I just know will find him guilty, with a hanging party waiting in the wings, just so Shin and the rest can get rid of him real quiet like. So I’m the only one close enough to spring him…what’s the wave address for Serenity?”

“They won’t like talking with you.”

The woman laughed. “I know. But if it means saving Mal…Zoe will make the deal.”

“Right. Best of luck.” Badger sent her the wave address and then disconnected the call.

“Hope you know what you’re doing, Tom,” said a voice behind him. Badger turned and looked at his cousin Jim Jamison.

“What choice do we have?”

“None I reckon.”

Badger looked around at the small dingy bar they were in, the only two customers this time of day. They barely had a copper in their pockets for the two beers they had ordered and the fee for the use of the wave machine for one hour. The car they had stolen from the Serenity Valley tourist stand parking lot was now being towed away by the Alliance police and before long they might find them in here as well.

They had driven for almost a whole day across the dusty plains of Hera until they came to this small town and decided to take a rest and get some gas and food and check for messages. A trip to a local bank led Badger to discover that both he and his cousin’s bank accounts were being blocked and more than likely monitored. Badger had money stashed away, but it was all back on Persephone. He had no ready cash at hand except what he had in his pockets when they had made their escape. And to get off world they would need more cash, a lot more cash. He had an old credit card in his pocket but was not sure if it would work or how much cash reserve was on it. Not enough for a trip off world. And he just knew if he used it the Alliance would eventually trace it to here.

As they came out of the bank two local coppers were looking over their stolen vehicle, so they had quickly turned the other way and hiked to the bar whose entrance they saw in a dingy alley. While sitting and sipping on the beer Badger’s mind raced and slowly he put many pieces together and realized he would never get off of Hera without some help. For that he needed Serenity. But according to the news, Mal was a prisoner and Serenity and the crew were all fugitives. No way they would help Badger unless he helped them first. But they would have to pay for his help.

______________________________________________________________________

Serenity popped out of hyperspace behind the third moon of Londinium, out where Wash hoped the ultra top secure sensors of the Core planet would not detect them with the gravity field of the moon covering the sudden displacement waves of gravity Serenity’s arrival would cause. They no longer had a transponder that could be picked up but they still were a big ship and the sudden popping up of a spaceship so close to the home world of the Alliance would not go unnoticed. Hence, the hiding behind the moon.

No sooner had they come to halt when the Cortex machine flashed that a message was waiting for them. Wash looked at it and nearly died from shocked. When he called Zoe to the bridge and she saw the name on the wave, she had cursed and growled and then called the woman back. After ten minutes of arguing and cussing at each other Zoe finally made the deal. Five million for Mal’s freedom. ______________________________________________________________________

“Give me the shot,” River said again, and again Simon shook his head. They were in the infirmary and Simon had just given an injection to Jayne to help numb the pain in his various wounds.

“No. You are not going!” Simon said.

“If she ain’t going, no ruttin’ way I am!” Jayne said as he climbed off the examining table.

“I am going Jayne and so are you,” River told the big merc. “You owe Mal that much, least of all for not throwing you out the airlock after Ariel.”

“Jeeze, do we have to bring that up? Zoe is still sore. Christ, Doc, give her the shot.”

Simon shook his head again and looked at River. “No. If you die, all that we have done will be for nothing.”

“If Mal dies, how can we live with ourselves?” River replied. “I’m going, with or without your help. But with my leg the way it is I won’t be much good to Mal.”

Kaylee was standing just outside the doorway, listening to all this, fighting to stay calm, and stay out of it, but now she just had to say something. “Simon…we have to go. All of us.”

“No one is going anywhere…yet,” came the voice of Zoe as she heard the last of their conversation. “Things have changed, folks. In a big way.”

When everyone was gathered Zoe broke the news of her wave conversation to the rest of the crew and they were both stunned and a little worried.

“She can’t be trusted,” Inara said.

“No, she can’t,” Zoe agreed. “But we have no choice. She said they were moving him in an hour or two to a military base where a court martial is being readied for him. How she knew she wouldn’t say. We have no time to get there without being seen. So we go with this plan…or Mal dies.”

___________________________________________________________________

Mal was heading for a hangman’s noose and there was nothing he could do about it. He had expected this fate many times, his life as a smuggler not one where anyone ended up retired on their ill-gotten gains. Yet even so he still could not really grasp that his life would end very soon and in a terrible way. Once the Shepard had said that the human mind could not accept its own death, and that such a belief that one would live forever was a coping mechanism to help the body survive the most terrible circumstances. Mal wondered if such a thought went through Book’s mind as he was dying from those bullet wounds back near Miranda. In the end believing one wouldn’t die saved no one. Everyone had to die eventually.

He was in the back of some kind of moving vehicle, a prison transfer van most likely, chained by the feet and hands to the wall behind him, with four guards with him, two on his sides and two in front of him, all four with those gorramn electro-shock sticks that Mal was taking an intense dislike to.

“Lucky the warden still lives or we would have shot you like the dog you are,” growled a big guard sitting opposite him.

“Yeah?” Mal said. “Guess he’ll be eating his soup through a straw for a while after that smack in the throat I gave him.”

That comment got him a shock stick to the right leg that made Mal wish he had kept his mouth shut. “Keep it up,” said the guard. “We’ll see how tough you are when they put that rope around your neck in the morning.”

Mal was about to reply when a tremendous shock hit the vehicle on the right side, away from where Mal was sitting. The guards yelled in surprise as the van began to wobble out of control and then it flipped on its right side and skidded to a stop after a while. The guards had all fallen into a tangled mess, while Mal was hanging suspended from his handcuffed arms and feet from the opposite wall, the pain of the cuffs digging into his limbs making him shout for help.

“Get these gorramn things off of me!!!” he shouted and then he hear a small popping sound and the rear doors swung open.

“In a sec,” came a voice, a woman’s voice that sounded familiar…but that couldn’t be. “Take a deep breath, Mal, and close your eyes.”

“What…wait!!”

A canister of something smoking was tossed into the opened back door and Mal just had time to suck in his breath and shut his eyes tight. The guards began to sputter and choke and as the smoked filled the van Mal felt hands on him and the chains we being cut and then he was dragged from the van, dragged along the road and then shoved into the back of another vehicle.

“Well, Malcolm Reynolds. Ain’t you a sight for sore eyes,” said a voice Mal had not heard in years. Mal sucked in air and then blink and opened his eyes and then blinked again to make sure he wasn’t seeing things. There were three people in the back of what looked like another van. There was a young man with blond hair, a short Chinese man with a wicked scar on his right cheek, and…

“Monty?”

“Ah, so he does remember his old friends,” the big man with the walrus moustache said. He was still wearing his old brown coat, and Mal felt a wave of happiness overcome him. Monty and Mal had fought many battles together during the war, and many battles in bars after it. He was sure happy to see a familiar face. But right now Mal was mostly confused.

“Gorramnit, Monty…what the hell is going on?”

“A rescue,” said the big man as he helped Mal up and the two sat on benches opposite each other.

“But...how did you know where I was?”

“That’s the little woman’s doing,” Monty said with a jerk of his thumb to the front, where through a door in the van Mal could see someone driving and someone in the passenger seat. The passenger turned her blond head his way and grinned.

“Hi, Mal.”

The shock of seeing Saffron took his breath away for a moment or two and then Mal just shook his head. “How…why?”

“We been following your case and so has a friend of yours, out on the rim,” explained Monty.

“Who?”

“Badger, who else?” Saffron said.

“Badger…but…what the hell is going on?”

Saffron stepped back into the rear area. She was wearing a grey form fitting jumpsuit of some kind of shiny material, which enhanced her great physical attributes. Mal found himself staring and then remembered who this was. She smiled at him and knew he had been staring.

“Oh, Mal. Sorry. Monty and are married…again.”

Mal stared at Monty, who looked sheepish. “What the…when…how?”

“About two years ago,” Monty said. “Seems you went off the radar. We met and well, she needed help and I kinda, well…you know how it is. Now I hear you been to Earth and back.”

“Is it true?” asked the blond youth.

“Yes,” Mal said. “But there’ll be time for story telling later. How you know I was here? And what the hell you all doing on Londinium?”

“We live here,” Saffron told him as she sat down. “A respectable married couple…who just happen to be criminals.”

“Lots of rich folks on this planet,” Monty said with a wink.

“And they ain’t so bright,” the Chinese man with the scar added.

“So…that’s that,” Saffron said. “Now as for you, well…let’s just say one of my marks is a man high up in the government. We’ve been trying to con him out of some money and he just happened to let slip that today was the day you were going to go on trial. At first we thought, oh, well, sorry, Mal, it’s been nice knowing you.”

“I didn’t say that Mal, honest,” Monty said in protest. “I wanted to come get you but…well, no one else did.”

Mal grunted. “Things never change, do they?” he said to Saffron.

“Oh, Mal, don’t look so hurt. You know what I am,” she said in her sweet voice. Then looked to Monty. “And you do too, hon. Now, things changed when Badger waved me this morning. He said your crew would pay top coin to free you. He heard how they made a large withdrawal from a bank on Ariel so, we put two and two together and came up with a big payday.”

“How much?”

“Five million, Badger gets 20%. Zoe made the deal and you make sure she sticks with it.”

Five million. That was over half of what they had back on the ship. But if Zoe made the deal and now he was free, he had to pay. “Yeah, Ok, you’ll get paid. So…what now?”

“Now we hide you somewhere till we can get off world and meet Serenity.”

Mal shook his head. “No. I’ve got something else I have to do first.”

Monty looked at him with wariness. “Mal…I know that look and tone. You can’t…”

“I can. I’m going to kill Shin.” _______________________________________________________________

Admiral Shin seethed as he got the news. “How in the hell did Reynolds escape?” he shouted into the comms device on his desk.

General MacCready was in charge of the transportation and now he explained it all. Shin had been just about to leave his office to watch what promised to be a short trial and then an execution when he received the disquieting call. MacCready explained how they had used just one van, a prison van, so as to attract no attention to them. No one knew they were moving Reynolds, so they expected no trouble. The van had been sideswiped by a heavy truck, knocked on its side, and the guards had been gassed.

“How did they know Reynolds was in that van? How did they know he was being moved? How did they know the route he was taking?” Shin almost screamed into the comms device

“We don’t know,” MacCready said. “Someone talked.”

“Find out who or it’s you we'll be hanging from a noose!”

MacCready growled. “Keep making threats against your friends and you will soon have none.”

Shin calmed down. “You have my apology. General, this business is getting out of hand. Time to step up the heat on Malcolm Reynolds. Put out the news of Reynolds’ escape planet wide. Add a substantial reward for news of his whereabouts. Double the million credit reward we offered earlier for information on Serenity. And give the police and military orders to shoot him on sight.”

“Yes, sir,” MacCready said and then he was gone.

Shin ended the connection. He leaned back in his chair and wondered how they knew Reynolds was being moved. No one knew except himself, MacCready, the prison warden, and whoever MacCready and the warden used to take Reynolds out of the prison and escort him. He could not fault MacCready for using just a single unescorted unassuming vehicle. Feelings about Reynolds were running high. Many condemned him as a brigand and a rebel, but many others had shown sympathy and still more were vocal about his innocence. Shin’s use of the tattooed Operative to stir up the riots had inadvertently started a “Free Malcolm Reynolds” movement. If anyone knew he was being moved they could have tried to free him, hence the low profile. But this operation smacked of professionalism. Someone with experience, used to planning operations, and executing them with precision. In Shin’s experience only three types of people could do such things. The military, the police, and…criminals.

He hit a button on his comms device. “Get me a list of all known associates of Malcolm Reynolds,” he barked to an assistant.

“Yes, sir,” came the female assistant’s reply. “Such a list has already been prepared from his war records and criminal activities. Sending it to your screen now, sir.

“Very good,” he said as the file came up on his screen. At least someone was doing their job around here.

Shin turned his eyes to the list of Reynolds’ known associates. Now, he thought, which one of you helped him escape? Soon his eyes fell on one name, someone he knew Reynolds had recent contacts with, someone Cutter had reached out to when he was trying to run down River Tam. Thomas Jamison, aka Badger, criminal type who lived on Persephone. Except now Shin knew this same Thomas Jamison was on Hera running a shop with his cousin that was building FTL’s for civilians. They were the first ones River Tam had sent the FTL plans to when she decided to break the deal Blakely had made with Serenity’s crew. Now the Jamison boys were on the run, escaping from their shop when Alliance personnel showed up to confiscate everything. Besides parts to build FTL’s and a ship in the dry dock with an FTL almost completed, they had also found a large cache of weapons. It was illegal to have such weapons and if Shin’s men found any hint of them being traded or sold, it was the death penalty for the Jamisons.

He clicked on Badger’s name and saw the latest news concerning him. Escaped, stole a car, which was traced to a small town on Hera. And…was arrested! Yes! Time to find out what he knew. ___________________________________________________________________

“This ain’t so bad,” Jim Jamison said to Badger as they sat in a cell in the tiny jail in the tiny town on Hera.

“Shut it!” Badger growled. “This is all your fault you numbskull!”

“I said I was sorry,” Jim said meekly. “I just wanted a slash. That beer filled me up. How’s I to know the coppers be in the bathroom.”

“Right. Anyone could have made that mistake. But did you have to piss on his boots!!

“I got nervous! I ain’t a criminal like you is!”

“Well, mate, you is now.” Badger shook his head in disgust. They had almost gotten away and now look at them.

They had been on the platform waiting for the train. They had to get away from this town where the stolen car was found. Badger had taken a chance and used the old credit card he had tucked into a pocket to buy two tickets. To his surprise it worked but he only had enough cash on the card to go to the next town. At least it was away from this place where the stolen car was picked up. The train was only ten minutes away when Jim started complaining that he needed a slash.

“Go, for Christ sake,” Badger told him. “But if you miss the train you’re on your own, mate.”

Five minutes later Jim came out screaming his bloody fool head off, with an Alliance policeman with wet boots pinning his arms behind him. As more coppers rushed over to help, Badger ignored the fracas, even as Jim shouted his name. The train just pulled in when a copper recognized him from the wanted bulletins from the Cortex, he later found out. Two of them had knocked him down and cuffed him and now they were in the town lockup.

A guard came and looked through the bars at them. “Thomas Jamison?”

“Yeah, that’s me, except I goes by Badger.”

“Okay…Badger…you have a wave.”

“Who is it? Me mum?” Badger asked sarcastically. “Piss off. No one knows I am here so no one would wave me.” And if it was Saffron who somehow found out he was in lockup he wanted nothing to do with her.

“It’s from Londinium…it’s Admiral Shin,” said the guard, surprised at his own words.

“Gorramnit,” Badger said quietly. “Right…guess I better not keep the most powerful man in the verse waiting.” A minute later he was sitting in an office, alone, looking at an Oriental man in a military uniform on the Cortex screen.

“Thomas Jamison?” Shin asked.

“You got him,” Badger said in surprise, recognizing Shin from the latest Cortex news feeds. "Bugger hell. It's really you. Thought it was a mate pulling me leg."

"It's really me. And I'm not one to go around 'pulling legs'."

"Right. So, down to business. What can I do you for admiral?"

Shin’s mood darkened. “This is not one of your business deals…Badger.”

“No? Funny, I was thinking why would an admiral wave little old me. He must know I was in lockup or he wouldn’t be able to find me. And it occurred to me. This has just got to be something to do with someone I know.”

“Yes. Reynolds.”

“Heard he was in lockup as well, heading for a long rope or a long stretch in a permanent lockdown.”

“Not anymore. He escaped.”

Badger knew what was up now. Saffron had succeeded and Shin was ticked off at the verse and was looking for how Mal did it. “Oh? Slick character he is. Go over the wall, did he?”

“Not exactly. We think you know how he escaped.”

“Me? I been running from you lot for a bit now, had no time to plan any masterful escapes from prisons millions of clicks away. And why would I help Reynolds? He been nothing but trouble since I first met him.”

Shin scowled. “Tell me what you know or it’s the death penalty for you and your cousin.”

Badger felt his stomach clench but kept his cool. “What? For making ships?”

“No…for storing illegal weapons.”

Christ. “Look, them guns ain’t ours. Reynolds and his bunch left them there, see. We got nothing to do with them guns.”

“I don’t care. Tell me what you know or I will tell the men in that police station to put you two against a wall and end you now.”

“Wait a minute!” Badger said in real fear. “Let’s talk sense now. You want answers. Well, I got them. But it will cost.”

“You have nothing to bargain with except your lives and I don’t care about them. So…life on a penal colony or a wall and a bullet. Your choice. Tell me how Reynolds escaped. Who’s helping him?”

Badger smiled. “Oh, not so fast. I think I have something to bargain with. You want Mal...bad. I can see it. You want him dead. Sure, I get it. Sometimes I wished him dead myself. So, this is how it goes. You tell the copper in charge here to let us go. You clean our record up, nice and neat, and you let Jim go back to his shop and run it as was before, no more FTLs, on our honor, and me you let me go my merry way…and I will tell you it all.”

“And if you lie?” Shin asked, his face full of suspicion.

“Well, you found me once, sure you can find me again. And you’ll know where Jim will be, now won’t you?”

Shin grunted and then nodded. “You have a deal.” ____________________________________________________________________

Deep underground below the Ministry of the Interior Senior Technician Wilma Robertson sat her desk as she had done for the last forty years, looking at the control panel closely, making sure the coolant levels were in the proper range and that the temperature was not too hot or cold. It was a boring job, but vital, for behind the thick glass wall that was next to her desk were rank on rank of computer servers, a server farm, and keeping it cool was her job. If it overheated she had better run, not only because she would be in deep trouble but the whole system might catch on fire. But that had never happened.

It was almost lunch time when Wilma noticed the red light come on the screen at her station. The trouble was in row ten, server twenty-four. Something was not quite right. It was not overheating, which was the first thing she checked. But something was wrong. She was all alone, the other techs on their lunch break, which she would take when they came back. She sighed. She hated going into the server farm area. It was cold, and she was old, almost sixty, and her bones felt the cold worse than when she was much younger.

She bundled up in a heavy winter coat and took her diagnostics kit and entered the server farm area. She immediately shivered and then zipped up and pulled her hood over her head. When she reached server twenty-four, row ten, she saw the problem right away. A panel had popped open, exposing the interior to the air. This was not good, because even though the air was controlled by super filters, if any dust or dirt got inside, the sensitive equipment might shut down. She was about to close the panel when she saw something odd inside.

That shouldn’t be there. It was a small black…something…plugged into a port that was used for inserting a diagnostic tool. She reach in and pulled it off. It was a flash drive. Nothing special, a common drive anyone could buy anywhere. Then she had an awful thought. What if someone had put this here to steal secrets? To prevent that was one of her responsibilities. She had to check it. If it was damning evidence she’d just throw it away. With this guy Shin in charge there was no telling what they would do to her if they thought she was responsible. Two of her colleagues had already been killed, Scott and Megan, murdered in Megan’s home by robbers, so said the police report. Both stabbed with a sword, so the news report said. But Wilma had been uneasy about that news. After they had died strange men had come swarming around, checking all the records and files for something which they never told the techs. Scott and Megan had been involved in something, Wilma surmised, something that got them killed. Maybe one of them had put the drive there. She had to check it.

She inserted it into her own personal comms device, into a port on the left side. Almost immediately an image popped up on the screen. She gasped. It was Adam Cutter.

“Hello,” said the icy cold Chancellor. She knew he was dead but still got a fright. “I am High Chancellor Adam Cutter. The information you are holding is vital to the security of the Alliance. Please bring it to the proper authorities. You shall be rewarded.”

“Proper authorities,” Wilma said aloud. “Who the hell is that now?” She knew she should just throw it away but now she wanted to know what was on it. She had been dealing with computers all her life and this flash drive was nothing to her skills at finding information. Still, it took time, and she was not done when her crew came back from lunch so she placed the drive in her pocket and went out the door. Instead of her usual lunch in the cafeteria she went outside, not sure where to go. It was a cold day and people were bundled up and it looked like it would rain. As she walked she heard some shocking news that many people were talking about.

Malcolm Reynolds had escaped.

Soon she saw a street corner news screen and stood and watched with many other people as the news flashed across the screen. The criminal Malcolm Reynolds had escaped and was wanted dead or alive. Police had orders to shoot him on sight. Any citizens who spotted him were to call the police immediately. An award of two million credits was being offered. There followed some vague descriptions of the people and the vehicle that helped him escape but Wilma had hardly heard it as she pressed on. Soon she found her footstep heading to her home, her small apartment where she lived with her little dog.

Once inside all thoughts of lunch left her mind and she immediately started to work on the flash drive. In less than ten minutes she broken the encryption on the files. She saw it was a serious of video files. Each was dated, going back for up to six months. The last one was on the day the Prime Minister had been killed. She clicked on the first one and got a shock as the video began to play. It was Admiral Shin at a conference of military men. She listened for a few minutes and it was mostly boring stuff she did not understand. Then she remembered the last date and clicked on that one. After watching she pulled the flash drive out of the computer and sat and sat and thought and thought and felt so scare and alone she had no idea what to do.

They had killed her. They had done it. Had planned it all. Had wanted her dead. Had wanted to take control. Cutter had known they were up to something, became suspicious six months ago, planted a camera in the room, sent the files to this drive…oh God. Scoot and Megan had been killed the same night as the Prime Minister. Had they seen the conference as well?

No…otherwise they would have had the drive…wait, they had been on duty that morning. Had been monitoring live feeds from various intelligence sources. They must have seen the conference live. Then Shin found out and had them killed.

She had to tell someone, had to let someone know. She couldn’t abide the military taking over everything, ruining the peace and freedom they mostly had. She had heard Colonel Powers’ broadcast about Miranda and the Reavers and how Shin had been the one who had killed the Prime Minister. She didn’t believe it, hardly anyone she knew did, but now it seemed like Powers was right.

She looked at the flash drive in her hand. This could get me killed, she thought. Cutter said take it to the proper authorities. But who was that now? ___________________________________________________________________

Thomas Blakely was just getting ready to leave his office and head to the prison to see Mal when the news flashed on his Cortex screen. Mal had escaped.

Blakely didn’t know whether to be happy or angry. “Mal, you’ll never get off the planet,” he said aloud.

He sat down again and suddenly had no where to be. He had no client appointments and his son was in school. Then he realized Shin might try to pin Mal’s escape on him. He thought he might get a call or see men coming to escort him away but nothing happened. He ate lunch in his office and got ready for his afternoon appointments.

Someone knocked on his office door. It was one of his bodyguards.

“Sir…something strange just happened.” the guard said as he entered. “A woman…ah, middle aged, white, graying hair, she just entered, and demands to see you. She seems very agitated.”

“A legal matter?”

“She won’t say. I checked her for weapons. She’s clean, seems harmless, if a little intense.”

“Okay, send her in.”

The woman entered and he told her to sit. “My name is…is not important,” she said when the bodyguard was gone. Then she reached out her hand and dropped something on his desk. It was a small black flash drive.

“What’s this?”

“You look at it and you’ll know. I already decrypted it.”

“I can’t touch this unless you tell me what it is.”

She seemed surprised and then nodded. “Okay. It’s evidence. About who murdered your wife.”

She stood and seemed ready to flee. “Wait! Tell me where you found it? Who are you?”

She turned back. “Two people already died because I think they saw what was on that thing. I don’t want to be number three. Just…look at it…and do what you have to do.”

She went to leave again and again he asked her to wait. This time she ignored him and opened the door and was gone.

Blakely looked down at the flash drive. If he touched it all kinds of legal ramifications ensued. He might be accepting evidence that was stolen. He might be committing a crime. Shin would love that. But the woman said it was about who murdered Susan. He had to look at it.

Ten minutes later and he knew Malcolm Reynolds had been right. Shin had ordered the attack on the Parliament. Here was the proof. But what to do with it? _____________________________________________________________________

“Gorramnit all to hell,” General MacCready growled as he looked at the reports coming in about Malcolm Reynolds in his office at the Ministry of the Interior as new High Chancellor. Every crackpot and scared housewife was seeing Malcolm Reynolds on the street or in their backyard. Thousands of reports in less than two hours since the news hit the Cortex. It would take days, weeks to shift through them all and more were coming in. It was that damn reward money. Everyone wanted a piece of it.

To find Reynolds he needed someone who knew him, had chased him before. The records didn’t show anyone of that description except Laurence Dobson and he had disappeared years ago, and was presumed dead. But MacCready knew Shin had an ace up his sleeve. He was using Operatives and the Athenian Island children to do his dirty work. MacCready had been playing this game too long to let Shin just do as he pleased without watching his moves. If Shin was ousted MacCready had no intentions of going with him.

He found the secret file and the code that Cutter had used to contact Operatives. On the high waveband secure long distance Cortex system he sent out the code via a tourist ad for Sihnon that would play twice an hour for the next day. Hopefully, one of the Operatives would see the code and contact him.

Luckily, only an hour passed before a wave message came in. He didn’t know the man but he had to be an Operative. MacCready explained who he was and what he needed. “Can you take on this task?”

“Yes. I am on Ariel now, waiting for my ride,” said the black man with the cold eyes. “I can be on Londinium in a few hours.”

“It’s at least a week by normal space flight.”

The man smiled somewhat. “I am not taking a normal spaceship, General.” And then he ended the wave. ___________________________________________________________________

The Operative walked aboard the ship and was not impressed. It was an old freighter, with more space built into her for cargo than creature comforts. But it had an FTL drive which seemed to work and the Alliance men on board knew how to fly it. The ship, called the Katusha, was in high orbit over Ariel having made its first FTL run from Hera less than 2 hours ago.

The engineer in charge greeted the Operative at the airlock. “Orders, sir?” the officer asked after introductions were made.

“Londinium,” the Operative told him. “We have an escaped prisoner to find.”

“Yes, sir, We should be ready to jump in ten minutes. You might want to find a place to strap in, sir. The passenger lounge is on the upper deck.”

As the Operative strapped in the small dingy room that passed for a lounge he thought on what to do next. He was going against Shin’s orders to track down the rest of the FLT ships the Jamison Shipyard had outfitted. But this was a chance he could not pass up. Where Malcolm Reynolds was located, River Tam would not be far behind. _________________________________________________________________

“You stop this madness right now!” Inara yelled into the Cortex screen on the bridge of Serenity. The whole bridge was full of all except Jonathan and Mary, all looking at the screen in happiness that Mal was alive and safe. That happiness was quickly dashed as he told them his desire to kill Shin.

Mal shook his head. “You know I can’t do that. He killed the PM, we all know this. He’s got to die.”

“And what about me?” Inara asked, almost in tears. “What about us?”

“Shin will never leave us in peace,” Mal said.

“Captain,” Zoe asked from Inara’s side. “Do you have a plan, sir? I mean, the man is most likely never alone, especially now.”

“Working on it,” Mal said.

Then a blond head came into view pushing a surprised Mal out of the way. It was Saffron, all smiles. “Okay, time for chitchat is over before the Alliance gets a fix on this wave. Not to worry, Mal’s crazy as usual and me and my guys want nothing to do with his crazy ideas.”

“Hey!” they heard Mal shout from off screen.

“So…now to business Zoe,” Saffron said. “We held up our end, now what about payment?”

“You’ll get it,” Zoe said reluctantly. “When and where?”

“The old ruins of the First City,” Saffron told her. “When you get here, wave me at this address.” Then the signal was cut.

“The First City?” Jayne asked in confusion. More than one person rolled their eyes, making Jayne mad. “Are you gonna tell me or do I have to beat it outta one of you?”

“The first settlement the colonists made when they arrived 500 years ago is called the First City,” Simon explained. “It was abandoned over three hundred years ago after a flood destroyed a lot of it and killed over ten thousand people. The people built the new capital on higher ground away from the river flood plains.”

“Oh,” Jayne said. “But ain’t there a river that goes through the capital?”

“Yes,” Gabriel Tam told him. “But it is just a small tributary and its flooding is well controlled.” Then he looked at Zoe. “Can you trust this woman…Saffron is it?”

“No,” Zoe and Inara said together and then Zoe finished. “She once tried to have us all killed and she tried to cheat us once too.”

Jayne laughed. “She even tricked Mal into marrying her.”

“What?” Regan Tam said in surprise.

“Come to think of it, were they ever legally divorced?” Simon asked.

Inara snorted. “I’ll divorce her from her life if she tries any funny stuff.”

“Well, this is all fun going down mammary…sorry, memory lane,” Wash said as he winced as Zoe smacked him in the back of the head for his poor pun. “But we have to figure a way to get to the First City.”

“Just fly there,” Kaylee said from the co-pilot’s seat.

Wash looked at her with raised eyebrows. “But we don’t have a transponder and this ship is known throughout the verse.”

“Then we’ll need another ship,” Kaylee said as if it were obvious.

“Ah…where?” Zoe asked.

“There,” Kaylee said as she pointed out the window at the third moon of Londinium. “While you were all jawing I was looking through the files on the moon there. Seems there is more than one mining town. And they all got spaceports.”

Jayne smiled. “Guess we’re stealing a ship.”

Zoe shook her head. “No, this time we are going to try to do it the legal way and book passage like nice decent folks who live on the Core.”

Wash laughed. “Zoe, look at us. We’re all wanted fugitives. And we ain’t exactly the decent types.”

“No, we aren’t,” Zoe said, but then she looked at Gabriel and Regan. “But they are.” __________________________________________________________________

Mal was sitting on a ratty sofa in a crappy room in an old house in what he suspected was the First City, but he wasn’t sure. He had a blindfold put over his eyes as they drove a certain distance, just a precaution Saffron told him, in case the Alliance got him back and used their usually successful methods to interrogate him on who rescued him and where they had taken him. When they had arrived he could see through the edges of the blindfold that there were many buildings and he could hear the flowing of a river, but there was no sound of traffic or people. First City it had to be.

A portable Cortex screen on a small table was all that was modern in the place. Nearby was a small kitchen where at a table Monty sat with the two other guys in the gang, all three drinking glasses of beer. Mal would have joined them but his leg was cuffed and a long chain went from it to an old water radiator on the wall.

“Monty, come on, you know I won’t run,” Mal said in frustration.

“Not my call,” Monty said, obviously embarrassed.

“Saffron’s in charge, I get it,” Mal said in disgust.

“You bet I am,” she said as she came into the room from a nearby bedroom. “Now Mal, you play nice and we’ll all get through this in one piece. You get your freedom and we get rich.”

“Is money all you want?” Mal asked in disgust.

“Yes,” they all said, even Monty.

“What happened to you Monty?” Mal asked.

“I got tired, Mal. Tired of running and doing jobs for scum like Badger who don’t pay you what you’re worth. And I never forgot my first true love here… Bridget.”

Saffron sighed. “You know I don’t go by that name here, honey.”

“Sorry,” Monty said.

“What name do you go by now?” Mal asked her. “Cause me calling you Saffron just reminds me of bad times.”

“Oh, many names, none I am telling you,” she replied. “Remember the less you know the better. So, Saffron will do for now I guess. No one here knows me by that name anyway.”

“Okay, Saffron, we gotta look at the bigger picture here, all of you. Shin is scum, he killed the PM, and he is going to take over everything. They all declared martial law and plan on getting rid of any civil liberties. They already tried to kill me once and had a sham trial all set for me if you guys hadn’t come along. So…”

“So nothing,” the Chinese man with the scar said. “You keep talking and all I hear is words. Ain’t you supposed to be some big damn hero? Or is it the rebel leader? Or the man who’s been to Earth and back? What is it?”

Mal glared at him. “I’m just a fellow trying to make it through the day, like you here all are. And I try to keep those I care about safe. But those in charge around here been trying for many years now to end me or put me behind bars at least. I aim to stop them anyway I can.”

Saffron smiled and he knew it was fake. “Well, good luck with that Mal. Now if you stay quiet for a while we might just give you something to eat.”

Gorramnit all to hell, Mal thought. Out of one fire and into, well, not a fire, but it was no fun that was for sure. But he kept his mouth shut and he got some food and water and even a blanket and pillow while he lay down on the old sofa. Despite his many injuries, sleep came, he was so beat, and all the while he hoped Zoe and the rest could somehow get here faster and take him away from this nightmare. But first he had to kill Shin. ____________________________________________________________________

“Yes, send him in,” said MacCready. The Operative had only taken half a day to arrive and MacCready knew he somehow got a new FTL ship and someone who could fly it.

“Reporting as ordered,” the man said when standing before MacCready’s desk.

“Malcolm Reynolds is somewhere in this city. I want you to track him down anyway you can, and kill him on sight.”

“I could have done that many days ago.”

“That was a mistake letting him live.”

“Indeed. And his crew if they are there?”

“Exterminate them all, and those who helped him escape.”

“Even Kaylee Frye?”

“I take it by your sudden appearance here making and learning to fly an FTL ship is not such a big mystery anymore,” MacCready said. “We don’t need her anymore.”

“Very well. I will need all the video scans of the escape.”

“It is all set up for you down below where I’ve been told you’ve worked before.” He was about to leave but MacCready stopped him. He reached into his desk and took out a square metal box with several buttons on it.

“What’s this?” the Operative asked.

“Something to help you stop River Tam if she is with Reynolds. Apparently, the people on Athenian Island were holding back some information I only found after I… cleansed…the place. The doctors had implanted every subject’s brain with a small neuron device, undetectable by any scanner. Apparently it was used to control them if they became too violent. Just press this button and she will experience excruciating pain. It only has a short range, however, less than twenty meters…so they said. You need to be close to her.”

The Operative took the box, and as he left he smiled. Now I have you little girl, he thought. Just come to me and you will not escape me again.

_____________________________________________________________________

“He’s at the Ministry of the Interior,” Shin told the young man on the Cortex screen. “Kill him.”

“We can do it there, inside, less witnesses.”

“You can’t bring any weapons in there.”

“We don’t need any.”

“Good. How you do it is your business. That is all.”

“Yes, sir,” came the reply.

Good, Shin thought. Soon the Operative will be dead. He knows too much. As do the rest. Maybe it was time to get rid of all of them.

But not yet. Jamison had told him a great deal about a woman named Saffron and her gang that had freed Reynolds. Now he had everyone else looking for her. Soon she would be found and Reynolds would die. _____________________________________________________________________

The large office with the long table where he had worked before was still as it was except now he was all alone. The Operative entered and there was a young blond woman sitting at the desk in an outer office. “I need all the videos of Malcolm Reynolds’ escape,” was all he said to her, not even introducing himself.

“Yes, sir,” she said and in a few minutes all the files were up on his screen on one of the terminals in the large inner office. He watched them over and over and took down notes. It was all taken from distance street cameras and was of poor quality, but still he could see much. A large transport truck slammed into the prison van and then a black van came up behind it and four people got out and freed Reynolds. He checked the license plate numbers of the van and truck and soon learned they were stolen plates. Vid captures of the criminals faces were no good as they all wore gas masks. One was a woman, obvious by her voluptuous body shape, one was a large man, and two others men as well. The drivers of the two vehicles he couldn’t see as they never got out. The large transport took off after it had struck the prison van.

He was about to call for the assistant when he heard her talking to someone outside. “Can I help you?” she said and then she screamed.

The Operative was up in an instant and when he came out he saw two people, one a young woman with red hair and the other a young man with black hair. Both were young, trim, fit and had an intense look in their eyes. The assistant was lying on the floor, and looked unconscious…or dead, but she had no visible wounds.

“What…” but he never got the word out as they attack. Fists and boots came flying and he barely had time to defend himself. In a flurry they fought in the confined space, trading blows and all three got hurt, but they were too fast and he was alone, and he was losing. A kick to his stomach doubled him up and then another kick to the head sent him sprawling back into his bigger office. As he lay on the floor the girl advanced to leap in the air and land on him with both feet. He kicked up and got her shin, which knocked her off balance and she fell to the side. But the boy was in there and his boot got the Operative in the chin and everything went fuzzy.

“He’s good,” said the girl.

“Not good enough,” the boy said and he picked up a nearby heavy chair and raised it over his head.

Who were they? the Operative thought as he knew he was about to die. They were so fast, so well trained, almost as well as…

Then he knew who they were. He reached into his pocket of his jacket and pressed the button on the square metal box.

The boy was the first to react. He let out a screech and dropped the chair as he put his hands to his head and fell to the floor in agony. The girl only had time to say “What…?” when the same thing happened to her. She convulsed and clutched her head and fell to the floor as well.

The Operative got up, feeling a bit woozy, but now more in control. He took out the box and held it in his hand, still holding the button down, looking at it with satisfaction. “Well, this at least works.”

He looked down at the two on the floor, both still in agony, moaning and groaning as they held their heads. “I think it is time we had a chat. I want you to tell me everything. But first off, and most important, who sent you?”

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River's Run - Part 19
Things come to a head on Londinium as the plan to win Mal's freedom begins to unravel.

River's Run - Part 18
Mal’s heading for a hangman’s noose. Will a rescue party come in the nick of time?

River's Run - Part 17
As the crew rests and heals, Shin and his confederates take a step closer to power, and Mal faces a new, deadly dilemma.

River's Run - Part 16
As Simon patches up the crew, Mal and his lawyer make plans, and Badger and his cousin have some unexpected visitors.

River's Run - Part 15
Mal finds a new friend on Londinium, his crew makes contact with River and Zoe, and events come to head on Whitefall.

River's Run - Part 14
Battle rages through Serenity as the crew tangles with an Alliance boarding party.

River's Run - Part 13
Shock and a sense of tragedy fill Serenity as the crew struggles to deal with Derek's betrayal. Meanwhile, the Operative comes a step closer to finding Serenity.

River's Run - Part 12
Mal strikes back at the Alliance, a little trip to the bank doesn't go as planned, and the Operative reaches out to River and Derek.

River's Run - Part 11
The Operative makes a plan to trap Serenity, escape plans are made, and those long separated are together once again.

River's Run - Part 10
Inara makes a date with Paulo Chase, Mal gets back his first love, and Shin plans the next move in the galactic chess match.