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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE
"Captain Archer goes in search of Klingons while the crew of Serenity try to recover their Captain."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2297 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "INTO THE BLACK"
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: No specific pairing.
STATUS: New. SEQUEL to "DEEPER AND DEEPER".
ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where.
SUMMARY: "Captain Archer goes in search of Kingons while
the crew of Serenity try to recover their Captain."
The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly'
are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.
'Enterprise' and its' characters are the property of 'Paramount'.
No infringement of copyright is intended.
"INTO THE BLACK"
A "Firefly"/"Enterprise" story
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
As a man Caleb Johnson was not that formidable to look at. Average height, medium build, powerful in an understated kind of way. Muscles that flexed but did not show. Depths to him that were more convoluted and perverted than his demeanour at first glance would suggest. Not until you trawled the depths of those ice blue eyes. Depths that held no warmth. No passion for life. A heatless spark blazed deep and froze everything it touched. He was watching his captive carefully. The closest thing to pleasure on his mean and spiteful face. Captain Malcolm Reynolds only knew they were still on the planet because of the soil beneath his hands. At last unbound he knelt weary and pained, his hands braced to hold himself semi upright. The soil thick and muddy beneath his clenching fingers. Not through water or rain but the slicker, sticky substance of dark congealing blood. His.
Caleb was enjoying himself immensely. Mal was stubborn. Proud in a quiet defiant way that fueled Caleb's sick sense of pay-back. Blood dribbled down the left side of Mal's face. His injured ear partly cut along the thick seal that had formed as his body tried to repair the trauma of what was lost. He was dizzy. Hurting bad not simply with the pain but the nightmares that were now looped in an endless cycle of torment. Hard wired in his brain. A macabre theatre of the mind from which there was no escape. Caleb wanted him to describe the nightmares that plagued him. Add atmosphere to the agony in which he wrote his name.
"You don't need to be doin' this, Caleb." Mal whispered softly.
Caleb spun his knife blade slowly in his hand, making sure it's bloody surface caught the light. The red reflecting in his victim's eyes. The tip of the blade skimming inches from Mal's face. The Captain ignored the blade, vision locked through one kind of hell to gaze at another. He seemed almost out of it. Pain so bad it was all that was holding him up. Privately, Caleb was impressed with him. No squealing like a pig or crying like a newborn for Malcolm Reynolds. If Caleb intended to kill him by inches he would do so with some dignity at least. It was the one thing his tormentor could respect but it was not enough to make Mal a free man. He knew Death when he stared it in the face. Just had never dreamt it could be so gorram ugly.
They were interrupted by one of Caleb's men. The man, Janus, sidled up to Caleb and whispered something urgently in his ear. A sour look flickered over Caleb's face. He leaned close to Mal and wiped the blade on what was left of Mal's shirt. Not cutting him this time though he did pause to admire his handiwork in the criss crossed ribbons that patterned his chest. The fragmented shirt front bloody and stiffening as it congealed and dried. "Saved by the bell, Captain Reynolds."
Mal did not understand. Could not take in the significance. Saved? By the bell? What *gos se* bell?
Caleb straightened and gave his men a nod. Turned away bored as Mal was dragged to his feet and pushed stumbling like some blind drunk. They shoved him in the back of a jeep, Janus climbing in with him. Mal somehow got himself propped up against one side but slowly slid down. His arms not strong enough to keep him upright. His breathing as muddied as his brain was addled. The jerk and roll of the vehicle as it bumped over open ground took him the rest of the way to the floor. Janus made no attempt to sit him upright nor did he shake him when the Black came for him. Mercifully, he passed out before they got to really rough country. Tossed and jostled on the floor of the jeep he missed the terse conversation that sailed back and forth over his bloody head. "Why's he in such a hurry anyway?" Whined Caleb darkly. He sounded more than a mite put out.
His henchman shrugged. "Don't know, boss. Got all licked up when he heard we had him is all I know."
"I don't like it. I said I'd bring him. There was no reason for him to come to Bounty."
Janus glanced down at the wretched man lying no more than inches from his feet. "What do you suppose he did to piss him off? Fancy gent like that?"
Caleb allowed himself a dark laugh. "Who knows? Maybe pissing folks off is the only true skill Captain Reynolds has got?"
Janus laughed as did the other two men Caleb had brought along for the ride. When all the laughter had died down Caleb pursed his lips and decided he had at least gotten some satisfaction out of the Captain before handing him over. And the joy of it was he would also get paid.
Captain Archer was fidgetting again. "Are you sure this is where we entered the Expanse?"
If Sub-Commander T'Pol had been Human she would have sighed in exasperation. "Yes, Captain."
The Captain turned his head to look at Lt Reed and then Commander Tucker where they stood half crouched over their respective work stations. "Then where the hell are they?"
Lt Reed lifted his head, eyes narrowing in thoughtful introspection. "Perhaps they did not expect us to re-emerge so quickly, sir?"
"Or maybe they didn't expect us to re-emerge at all." Drawled Commander Tucker with a slight edge to his voice.
The Captain was about to suggest they increase speed and come a little further out when the Sub-Commander cut in on his brief reverie. "Captain. Something is appearing on the sensors."
A part smile was working its' way to the Captain's lips. This was more like it. Commander Tucker's words blew away any hope he had that it would be what he wanted to see. "What in hell is that?"
Everybody tried to squeeze as much information out of their instruments as possible but the Captain was too impatient. "On screen, Sub-Commander. Show me what you've got."
T'Pol transferred her data image to the viewscreen. Ensign Hoshi Sato felt her mouth go dry. Travis Mayweather's jaw dropped. Not in surprise but a deadly kind of awe. "A window." He murmured.
The Captain picked up the quietly spoken words and homed in on them. "Do you know what that is, Ensign?"
He looked a bit discomfitted. Uncertainty replacing his initial recognition. After all, he was going by stories told to him as a child. This was reality cold and hard and most definitely in your face. "When I was a kid I heard stories about dark matter. Black holes. Rips in the fabric of time and space. They were called windows. Sometimes doorways. The deeper ones were called chutes."
Lt Reed frowned. "Chutes?" He had not heard that term before.
Ensign Mayweather nodded, staring at the image on the screen. "Yeah. Like wormholes but without the spin and much much darker."
The Lieutenant shook his head. "Ensign Mayweather, I have never seen a wormhole let alone this phenomena you call a window. As for deeper windows being chutes do you care to explain that?"
He was still looking at the phenomena. Not saying anything now. Captain Archer raised a quizzical brow. "Ensign? Cat got your tongue?"
"No, sir. It's just I never thought the stories were true..." His voice trailed off and he glanced at the Captain then turned his head back to the sight before their eyes. It looked like nothing so much as a huge yawning chasm. Within its' dark maw there were no stars. Nothing to relieve the inky blackness that was sending chills up and down his spine. Some boomer he was. Afraid of space like some lily livered land lover from times gone by. Yet something about it unsettled him more and more as he stared at it. His mind longing for a simple and preferrably harmless explanation. Some way to rationalise the impossibility of what they were seeing. That the inky darkness was growing bigger was not in dispute with any of them. What it was. Was.
After a long silence Sub-Commander T'Pol spoke. Her voice seeming to echo oddly in the charged atmosphere where every breath was unconsciously held like a hostage to fortune. "What do you wish to do, Captain?"
For a moment the Captain said nothing. Then. In a voice that was quiet, grave and carefully neutral he responded. "Take us in closer, Sub-Commander."
Commander Tucker sucked in a breath and exchanged a look with Lt Reed. Not trying to hide how worried that command made him feel. He had a very bad feeling about this. Seeing the expression on Trip's face the Tactical Armoury Officer was inclined to agree with him. Especially when the ship suddenly lurched and trembled. Trip almost lost his footing but Malcolm managed to grab him with one hand while steadying himself with the other. "What the bloody hell was that?"
Captain Archer yelled for everyone to hold on. A belated warning but one which they all now heeded. Hoshi was gritting her teeth, glaring incoherently at the view of the huge black maw as it expanded to swallow them whole.
Jayne Cobb could hardly hold back his frustration. He was so twisted up inside that he did everything but hiss steam from his ears. Why didn't anyone ever listen to him? Zoe checked her weapon and made sure to grab extra shells. Even Wash was tooling up. Now *that* was a scary thought. Jayne somehow felt safer when Wash was not armed. How warped was that? Kaylee watched with a tremble to her bottom lip but her eyes were steady and overbright with unshed tears. Inara said nothing, her face a pale moon rising over Kaylee's shoulder and casting him a mournful glance without even changing her expression. How the rutting hell did she do that? Or maybe it was just his conscience pricking him? Only Simon and the Shepherd looked at him sympathetically. You couldn't hardly count River. Girl was more out of her mind than in it anyway. Right now he almost envied her. At least she had a place to hide.
"You can't do this."
Wash gave him a curious look. "You don't have to come with us, Jayne. After all, someone has to stay with the boat."
He internally winced at Wash's use of the Captain's pet name for Serenity. "Captain's gonna be mad as hell if I let you go tromping after him." He said with no force behind the words. Already gearing himself to accept the inevitable.
"Jayne, we're going whether you want it or not. Whether the Captain wants saving or not. I didn't walk out of a hundred nightmares at that man's side to give him up to bounty hunters."
The mercenary's head jerked up at that. He gave Zoe a hard stare. "Who says they were bounty hunters?"
Her look was steady. Even. "You did."
He looked surprised. Confused. "Me?"
She nodded. "I was with you remember? When you gave that nod to the two intellectually challenged *chunren* by the door."
He looked a mite uncomfortable. "I was just playing my part."
"And what part is that? Exactly?" Asked Wash softly.
Jayne ignored him. His eye fixed on Zoe. The only one out of the lot of them he wanted to understand him. "If they thought I was like them they'd let us go."
"All we had to do," Said Zoe in a voice so soft and quiet that the hairs stirred on the back of Jayne's neck. "Was give up the Captain."
He could not swallow. "They had the drop on us."
"That they did." Her look never faltered.
"What did you expect me to do? Captain gave me that look. I know better than to ignore that look."
"Captain's not here now Jayne but we are. What do you say now?"
He looked at all their faces and nodded slowly. "Okay, we'll go after him but I'm not taking the blame for this."
Simon looked genuinely puzzled by his comment. "Why would the Captain blame you for coming to his rescue?"
"You don't understand, doc. Captain has funny ideas of loyalty and such. And even bleeding and dying the Captain's still the Captain."
None of them could argue with that. Shepherd Book watched them lower the ramp. "Be careful. Just because you can't see them doesn't mean they aren't watching."
Jayne shot him a surly look. "What d'you mean?"
The Shepherd looked far too knowing for Jayne's comfort. "They let you and Zoe go. Do you really think you would not be watched?"
Looks of consternation were exchanged then Zoe's expression set in a grim uncompromising line. "What do you suggest?"
A slight smile dusted the Shepherd's lips. "A disguise might be a good idea."
"We can't afford time to dress up."
The Shepherd was not offended by Zoe's testy response. His voice patient and calm as he responded. "You can't afford not to."
The lobby was well appointed. Janus had put a heavy coat on Mal and stood with an arm around him as if they were comrades. Friends. Caleb Johnson was his affable best. Words oozing like oil from his throat like a liar's practised deceit. None of the implied warmth of his words touched his eyes. Cold steel reviewed the expensive hotel. Marble underfoot looking incongruous in the middle of a planet of mud flats. If the furnishings had been more red than the gold and green they were it would have looked like a bordello. Caleb took them over to an elevator and up to the penthouse suite. Mal was sweating profusely. His vision blurring and his sense of balance all shot to pieces. Bundled as he was he did not start bleeding again until halfway up in the elevator. Caleb noticed and jerked his head to one of his men. Holding back a scowl the man fumbled in his pockets until he located a not very clean handkerchief and wiped off the spots of blood. They reached their destination without bumping into anyone else.
The inside of the apartment was even more opulent than the foyer had been. Plush furnishings bespoke wealth and privilege. The ease of coin not the purchase of sweat and toil. Caleb paused when he saw the empty but well appointed lounge. Hesitating in the middle of the room. Janus and Pauli holding Captain Reynolds upright just a couple of steps behind him. Red hung back by the door, hand on his gun but careful not to draw it without a nod from Caleb. He didn't want to be gutted and turned inside out like some Reaver's plaything for not obeying his quixotic boss. Just when Caleb was beginning to get that twist in his gut that showed his patience was turning to suspicion a door on the far side of the room opened and his employer stepped through to join them. The crease on his mannered brow smoothing out as he smiled. Well groomed and slick he walked into the room and could not prevent a smirk from oiling its' way across his spoilt face when he beheld his prize. "Ah, Captain Reynolds! The world turns does it not?"
Mal sucked in a surprised breath on hearing the familiar voice. Raised his head with an effort so he could look the man in the eye. Atherton Wing was the last person he had expected to see. His look of surprise turned to one of mild disgust. Strong emotions being for the moment beyond his fleeting grasp. "Atherton Wing. Can't win a fair fight I see, so you have to bring in the hired help." He paused to clear the blood from his throat, fighting to hide the pain from showing, his back straightening a little with a remnant of pride. A flash of red silk at Atherton's throat reminded Mal of a coxcomb and the vainglory of all those born to a politician's insincere wiles. Why dirty your own hands when you had the coin to buy as many thugs as you required? He lamented that a man's honour could be bought so cheaply. "Enjoy your victory while you may." He coughed with the effort of speaking. Eyes squeezed suddenly shut to block out the agony. The throbbing in his head making the ground spin beneath his feet. Sound warped around him, the room spinning. He felt so weak. Damn his rutting body for failing him. Only the strong arms either side of him kept him upright.
He missed the swift change of expression on Atherton's face. Atherton had not realised he was injured. It had not been part of his instructions. As the Captain collapsed, Atherton turned angry eyes that flashed with displeasure on his captors. Janus and Pauli laying him down on the thick carpet. Atherton's eyes blazed with barely constrained rage. "What have you done to him?"
Caleb was determined not to show how unsettled he was to bear the brunt of Atherton's unexpected anger. He had expected praise not accusation. Perhaps even a bonus for showing such initiative. "Delivering Captain Reynolds to you as requested."
"I said he was to be taken unharmed!" Spat Atherton. He misliked the injuries he could see on the Captain's face. Could clearly see that his left ear was half hacked off. The sight made his stomach churn. Now that Mal was prone the heavy coat had fallen open revealing a wash of blood seeping up and pooling over his torn and ragged shirt. He did not dare to wonder at the extent of the man's injuries. This was not what he had expected at all. How could he gloat over a dead man? Only the living could give him that sweet revenge.
"He *was* taken unharmed." Caleb could not help sneering back.
Atherton tore his gaze away from his fallen foe and stared at the man in near disbelief. Did Caleb really think he would thank him for such a thing? He noticed the bloody wrists where the catgut had burrowed deep into Mal's flesh where he had been tied. Many things Atherton was but a torturer he was not. Tease a girl he would, even until she cried and begged. Torment a man, surely. Belittle and demean him, certainly. Cut him into ribbons of flesh? Sever pieces off him while he lived and breathed? While he lay bound unable to fight back? He took a harsh breath to steady his revulsion. Never. Not even a man such as he would sink as low. It was plain that Caleb Johnson had no such squeamish qualms. His clear delight in his captive's obvious distress unsettled Atherton almost as much as the look in Mal's eyes before he lost consciousness.
"What do you mean he was taken unharmed?"
The words were forced out between gritted teeth. Deceptively calm. Caleb smiled and looked down at the inert Captain. A faint look of regret stealing over his face. Not for what he had done but because he could not finish it. "I had a reckoning of my own." He looked up and schooled his features into a bland mask. "Your man is delivered and we want our money."
Atherton stared at him for a moment then disappeared into the back room returning within moments with a heavy cloth bag. He shoved it at Caleb who took it without a moment's hesitation. Caleb drew back his sneering lips to grin in false gratitude.
"A pleasure doin' business with you, Mr Wing."
Atherton began to walk them to the door when Caleb paused and looked back at Captain Reynolds. That look of regret stayed a moment longer this time. "I'd be willing to waive the fee if you let me have him when you've finished with him."
The look in Caleb's eyes almost made Atherton choke. He hid his discomfort and revulsion and shook his head. The movement giving him a fraction of a second to compose himself. "No, thank you. I have what I want and you have your money. Now go."
Just then Mal started to stir. The movement slight as it was caused Caleb to hesitate. He whet his lips and glanced down. A hungry look in his eyes that made Atherton inwardly shudder. Caleb flicked his eyes up to pin Atherton with a look that was almost pleading in its' intensity. "I could stay. Make him talk if that's what you want from him?"
Atherton did not try to hide his disgust this time. "I doubt even you could make Captain Reynolds talk if he did not wish to."
Caleb raised an eyebrow. "I know his nightmares." He flashed blackened teeth at him. "And I know how to *improvise* if you catch my drift?"
"I said no. Our business is concluded."
Reluctantly Caleb nodded. Atherton watched in tense silence as they left. Once they were gone he locked the door and walked over to where his captive lay. Slow sluggish movements typified Mal's return to consciousness however brief. Heavy lids fluttered open on pain dazzled eyes. A flicker of recognition fastened on Atherton's comely face. Atherton Wing found all the anger he had stoked up inside against this man had vanished. He still did not like Malcolm Reynolds but he would not have done to him what Caleb had done for all the gems on Persephone. He wanted his pound of flesh. Wanted it to hurt beyond anything Mal had ever endured before. Wanted to leave the man fearing him. Bowed in his shadow. A living reminder that no one bested him and lived to crow about it. Right now all thoughts of petty revenge were forgotten. Both men stared at each other seeing different things. Reflections on a pool far more warped than either could have imagined.
"Now," Said Atherton softly. Kneeling without conscious thought beside the recumbent man. For a moment he was baffled as to what to do with him. His right hand reaching out to ghost a wondering finger slowly down the path of the injured ear. As if he could read the answers through his fingertips. Barely touching. Almost moving of its' own volition. Mal shivered and trembled with remembered pain. Images of Niska coming unbidden to torment him. The inside of his head stained with blood. River's description more accurate than he cared to acknowledge even to himself. Unable to speak or stop the curious hand that mapped his personal hell. He blinked to hold back tears but made no sound. Neither would he look away. This game he knew. This battle of wills he would not lose even if death claimed him. Atherton's hand paused to cup almost gently the injured ear. As if some instinct that was alien to him wanted to protect this man. "What am I going to do with you?"
Commander Tucker was grateful for Malcolm's quick thinking. Regaining his balance he quickly braced himself and as the lights flickered on the bridge they hung on for dear life while Enterprise lurched and bucked in the darkness. A wailing ripping sound sent shockwaves of alarm through the Chief Engineer. He longed to let go of his station and hurry to Engineering. Check on his engines. Run diagnostics on the ship to trace every stress and strain for faultlines that could endanger her crew. But right now no one was going anywhere. Just staying upright was the order of the day.
At last the pitch and toss ended with a groaning roll of stressed metal that made Trip flinch. He looked at Malcolm and noticed how pale he was. Similar thoughts running through his mind. Captain Archer glanced around the bridge, his eye briefly resting on every member of the bridge crew. "Is everybody okay?"
Pale faces nodded, muted voices asserted that no one was injured. Just shaken. Sub-Commander T'Pol's voice was an ocean of calm they all accepted with relief. It was like finding a compass to steer by. No longer lost even metaphorically while they had her with them. "Captain, we appear to have been drawn into one of Ensign Mayweather's hypothetical *chutes*."
Captain Archer frowned slightly. "Chutes? Why do you call it a chute? It could be a window or doorway. Isn't that right, Ensign?"
The boomer was glad of the conversation. It kept his mind from dwelling on how badly he was shaking. "I believe the Sub-Commander is right, sir."
The surprise in the Captain's voice calmed Travis. He even managed a smile. Trip shook his head gently and marvelled at the helmsman. "Yes, Captain. We seem to have gone a lot deeper and further than a window or door. The chute is like a tunnel."
"But not a wormhole?" Put in Trip.
"Not a wormhole." Agreed Travis.
"Okay," Said the Captain, willing to play along for now. "Then where the hell are we?"
Trip hid a little smile. Lt Reed smirked then straightened his face. Hoshi smiled. Travis shrugged. "I don't have a clue, Captain." He paused and became serious. "And neither, it seems, does the ship's navigation system."
Trip and T'Pol exchanged a look. The Captain frowned. Before he could say anything the ship was suddenly jarred violently and as it lurched Trip lost his footing and ended up sitting on the floor. Lt Reed stared intently at his console and looked up at the Captain. His lips a tight line of anger and concern. "Captain, unless I am much mistaken, we are under attack."
The Captain shook his head as if all the parts inside had been rattled loose. "Attack? By what?"
The Lieutenant's fingers flew over his controls. Next to him Trip was accessing data from Engineering trying to estimate the amount of damage. Lt Reed gave a gasp and all heads turned to him once again. His pale face had just lost the very last vestiges of colour.
"Malcolm, what is it?" Asked Trip. Almost afraid of what the answer might be.
Lt Reed did not look at Trip as he answered. He was staring straight at the Captain. "You know those Klingon ships you were looking for sir? We've just found them."
As Captain Archer groaned a second volley hit them broadside. Smoke vented from several consoles, the lights flickered and dimmed. The tactical alert went off then Hoshi spoke in a voice that quavered just a little. "Captain, we're receiving a transmission."
Captain Archer gritted his teeth. "On screen, Ensign."
A moment later the screen flickered to life. The Klingon sneered at them, a jubilant look on his face. "Prepare to be boarded!"
The Captain opened his mouth to speak only to find the communication cut. The next thing they heard was the loud but distinctive sound of a ship docking.
* * * * *
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