BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

CASTIRONJACK

Honest Run: Diagnosis
Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Back on New Denver, Simon and Mal find some new allies. And some clothes.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2997    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Previous chapters include: Honest Run: Dance
Honest Run: Dignity
Honest Run



A special thanks to Guildsister for her much needed critical Beta reading.



The offending dials were in the red. Panels were flashing. All telling Simon there was a problem. He knew that much. In the rear of the shuttle, he mopped his brow of sweat brought on by a sudden inexplicable heat. Systematically, he began drawing from the only training that he had. Medical troubleshooting. He had no idea what he was supposed to do. There was a malfunction, but this wasn’t anything he had knowledge about. “What am I looking for?” he asked the captain. “Hell, if I know,” the captain said. There was some Mandarin cursing of which Wash figured prominently. “What is the problem?” the doctor brushed his hair back, “What does the console tell you? It has to be alluding to some kind of system…” “It tells me something is wrong,” Mal told him, no end of irony in his voice, “Damn shuttle’s handling like a brick.” “You’ve lost maneuvering thrusters?” Simon stared at the angry blinking panels reading the warnings in both Chinese and English. He punched at some buttons, trying to get past the warnings. His fingers came away with plastic molasses on their tips, “Marvelous,” he said quietly. “Port side, mostly,” Mal yelled back, “Starboard’s fine.” Simon turned around. He had been on the wrong side. However, nearly all the readouts on this side, the port side, were blanked out and sweating some kind of insulation from the seams, “Port side. That’s left, isn’t it?” And the heat was that more intense just that half a step away... His chest was heavier for a breath. There was a pause, “Yeah.” Of course it was left, dummy. It was River’s voice originated the mental comment. There was one dial Simon could still make out, it read Fuel Burn Ratio. The glass was cracked from excessive heat, making the needle hard to read. When Simon did spot it, he recalled a readout different than the identical dial he had just glanced at on the starboard side, “What is the Fuel Burn Ratio?” he asked, “There seems to be a problem with the port side…” “Damn it, Simon,” Mal yelled back, “I don’t know.” Simon smiled at the use of his given name, “Getting sentimental again?” “Only ‘cause I think we’re going to die,” Mal told him, “I can’t go into atmo like this, doc... Do something. Do anything. Use that super genius brain of yours and throw a gorram switch.” The heat radiated from beneath the deck, Simon felt it through his boots. If they hadn’t been well made, actual wood instead of plastic, the heels would have liquefied on the steel grating, he observed with some detachment. The port side engine is misfiring. It was burning up too much fuel. River again. Sure enough, the offending dial indicated some kind of balance between the fuel and whatever it combined with to fire. Air, probably, but from what Simon could deduce, there was precious little of one and far too much of the other. Thinking of fuel, he looked up at the Kaylee and Wash addition only feet away. “My God.” Purge the fuel in the turbine. Lock down the engine. Surprisingly, it sounded like Kaylee’s voice, devoid of its usual cheerfulness. Throw a gorram switch. Mal again… Simon grabbed a wrench secured higher off the deck on the starboard side. It was hot, but not scorching. Sweat dripped from his fingers, sizzling on the plating. Hot. Hot. Hot. The doctor had only been back there a few seconds, maybe a minute, and he felt faint. It was a lever, actually. Several of them. Simon jerked off the smoking panel with the wrench, he could see that all the plastic coverings were gone, all the ink labeling on the pipes blackened. Simon threw up his hands instinctively against the heat. It burned. The hot air scalded his arms as it blasted out. He stepped over to the starboard side and did the same. He found the fuel lever on the starboard side; with some quick mental juxtapositioning he had found the port side one. He turned back around. Blearily, he made out which way he had to shut it. “Port side engine purge,” Simon called out. “What?!?” Came Mal’s incredulous shout, “Port side what?!?” “Port side engine purge,” Simon yelled back at him, “Compensate, damn it!” Using a bit of a golf stroke, Simon hit the most probable lever closed with the wrench.



The stream was a bit of luck. It ran true and clear. Cool, as well. The doctor was more dubious about it than Mal, but thirst bent him quickly. It had been only a couple of hours since they had set out from the crash site. And subsequent site of low down thievery, when some brigands dropped down and stole their shuttle and cargo. If only Mal could pin their nakedness on them as well… The ordeal was becoming quite cruel for the doctor; his feet weren’t callused at all, his pale skin reddened quickly underneath the afternoon sun. While Mal had spent several years in space himself, and a war before that, he had been raised on a ranch. Though years had made him soft, his body remembered quickly. The doctor had more youth on his side, but Mal didn’t see a reason to push it. They had made a good way in a few hours; both men were moved by an expedience that neither could fully explain. It had been an enjoyable surprise that a small grove of trees that had been their reference point for the last few hours had yielded this little bit of pleasantness. They had been here for a good half hour as far as Mal could reckon. “Doc?” Mal asked him. There was a handful of trees about, their roots stretching underneath the brook, their trunks and foliage thicker for it, “That pasty white skin of yours looks like its picking up some of the local flavor.” “You know it would be easier to identify with your humor if it wasn’t always at my expense,” Simon told him coolly, “And exposure is a little bit more serious than ‘the local color…’” “Come on, doc,” Mal smiled one of his devil-may-dare grins, “You can take a poke at me,” He put his hands up in mock surrender, “I’m unarmed,” he tilted his head and shrugged to reinforce the point, “Physically or mentally, I’m sure, as the thought crossed your mind…” “The only barbs I have in mind,” Simon told him, “Are the ones I’m digging out of my fancy soft feet.” “Soft fancy feet aside,” Mal replied, “The high road’s a lonely place.” “If only that were so,” Simon replied quietly. He flinched. The captain’s grin widened, “And I thought you left that wit of yours on the ship.” Exasperated, Simon focused back on his feet, “Fine,” the doctor continued to wash them in the stream, “I know better but I have to ask: How much further?” Mal had actually taken a glance at the doctor’s feet to see for himself if Simon wasn’t making light of an injury. Simon would, wouldn’t he? There were some small cuts and abrasions Mal could see on Simon’s feet, but nothing serious. Other than the burns on his arms and large knot on the back of his head that Mal had noticed earlier. Mal’s own head throbbed from the injury that the doctor had patched up hours ago. His skin itched, but not from dryness. Mal largely chocked it up to the inevitable sunburn, but it could be the medicines in his body as well. The Doc’s ‘antitoxin’ for the poisoning from the damaged cargo of pesticides. Damn it if his bones didn’t ache. His only solace was that Simon was going through the same. “My guess?” The captain bent down and splashed his face refreshingly, “We’re on someone’s land. I’ve seen some clearing here and there.” Mal wiped his hand across his jaw, “Good cattle country, come to think of it.” “Should we follow the stream?” Simon asked, “Surely there would be a trail intersecting it at some point.” Mal frowned thoughtfully, “Not a bad idea,” he stood up and followed the stream’s course with his eyes as it passed back into the plains, “I just…” he paused and listened, catching a sound on the wind. “Captain?” Simon asked, “What is it?” “I think we’ve just been found.” Mal looked past the doctor. There was the soft neighing of at least one horse and the sharp click of firearms. “Sounds like our kind of company,” Simon turned his head to see the intruders. It seemed impossible that they could have been so careless that they would have been spotted without themselves doing the spotting first. But the trees and the gently sloping terrain gave them some trifle of an excuse. There were two of them, one, a woman, leading a black mare on the ground, the other, a man, sitting tall on his own horse covering her with a rifle. “You folks look a bit out of place,” The woman said, gesturing for the man to put away the firearm, “We weren’t interrupting anything were we?” There was a good natured arch to an eyebrow. “Can’t say that you were,” the captain said, “Not that I don’t find the doctor’s company pleasant enough, but we have had ourselves a little trouble of late…” “And he’s on the other side of the stream…” Simon pointed out. There was a laugh, “Name’s Trissa Brown.” The woman was about as tall as Simon, pretty underneath a well-worn hat, slim to a fault, “I’d like to say that naked men aren’t something I see too often,” she gave her companion a look, “But I’ve got some ranch hands that are a handful and shed their clothes quite often,” there was an openness about the woman. Mal had a feeling that Trissa already knew more than she was letting on, “I can’t say that I get too impressed by the notion, but they seem to think it’s a lot of fun.” “Well,” Mal smiled broadly, “We try to keep our clothes about us most of the time,” he almost put his hands on his hips but aborted the gesture, “My name is Malcolm and this,” he pointed to the doctor, “is Simon.” “Uh huh,” she looked him in the eyes, “Malcolm is it?” Trissa tied off her horse, “You two have anything to do with the ship that touched down hereabouts?” “Touched down is a might subtle, but, yes, that was ours,” Mal glanced at the doctor, “Funny you should be asking about it…” “Not so funny,” she said. “Was?” Asked the man, “I don’t suppose you could tell us the hows and whys?” “Didn’t catch your name, friend,” Mal said, “We’ve got some bothersome questions, too, if you don’t mind,” he glanced back at the doctor, “But needless to say we got ourselves in a bad position and found ourselves unalone,” he nodded to the horse packs, “As much as I enjoy a bit of warm sun and cool breeze, you got yourselves a bit of dignity to share in there?” The man flinched a bit at Mal’s tone, “Yeah,” he said, “Just a minute. Name’s Shawn, by the way,” he dismounted and rifled through his packs, “One of the few that don’t run about the farm naked,” he shook his head at Trissa. “I didn’t say that you did,” Trissa teased. “Uh huh,” Shawn told her, “I just felt the need to make the distinction.” “Thank you for the kindness, Shawn,” Mal gave Trissa a hard stare, “Could I get an explanation?” The humor diffused most of the awkwardness of the situation, “His name is Shawn, but everyone that knows him calls him SOS…” she explained, “An upstanding responsible ranch hand.” “Shawn Owen Slade,” the fair face reddened to the tips of careless blonde hair as he explained, “It wasn’t my father’s original idea, but one of my uncles that pointed it out and unfortunately for me, it stuck,” the fellow was of sturdy stock, a little shorter than Mal. “If you’re Malcolm Reynolds,” Trissa ignored Mal’s stare for the most part. Mal didn’t imagine he looked the part that could back up such a gaze, “Those that took your ship would be the Denton boys. Have a penchant for shiny things, they do. Ain’t afraid to take it if it ain’t theirs.” Shawn tossed a pair of pants at Simon’s feet, “Cleaned them at the start of the week, friend.” “Thank you.” “Sounds like we’ve been expected,” Mal said, “Like those boys were tipped off…” “Let’s get you clothed,” she said with understanding, “Pass those jeans over to Malcolm, Simon,” Trissa said to the doctor, “I doubt Shawn’s got another pair in there, and I think you’d fit in a pair of mine,” she dug out the jeans, “They’re men’s cut anyways. Damn store thinks that all a woman needs is a gorram dress.” she looked over to the captain, “You ever rustled up cattle in a dress?” “Can’t say that I have,” the captain told her, “But there has been the occasional outing,” Mal said, “Unrelated to this planet, of course.” Trissa laughed, “I see,” she smothered the smile, “We’re still not sure how the Dentons found out, but we knew because the land that your trade was going to be on was ours. Bill Duvall, your buyer, also wanted to have a couple of us on hand in case ya’ll had yourselves a nasty disposition,” she added, “No offense.” “None taken,” the captain said, “But you didn’t find us first,” Mal pulled on the jeans that Simon tossed to him, “Why?” “As far as we can tell, the Dentons have enough gizmos to track ships from space. They must have tracked you and your difficulties when you entered atmo. We’ve got some com equipment, Malcolm, but we haven’t the other. We tried to meet you at the coordinates that you gave to head them off, but that didn’t happen.” “Sounds reasonable,” Simon said. Mal was too busy shaking his head, “Yeah,” he looked at the doc, “But how did they know that we would have difficulties? That’s too many convenient coincidences for them, wouldn’t you say?” “Neither one of us has the technical knowledge to even speculate what they could or couldn’t do,” The doctor told him, “But I agree. It is a bit dubious.” It felt better that Simon couldn’t debate the matter. But he was right, if these Denton boys had orchestrated the crash, Mal couldn’t see how. “We saw your touchdown, but we weren’t able to make it on time it seems. The Dentons can mobilize when they set their minds to it. Some of that machinery that they have puts some of our best stallions to shame. We had the stuff laid out, ready for your arrival, so it took some time for us to gather it back up again,” Trissa explained, “However, once we discovered that your ship was gone, that changed things up a bit as well.” “Regardless,” Simon unfolded the jeans, “It seems that our fortunes have changed. It’s amazing, people that don’t want to shoot us on sight,” He stepped into the jeans, they were a loose fit on Trissa, but tighter on him, “Miracles never cease.” “Got two shirts, though,” Shawn said, producing the clothing. “So once that you found that the ship was gone…” Mal caught a shirt, “Then what?” “We figured the Dentons got wind of the job,” she said, “Damn odd that they would strip you down to nothing, usually they just leave the folks. Aren’t mean about it, initially. They’re only keen on their guns when the folks come back for their stuff.” Simon coughed uncomfortably. The captain rewarded him with a knowing look. “However, we did catch the sight of the pair of you before we split up with Bill and the cargo,” SOS spoke up, “Me and Trissa decided that being that you were in the area, you had either witnessed what had happened with the ship, or that you were from it. Either way, you were worth investigating…” SOS said, “You were heading our direction anyway.” “That have anything to do with the direction that we took, Simon?” Mal asked him, “Did you have a chance to look at the nav com?” Simon had forgotten that he had looked at the nav com before the incident. The direction of the rendezvous did correspond with the route of their stolen ship, “Actually, I had failed to recall that, captain,” Simon told him, “But yes, it was.” Reynolds looked at Simon askew. It was unlike him to not recall an important detail like that. Simon raised an eyebrow. “Proof that you’re human, I guess,” Mal said dismissively, “I guess it’s a lucky coincidence that we ran into the pair of you then. We were just following where the shuttle was going…” “You would have run into our ranch before running into town,” Trissa told him, “So you had a good hunch,” she winked at Simon warmly. “Know them boys well, do you?” Mal asked, secretly annoyed that Simon had earned the wink. What is it with him, anyway? “Well enough,” Trissa said, “My dad’s got the ranch that you’re standing on, so I don’t have a lot of time to go to town. He knew that the Dentons were in on the job, but he figured that he had had all the bases covered...” “If we hadn’t the troubles we did when landing, we could have made an account for ourselves,” Mal said, “But they caught us…” he winced, “With our pants down.” “Dentons aren’t pushovers, Malcolm,” She ignored the joke, “Reason they keep the stuff when they take it.” “The captain is one of the best shots I know,” Simon piped up. The compliment was startling from the doctor, but Mal took it in stride. “Dentons are big believers in more is more and fight that way,” Trissa said, “Nastiest band of cousins and brothers this side of the Hobbes Ridge. Never ones to go off alone, they just happen to be our local bullies and thieves. Sheriff’s got them to cough up a few things, but I think they do it to stay off the law’s list. God knows they’re about on everyone else’s.” “Is this the first ship they’ve nabbed?” Mal asked. “As far as I know,” she said. “Then this is the first captain that they’ve crossed,” Mal said, “And I’d say these boys are due for an education.” “A lot of people would love to see it.” Trissa said.

It took Mal a moment to realize what the doctor was saying. He was going to purge the port turbine free of fuel. He was going to starve it to save it. Even as the captain did as Simon told him, he flashed on the reason. The port side engine had burning too hot. That had caused the failsafes to trigger in the thrusters, shutting them down so they wouldn’t burn themselves out with the excess heat. The cooling system was overloaded with the spike in the radiant heat in the turbine. By the time the cooling system reacted, it was caught in the failsafe situation with the thrusters. ‘Course, that would be something Kaylee would have come up with. Maybe even Wash. For Mal it was a little vaguer. The fuel had to be manually shunted away so that it could shut down the engine, “Boy really is a gorram genius,” ‘Course, that was if the engine had been the problem… Heat washed out from behind him. The air was foul with the smell of burning plastic and insulation. New Denver loomed ahead as Mal cut the starboard engine back. He was pleasantly surprised that he was able to do so; the controls had been largely unresponsive since the malfunction began. It had been all that Mal could do to keep her in line. Mal was a horrible Wash, who probably wouldn’t have even blinked an eye with the advent of the troubles. But the captain was managed. He just hoped Simon was channeling Kaylee better. If anything, the doctor had the harder job. In the corner of his eye, Mal could just make out Chava, the planet’s moon. The shuttle lurched to port and then Mal saw the thrust readout for that engine drop to zero. Cooled by the chill of space, some of the safeties dropped off the thrusters, which had been reading overload minutes before. Without the overfed engine, the cooling system was also enabling the thrusters. They were yellow now. The doc had given him maneuverability at the cost of propulsion. They were still on course but the speed had to be corrected. They weren’t really ready for atmo just yet. But they were going down regardless. The thrusters responded, but sluggishly. Some freedom of movement at least, “Doc?” Mal asked as he struggled with the controls. He heard Simon stagger from behind him, “Captain.” Mal turned his head to see that Simon was drenched from head to toe with sweat. His dark hair had come loose from its professional neatness, dropping into his eyes. “We’re not dead.” The doctor observed dryly. “I’m working on keeping that a reality…” the captain gritted. The shuttle hit the atmosphere of New Denver. The angle wasn’t where it needed to be, the speed was way too fast. Unsecured, Simon was tossed to the ceiling. His head cracked. Then was cruelly slammed back down into the deck. The cargo in the rear shifted and crashed. The doctor’s medical kit slid across the deck, where it had fallen out of Simon’s chair. Mal glanced at it while it bounced on the trembling deck at beginning of the atmospheric entry. It lodged in the crook of Simon’s limp arm before another jolt sent it tumbling back to rear of the shuttle. “Shit.” Mal said as he caught the blank look of unconsciousness passing over Simon’s face, “You didn’t want to see this part, anyway.”

There wasn’t much choice for Mal other than to accept an offer to the ranch. He definitely needed the time to regroup, but there were several other considerations. Trissa told him his contact was also there with the goods Simon would have to examine. Mal had the feeling these were good folks, a stroke of good luck if he ever had one. The fact the job had been so straight up was finally working in their favor. The ranch wasn’t so far. From his and Simon’s perspective, about three more hills away. Shawn and Trissa took the pair on their unhappy horses for a brief time so they could get to work on the situation quickly. Almost as soon as they entered the ranch, Mal found himself confronted with a nervous little man that he could only deduce was his buyer. The captain almost regretted not meeting the man before when the job was first laid out. But his initial contact had been on Chava, who had given Mal strictly need-to-know information at the time. There were a lot of assurances on Mal’s part, who despite wearing another man’s clothes and not having a dime or bullet on him, he thought that he came off extremely convincing. And not a gun at my side... He had no idea how they were going to pull it off, but between him and the doc, Mal felt that they could easily trump these Dentons. The incident in the shuttle furthered Mal’s belief in the man. Simon could have easily lost it, but he didn’t. The captain had asked for something nigh impossible regarding their very lives, and Simon delivered regardless. Not that he liked the man any more. But there had to be something between hating and simple dislike, right? When they had arrived at the ranch, the doctor found himself the compound’s medical supplies. Luckily for them, the ranch had quite a bit of healing gel for the pair’s developing sunburns. The few hours exposure to the elements were just about reversed, although their skin was going to be numb for a few more. Trissa’s father had done well for himself. From what Mal could see from the back of Trissa’s horse, it was a prosperous piece of land. There were even few modern amenities: a building that sported a communication antenna, a wind tower that provided power, even a well stocked hospice that Simon wasted no time tossing. The ranch was extremely well laid out, if the captain had a little time, he would have liked to tour it. But he had a doctor to mind, a ship to retake, and a cargo to deliver. Trissa’s father was a bull of a man, but past the gruff exterior was the character that obviously his daughter took after. The mother didn’t care much for Simon going through her hospice the way he did, but she understood completely once someone took the time to explain the situation to her. That someone ended up being Malcolm, and if he didn’t get a pinch on the tail and a sly wink for the trouble. The name of the family and the ranch ended up being the Browns. They never asked Simon’s last name, either. And so far, the name seemed to be unique. There was a bit of food and some lodgings put aside for them. These were honest people, and they weren’t ones to shuffle around the blame. He had the feeling if Duvall had had the collateral, Mal would be getting a new shuttle. Not that he would have taken it, but nonetheless… Trusting folk. Good men and women. Definitely made it easier. “I didn’t expect to see you out here,” Mal told Simon, who was slumped in a swinging bench, exhaustion plainly carved into his young features, “How’s that tan coming?” The night was falling, the air cooling as the sun hid behind the mountains. Very idyllic, Simon thought to himself, “Thankfully doing well enough without letting me know about it,” Simon told him, “Yours?” “Fine enough,” He found the doctor on the porch outside the main house. “Doc?” Mal asked him, “What were you thinking so hard about?” “Oh, nothing,” Simon told him from his perch, “Almost nothing, I mean. How’s your buyer?” “Apologetic,” the captain said, “Almost annoying how many ‘I’m sorry’s the man can put in a sentence.” “He is that. I had the chance to speak to him about our cargo, but I couldn’t get very much out of him,” Simon said, “Other than apologies, his mind was definitely elsewhere. A nervous elsewhere, mind you. Did he find out who leaked the information?” “No,” the captain placed his boot on the porch railing and leaned forward, “Did you see the medical cargo?” Everything is as it should be,” Simon told him, “It is odd seeing that type of material in a barn, but Trissa says that it is secure…” he looked up, “I don’t suppose that you brought up the damaged nature of his pesticides?” “Why worry the man?” Mal asked. “He took no precautions for that, captain. He has no antitoxin, or even…” “Doc,” Mal interrupted tersely, “One thing at a time. If we get the shuttle back, we’ll deal with it then,” he rubbed his head tensely for a pause, “I’m sure you’ll come up with something…” “I haven’t yet,” Simon told him, “Headache?” “Yeah. It’ll pass,” Mal then smiled infuriatingly, “I ain’t about to worry about something that’s still out of my reach. But I’m sure you’ll have some concoction figured out by the time I get us there.” Simon was about to say something glib, but thought better of it. “Anyway,” Mal continued, “I think Duvall’s going to sleep on his own piece of somethin’ as nervous as that man is right now,” the captain retied a boot, “He’s seeing a lot of beady eyes about that no one else is…” he glanced at Simon, “Wait. The cargo checks out? How’d you manage that?” Mal asked, “Did you memorize the manifest that Zoe gave you? All that information had been on the shuttle…” “I did,” The doctor shrugged, “As a matter of fact. I wasn’t difficult.” “Oh,” Mal managed to say, “I guess. Some of those words are their own damn sentences…” The doctor coughed on his reply, “Excuse me,” he glanced at his hand before wiping it hesitantly on his jeans. “Must be this wholesome goodness flushing out that civilized stain in ya,” Mal told him, “Hell, if I didn’t know better, with them clothes and that tan, you almost look like you could fit in ‘round here.” There was a tired grin on Simon’s face, “I don’t know,” he picked at the cotton work shirt, “I’m used to sticking out; I might have to do something about that.” “And not a mouthful of fancy jargon,” Mal tapped his shoulder conspiratorially, “I’m sorry, sir, have you seen an associate of mine? Goes by the name Simon Tam…” Simon genuinely smiled. He couldn’t help himself. There was good will here. And for a minute, the doctor forgot about their shared troubles. The good will was such a rare item with the captain, as well it should be. Was this the way that the captain had about him before the war? “Things aren’t so bad, doc,” Mal said putting a hand on Simon’s shoulder, “We’ve fallin’ in with good folk. Got clothes on our backs, not ours, but they fit well enough. When Serenity comes into range, we can wave her from down here,” he shook his head, “Won’t be much living with Zoe for a couple of weeks, but that’s between me and her. It’ll be worth it to see Serenity and our crew drop down and show these Dentons what the Black has for ass kickin’.” Simon said nothing. He only looked up the captain appreciatively. The burdening responsibilities were gone, the doctor realized. While the task in front of them was daunting, the captain didn’t see it as impossible. He had a faith in Simon that the doctor could fill in the gaps in his now forming plan, whatever it was. Simon didn’t expect that Mal would tell him for spite’s sake. It was the captain’s misplaced definition of fun that Zoe had been trying to allude to before they left the ship. It was just the two of them, and while that was some of the problem that they faced; a lack of resources, it was peculiarly liberating to be without them. For Simon, it was his sister. River was someone that he loved so much, but filled his life so completely and utterly. He trusted that she was safe. And it felt good that he could recognize such a feat. It was the same for the captain, his ship, and his crew. They consumed him in the same way, but he wouldn’t have it in any other fashion. They were safe. His crew was safe. “Hell, if I have to write the shuttle off, I write it off,” the captain continued to say, “Wash and Kaylee could probably build me one from scratch.” But the captain didn’t know everything, did he? There was a small complication that the doctor hadn’t had the chance to reveal to him. Pretty soon that complication was going to be evident. If it wasn’t already. Real soon. The thought blackened Simon’s mood. His smile faltered.

The shuttle was down. Outside the pilot’s aperture, Simon blinked his eyes against the bright light of an early afternoon. The captain was unconscious in the pilot’s seat; his body slumped down, his head in a pool of congealing blood. Simon wasn’t sure what the captain had cracked his head on, but the evidence that he had done so was undebatible. Staggering over to him, Simon felt for a pulse. Strong. The doctor smiled to himself. Why did he even doubt? The captain’s stubborn ways invariably affected his body. The captain didn’t respond to his touch, so it did worry Simon to an extent. The computer still chirped. Simon moved Mal’s limp hand to see what the problem was. What greeted him surprised the doctor. It displayed their current location. The coordinates for the drop were not that far away. Considering the system failure before, it was either a stroke of luck or fine piloting that put them so close. Odd. It didn’t seem like the captain had been at ease at all wrestling with the controls of the shuttle from what Simon could remember. That had been all of a split second before the shuttle entered the atmosphere and Simon violently lost consciousness. Was it luck? Invariably, in the captain’s exploits, luck played a factor. But it was a fickle type of luck, Simon had come to notice. What it gave, it usually took back. What was it going to take back this time? Simon began to walk the shuttle. His little red box was missing. He opened the side door of the shuttle. The freshness of the air outside was startling. A haze that the doctor had barely noticed began to evaporate. He continued to search the front of the shuttle for the kit. After a few minutes, Simon gave up. Annoyed, he pulled the shuttle’s own first aid kit out and tended to the captain. There were rudimentary bandages aplenty and a foul smelling antiseptic. There were even some adhesive stitches for the gouge in the captain’s forehead. His own knot wasn’t too bad, but the doctor found that the air inside the shuttle made his eyes and skin itch. The captain didn’t revive, even after Simon brought out the inky black antiseptic. His pulse was still strong, and without his own kit, Simon had done everything that he could. He tilted the captain’s head back. Simon coughed. Oddly, there was a tinge of blood on the back of his hand. His lip was split. The doctor inspected the shuttle further. He found the cargo butted up against the side that the shuttle’s slight list favored. Starboard. The auxiliary fuel container was as fine as he could tell, he certainly didn’t smell anything. Other than burned insulation and melted plastic. He was almost ready to concede defeat when he caught an awkward spacing between one of the cargo containers and the deck that it sat on. As heavy as they were, the doctor lifted one of the corners with his shoulder; tentatively feeling around underneath it for what he assumed was his absent kit. Sure enough, he felt a familiar form. “Ah ha!” He brought it out slowly, feeling a curious moistness about it. His medical kit was largely crushed. He brought down the cargo slowly as he could, shaking his head at his ill-fated possession. There was an imperceptible sloshing from the cargo container. Simon Tam went numb. Inspecting the crate, he found that a corner of had been bent in when it had collided with some of the main structure of the shuttle. Each crate held forty -two sealed drums of the pesticide Farmer’s Touch. The drums were small, diminutive barrels that could fit in the palm of your hand and about three times as tall. They reminded Simon of stainless steel lunch thermoses that were featured in Alliance propaganda posters during the war. These canisters were the rarer part of the formula that combined for the pesticide, which clued to a certain lethality about the product. Forty-one canisters in one of the crates were intact. The forty-second had burst inside the crate, though also leaking through some small crack in the crate along the bottom of the dent. Exposure. The whole shuttle was contaminated. To say nothing of Simon and Mal. Simon Tam had anticipated this when Zoe had first told him about the product. He had made preparations for such a situation. He had the captain take a preventive care shot along with himself. But like the pesticide in its final form, the preventive shots were supposed to be combined with another element for full effect. Upon exposure, the second shot would have to be taken within hours. The two elements would combine chemically in the body and neutralize the poison assisted by the host’s immune system. If the second shot wasn’t taken, the subject would experience a violent reaction to the toxin and the first injection. The first shot would shield most of the body from the toxin, but as a doctor, Simon knew that it only took a few wayward percentages of a healthy body to kill it. Upon the realization, Simon couldn’t help but stand there stunned with his medical kit leaking in his hand. One of the clasps had been bent terribly out of position, but Simon was still able to work the other. One of the two vials had shattered. There was only one shot left to administer. A choice was set before him. Another man would have shunned the choice, better that he shouldn’t have been given it at all. Yet another would have put his own life ahead of everything else. Simon identified with the former, more than not. But he knew that he could make the choice better than both, without regret. One man could be cured immediately of the exposure. The other ran the significant chance of dying a painful death. It all came down to responsibility. Who had the most to lose by dying, did that person have more lives depending on theirs than the other? It also came down to knowledge. If the other could be saved, would the one be able to have the knowledge necessary to save him? Were they so different?

COMMENTS

Tuesday, January 11, 2005 12:08 AM

CASTIRONJACK


This was such a hard chapter to do. I actually started on it before Dance. Wrote it. Rewrote it. Spliced it. Rewrote it again.

Finally, I just sent it off to have it Beta read to have a new perspective.

It won't be a favorite, but it'll get you from A to B.

Keep flyin'

Tuesday, January 11, 2005 9:18 AM

ARTSHIPS


Youy're wrong. It is a favorite.

Wonderful dialogue between Mal and Simon. Excellent plot. What a cliff-hanger!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005 10:44 AM

AMDOBELL


Wow, terrific! I really love how you have the story unfolding and the understanding/ease developing between Mal and Simon is great. I just hope Simon doesn't get too sick and that the two of them can thwart those dastardly thieves in the Denton Gang. Can't wait for the next part, this story is fabulous so don't you go apologising for anything. I'm loving it. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Tuesday, January 11, 2005 3:02 PM

CASTIRONJACK


Careful, Ali D. The captain's got a few symptoms of his own. Thanks for all the feedback.

Keep flyin'

Tuesday, January 11, 2005 3:25 PM

JEBBYPAL


Great job. I really agree with Amdobell. Not every chapter can have everything, but this has almost all of it and has us ready for what is to come. Can't ask for more than that.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005 3:34 PM

POTEMKINVILLAGER


Very intriguing relationship developing with Mal & Simon. Looks as if the doc is going to earn his respect, with foibles intact, which feels as it should be.

I empathise with your humbleness, but you needn't let it affect you, this is worthy storytelling.

Carry on!

Thursday, January 13, 2005 9:17 AM

GUILDSISTER


Though I'd read the earlier draft, this revision kept pulling me right on through! Simon's rationalizing about which one of them to give the antidote to leaves me not at all certain who he actually did give it to--great cliffhanging.

Friday, January 21, 2005 7:25 AM

OLDFAN45


I went back and read from first to last in this series, and in almost 20,000 words, there really isn't a clanking sentence or dangling idea. Modesty is becoming, and all too rare when real, but this is high quality stuff...up there with Ali D's Christmas series! (From me this is very very high praise.)


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