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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - SUSPENSE
A passing ship hears Serenity's distress call, but not a ship anybody wants. Simon asks Book for an impossible personal favor and then comes face to face with the Green Nile Zhi Zhu!
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1657 RATING: 8 SERIES: FIREFLY
ALONG CAME A ZHI ZHU -Chapter FIVE
By BlueHandTwoByTwo (LarryL)
The face that peered through a sea of flickering pixels on Serenity’s vid-screen belonged to that of a young man: tightly-cropped blonde hair; steely blue eyes; smooth, clean-shaven face; all squarely framed beneath an Officer’s regulation gray hat with black brim. Barely out of high-school, if one were to guess. Not much more than a kid. But then again, most soldiers aren’t.
“This is Alliance Cruiser “Dortmunder” hailing transport ship “Serenity”, class code 03-K64. Firefly. Is anybody there?” A short pause. “Serenity, we have received your distress signal and can make your coordinates within four hours. Are you still in need of assistance?” By the sound of his voice, the Officer’s interest was quickly waning. He squinted, visually scanning the ship’s bridge as best he could through the static of the transmission signal, saw nothing and frowned. “Is anyone there?”
Book and Simon were pressed up against the wall on either side of the monitor, hiding from the two-way camera. Their breathing was fast and shallow. Both of their foreheads glistened with perspiration but neither dared to reach up and wipe it away for fear of betraying his position. Movement had to be kept to a bare minimum if they were to avoid detection.
“Nobody’s here. We’re all dead,” Simon whispered, trying to send a mental message to the young man on the monitor. “You’re too late. Go away now.”
“Shhh…” Book cautioned with a finger across his lips. Not that keeping quiet was any real guarantee of their safety. All the Dortmunder had to do was scan Serenity for heat signatures and all nine of their bodies would show up on its screens as clearly as if everyone had stupidly decided to don flashing neon jumpsuits.
Simon closed his eyes and waited. Time slowed to a crawl. That bastard, he scowled. All of them, Alliance bastards! Damn them for what they did to River. She was just a child! They tricked Mother and Father into thinking that they were a prestigious school for the gifted; that they were looking out for River’s best interests by accepting her into their program. Mother and Father hand-delivered their precious little lamb straight into the rutting lion’s mouth! Those bastards tortured her, picked and prodded, cut and sliced, studied her, re-programmed her, and only she and God knew what else! But he’d stopped them, all right. Stole their star lab-rat right out from under their stinking noses. Now he and his sister were fugitives; wanted from one end of the galaxy to the other. They would kill him, of course. He knew that. The Tams did not raise idiots. They would kill him and take River back to the Academy, back to the men with blue hands and their labs. They would strap her back down to the table and resume right where they left off.
“Knock-Knock!” River laughed, running onto the bridge and right into the camera’s view!
“River! No!” Simon said a little too loud and tried to wave her back.
She stopped suddenly as she saw the man on the screen, saw his expression change as he spotted her, saw his gray and black hat. “Alliance,” she uttered and took a step back in horror. Cold fear seized her heart in its icy fingers and squeezed. Instantly, the smile on her face dried up, wilting like a delicate flower beneath the intense heat of a summer sun.
“Hello! I can see you! Are you okay? This is First Officer Meyer calling from Alliance cruiser ‘Dortmunder’. We picked up your distress signal. Are you still in need of assistance?”
Book and Simon -panicked- remained where they stood. They didn’t know what to do, didn’t know what to say. River eyed them without turning her head, then walked across the bridge and sat down in the chair opposite the camera and monitor. In a calm and detached voice, she said, “Sorry, Officer Meyer. The children must have been playing up here on the bridge again. I told them not to touch any buttons but when do six year olds ever listen to their parents?” She smiled as genuinely as she could while -inside- she was screaming at the memories of what they had done to her.
Officer Meyer was about to laugh and shrug it off when something about the girl’s face triggered suspicion. He leaned in towards the camera and squinted, trying to get a better look at the girl with whom he was talking. “You look familiar to me. Do I know you?”
“Nobody knows me,” River said and immediately terminated the connection. She turned to Simon and Book and said gravely, “We’re going to have company.”
Book shook his head. “How long did he say it would take them to get here?”
“Three or four hours,” Simon answered. “Book, there’s something I need to ask of you.”
“What is it?”
Simon turned his head to see River listening and frowned. This was something she couldn’t hear. He took the Shepherd by the elbow and walked around the corner out of her earshot. When he spoke, it was barely a whisper. “I don’t expect to be in command of my senses much longer,” he said and glanced down at the needle prick in his finger. It had stopped bleeding but the damage was done. The Thurbibulens were already in his bloodstream, attacking his red blood cells. “And I certainly won’t be conscious when their ship arrives. You need to…” He trailed off, unsure of how to word his request. “Book, you can’t let them take her. You know what will happen, don’t you? What they’ll do to her if they take her into custody? I promised her she’d never go back to that awful place again and I mean to keep that promise.” He reached around behind his back, pulled a gun from out of his waistband, paused, then held it out to Book. “Do you understand what I’m asking you to do?”
Book didn’t immediately take the gun from Simon’s outstretched hand. “You want me to take her life.”
“Only if there’s no other way.”
“Murder goes against every principle of my faith.”
“You’d rather see her die at the hands of those butchers?”
“Simon, taking a life for whatever reason -even if in the guise of compassion- is completely beyond any mortal jurisdiction.”
The doctor sighed. Theology was not his strongpoint and he didn’t have time for moral or ethical debates based on religious dogma. “You won’t be taking a life, you’ll be saving one. You’ve seen what they did to her in those labs, all the invasive surgery on her brain. How many more times are they going to open her up and cut on her before they turn her into the Frankenstein monster they want her to be?”
Book was still reluctant to handle the weapon. “What you’re asking me to do-- ”
Simon waved his hand, dismissing the conversation. Bitterness in his voice now: “Forget it. I’m sorry. I don’t want you to do anything that’s going to jeopardize your immortal soul. I’ll do it myself.” He checked the gun’s chamber -full- and snapped it back into place. “I don’t have much time left so if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got something very unpleasant I have to take care of right now.”
Book reached out and took the gun from Simon. “Okay. You’ve convinced me.”
An expression of great relief washed over Simon’s face. He didn’t want to kill his sister, but he had been prepared. “Are you sure? I mean it, Book. You can’t let them take her.”
“They won’t. I’ll make sure of it. In the meantime, Doctor, you should get back to the med-bay and see to the others. Keep working on that cure.”
Simon nodded even though the look on his face was one of hopelessness. He didn’t have enough time. Already his body temperature had risen. A thin sheen of sweat covered the top of his skin, dampening his under clothes. “Good idea,” he said and turned to leave the bridge. He noticed that Book hadn’t moved to follow him. He turned and asked, “What are you going to do?”
Book reached into his breast pocket, pulled out a well-worn, leather bound book, and said, “I’m going to pray.”
*** *** ***
Simon was only half-paying attention to his surroundings as he made his way back to the Med-Lab. Too many thoughts were swimming around in his head, thoughts about River and what might happen to her if Book couldn’t prevent the Alliance from taking her; thoughts about the cure he was working on at the moment and what other drug combinations might be needed to do the trick, thoughts about his own dying and the things he’d be leaving behind. Thoughts about Kaylee. Why oh why had he been so afraid to say something to her? To tell her how much he cared for her? That he thought about her every day and longed for the moments when they could be together? He’d been such a fool and now it was too late. He’d lost his chance. Dropped the ball. Missed his--
A dark and fuzzy shadow suddenly jumped out from between two coolant pipes to his left and he stopped, shaken out of his thoughts by what hit the floor a few steps ahead of him. It was the Green Nile Zhi Zhu! It was the size of a small housecat, its eight, spindly legs struggling to steady its fuzzy, brown body on the uneven metal floor grating. It moved as though it were drunk and even appeared to stumble a bit. Simon watched, transfixed, as the spider shot a strand of clear, silk webbing onto the pipe next to it in an attempt to orient itself.
What the hell is wrong with it? Simon wondered. Is it dying? Has it been cut off from its natural food supply here on the ship and is it slowly starving to death? He wondered what the life span was for the spider.
The Zhi Zhu wobbled on its feet again then dropped to the floor and lay still. Simon watched as the thing appeared to breathe its last breath. Its fuzzy body quivered with one, final exhale and then it stopped. Its legs curled up underneath it in a dying muscle contraction and its head dropped to the grating with a small thud.
“I’ll be damned,” Simon uttered and slowly approached the dead arachnid curled up on the floor in front of him. He kicked at it with his shoe and stepped back, waiting to see if that would elicit a response. It didn’t. The thing was dead. He wondered if he could somehow use the spider’s body to help him come up with an antibody for the cure. He was already infected so there was no sense in worrying about gloves. He reached for its thin, brown leg and was about to pick it up when -from behind him- a familiar voice:
“SIMON! GET BACK!”
He was about to spin around and address the person when the Green Nile Zhi Zhu suddenly moved in his hand! It wasn’t dead after all! He turned to see the spider jerk its head up, open its mouth, and emit an angry, cat-like hiss! He leapt back in surprise, fell to the floor, and wailed in pain! The spider moved quick! It was up on its legs in no time, no long wobbly or unsure of its footing. It moved as though there had been nothing wrong with it all along, and indeed there hadn’t!
It was atop Simon’s boot now and quickly advancing up his leg! Simon put his hands up to cover his face!
A double-pronged, charge prod suddenly shot out from up behind him and zapped the Zhi Zhu right off his thigh with enough electrical current to send the thing flying backwards into the pipes! A hand grabbed his arm and pulled him to his feet. He turned and was face to face with Zoe!
“Didn’t Momma ever tell you not to play with spiders?” she asked with a hint of a grin. “They cheat.”
“Zoe! You’re okay!”
“A little bruised, but nothing I can’t handle,” she nodded and rubbed the area on her stomach where Mal had juiced her.
River appeared behind her, smiling excitedly. “She woke up! I let her out.”
“Good thing you did, too,” Simon nodded. “I was about to be its dinner. I thought the gorram thing was dead!”
The spider was no where to be seen. It had scampered off between the pipes, retreated to nurse its wound.
Zoe patted his back. “Green Niles like to do that, I’ve heard: play dead to lure their prey a little bit closer. Then they spring on them. Quite the little tacticians. How is everything? I’ve been out of it for a while.”
“Not any better, to be honest. I’m infected.”
“So’s the captain.”
“Inara’s on a breathing machine. Kaylee and Jayne are going to need one next. We still don’t have a cure and the spider is still loose on the ship.”
“Don’t you have any good news for me?”
“Oh! I almost forgot. The Alliance is on their way to pick us up.”
“I meant the ‘other’ good news,” Zoe said in a deadpan voice.
Simon shrugged apologetically. “Guess there isn’t any.”
“He’s back on the bridge. Praying.”
She stepped past him, River following behind her. “We can still transmit, right?”
“As far as I know. Why?”
“I’ve got an idea,” she said, assuming full command. She had been a soldier once -still was- a Browncoat. Time to start acting like one. Time to make things right, time to solve problems, not run from them. She’d been in the Battle of Serenity Valley; had faced an entire legion of Alliance soldiers, knew what it was like to be outnumbered, outgunned, overwhelmed. This was a rutting spider, for God’s sake. And its reign over Serenity was past due for an ending.
*** *** ***
“Zoe! How did you---?” Book asked, genuinely surprised to see her when she stepped onto the bridge.
“River let me out. I’d been banging on that door for almost an hour before she finally heard me.”
“I’m sorry about locking you in. I had to---”
“Don’t worry about it. You did the right thing.”
“Where’s the Captain?” Book asked, looking behind her, hoping to see Mal.
“River and I took him to the med-bay. He’s unconscious but he’s still breathing.” She plopped down into the pilot’s seat (her husband’s seat; oh, god, how she worried about him) and began punching buttons on the console.
“What are you doing?” Book asked, moving to stand behind her so he could watch.
“Making a phone call.”
“There’s an awful lot of shipping crates in our cargo hold,” she said, punching the last button and sitting back in the seat while the message went out. “But only one name on all of them.”
Book thought for a moment. “The land barron?”
A face appeared on the monitor, half-asleep. It was late on the planet he was on. “Yes? What is it?”
Zoe’s voice was cold and direct. “Is this Rutherford A. Warner?”
The man on the monitor rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and frowned at being woken up like this. Perturbed: “Yes, who is this?”
“This is the person who has all of your possessions in my ship’s cargo hold and if you ever want to see them again, Mister, you’re going to wake up, adopt a more friendly tone of voice, and answer a few questions for me. And if -for one minute- I think you’re lying to me, or you’re not being forthright about what I want to know, I’m going to start dumping them crate by crate into deep space, do I make myself clear?”
Rutherford slipped on a pair of glasses and brushed some hair out of his eyes. He was fully awake now. “Quite. Now what can I do for you?”
Zoe sat back in her seat and crossed her arms. “Let’s talk about spiders.”
(to be continued)
*how do you like it so far? Please leave a comment and tell me. :-)
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