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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
An open-ended adventure.
Chapter Ten: In which a fugitive on board an Alliance cruiser keeps attracting more attention than she should, and tries to deal with it.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1104 RATING: 0 SERIES: FIREFLY
The situation was dire. She was deep in enemy territory with less than the required number of predetermined exit strategies. Variables were hopping up and down like frogs all around. She was attracting attention where her mission had been to lay low. She had not in any conceivable way been properly prepared to handles situations such as these. And the food was even worse than the protein cubes back at home.
“I’m really sorry about that,” Lt. Greg Gaydos said embarrassedly. “They just, eh, they like to tease me because I’m so young to be an officer. They don’t mean to be so offensive—we’re just all soldiers here, and we’re not very used to having civilians around. Oh, I mean—”
“That’s all right, Greg,” she said, producing a dazzling smile. “They’re no worse than the boys at home used to be, right?”
“Still…” Lt. Greg Gaydos sat back down at their table in the corner of the mess hall.
River filed away the gleam in Lt. Greg Gaydos’s eyes in response to her smile. She would not repeat that smile. That hormonal reaction was exactly how she had ended up sitting here on a dinner date. Well, that and agreeing to it, but River was still a little confused about how that had happened.
Her ears warned her that nothing was being said. Even the other Alliance junior officers who before had been heckling Lt. Greg Gaydos and his ‘girlfriend’—which had been her, but she had of course not been that in any way and would never be that at all—were now eating in silence.
River recalled a lesson. She did not like recalling those, because lessons were given at school and her school had been a place of needles and of making her forget the good things and breaking her and fixing her up into something else. But the lesson applied, could give her an advantage, so she used it. The recognition and utilization of the resource that was each object and each piece of data. That was another lesson. But this lesson was: In conversation, turn the topic on your opponent before they can turn it on you, but never demand data in such a manor as to give your opponent an opening to demand reciprocation.
“So…” River said as Kim Ostrander, which was getting harder to remember, “how *is* it then, that you’re so young and already an officer?”
Lt. Greg Gaydos looked away, embarrassed. “Oh. I, eh, I test well. That’s all. Not sure if I’m really ready for this, to be honest, Kim.”
“Oh, Greg! Don’t put yourself down like that. From what *I*’ve seen, your wonderful!” She watched him through the veil that this time covered the top of her face down to the tip of her nose. Inara had said that it would disguise her and and her eat without taking it off. But it tickled her nose like it wanted to make her sneeze.
Lt. Greg Gaydos opened his mouth to reply, showing his white teeth all in a neat row like tiny little soldiers, but before his lungs could squeeze the air through his larynx, something in the breast pocket of his uniform went *Bwee-Beep Bwee-Beep Bwee-Beep*.
Giving River—no, not River, Kim, because he didn’t know River and would arrest her if he did—an apologetic look, Lt. Greg Gaydos took out his comm and read its message.
“We’re approaching New Canaan—made *ta ma duh* good time. Oh! Pardon the language, Kim. Like I said, soldiers. We’re not the most refined bunch.”
“Oh you! I *told* you Greg, it’s *fine*. All the stars in a row, left foot on the odd ones, right foot on the evens…”
“What you said? I could barely hear you—and I don’t think I caught that right.”
River blinked in surprise. How had River gotten out there? Kim hadn’t even noticed, and she was supposed to have been looking out for her. River didn’t think she liked Kim anymore—being her made her feel very, very uncomfortable. Sometimes it made her head hurt like eating too much ice cream too fast.
“It’s nothing,” she said.
“OK,” Greg said, drawing out the ‘O’ in obvious doubt. “Anyway, I’m supposed to warn Ms. Serra that we’ll be ready for your shuttle to leave in as little as twenty minutes.” He chuckled uncomfortably. “I don’t think the colonel ever really liked being told he had to give you a lift. He wouldn’t mind you leaving as quickly as possible. I’m… less in a rush…”
Ooh! River couldn’t wait to get back on the shuttle and fly down to the planet and see the sky. There was no sky in a spaceship, even one as big as an Alliance cruiser—only air. The sky wouldn’t make her remember and use the lessons all the time—they had always been in places like this. Alliance, they called it. River had never allied with them. She supposed she was allied with Inara at that point in time. Or was she allied with Greg—with Lt. Greg Gaydos—because she was having dinner with him, and through him, was she then allied with the Alliance? Was allying agreeing to have dinner together?
But it was the lessons that had told her to come, and River wasn’t the lessons. It must have been the lessons, because River still didn’t understand why she would have agreed to it herself when there was no unsuspicious way to get out of it again. There had been a reception as the I.A.V. Qinhai had rendezvoused with the I.A.V. Red Star to take aboard a traveling general and his entourage, that was when it had happened. River and Inara had had to make an appearance or seem rude, and Lt. Gaydos had cornered River and then Kim wouldn’t stop talking and smiling. Maybe that was it, maybe it was *Kim* who had said, “I’d love to! Greg, you’re so sweet!”
“What? Kim, are you all right? You’re… eh, you’re not making much sense…”
River put away the reception in her mind and saw the mess hall table in front of her. The fork in her hand had four points, which weren’t very sharp at all, making them less damaging but more painful as a weapon. Greg was watching her with concern.
Oh, I’m sorry! I’m just babbling, don’t mind me! thought River. “A thread in the knot, getting caught up further with every twist…” said Kim. No no no—that wasn’t right.
Another lesson. No, a feature, a feature installed in her brain. Specific mental triggers, releasing adrenaline into her sytem, pumping through her heart, focusing her mind. She had been using it too much, and it was making her very, very tired, but she couldn’t stop now, while she still had to be Kim, and not River who was too broken and not enough like a girl anymore.
Revitalized for the moment, River reviewed, and assessed, and calculated, and acted. “Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to… I meant…” The promise of an explanation was perfectly sensible and believable and all she had to do to never have to actually give it was take advantage of how distracting her biggest smiles were to Lt. Greg Gaydos.
Distract and move to target in a direct line. “I wish we weren’t there yet, too. But I guess I’d better get back to the shuttle. Milady Serra has been very impatient to get to the Chapterhouse. I do *not* want to make er wait.”
“I, eh…. I guess.”
They sat at their table for a moment longer in silence. Then Lt. Greg Gaydos got up decisively. “I’ll walk you to the docking port.”
As they walked down the corridors side by side, River glanced at the lieutenant, only to look away as he did the same. She knew then that he was going to ask her about her immediate future, where she was going, if he could contact her and how. That was not good. That was bad as hospitals.
But she could also see that he wouldn’t force the chance to ask—he felt *way* to embarrassed about the whole thing.
So in the elevator, pretending not to notice that he was about to say something, she said, “You never said, why did you join the military? Was it really just to get of off that boring world of ours?”
“What? Eh… No, no of course not. I believe in the Alliance. You know what it was like on Three Hills—the poverty and all the criminality that brings. The sheer barbarism of the outer planets. Even the Reaver raids we suffered years ago, right on the surface of our own planet. Yes, getting a chance to get away from that place was a dream. But I need more than that, I want to help the people who didn’t get to leave, who shouldn’t even have to want to. The Alliance can bring order and safety everywhere. Spread the wealth. I believe we’re the only ones who can, because if we leave it up to the individual, he will always get caught on taking care of himself first. You know. I have family on Three Hills. I want… to not have to worry every day.” He grinned. “Sorry… I, eh, I’m rambling.”
“I think it’s sweet.” Two more floors and the final walk to go. He was obviously passionate about the subject. Stimulate that. This was valuable character intelligence. “The captain of the ship we’ve been flying with, he’s not so fond of the Alliance. He talks about it way much, about being free and everything. Oh! He was in the war.”
“Yeah?” Lt. Gaydos sounded contemptuous. “You make sure you look out for him, then. He’s entitled to his opinions. Maybe he’s a great guy. But in my experience, Browncoats who still talk about fighting for their freedom, for most of them that freedom includes thieving and smuggling and everything that’ll give them an edge over other people.”
The door to the shuttle came into view, and for the moment Greg was too preoccupied with his politics to consider asking for her Cortex address. River made sure to agree with him in as many words as possible, relating some non-specific suspicions about Captain Reynolds’s activities.
Two point seven seconds later, the shuttle door opened, and Inara came out. It was clear that River’s ally had been watching the corridor through the window, awaiting River’s return. She had been as nervous about the diner as River had been—as Kim had been—but had advised against cancelling.
“There you are!” she said. “I’ve been waiting for you!”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Lt. Gaydos quickly took the blame, “my fault. Anyway, eh, we’re approaching New Canaan. No rush, but you’ll be clear to undock in”—he checked his watch—“eh, six minutes.”
“I know,” Inara said coldly. “I was just informed. Actually, I heard that you were supposed to have told me already.” The way she raised her eyebrow at Greg was very intimidating. River was impressed. “Kim, inside, now!”
River ducked her head and rushed into the shuttle, relieved. But she was still Kim, and she gave Greg a quick smile and wave before she vanished inside.
“My apologies, ma’am,” she heard Greg say. “I thought I’d come tell you in person, since I had to return your apprentice to you anyway.” She didn’t listen to the rest of what was being said, of how Inara got rid of the guy who’d taken her out to diner as quickly and efficiently as possible. She should have—Never turn away free intelligence; it may come at a price later—but her ears were already so exhausted that she was afraid they might fall off if she stretched them any further.
Inara closed the door, came back into the shuttle. “You’re all right? You’re all right. Of course. You wouldn’t be here if you’d been discovered. *Tzao gao*, I don’t mind telling you it’s been a long time since I’ve been this tense.” She moved towards the controls. “I’m flying us down as soon as possible. At the chapterhouse… you’ll be safe.”
“The Gates of Horn…” River murmured, finally shutting down Kim, “or the Gates of Ivory… I’m going to sleep now.” She fell to the bed, but she never felt the sheets. She was gone before she hit them.
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