BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - DRAMA

JACQUI

Adam's Rib Ch 8: Inroads.
Friday, September 2, 2005

A little history, a little strategy, a little fighting. A gun shot.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2873    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Disclaimer: Guess what? They're mine!!! Yup, honest. Wait... you don't believe me? Damn.

Comments: 1) This chapter was originally going to be called 'Reclamation', but then the exposition fairy came and got exposition dust over *everything*. The next chapter shall be chock full of action and fun and deserving of the title ‘Reclamation’, honest.

2) The twins and I want to thank Thatweirdgirl for giving them an identity.

3) Why is it that the majority of the male characters want to up the (not for a while, but soon R/K) slash content of this fic? It's just not right, I tell you.

Feedback: Always craved, always answered: wily_one24@yahoo.com.au

***

She was dragged out of bed before she could wake up fully, before she could take stock of her surroundings. The hands that held her and pushed her down the dark hallway were none too gentle. Before she knew it, Kaylee found herself alone in a room with nothing but a flat screen taking up a whole wall.

"Look," a voice sneered over an unseen speaker. "it's your friend."

Sure enough, Kaylee found herself looking at River breaking into a building. By the white walls, she guessed it was this very one. Her eyes could not leave the screen as she watched River stop and have an argument with herself, the terror plain on her face as she collapsed to the ground. Her heart seized with fear as she saw the figure on the screen pull herself up and begin to walk away. They were too calm in showing her this footage.

"Don't worry about River Tam." Kaylee looked at the walls, trying to find the source of the voice. "She got what she came for and she has left already."

She couldn't understand what the voice was talking about until she looked back at the screen, at the figure of River helping a man down a different corridor. The same man who had sat with her without really being there.

"That's not..."

Kaylee wanted to say that it was old footage, that if River had come anywhere near here then she would already be free, but she couldn't. A small recess in the back of her mind had already recognized the pants River was wearing as a pair donated to her by Inara.

"Looks like you're not her top priority." The voice waited for that to sink in. "But she's still ours. That boy was valuable to us."

River was helping him up the stairs, Kaylee couldn't take her eyes off the screen.

"She's taken almost everything we need, but she's left us with you. And we can work with you. River didn't tell you what we need, did she?"

Without thinking about it, her head was shaking of it's own volition. Her eyes were watching the figure of a security guard walking blindly into River's path.

"You are healthy, Miss Frye, and we thank you for taking care of yourself well. It will make it easier to take what we want from you, many times if we need it." At this, Kaylee took her eyes off the screen and looked around again. "What we could never take from River or any of the children here."

Movement out of the corner of her eye made her turn and she was just in time to see River deliver a high kick to the security guard and render him unconscious.

"You should know that River knows exactly what we want, what we will do, and yet she left you here."

There were no other guards that Kaylee could see, nothing that impeded River's progress back out of the building.

"Don't think the children will help you, either. Their loyalty to you is connected with their quickly fading loyalty to River. She has left them to our mercy a second time. And we have very little mercy to give."

Nothing to stop River leaving. Nothing to stop her coming back for another person either.

"They do not know why you're here. They never knew what River knew, what Jonah knew."

Kaylee froze at the name. She looked more closely at the screen, at the man that River held easily. River had told her he was dead.

"Last night will be nothing, Miss Frye, if you do not do all that we ask. We won't hurt you, your body is ours now and we need it, your current injuries notwithstanding, but we will hurt the children, every one of them."

Her blood ran cold.

"One by one."

The sound of Alexandria's screams still rang in her head.

"Until you beg to obey us."

She looked once more to the screen, to the sight of River easily slipping out of the building with Jonah.

"It's up to you."

***

He woke on a slender bed, tucked in against a wall. The whiteness of it could only mean one thing: a medical bay. The grittiness of it could only mean one thing: he was out. IV lines snaked into his arms, but he felt clearer, stronger. His memories of the night before were vague. They must have hydrated him, pumped him full of energy boosters. Jonah felt her crouched by his feet, a small hand dancing fingers up and down his ankle like a spider.

He recognized the man that hovered over the unconscious form in the middle of the room. He had never met him in person, but Jonah would know Simon Tam anywhere. The name held a sting in his head that he had forgotten. River's all powerful brother, perfection personified, the one who must be talked about a million times a day. He had finally done what River had known he could do, he'd gotten her out. Jonah could feel the fear and horror in him. He was terrified and sickened by what River had done, the doctor in him could not understand it.

Jonah spared no thought for the man on the bed.

"River."

His voice was warm for her. He looked across and watched as her eyes flew up to him, unfocused and scared. It brought a frown to his face and he tried to reach her thoughts.

"Six months." She whispered nervously. "Jonah's dead. Six months."

Something blocked him. She'd never resisted him before now, even at her worst he'd been able to break though and find a way to calm her. He got nothing but flashes, too fast to read them, too bright to take them in. It frightened him.

"River?" He asked gently, vaguely aware of Simon turning to look at them.

"There was blood on my knees." She rocked a little, back and forth. "Blood. Everywhere blood. On Kaylee, too. Blue hands in brains. Can't say no. Tell them. Can't say no. Had to. Six months."

"Calm down, River." He pushed himself up onto his elbow and reached out to her. "It's okay..."

"No!" She threw up a hand to ward him off and leapt from the bed, sending a tray of instruments clattering to the floor. "It's not... Can't say... Jonah's dead. Can't be here. Shouldn't be here."

He forced himself to a sitting position and she flinched from him, threw her body across the room so that she could be away from him. He couldn't stop staring at the sharpness of her movements, the irregular jerk of her head, the way she started to shake.

"River?" Simon approached her carefully. "I'm here, mei mei."

Her answer was a loud cry in no language that Jonah recognized.

Another energy burst into the room and he turned to see a man opening the door. Mal. The name hit him with the title. Captain. Jonah could do nothing but watch as Mal moved quickly to a drawer and pulled out a hypo.

"Can you hold her, doctor?"

"Because of me!" She backed away from both the men. "I did it! And the blood came. Bubbles through fingers! In the brain! And dead men fall like stones!"

"River? It's Simon." Jonah watched him reach out and wrap his arms around her, bringing her arms in close to her body as she thrashed against him. "It's okay, mei mei, it's okay."

Mal rushed in with the hypo. The effect was instant, on River and on Jonah.

"Simon?" Her voice, cracked and desperate, as she ran out of steam. "Simon, I did it. It was me. When they... but I... and... I wanted... but... he said..."

The wall that had pushed against him crumbled with her body. She flooded into him, the violent cascade of her brain slowing to a stupor that flickered once or twice with an image and was then quiet.

"Sh, mei mei." Simon's soft voice carried and Jonah watched him run his hands over her hair, her cheeks. "I'm here. I'm here."

She was too far gone and Jonah squashed his confusion to focus on Simon. What he saw there made his jaw ache as he clenched it. Months of it, the medicines, the episodes, the too brief moments of lucidity at first, tears, laughter, the everyday struggle to function.

Jonah watched Simon carry her out, easily hefting her into his arms as if he'd done it many times before. Which he had. He watched Simon and he felt Mal watching him.

"No." He answered the question before it was asked. "I haven't seen her like that before."

***

He walks into the room, still flush with his success, head still high with all the arrogance of the fifteen year old boy he is. It is a school of gifted people, everyone here is talented beyond belief and now he has been chosen, he has risen to the very top.

There are other children in the room and he notes with a little dismay that several of them are very young. The girl in the corner looks to be about eight or nine. They hover, uncertain, called to this special meeting because of their brilliance.

He sees a girl sitting by herself and he gravitates towards her. She's more his age and he wants to know why she looks so pensive. Her long brown hair lies impossibly still all the way down her back and her eyes are wistful.

I'm Jonah, he tells her.

River, is her reply. He takes it as permission to sit down next to her.

Can you believe this? Is his next question. I can't wait for the new program to start. I need a challenge.

She turns her face to him and he sees the hint of a smile.

I'm not sure. Her voice is soft and he suspects that it would be beautiful if she were laughing and happy. I have a lot of friends at this school, I'm going to miss them.

Miss them? He asks, surprised by her words. Where are you going? I thought we were all here to start an advanced schedule.

I can't seem to shake it, she shrugs, I have the strangest feeling that I'm never going to see them again.

He laughs gently. You're just nervous. Don't worry, I'll be your friend in here if you want.

She does smile at him then, her face gaining a light he knows he's going love. She turns to him and takes his hand in hers, shakes it officially with a charming little nod of her chin.

Well, then, Jonah. You'll have to tell me all about you. What's your favorite class? I'm loving physics right now, but I secretly prefer to dance. They said I could still dance. Can you imagine? It's like my wildest dreams come true: school that actually challenges my brain and dance classes as well.

***

Mal watched the man out of the corner of his eye as he began to pick up the tools spilled over the floor. What they'd given her this time was half the strength of the last dose. He hoped it wouldn't debilitate her like the last one, Simon had promised it wouldn’t, they needed her awake and alert.

"You're a hypocrite."

Jonah stood up, swaying lightly as he tried to adjust. He kept the light sheet wrapped around his waist and Mal could see that, despite the slightly wasted look of his body, this was a man that knew strength.

"What?" Mal stopped what he was doing and looked squarely at Jonah. They faced off. "You care to explain yourself?"

Jonah looked at the doctor on the bed. His mouth tightened into a line as his hand reached up and pulled the lines from his arm.

"You blame her for what she did." He shrugged. "Oh, I know, it's not the injuries themselves that bother you. You've seen a lot worse, done a lot worse. It's the fact that she did it up close."

Mal stepped to the left as Jonah stepped to the right, stepping closer to the cot in the middle of the room. They circled each other.

"You think that the distance of a gun makes it noble. You're ready to arm yourself and your crew right now and break into a facility, shooting everything that moves. Most likely you'll kill them if you do, without thought or care of their individual guilt, except the job that they chose. You've done it before, countless times."

Mal couldn't deny this.

"The gun itself is not a weapon, it's just an extension of the person holding it. It's the person that's dangerous. If you shoot someone, you might as well reach into their body and pull it apart with your fingers. There's no difference, no distance, nothing that changes the fact of the murder."

Jonah reached out and touched Dr. William's forehead.

"The only difference between you shooting the people that get in your way and River harming this man is that River knew he was guilty. She knows first hand the pain he has caused people, she saw it, she felt it. If anything, her act is more just than yours."

He made sure Mal was watching.

"And my act?" Jonah lifted his hand and bought it down with swift precision on the delicate bones of the doctor's throat. Mal winced as a loud crack sounded throughout the room. "Well, it just saves River having to become a killer, doesn't it?"

Jonah shivered as he felt an explosion in his head, the flash of a man's life. It passed quickly and all that was left behind was the trail of River's guilt. He could feel how it scratched at her, how the noise in her head had gotten too loud, how the doctor had not been able to control his memories and that had pushed her over the edge. The final violation.

"She feels bad enough. Don't you dare make it worse for her by bringing your own guilt into it." Jonah spoke slowly and evenly. "River can't help what they made her. And they made her into a weapon, a finely tuned one at that. This man? He got off lightly compared to what I know she can do, what she stopped herself from doing."

Mal had been slowly making his way to the door, he didn't take his eyes off the man standing there as he opened it and leaned out.

"Jayne?" He called. "When you and the Sheppard are done cleaning up that dorm room, I got a body needs disposing of."

"What?" Came the response as both men nodded a wary understanding to each other. "Gorram it, Mal..."

***

Kaylee was left alone.

She stared at the walls. Her brain was going in several different directions all at once, scanning her situation. All the white was giving her a headache. The doctor had been right, Wash was currently in a lot of danger, unknowing and vulnerable. She couldn't think about that. There was nothing she could do to help him right now.

Kaylee was left alone in a room with nothing.

She didn't even know where she was, but River did. Which meant that Mal did, which meant there would be lots of weapons and he, Zoe, Jayne and probably everybody else on the ship would come barreling in any minute now. Except that they hadn't yet and Kaylee had no idea whether or not River actually did know where she was, she had nothing but the say so of a vaguely threatening voice. Anything could happen before Serenity and her crew got to her.

Kaylee was left alone in a room with nothing save the small bed she sat on.

She had gleaned a small sense of security from the figure she now thought of as Jonah, from the children who had taken her side and come between her and the doctor. Jonah was gone and she knew he would not be back for her. The memory of the cries from the night before was enough for Kaylee to stop herself from expecting the children to continue to help her.

It wasn't even the threats which stuck in her head as much as the scene in that room the day before. They had shielded the girl, yes, but they had shown no emotion, even when they knew what would happen. She did not know how many times it had happened before, but she wasn't going to let it happen on account of her again.

Kaylee was left alone in a room with nothing save the small bed she sat on and painfully white walls.

If she was keeping score properly, that ruled out River, Jonah, Wash, anyone on board Serenity and the children from coming to her immediate aide. It also left several security guards, Dr. Williams, the many other masked doctors, two men with blue hands and a really annoying voice preparing to do things to her body she couldn't begin to imagine and didn't really want to.

Kaylee was left alone in a room with nothing save the small bed she sat on, painfully white walls and a small sink.

There was only one person she hadn't counted on throughout the whole ordeal. It struck her with a sudden clarity that tasted like copper in the grooves of her mouth. She felt their hands run over her skin and through her hair. She looked down at herself in the stark white hospital gown they'd given her. No places to hide, no place they wouldn't look.

But Kaylee had been left alone in a room with nothing save the small bed she sat on, painfully white walls, a small sink...

And a hairpin.

***

She let herself drift, floating and falling and wafting up on a breeze that wasn't real. Drifting up and gliding down, sliding across a landscape of her own making, full of trees and sunshine and the tinkling sound of water. There were footsteps in her garden.

River?

She opened her eyes to look at him. He sat across from her, watching, waiting for her. He was scared, nervous, he didn't flow into her brain like he usually did. River knew she'd scared him.

"You were dead, you know." A smile edged onto her lips, shy and embarrassed as she sat up and blinked her eyes free of the haze.

"That's what they told you." His eyes studied her and she couldn't meet them. "It's what they told everyone. I only woke up two days ago."

Her lip trembled and he moved to her side.

"I missed you." She looked up at the ceiling, eyes scanning for answers in the tiles or perhaps a reason to hold back the tears. "You were gone so long."

"River?" His question was gentle, but she could already feel the tendrils of his thoughts. "What did they do to you? After...?"

"Don't, Jonah." She shut her eyes and wished she could control it like he did, wished she could pick and choose how it worked all the time. "Please don't?"

His hands came up and rested themselves on the sides of her head as she leaned into them, let the weight of her head fall into him. She could feel his face near hers and knew he wanted to look into her eyes.

"It's alright, River." She knew he was speaking out loud for her, that he wouldn't press her if she really didn't want it, but she had never been able to say no to him. "I'll be here, I'll be with you."

"I don't want to." Her lip trembled harder now and she opened her eyes, a hot tear sliding out. "Don't tell them. Can't tell them. Have to keep it secret."

Their eyes met and she nodded.

He felt dizzy as he rushed into it, unable to control the speed of her own thoughts, loud voices and cries and he saw his own body lying broken and bleeding.

Then the questions, the fear, the pain. He saw her strapped to a table, wires taped to her skull, felt the agony of the laser as it burrowed into her, felt the electricity pulse through her systems and the drugs speed up her heart.

They gasped together as Jonah felt the emptiness of her flatline and the harshness of the pull back when they revived her. Over and over. The questions never ended and she never broke.

She hadn't told them.

For six months she had kept it from them and it had been his fault. Jonah felt her retreat further and further, felt her synapses snap and rupture with every surgery they performed. His jaw tightened as he felt it, knew she'd been awake for the worst of it. They tried everything they knew and they had known a lot.

"Tell us who. I did it. I said it." Jonah bit his lips as she sobbed the words out, same as before, and he tasted his own blood. "I didn't want. When they... but I... and... I wanted... but... you said..."

It hurt him, her struggle for the words. What he heard in her head was completely different.

I didn't want to tell them, I wouldn't have said anything at all, but you kept telling me to tell them it was you. They would have killed me, like they killed the others, I knew it and I wanted it to happen right then. But you told me to tell them and I did. I told them it was you and they killed you in front of us.

"Can't say no. Tell them. Can't say no. Had to. Six months." She was shaking as she fell into his arms and he found the same strokes her brother had, brushing her hair back as his chin rested on the top of her head. "Can't say... he's dead. Can't be here. Shouldn't be here."

All the things they did, for six months, everything I went through. It was all for nothing. You lived. All for nothing. I wasn't the only one who knew. It should never have happened. None of it. I wanted to let go, but I held on, because somebody had to know. I could have escaped it all. All for nothing.

Jonah left her brain. He didn't want to hear the crystal clarity inside when it never reached the surface, didn't want to feel the frustration of it, the absolute certainty that she was right and no one would know, because the words she said were never the words she wanted and the more she tried the worse it became.

He laid his hands gently on her shoulders and pushed her back. Her eyes searched his, scared and confused at the sudden loneliness inside her thoughts. Jonah stood up and set his jaw.

"We'll make them pay, you and I." He paused, waited for her to look up at him. "Now let's see about getting Kaylee back for you."

He held his hand out, palm down, an offering. He watched as five small fingers came up to meet his, shaking but sure. Their hands curled into each other and she let herself be pulled to a standing position.

***

They huddle in groups, the smallest ones together and the middle ones trying to act like they don't care as much, as if they're not as worried as the rest of them. They sit at tables in the middle of the room, stand near the wall, waiting for the missing among them. In just one week they've gone from individuals to a group.

It started, Jonah thinks, the moment all nineteen of them were herded onto the ship. That's when they knew, because you need special papers to transport a child across planetary borders, particularly a group of them. Especially if their families don't know. No one will know where they are, they won't know where to look.

He stands with his back against the wall.

Whatever they're doing, it's not good. River says as she sits on the floor next to his legs, knees up to her chest and she's hugging her calves. I shouldn't have come here. It sounds too good to be true, that's what Simon said. I should have listened. He's never wrong.

None of us should be here. He says. None of us knew.

She looks up at him and he can see the fear in her eyes.

Whatever they're doing to him, they're going to do to us. He feels a chill at her words and she keeps speaking even as her voice shakes. I think... I think I can take anything but the not knowing. I can't stand not knowing.

Jonah thinks maybe they're all better off not knowing, but he doesn't say it. She's already scared half out of her wits and he's never really had close female friends before, but he's convinced that part of the agreement is not pushing her the rest of the way.

We'll be okay. He insists instead, even though he's not sure he believes it anymore. There's been some sort of mistake and as soon as they realize it, they'll take us home.

Even as he says the words, he knows they're pointless. River's face says she thinks the same thing, but she's not going to say it.

The tests they've been giving us, all those questions. River looks forward, but her face is still angled up to his as she speaks. They gave us more. They're planning something for the both of us. I think we fit some sort of plan of theirs. Don't you?

He nods, knows she's right, wishes he knew how to make her feel better.

All I wanted was to dance. She sighs petulantly. I think they lied.

She's such a brat, it makes him grin. Jonah pushes away from the wall and turns to face her. She looks up at him with narrowed eyes of confusion. He holds out his hand palm down, an offering, and watches as she reaches out to take it.

You can still dance, he says as he pulls her up to her feet, you don't need their permission.

Hands still clasped together, he throws his other arm around her waist and drags her into a wide spin, before she can catch her breath he twirls her around. There's a spark in her eyes as she catches the beat and they move together in the silence. The younger ones stop their whispering and nervous chatter to watch them and their faces begin to smile, too.

He can see the laugh about to burst from her face when she stops, frozen in mid step and he watches her face fall quickly, there's a trickle of blood running from her left nostril. He watches the question rise to her lips and feels her hand slip away from his.

It's then that he sees the blue hand on her shoulder.

What have you done? He demands, wanting to yell the words, but they come out terrified and small as he looks at the man behind her. She's bleeding.

Don't worry about River Tam. Jonah spins to see another man standing behind him, another pair of blue hands. She'll be perfectly fine.

If she does what she's told, announces the first man who lets River go and doesn't even blink when she crumples to the floor. If you all do what you're told.

Jonah hears the whimpers that come from the youngest of them, he can see some of the other faces that are a mix of anger and terror. What he feels is a sudden, groundless knowledge that they're all in danger. He knows for a fact now that no one will be looking for them, no one that will succeed.

They've brought Charles back, the young boy completing their group of nineteen. He doesn't know what they've done to him, but Jonah can see the marks along the boy's hairline, can see the vacant way he's staring into the room and the way his right hand twitches.

They've brought Charles back, but they've bought him back wrong.

***

Simon gave the table one last wipe down. In no way, shape or form did he want to know what they did with the body. He has to concern himself with the living. A quiet knock sounded on the door and he gritted his teeth.

"I don't want to talk right now." He couldn't trust himself not to say something stupid. "Not to you."

"I understand that, son," came Book's reply, "and I respect it as I said I would, but now is not the time for personal grudges."

"Personal...?" Simon spun around and caught himself from going further with that outburst. "You followed me here to kill me and give my sister back to her torturers. Explain to me how it's not personal?"

"If my calculations are correct," Book didn't blink at Simon's hostility, he welcomed it in point of fact, "they'll be planning a rescue mission some time soon. A big one. Very big. We're all going to need to rely on each other."

"Yes," Simon drawled the sarcasm out liberally, "because I really feel like placing my life in your hands right now."

"Exactly my point, Simon." Book sighed. "At this point in time things are bigger than you and me. It's not about who did what months and years ago, this is about a young girl's life. Kaylee's life. When this is all finished and we have her back, feel free to hate me. I'll even leave this ship if you feel it's necessary, I don't want to, but I will. For now, though, we need to call a truce."

"There's only one thing wrong with that strategy." Simon met Book's eyes. "It's no use planning anything for when this is all finished, because this is never finished. Trust me, I know."

Book smiled the very small smile of the newly almost forgiven.

"You're a good man, Simon Tam."

"So they keep telling me with each new and exciting crime I get involved with."

"I think we should meet up with the others now." Book suggested. "I want to be part of the plans."

It wasn't ideal, it was awkward and tense, but it was a truce and it was necessary, Simon knew it as they left the infirmary. He just couldn't get the thought out of his head, all those times Book had sat with River and he hadn't once said anything. All the times he'd spoken with Simon and during all of it there had been an undercurrent Simon had never been aware of.

"Jonah, no!"

Simon felt it before he saw it, before his brain could process River's words. He stepped back, out of the way, as Jonah slammed Book up against the wall of the common room, one arm pressed firmly against his throat.

"Not this man." River placed a hand on Jonah's arm and tried to make him let go. "No."

Book struggled to breathe. He trusted his instincts, which had not gotten him killed once that he knew of, and at that moment his instincts were telling him to keep still and not speak. Jonah was staring at him, eyes fierce and breath heavy.

River squeezed between them, forced her body through a non existent gap and pushed against Jonah, her hands on his shoulders. There was a long moment when nothing happened and Book felt a trickle of fear for the girl.

"Please, Jonah?" River's voice shook, but her gaze was steady. "For me? Leave him alone for me?"

Their eyes met and Book knew there was something flowing between them that neither he, nor Simon, would ever be privy to. What mattered, however, was the slow easing of the pressure at his throat, the rush of cold air into his lungs again.

"Stay away from me." Jonah managed as he pushed back and took a long step away. "For your own sake."

Instincts were not always what they were cracked up to be.

"For what it's worth, I am sorry, son."

Jonah and River had crossed half the room when he stopped and tried to turn. River kept hold of his hands and tugged him towards the stairs.

"Don't call me son!" There was a flash of anger in Jonah's eyes, before it turned cold again. "He was my father and you call yourself a man of god?"

There was nothing Book could say to that, nothing that would help. He and Simon watched the two climb the stairs.

"Working together, huh?" Simon nodded slowly. "Yep, this is going to end well."

***

Strange, how the difference between waiting to be rescued and taking steps to rescue yourself can change your whole perspective. Kaylee was calmer as she lay on the table this time, she had to be. It was necessary to remain in control if she was going to take note of all the details.

There were five doctors, two women and three men, none of whom would meet her eyes. Two of the men and a woman went to adjust switches and monitor screens. She recognized some of the machines along the wall and the different com links, but there was a lot of equipment she didn't think she'd ever seen before. There was only one door into and out of the room.

She was calm, but it didn't stop her flinching when she felt a hand on her arm, her whole body stiffened.

"Relax." Said the man who had stayed with her. "We won't hurt you."

Kaylee did not react to this, just kept herself still and waited. The woman at her side had the grace to blush.

"None of us here will hurt you unnecessarily." She corrected. "Dr. Williams is not here today. He won't be back."

There was an edge to her voice, if Kaylee wasn't imagining it, and significant glances shared around the room. She wanted to know just what had happened to the doctor and whether it had to do with the children.

"How do you feel today?"

She didn't answer the question, just closed her eyes and gave a slight shake of her head, sure that anything she said in response to this would not be taken favorably. They taped the wires back onto her head, scanned her with the machines again, poked and prodded different pressure points, wrote down the results, talked among themselves. It was almost bearable.

Kaylee knew that whatever she was going to do it couldn't be in this room, there wasn't enough room for escape and if Mal had taught her anything, it was the value of a good escape plan. No, the most likely chance she'd get would be when she was in transit, on the way back to that room. Four guards would ferry her there and there was an elevator at the other end of the hallway in the opposite direction they would take her. She had to make it there. This room with the mysterious medical equipment was useless to her, so was the stark room with the bed. The elevator, however, was a big box of machinery and she could use that.

"Headaches?" They continued to ask her and she continued to shake her head.

"Dizziness? Blurred vision? Nausea?" She kept shaking her head to their questions. "Pain anywhere?"

Kaylee opened her eyes.

"We're getting an accelerated heat reading." Announced one of the men by the machines. "Right side of the facial structure."

"Really?" The woman replied, dryly. She touched the violent swelling of Kaylee's cheek and Kaylee had to bite back a whimper. "Is that so? Anywhere else?"

"No." The man's voice sounded smaller this time.

The woman leaned down close.

"Kaylee? We need to know something." It was the way her voice had gone suddenly cold that made Kaylee take notice. "How far along are you in your cycle?"

"What?" Her eyes flew between the man and woman at her side. "I don't know what..."

"Listen, Kaylee, you can tell us now or we can take advantage of the fact you're strapped to our table and physically measure the thickness of your endometrial lining. Trust me when I say we won't be gentle about it. Do you understand what that means?"

Kaylee nodded slowly.

***

Mal caught Zoe on the way to the dining room, his hand taking her elbow and drawing her aside as she waved a confused Wash onward. She raised her brow and waited.

"I'm putting Book next to me." He said quietly. "I want you on his other side."

"Sir?"

"Just a precaution." He assured her. "A wise one, I'm thinking."

Zoe eyed him shrewdly.

"And Jayne?"

"I was thinking," Mal shrugged a little too casually, "perhaps, right next to Jonah at the other end of the table."

"Yes, sir." A small, knowing smile edged her lips. "Just a precaution."

"That boy was in a coma for a year and a half." Mal whispered. "And within days of waking up he's already killed a man and attacked another. I'm thinking, yes, a little bit of extra caution is necessary. Don't you?"

"I wasn't arguing." She replied. "Just pointing out your choice of words."

He looked at her, but she kept her face blank as they went to meet the others. The tensions ran high and Jonah swept more than one glare towards Book. It made Mal nervous, very nervous.

"We need to come up with some kind of plan. We're all in this together." He looked around the table, finally ending with River and Jonah at the opposite end to him. "So I'd take it as a kindness if everything was spoken out loud."

They nodded without looking at each other.

"We need to get away from Orpheus." Mal continued. "It won't be long before they start looking for the doctor, if they haven't already."

"I'll give you coordinates." Jonah said to Wash. "If you push her hard, we can be there in twelve hours."

"Twelve is twenty two." River whispered urgently. "Eight too late. You know it."

"River..." Jonah started, but she shook her head.

"She won't know. She won't know who it is." River pleaded. "It's going to make her sad. Eat her up with it."

"Who won't she know?"

Simon's question was gentle and River's eyes widened, stretched in time with her hands that splayed on the table. She gave a shudder before looking at Jonah. He nodded at her and she swallowed deeply.

"Everybody knows. Sometimes only themselves, but they know that half. Kaylee won't know." She gave a nod to Jonah. "We'll have to tell her, she won't like it."

River stopped and folded her hands together on top of the table, staring at them intently. Silence waited for her and she could feel them holding their breaths, restraining them like wayward children.

"I can't." She whispered, her voice beginning to shake. "It's too... I held it... I can't."

Jonah wanted to reach in and soothe her over, to soften the sharp edges that began to spike in her, wanted to show her it would be alright this time, but they were not the only ones there and they had both agreed.

"River." He spoke softly and out loud. "They should know. If they're going to help, they deserve to know."

She nodded and slowly rolled her head back so that she stared at the ceiling, her mouth shaped several words, but no sounds came out. Finally she brought her head down and looked straight at Inara.

"Petaline knew it. Made her sad, but she knew who it was." River gave a shy smile to the man on her right. "I told her to call him Jonah."

"My god." Simon almost felt his synapses connect the dots, like a physical flash in his brain. "Are you telling us...?"

"Surrogacy." Jonah confirmed. "They've done it before, several times."

"Means to an end." River said, it was the closest thing to bitter Simon had heard her sound. "That's all. Thought we were a purpose. Cut up like rags, sewn together like a rag doll. Stitches raw and useless. We're still leaking. Oozing."

"There were nineteen of us." Jonah tried to take River's hand, but she pulled away from his touch and laid her head on her hands, her hair fanned out over the table. "We were their initial experiments, their test subjects. They wanted to create a team of specialized operatives with enhanced perceptions, increased abilities."

"And?" Prompted Mal. "What happened?"

River's voice came, muffled, from beneath the curtain of her hair.

"They succeeded, you boob."

Jonah, much like everyone else at the table, tried to stifle the smile that rose to his lips. Jayne just chuckled to himself.

"You've all seen what their mistake was." He said as he gestured between himself and River. "If you give a team the ability to communicate silently, then they do. You lose control. We became too insular, too unstable. Even now the six of us that are left play with the people that keep them there. Some of us weren't so lucky, some of the procedures they did had disastrous effects, the human body was not made to withstand what they were doing. Look at River."

"I don't mean to point out the obvious here," Wash ventured. "but, you seem to be quite sane."

"From the very start they knew River was special. They expected more from her, so they tried to get more." Jonah didn't look at Simon when he spoke, he didn't want to see what he could feel radiating off the man. "You have to understand, whatever they did during the experiments on the younger ones, they perfected on River and me. She got what was essentially spread out between seventeen others."

"And you?" Zoe asked.

"I was the oldest. I couldn't give them what River could, so they didn't dig as deep." Jonah closed his eyes. "They used me because I was bigger, I was the strongest. I had to be. They were just children, Alexandria was nine at the time. Somebody had to..."

"Show them to dance when I tripped." River threw her head back and looked at Jonah again. "Laughter is an involuntary spasm of the body, can't be taught in a lab, can't be cultivated."

She smiled, but it wasn't a happy smile and he continued.

"It didn't take long for them to think of another way to get what they wanted. To make another group of specialized automatons that they could exert control over from the very moment they were born." "Adam was the first." River reached out and took Jonah's hand. "A composite, best of both."

"Was?" Inara asked softly.

River squeezed Jonah's hand and he could still taste the memory in her.

"They pushed too hard." River's voice was back to a whisper. "Cut too deep, didn't find the boundary. He came out wrong."

There were few times in his life, this being one of them, that Simon cursed his IQ, the ability to follow the conversation to this point. He was reeling and groundless, unable to understand a medical mind able to stretch human suffering to this point.

"They operated in utero?" It was automatic now, a reflex, the turning to Mal to translate. "They operated on the babies before they were born."

"Those women?" Book asked, speaking for the first time. "What happened to them?"

River pushed her chair back and stood, backing away from everyone's quiet horror, the crushing pity, the desperate burning need to know even if she couldn't tell them. Her feet paced the floor and she found it easier to keep moving, bouncing on the balls of her feet, her whole body shaking.

"Lost souls. No one will miss them. He made them cry." She looked at Simon and hoped he would understand as she spelled the words out more slowly. "He made them cry."

"I don't know where they came from." Jonah continued. "I don't know what happened to them after, but considering what River got from the doctor, it wasn't a happy ending for them. They were kept in the basement, operated on repeatedly while they carried the children and afterwards they were gone."

"Cut out of them." River whispered as her hand hovered over her belly. "Ripped untimely."

"They tried several times to get the procedures right, the correct sequencing of DNA versus surgical intervention." Jonah looked at River. "They even had us working the details. Each of us had different sequences, nobody put the whole together to start with."

"Adenine to thymine." River intoned, her eyes staring into the distance. "Guanine to cytosine. Never the twain shall meet. Hydrogen to bind them all. Basic rules of DNA. Change the formula, change the gene, change the genetic trait."

"Until River." Jonah finished. "She created a formula for RNA and DNA that would allow them to create what they needed."

"Ribonucleic acid, alter it, alter the instructions." She continued, lost to the room. "Deoxyribonucleic acid, connect A and T with two strands, connect C and C with three strands, doesn't work the other way. Simple fractions, lowest common denominator, two by three, connect with six, strengthen the hydrogen, bind A with C and G with T, not everywhere, just there. And here. And there."

"With that formula, we were useless to them, a hindrance, and they'd be free to engineer masses of children to their needs, to cut into them while they were still forming." Jonah took a breath and River stopped pacing to look at him. "Until I wiped it from their data banks."

"They wouldn't want just any children, they'd want their prodigies." Simon broke in, voice hushed with horrified awe. "They were using your DNA, weren't they?"

"Best of both." River agreed, taking her place at the table again. "Harvested and frozen. Implanted. Engineered. Not really ours."

"They used the women as surrogates," Jonah spoke sadly. "until their bodies gave out."

"They're going to do this to Kaylee, aren't they?" Zoe looked at River and she nodded. "And you don't think we'll get there in time?"

"Need to move faster." River shrugged. "Twelve is too long."

"This is a Firefly, it doesn't go..." Jonah began, but his words trailed off as River looked at him. He turned to Mal. "You guys bring on extra machinery lately?"

"Yes." Mal's voice held an edge of hope. "A whole bunch of stuff Kaylee left behind."

"I need to see it." Jonah said and River smiled at him. "It might boost us for several hours, not enough, but anything is better than nothing."

***

They walked down the corridor and Kaylee was fast running out of nerves. Every step they took was a step away from the elevator. The four guards were armed, though their weapons were in their holsters, and they had a tight grasp on her. One on either side, holding her arms, and one in front and back of her.

Realistically, she knew she couldn't fight them, not four large men at once, not even with surprise on her side. Not even if she gave up the hidden pin. What she needed was a diversion. Jayne's suggestion floated into her head and Kaylee almost smiled at the thought, she wondered what these men would do if she got naked.

That's when the alarms sounded.

It happened in an instant, the loud screech of sirens, the switch to emergency power, red lights creating shadows. The guards let go of her arms to bring their guns to the ready.

Kaylee did not think. She raised her foot and brought it down on the foot of the man behind her. As he cried out, she doubled over and ducked the reach of the other men who tried to grab her and twisted through the gap they'd left. A sudden hot burst of air hit her lungs.

She was clear.

Her feet pushed hard on the ground and she ran as fast as she could. Fifty feet, she guessed, less than the length of Serenity when River chased her through it. Except that River had never aimed a gun at her, not directly anyway. She kept her eyes on the elevator and her brain focused on those behind her, waiting for the red hot rip of another bullet through her flesh.

"Stop!" A voice behind her.

Forty feet.

A door flew open to her left and Kaylee didn't even slow down as the doctors poured into the hallway. It was with a small amount of satisfaction that she pushed the female doctor aside and heard her hit the wall.

Thirty feet.

"Don't shoot her, you idiots!"

The words sparked a new confidence in her. Her body was useless to them if they shot holes in it or killed her outright. The muscles of her legs burned as she pushed them faster.

Twenty feet.

"Get out of the way, doctor!"

Kaylee heard a scuffle and prayed it would buy her enough time. Fifteen feet. The sound of a gun discharging made her slow down. It happened in slow motion, momentum carried her legs into two more steps, her feet slapped hard against the tiles, her arms stopped mid swing.

As her right foot hit the ground, pain exploded in her right calf, thick and heavy. Kaylee gasped as she stumbled, her eyes staying on the door ahead of her. Her knees hit the floor hard and she broke the rest of her fall with her hands. The tiles were cool against the flush of her cheeks.

Ten feet.

Red lights flashed, alarms sounded and footsteps thundered up from behind her, but the last thing Kaylee registered before she closed her eyes was the small peal of a bell. The whooshing sound of the elevator doors opening.

And two pairs of hands helping her up.

***

"These could work." Jonah whistled as he ran his hands over the machine parts. "Kaylee chose well."

Mal eyed him warily.

"Yes. She's very valuable, that one."

Jonah laughed softly.

"Relax. I won't come between them."

He collected what he wanted into one box and lifted it, ignoring the rise of Mal's brow and the stubborn set of his mouth.

"Tell me I'm wrong."

Jonah began climbing the stairs, leaving it up to Mal to follow if he wanted, which he already knew Mal would.

"Why would I do that? You're right." He kept walking through the sudden flurry of Mal's triumph and confusion. "There was something, you know that, but River..."

Jonah paused at the entrance to the engine room and took a slow and steady breath before he continued.

"River's moved on. She grieved and she moved on." He looked Mal in the eyes. "And you're still a hypocrite."

"Really?" Mal couldn't stop the questioning smile. "Can't wait to hear this one."

"You're willing to let River lead your crew, to make plans and take them into the hospital, into the belly of this new beast. You trust her with their lives." Jonah put the box down and looked around the room before spotting the tool box stacked neatly on a shelf. "But you don't trust her not to hurt Kaylee."

When Jonah pointed at a part, Mal picked it up with some surprise, looking over it before handing it over.

"That's a catalyzer."

"It's a nothing part 'til you ain't got one." Jonah echoed. "Now you've got two."

"That's about my knowledge, right there." Mal admitted. "Kaylee handles everything else."

"You trust might, you trust strength and fists, guns, loyalty and brains." Jonah continued as if he'd never stopped. "You don't want to trust hearts any more. You can't."

"Get out of my head, boy." But he wasn't angry and they both knew it. "It ain't a place you want to be."

Jonah just smiled as he unscrewed the panel in front of him.

"You want something to go wrong, you want one of them to hurt the other. Just like you want it for Wash and Zoe." He looked at the blinking panel of lights and wires. "Not that you really want anyone to be hurt, but it would back up your stand against shipboard romances."

"Well," Mal broke in. "they just don't work. Everyone knows it. The complications alone..."

"One happy relationship can be an anomaly. Two makes a pattern." Jonah continued. "If they prove you wrong, you won't have anything to stand behind. Your defense will fall down and you'll be exposed."

"... loyalties are divided. There are just too many distractions..."

"You keep telling yourself that," Jonah's voice held enough sarcasm for Mal to stop and take note. "because she's going to wait forever. She's not getting weary at all standing still like this. You can't keep giving her free rent and expect her to stay."

Mal narrowed his eyes.

"How about we don't talk about me or my crew?"

"Fair enough." Jonah nodded. "But first, a word of advice? Give Jayne a big role in this, make it important."

"Why?" Mal looked behind him out to the hall. "What did he...?"

"You made him take the step between hired mercenary and part of a family, it took a lot from him, but you're still treating him like hired muscle." Jonah didn't look up from tampering in the machine, didn't wait for Mal's response. "Don't leave it until he rethinks that arrangement."

It wasn't as if Mal hadn't thought about that, in the back of his mind, there just hadn't been time to think on it properly. This man had been on his ship less than a day and already knew his people better than he did. The thought made him all manner of uncomfortable.

"You don't trust me, I don't blame you." Jonah hunkered down and reached further into the engine. "I'm not loyal to you, your ship or your crew. But River is and you can trust that I'm loyal to her."

"You know," Mal gave a small, slow nod of approval, he liked the way Jonah was upfront about everything, even if he was wary of the man, "I may just grow to like you."

"Good." Jonah nodded. "Now give me twenty minutes and I'll shave four hours off our flight time."

"Is that enough?" Mal was sure he already knew the answer.

"It has to be, doesn't it?"

***

She's strapped into a chair and River wants to close her eyes, wants to ignore what's really happening, but she doesn't. She knows what will happen if she does. She'll only make it worse.

For him.

He's strapped into his own chair, across from her. They've been situated so that they have no choice but to see each other's faces. His jaw is clenched and there's sweat dripping down his neck.

She wants to tell him to just do it, she can take it, but the look in his eyes tells her that he never will.

Jonah, they coerce again, all you have to do is press the button. You know this.

He takes this moment to smile at her. River knows it's going to make them mad.

Her eyes can't help but search out the points of contact, the places where the electricity will surge into him again, make his body seize up and convulse, make him scream in agony. Her vision slips down to his hand, hovering over the button. Press it, she urges him with her eyes, just press it.

He doesn't.

His whole body snaps and jerks in front of her, the cackle of the energy audible throughout the room. Tears run down her eyes. She wants to beg them, wants to tell them she'll do whatever they ask, but it's a useless plea bargain. They already know they'll get what they want. It's just a matter of how they'll take it.

It finishes and his body slumps down as much as his restraints allow.

River gets chills from the icy clamps on her own skull, the wires attached to her heart, the attachments that mirror his in all aspects but one. They control his and they're not shy in using it.

Jonah's little button controls hers and they won't stop until he presses it.

***

River crouched by the door to the bridge, making herself small. It was too thick just now to enter, too closed off and fragile. The ship roared under her and she imagined them flying through space like a rock thrown at a window, energy and force gained from anger and resentment.

She focused on the ripples that washed over her, uncontrolled waves that pushed. River quashed the envy that rose again, knowing Jonah could block it if he wanted. The need, the slow burning desperateness to understand and the longing to have it told. It fought with the confusion, the guilt, the feeling of despair.

River crouched by the door and waited. She didn’t have to wait long.

“Don’t blame him.” She looked up and saw the surprised face of Zoe looking down at her. “He doesn’t know himself what he feels, he’d tell you if he could.”

“And that’s the problem, isn’t it?” Zoe crouched down, too, not even bothering to pretend she didn’t know what River was talking about. “I don’t know, he doesn’t know. You do.”

River shook her head and looked into Zoe’s eyes as she reached up and touched the side of Zoe’s head.

“I see you too. Secrets even you’ve forgotten.” A question on her face. “I know what he doesn’t know. Does that make you love him less?”

Zoe looked back through the open door of the bridge.

“No.” She admitted.

“Why do you think it separates him from you, then?”

“I guess it doesn’t.” Zoe gave a quick nod. “Not really.”

River gave a smile.

“Go back and tell him that.”

***

“Kaylee?” She felt dizzy and dazed, her head fogged as she blinked. The small space eddied in front of her eyes. “Kaylee? You need to wake up.”

Somebody clapped in front of her face and she blinked again. Faces swam into focus and she felt hands propping her up against a steel wall.

“I was shot…” She managed. “They got my leg.”

“No.” Came a voice. “They hit you with a stunner. You won’t be able to walk for a while, but you’re not injured.”

Kaylee looked around and noted with surprise that she was in the elevator with the six children. It took a second for that to sink in. They’d done it, they’d gotten her here.

“Where are they?” She asked, her head clearing quickly.

As they all looked to the door, Kaylee heard the unmistakable shifting of gears, the car hissing past air trapped in the shaft. They were moving.

“It won’t take them long.” Said the oldest one. “We’re headed to the basement. This elevator is the only way in or out, but they’ll stop it sooner rather than later.”

“No.” Kaylee shifted herself more upright. “I can disable it.”

The youngest girl, Alexandria, slowly bought her hand up to her right cheek as She looked at Kaylee.

“Ouch.”

“Yes.” Kaylee managed a smile. “Ouch.”

She opened her mouth and reached in with her left hand, trying not to moan with the pain as she felt for the small groove she had created under the swelling, hooked her nails under the lump of the hair pin and inched it free. Blood oozed over her tongue and she swallowed it.

Kaylee stumbled over to the front, to the panel that held the buttons. Her eyes quickly found the access points and the hair pin was small enough to gain her access.

“Is it just me,” the blonde haired boy came to watch her work in the exposed wires, “or did your brain promise to get naked back there?”

“Sebastian!” Came the horrified voice of the red haired girl as Kaylee smiled to herself. “You leave her alone!”

“You’re just jealous, Bethany,” He poked out his tongue. “because you don’t have anything we’d want to see naked, yet.”

Sebastian was slapped across the arm for his trouble.

“You’re only one year older than me, young man, and I haven’t noticed you growing any beards yet.”

“Okay.” Kaylee felt relief wash over her as they bantered back and forth. “So, I’ve got Sebastian, Bethany and Alexandria. You’ll have to tell me the rest.”

“I’m Daniel.” Said the oldest boy, holding his head high and his chest puffed out. There were several snorts in the small elevator. “I’m the oldest, I’m seventeen.”

“Fifteen.” Supplied Sebastian.

“Fourteen.” Bethany said.

“She is Minmei.” The small Asian boy said, pointing at his sister. “We’re fourteen as well.”

“He’s Binh.” The girl replied, pointing to her brother. “We’re not identical, we’re mirrored fraternal.”

“I’m twelve.” Whispered Alexandria. “And you’re pretty.”

*** End of Ch 8.

COMMENTS

Friday, September 2, 2005 7:23 AM

AMDOBELL


Very good and very much waiting for more! Shiny story, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, September 2, 2005 4:12 PM

RINNYPJ


I was already addicted to this fic in the beginning. But if I wasn't already... I sure as hell am now. I think I love Jonah a little bit too... can't help it if I hope he and River hook up again leaving Kaylee for a certain hulking mercenary....

Saturday, September 3, 2005 8:12 AM

DIZ


Loving it. Can't wait for more!

Sunday, September 4, 2005 5:59 AM

KIZZIECSTARS


nononono, river and kaylee are cute together in this!!!! cannot get back together with jonah. no. need more!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, September 11, 2005 9:57 AM

REALLYKAYLEE


awww. . .
MORE PLEASE!

Sunday, September 11, 2005 9:59 AM

REALLYKAYLEE


awww. . .
MORE PLEASE!

Monday, March 6, 2006 8:37 AM

BURNANDBOIL


Aww the youngest is sooooooooo cute!!

Monday, October 20, 2008 3:27 AM

RIVERRED


nice chapter this one is.


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