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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Our Heroes escape -- but not without recourse to rumination.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2711 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
The Treasure of Lei Fong Wu
Serenity banked gracefully around a majestic snowcapped triple-peak, and slid to a hover over a glass-like, pristine, and terribly, terribly cold mountain lake. With a whine the ventral hatch swung open. Jayne stared down into the crystal clear lake and back up at his blindfolded prisoner.
“Ai ya! That’s a long gorram way down!” he grinned, failing to mention the lake only twenty feet below. “You musta really pissed off the Cap’n!”
“Is he always this harsh?” the man asked loudly, with a note of resignation.
“Nah. He’s gotten loads better since the day he nearly blew me out an airlock. ‘Course, I was misbehavin’ a mite,” the mercenary admitted.
“Randy – can I call you Randy?” Mal asked pleasantly as he approached. “Randy, I’ve just radioed your boss, told him I wouldn’t lay down arms, told him I was tossin’ you out if he didn’t back off.”
“He didn’t back off, did he?”
“Not so much.”
“You’re going to push me out of here, aren’t you?”
“That is, indeed, the plan,” agreed Mal. “Doc, do it.”
Rolling his eyes – clearly unhappy about doing this – he stepped forward, rolled up Randy’s sleeve, and jabbed a needle into the man’s upper arm. Only Jayne’s firm grip kept him from jumping and breaking the needle.
“Ow! Hey, what the hell was that?”
“Wouldn’t you just love to know,” Simon said, in a low voice. “Let’s play, ‘what’s Simon got in the syringe?’ shall we?” He pulled the needle out and swabbed the area with antiseptic. “A harmless vitamin shot? Or a deadly virus that will kill everyone you’re exposed to? Maybe it’s for air sickness. Or perhaps it was ten cc’s of lysergic acid diethylamide, in which case your next few hours will be a hellish nightmare of hallucinations and your brain will never work right again. The Captain tells me you think I’m an evil genius. You tell me.”
“I thought you were just gonna kill me!” Randy said, panic in his voice.
“Oh, where is the fun in that?” Simon said sarcastically. “You know, I tire of being chased by bounty hunters. First Jubal Early, and now the likes of you. If I was a . . . vengeful person, I might take exception. But I’m not. I’m a peaceloving man. A doctor. I’ve taken an oath. I tend to forgive easily.” The man’s shoulders sank, visibly relieved.
“But Captain Reynolds? He’s all about some righteous vengeance,” Simon added, nodding to Mal.
“Enjoy your flight,” Mal said, stretching out a boot and pushing the man through the hatch. A satisfying splash resulted. Mal spared a look before he toggled the hatch shut.
“Think he’ll live?” he asked.
“Shit floats,” pointed out Jayne.
“If he’s picked up in the next half-hour, he should be fine,” Simon said, wearily. “I gave him something that will keep him from dying of hypothermia – for a while. He’ll be miserable and cold, but he can tread water.”
Mal nodded, and picked up the intercom. “Wash, we’re clear. Get us out of here,” he ordered.
“I feel kind of bad, actually,” Simon admitted, rubbing the back of his neck as the hatch closed. “That amounted to psychological torture. I can’t believe I just did that.”
“Doc, you an’ me, we ain’t always been buddies,” Jayne said, slowly. “Truthfully? You annoy the hell outa me, an’ I probably would o’ ended you months ago, had my druthers.”
“And this sudden outpouring of emotion comes from . . . where?” the doctor asked, suspiciously.
“I just feel compelled to point out that that sonofabitch was more’n willin’ to put a gun to you an’ your dingbat sister’s pointy head and sell you both back for a pile o’ coin. A couple o’ minutes of ball-freezin’ cold and abject terror – that ain’t so bad.”
“Got a point,” agreed Mal as he headed for the Bridge. “Ain’t no crime t’defend yourself. Well hell, might just be a crime these days – but there still ain’t nothin’ wrong with it.”
“Um, weren’t you planning to do the same thing on Ariel?” Simon asked casually, once Mal was out of earshot.
“Well, I, uh—” Jayne swallowed. “That was different!”
“How?” Simon asked, curiously.
“It . . . I . . . Hell, we’re practically . . . family!” he finally spat out, though it pained him to do so.
“Family,” Simon repeated deliberately, as if it was a foreign word he didn’t understand. Jayne looked nervous.
“It ain’t like . . . like I tried to . . . y’know . . . kill you?” he finished weakly. “’Sides, that was months ago. Ancient history.”
“Yeah, I really should be over that,” Simon admitted. “Captain, can we turn around and head back to that lake again?”
“It’s working! They’re slowing down!” Wash said excitedly as he monitored the monitor. “Looks like they’re gonna come to a . . . complete . . . stop?” He double-checked the monitor, wiped its dirty surface with his sleeve and checked again. “Gao yang jong duh goo yang! They’re launching a gorram shuttle for him!”
“Hot jets!” Lei insisted. “Full throttle. Get some distance!” he advised.
“I’m on it!” Wash called, maxing out the throttle again. He raced Serenity away from the mountains, still staying low. Wide plantations of tobacco and coffee flew past them, and then the greenery gave way to gray turbulence. They had reached the Enclouding.
“What’s the Master say about leaping blindly into a cloudbank?”
“Master says, ‘Who wants to live forever?’” Lei shrugged.
“Man after my own,” murmured the pilot, taking the Firefly down into the clouds like a submersible into water. For a few moments he was blind to anything that didn’t show up on radar, and the ship tumbled more than usual. Then they burst through, and an entirely different landscape unfolded.
Mile after mile of choked, soggy vegetation spread out before them, a foggy green-gray under the darkness of the clouds. It was almost as if they had gone under water – except for the tiny little farms and villages below. The gloom was a stark contrast to the pristinely sunny glory of the Heights. It was a literal underworld. Here the Enclouding was a perpetual thunderstorm. Wind buffeted against the ship. Electrical discharges flared constantly, and the rain never stopped.
“Icky!” Wash said disdainfully as he stared out the window. “It’s like home, without all the charm of the unwashed masses of people and the choking pollution!”
“Crappy world,” agreed Lei. “But you should be able to get some distance down here. I’d bank port, run her out a few dozen miles, then straight up.”
“Straight up? Through this fang pi?” he asked, incredulously. “If the lightning didn’t get us, the turbulence would. Look at those clouds move! You can almost smell the wind-sheer!”
“And the frigate will be hard pressed to follow – if they can. They have four times the surface area. Straight up – and go hard burn the moment you hit the stratosphere. The electrical discharge will cover your location. For a while. They may assume you have gone to ground.”
“We should be that lucky.”
“You have a better plan?”
“In point of fact . . . no. Oh, all right. A three minute sprint, then straight up. If I can hold her together,” he cautioned
“She will hold together,” Lei said admirably, looking all around him. “This little ship . . . I have been on many. She is strong. You can hear it in her voice. Few sing such a song of sorrow and love.”
“That’s just River’s harmonica,” Wash corrected.
Lei smiled. Wash reached up and grabbed the intercom mike. “Attention, Travelers! The angry folks we left behind have slowed down but will be locating us shortly, and it is the consensus of the piloting community that we should try some really crazy stuff to avoid them. I strongly suggest you find something solid to hang on to.”
Three minutes later, Wash changed the attitude of the ship and punched her right through the atmo, enduring far more shaking than anyone was truly comfortable with, between the capricious nature of the atmosphere and the gravity horizon. Master Lei kept his place, though he did reach out one hand on the console to steady himself.
“Going for hard burn!” Wash declared, as he flicked the switches that activated the plasma outtake. A moment later Salisbury was spread out below them, a mottled ball of gray and blue and green. Shortly the shaking stopped, as the atmosphere was left behind and the gravity drive unentangled itself with the planet’s field.
“Travelers, we have left the world,” Wash intoned over the intercom. “And according to telemetry, the frigate is right behind us – but is just now catching on to where we went to. I’m ready to plot a course – but a destination would be nice. That’s a hint, Captain.”
A moment later Mal’s voice broke over the intercom.
“Wash, I’ve been speakin’ to our honored guests, and the General says to lay in a course for that big red moon.”
“You sure?” he replied into the mike. “That’s the first place they’ll look.”
Another pause. “Trust me. If we can make it behind the moon, we can disguise our course.”
“Cap, I hate to be the bearer of reality, here – really, I do – but we ain’t gonna make the moon before they get right on top of us.”
Another pause. “I’m arranging for a distraction. You just keep us on course.”
“You’re the boss,” Wash said, reluctantly. He swiveled in his chair towards Lei. “Hope that nephew of yours knows what he’s doing. Otherwise this could be embarrassing.”
“He is the veteran of many campaigns,” offered the monk. “A brilliant strategist, and an inspired tactician. Perhaps the best of the age.”
“I’ll have to take your word for it,” grumbled Wash, who didn’t like not knowing the plan, but willing to carry out his part in it.
“No,” Lei said, with a twinkle in his eye, “in moments you will see for yourself.”
Serenity was running at full speed towards the rusty little planetoid ahead. It was largely uninhabited, with only a low-G mining colony and a research station on its ruddy surface. It had scant atmo, and while it would be possible to terraform it, it was impractical to do so before Salisbury was fully settled.
Behind the little transport came the long, menacing shape of the frigate. It had been slowed by the necessity of regaining orbit, but it was . . . relentless. The gains that the freighter had made were quickly being lost, and in vacuum the range of the EM missiles it fired was greatly expanded.
As it left orbit around Salisbury it fired off a few warning shots with its lasers. Wash’s erratic-seeming piloting made it difficult to get an effective lock on the ship without destroying it, but the threat was unmistakable. The Relentless made several calls to stand down and heave to, but they were ignored or answered with stinging taunts and funny voices from Serenity’s pilot.
The frigate was coming into missile range when another blip suddenly appeared on both ships’ telemetry monitors. As they passed its orbit, a ship launched from a concealed region of one of the two tiny green moons. It was on an intercept course with the frigate. And it had lasers of its own.
The Emperor’s Revenge was designed to ferry the huge machines required in the early stages of terraformation, and so she had a significant superstructure and massive cargo room. This provided ample space for a number of weapons systems salvaged from more robust warships, or cobbled together by ingenious members of the Yellow Sash Tong who were also former ordinance officers of the Imperial Guard. While the Revenge wasn’t shielded the way a conventional warship was, there was enough empty room aboard for her to soak up considerable damage before essential systems were breached.
Chasing down an errant Firefly was well within the capabilities of the Relentless. Standing toe-to-toe with a barge pretending to be a destroyer, that was another matter altogether.
“Captain Cho, you make a timely entrance,” General Lei said to the face that swam in the wave monitor. “Please try your best to discourage the pest from following us.”
“It shall be done, General,” the man answered in a deep, booming voice. His face was lined with the wrinkles that came from age and worry. The hair was gray and thinning. And the expression on his face was as hard as stone and resolute. “For the glory of the Emperor! For the glory of the Empire!” he chanted, saluting before turning to battle. Already the lances of lasers and the particulate trails of missiles were being exchanged at long range between the two ships.
“That barge is really gonna take that frigate?” Mal asked, doubtfully.
“Cho Hsu Bei was an Imperial Admiral during the War,” answered the General reverently. “He and his little fleet held of thrice their number of Alliance cruisers during the siege of Yuan. For every blow the purplebellies struck, he answered fourfold.”
“Y’all still lost,” pointed out Mal.
“We did. He did not. Had we been able to resupply the fleet from T’ien . . . well, wars are won and lost on maybes. When the Emperor ordered us to lay down arms, it was only his devotion to the Empire that convinced Cho to do so. He nearly committed suicide rather than eat the bitter bread of exile. I convinced him to join me . . . and that he would have a command once again. The Emperor’s Revenge is the best I have been able to do. So far,” he added. “Once we have the Treasure, I will make him admiral of a fleet that will cause the purplebellies to soil their collective breaches.”
“That presents an interestin’ mental picture,” Mal nodded.
“Cho will fight his ship well. But after, she may not have the legs to make it to my lair. Would you consider extending your hospitality a few weeks to myself and my men, Captain? We will pay for our passage,” he assured. “And they will stick to discipline.”
“Journey of a month,” Mal said, shaking his head. “That’s a long way to go on what supplies we got.”
“Two weeks out we will come across one of my supply caches,” the General said with certainty. “For just this sort of instance. Fuel, food, water, spare parts . . . all that we need for the journey.”
“Well, if you can guarantee that,” Mal said, dubiously.
“I give you my word.”
“Well, seein’ as how there ain’t a Treasure without you, I don’t see where we got much choice.”
“Just one other thing, General . . .”
“Can you please tell us where we’re goin’, now?” Mal asked plaintively.
The old soldier smiled. “I can. Have your pilot set course for . . .” he took a slip of flexitext out of a pouch on his gun-belt, “here.” Mal took the slip, looked at it, and did a double-take.
“Beggin’ your pardon, General,” he said slowly, “but there ain’t no planet there.”
“Indeed,” agreed the General. “If there was, my lair couldn’t be there.”
“It’s a transnuclear derivative mining station.”
“Oh,” Mal said, as it sunk in. Then his eyes widened. “Oh!” He chuckled. “That’s pretty smart . . . or pretty cruel, dependin’.”
“Yes, it is,” the wiley General said, turning his attention back to the monitor.
“We’re going . . . where?”
“Just shy o’ the middle o’ nowhere. The blackest of the Black. Loneliest place in the ‘verse. The place where no sun shines and the stars are your only companions,” Mal told Wash after handing him the coordinates.
“My, what a lovely and depressing turn of phrase. To what do I owe the . . . oh, kwen gei je deh Mal! Mal, no! This can’t be right!”
“Just do it. We got a whole month for y’all to call me a dumb sonofabitch, no need in burnin’ it all up now.”
“Are you sure?” Wash asked, skeptically.
“Hell, no, I ain’t sure. But the General says that’s where his piece o’ the map is. So that’s where we go.” He thought about it a minute. “You gotta admit: you wanna fall off the map, that’s ‘bout the best place in the ‘verse to do it.”
“Can’t argue with that. As soon as we get eclipsed by the moon, I’ll set course.”
“Good. In the meantime, we get to watch the bad guys get torn into teeny tiny little pieces,” he offered, nodding toward a monitor where a visual of the battle was playing. “Ain’t often you get a front row seat, battle like this.”
The old barge had launched a generous salvo of missiles at the frigate, which was doing its best to use its lasers to pick them out of the Black before they hit. It was only partially successful, and several impacted against the armored hull.
“Maybe I should wave ‘im,” Mal decided. “See if I can’t rattle him a mite.”
“The frigate? I’m sure we can find its wave combination . . .” he said, checking the cortex for a local index. “Wait, no . . . that? . . . here it is! Ready?” the pilot asked, eyebrows raised.
“Do it,” Mal commanded. In a few moments the face of the commander of the frigate swam into view.
“Relentless, this is Captain Reynolds of Serenity,” Mal said affably. “I take it you are Mr. Sinclair? Or should I say Captain Sinclair?”
“ ‘Mister’ will do,” the man agreed calmly. Behind him Mal could see men scurrying around, and occasionally smoke or a tremor interrupted the view as the frigate fought off its attacker. “Is there a point to this conversation? Because I’m otherwise engaged at the moment.”
“I understand, and I don’t want to take up too much of your time,” Mal assured. “But it occurs to me that your current course o’ action has brought you little in cashy reward – and it’s cost you quite a bit. What say you cut your losses?”
Sinclair smirked. “Captain, we aren’t in the business of cutting our losses. We cut other people’s losses. And while the cost of doing business on this job has been . . . high,” he admitted, “the reward when we bring in River and Simon Tam will be significant. Not to mention the war criminals, when we get them rounded up. Then there is the issue of stopping whatever it is that they’re planning. That’s a fairly large priority for us.”
“Would it make a difference if I told you that they weren’t plannin’ nothing’?” Mal asked, curiously.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not likely to believe you. I’ve seen enough evidence to know that they are a threat to the Alliance.”
“They‘re just a couple o’ kids who tried to get shut of the Alliance is all,” countered Mal. “Ain’t no threat.”
“I’ve learned differently,” insisted Sinclair. “And their collusion with yourself and the other disaffected elements of the last war lead me to believe that their intentions are less than benign.”
“You got a notion why they’re wanted?” Mal asked. “Seems t’me that a unit like y’all’s would try to get all factuated on the details afore they go after a body.”
“The file is sealed,” Sinclair admitted. “That ordinarily means that the suspect has done something particularly vile – or become a threat to the stability of the Alliance. Either way, Captain, I’m coming after them.”
“Or not,” countered Mal. “Admit it: you just don’t know what they did. You’re gonna gun ‘em down, not even ask what they’re accused of.”
Sinclair shrugged. “I admit it. They could be fugitive bodhisattvas, for all I know. Or care. What I do know is that they are wanted, there is a substantial reward, we have already invested considerable time and treasure to this enterprise, and we are highly unlikely to cease our efforts on your word that they are not . . . what they seem.”
“Well, I can’t let you have ‘em,” Mal said with finality.
“I never expected you would,” Sinclair nodded. “Your psych profile said you wouldn’t.”
“My conscience said I wouldn’t,” Mal contradicted. “You don’t know the whole story. I do. It ain’t pretty. You think we’re some gorram danger to the Alliance? The folk you’re workin’ for, they’re the ones you should be worried about.”
“I have a job to do, Captain. I intend to do it. And right now that means fighting my ship against your clever ambush. I can not spare another second for you.” He deactivated the link.
“Well, that went well,” Mal said sardonically.
“What did you expect?” Wash asked. “You really didn’t imagine you’d dissuade him like that, did you?”
“Worth a shot,” Mal admitted. “‘Sides, now I stared him in the eye. He ain’t gonna blink any more’n we would.”
“‘You would,’ “ Wash corrected. “I’ve got no problem blinking. I can blink with the best of them. I am a towering giant among blinkers,” he assured. “But I notice he didn’t try to cut a deal with you. That’s a little scary. Out of our usual element. Any decent criminal would have at least faked an attempt, just for form’s sake.”
“He knew I wouldn’t give ‘em up.”
“How did he know? Your psych profile?”
Mal snorted derisively. “He stared me in the eye.”
“Well, score one for testosterone-poisoned chest-thumping and pure intestinal fortitude!”
“Just hold this course steady,” Mal said, rolling his eyes. “The moment we’re in eclipse, change to that heading and don’t spare the horses.”
“Pretty battle, though,” Wash remarked, nodding toward the monitor, where the Revenge was getting peppered by the Relentless’ lasers. The two ships were no more than two miles apart, now, and seemed to fight with no regard to their own defense. Silent flashes filled the screen for half a second, then receded leaving only clouds of particulates.
“S’pose it is. Don’t fancy bein’ a part of it, on the truthful side. Like to tear us to shreds.”
Wash studied the battle. “I could handle it,” he decided. “Oh, look! Nukes!”
Sure enough, there was the tell-tale globe of pure light that bespoke fission weapons. It was a small one, a ship-launched tactical missile designed to penetrate military-grade armor, but it was a nuke nonetheless. Mal cringed a little. Through the hatchway he could hear the General’s men were cheering.
“No sir. Don’t want a piece o’ that.”
The battle was still raging as Serenity pulled out of range of good visuals. Even if the Revenge packed up and went home early, the Relentless would be hard pressed to locate them, still more so to catch up with them. For good or ill, they were launched towards the deepest part of the Black, leaving the suns of the Alliance worlds behind.
After emergency repairs had been accomplished, they set to work establishing sleeping quarters for the extra people on board. This wasn’t as difficult as Mal had feared – he’d had large numbers of people on board before. Settlers moving from moon to moon, mostly, searching for a decent home – a transport ship with decent facilities could always do a little back-door colonizing. He’d carried a firefighting crew, once. And there were those refugees that one time. In nearly every case there had been problems – rarely with the accommodations, always with the people.
But not this time. Colonel Campbell called the men to order, explained the rules of the ship, informed them when and where they would sleep, what their duties were, and when and where they would eat. They acknowledged. They saluted. They left formation. That was it.
Mal didn’t even hear a grumble of complaint out of them. Zoe, who watched next to him, nodded appreciatively.
“I am a man under authority,” quoted Book, joining him on the catwalk above the cargo hold that was quickly transforming into a bivouac, “ ‘and have soldiers under me: I say to him Go, and he goeth; I say to him Come, and he cometh; an to my servant Do, and he doeth it.’”
“Discipline’s a powerful impressive demonstration,” Zoe said. “Never had much of it, back in the War.”
“They were short o’ stock on everything,” agreed Mal. “Waited two years for a new pair o’ socks, once.”
“I know,” Zoe replied flatly.
“It is impressive,” agreed Book. “These men, they have . . . belief. A powerful belief. They’ve stayed in military form for, what, almost eight years?”
“They come from the Thousand Families,” explained Mal. “Colonel Campbell told me about it. They are a kind of military caste. Most trace their lineage back to the Great Red Army, some even further. Army brats, twenty generations old. The Chinese have always had a preference for a self-supporting military. That includes the personnel. Each one of those men was bred to this. Iron discipline. That’s what made Yuan such a threat, way back when. Ultra-professional soldiers. They would follow the General into the airlock, if he bade them to.”
“Scary,” pronounced. Zoe, shaking her head – but not taking her eyes off of them as they broke into work-groups and prepared the hold.
“Aw, come on, you like it,” teased Mal. “Admit it: them’s for real, by-God, soldiers. Real soldiers. Not like the odds ‘n’ sods we had to go into battle with, teddy bear in one hand, rifle in the other. Those men have fought. And survived. And continue to fight after bitter defeat, on the hope that the General can turn it around.”
“It’s impressive,” Zoe admitted. “But why would you think I’d like it?”
“On account o’ your nipples bein’ hard enough to cut glass,” observed Mal, which earned him a blush – but no denial.
“Amazing,” Book said, shaking his head, trying to ignore the Captain. “Such . . . dedication. Passion. Faith. And all devoted to destruction.”
“Now, Shepherd, you can’t blame a soldier for the ass-end o’ his trade,” Zoe admonished. “No more’n you could a lawyer. They’re both necessary evils – but woe to everyone if they fail.”
“They have honor,” observed Mal. “Real honor. Honor that can’t be taken away from you. They were forced into exile – near all o’ them, according to Lei. They couldn’t adapt to the calm an’ orderly life the Purplebellies had planned for ‘em. An’ you couldn’t kill ‘em in cold blood. They tried a few for war crimes, then sent the rest of them, and all their kin, out here. Where they couldn’t upset the local governments of the old Empire. They were given a choice to scatter and acclimatize – a few did. Everyone else was moved. Because they had too much honor to give up their way of life like that.”
“You sound wistful, son,” Book said kindly.
“I’m just sayin’ that they were given a choice: to serve the Alliance and go off and become farmers and shopkeepers and factory rats. Or to take the hard road. But take it together, rememberin’ who they are, where they come from, what they fought for. I admire that,” he admitted. “I’m just sayin’.”
“You sound envious,” Book said quietly. “But is it really better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven? Or is it pride? Hubris?”
“S’pose I am envious. Browncoats never got that opportunity. Kinda wish we had.”
“Do you?” Zoe asked, surprised.
“Well, I ain’t sayin’ I don’t have mixed feelin’s about the prospect. And probably wouldn’t’ve worked out that way, anyway. We were all volunteers, and when the High Command laid down arms and asked for terms, we all felt . . . betrayed. After, we didn’t have no one to rally ‘round. Too many people playin’ pointy finger. We all just sorta . . . drifted. I see these other Browncoat vets, every one reminds me that we failed, an’ we were betrayed by the people we swore to follow. We were volunteers – we joined up for a cause.
“Those ‘uns down there, they fought until they were told to stop. But they never lost faith. Never blamed anyone, even if they had cause. ‘Cause those men, they were born to be soldiers of the Empire, sworn to serve the Emperor. And the whim of the Emperor was law. So when he asked for terms, they stopped fightin’ – but they never lost. Not the way we did.”
There was a long silence, as each of them thought about this. Finally, Book broke it.
“And you’re jealous of that?” Book asked.
“No, that’s a Hell for them,” he nodded. “Hell with Pride and Dignity and Honor, but still a kinda Hell. No Emperor left to serve, no Empire. Only the vague hope of something better. Me, I got no hopes like that. No, sir,” he said, sighing and looking around the cargo bay, “I got me my own piece o’ Hell right here. Ain’t a hope of a better. It’s all I got, but it’s mine, an’ you can’t take that away from me without endin’ me first. That’s a fact.” He paused. “I’m just sayin’.”
Friday, November 4, 2005 6:04 PM
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