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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
The rescue finishes up, but does Mal make it back?
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2935 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Back to Chapter 13.
* * * * *
Zoe was used to high stress situations. As she’d smugly reminded her husband, she’d been through a war. She’d faced down gun barrels and 300 pound thugs, torture minded gangsters and missile carrying tanks, inevitable defeat and angels raining down fire out of a black sky. Still, Wash’s suggestions as to how to get through this particular mission were more useful than she cared to admit.
The line at the requisition department stretched around the corner and down the hall.
* * *
Jayne stepped out of the stall in an out of the way men’s bathroom to check himself in the mirror. Kaylee had looped the surveillance camera feed; he had privacy for his first costume change. The businessman’s outfit was expertly tailored, and when turned inside out not a bit of the plum silk showed around the Alliance uniform. He took his ID and an Alliance issue handgun and holster out of the little black briefcase, then dropped the briefcase in the trash.
Jayne did a final check, smoothing out the wrinkles in his uniform and pinning on his ID. He realized he hadn’t had a chance to share his opinion of his assumed name with Kaylee, so he turned to the surveillance camera with a sneer, tapped the ID a few times, and gave the camera the finger.
His first task was to find a spot near a window where Wash’s signal would be sure to reach the receiver in his ear. Jayne took a casual stroll through the cafeteria, sternly keeping a serious look on his face as he perused the menu. His self control was in top form. Still, he figured he better blend in. He bought a meatball sub and settled at an empty table by a window to munch on it as slowly as he could. The need to pass time while impersonating an officer on an Alliance base was one of few things that could make Jayne Cobb eat slow.
It was a good hour before Wash spoke up in his ear: Kaylee had spotted Mal, it was time to get going. Jayne stopped at the central office first, flashing his ID card. The desk worker checked the orders over the cortex, then called for the Private that Prefect Marone had selected from the personnel files. The choice had been based on the man’s height, weight, and his lack of experience in combat, athough Jayne had insisted that last one wouldn’t matter.
“Welcome Major Grace,” the Private said with a sharp salute.
Jayne held back a look of disgust at the name and returned the salute, something he’d practiced extensively over the course of the afternoon. “Private,” he replied. He didn’t explain what he needed the Private for. It was one of the advantages of the military: an explanation from a superior officer was never necessary.
Jayne led his recruit to the detention section. A bored sentry at the entry desk checked the cortex screen. “Reynolds, huh? They brought him in a few minutes ago.”
“We won’t be taking him anywhere, just have a few follow-up questions,” Jayne replied.
“Don’t be makin’ a mess. Cell 15.”
The electronic lock on cell 15 beeped as they approached it, and the door clicked open. Jayne almost ruined his cover with a swear word the Alliance would not have approved of when he heard an insane chuckle from inside the room. He paused to let the Private lead the way in.
Mal was laying on his back on a small cot, unbound but wearing light blue Alliance prisoner pajamas. He looked up at Jayne and the Private, and continued to cackle. Jayne considered Mal’s smiling face for a few seconds before he realized that, though Mal was unbloody and unbruised, the smile and the laugh weren’t quite right.
Jayne glanced at the camera high on the back wall of the cell. The reciever in his ear wouldn’t get any reception this deep in the base; he just had to hope that Kaylee was getting her part done. He pulled out his gun, garnering a fresh set of giggles from the Captain, then brought the butt of it down hard on the back of the Private’s head. Couldn’t shoot him: besides the noise, it wouldn’t do to have blood on the spiffy uniform. They’d be needing it.
Jayne got right to work on the plan. He shut the door to the cell and turned to the still jovial Captain. “Cap’n?” Jayne said with a shake of Mal’s shoulder. “Mal? You gotta cut it out.”
“Almost got me,” Mal muttered as he rolled away from Jayne. “Play again later.”
“Shit, this ain’t in the plan.” Jayne considered the situation; he couldn’t do this with Mal off the deep end. He pulled him up by the front of the prison suit and propped him against the wall. “Mal? You hear me?” The Captain’s eyes weren’t quite in focus, so Jayne gave him a sharp slap. It didn’t have much of an effect. “Mal - it’s Jayne.”
Mal’s eyes snapped into focus and suddenly Jayne found himself on his back on the floor, staring up the barrel of his own Alliance gun at a very angry, very scary Mal.
“I’d shoot you right now but that’s a little quicker than I wanna see you dyin’,” Mal said in a dangerously low voice.
“Uh… Cap’n? It’s me, Jayne. I had a shave, that’s all – ”
Mal cut him off. “I should’a spaced you, huh? Damn right I should’a spaced your ass.” He grabbed a handful of Jayne’s uniform collar in his left hand. “All they’re gonna do is send her home? They cut her thumb off, Jayne. That sunovabitch dragged her off and had his way, and I couldn’t get there to help her, and then they cut off her gorram thumb!”
Jayne held his hands out beside him, palms up. He wasn’t liking this situation at all. “Who you talkin’ ‘bout Mal?”
The gun pressed into Jayne’s furrowed forehead. “You never will get it! You thought you were turnin’ me in but they got Kaylee! They got Kaylee!” The grip on Jayne’s collar tightened.
Mal shoots me, Jayne thought, the whole plan’ll go south and everyone’ll think I screwed it up. “Mal, you hearin’ me? I’m just tryin’ to get ya back to the ship.”
Mal didn’t move, but his hard stare wavered. “Serenity’s blown up.”
“No she ain’t! I don’t know what they been tellin’ ya – ”
“I saw ‘em do it.” Mal clenched his jaw and looked full scary again. “Wouldn’t ‘a happened if you hadn’t turned me in.”
“I didn’t turn you in!” Jayne protested. He looked around, trying to figure a way out of this, and caught a glimpse of the dark grey sleeve of his uniform. “You see what I’m wearin’?” he asked Mal.
Mal glanced at Jayne’s uniform. “You got a point?”
“You think Alliance would sign me up?” Mal’s eyes left Jayne’s as he thought about this, and Jayne felt the grip on his shirt loosen just a bit. “And look here…” Jayne focused nervously on Mal’s trigger finger as he slowly moved a hand to the collar of his uniform. He pulled a bit of fabric free from Mal’s grip, then twisted it until the inside showed. “Plum silk, Mal. I had to walk onto a gorram Fed base wearin’ plum silk. You think I’d do this to get you out after I turned you in? Doc’ll never let me hear the end of it”
Mal stared down at the fabric in disbelief, then back up at Jayne’s face. He snorted a short laugh and the gun backed off an inch. Jayne took this as encouragement. “And look… look at the name on my ID: Rex Grace. Kaylee and Wash come up with it. Guess who picked what name?”
Mal snorted again. He took a few shallow breaths, let go of Jayne’s shirt, and sat back against the cot. Jayne stayed where he was: the gun was still pointed in the general direction of his head. “Kaylee?” Mal asked in a small voice.
“She’s runnin’ the security vid. She’s watchin’ right now.” Jayne pointed to the camera.
Mal tipped the gun back as he looked up at the camera. “She’s watchin’?”
“She got all dressed up like a nun. Sister Kay, you believe that?”
Mal gave Jayne a skeptical look. “I got Sister Kay watchin’ over me?”
“Guess so.” The gun was still pointed away from him, so Jayne figured it was safe to sit up. He did it slowly just in case.
Mal was studying him. “You don’t look right,” Mal said.
“Had to shave.” Jayne grinned uncertainly and lifted his ID off his chest. “I’m a Major, gotta look the part.”
Mal’s mouth curled in annoyance, which Jayne found a mite alarming until Mal said, “You sayin’ you outrank me, Jayne?”
“That hadn’t occurred to me yet,” Jayne said with a wider grin.
“Gorram, Major Rex Grace and Sister Kay,” Mal said under his breath. He started to laugh quietly, then he folded his arms on his knees and buried his face in his elbows. Jayne didn’t know what to do about that. He checked his watch; they should have been gone by now. But this part of the schedule wan’t so tight. He sat still and waited until Mal lifted his head with a quietly muttered “Laotianye.”
Jayne started to get nervous again when the smile faded off Mal’s face and he stared at the floor, eyes going blurry again. “Mal?” Jayne said hesitantly.
Mal pulled his attention back to Jayne
“I got a schedule to keep, and if I screw it up Zoe’ll give me a black eye and Kaylee’ll be doing some kuangren electrical work in my bunk. Try and help me out some. Okay?”
Mal gave Jayne a long measuring look, then he seemed to remember the gun in his hand. He let the barrel of the gun turn upwards so that the butt was held out. Jayne took it carefully, backing away before he put it back in his holster.
Mal rubbed his eyes. “Where’s Zoe?”
“Got some secret mission, won’t tell us about it.”
“Inara? She okay?”
“Whole crew’s lively as ever, long as we get out a’here sometime soon. You gotta change outfits with this guard. We got a plan. Zoe come up with it, with this other guy. Total zang shang liu hwoon dahn, but he’s got connections. It’s a real shiny plan.”
Mal looked around the cell like he hadn’t seen it before. “We’re goin’ to Serenity?”
“ ‘at’s right. But we don’t got a lot a’time.”
“I need to put on that uniform?” Mal glanced at the unconscious Private.
“That’s the plan.”
Jayne tried not to fidget as Mal studied him again. Finally, Mal asked, “Everyone’s okay?”
“River said you’d help.”
“Well, River does say a lot of things.”
Mal’s face slowly broke into a smile, not quite a normal smile, but not such a crazy one as before. “That she does.” He nodded. “Diyu, let’s do the thing.”
Not much later, two Alliance guards left a man in prison garb laying unconscious on a cot in detention cell 15. The sentry at the entrance to the detention area didn’t look up as the bigger guard signed them both out.
Jayne led the way straight to the cafeteria. After a brief pause by a window to get an update from Wash, he and Mal joined a short line of soldiers, civilian employees, and medical staff getting a late dinner.
“It’s awfully nice of ya to think of it, I haven’t had a square meal in, well gosh, I guess I’ve lost track. But is this really the time?”
“Good a time as any,” Jayne replied, then lowered his voice. “Can’t loop the security cameras in here. Once Kaylee interrupts the feed, we gotta be goin’ quick, and we can’t do that till Zoe’s done with whatever she’s doin’. Anyhow, there’s a little wiggle room in the schedule. Just in case somethin’ goes wrong.” Jayne lowered his voice again, almost to a whisper. “Say - like if someone got nutty and screwed things up by almost shootin’ me. ”
Mal frowned at Jayne.
Jayne inched forward in line, looking at the display case eagerly. “Hey, since we got some time – I ain’t had good tapioca since my momma used to make it back home.” Jayne pointed to the cellophane wrapped paper bowls in the rack just ahead of them. “Mind if I grab one?”
* * *
Zoe handed the form to the clerk. He tipped his head back to look through the bottom half of his thick glasses, and took a deep breath through his nose. “Hmmm. Unusual.” He glanced over his glasses at Zoe.
“Don’t ask me, I just run the errands,” she said with a shrug.
The man frowned, but he stamped the form and picked up the phone.
“You can pick it up at the counter to your left,” he told her after he hung up, then he called out, “Next?”
Jayne scraped the last little bit of pudding out of the bowl, then slurped his drink through a straw. “I’m just sayin’, the Alliance may be a mean set of wangba dan, but it sure is good to have a real snack. And this is only hospital food. You sure you don’t want nothin’?”
Mal shook his head slowly. He was sitting with one hand on the back of his neck. His fingers drifted up just into his hairline; the skin was rough there, and tender.
Jayne put a finger to his ear, then checked his watch. “OK, Zoe’s clear. We’re almost good to go”
“Zoe? Is the baby OK?”
Jayne frowned at Mal. “Baby? What’re you talkin’ about?”
“The baby. That Fed said he had Zoe, and the baby. I ain’t leavin’ them here.”
“Mal, Zoe ain’t got no baby.”
Mal sat back in his chair and didn’t answer.
“This ain’t no time for the crazies.” Jayne checked his watch again, “We gotta go.” He looked back up at Mal. “You got your head on straight?”
“Not too sure. Appears my rescue involves the all important step of Jayne Cobb eatin’ tapioca. I’m thinkin’ maybe something ain’t quite right.”
“Figure it out later, it’s time to go. Can you handle followin’ me?”
Mal rolled his eyes and nodded. Jayne got up and wound through the tables, looking back at Mal once before ducking into a storage room near the kitchen. He turned on the light and shut the door behind them. “We got three minutes till the surveillance goes back on,” Jayne said as soon as the door closed, “and we gotta be out’a this cafeteria by then. Get rid of the guard outfit.” Jayne was already stripping off his own guard uniform; he had civilian trousers and shirt underneath. The uniform he reversed again to the business man’s suit. It was a little roomy for Mal, but it worked.
As they changed, Jayne explained the plan. “We gotta leave here like we ain’t together. The cameras’re still on outside a’ the mess hall, and they’ll be checking the tapes later on to track us down. Oh – which reminds me.” Jayne grinned and pulled a flat brimmed felt hat out of his pocket and unfolded it. Frighteningly enough, it wasn’t far from current fashion trends in the Core. It would serve to block Mal’s features from the security cameras.
“Well, don’t you look sly,” Jayne said with a grin after Mal pulled the hat on.
“Don’t be getting’ any ideas, I’d never form improper relations with anyone on my ship.”
Jayne looked at Mal with a mixture of alarm and confusion. “Ya, whatever. I know the way down to the docks, so you gotta follow me without lookin’ like ya are. The ship’s an Alliance transport that Zoe and Wash borrowed. I’ll lead you to it, then you get on. I got another way out.” Jayne gave Mal a long look. “You ain’t gonna go all bugshit crazy, are ya?”
“I try to keep that to once a day. Uh, I mean, twice.” Mal adjusted his hat. “No baby, huh?”
“No gorram baby. Now get a grip and keep it, cause if you get lost, I can’t go lookin’.”
“I’ll be a good sheep. Baa.”
Jayne grimaced at Mal and wrapped the Alliance gun up in Mal’s borrowed uniform, then checked his watch. “All right, we gotta go.” He dropped the uniform and gun in a trash bin on his way out of the cafeteria.
Mal tailed Jayne through the nearly empty corridors. It went fine until he passed a large viewing port. Serenity was out there, drifting in space. She looked abandoned, dark and empty, but she was all in one piece. Mal paused and raised a hand to the glass. It was so good to see his ship. None of it had been real, he thought with a smile. Then his smile fell; green balls of fire were streaking out at her.
“Mal!” He heard a harsh whisper from a distance, and looked down the hall to see a casually outfitted beardless Jayne studying a large plastic plant in an alcove. Mal looked back to the view port. His hand lay against an empty white wall.
Mal kept his eyes fixed on Jayne’s back the rest of the way to the docks. Jayne glanced back once to make sure Mal was getting on the transport, then he continued toward the main exit of the base.
River climbed out of her chair when she saw Mal stepping through the airlock into the transport. “I told you we’d come get you,” she said.
He looked at her for a minute. “Yeah, you did,” he finally replied. She snatched the hat off Mal’s head and put it on her own, then returned to her chair.
Mal heard a velvety voice. “Welcome back, Captain.” He turned to see Zoe and Wash standing together near the entry to the cockpit. A large gray and blue bag sat on the floor next to her.
“Hey Mal,” Wash said. “Good to see you in one piece.”
“Wash,” Mal replied with a nod.
Zoe walked over to check the seal on the hatch behind Mal, then nodded to her husband. “Let’s go.” Wash disappeared into the cockpit.
Zoe gave Mal a long look over, taking in his gray face and bloodshot eyes. “You look like hell, sir.”
“Thanks. You lost weight since I saw you last.”
Zoe gave herself a long look over, then arched an eyebrow. “Um, OK. Sir.”
“How’s Jayne gettin’ out?”
“He’s got creds we borrowed from a construction contractor. He’ll be able to walk out the front door and ride back to Serenity with Book and Kaylee.”
Mal gave her a doubtful look. “Serenity’s really okay?”
“Of course she is.” Zoe studied him more closely. “Are you all right, sir?”
Mal looked around the small room. “Where’s everybody else?”
“Simon and Inara are waitin’ for us on the ship. We should be clear of the system in an hour or less, hopefully before they even realize that it ain’t you in that cell.”
“Yep. She’s still with us.”
Mal shook his head as a voice came back to him. I guess you could say we recovered her, but not enough of her to be worth seeing. “What about the Reavers?” he asked Zoe.
“Reavers?” Zoe put her hand to her hip automatically, but her civil servant outfit didn’t include hardware.
“Captain, that never happened,” River said, but Mal wasn’t listening to her.
…not enough of her to be worth seeing. Unless you’d like to see…
Mal tilted his head to the side and looked around the room. “Zoe, you hear that?”
“Hear what, sir?”
Mal held up a hand for silence. His eyes settled on a hatch that opened to a small storage room at the back of the shuttle. He walked cautiously toward the hatch, then shoved it open. His face went pale as he stared into the empty space. For a few seconds he leaned on the door frame, then he fell to his knees and lost what little there was in his stomach.
“I had to sedate him.”
“I really wish you hadn’t. His blood is drug soup right now. The sedative you gave him, a stimulant, the medrazapan, one of the Alliance’s favorite talkative-making drugs, and a few things I’m not even sure about. It’s a mess.”
“I had to - he was hearin’ things. Then he got sick and and started talkin’ about Reavers and blood and…” Zoe hesitated before finishing, “body parts.”
Mal lay still and listened, afraid of what might start happening if he opened his eyes. He could feel the comforting hum of Serenity’s engines. He listened for the high-pitched buzz, and couldn’t find it.
“River?” he whispered, although he hadn’t been intending to speak out loud.
“Captain?” Zoe replied. “You awake?”
“No. Where’s River?”
“Here, Captain.” Mal opened his eyes and saw the girl standing in the doorway to the infirmary, peeking around Zoe and Simon.
“You really here?” he asked River.
“Yes. You are too.”
“Some of the monsters came back with you. They’ll go away.” River came to the side of the bed and touched Mal’s arm gently.
“The walls aren’t solid yet. They have doors that swing. Open, closed. Monsters sneak out.”
“How are you feeling, Captain?” Simon interrupted his sister. He stepped in front of a light shining down from the ceiling, a sight Mal recognized with alarm. He sat up a little more quickly than he should have.
Zoe was by his side, steadying him. “Easy there,” she said. “No hurry.”
Mal looked at the IV line in his arm, and immediately yanked it out. “No drugs, no needles, no pointy things,” he told Simon. He checked the doctor’s hands for deceptively innocent looking silver wires.
“It was just to rehydrate you,” Simon said. “To help flush the drugs out.”
“It’s okay, Captain,” River said. “None of that was real. Do you understand now?”
“I…” Mal rubbed his forehead. “So, when did it start not bein’ real?”
Zoe answered him. “They picked you up on the station, after we got the money from Ricky’s contact. You talked to us from the stairway, said you’d be on board in a few minutes, but you never showed up.”
“You didn’t come out lookin’?”
Zoe hesitated. “Well, we did after a bit, but there was nothin’ to be seen.”
“I ain’t blamin’ you, I just… I thought you told me… There was two of ‘em, they knocked me out. Then you and Jayne got to them…”
Zoe shook her head. “Never happened sir.”
Mal tried to draw a line between the real and the imagined events. It was a blurry line and things wouldn’t stay on one side or the other. His head ached. “It’s just a little confusin’ is all.” He slid off the table to his feet. “Everyone on board?”
Zoe nodded. “We’ve been underway for a bit now.”
“Uh-huh,” He looked down, saw he was still wearing the clothes Jayne had given him in the back room at the Alliance cafeteria. Plum silk with scratchy uniform material on the inside. His mouth tasted terrible. “I should go to my bunk. Clean up, get changed.”
“Captain,” Simon said, “if you could just tell me what happened, what you remember, it would help me treat you.”
“When I want your damn treatment, doctor, I will come askin’ for it.” Simon opened his mouth to reply, but then turned away. Mal held the edge of the bed for a few more seconds before he began to make his unsteady way out of the infirmary. Zoe tried to take his arm to help him, but he shook her off.
The rest of the crew was in the common room, waiting to welcome him back. Kaylee ran to him with a smile and arms outstretched. Mal let her hug him, placing his hands hesitantly on her shoulders. His little Kaylee, right here, whole in hand and body and mind. Let this part be real, he thought. If it wasn’t, if he had to see her like that again…
“Morning, Captain,” Mal looked up at Wash’s cheery greeting.
“Welcome home,” Book said more sedately, but with a warm smile. He was stretching out a hand.
Inara rose beside Book. “Mal, it’s good to have you back.” There was earnest relief in her eyes, but Mal didn’t trust that. He didn’t trust any of this. He tightened his hands on Kaylee’s shoulders and pushed her away.
“Cap?” Kaylee asked. Mal shook his head at her.
“What, you got the crazies again?” Jayne asked from a chair behind Book.
Mal glanced around at each of them. Without saying a word, he turned and climbed the stairs.
* * * * *
sangshang liu hwoon dahn : upper class bastard
On to Chapter 15.
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