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HOTPOINT

Here Be Dragons (Part III)
Friday, March 19, 2004

Continuation of the Here Be Dragons Sequence


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 4288    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Disclaimer – Everything either does belong to Joss or it should. I’m just borrowing his shiny ‘verse for a while.

The 21st Lancers belong to the British Army so I’m borrowing them too. I hope they don’t mind.

Thanks to my regular readers for making it worthwhile to continue the story and special thanks to my Proof-Reader Landry

* * *

Serenity/Granite Gorge – Going Nowhere (Fast) – 2520AD

‘River’s having a bad day’ Simon told Mal.

The Captain ducked as a bowl of noodles flew past his head and spread its contents all over the deck. ‘Ya think?’ he said.

River was looking for something else to throw. If she went for the cutlery draw Zoe was going to hit her with the stun-gun. It would hurt but a lot less than the prospect of a six-inch knife in the guts.

‘She’s getting far more resistant to the treatment. There will be more days like this until I can shift her over to the new one’ Simon told Mal. ‘I haven’t perfected it yet’

‘Qingwa cào de liúmáng’ screamed River throwing an empty mug at Simon ‘sticking me with needles. Taking my soul’

‘Calm down xiâo mèi’ Simon told his Sister ‘if you let me give you this shot you’ll feel a lot better’

‘Yaoguài’ River screeched ‘should have thrown you out the ship too’ she said ‘Too, two, Hands of Blue’ she said then giggled.

Simon took at step towards her. She bared her teeth and looked like she might attack him body tensing as it did before a fight.

‘Throw me the stunner’ Mal ordered. Zoe complied and threw it to him.

Mal aimed and shot River. She fell to the deck convulsing with the electrical charge ‘Sorry about that sweetheart’ he said.

‘That was unnecessary’ Simon said and glared at Mal before going in to retrieve his Sister ‘she might have calmed down’

‘She might have kicked your ass’ Mal said and threw the stunner back to Zoe ‘Give her the injection and I’ll help you carry he back to the Infirmary’

‘I can manage on my own’ Simon told him.

‘Your choice’ Mal replied and headed off for the cargo bay.

* * *

Steven, Jayne and Book were restacking the crates taken from the IAV Stokerton and shifting some of them over to the Granite Gorge. The Artificial Gravity could have been reduced to make it easier but that wouldn’t have made for good exercise and this was as much make-work as a necessary act.

Inara was supervising with a large clip-board in her hands. She was wearing a set of cut down fatigues which she somehow managed to make look attractive and stylish, no doubt about it she really knew how to dress Mal thought.

Book looked up as Mal appeared ‘How’s River he asked?’

‘Ain’t heard Crazy Girl do that in ages’ Jayne chipped in.

‘She’ll be alright’ Mal replied ‘Simon’s looking after her’

Inara looked so sad ‘I thought she was cured. It’s been nearly two years since she stabilised’

‘She weren’t never all that normal’ Jayne pointed out ‘Just less nuts than she was before’

‘Simon told me she’s getting too resistant to the treatment. He can’t up the dosage any more so he’s looking for another combination of drugs to replace them’ Book said ‘I hope he can get it done soon’

Inara looked at Mal ‘Is there anything we can do to help do you think?’

The Captain thought about it ‘Make sure to remind her we care I reckon and trust in top-two-percent to do his stuff’

Steven sat on a crate ‘She’ll be on drugs the rest of her life. Laura too for that matter unless we let her go back to the Academy’

‘Neither of them go back’ Mal stated ‘Ever’

‘So she just has to accept periodic bouts of insanity’ Book said ‘surely there’s an alternative?’

‘Can’t see us putting her Amygdala back in’ Jayne said.

Everyone looked at him.

‘Hey I know the right word’ he said ‘I was there when Simon found out remember?’ said the mercenary. Inwardly he felt a bit bad, people frequently underestimated his vocabulary and it weren’t like he was stupid. He just didn’t have the education of some folks.

‘I reckon Jayne’s right’ Mal said ‘I think she’ll need looking after for ever. At least we know she can be okay for a long time with the right drugs so we just need to make sure Simon can get them’

Jayne nodded ‘She’s crazy but she’s ours’ he said and went back to moving crates.

Mal looked at the mercenary. He’d never stop keeping an eye on him but he certainly liked him a lot more than he used to.

* * *

Wash was teaching mathematics to Cally and Claire-Marie over on Granite-Gorge. They were on the bridge so he could show them the practical applications of maths by running numbers through the navigation computer. If someone had actually attempted to show kids that arcane number-crunching really was useful, he thought, they’d be a lot more children in the ‘Verse could do sums properly.

Claire-Marie paid rapt attention. She desperately wanted to fly a ship one day and anything that involved being a pilot fascinated her. Her father would have given anything if she put as much effort into her history lessons.

Her older sister was far less interested but firmly believed that anything you could learn might one day be of use. Knowing how to navigate might one day help her save the ship and so she made sure to know how it was done.

They were running acceleration equations when the radio squawked. Wash leaned over and seeing it was a tightbeam signal on the frequency Shadow used he flicked on the receiver.

‘What’s up Shadow’ the pilot asked.

‘Hi Shadow’ Claire-Marie said happily. The AI ship was just too cool. One day she’d like to fly a ship you could actually talk too. How great a friend would that be?

‘Good afternoon Claire-Marie’ replied the ship ‘As to your question Pilot I have received a stray signal which appears to be coming from a nearby moon. Too weak for you to pick up yourself’

‘Best passive sensors in the business Shadow?’

‘Worth ten million credits of anyone’s money’ the AI stated ‘in any case I am under standing orders to report anything out here so I have. Transmitting coordinates to your NavCom. I’ll get back to sleep now Shadow signing off’

‘Bye Shadow’ Claire-Marie said ‘does he really sleep?’ she asked Wash.

‘If he’s got nothing to do he shuts down his higher-functions so he doesn’t get bored’ Wash replied ‘anything happens and he’s back up and running literally like a flash seeing as how most of him is an optical computer’ Wash flicked on the intercom ‘Captain this is the bridge. We have a signal nearby what do you want to do?’

Mal activated the intercom in Serenity’s cargo bay. The two ships intercoms were linked.

‘Details Wash?’

‘Just a stray transmission picked up by Shadow. Want to check it out?’

Mal thought for a second ‘Not a lot out here and it’s too soon for the Alliance to be here yet so we’ll go have a look. Don’t burn too much fuel though we’ve got plenty of time’

‘If I plot an efficient course we’ll be there in about a week and a half. Shadow really does have a hell of a sensor suite to pick the signal up this far out’

‘Ain’t no doubting it’s a hell of a tin-can’ Mal replied ‘set course and get us over there. Mal out’

Wash turned off the intercom and looked at the girls ‘Alright you two. You’ve got a course to plot’ he said.

Claire-Marie beamed.

* * *

The problem with being this far out is that everything is a long way away. Better than 99% of humanity was within Alliance space which left the rest of the species with everything else.

To run across something out here was a miracle in itself. Serenity/Granite gorge was operating in a sphere that was twice the radius of the colonised worlds. That meant of course it had nearly eight times the volume of space to play in with at most one-hundredth the population.

Of course Mal decided to investigate. They might never find anything ever again.

River was absent from Dinner than night although Simon was there having given his sister a tranquiliser to put her under. Hopefully she’d be better the next morning. Her episodes were occurring with more frequency and ferocity but for the most part her treatment still prevented them lasting more than a few hours. Chances are tomorrow she’d be apologising to everyone, she didn’t like her unrestrained moments they embarrassed her and she wanted to be just another normal member of the crew so much sometimes it hurt.

With supplies replenished and at Inara’s suggestion Laura was eating proper food instead of concentration rations. She’d be back on the tasteless badly textured stuff in a couple of days if she didn’t agree to start helping out but for now she got to eat something worth eating.

This was partially being nice and partially to make going back on the food concentrate seem such an appalling prospect she might fold. Inara was no telepath but she could manipulate with the best of them.

‘Any theories as to who it is we’re going to see?’ Zoe asked.

‘Could be Reavers’ Jayne said

Wash looked at the mercenary ‘Always the optimist’ he said ‘I’m guessing a private colony there’s a few out here’

‘Asteroid miners looking for the big score’ Jennifer said ‘I knew freelance miners back on Toulouse who dreamed of coming out here and finding a chunk of floating platinum half a kilometre across’ she said ‘my father for one’

‘If that much turned up at once would crash the market’ Simon stated.

Jennifer looked at him ‘That’s why you only bring it back a little at a time. A miner once found a rich rock near Toulouse and did that for years’

‘Renegade Independents who never surrendered’ Zoe said ‘You’ve all heard the stories’

‘My favourite was the one about the Indy Battle-Cruiser that supposedly went missing at the end of the war. Alliance looked for years’ Steven said ‘Eventually a former naval officer admitted it was just a clerical error and it never got built but somehow ended up on the Fleet roster’

‘I heard that one. It was hi-larious’ Mal said ‘the time and money they wasted trying to find that damn thing’

‘Back home. They used to scare children with the story that one day the Independent Navy would return from exile and bombard Shinon and Londinum with nuclear weapons in vengeance for the war’ Simon told them.

‘Nobody ever crossed the threshold thank god. If either side had used nukes against the others civilians the death-toll would have been horrific’ Book said ‘they both had stockpiles ready just in case’

‘The balance of terror held for once. MAD isn’t necessarily mad’ Steven said.

‘MAD?’ Inara asked.

‘Mutually Assured Destruction. Don’t kill our civilians or we’ll kill all of yours’ the academic explained ‘horrible way to prevent escalation but it worked’

‘Lots of EMP’s used’ Zoe pointed out.

‘Yeah but those were considered underneath the level at which they’d start a full scale exchange. As long as both sides only used Atomic Weapons to fry electronics not people things weren’t going to get too nasty’

‘Fighting should be between soldiers’ stated Zoe professionally ‘At least for the most part that’s how the war went’

‘If civilians are supporting the war-effort they’re a valid target’ Laura stated loudly ‘and even if not, if terror bombing of the enemies civil population will have the effect of removing their stomach for the fight it is a reasonable method of fighting a war’

The crew turned to Laura who was sitting with the children.

‘Always such a charmer’ Simon said ‘I guess morality and ethics weren’t high on the Academy curriculum’

‘Moreover my Dear History shows terror-bombing is ineffectual. It tends to merely drive the fighting forces to fight harder seeking revenge, and unites the civilians stronger behind the war’ Steven pointed out ‘unless you plan to kill every single one of them it’s not worth the resulting hatred and determination it provokes’

‘Liberal nonsense’ Laura responded ‘Fear is the great motivator’

Mal looked at the girl ‘Fear can provoke rage, and I’ll tell you straight that rage trumps it every time. If you don’t believe me get yourself involved in a bayonet charge’ he said and looked across to Zoe who nodded with a look of memory in her eyes.

Laura ignored them and went back to eating. She considered scanning them all whilst River was out of action but she’d know as soon as she became stable again and the consequences would be painful so it wasn’t worth it.

Cally watched the older girl interestedly. She still considered her a threat to the crew and therefore someone to be disposed off when the time came but she had to admit she had some good points to make on a few issues. Cally had been reading “The Prince” by Nicolo Machiavelli and his advice on whether it was better to be feared or loved came out strongly in favour of feared. This was a philosophy Cally could appreciate and it could be that the Academy graduate could be steered towards directing the fear she could induce in others through her abilities to the good of the ship.

Cally offered her dessert to Laura who eyed it and her suspiciously. The younger girl smiled causing Laura to shudder slightly. She was just so darn scary.

* * *

Mal kissed Inara one more time then rolled to his side and looked at her. His “Courtship” had lasted a lot longer than Inara thought it would, or he’d thought it would for that matter, but eventually he had shared her bed and he had to admit it was more than worth the wait. They’d been sleeping together for several weeks now and the crews teasing had abated somewhat.

‘You look good in fatigues by the way’ he said ‘just thought I’d tell you’

Inara smiled ‘A wardrobe of stylish clothes and lingerie and it’s the scruffy work-clothes that get you going. Typical’ she said.

‘It’s you that gets me going’ he responded ‘I was just commenting on your clothes’

She chuckled ‘For the record I actually prefer you dressed up’ she said ‘the tighter the pants the better’

‘Strangely I prefer you out of yours…’

Mal went “ouch” dramatically as she hit him playfully.

‘You are so shallow Malcolm Reynolds’

‘No I’m not. I just look beyond the finery to the real you inside I care about’ he said

A pause.

‘Was that in any way convincing?’ he asked

Inara shook her head ‘Not for a second. It was very sweet though’

‘I suppose its no crime to have lustful thoughts towards your woman’ Mal said.

Inara shook her head ‘Not in most places’ she gave him a sly smile ‘how are those thoughts coming along.

‘Again?’ Mal asked in mock horror ‘Darn woman you’re supposed to marry me before giving me a heart attack otherwise you don’t inherit the ship’

‘I’ve got to wear you down a bit first though’ she said moving her hands underneath the sheets ‘seems like you’re thinking at quite a rate’ she said.

‘I’m a closet intellectual’ he said rolling towards her.

‘I like a deep thinker’ she said.

* * * River was sleeping quietly with Simon sitting on the opposite bunk watching over her when Kaylee arrived. She’d waited for him a long time but eventually decided she would have to fetch him.

He lifted one hand to his lips as she entered. He looked so concerned.

Kaylee kissed him tenderly. He was always at his most adorable when he was looking after his sister. He was such a kind gentle man but he’d proved he had courage and determination to go along with it.

Simon smiled as Kaylee hung the blanket she was carrying around his shoulders and sat on his lap making herself comfortable and putting her arms around him with her head against his chest. He bought the blanket around to cover her as well and cuddled her gently.

Once I finish the new drugs for River, he thought, my life will be perfect again.

He kissed the top of Kaylee’s head and began to stroke her hair ‘I love you so much’ he whispered.

The mechanic felt the warm mushy feeling in her stomach she always got when he said that and raised her head for a kiss.

They fell asleep there watching over River.

* * *

Inara served and Jennifer easily returned sending her dashing across the bay to catch the ball but failing miserably.

‘Tired this morning’ Jennifer asked. ‘Your reactions seem a bit sluggish’ she said tongue in cheek.

Inara regarded her ‘My beau is making up for lost time’ she said.

‘And am I supposed to believe you’re not?’ Jennifer asked. ‘If it keeps up Simon will have to relieve him of command on medical grounds. He nearly fell asleep into his breakfast this morning’

‘Jealous?’

‘My Steven is available whenever I need him’ Jennifer stated smiling ‘we just don’t have the energy of new love’

‘But does he still have the stamina’

‘He’s fitter than he looks and I have ways to coax him when required. Although for the most part it isn’t’ Jennifer replied eyes twinkling ‘I still seem to provoke the necessary response by just being around’

‘Don’t the children cramp your style a touch?’

‘It has been easier since we got the other ship. So many more places to sneak off to’

‘Any recommendations?’

Jennifer thought for a second ‘The old Captains quarters on the Gorge is carpeted although Steven has complained of friction burns’

Inara was laughing so hard she didn’t even bother trying to chase the squash ball.

* * *

River woke up feeling dreadful. She had full recollection of the previous day but her thought processes were so different now she was calm for the life of her she couldn’t say why she’d done some of the things.

When she had an episode it was like having the most vivid realistic dream imaginable but one in which the dreams of others reared up at her. There were so many dark dreamers on the ship it sometimes hurt.

She was alone in her room but she knew Simon had been there all night. She remembered feeling his presence in her actual dreams. Kaylee too and her dreams were usually much more pleasant to experience than most.

Looking at the time River realised she’d missed breakfast and decided to go and see if she could find something left in the galley.

Claire-Marie was just finishing washing up when River walked in. She had the previous nights to do as well and it had taken her ages to do it all on her own as she owed Cally a week of doing all their combined chores after breaking one of her toys during an argument.

‘Are you okay this Morning River?’ Claire-Marie asked nervously. River was scary when she was acting peculiar, or rather, more peculiar than normal.

River picked up on the little girls’ thoughts. She hated the idea she might scare her ‘I’m fine today Claire-Marie’ she said ‘all better’

The little girl smiled ‘Good’ she said ‘Do you want me to make you breakfast? We had cereal and real milk and there’s still some left’

‘I’ll get it’ River told her and headed for the refrigerator. True enough there was some of the ships ration of pasteurised, irradiated milk from the cryo-freezer in there. It didn’t really taste as good as milk on a planet did but it was so much better than the powered stuff.

Claire-Marie handed her a bowl and a spoon she had just finished washing. She then pointed to the cereal. ‘Cornflakes’ she said ‘Daddy knew they were my favourite and took a big box of them from the Alliance Ship. Cally prefers porridge but that’s yucky’

‘If they’re your favourite do you want to share the last of the milk?’

Claire-Marie shook her head ‘We saved it for you special. Everyone on the crew gets an equal share’ she said adamantly.

River smiled, poured her cornflakes and milk and sat down to eat them watching the little girl put away the last of the dishes. ‘I’ll wash these up myself’ River told her ‘You can go play’

‘I wish I could but I’ve got class in ten minutes. Daddy is so boring’

‘But he did bring you back cornflakes’

‘Oh I love him and he loves me but he’s not as fun as Wash’ Claire-Marie said and headed off to shuttle two to pick up her books waving bye to River.

River munched on the cornflakes. She wished she could be that sure her Daddy loved her.

Oh well, she thought, I have got plenty of people who do. I’ll have to apologise to the Captain. He’d be feeling bad for stunning me so I’d better let him know it was alright.

River finished her breakfast and went to see the closest thing she had to a proper father, although she had to admit he hadn’t bought her back any of those wheat things she really liked.

Part IV

COMMENTS

Friday, March 19, 2004 9:27 AM

ARTSHIPS


The calm before the storm, it would seem. I like the "day in the life of" parts as much as the action. I wonder what could be on that moon. Thanks!

Friday, March 19, 2004 10:26 AM

AMDOBELL


Great. I love it that Inara and Mal are a couple at last and their dialogue together felt wonderful. Poor River, still having espisodes and Simon no nearer to a cure so it seems. Not sure about that gorram signal, methinks there could be bumps in the road ahead. *Xiexie ni*, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, March 19, 2004 6:46 PM

MALSDOXY


Loving the Mal/Inara stuff, H...this has the scary forboding that keeps us on the edge of our seats...can't wait for the next chapter


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