|Firefly Season One
Author: Sahlinrob PM
War Crimes 8; Inara returns/a hasty retreat to Serenity/River inspires Jayne but her newfound "calm period" ends.Rated: Fiction T - English - Sci-Fi/Adventure - Chapters: 25 - Words: 183,867 - Reviews: 42 - Favs: 17 - Follows: 30 - Updated: 05-06-13 - Published: 06-01-11 - id: 7042336
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N 1 ...Please read all the beginning notes and disclaimers at the beginning of chapter one, if you have not already done so, before proceeding.
A/N 2 ... Jayne's knife: I had made an error in naming his famous knife "Pinky" at the beginning of this series. While it's not canonical, as I don't actually recall his knife even having a name in the series or movie, the almost universally accepted name is "Binky." Therefore, I decided to amend this. I have been going back and changing this in previous chapters (up through the "Hero Complex" episode, so far) and will continue to do so as time allows. Henceforth, starting with this chapter, it will be called "Binky." Thought I'd make mention of that in case anyone noticed the discrepancy.
A/N 3 ... This was to be the final chapter of the currant episode but it would have been too long, so I broke it into two parts. Also, where I made the break provides for a good "cliffhanger effect." The next and final chapter will be much shorter.
Perfect Sunset (part five)
The Alliance Cruiser "Qiánghàn" hovered silently in the debris littered vacuum of space, overlooking the derelict slaver ship and Carousel. While the battle had, for all practical purposes, been won, the area was still a beehive of activity.
Swarms of federal officers combed through the Carousel, cataloging the vast stores of illicit goods and rooting out the last pockets of resistance. Armed EVA suited troopers had poured in through the hull breach of the dead slaver ship, in search of possible survivors and assessing damage.
Lieutenant Hiram Wallace sat at the comm station, on the bridge of the "Qiánghàn," monitoring incoming reports from the dispatched gunships, searching for the "rouge" vessel, while contemplatively gazing out the viewport at the disabled slaver ship.
"Sir, None of the blockade or gunships have reported contact." He paused for a moment and added, resignedly...
"It is possible that they managed to make it out of the sector undetected…"
"Yes, but more likely they're still here." Commander Chien interposed, untiringly.
"Well sir, that is a possibility. Apparently there are a number of moons here that were once used as hideouts for pirates, smugglers and the like." Wallace conceded.
"If that's true, they could hide for weeks, months, perhaps indefinitely." Chien replied fatalistically.
"Or as long as their life support holds out." Wallace interjected. "you see sir, most of these smaller uncharted moons are not capable of supporting life and while they could hold out for a fair amount of time, it would be limited. There is however somthing that would play in their favor, that I think you should be aware of sir."
"Please continue Lieutenant." Chien consented.
"The majority of Elphame's minor moons are in retrograde orbit, in respect to the Carousel and the larger moons, sir. "Wallace went on to explain. "There are five presently within this sector."
He brought up a display on the Coreview and continued...
"E-42, E-13, E-26, E-51 and E-38." He explained while pointing out the various small rugged looking rocky spheres. "All are small airless 'black rocks', but E-42, 26 and 51 are due to exit the sector within the next few hours. If they did park on one of them, they will soon be out of the area. Also, E-38 and 13 have only moved within the sector within the last twenty and forty five minutes respectively, so it's highly doubtful that they 'hitched a ride' on either of them, sir."
"So you think they're hiding on E-42, 26 or 51?" Chien queried, while staring pensively out into the black.
"That's where I'd be, sir. It would be a free ride out of here."
"Very well, Lieutenant." Chien agreed. "We presently have three gunships at our disposal, searching for the Firefly. Recall and redirect one to each moon for recon, before they get out of range."
"Yes sir." Wallace replied, paused for a moment, then added "But there is yet another possibility, sir. It's a long shot but I think it deserves consideration as well."
The commander turned and just gave him a look to continue...
"One of the gunships picked up an ion trail that lead into the inner ring. There was no sign of wreckage, so it's unlikely they broke up. The trail was quite fresh so they were obviously close, but no sensor of visual contact was ever made. They were stealth equipped, sir."...
"While they were most likely not the ship in question, they had to be venturing out into the ring's debris field for a reason. Being stealth equipped would mean that they would have little difficulty getting past the blockades, so taking such a dangerous rout, just to escape, would probably not be their motivation. That they were headed someplace within the ring, would be the most obvious conclusion."...
"Closer investigation, while still staying a safe distance from the ring, revealed a small bright spot just within the inner ring. A rudimentary spectrograph showed it to be a very small planetary body, locked in synchronous orbit with the rings and while it appeared to be entirely aquatic, it did have a basic nitrogen, oxygen atmosphere, capable of support human life."...
"This is obviously where our 'ghost ship' was headed, sir and if they're there, our quarry could be as well, that is if they were even aware of it's existence. The gunship came upon it purely buy chance and I can't seem to find any record of it on any database whatsoever."...
"Yes, that is an intriguing possibility Lieutenant, but the Firefly we were pursuing was not equipped for marine operation and prolonged atmospheric operation is not feasible for such a vessel. They would exhaust their turbine fuel within a few hours or more and if they were there, I would think that they would have moved on, after discovering that there was no place to set down." Chien commented, dismissively.
"I couldn't agree with you more on that particular point, sir. That's why I made no mention of this earlier." Wallace explained. "But that was before I remembered somthing my grandfather once talked about."
"Your grandfather?" Chien queried, while turning to him with a curious look.
"Yes sir. He was a research scientist employed by an entity that he never revealed to anyone. Very closed door and secretive. When I was a young boy he was always away on some mysterious research project, the location of which he never to his dieing day made known."...
"When I was a teenager, he had retired and was diagnosed with an incurable terminal illness. He never disclosed who his employer had been, or who had supplied his pension, never reveled the exact location of, or the nature of the project he had been working on, but durring his final months, when he knew the end was near, he did talk about it to some degree."...
"He had claimed to have been to a small moon that was entirely aquatic, with the exception of a few very small island groups. According to him, on the few islands, it was an environment that closely resembled a very young Earth-That-Was and was a virtual 'Garden of Eden.' It was also encapsulated within some planetary ring system and he would go on for hours about how stunning it looked, from the surface."...
"Moons within a ring system are extreamly rare, not to mention one that is nearly all aquatic. As you know, there are only three worlds that posses rings of any real consequence; here at Elphame, New Canaan and Beylix."...
"New Canaan and Beylix are well populated, heavily traveled worlds and if such a place existed, within their ring systems, it would undoubtedly be well known. Elphame, however, is a gas giant whose four habitable moons are quite remote and backward. Low population with very little traffic. The whole system is in orbit between the two dead lifeless planets of Prophet and Di-yu. With the exception of slave traders and pirates, nobody ever comes out here, sir. It would be an ideal location for such a place to go unnoticed. Call it just a 'gut feeling,' if you will, but this could be the place my grandfather was talking about. If it is and if they are there, they could hide on that moon indefinitely."
"There's nothing wrong with a 'gut feeling' Lieutenant" The captain allowed. "Sometimes it's all you have to go on and you've proven to have good instincts in the past."...
"I think your idea has merit, but first we need to make certain they're not trying to slip away on one of those dead rocks you mentioned. If this other place is in synchronous orbit, then it's not going anywhere and we'll investigate it soon enough. Go ahead and dispatch the gunships as previously ordered. When and if it's confirmed that they're not there, we'll investigate this... mystery world."
"Yes sir." Wallace responded, as the turned back to the comm.
After he concluded his task, he again inquired of the captain...
"Is there something else Lieutenant?" The captain replied, while still gazing out the front viewport.
"Sir, I was reviewing our orders. We're to capture this vessel intact and quarantine the crew? We're to have minimum contact with the... subjects? ... and anyone who actually speaks with them is to be is to be quarantined as well?" Wallace queried with a perplexed look.
"Yes." Chien replied tiredly. "That will make it slightly more difficult, will it not?"
Glancing back out once more, to the slave ship, Wallace concurred...
"Indeed it could, yes... but I think I have an idea."
Simon looked down as Kaylee stooped over to pick up an odd looking shell, from the gently receding surf. He took in her gentle features, as she stood back up to show it to him, in the soft glowing light of the out-worldly sunset on Zoe's Moon. For the first time he understood, that life didn't have to begin and end as a surgeon at St. Mao's, back on Osiris.
He put a hand to her cheek, as she looked up at him sweetly and as the swollen yellowish orange orb of Huang Long dipped down toward the endless, fiery looking sea, he kissed her.
With the surf crashing in the background and little frothy surges of seawater washing up over their bare feet, they stood in a passionate embrace, with the "Yellow Dragon's final light shining obliquely, through Elphame's glistening rings.
After a moment or two, Simon broke away, turned and gazed guiltily out over the ocean. Kaylee, smiling contentedly, breathlessly breathed out...
"I'm sorry." He apologized morosely, while staring absently, out over the waves.
"What?" Kaylee uttered back in bewilderment.
"I don't know what came over me. I'm sorry, too much wine I guess. It's just… The beach and the sunset, and you looked so...beautiful..."
"Simon?" She entreated, with a look of shocked disappointment.
He finally turned to look at her and explained remorsefully...
"Kaylee, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that. I have responsibilities. River... I don't know what I was thinking; I almost lost her today... I can't… I shouldn't…." He trailed off as Kaylee pleaded...
"But Simon, you didn't almost loose her. Just thought ya did is all. She was on the ship all the..."
Simon wasn't listening though, as he flatly interposed...
"Sun's setting; it will be dark soon. We should go." then turned and walked away, back toward the shuttle.
Kaylee watched him go, jaw agape, somewhere between stunned and angry.
Wash and Zoe were laying on the floor, looking quite tired, sweaty and sated. Wash yelped in surprise and they both abruptly sat up, when a knocking came from the door, followed by Simon's muffled voice...
"Zoe? Wash? Sorry to intrude, but the captain said we should be back by sunset."
"Fú gāisi de taoyàn! Bùshì biérén de dōngxi, Háizi de zuiyu hóuzi de fènbiàn ne? Wo gěi ni shí Bójīn!" Wash muttered irritably, as he jumped up and pulled on his pants.
"It's okay, honey. I was done." Zoe remarked, with a lazy glowing smile, as she slipped on her sarong and began brushing her hair.
"Well, I wasn't!" He exclaimed, while stomping toward the door.
As soon as the door opened, by the state of Wash's half undress and general odor that permeated the shuttle, it was plain to Simon the he had indeed come at a rather inopportune time.
"Sorry if I was...uh...interrupting anything." He reiterated awkwardly "but the Captain was quite clear that he wanted us back before dark and I really should check on River. I've been away from her for too long now."
"River?" Wash muttered to himself, as he threw on a shirt and headed for the pilot's seat. "What's he gonna be like when she starts dating?"
"R... River, dating!" Simon gasped incredulously.
"Well doc, she is getting older. You haven't ever considered that possibility?" Zoe queried, while tying her hair back.
"Well I never really...thought she'd..." Simon began uneasily, just as Kaylee huffed into the shuttle and commented coldly...
"No, I don't conjure he has."
As she sourly plopped into a seat and crossed her arms, she commented ...
"She ain't like him," and added facetiously... "serve him right she took up with Jayne."
Zoe, noticing Kaylee aloofly pouting in her seat, ignoring Simon, who's face turned white at her mention of Jayne and his sister, commented with an amused grin...
"Well doc, I see you did it again." ... while Wash slapped his forehead dramatically and exclaimed...
"Why yes, of course! why didn't we see this before! River and Jayne; the perfect couple!"...
As he started with the pre-flight checks, he added...
"Mrs. Cobb can distract us by pouring dish soap in our hair, while Mr. Cobb plots to take over the ship; a match made in heaven."
As if on cue, the comm beeped. Zoe, knowing full well who it was, picked up and answered without preamble...
"We're on our way in sir. Figured it was about time anyway; the doc's worryin' on his sister again." she paused for a moment then replied sadly back to the unheard voice...
"That he did sir." as she glanced over to Kaylee, brooding to herself and after another pause she concurred...
"Couldn't agree more sir...That River's gonna be the death o' him." She concluded with a sigh.
The Yellow Dragon was just peeking up from above the sea and the stars overhead were already burning bright against the blackness of space, when Jayne emerged from the out of the quickly failing "half light." Stomping grumpily up the ramp, he was being persistently dogged by River, while Book came up from behind carrying a bucket, overflowing with fish.
"...but when does the fish stop being a fish?" River went on insistently.
"Told ya already, I hate riddles!" Jayne barked back.
"When the fish is on the hook, can't pull away, is it still a fish, or just a thing?" She continued on, doggedly.
"Ask me, it's just dinner." He grumbled with a shrug.
"Speakin' o' which, how'd it go?" Mal queried, as he came down the steps, into the cargo bay.
"Got enough for a fine meal, and then some." Book revealed, while holding up the bucket.
"That's what I like to hear. Zoe tells me they're on the way in. Conjure it'd be nice an' shiny like, we had somethin' warm an' tasty, settin' on the table for 'em." Mal suggested, as he made his way over and peered into the bucket. He made a slight face, at the sight of the strange primitive looking lobe-finned fish and questioned warily...
"Uh Shepherd? you sure we can eat these things?"
"Fins and scales." River commented, before Book could respond.
"Doc needs to dope her up good, when he gets back." Jayne suggested irritably, while Mal just gave her a puzzled look.
"Ancient Hebrew dietary laws from the book of Leviticus Captain." Book explained "the difference between clean and unclean animals. If a fish has fins and scales, it's clean and safe to eat."
"What?" Mal exclaimed "You been a-corruptin' my little one now!" He went on accusingly, his voice jumping an octave.
"Mal" Book went on calmly "Whatever you may think of my book of...fairy tales, that part has been used in survival manuals for centuries and young River here, already knew that."
Mal scratched the back of his neck thoughtfully, for a moment, then relented...
"Well I 'spect she's just runnin' outa books to read is all." but commented while turning to leave...
"but just remember, what I told ya bout bringin' God on my ship."
As he started back up the stairs, he turned back for a moment, pointing at River and added...
"An' that goes for you too darlin'."
With that, he smartly bounded up the stairs and dissapeared from sight. Book and Jayne followed soon after, at a more relaxed pace on their way to the galley, discussing the best way to prepare the catch, while River lingered behind in the bay. She watched until they dissapeared through a hatch, then commented quietly to herself...
"Can't get away. Already on the hook."
The Qiánghàn hovered silently in space, over the north polar region of Zoe's moon. On the bridge, Lieutenant Wallace approached Commander Chin, with the report from their latest scans.
"Sir, this moon is mostly aquatic. It's impossible to be certain as to the number of others, from this vantage point, but a detailed spectrogram and infrared scan has disclosed at least two small islands near the equator and there could be more. A moon not even known to exist? that shows up as totally aquatic from a casual scan? Ideal hiding place, if you ask me." He concluded triumphantly.
"Any word from Pennington?" Chien replied coolly while examining the spectrograph.
"No additional support, sir. He's responded to our special request, but otherwise nothing." Wallace reported back somberly.
Chien paced toward the window, staring out at the "water world" far below. After a moment of silent contemplation, he responded, with a hint of disappointment...
"Well I'm sure the troops are needed at the Carousel." and after a deep breath, he ordered with determination...
"Very well. We'll do this without additional support. Continue to search the other moons with one, but re-call our other two gunships to rendezvous with us here. They will provide recon over the islands."
"Should I go ahead and set our ambush into place, sir?" Wallace queried eagerly.
Chien just nodded, while staring out the window longingly.
About an hour earlier:
Seventy miles East of River's Lagoon...
Angry breakers crashed into bases of immense, rocky vine draped spires, defiantly jutting hundreds of feet from the dark primordial sea. Perched high atop the tallest, nestled amongst ferns, cycads and small palms, some clinging desperately to the edges of the towering granite cliffs, was Veiðimaðr; outrider Bravo.
Like a throwback to the Cretaceous it sat, as if a nocturnal Pterodactyl, searching the seas far below it's high lofty perch, for prey.
Chuluun Baayn stood by the edge, gazing out and scanning the black and silver glistening seas below, as Elphame's all encompassing orb rose in the Eastern sky, giving birth to Zoe's Moon's ghostly "half light" night.
When the Western horizon dimmed from a faint glow, to utter darkness, with the bright glowing rings arcing across the sky, in stark contrast to the dark inky void, he headed back inside the awaiting bird of prey.
"Mr. Drexel." He commanded "Prepare to move out and engage stealth; no thrusters, anti-grav drive only."
"Yes sir." The helmsman replied. As he flicked a series of switches and hit a few keys, an eerie hum reverberated through the small ship, as it gently rose from the ground. After the drive was fully power up, he threw a larger switch and a high powered crackling electrical "pop" was heard.
Outside, the little predator blinked a few times, as if melting in and out of existence. In a few short moments all that was left was a slight ghostly outline of it's former shape, surrounding a dark splotch of nothingness, swallowing up all incoming or outgoing ambient light and sound.
Silently, like a tiny but deadly singularity in the deep of space, it moved forward and over the edge. Floating gently down to the water's surface, like a faint spectral shadow, it faded out and blended in with the dark sea.
Skimming across the surface of the murky nighttime waters, with only an occasional puff of mist in it's wake and the blotting out of a few reflections, to betray it's existence, it headed westward toward their final objective. First officer Baayn stood on the bridge, staring silently out the front viewport.
Baayn had been the first to recognize Eriksson's potential, back when he had been a slave. It had been him that had convinced the late Captain Stanwick, to give him a shot at being a crew member. He was still to this day Hörður Eriksson's right hand man; he was invaluable to him and his most trusted.
Still, Baayn had been the one who had been so certain that the ship they sought was even on this moon, in the first place and as a result of his advice, had been tasked with "finding them"... period. So far they had been unsuccessful.
While in Eriksson's eyes, he was probably the closest thing to what might even remotely be considered a "friend" and Hörður was relatively fair and just, to those who had earned his trust. Their new captain, however, was also a man that put a high priority on results and didn't take well to disappointment or failure. Baayn didn't relish the idea of coming back "empty handed."
"Mr. Billings" He called out, while staring out into the darkness. "Anything we should know about?"
"No sir." The comm officer replied. "All's still quiet, but I did pick up a faint transmission... military. I couldn't make anything out before it faded though. It was probably just a freak bounce from the Carousel, but I'm still trying to bring it in."
"Keep on it Mr. Billings; let me know of any changes." Baayn instructed, then turned to the helmsman and ordered...
"Mr. Drexel, our final objective is forty degrees due west. Set course for two seven degrees, four minutes Northwest."...
"At one eighty one degrees, fifteen minutes West longitude, proceed on a course of one eight zero degrees due south for five minuets, at our present speed. That should put us there in just over an hour. We'll come in low over the water from the west side of the island, from out of the darkness, keeping them between us and Elphame."
The helmsman made a few adjustments and responded...
"Course set as ordered, sir." He made a few more slight corrections and picking up on Baayn's feelings of apprehension, queried...
"And if they're not there, sir?"
"If they're not there? ...well if they're not there then... they're not there!" He exclaimed, while throwing his arms up in the air in resignation. After a moment he regained his composure and explained...
"This will be the largest island on the moon. It has mountains, dense forests teeming with game, a river and an abundance of fresh water and edible plants and fruits. If they know anything at all, about this little world, which they obviously do or they wouldn't even be here, that's where they'd go. We were going there ourselves, but at the time it was on the daylight side and the captain and I decided that, under the circumstances, making landfall on the dark side to be the wiser option."...
"Don't worry, they'll be there." He stated reassuringly, although seemingly more to reassure himself, than the crew.
The thick pensive atmosphere, was broken when Billings, the comm officer blurted out...
"Sir!, I'm picking up somthing.. and it's close!"
"Is it military!" Baayn queried, with a note of trepidation.
Billings just held a hand up for silence, as he made a few adjustments, then replied...
"No sir...not military," as he cupped a hand to his headset, listening intently. While making some more adjustments on the comm console, he then announced...
"and I have a directional; it's coming from about seventy miles due west of our present position." ...
After a moment or two he announced...
"They signed off, but I think it's them sir."
"Well what did they say!... Did you get a transcript!" Baayn questioned impatiently.
Billings hit a few keys and the comm unit spat out a slip of paper. He smartly ripped it off and handed it to the first officer, with a grin and replied...
"Read it yourself sir."
Baayn took the offered paper and glanced down at it. A satisfied smile came over him, as he read the words that said...
Transmission A / 0400:10:43 USCT / Zoe, conjure it's about time you...
Transmission B / 0400:10:48 USCT / We're on our way in sir. Figured it was about time anyway; the doc's worryin' on his sister again...
Transmission A / 0400:10:55 USCT / Got his shorts all in a bind again, so soon? Suspect he got poor little Kaylee all Yōushāng too?
Transmission B / 0400:11:06 USCT / That he did sir.
Transmission A / 0400:11:09 USCT / Got me a powerful notion to have a little chat, with the doc and his sister. Ain't overly good for moral, Zoe.
Transmission B/ 0400:11:17 USCT / Couldn't agree more sir...That river's going to be the death of him.
Transmission A/ 0400:11:22 USCT / Speaking of which, they ain't back yet either. Might ought to take me a little walk along the beach, but I can't leave Serenity. Not nobody here and all. Just get on back Zoe.
End transmission / 0400:11:34 USCT...
"Indeed" Baayn commented to himself, with a gleam in his eye. "A ship named Serenity with a doctor and his sister onboard. They're on the island, parked close to the beach and the river... I do believe you've just earned your keep for the day, Billings." He remarked, while turning to the comm officer briefly.
He then turned to the helmsman and announced...
"Mission accomplished; we have what we came for. Cut stealth, reverse course and go to full thrusters. The captain's gonna want to see this." He concluded with a grin.
While there was obvious tension between Simon and Kaylee and Inara was noticeably absent, aside from that, it was a fine supper. The normal fare of tea, sake, rice and protein cakes, vaguely disguised as somthing more palatable, had been replaced by tea, sake, rice, fried fish and a variety of odd but quite tasty local fruit, as the crew of Serenity sat around the table enjoying their evening meal.
The fish, once converted to batter fried fillets, seemed a whole lot less foreboding looking than they had in the bucket, with their primitive looking fins and razor sharp teeth. Sheppard Book and much to everyone's surprise, Jayne, had done an excellent job of preparing them, to the point that the evenings cuisine would probably have rivaled that of the better restaurants on Ariel.
Mal had thought about addressing the situation of River's seemingly growing rebelliousness and occasional hint of resentment toward her brother, that only seemed to fuel his predilection for "pushing the panic button" every time he even so much as imagined, she might be in trouble or was pursuing some endeavor he might not approve of. However, as the situation seemed under control, for the moment anyway and not to mention that underneath his exaggerated bravadoish smiles, he had relational issues of his own to sort out, he decided it could wait.
Aside from the increased tension between Simon and Kaylee, all were getting along and conversing congenially, with occasional bursts of light hearted laughter. Even Jayne, whom River had decided to take her seat by, didn't seem to be annoyed by her close proximity, probably because she was also, uncharacteristically, too preoccupied with stuffing her face, thoroughly enjoying the fruits of their labors, to be pestering him with crazy talk, or stealing food off his plate. Although still his same crude self, he was behaving quite affably.
Wash had seemed to have forgiven Simon, for his earlier interruption of his and Zoe's "activities," and had reverted back to his former good nature. He started in on a story that Simon had told, while they were on the picnic phase of the day's adventures...
"And the doctor had a brothel story that was quite amusing!"
"I love me a good brothel story, if you know what I mean. Doc?" Jayne egged him on, with a good natured but lecherous grin.
He reached across the table for a large fruit, vaguely remminisant of an albino pineapple, when Kaylee interjected dryly...
"It ain't that kind o' story, Jayne." She then glanced over to Simon, with an exaggerated saccharine smile and added, in a sing song voice...
"You know our doctor. Too proper for anything fun."
Simon looked mortified, at her remark and an uncomfortable hush fell over the table. Mal was about to speak, when Wash looked around and with good intentions, attempted to restore the good natured air of fellowship, by casually popping up with...
"So… Where's Inara?"
Things just got more awkward, as Mal swallowed whatever it was he was about to say and looked silently down to his plate. Finally Book spoke the magic words, that restored the general feeling on congeniality...
"More fish?"... as he held the platter up in offering.
They all enthusiastically spoke up at once, responding in the affirmative, and the platter was passed around the table.
"Shepherd, ain't you supposed to give us bread or somethin' to go with this?" Jayne remarked, as he started to slice open a not-a-pineapple with "Binky."
"I think summoning loaves is quite beyond my ability." Book replied, with a good natured smile.
"I don't know, preacher. You sure found us a pretty enough paradise, and it is Sunday, after all." Wash commented, while grabbing another fish, as the platter was passed.
"It is?" Jayne queried, while Book looked pointedly over to Mal and remarked...
"Indeed... Shouldn't you be out stealing something?"
Mal looked sharply back, while Jayne popped a piece of not-a-pineapple into his mouth and mentioned...
"Thought it was Tuesday."
"What're you getting' at, Shepherd?" Mal responded reprovingly, while leaning back in his chair and hooking his thumbs in his suspenders.
The situation was defused, when Inara finally made her entrance, looking around a bit awkwardly. Lacking her normal poise, she looked as if she might have been a little ill, possibly the after-effects of all the wine.
"'Nara, hey." Kaylee chirped up "Sit down. We've got fresh fish!"
"I... I don't know." She began hesitantly "I think maybe I'll go back to my shuttle. I'm not feeling..."
"Come on, Inara!" Wash interposed "Have some fish with us, Book and Jayne slaved for hours over a hot stove preparing it."
Jayne shot Wash a malevolent glance, as Inara queried apprehensively...
"Yes, he'll make someone a fine wife someday." Wash quipped jokingly.
Jayne, not seeing the humor, was about to say somthing in response as he started rising, threateningly, from his seat. His proposed action was arrested, however, as he groaned slightly and a grimace came to his face, as one of River's boots kicked him sharply in a shin, under the table.
He glowered down at her for a moment but let it go, as they all got up and moved around, to vacate a seat near the head of the table, up by Mal.
"No, I really think I should go back to..." Inara started in, as Simon interposed...
"It actually is quite good... all things considered." He complemented, while glancing over to Jayne.
A stricken look came over him for a second as he noticed, surprisingly, for the first time, who it was that was sitting next to him. After a few scornful looks directed at his sister, he concluded, albeit with less enthusiasm...
"You really should... try some."
As the entire company, with the exception of Mal, looked up to her beseechingly and River perkily got up, went to the cupboards and returned with another place setting, she finally relented.
Inara took her place and she and Mal looked at each other awkwardly. He looked as if he wanted to say somthing, but finally just stared down at his half eaten dinner. For the rest, however, things had returned to normal, as they continued to eat.
Book doled out some more fish. Simon passed a bowl of vegetables to Zoe and had seemed to have gotten over River sitting next to Jayne, contrary to his previous orders. Jayne speared a chunk of not-a-pineapple with his knife and in a rare act of consideration to his crewmates, offered it to the table, as River smiled up at him in approval. Kaylee leaned forward and took the offered fruit, popped it into her mouth and closed her eyes, as she savored it's sweet juices.
The galley was again filled with the sound of utensils on plates and relaxed light friendly conversation, as Wash, with his mouth full, announced to Mal...
"Captain, I think we're gonna stay."
He chewed and swallowed, then elaborated...
"Zoe and me, we're gonna collect shells. Trade with the locals. We'll be shell merchants."
"The locals is fish an' big bugs" Jayne put in with a smirk.
"Well I didn't say we'd be successful merchants." Wash clarified, with a relaxed shrug.
River, stared piercingly at Zoe for a moment, then stated...
"She's thinking about it, you know. Thinking about leaving."
Wash and Zoe exchanged a solemn look. Zoe turned to Mal, and started in reluctantly...
She faltered, searching for words while Mal, ignoring her, just looked to Inara expectantly for a moment, then got up and stomped out of the room. Another awkward hush, like a dark mist, descended on the group, as they all looked around to each other in bewilderment. Zoe got up and followed after him, while Jayne, seemingly unaffected, advised...
"Aw, just ignore her. She's been talkin' all crazy-like since we come back from fishin'."
Simon looked over to River, sharply, then snapped...
"You went fishing with Jayne!... I thought I told you to stay away from him!...and why are you even sitting there!"
Kaylee rolled her eyes, as Simon continued on with his tirade...
"You promised me, just a few days ago!"
River sighed and pointed out tiredly..."I promised I'd be good, Simon."
She scowled and added petulantly..."It's okay; we caught fish."
"You know what, doc? I'm getting' powerful sick o' your..." Jayne began, menacingly, as he started rising with Binky still in his hand.
"Now, now, there's no need for this." Book put in, calmingly, with his hands raised slightly.
"No, Shepherd, stay outta this." Jayne retorted curtly "This's between me and his lordship here." he concluded, while glaring across the table at Simon.
"Oh yes; of course Jayne." Simon began derisively, as he defiantly stood up. "So what? you're going to stab me now, I suppose?"
"Jayne, I know he can be annoying, but why don't you put the knife down?" Kaylee appealed, coldly.
Jayne realized that he was in fact holding his knife. He shoved it back in it's sheath and made a fist instead, while snarling at Simon.
"Much better" Kaylee remarked, superciliously.
Mal and Zoe re-entered the dinning room talking seriously, amidst the pandemonium. Wash rushed over, inquiring of Zoe...
"Is she right?"
"Jayne, really…" Book implored.
"Are you really thinking about leaving?"
"I don't think this is the time or the place…"
"Almost eighteen, Simon."
"Well what is the right time and place?"
"Not now, honey"
"Why don't we all just calm down and have some more fish?"
"Then I can drink, smoke, vote, have sex..."
"If not now, when!"
"Another time, dear."
"Simon, you ain't never gonna loosen up."
"And what's wrong with this time?"
"She'll be legal age doc."
"Are you seriously implying!..."
"Conjure you outta just go an' marry River... If she'd have ya."
"Ain't 'plyin' nothin', doc!"
"Hey! Yàoshi bù tā mā de bì zui !" Mal barked out, silencing the squabbles. He was about to continue with reprimands, when Inara stood up and announced succinctly...
"I'm leaving the ship."
The following silence was near suffocating as they all, except Mal and River, looked at her in shock. Jayne was the first to speak...
"Leavin' the ship? But it's dark out."
The pandemonium returned in force, as everyone again started talking at once. Mal just sat back down despondently at his seat and started glumly picking at his food, then shoved it away, got back up and started heading toward the fore passage. River pushed her chair away from the table, leaned back and started staring blankly up at the ceiling. Kaylee lead out, pleadingly, with...
"Inara, no! You can't mean it..."
Simon joined in...
Zoe turned to Wash, with a communicative look and he replied sheepishly with...
"Okay, so you were right..."
Book offered his counsel...
"I'm sure this is a well-considered decision, but..."
Jayne, who had sat back down and was thoughtfully finishing Mal's supper, put in...
"Why would you leave now? We got fish."
River, unnoticed by all, had stood up and was now standing on her chair, still staring intently, through the ceiling and announced...
"The fishermen are coming."
While the message was brief and soft-spoken, it caught everyone's attention and they all turned and looked at her. Even Jayne, instead of immediately snapping at her to shut her crazy mouth, or for Simon to dope her, stared at her with a look of apprehension. Mal, who had just stepped through the hatch on his way to his bunk, froze, turned and looked over to her, as she appended...
He wasn't sure if he understood her metaphor or not, but it took him all of a microsecond to react...
"Wash! get us outa here...now!" He bellowed.
Wash scrambled up from his seat toward the fore passage while Mal bounded over to Kaylee, grabbed her by the shoulders and inquired beseechingly ...
"Kaylee! please tell me you didn't!"...
"No Cap'n, ain't shut down cold...they's still on standby."
"Good girl" he extolled, with relief. "Fire'em up!" he commanded and gave her a pat on the back, as she bounded toward the aft passage.
"Jayne! Zoe!... Get everything secured then Zoe, you report to the bridge and you, Jayne, get all the weapons you can carry and get to Inara's shuttle!"
As they rushed off to their duties, Mal took Inara aside and said...
"Inara, get everyone else in your shuttle. On my signal, 'hang on,' pull the pins and Free fall, as far as it's safe, before powering up. I 'spect River can suss out the calculations on that. Got me a notion they'll be after us with a powerful will; they shouldn't notice."
"Mal! what are you planning on doing!" She came back in alarm.
"I plan to survive an' I plan for you to do the same. We'll be back when we loose them." He calmly explained.
"And if you can't loose them!" She exclaimed, with a worried look.
"Then you'll be safe." He pointed out "This is a big island. There's game, fish, fruit and water. Sheppard seems to think there's caves in the mountains. The shuttle has cortex access. You'll have Jayne for protection and a doctor if anyone gets hurt. Trust River's judgment, if you contact anyone for rescue."
"Ain't got no time for discussion Inara! Just do it!" He asserted with finality.
As Irara hurriedly gathered up the others, Mal called out...
But she had already twisted away from Simon, who was hustling her along after the others and came running over to Mal, adamantly proclaiming...
"I'm staying with Serenity."
Simon rushed after her, but Mal authoritatively waved him off, as if to say "I'll take care of it."
Turning to River he stated...
"We ain't a-arguin' what's already been decided, darlin'."
She looked back at him peevishly and stated...
"I can help and I'm..."
"Ya, but you ain't eighteen yet." he cut her off, in anticipation of what had started to become one of her more favorite phrases...
"So you'll do as your told."
She stuck her lip out sullenly and he elaborated...
"You wanna be on this crew someday? I seem to recall that I'm the captain and last I checked the crew follows the captain's orders and the captain's orders are for you to get your little pígu on that shuttle, dong-ma?"
She just nodded her head dejectedly and started to leave. Mal softened up a bit and added...
"Look little one, we both know you have... talents. They might have to hide in them woods for a very long time. Might be all manor of ugly in there an' I'm figurin' you might maybe see it, for it comes a-callin'. Inara's gonna be needin' some help an' sides, you got a blood kin brother to look to. I need you to look after them. Can I trust you with some o' mine, till I get back? Conjure this would be your first job here, if you want it that is."
He paused for a moment, looked her straight in the eyes and as the shrill whine of Serenity's massive turbines, spooling up in the background, started shrieking through the ship he added...
"You know we ain't got no time for discussin' it all particular-like, but I'm fair certain ya already know; can I count on you?"
A little smile crossed her lips, as she gave him a snappy salute and cried out enthusiastically...
As she turned to dash off toward Inara's shuttle, a genuine smile came to him, as he ruffled her hair and as the whining turbines transitioned into a defining roar, he said in parting...
"Go... make me proud."
Before River had even left the galley, Mal was bounding up the fore passage hollering out...
"Wash! why the gorram hell we still on this..."
The question became moot, when he was thrown off his feet as Serenity lifted off and shot out over the sea, climbing high into the night sky.
Mal was starting to wonder if River's warning had been either wrong, or timely enough to allow them to simply "slip away" unnoticed, as Serenity flew peacefully through the thin upper stratosphere of Zoe's moon, toward the North Polar opening. Either scenario was fine, however, as his escape plan for the rest of the crew was dicey at best and he hoped he would not have to implement it.
He also knew now that the only guaranteed safe way back into the black from this ball of water, to avoid Elphame's rings, was at the northern polar region, above seventy degrees North latitude. The Alliance, or whoever else might be the author of the threat River had sensed (she had been rather unspecific), would probably be aware of this as well.
A perfect place for an ambush.
An atmospheric confrontation, with hostile vessels, was also a most undesirable situation. With all of Wash's piloting expertise, Crazy Ivans, etc. the fact remained, that a Firefly's atmospheric flight characteristics were rudimentary at best. They had been designed, almost exclusively, for simply getting to and from the black and a planet's surface in one piece and that's about all.
Once safely back in the black (their element) they were nearly unparalleled, especially in the hands of a pilot of Wash's caliber. However, in a planet's close gravitational field, at sub orbital speed in atmosphere, they were quite literally a "tub" and there was no quick and easy way back into the black from Zoe's Moon; unless of course, you wanted to make an attempt at breaking atmo, directly into Elphame's inner ring, which would be somthing like trying to do a fast tap dance in a spinning ball mill and live to tell the tale.
If an atmospheric encounter with armed hostiles set on their demise, were to occur however, before reaching the polar opening, that might be the only option available.
If the shuttle and it's occupants had to be essentially "jettisoned" in a tumbling free fall, the timing of when to start transitioning to a stable but high speed power off decent and to fire the thrusters, at the last possible moment, to avoid detection but avert going to a watery grave, would require quick, almost inhuman "on the spot" calculations and planning.
The shuttle was designed primarily for atmospheric flight and had good flight characteristics therein. Inara was a fair to good shuttle pilot, but it only had the most basic flight computer and there were so many possible variables. Good as she was, this was out of her league.
River, as far he knew, had never had any sort of flight training and he didn't expect her to actually try to fly the shuttle. Although with her uncanny computer like calculations and basic knowledge on so many different subjects, he was hoping that between the two of them, they might stand a chance.
If they did make it, safely and undetected, to within a few yards of the water, what then? Inara was no navigator; she relied strictly on pilotage, visual references only, with perhaps a few radio nav aids to home in on. Over endless featureless water at night, especially with a curved horizon and lack of any nav aids, could she ever hope to find her way back to the island? or any of the few tiny pin pricks of land, in the vast trackless ocean, before the fuel was exhausted?
Book had found it once and knew it's location, but he had found it with the aid of Serenity's much more sophisticated nav computer, that the shuttle lacked. Could he find it again, under these circumstances?
River was also not a navigator. Sure, he was certain she had probably read up on celestial navigation before; there didn't seem to be much she didn't have at least a basic knowledge of. But if she had, to what degree was her knowledge on the subject? Even if she were a master at it, there were no instruments, at her disposal, to take readings off stars.
Still, if anyone could help Book find the way back, of all the people that were available, it would be her. That is, if she didn't go off on one of her crazy binges in the meantime.
As he glanced into her eyes, it had come to him in a way he couldn't explain, almost as if she had spoken and descried it in detail, durring the last few seconds of their previous exchange. He knew, that she knew, exactly what it was that she would be faced with and what she would have to do. River had seemed totally confident that she could do it and that was generally a good sign.
As whimsical and unprintable as she could be, Mal had learned by experience, that when she said she could do somthing she probably could and most likely wouldn't go crazy, until after the job was done. Prodigy or not, she was still only human however.
She wasn't perfect and she did make mistakes, the incident with the Lassiter had proven that. She was also still a young teenage girl that seemed to be craving recognition and acceptance from her peers, along with desperately wanting to prove herself, to be recognized as an independent adult and he wondered if that could be clouding her judgment.
All things considered though, he knew he had made the right decision. If things turned ugly before they made it to the polar opening and into the black, he knew that under the currant circumstances, the only purpose Serenity and her remaining crew (only those essential for it's operation) would serve, would be that of a "decoy," to effect the escape of the others.
He had tried to placate River into compliance, by making her feel needed, but the truth of it was that he truly was counting on her. She was probably the best chance they had for survival.
This whole ordeal may just have been a big false alarm and things might turn out perfectly shiny, it did seemed peaceful enough so far. Mal had finely learned by experience though, that when River said somthing that seemed to be some sort of warning or prediction, it was best to not be taken lightly.
The truth of that concept was soon to manifested it's self.
Mal stood at his station on the bridge, behind Wash, arms crossed, apprehensively staring out into the night. It had been quiet, too quiet. Zoe sat at the copilot's station with a headset on, listening for any possible transmissions.
"Sir, I've been monitoring all frequencies and other than scrambled military chatter from the Carousel, there's nothing." She removed her headset and continued...
"I think ya did the right thing back at the island an' I agree we should start payin' better attention to River. She was tryin' to warn us back at the Carousel; I can see that now, but she ain't perfect sir, none of us are."
"An' what might you suggest?" Mal replied, while grabbing his suspenders.
"Well sir, if you're askin' me; there's still a lot of Alliance activity out there an' you know the blockades are still in place. I'd recommend goin' back an' just waitin' it out, like we intended. Don't think there's nothin' back there sir."
"She's right Mal." Wash interjected, with an imploring look. "About River. The kid most definitely has a way, but even our instruments and sensors here" He stated, while waving his hand across the flight deck. "can give ghost images and false readings, like I was getting after we left, especially if you don't know how to interpret them and with River, well..." he trailed off with a slight chuckle...
"Tell me about them" Mal cross examined, while crossing his arms.
Wash looked up to him for a moment and Mal clarified...
"The ghost readings."
"It was nothing Mal." Wash replied with a sigh "They came and went for a few minutes, just after we lifted off. Heat flux, phantom bounce backs, who knows what kind of disturbances these rings can cause, but there long gone now. This place is off the charts, off the grid...unknown; the perfect hide out Mal."
"Or the perfect trap;...but one way in an' out." Mal appended, as he grabbed the shipboard comm and called out...
"Inara, send River to the bridge." Without waiting for a reply, he hung it up and commented...
"Got someone onboard might see to the truth o' things, conjure it's 'bout time we start usin' her."
"Uh... Captain!" Wash broke in nervously "I think the truth has just reveled it's self."
Mal hopped over and leaned over Wash's shoulder, staring down at the sensor displays, as Wash continued...
"Our ghosts are back ... and closing fast."
Zoe joined them in watching the monitors for a second and as quickly as the two blips had materialized, they blinked out again.
"They're stealthed" Wash stated apprehensively, as he glanced up to them.
"But they ain't." Zoe remarked while motioning to the front window.
They both glanced up and wash muttered to himself...
"Ó, cíbēi de fú!"
Mal's eyes went wide and his mouth dropped open, as he breathed to himself...
They watched in horror for a second, as an Alliance curser dropped out of the night sky, directly in front of them and two gunships, Xin Shidai K-4's, shrieked past them in the opposite direction, on both sides. They went into a long wide sweeping turn behind them, reversing direction and converged back in toward them, for the kill.
Mal and Zoe were all to familiar with the K-4, or "Reaper," as it had been code named by the Independent forces.
Introduced in the last few months of the war, it had given the Alliance unchallenged air superiority. It could be fitted with a variety of armaments and deployed with equal effectiveness, in the role of either a high speed interceptor, light bomber, ground attack or fighter. With it's all-wing design, deterium leading edges and revolutionary Nashida Corp. quad "Electron Pulse" rocket engines, it was fast, extreamly maneuverable, could scream directly into re-entry from any angle without burning up and was equally at home in the black, or in atmospheric operations. It's only real shortcoming was that, in the hands of a lesser experienced pilot, it was so fast that he would tend to overshoot the target and they were relatively short ranged.
If Serenity were back in the black and with someone of Wash's caliber at the controls, against one of them, they might have a chance of evading and out pacing it, due to the short range. Against two, a slim chance. Against two in atmo, absolutely no chance.
About that time, the rapid clomping of boots announced River's arrival on the bridge, with Simon close behind. Although she again had the "far away" look about her, she seemed remarkably calm, as she announced...
"The whirlwind comes, but the lion's teeth have been sharpened."
"I'm abundantly aware o' that darlin'." Mal agreed.
He had no idea what she was talking about other than the fact that it sounded like there was major trouble a-brewin' and they were in deep gou-shi.
"Doc!" he shouted without preamble "See to your sister!"
"But you said you wanted her..." Simon began, as Mal cut him off shortly with...
"Don't worry 'bout what I said!... just do like I say!"
Simon shook his head in bewilderment, as he steered River back toward the shuttle. She shook him off, contemptuously and ran back on her own, as Mal yelled after her...
"Remember, ya gotta job to do little one, don't let me down!"
"Inara!" He shouted frantically into the comm. "Doc an' his sis are on the way!... get ready!" Then turned to his pilot and ordered...
"Wash!... get us in the black!"
"About two more minutes Mal." Wash replied, while anxiously watching the rear view screen and the two rapidly approaching reapers.
"We ain't got two minutes!" Mal exclaimed, his voice jumping an octave.
To empathize that point, a series of rockets streaked past, dangerously close on both sides, their blue-white exhausts trailing out behind them to detonate close ahead, in deafening blinding white flashes. A second later the twin interceptors screamed by, twirling as they sharply pulled up and shot skyward as if mocking them, into a long high overhead loop, to come back around for another pass.
Wash, temporally blinded and disoriented, by the rocket bursts, regained his bearings just in time to avoid a collision with the cruiser ahead. In a near panic, he abruptly rolled Serenity off to the left. Mal and Zoe went flying across the bridge. River and Simon were about to the shuttle port, but went tumbling back down the stairs, to the catwalks.
The cruiser fired off a few rockets of her own. They were also near misses, but close enough that the concussion from the blinding white burst, echoing through the night, pitched Serenity violently upward almost totally out of control, while the Reapers, screaming like banshees, came back around from behind.
River and Simon had just picked themselves up, but were hurled over the edge of the railing. River hung on like a flag flapping in a gale, but Simon went clear to the cargo bay floor, knocking himself out cold.
Wash, although quite concerned, was remarkably calm as he stated...
"They haven't hit us yet. I guess that's good."
Another volley of rockets from the Reapers, just before they streaked past again and broke hard to the right, shook Serenity to her core, as a burst of gunfire from the cruiser caused Wash to dodge right.
"They're not trying to hit us, they're herding us." Zoe commented, as she and Mal helped each other up from the floor.
"Would seem like." Mal agreed "They'd a-had us by now if not.
River, on the verge of total panic, bounded down the stairs. She was no doctor, but a few quick checks ascertained that Simon was alive; merely knocked unconscious, from his fall.
"Simon!.. I'm sorry!.. please get up!" She wailed, while impotently tugging on his arm. After a few desperate attempts, that only managed to drag his prone form a few feet across the floor, she went bounding back up the stairs, shrieking at the top of her lungs...
After a few more desperate evasive actions and rocket bursts, on all sides, Mal yelled out...
"Wash! get us out o' here!"
"I'm trying... sir!" he barked back, while whipping Serenity to the left, the flashing of rocket blasts reflecting off beads of sweat on his forehead.
"Try harder!" Mal shot back, just as another evasive maneuver and "near miss" sent him flaying to the other side of the bridge.
Regaining his balance he grabbed the comm mike and yelled...
"Inara!...hang on... now!"
"Mal! I can't!... Simon, River and Jayne are in the ship!"
Simon had regained consciousness, somewhat, but was still too groggy to get up, when River and Jayne came dashing back down the stairs. Pulling him to his feet, Jayne hooked an arm under Simon's shoulders and with River helping, as best she could, the trio started back up the stairs, just as another blast sent them all tumbling across the cargo bay floor.
With a final desperate escape maneuver, Wash dodged around the cruiser and exactly what the gunships had been "herding them" towards, revealed it's self.
Looming before them, it's grapples at the ready, was the same slaver ship, that they had seen back at the Carousel and while it had a gapping hole in it's hull, it was quite obviously still operational.
"Wash?" Mal started in with trepidation "That thing gets a-hold of us, you're fired."
"It's River sir." Zoe commented, as they all stared wide eyed, at the new menace "They want her... alive."
Mal grabbed the comm again and appealed warily...
"Inara?... any time would be good."
"There still not back Mal." She replied, helplessly.
Wash made a quick last minute, desperate maneuver, but it was too little too late. Like the arms of a gargantuan Praying mantis, the grapples shot out and with a loud sickening metallic clang, that echoed through and shook the ship, held Serenity firmly in it's grasp.
He slumped back in his seat and with a resigned sigh, looked up to Mal and conceded, sadly...
"Guess I'll be lookin' for a new job."
A loud crackling sound shot through the ship, accompanied by a myriad of little flashing electrical arcs, racing along the walls, floors and ceilings to surround every living soul.
A second later all went dark.
"Excellent work Wallace, I'm sure there will be a commendation in this for you." Chien's voice crackled through the comm, on the slaver ship.
"Thank you, sir." Wallace replied, the soft glow of the control panel reflecting off his faceplate. "The crew has been incapacitated as well. I though it best, as I'm not too sure as to the condition of the grapples."
There was a slight pause, then Commander Chien came back...
"That was good thinking Wallace, but are you sure they're unharmed?"
"Most likely, sir." Wallace replied "The system was designed to capture slaves and we know how slave traders hate to damage their... merchandise. They should start coming to in about twenty minutes, with nothing more than a severe headache. We're scanning the ship and at the first sign of movement within, I can hit them again; keep them subdued until delivery."
There was another pause and Chien came back again...
"If we knew how well the system has been maintained and how accurately the voltage has been calibrated, I'd approve of your plan; unfortunately, like the grapples, we have no way to be certain. The orders are very clear, that they're not to be harmed. It would be best to not take chances."...
"The Qiánghàn shall remain here until the gunships have concluded refueling operations. I have recalled the third and it will rendezvous with you, out of atmosphere over the geographical pole. It will provide escort back to the Carousel if any problems should arise. Once you have returned, your orders are to await the arrival of a special team, that will take charge of the captured ship and her crew. Under no circumstances are you, or any member of your crew to attempt any form of communication, with the captured crew. My instructions are even more explicit on that."
"I understand sir." Wallace replied.
"How is your air supply holding out." Chien inquired "Will I need to ferry over extra oxygen packs, before you get underway?"
Wallace glanced down to a data pad on his wrist and replied...
"Negative sir. I'm still at seventy fire percent and the others should be the same. We found extra suits and oxi-packs onboard, if the return trip should take longer than expected. We'll be fine."
"Very well Lieutenant, you have your orders. We shall see you back at the Carousel; Chien out."
With that, Wallace flicked a few switches and the lobster like ship, with Serenity hanging limp in it's grasp, like a dying fish on a line, ascend up through the thin wispy upper atmosphere, of Zoe's Moon and into the dark cold vacuum of space.