Dana Bell AKA Dragonlots
"Secrets! Secrets and they're not even mine!"
River awoke with her heart pounding and drenched in sweat. She hadn't had nightmares since their grizzly discovery at Miranda.
Simon stuck in his head. "River?"
"I'm okay." She'd muttered those words before too, when the shadows lifted and the voices left.
"Do you need something to help you sleep?" His concern for her was echoed in his tone.
"No." She lay back down and listened as the door slid closed. With a deep breath she calmed her nerves and tried to go back to sleep. Perhaps the nightmare would not return. Or perhaps it would and she would understand why it haunted her and hopefully she'd be able to put it rest. Closing her eyes she fell into slumber, her dream repeating itself until she felt she understood the meaning.
When morning came, she went to the bridge and altered their course. They weren't on a job so she knew the captain wouldn't mind. Then again, maybe he would. Still, it would add some variety to their otherwise dull routine.
"You're up early," Malcolm Reynolds commented, glancing at the console and scowling at the course change. "Somethin' you want ta tell me?"
"No. But they wanted it kept."
"Gonna cost me more crew?" She knew he hadn't recovered from the deaths of Shepherd Book and Wash.
She stared out at the stars. "Maybe take us someplace new. Away from the Alliance where we'll be free."
"Such a place exist?" He stared past her trying not to look at the dinosaurs left on the console in Wash's memory.
"Don't know. They didn't want it found though."
"Then we'd best go find it. Don't like the Alliance havin' secrets."
She smiled up at him. "Knew you'd want to go."
"Best ask next time. This is still my boat."
She didn't reply. Rather, she gathered her legs up to her chest, keeping them modestly under her long cotton skirt. She rested her chin on her knees.
"Breakfast in ten minutes," Captain Reynolds commented from behind her.
"I'll be there."
River closed her eyes lost in the familiar hum of Serenity's rhythm. It wasn't home like the Tam estate where her parents still lived. Yet, in an odd way, it was more of a home than that huge house surrounded by a force field had ever been.
She opened her chocolate brown eyes and affectionately rubbed the ears of Wan, their newest addition to Serenity's crew. Kaylee had brought the feline home after rescuing it from an alley behind a restaurant where the cat had been digging for scraps in the garbage. Wan was actually short for Wandering One. Not that she or anyone in the crew had named her. River had 'read' the name from the cat's mind.
"Bet you're hungry," she commented as the cat jumped down looking up at her expectantly.
Wan cleaned a spot on her splotched orange, brown and black shoulder, then picked up a white paw and pulled at her claws.
River checked their course one final time and followed the cat off the bridge and down the long corridor to the galley. The cheerful yellow room with red roses and green vines painted up or along the edges, gave the shared space a welcoming embrace. Wan jumped up on the table, earning a scowl from Mal.
"Kaylee, what 'av I said about that cat and manners."
"Not to fret, cap'n," Serenity's engineer replied. She scooped up the cat and placed the feline next to a bowl filled with tuna, just outside the room in another corridor.
"Wan doesn't like it out there," River told them. "She likes being with us."
Jayne stuck his head in. "Where's the goram cat?"
"Not currently in the room," the captain told the mercenary.
"Good." The big man took one of the mismatched chairs and grabbed up a helping of protein-enriched gravy and a biscuit.
Simon sat beside his sister and Kaylee, his normally neat black hair slightly mussed. Helping himself to some food he asked, "Where're we headed?"
"According to your sister, " Reynolds answered, "to discover another of the Alliance's secrets."
Startled he gazed at River. She just shrugged. "Was that what you were dreaming about?"
Inara joined them, looking lovely in a silk blue dress with her usual plunging neckline and floor length skirt. Her stone necklace and dangling earrings perfectly matched the outfit. She wore her hair long ebony hair loose.
River noted the look Mal gave the companion, one of hidden admiration, before he reverted to pretending to be interested in only his food.
The companion helped herself to some tea before joining them. "How's Zoë feeling?"
"I gave her something to help her sleep," Simon told them.
Wash had been killed a few weeks earlier by Reavers and Zoë still grieved for her dead husband. She hadn't exactly pulled away from all of them, but she'd been keeping to herself more than usual.
"Healin' takes time," Mal said. "Best leave her on her own till she decides different."
Silence descended on the table broken only when Jayne sneezed heartily. Simon dropped his chopsticks in disgust.
"You should cover your mouth when you sneeze," River pointed out.
"Stupid cat!" Jayne yelled as he rose from his chair. Wan had silently crept up on him and he backed away still holding his plate and mug of coffee. When he reached the door he bolted for his quarters.
"Suppose I'll have to give him a shot later to ease his symptoms," Simon commented picking up his chopsticks again.
"Best do that. I may need him." Serenity's captain took a drink of tea. "Where're exactly are we going, little albatross?"
River glanced away her eyes taking on a distant look. "To a secret buried place."
The asteroid below rotated slowly in black space and filled the front windows. River expertly put Serenity in orbit around the irregular shaped object. Mal watched from the matching control console below.
"Well done," he complimented.
She smiled pleased with herself. Wan sat on close by, her tail bumping one of the dinosaurs but not knocking it down. River stroked the silky back before rising.
"They hid it here."
Mal turned slowly in the chair to face her. "What exactly?"
Her pretty face clouded and she impatiently pushed her long brown hair away. "I didn't know what we'd find on Miranda until we went," she responded. "I only know that there's something here they don't want found and it has something to do with traveling."
"That's a mite confusin'."
"I know. Sorry."
"Wonder what other secrets you might know," he muttered under his breath. "You want to land her or shall I?"
"I will," River told him. Mal was a decent pilot, but he didn't have Wash's natural talent nor hers for that matter, though landing on the constantly moving asteroid would be tricky and one she accomplished with little fuss. Nearby was a cave entrance and she sensed where they wanted to go was there.
The crew gathered in the hold, Zoë stood on the gantry above watching with slight interest, Inara beside her, clutching a bright shawl tightly.
"There's no atmo so we'll need to get suited up," Mal began without preamble. "Not sure what we'll find here, but take anythin' you think we might need."
River watched her brother pale slightly. Simon got claustrophobic in the suits.
"Whatever secret they're hidin', we're goin' to find it. If need be, we'll tell everyone in the Alliance about it, like we did with Miranda."
A heavy silence hung in the room. The death of millions due to the Alliance trying to make the population calmer through introduction of a gas still haunted them all. That, and the knowledge that was also how the Reavers had been created.
"All of you have jobs to do, so let's get 'em done. Ready to leave in fifteen."
There was a bustle of activity as everyone grabbed what they needed, bags to carry supplies in, Jayne grabbed his guns and a few grenades, Simon his medical kit.
"Feel up to comin', Zoë?" Captain Reynolds asked his first mate.
From her spot on the stairs River paused waiting for Zoe's answer.
"To the job, sir," Zoë answered.
"Get suited up."
Fifteen minutes later the entire crew of Serenity had suited up and Malcolm Reynolds opened the hold door. Earlier on impulse, River had grabbed Wan and tucked the cat inside her suit. The feline rested close to her belly. It wasn't entirely comfortable, but the girl hadn't wanted to leave the cat alone.
They crossed the rocky barren surface to the faint outline of the cave entrance. It got dark as they entered and a couple of flares were lit to help guide their way. At the end of the short tunnel they encountered a heavy metal door. Reynolds tried the controls to no avail.
The mercenary pushed past the captain and slapped a bomb on the door. "Best we stand back."
Everyone retreated a safe distance and shielded their eyes as the explosive did its work. The door buckled and sat half-open hanging at an awkward angle. Gingerly they all worked past it into the airlock.
"Controls still work," Zoë commented, her nimble fingers working the controls.
"Odd set up," Mal observed.
River had to agree with him. The main door was not the airlock entrance.
Zoë got the airlock open and they all tumbled in. It was a tight fit. Once the air cycled through they entered the main room. Lights bounced on at their presence.
"Now that's unsettlin'," Jayne said bringing his gun up as if an enemy stood before him.
"Deserted a long time, sir." The black woman removed her helmet at the normal readings. "Got air though."
The suits were hung in lockers they found next to the airlock. Simon shuttered as he put his in.
"It wasn't that bad was it?" River asked her brother. She put the cat down on the cold metallic floor.
"Bad enough," the young doctor replied.
"Everyone spread out," Reynolds ordered. "Search the rooms and sing out if you find anythin' interestin'."
River followed her internal guide. First there should be a short hallway then a huge door. "Open Sesame." And she giggled at her silly words. Vaguely she remembered her mother reading her stories about a secret cave, a genie, and a magical land.
"This where we'll find your secret?" Mal wanted to know.
"I think so." Somehow she seemed to know the code and the huge door creaked open.
"Now what is that?" Serenity's captain advanced into the room with Jayne making a quick sweep to make sure no one else was there.
Dominating the center was a huge ring with symbols along it. An odd device with matching symbols and a red half ball in the middle stood before it. River approached knowing the two were what they sought.
"This is it," she breathed.
"What is it?" Mal stood there puzzled.
A set of seven symbols danced around before her eyes. Wan jumped up batting at the first.
"Thought we left that goram cat on the ship," Jayne objected.
River pressed the first symbol. It lit up and had a corresponding noise from the ring.
"River," Mal inquired. "Is that supposed to be doin' that?"
"Yes." She pressed the second, third, until the last. She didn't know what to do next. The cat leaped on top of the red half ball. "Okay." Her hand pressed it.
Out of the center of the ring a water like huge finger leaped out and settled back.
"Whoa!" Mal retreated a few steps.
Wan raced up the metal ramp pausing at the top to look back at them.
Without thought River followed.
"River!" her brother called.
"It's okay, Simon. We can travel through this."
"To that place you were talkin' about." She heard the unease in Captain Reynolds's voice.
"Look at this." Kaylee gazed around in wonder. "I ain't never seen anythin' like this."
"Wan says we should see what's on the other side, if you think this is amazing."
The cat leapt through the circle of water. River only hesitated for a second, stood even straighter and bravely stepped out into a cold nothingness emerging on the other side in a huge dark room. Behind her she heard the others stumble through.
"Goram. Anybody else freezin'."
"Hush, Jayne." A flare came on held by Zoë. "Where are we?"
To be continued