The Walls Sing
Dragonlots aka Dana Bell
"The walls sing," River announced as she pressed her head against the smooth metal. Her eyes closed and she hummed an odd melody none of the others had heard before.
"Great," Jayne grumped. "She's gone all crazy again." He turned to Reynolds who was staring up at the vaulted ceiling. "You sure you want her piloting your boat?"
"She'll be fine." He faced Cobb. "River just has a way of seein' things the rest of us don't."
"Doesn't even feel like there are ghosts," Zoe commented. "More like the people who lived here just walked away one day and didn't look back."
"Not just them." River reluctantly pulled away from her listening. "There have been others. I can hear their words like loud whispers."
"Anyone else find this creeptifying?" Jayne uneasily shifted his weight and held Vera, his favorite gun, tighter.
"I think this city is beautiful." Inara gracefully took several steps forward and took a deep breath. Her dark hair fluttered in the faint breeze.
"And look at those windows." Kaylee caressed one by the door where she and Simon had been standing. "Have you ever seen such fancy colors? Look," she pointed at the dusty floor. "They make a rainbow. Though," she frowned. "I can't figure out why it all so seems familiar."
"They're like church windows I've seen on the core planets." Simon lightly touched Kaylee's shoulder. "That's probably why."
She shook her head, her light brown hair escaping the pony tail she'd hastily pulled it up in. "It's somethin' else."
"We got a job to do," Reynolds reminded them all. "Let's find what we were hired to."
"This place is huge, sir." Zoe turned her dark face toward her captain. "Any idea where we should start looking?"
"I was told probably the center of the city. We'll start there."
Slowly they traversed the empty echoing corridors. Sparkling light from the windows sometimes lighted their way. Other times, the city lights popped on as they approached.
"Sure there ain't somebody here?" Cobb released his hold on Vera long enough to scratch a spot on his stained and dirty shirt.
"I'm sure." Mal's hand rested on his sidearm. The contact who had hired them had assured him the place was long abandoned. Still, the automatic systems gave the impression that wasn't true.
"Look at this!" Kaylee dashed forward as they entered a large room. Large windows adorned one side, while there were several stairs leading to various levels. The engineer dashed up the stairs that brightened as her sandals touched them. She yanked the plastic covering a console and it fell to the floor. "Look at this!?" Her round pretty face glowed. "They're perfectly preserved!"
"Ain't no concern of ours." Reynolds slowly pivoted to gaze around the room. He stopped as his hazel eyes caught sight of an unfamiliar object. "What is that?"
"A gateway," River answered. She glided forward to run her fingers over the large ring adorned with unknown symbols.
"There's a panel up here with the same symbols," Kaylee told them.
Reynolds had that gut queasy feeling that something wasn't right. "Don't touch anything!" he ordered his engineer. "River, get away from that."
The young girl made a pouty face before she complied, her fingers dancing over part of the odd structure.
"Uh, cap'n." Kaylee met Mal's eyes. "There seems to be some kind of power spike."
"Why is it nothin' ever goes right," he muttered. "Where?"
"If I'm readin' this right," she gave Simon an uneasy smile as he joined her on the upper deck. "About two levels below us."
"Wakening up," River said.
Cold mixed with a thawing warmth was the first thing he became aware of. His chest rose and fell, pausing briefly before he took a breath again. Tingling daggers pierced his arms and legs, feet and hands. Every nerve in his body screeched and his eyes felt like giant bursting balloons.
A swooshing noise broke the symphony of pain and he stumbled out. Somehow he caught himself, managing not to fall to the hard floor. Blinking he gazed around the lab and his mind wondered where everyone was. It felt like midday. There should be a team working.
He heard the outer door open. "About time. Why did you…?" He stopped his question as a group of unknown people converged on the room. Three held guns that pointed at him. Four others held back and at least one of them had a face he knew.
"Dr. Keller?" He swayed.
The dark haired man rushed forward and eased him to the floor. "I'm Dr. Simon Tam." He felt fingers on his wrist. "I need to get this man to the infirmary."
"He doesn't remember." The voice belonged to teenage girl. She knelt beside him, her cool fingers resting on his cheek. "We need to help him."
"Jayne," a browned hair man turned his head slightly. "Help the doctor."
"Outta just leave him here."
With words that seemed to be some sort of curse, the dirty looking man came to help. He was eased to his feet and guided out of the room, through halls that were oddly deserted, past the gate room, and out onto the dock. He saw the ship, if it was a ship, sitting there and he tried to make his captors stop.
"What is that?"
"Our home," the doctor answered.
He was taken inside the questionable vessel. The main area was dusty with boxes of various sizes scattered about. Glancing up he saw stairways and hoped they weren't going up those. He was thankful when they guided him along the lower area and into a room that was somewhat familiar.
"Easy him down," the younger man ordered.
The other man sneered but complied. "Hope we don't take on another stray," he said before he left.
"I'm going to check your vitals." He held some sort of instrument in his hand. "Do you remember what happened?"
Did he? Images surfaced and vanished again under his memories waves. "No."
"I'm sure they'll come back in time."
The doctor's beside manner was good. Just as good as Carson Beckett's or Jennifer Keller's, which made him want to ask a question. "Where's Dr. Keller?"
"We don't have anyone with us by that name. I'm sorry."
"But I saw her." He was confused and certain she'd been with them.
"We only have four women on this ship. Kaylee," the man smiled fondly, his smooth cheek bones turning slightly red, "Zoe, Inara and my sister River."
He closed his eyes. "My head hurts."
"I'll get you something for the pain."
There was something pressed against his neck and then he knew nothing at all for what seemed a very long time.
"It's pretty," Kaylee commented as Mal and Zoe lowered the conical rainbow crystal into a wooden craft filled with straw.
"Don't look like much." Jayne shook his head. "Whatcha gonna do with the stray? I say leave him here."
"Not his fault." River knelt beside the crate her brown eyes fixed on their prize.
"I ain't gonna leave someone behind just cuz you want me to, Jayne." Reynolds glanced at the mercenary after he'd made certain crystal was well packed in and protected.
"He's dressed like someone I've seen on a history tape," Inara added. She smoothed the fabric on her flared brown pants that now had dust on them.
"Knew I kept you around fer your education." Mal softened his quip with a grin.
"Oh, you kept me around for more than that." Her dark eyes sparkled and her tone dripped with suggestion.
Jayne groaned, Kaylee broadly grinned and Zoe glanced away trying to hide her grief.
"What are we going to do with him, sir?" the black woman wanted to know.
"Fer now, keep quiet about it. When we make our delivery, I don't want anyone mentionin' our other find. Do mah?"
"What if he's worth lots of money?" Jayne pushed.
"They were hungry," River interrupted. "Tried to stop them."
"Who, Little One?" Mal forgot about his reply to Jayne.
She shook her head causing some of her butterscotch hair to fall into her face. "Don't know."
Kaylee asked the question they were all thinking. "They still around?"
River gracefully got to her feet. "We should leave."
"Not yet." Reynolds didn't like mysteries. "I want one more look around that city."
"What if they don't deliver?" the young dandy with the scared face asked. He pulled his cloak a little tighter around him as if he was afraid it would be soiled by the questionable surroundings.
Badger noticed the behavior but kept peeling his apple and didn't act offended. Even though he was. "One thing about Reynolds, he's honorable."
With a snort the man replied, "I've had a taste of Captain Reynolds' 'honor'."
"I know you have." He often thickened his accent to make potential clients think he was dumber than he really was. Gave him the advantage.
"You'll alert me when they arrive."
"I'll send one of my men around."
"I also want to know if they brought anything else back."
Pulling his apple off the peeler Badger picked up his pocket knife. "See what I can do. Reynolds isn't so – forthcoming."
"But you have ways of finding out." It was more of a statement than a question.
The thief gave a broad grin. "Don't I always?"
"This city if beautiful," Inara breathed. "I wonder who lived here?"
"More concerned with why they left," Mal answered, his hand resting on his gun handle.
"No choice," River's voice floated around them. They stood in a huge empty hall where tables and chairs had been overturned.
He'd separated their party into three groups. Zoe and Jayne where off in another wing while Kaylee had stayed on Serenity with the doctor and his patient. His orders to the engineer had been to have the engines charged and ready in the event they had to leave sudden like.
Slowly turning he spotted what looked like scorch marks marring the pristine walls and a suspicious lump that might be a body. He walked over, knelt down and turned it over. The skull rolled away and leered at him when it came to rest against a chair leg.
"Long time ago." River's voice just above him caused Mal to start.
"Yeah. Party's long over." He rose. The longer they stayed the more he sensed they should leave.
"We should." The girl raised her head like she was listening to something.
"Yeah." He had no idea what River 'heard', but he knew it was time to go. "Let's get out of here."
Inara threw him a questioning look. "I thought you wanted to look around. Who knows what we could find."
"Stop trying to think like me," he tossed back. "I have no doubt we'd find lots here to make a tidy profit, yet," he couldn't put what he felt into words. "We need to go."
He ushered the two women out and down the hallway. Zoe and Jayne appeared and wordlessly followed their captain back to the ship. Mal took one last look behind them before shutting the hatch door.
"River, get us out of atmo."
With a flounce of her brown skirt, she ascended the stairways toward the bridge. She stopped once to look down at him and grinned impishly.
He turned his attention to Jayne and Zoe. "You two go through the ship and make sure we didn't pick up any uninvited guests. If'n you see somethin', shoot first, ask questions later."
"What if it shoots back?"
"Then I expect you to kill it, Jayne.'
"With pleasure." The mercenary ducked under the staircase to start on the lower level.
"You expectin' trouble, sir?" Zoe eased her gun out of hip holster.
"Hope not. Leastwise, not until we go to collect our pay."
"Was somethin' fishy about that deal," she agreed.
Inara joined the conversation. "I take it you don't trust Badger."
"Never have, woman."
He sensed they were in space even before he opened his eyes. His nose picked up the faint scent of unwashed people and a general mustiness. Flexing his hand he noted with relieve he wasn't tied down. That meant he wasn't a prisoner.
"Know you're awake."
Slowly he blinked his eyes open and turned his head in the direction the voice had come from. Sitting on a gray ledge was a teenage girl with long honey hair and an orange sweater and a brown skirt.
"How long have you been sitting there?" Even to his ears he sounded horse and scratchy.
"Not long." She slid down and walked over to him, cocking her head to one side. "I'm River."
"I'm," he stopped trying to dredge from his memory a name. One surfaced and he knew it was his. "John."
"Sheppard," she added as if she knew him. "Like Shepherd Book only different."
"If you say so." He tried to sit up. The girl's arm went around him and helped him. "Thanks."
"Simon taught me."
"That's your doctor."
"Right." In his opinion, the two didn't look like siblings. "Where am I?"
"And we're headed?"
"And that is?"
"Several days away." She grinned. "It's a planet."
"Well, now that we've got that cleared up." He touched his throat. "Look, I'm thirsty. Is there something to drink?"
"I'll get you some water." She went to the small sink and filled a glass bringing it back to him.
He sipped the brackish warm liquid. "Thanks."
"I'll go tell Simon you're awake." Her brown eyes sparkled. "He's with Kaylee."
The way she said it indicated the two were a couple. "Maybe you shouldn't disturb them."
"It's okay. They're sleeping now." She slipped out the door and was gone.
"Guess all doctors are used to being woke up in the middle of the night," he muttered. He looked around for someplace to put the empty glass. On one side was the ledge where River had been sitting, the rest was clean and white with cupboards above and below a polished counter. There were medical supplies on some of it.
John gapped at the woman standing there. She was gorgeous! Her long black hair was loose and resting on her bare shoulders. The neckline on her blue dress plunged and he couldn't help staring at the hint of firm, rounded breasts.
He glanced up and saw her smile. "I'm used to being looked at," she said as she gracefully glided into the room and took the glass from him. "I'm Inara."
"Nice to meet you." Her soft hand touched his. "How are you feeling?"
"I wouldn't doubt that after where we found you."
"Where did you find me?"
"In an abandoned city. You were sealed in some sort of device."
"Sleeper chamber." He rubbed at his eyes trying to recall how he got there.
"See," River stood just inside the door. "Told you he was awake."
"So I see," her brother said as he came into the infirmary. "How are you feeling?"
"Okay, I guess. Look, is there someone in charge here? I'd like to talk to them."
"I'll get him," Inara offered.
"He's on the bridge," River supplied.
"First place I would have looked," the beautiful woman joked back as she slipped past the teen.
The doctor quickly checked his pulse and heartbeat. "Any dizziness or disorientation?"
"Nothing other than not knowing where I am or how I got here."
"He doesn't remember." River walked up to him and stared in his eyes.
"We brought you here after we found you in some sort of cryogenic unit."
"I gathered that much, doc." John shifted slightly trying to get comfortable. His muscles were sore from lack of use.
"Look who's awake." A man all in brown entered the room. He gave John a slight smile. "Glad to see you back in the land of the living."
"And you are?"
"Malcolm Reynolds." He extended his hand. "Captain of Serenity."
"Thanks for rescuing me and taking me aboard." He shook the man's hand.
"I don't like leaving anyone behind."
John noticed the mixed looks on the other's faces and wondered what exactly that meant.
"You gonna keep him here?" Reynolds asked the doctor.
"For the time being." Folding his arms over his white shirt, Dr. Tam continued. "I need to make sure there are no nasty side effects of his ordeal."
His words for some reason caused concern and John lifted his hands to his face. "Is there a mirror?"
Pulling one out of a drawer, the doctor allowed his patient to look at himself. John took a deep breath and stared into the glass.
Elizabeth pretended to be considering buying the lizard in the cage when her quarry looked in her direction. His dark faced frowned as he stared at her, but she noted his shrug as he moved off, his light suited figure easy to follow.
"Good eating," a small oriental woman told her. "Not much."
"Thank you, no." She wandered through the market gazing at various wares hoping the man she trailed wouldn't notice her. Her ship had been in dock for far too long and the fees were eating away at her earnings. This job would give her enough to fuel her ship and escape Persephone. Not that she really had anywhere to go.
Her prey ducked into a silk draped doorway. Elizabeth recognized it as the business of a prosperous whore. He'd be awhile probably. She went across the alley to the bar and ordered a local beer, choosing a table in the back so she could both watch and be unobserved.
Taking a sip of the vile brew she set it back upon the marred table surface. A breeze blew through carrying the scents of urine, stale bread, and humans living too close together. She found herself yearning for days long gone and blocked that path. It led to a past she was better off forgetting.
"You're following me." The black man sat down across from her. His voice was cultured and almost soft. Not something she had expected.
"I think not. Who hired you?"
Having had to bluff diplomats who were masters at lying, she calmly met his gaze. "I think you're a good looking man."
A slight smile touched his full lips. "You're academy trained."
She shook her head. "Sorry. Before my time." Her words caused him to frown though he covered it quickly.
"I advise you to stop." He leaned across the table. "I'm well trained."
"So am I." Under the table she fired her weapon and his eyes momentarily widened in surprise. She reached across and eased his body down, pushing her beer in front of him. Getting up she walked away.
The music of Serenity's engines always soothed her and Kaylee hummed as she crawled underneath the ship's beating heart to make yet another adjustment. She lost track of time as she worked, picking up tools as she needed them and putting them back down again when she was done.
"Are you hungry?"
"What?" She rolled out from under, totally oblivious to the grease stains on her orange overalls and the smudges on her face.
Inara smiled. Her immaculate blue dress looked totally incongruous with the messy engine room. "I asked if you were hungry."
"Did I miss breakfast?" Kaylee's stomach growled as she got to her feet.
"Almost. I came down to get you."
"Thanks, Inara. Where's Simon?"
The two stepped out of the noisy area into the quieter hallway.
"He's helping our guest. Seems John wanted to join us."
With a frown the engineer climbed the stairways. There was something kind of familiar about the man and his name. Same with the city they'd plundered. "How's he doing?"
"Better. Simon seemed to take it as a good sign his patient was hungry."
"That's what my momma always said. When us kids were sick, she always knew we were getting better when we wanted somethin' to eat."
Entering the bright yellow dining room, the two women took a seat at the wood table. Jayne was already there in one of the mismatched chairs, looking at the food like it was a whore ready to service. Captain Reynolds entered sitting beside Inara, with River trailing behind. Moments later Simon aided their guest in and Kaylee greeted the doctor with a warm smile.
"You look exactly like her," the man said as Simon helped the other sit down.
"I'm sorry?" Kaylee didn't understand the reference.
Zoe pulled out a chair and sat. "Who does?"
He looked straight at the engineer. "You look like someone I used to know."
Her curiosity got the better of her. "Who do I look like?"
"A doctor named Jennifer Keller."
Now why did that name seem like she should know it?
"You did very well," the suited man with blue gloves on complimented Elizabeth. He slowly slid a closed gold file over the smooth metal table. "I have another assignment, if you are so inclined."
Her eyes narrowed as she gingerly took the file. It bothered her she couldn't accurately read the two men. They kept benign expressions on their faces and their eyes reminded her of zombies she'd seen in old horror movies.
As she opened the file she half watched them and her surroundings. The bar was one of the typical more upscale affairs decorated with exotic scenes to attract tourists. A waitress hovered not far away dressed in a blue Chinese dress covered with colorful birds, her hair piled high attractively and her face painted like a Geisha.
Oddly enough the waitress made Elizabeth feel plain in her matching gray pants and shirt, with a hint of red along the collar. The color choice was to make her nondescript and help her blend in with her surroundings. So was keeping her black hair short. She used only a hint of make up for the same reason.
"Who are they?" she asked since the file contained multiple photos.
"Problems we'd like to see disappear." He leaned forward and lightly tapped the picture of their ship. "You can keep this as a prize to use, or sell. Your choice."
There wouldn't be much advantage over her current vessel, except maybe room. Not to mention she knew smugglers liked them because of all the places they could hide contraband. In fact, her ship would comfortably fit in the cargo hold.
"I'm surprised you haven't dispatched an operative to deal with them." Elizabeth closed the file debating on whether or not to take the contract. She'd heard rumors about this group and about what they'd found on Miranda. Not that they knew the entire truth.
She suppressed a shudder. No need to tip the blue hands off that she knew who the targets were and why.
There was an exchange of glances between the two men. "We have. He is gone."
Not dead then. Vaguely she wondered what they weren't telling her and why. Still, she didn't have quite enough to pay all her port fees. Though she sensed it might be a mistake on her part she said, "I'll do it."
"Fine. We know a place they will be when they dock." He pushed over a sealed envelope. "Our contact doesn't know we've hired you." A slight grin touched the thin, pale lips. "Not that it matters. We hear you're not messy."
Serenity landed with a slight bump on the Ease Down docks. Two ships flew past their shadows reflecting in the overhead windows. Mal released the buckles on his seat and he looked up at his pilot. River expertly shut down the panel and gave him a smile.
"Without a scratch," she said. Her fingers lightly touched one of the dinosaurs that still sat on the control board. None of them had had the heart to remove the reminder of his former pilot Wash after he'd been killed by Reavers.
"True to your word." He climbed from the lower level to the main deck. Mal hit the com button. "Zoe, met me in the cargo bay." He shut it off and headed out, descending the many metal stairs like second nature.
"Think Badger will try and screw us again?" Jayne asked as he primed his favorite gun Vera.
"Doubt it. I got the impression this was a contracted client."
"Don't mean he'll keep his end up." The mercenary settled Vera skillfully in a harness across his back.
"True enough," Reynolds agreed as he watched Zoe take the last few stairs and join them. "Our cargo ready to transport?"
"It is, sir."
"We gonna just hand it over?"
"Jayne, it's business," Mal snapped. "You wanna get paid or not?'
"Course I wanna git paid."
"Then shut up and carry the box."
Jayne grunted as he hefted the wooden craft. Zoe opened the hatch door and the trio walked out into the calliope of moving humanity.
River knocked on the cabin door before sliding it open. Simon had moved John into one of the guest cabins. The dark headed man sat on the bed with his hands partly on his face. He seemed to be staring at nothing.
"Can I come in?"
John started and turned his dark eyes to look at her. "River wasn't it?"
She nodded as she gracefully entered the room. Her brown gauze dress fluttered slightly and she self consciously smoothed it. "What were you looking at?"
"Just trying to remember."
"No, not now. Before. When you asked for the mirror."
"I needed to see if I was an old man."
She cocked her head to one side puzzled. "Why would you have been an old man?"
"Because when we found Elizabeth," he stopped his lean face reflecting the memory was a bad one. "It's a long story I'd prefer not to talk about."
"We all have stories." She sat on the bed beside him. "Even me."
"You're too young." He edged away from her.
"For a long time I couldn't tell what was real and what wasn't. It took remembering Miranda to put me right. Mostly." She gave him an impish grin. "I fly Serenity."
"I'm a pilot, too. Mostly I fly military jets, or at least I used to, and the jumpers."
"Is that what those ships were, in the city?"
"Where am I?"
"In the place that Earth that was settled long ago. We terraformed the planets and moons to make new homes."
"And people left Earth because?"
"It was over crowded."
"River," Simon stuck his head in and frowned. "You should let John rest."
"I think I've slept enough," John replied. "I'd love to know how long." He got up and paced restlessly.
"Why?" Simon stepped into the cabin. "I'd guess everyone you knew is," he paused as if he sensed he was about to say the wrong thing.
River's brows furrowed. "You lived on Earth."
Simon looked surprised.
"Yeah, for many years. Then General O'Neill gave me clearance to know about the Stargate program and I ended up on Atlantis."
"That's the city." River rose from the bed. "It isn't where it's supposed to be."
"No, we," he shook his head. "I can't seem to remember. Every time I think I'm beginning to, it goes away again."
Her brown eyes met his. "Somebody played in your brain."
They walked into Badger's lair alert, hands resting on their gun butts. Jayne put the crate on the dusty floor and glared at the little man in the bowler hat sitting behind the desk.
"Well, I see you brought my cargo."
"You got our money?" Jayne shot back.
"Jayne." Mal's tone left no room for argument. Jayne backed off watching the henchmen scattered throughout the room.
"Open it up."
Reynolds bent down and pulled open the top, pushing the straw aside to reveal the clear crystal. "Satisfied?"
"Almost," another voice answered. A man walked in wearing a fashionable cloak. "Here's your money." He tossed Badger a heavy purse.
"I kept 'm word."
"They bring back anything else?"
Before Badger could answer a shot rang out. Everyone hit the floor, pulling guns and trying to figure out where it had come from. His henchmen fled. Mal supposed they were too cowardly to get shot for their lowlife boss.
"Whoever you are, stay out of this!" the cloaked figure shouted. The next shot downed him and he yipped as he hit the floor.
A woman entered the dark room. Her odd weapon pointed directly at Malcolm Reynolds.
"What'd I do to you?" he asked as he slowly rose, gun in the air and non threatening. His brown coat had dirt around the edges and he wanted to clean them off but was afraid to move.
"There a reward?"
She turned startled and Jayne downed her with one quick knuckle punch. He caught her before she hit the ground. "What'cha want to do with her?"
"We'll take her with us." Reynolds turned his gun on Badger. "We won't be dealing again. Where's my money?"
"Shove it up your pee goo."
"That's what I thought. Zoe,"
"Right, Captain." She took the heavy purse off the desk and pressed the barrel of her gun against the little man's ear. "Want me to shot him for you?"
"Too messy. Tie him up instead."
"With pleasure." She tucked the purse into her belt and grinned. "Take off your tie."
While Zoe busied herself tying up Badger, Mal bent down to see who had been hiding behind the cloak. He sighed when he recognized Atherton Wing.
"Atherton did what?" Inara demanded after the trio had returned with an unconscious woman and the original wooded crate.
"Badger admitted it all," Mal grumped. "Atherton Wing hired him to send us on a false job and then the low life intended to turn us over to him for, how much was in that purse, Zoe?"
"Enough to fly Serenity for at least a year, sir."
The others gathered in the cargo area as the story unfolded. Kaylee held Simon's hand and River guided John in to join them.
"I don't believe it," Inara objected. "Atherton was always honorable."
"Maybe returning to Persephone was a mistake," Simon suggested.
"We needed the work," Kaylee reminded her lover.
"Your honorable man wanted revenge for what I did to him and for my winning you."
"You haven't won me."
"Who's this?" John knelt down and turned over the woman Jayne had left on the floor. "That's not possible!"
"You know her?" Reynolds demanded.
John shook his head. "Can't be. We left her," he didn't finish.
"You thought she was frozen in space in another body." River's words caused the group to turn and stare at her.
"You're a telepath," John accused.
"My sister is a reader."
"She sees the truth in things," Mal agreed. "Who is this?"
"Dr. Elizabeth Weir, the first leader of the Atlantis mission."
She smelled the sterile environment first before she peeked under her eyelids. There were three people on the other side of the room and they didn't seem to be paying any attention to her.
"From her blood work," a dark haired man said, "I'd say she has some tiny devices in her blood."
"Nanites," another man identified. His voice was familiar.
"You mean she has tiny machines swimming around in her blood?" The woman had a slight southern like accent.
"You could call them that," Mr. Familiar answered.
"I don't have any way of doing a scan," the first man continued, "but from what you told us, I'd guess they've kept her alive all this time."
"So she is human?"
"Completely. I take it you doubted it."
"Well, anyone could tell she's human." The woman came over to her and Elizabeth started as she a deep part recognized the other. "Just look at her."
"Appearances can be deceiving. Believe me, I know."
"Somehow I don't think I'd like to have your experiences. Hey!"
Elizabeth had reached out and captured the woman's wrist. She sat up and squeezed.
"Owww! Stop that!"
"Shut up, Dr. Keller."
"Her name is Kaylee, Elizabeth," Mr. Familiar addressed her. "She just looks like Jennifer."
"John?" Her gripe loosened and the woman jumped back.
"Yeah, welcome back."
She reached for gun only to find it gone. "What am I doing here?"
"You were pointing a weapon at Cap'n Reynolds. Jayne knocked you out," Kaylee told her. "They brought you here."
"What are you doing here, John?"
"Seems I was in one of the cyro units. The crew of Serenity found me."
Her suppressed memory tried to resurge and overpower her. She dropped her head into her hands.
"Are you in pain?" The younger man was beside her.
"I'm supposed to," she was supposed to what? Hadn't her contract dictated that she kill them all and take the ship?
"They played in your head, too," a young girl said who hadn't been there moments before.
"Played the music you'd listen to."
Finger tips touched her forehead. Elizabeth looked up into brown eyes.
Suddenly she wasn't sitting in the infirmary anymore. She stood surrounded by replicators not able to hear what they said. Elizabeth knew she was dead and was grateful that her death had saved John, Rodney, and the rest of the Atlantis.
Her next memory was being in a room as they took some of the nanites. After that she woke up in a forest, cold, hungry, alone, and not knowing who she was or how she got there. She'd eventually found other people and had learned how to be an assassin from a man looking for an apprentice. She'd continued in the profession through the years.
"Notes are sour, need to be clear tones."
"Get out of my head!"
"Need to come back. Hear the right music."
"What are you doing?" John demanded.
"Helping her remember who she was." She turned her head to look Sheppard. "You need to remember, too. Your past, our future."
John pressed his hands against his temples and grimaced. "Stop it!"
"River, stop!" The dark haired young man got between her and John. "Stop or I'll say the words that will make you sleep."
"He needs to remember."
"Not like this."
The pair stared at each other. Elizabeth wondered who would win. Finally, the girl looked down. "I'm sorry."
"Glad you stopped, Little One, or else I was gonna put a bullet in your brain pan."
Weir's eyes darted to the door. A tall man in brown stood there with a gun aimed at the girl.
"I've already seen what she can do." He looked at River. "You a person or a weapon?"
"Go up to the bridge."
"Yes, Sir." She twisted the hem of her dress and darted past him.
"She does that again and you put her out. You hear?"
"Long as we understand each other. Now," he reholstered his gun. "Why don't you tell me why you were tryin' to kill me."
"I was hired," she told him, "by men with gloved hands to kill you."
"Were their hands blue?"
The captain stared at the younger man.
"Yes." She wondered why that was important.
"River talked about men with blue hands when she was at the academy."
"But, Simon," Kaylee interrupted, "she hasn't recently."
"She hasn't, but I'm sure they're after us because we exposed what happened on Miranda."
"I suspect that's gonna be the way of it for the rest of our lives." Reynolds looked at her. "So you were supposed to kill us."
"I'm sorry. I've lived that way for a very long time."
"It's a trade." He didn't seem angry. "You promise to behave and I'll let you have freedom of the ship. If not," he shrugged, "I'll lock you up."
"What makes you think I won't lie and kill you in your sleep?"
"'Cuz I sleep with one eye open."
That night, John dreamed. He stood on the balcony of Atlantis looking out over the ocean. Darts flew over the city and the boom-boom of the rail guns echoed through the towers. Now and again a Wraith ship would burst into flames and fall into the water.
"John, come on!" Teyla raced up to him. "We have to leave!"
Racing through the corridors together he got her safely to the jumper bay. A stun beam narrowly missed them. He shoved Teyla into the ship. "Get out of here!"
"Go!" He hit the control that closed up the hatch, seeing the horrified expressions on Teyla's, Rodney's, Ronon's and Woolsey's faces. He ducked behind a pillar and opened fire, killing as many of the invading Wraith as he could.
Somehow he made it back to gate room. Below was an invading force waiting as the last chevron locked into place. The watery iris burst in and settled back. He got to his feet and pointed his gun at Todd who stood at the controls.
"Don't do it."
With a menacing glare the Wraith ordered, "To our new feeding grounds!"
Was it then John had remembered he'd rigged Keller's genetic treatment as a bomb? He wasn't sure. He had a fleeting memory of pressing the detonator and firing at Todd. Part of him hoped the result wouldn't be same as it had been on Todd's ship. Truth was he would never really know.
What would be worse, being drained of life energy and being only a dried husk. Or being eaten alive?
"Both bad. Reavers eat people."
John opened his eyes. "What are you doing here, River?"
"Heard you in your sleep. Came to guard."
"You know, you're one very scary girl." He reached over and turned on the light, being careful to keep himself covered. John slept in the nude. He leaned back against his pillow, his bare chest exposed.
River giggled. She had on an oversized nightgown. "What happened on Earth that was?"
"I don't really know. I somehow got out of the gate room and must have put myself in one of the sleeper chambers."
"Captain Reynolds is taking the crystal back."
"Back to Atlantis?"
"Yes. Maybe they left you a wave."
He guessed that meant a type of message. "You should go back to bed, River."
She uncurled herself and slipped through the door. He was about to turn off the light when he saw Elizabeth poke her head in.
"Isn't she a bit young for you?"
"Much. Can't sleep?"
"I've done some terrible things, John."
"You survived. There's no crime in that, Elizabeth."
"But am I still human?"
"Simon says you are."
"Reminds me of a game I played as a child."
"Dr. Tam assures me you're completely human."
"Despite the nanites in my system."
"Elizabeth," he sat up. "Far as I'm concerned, the Replicators wiped your memory and left you to die. You outwitted them and lived."
"But at what price, John?"
He could see the pain in her eyes. Without thinking he extended his arms to her. Elizabeth crawled into bed with him and he held her until she fell asleep, covering her with the quilt. John turned off the light and finally dozed off. In his dreams he ran from faceless monsters trying to consume him.
"Kaylee, come to bed," Simon urged from the door of the engine room.
Clattering tools and a curse in Chinese answered.
"You know what really bothers me?" She scooted out from under the engine and sat up.
"Have I done something?" He couldn't for the life of him figure out what he possibly could have done to upset her.
"What?" She shook her head. "Simon, you haven't done anything."
"Then why are you mad at me?"
"I'm not angry with you." She got up and made a vain attempt to smooth out her rumpled clothes. "I'm mad at myself."
Before he could ask why she continued," You see, that city we were in seemed familiar. I know John's name and Elizabeth's. I even know that Dr. Keller they keep talking about but I can't figure out why."
"Maybe you are Dr. Keller." That prospect bothered him that the woman he loved might actually be someone else.
"I'm not. Too many people have known me since I was a little girl. No, it's something else."
Her confession was a relief. At least he didn't have to worry about her being someone other than who he knew her as. But it did give him an idea. "Kaylee, when River and I were young, my dad used to tell us stories. Sometimes there were tales from the Earth that was and sometimes he told us about our family history."
She squealed, giving him a kiss. "Simon, you are a genius!"
"Thanks." He watched as Kaylee rushed out and up the stairs to her quarters. "Glad I could help."
Simon followed dropping down the ladder into her room. Kaylee had a drawer open and was pulling various objects out of it. Curious he sat on her bed and watched. At the very bottom she pulled out a book. With a triumphant smug look she carefully opened it.
"My daddy gave me this afore I left on Serenity. Said I should take a part of who I am with me."
He patted the bed beside him. Kaylee took the hint and sat beside him, the book balanced in her lap.
"This is where our family started." On the page was a cabin somewhere in the mountains. Deep snow surrounded the wooden structure. Four adults and one child stood in front of it, with a baby in one woman's arm. Kaylee read the caption underneath. "Taken on Christmas Day, 2008, at our parents' cabin in the Colorado Rockies." She had to squint to read the names. "Kaleb and Jeanie Miller with their daughter Madison. Drs. Rodney McKay and Jennifer Keller, with their son Lucas. No wonder I knew one of the names. It was here in my family history!"
"What about the rest?" Simon found he also wanted to know.
"Lets see." She leafed through the pages, sometimes stopping to share a story or two. From what he could tell, the album really hadn't been arranged in any particular order. "Ah, here it is." There were several pages in the middle with pictures of other people, and of the city they'd visited. One was a group shot and Kaylee spoke the names out loud. "Atlantis Mission. Dr. Elizabeth Weir, Colonel John Sheppard, Dr. Rodney McKay, Dr. Carson Beckett, Dr Radek Zelenka, Ronon Dex and Teyla Emmagen, Pegasus Galaxy on the planet Lantea."
There were more pictures with names and they eagerly examined them. There had been changes throughout with different leaders and a few others. Even a strange box like ship called the 'Deadalus' under Colonel Steven Caldwell. It sat on the same pier Serenity had.
"Well," Simon sat back careful not to disturb anything on the wall. "At least that explains why you look so much like Dr. Keller."
"I guess. Funny, I never really thought about it before."
"I've heard that it can happen. That a descendant can look like one of their ancestors."
"At least I know I ain't her. I couldn't imagine being with someone who looked like him." She pointed at McKay.
"Maybe he was a nice man. Appearances don't tell you about the person."
"True." She carefully replaced the book in the bottom drawer and put away the rest of her stuff. "So." She sat on his lap. "How about a sleeping pill?"
He smiled and kissed her as they sank down onto her bed.
"Would you like a cup of tea?" Inara offered from her place next to the small burner.
"That would be nice. Thank you." Weir sat down at the table and wondered what the story was behind the mismatched chairs.
"I find it helps me relax when I can't sleep." The dark haired woman put the steaming mug in front of Elizabeth before sitting.
"Not used to sleeping much." Elizabeth didn't add that in her line of work, it could easily have gotten her killed to let her guard down for long.
Inara sipped and smiled warmly. "You're safe here."
"Until those who hired me discover I didn't do the job." Sampling the brew Weir found it was very rich. "This reminds me of the tea I used to get in England."
"I take it that was somewhere on the Earth that was."
"Why do you say that about Earth?"
"Our history tells us that we out grew the planet and left. We made new Earths for ourselves by terraforming the many moons and planets." She leaned forward. "I'm surprised you didn't know that."
"I," Elizabeth paused. She remembered her life before and during Atlantis clearly now. The rest until about a decade ago were blurry patches filled with confusion, sometimes pain, and a nagging sense of something not being right. Even the last ten years she preferred not to think about because the terrible things she'd done. "My teachers didn't tell me."
"They kept to the shadows." Reynolds entered the room. "Most who live like that do."
He went to the small stove and helped himself to tea. "Most likely they thought by keeping you in the dark, you'd give 'em less trouble."
"Problem is," she glanced down at the cup. "I don't even know how I came to be here."
"River might be able to help you unlock it." Mal sat down next to Inara. Weir didn't miss the fond glance between them. "In the mean while, you're welcome to stay here, long as you don't try to put a bullet in any of our heads."
"I'm hoping that life is behind me."
"Where do you know John from?" Inara asked.
"Atlantis." She'd been nervous when she'd woken up beside him. Elizabeth knew nothing had happened between them, but she hoped John didn't get any ideas. "I lead the original expedition. Colonel Sheppard was the head of the military and my best team."
"It must be nice to have an old friend here."
"Yes." And no, she added silently, well aware of how she'd been separated from those she cared about. Her time with the replicators was a blurry spot and she had no desire to remember it. She felt a hand on hers and glanced up.
"We all have pasts we'd rather not remember," Inara told her.
"Hard to believe," Reynolds teased, with a wink at the beautiful woman.
"There are things I'll never tell you." She removed her hand.
"Like why you know skirts have good airflow?" Her dark eyes twinkled.
He grinned and took a swig of tea.
Weir knew the interchange had meaning for the couple so she wasn't upset by the private joke. She and Simon had been like that once. Quickly she shut the memory away.
Over the intercom River called. "We have company."
In his dreams John ran through the corridors of Atlantis. Blue rays bounced off the walls. Wraith soldiers raced after him and he hoped he could reach the safety of the puddle jumper bay. Well, relative safety as long as he could launch and rendezvous with the Deadalus.
"Where are you?" McKay demanded though his head mic.
"Coming," he breathed as he ducked behind a metal pillar. "I've got company so shut up!"
Two of the energy suckers appeared at the end of the corridor. John darted back out of sight and cocked his gun as quietly as possible. There was a hiss and the sound of feet purposely headed in his direction.
He sprang out and fired, leaving two dead corpses oozing their vile blood on the floor.
"Caldwell says hurry. Several more hive ships just dropped out of hyperspace." Rodney sounded worried and scared.
Sheppard made the decision he'd already known he'd have to the moment he'd gone back. "Rodney, fly the jumper out of here."
"Get to the Deadalus."
"What about you?"
"Go." For an ironic second, he realized his last words were the same as Weir's had been when they'd tried to reprogram the replicators and she'd been captured.
"Rodney, just go. Get the others to safety. I'm entrusting them to you." He ran down the corridor and hid behind a large glowing board when he saw several Wraith between him and jumper bay.
"John," Teyla spoke to him. "Do not do this."
"I'm cut off and Ronon don't you get any ideas. There are too many."
"Colonel Sheppard," Woolsey joined in, "I don't like the idea of leaving you behind."
"I don't like it either, but I won't make it in time. McKay get going. Jennifer is waiting for you."
Keller had been among the first evacuated from Atlantis. Rodney and the doctor had plans to get married. John wanted to make sure that happened. "I said go!"
Sounding defeated McKay muttered, "Going."
Overhead he heard the sound of the bay doors opening. He hoped they'd make it out and not be shot down by one of the darts. With a loud battle roar he left his hiding place, running down the hall, firing his weapon to kill as many of them as he could before he was captured and fed upon.
"Reavers," Mal identified. "Don't slow down, River. No need to attract attention."
The girl moved her hands away from the controls. "I can kill them."
"Better if that doesn't happen."
Elizabeth stared out the clear window at the ship passing overhead. Something about it seemed familiar and she frowned trying to remember.
"Raiding party?" Zoe had joined them and her question had been directed at Reynolds.
"Maybe. I was hopin' the Alliance had killed them all."
"Remember what you did," River said. "Their leader wants your skin as his clothes."
Shivering Weir rubbed her arms. "Doesn't sound like anyone we want to meet."
He glanced back at her. "You're right there."
They watched in silence as the ship passed them and kept going. After several minutes everyone sighed in relief.
"They weren't hungry," the girl announced.
"Good thing." Reynolds turned around and headed out. "I think I'll go find Inara."
"Should marry her."
"You stay out of my head, Little One." He quickly exited.
Zoe crossed her arms over her leather vest. "You're right about that, River. You never know how much time you'll have."
"I tried," Atherton whined at the cloaked figure before him. Between the heat and near darkness he was very uncomfortable. Sweat drooled down his neck and between his shoulder blades. He very badly wanted a soft scented bath.
"Failure is not tolerated," the figure growled back.
"You know how Reynolds tricked you." The details he was hazy on but he wanted the blame shifted to somewhere other than him.
"We know. Many of my warriors died."
"Uh," the young dandy didn't know how to respond to that.
"No matter." It made a dismissive gesture with its chalky hand. "We understand they collected a prize."
"I wasn't told!"
"We know." Wing felt the cold breath on his scarred cheek. "That makes your failure complete."
He almost wretched at raunchy meat smell of the other's breath and he instinctively backed up. "I can't be held accountable for the failure of others!"
"Oh, but you can." Tossing back its hood, Atherton got his full look. Pale long face, stringy limp white hair, skin rent in bloody scratches. "And I'm HUNGRY!"