And Now I Lay Me Down to Rest
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended. I own none of the characters, universes or main ideas. I gained no money from this little chuckle (that grew into something way longer –and a lot more serious- than intended).
Distribution: Wormhole Crossing.
Spoilers: Season Five or so of SG1 with many artistic liberties taken, and I'm deviating from Firefly too. The movie happened but the character death did not. Because I can.
Rating: for language.
Summary: They were paying too much for a simple transport job. Mal should have known they'd be trouble.
Captain Mal Reynolds spied the couple the second Serenity's ramp lowered onto Persephone. They were well-worn, but well-cared for. They weren't rich and they weren't poor. They weren't smugglers and they weren't Feds. They didn't stand out and they didn't blend in. They didn't have the arrogance of the 'Important People' and they didn't have the bowed shoulders of the down-trodden. They didn't belong to the Core and they didn't belong to the Rim. They were captains of their own destiny that didn't have a ship.
They most certainly didn't belong on Persephone.
The man, he was just about to go grey, jerked his thumb at Serenity. His blonde companion nodded and the two walked toward Serenity and its disembarking crew. Mal slowed his descent. Zoë caught his subtle hints and slowed as well. Jayne didn't, so he was three steps away when the stranger stopped in front of Mal and held out his hand.
"You the captain?" he asked. He acted as if he were the captain's equal, no more, no less.
Mal nodded and shook the man's hand. "Name's Reynolds."
"Hey," Zoe called out.
Mal turned to look. The female had taken the advantage of the ramp space available because of Jayne's eagerness and had stepped up into the cargo bay. The female examined the storage space. Jayne finally realized the possible danger. He had his hand on his gun, waiting for the woman or the man to make a threatening move. Mal looked back at the man and he was waiting, rocking back on his heels impatiently.
"It's big enough," the woman finally said. "And the ship looks sound." There was a pregnant pause and Mal was certain that the woman had said more than the Serenity crew had heard.
Kaylee piped up defensively. "Of course she's sound. Serenity's the smoothest ride on Persephone."
The man looked at Kaylee and softened. The look wasn't predatory in any way but still Mal protectively stepped between the stranger and his engineer. The stranger grinned. "How much to take us and our cargo –which will fill your bay- to the Rim, specifically Caloca?"
Mal named a price much too high. They needed a job, they didn't have one lined up yet, but they wanted cargo not people. He really couldn't take passengers when he had fugitives aboard.
"You afraid of the Rim?" he asked.
Mal jut out his jaw and crossed his arms. It wasn't the Rim that Mal was leery of. It was Reavers and some said that even Reavers knew better than to stop at Caloca. The stranger's dark brown eyes stared at Mal and then he finally nodded. Mal felt that the stranger looked into his soul like River sometimes did.
"Carter?" he called.
The woman returned to his side. He nodded at her. She turned her smile on Mal. "Ten percent now and the rest upon delivery," she offered.
Mal tried to hide his surprise at the haggling technique. They weren't actually arguing his price. He really didn't want this strange couple aboard his ship. "Seventy-five now," Mal argued. That way, the trip would turn a profit even if the couple caused problems and had to be thrown out an airlock. He was sure that his crew could overpower these two if need be.
"Twenty," Carter countered.
"Sixty-five," Mal shot back.
Carter lifted her chin and smiled. "Forty now, final offer."
Mal looked to his crew. Zoë didn't like the idea, but would follow his lead. Wash would follow Zoë. Jayne was practically drooling at the thought of all that money for a simple transport job. Kaylee liked most people in general and especially people who could look past Serenity's grubby exterior to her potential. Simon would agree as long as the strangers weren't a danger to his sister.
Mal finally nodded. He hoped these two wouldn't be a danger to the Tam's. "Deal." He knew he was going to regret this. "Zoë, Wash, get the mule and help our new passengers get their cargo aboard."
"Yes, sir," Zoë muttered.
For some reason, Zoë's response made the man smile wider. Even Carter found amusement where there was none.
Kaylee stepped to Mal's side. "I'm Kaylee and you've met Capt'n and Serenity. What's your names?"
The man wrapped an arm around his woman –funny how Mal hadn't thought of her as that until now. "We're Carter and Jack Murray."
"Welcome to Serenity."
When the couple had insisted that their cargo would fill the bay, Mal pictured a chaos of many crates, stacked high. Reality was very different. The couple each had a bag that they stashed in their room. They had only five medium-sized crates that Zoë, Jayne and Walsh stacked on the far side of the stairs. Then Carter and Jack disappeared to get the rest out of 'storage.' Mal had insisted that they take Zoë with them. She would keep her eyes open and stay safe. They shrugged and had her ride double with Carter. Then they took the ship's mule, rented another from a nearby vendor and disappeared into the crowds.
Mal worried and waited on the ramp. The Murrays didn't take long returning to the ship. His eyes grew big as he realized what they wanted to put Iin/I his ship. The crate was huge. It needed a mule on two of the corners to pull the sucker across town. Mal wasn't sure it would fit through the doorway. He waved at them to slow down, but they both gunned it up the ramp. The outer tires of the mules were half on-half off the ramp. Mal dived out of the way and cringed, waiting for the sounds of a crash.
The sounds were not forthcoming and Mal lifted his head. All he had heard was a little thud.
Now, the huge crate was very neatly tucked inside Serenity, against the stairs. There was barely enough room for Carter and Jack to drive the mules under the catwalks and back onto the ramp. They both turned off the mules.
"That everything," Mal asked hopefully.
"Nope," Jack replied. "Got one more."
"If it's as big as that one, it's not going to fit," Mal warned.
"Carter says it will," replied Jack easily. Mal could hear Jack's confidence in his wife's abilities.
Carter slid off her mule and approached the crate. At the first corner, she pressed a button on the bottom of the crate and a wheel slid out from under the monstrosity. She disconnected the wheel, put it on her mule, moved on to the next corner and repeated the process. There was a heavy thud as the second and then fourth wheels were disconnected and the crate now rested flat on Serenity's cargo bay floor.
Though there was some room between the huge crate and the ramp, there wasn't enough space for a second crate the same size as the first. "Where are you going to put the other one?" Mal questioned.
"Top the first," Jack answered. Carter bagged the wheels and climbed back onto her mule. Zoë had remained on the mule during Carter's doin's. She still looked wary at what the couple was attempting but she seemed a little more relaxed. "This is our last load," the strange man said as he started up his own mule. "We shouldn't be long."
Mal watched them drive away. He really had a bad feeling about this. He finally yelled for Kaylee.
"Yes, Captain?" she appeared cheerfully at his side.
"Set up the crane, they're gonna need it."
A quick movement out of the corner of his eye and Mal sprinted into the cargo bay. Walsh caught the escapee before she could be seen from anyone planetside. Simon caught up to River that same time that Mal did. He sent Mal an apologetic look. "She got around me," was his only excuse.
Mal simply glared. River ignored the entire hubbub around her and reached out reverently to touch the huge crate.
"River?" Mal asked, not knowing if he really wanted to.
"Protection," the crazy girl muttered. "Whoosh."
"Hitchhikers?" Mal was truly worried. The Alliance could hide a whole squad in that crate comfortably. Mal was going to regret taking the Murray's as passengers, he just knew it.
River shook her head. "Hitchhikerssss not in cratessss."
What was with all the hissing? Even Simon looked confused at River's behavior.
"Why are we trusting the word of Crazy Girl?" Jayne asked.
A good question and one that Mal didn't want to answer. "Keep her in your room 'till we leave atmo," he ordered.
Simon nodded and wrapped his arms around his sister. "Come on, Mei-mei. You can beat me at cards again."
River giggled and let Simon lead her to safety. Mal went back to waiting on the ramp for Zoë and his passengers. This was going to be a very bad idea.
The passengers were not long in coming. They charged the mules up the ramps as before, swerving to miss the first crate. The second crate butted again the first and bounced a foot back. Mal frowned. There was not enough room to close up the ship doors. They couldn't leave now for an emergency if they wanted to. If the crate went the least bit diagonal, it would jam the bay doors open. He didn't like being this exposed.
Carter slid off the mule and repeated the wheel-removing process as before. Jack disappeared with the borrowed mule, Mal assumed to return it. Zoë put Serenity's mule where it belonged. Carter and Kaylee worked together to hook the crane to the crate. After Kaylee's first suggestion made the crate shift dangerously, Carter took over and gave orders. If Kaylee and Jayne followed them exactly, the crate moved upwards and over the first crate flawlessly. Soon Mal could breathe a sigh of relief. The second crate settled squarely on top of the first huge crate.
A bag full of money that clinked appeared before Mal's eyes. He reached to grab it. Jack released it without reservation. Mal glanced inside. Sure enough, about forty percent of the agreed upon price was in the bag.
"Your crew gonna chain her down," Jack asked.
Mal felt a burden being lifted. "You heard him," he hollered to the crew. "Chain her down good."
Zoë finally offered a smile as they shared a thought: they would chain the two mysterious crates down so that nothing in could sneak out or in.
"Kaylee, show Mr. and Mrs. Murray to their rooms."
Kaylee smiled and nodded and said, "This way."
Jack winced. "Carter and Jack, please. Just call us Carter and Jack."
Mal waited until Carter and Jack disappeared into the dorm area and he closed the doors to Persephone. He leaned toward Zoë. "Where were the crates?"
"In one of Badger's higher class warehouses. Nobody saw me there, sir."
Mal relaxed; that could be good news. Maybe this would be an easy job.
The first six days of the voyage passed by normally, or as normally as Serenity was these days. Jack and Carter even shared a chuckle when they saw how tightly Mal's crew had chained down their two huge crates. Jack had made some comment in a language that Mal had never heard before. Carter had laughed back, but they hadn't protested. The two had not even lifted an eyebrow at their introduction to River and Simon, not a flicker of recognition. Mal had someone sitting at the helm at every moment during the trip, ready to scramble any transmission to the Alliance if needed. No messages had been sent.
Carter had haunted the engine room, which bothered Mal. It didn't bother Kaylee at all. She bubbled over each meal, retelling how they had improved this system, or that. They seemed to get along so well that Mal hated to restrict Carter away from the engine room. Carter truly wanted the best for Serenity and Mal could appreciate it. He repeatedly warned Kaylee to keep a close eye on the woman. Kaylee was starting to get bothered about spying on her new friend, but Mal didn't trust the couple. They had secrets.
Every one on Mal's crew had a secret or four, but they were crew and the new couple was not crew. Their secrets could hurt Mal's people.
Malcolm Reynolds wasn't about to let that happen, so he kept reminding Kaylee to be careful around Carter Murray.
With Kaylee so absorbed in Serenity's upgrades, Mal had worried about River. What would River do with her normal playmate working? Simon was exhausted, trying to keep River occupied and away from the couple. His exhaustion translated into his previous haughtiness and snippiness. His snippiness rubbed Zoe and Jayne the wrong way, which made Wash twitchy. His whole crew was out of sorts. Mal, once again, swore to never take passengers. They were nothing but trouble.
On the sixth day, the mood changed slightly. Simon had fallen asleep in the middle of the day, forced into taking a much deserved rest. River had disappeared without anyone knowing she was missing. Simon had slept for three hours and then had woken groggy and worried. Mal had 'bout turned Serenity upside down looking for the crazy girl when Carter suggested looking in on Jack in his corner of the cargo bay.
Mal and Simon had nearly flown to the cargo bay, worried that the older man had done something to the teen. He hadn't.
Their two heads were close together, hunched over some hand game that had occupied Jack's time. Mal heard the man's low chuckle and the girl's whisper of a giggle. Both heads looked up as Simon nosily stumbled to a stop a few feet away.
River pouted at her brother. "I can't figure out the programming algorithm."
Jack grinned at his wife, standing behind the two men. "She died again, can't get past the third level."
Carter rolled her eyes and dragged Mal and Simon away. "Don't worry about them," she whispered. "He's good with kids, especially traumatized ones."
Simon wanted to deny that River was traumatized but Carter would see through that lie. He shook off the woman's hand on his arm and walked back to his sister and her new friend. He sat down across the way and watched River laugh. She looked up and smiled at him, Simon smiled in response. He loved it when she acted like a child.
After a little while of watching River struggle with a child's toy and listening to Jack give enthusiastic advice, Simon finally spoke. "What are you playing?"
"Super Mario Brothers," Jack replied.
Simon searched his memory. "I've never heard of it."
"It's old. Carter keeps it challenging and running for me."
River laughed out loud. "Old, old, old."
Jack ruffled her hair, "Don't rub it in, kid."
River basked in the attention. Simon leaned back and watched. Why couldn't his father have acted like this?
"Not old enough," River muttered. "Just a baby in the universe. Not like others. Still same. Step, step, fall. Fail. Failure."
Jack looked confused.
"She doesn't always make sense," Simon spoke hurriedly. He didn't want the stranger thinking through River's words too much. He didn't want Jack thinking about River much, at all.
Jack shrugged and pointed out a correction to River. River smiled knowingly and played some more. Simon breathed a sigh of relief as the moment passed. Jack didn't seem to be the type to think overmuch. As long as he didn't share the conversation with his wife, River should stay anonymous.
Simon drifted in contentment. He listened to Jack and River talk about nothing more serious than an old child's game.
Mal was listening out of sight. He was a mite more suspicious of Jack Murray's understanding and mental capabilities.
"River, give it back."
The barely veiled stress in Simon's voice made Mal, Zoë and Jayne quickly abandon their dinners and hurry toward the door. The crazy girl hadn't gotten her hands on another weapon, had she?
She hadn't. River was holding Jack's hand game out of Simon's reach. She stubbornly evaded her brother's attempts at reclaiming the item. Once Jayne realized that the crazy girl wasn't doing something deadly, he returned to the kitchen and his meal. Mal watched as Jack laughed at the siblings. Zoë waited for Mal.
Mal crossed his arms over his chest and spoke. "What's the problem, Simon?"
Simon tried to grab the game again, to no avail. "She won't give back Jack's toy."
"It's not a problem," Jack said.
"It is," Simon insisted. "It's a priceless artifact and River might accidentally break it."
"Carter will fix it."
"It was made on the Earth-That-Was." Mal and Zoë blinked at the revelation.
Jack seemed unconcerned still. "It was a gag-gift from Carter and Danny years ago."
"Old, old," River chanted.
Jack crossed his eyes at River and River giggled. Simon took advantage of the distraction and stole the hand game. After a quick glance, he surmised that the game was still in working condition and handed over to Jack. "I don't understand why you don't have it under glass and lasers. It's priceless."
"It's a game, Doc," Jack explained as if to a little child. "It's supposed to be played with."
"If Jack didn't have his Mario Brothers," Carter appeared in the hallway, "I probably would have killed him by now." She grinned affectionately at her husband. "Dinner?"
"Dinner." Jack grinned back, tossed the 'priceless artifact' to River and escorted his wife into the kitchen area.
Simon yelped in dismay. River caught the hand game and scampered off with her prize. Mal and Zoë stood there for a moment, mystified. Figuring that the couple would be able to answer their questions, they followed Jack and Carter into the kitchen.
Mal watched the passengers for a moment. He didn't understand them. "I gotta say, I agree with the doc. Something that was made on the Earth-That-Was doesn't belong in River's hands."
"It keeps her out of trouble."
"It's worth a lot of money," said Zoë.
Jayne's head lifted at that. "What are we selling?"
"Nothing," Jack growled. "It was a joke gift, to be used. Danny wouldn't mind if I shared with River."
"Who's Danny?" asked Kaylee.
Jack finally closed up, he became unfriendly and cold in an eye blink. Kaylee shivered at the change. "Danny was a good friend, the best. He found the handheld in an archeological dig; laughed his ass off for near a week after he gave it to me."
"He's dead," Mal clarified.
Jack stared at Mal and finally muttered, "I'm going to find River." The older man walked out.
Mal looked to Carter for an answer. "Yes, Daniel's dead." She put her hands on her hips. "Anything else?"
"Will it affect the trip?"
"It hasn't thus far," Carter pointed out.
"There's trays," Mal pointed to a certain cupboard, "If you want to take Jack some food." He paused. "Something from the Earth-That-Was is a bit pricy for a joke."
Carter replied simply. "Daniel found it as he was investigating a failed colony. I fixed it. There was no money involved."
"Except for what you could have sold it for," Mal corrected.
"Excuse me for saying so," Wash finally voiced everyone's fears. "But investigating sounds like Alliance work."
Carter smiled, "We're freelancers."
"Oh," Wash liked that explanation. "And you keep what you find?"
"Or sell it."
"Sounds like you have a profitable business," added Zoë.
Carter nodded. "We make do."
"Alliance must be your main buyers." Mal had to point out. No one else had any money.
"We have a mutually beneficial relationship."
Simon shifted nervously at that. "Who owes who?" How much did they have to sacrifice to remain on the Alliance's good side?
Carter smiled, like she understood. "Jack doesn't like owing anybody."
The captain jumped up the stairs and landed right next to Wash. "How many?"
"Two ships and they are ordering us to prepare to be boarded." Wash looked at Mal. "If you want us to run, you have to say so now."
"We actually have legal cargo for once," Zoë said.
"If you exclude the illegal crew," Wash countered.
Mal nodded. "We'll get Simon and River into suits and send them outside. They probably've IDed us by now. We don't know that they still want River, for sure. We could test the waters. See if they want any of the rest of us."
"What about the Murrays?" Zoë reminded them of their passengers.
"River trusts them. I guess we should too."
Zoë ran to tell Simon what was required of him, Mal went to inform the rest of the crew. Jayne did a quick look see to make sure that nothing illegal was laying about. Mal asked the Murrays not to mention the Tams. The couple agreed without discussion, they had even suggested that they stay in their quarters. They agreed too fast for Mal's peace of mind. He hoped that the Murrays weren't Alliance fugitives too and set Zoë to keep an eye on them and then prepared to be boarded.
The Alliance had swarmed the cargo bay and it looked like it was about to get ugly. Then a commanding voice demanded, "What the hell do you think you're doing, sergeant?"
The voice was so full of command that Mal almost snapped to with the Alliance soldiers on Serenity. Zoë did snap to, much to her chagrin. Mal recognized the voice first; it was Jack Murray. How the hell had he gotten past Zoë and onto the catwalk without anyone seeing him? Only his passenger didn't look like a civilian now.
Jack Murray was leaning on the rail of the catwalk, in full Alliance uniform. Only Mal had never seen a general's uniform partially buttoned with such professional disregard. Carter Murray stood stiff at Jack's side, her colonel's uniform buttoned all the way up to her chin. One part of Mal hoped that Jack and Carter weren't con artists that would get Serenity into a heap of trouble with this little act. The other part of Mal really didn't want them to be (probably retired) military officers, not with that many metals on their chests. Those metals came from blood and guts battles, battles like Serenity Valley.
"General O'Neill and Colonel Carter," the Alliance sergeant breathed.
Mal's thought stuttered to a stop. There wasn't a person in the 'verse that didn't know those names. Even Kaylee and Jayne blinked in recognition. Most people had heard the story, about the Brown-coat general that had seen O'Neill's military experience and Carter's technical brilliance and had coveted both. Then General Palanivel had tried to force compliance from two people who were trying to stay out of the war. Palanivel had killed members of O'Neill's crew, burning their tiny town on Caloca to the ground. O'Neill and Carter promptly joined the Alliance and destroyed Palanivel. In destroying the Brown-coat general, O'Neill had made it possible for the Alliance to win.
Swift and brutal in battle, generous and irreverent out, O'Neill and Carter had made a name for themselves. They were respected on both sides of the line. As captured officers, Zoë and Mal owed their lives to O'Neill's legacy of humane treatment of prisoners. Mal didn't know if O'Neill had been in Serenity Valley –the pair of officers had disappeared about that time and there were conflicting reports on who actually commanded the successful battle- but several of the Alliance guards mentioned that O'Neill would humiliate –and possibly kill- them for inhumane behavior against officers.
What were these two doing on Serenity?
"General O'Neill! I was unaware that you were a passenger aboard."
"Well, now you are aware. Get off my transport and let me carry on minding my own business."
"But General! Why stay on this bucket of bolts?"
"Hey!" Kaylee complained.
Mal made a slashing motion with his hand. Now was not the time, Kaylee.
"We made our choice, Sergeant," said O'Neill. "Haven't we, Carter?"
"Yes, sir. We have."
"The Alliance would gladly transport you and your cargo," the purple-belly nearly drooled as he looked up at the Murray's crates. They probably held some technological marvel of Colonel Carter's. She was just as famous as the general for her military inventions.
"Sergeant." The tone was almost friendly, if one ignored the menacing undercurrent.
The officer finally shut up.
"Get the hell off my transport, before I need to send out a wave."
The sergeant saluted, all of the other Alliance officers followed suit. "Sorry, sir."
"You're still here."
The Alliance officers filed off Serenity. A couple snuck looks at the most well-liked officers of the War for Independence. Then they were gone. Mal looked up at the cat-walk. O'Neill and Carter were gone as well. "Wash, set a course far away from here. Kaylee, get Serenity ready to go as soon as the Tams're inside. Zoë, Jayne, see if you can speed River and Simon's arrival back aboard."
Mal assumed that everyone would follow their orders. He jogged to the Murrays' bedroom. The door was mostly shut, but voices carried.
"Sir, calm down."
"I want it off, Carter. Off now."
"Yes, sir. I understand, but if you tear the jacket or the buttons, it might not work next time."
"I don't care."
"Sir, if you can't calm down I'll ask for help."
Mal almost opened the door, but his respect for the officer pair was too much. He knocked –and on his own ship.
"Stay the hell away, Reynolds," barked O'Neill.
"Now's not a good time," Carter added.
Mal opened the door anyway. Carter stood in front of O'Neill batting her CO's hands away from the buttons he was ripping.
O'Neill growled. "Reynolds."
All the things Mal had wanted to say fell away. He was confused and a little betrayed and honored. "Did Palanivel kill Danny?"
Carter finished unbuttoning O'Neill's Alliance uniform and turned to Mal, "Yes, he did."
O'Neill yanked off the jacket and threw it to the far side of the room, anger and frustration painfully evident. "Danny-boy was offering his services for diplomacy, for negotiations. For making a stupid peace treaty, but Palanivel didn't think Danny could fulfill his promises."
"Could he've?" Mal asked.
"Probably, he'd never really failed us before. But Palanivel never gave him a chance. Just shot him there, blew his head off and destroyed our home. Generations of work –gone."
Mal cursed Palanivel's stupidity, not for the first time. "Are we going to have a problem?"
O'Neill was attacking the clasp on his pants, ignoring Mal. "Only if you make one," Carter promised.
Mal nodded and left the Murrays' room. He stood outside, indecisive.
"Get that damn uniform off, Carter."
"Yes, sir," Carter purred and the sounds in their room changed from one kind of passion to another. Mal flushed and quickly strode away. He turned a corner and most of his crew was right there. Wash wasn't, but Serenity was moving. The pilot was doing his job, too bad the rest of the crew wasn't. River was playing in the corner and laughing at her brother. Simon was still mostly in his space suit and Kaylee was helping him get out of it.
"Is it really them?" Jayne asked.
"Are we going to have a problem, sir?" It was odd hearing Zoë use the honorific so soon after Carter had abused it.
"Shouldn't. But no talking about the War to be on the safe side."
"Who's who?" asked Simon.
"Jack and Carter are really General O'Neill and Colonel Carter," Kaylee informed him.
Simon blinked. Mal could see awe –O'Neill was a hero for the Alliance- change to guilt –his loyalties were now towards Mal- to fear –would O'Neill and Carter betray River?
"Got rid of the purple-bellies faster than anything," Mal mentioned. He nudged River, "how'd you get out of your suit so fast."
"She never got in it." Simon grumbled; his panic and worry still colored his voice.
"Didn't need it," said River matter-of-factly. "Just a purple bump in the road."
"I wonder what's in those crates," Kaylee mused.
"I won't go snoopin', cap'n. Just curious. I mean, Carter's been tweaking all parts of Serenity, making her better. I's just curious to see what she'd make from scratch."
"Just stay out of them, all of you." Mal glared at each member of his crew until he was sure of their obedience.
Zoë answered for them all. "Yes, sir."
"Two by two by two by two by two," River sang.
Simon –and Jayne- looked up, alarmed. "Hands of blue?" Simon asked his sister.
"Nope," chirped the Reader. "Ships of purple, ships of crazy, shipssss of sssssssafe."
Ships of purple was easy to translate, ships of safe could be dismissed until a more fortunate moment, but ships of crazy? That bore a closer look. What would River call crazy but….
"Mal," Wash's tone of voice warned the captain of the bad news. "We've got Reavers."
"Let me guess, two of them?" Mal asked as he sped up the stairs to the cockpit.
"Two? No, as if one isn't enough…." Wash broke off into Chinese swearing.
"Two. And they both are moving at a fast clip. Mal, what are we going to do?"
Mal considered it. There was a planet near-by, they could use it. "Drop into atmo, they'll follow and then do a Crazy Ivan?"
Wash snorted. "As fun as that would be, what will we do about the ship that Idoesn't/I fall for the trick?"
"We'll figure it out." Mal got on the radio. "Kaylee, I need you in the engine room now. Everyone else, strap in. We've got two Reaver ships –out hunting- to outrun."
Only seconds passed before, O'Neill was up in the cockpit. "Can you outrun them?" he asked.
"If we outmaneuver them," Mal was honest with the other military officer.
"If you let us into our crates and open the cargo door, we can help."
Mal stopped and stared at the Alliance officer. "Let me guess, you've got two ships of safe whoosh?"
"You've been talking to River," said O'Neill.
Serenity shook as one of the Reaver ships hit her. O'Neill didn't have to step to gain his balance, he stood there firm. There was an experience there that Mal instinctively trusted.
"Jayne, Zoë, go help them."
Carter was already in the cargo bay unhooking the crates. She was directing Simon and River to take all extraneous cargo and store it behind a locked door, so that nothing would be lost. She left part of the chains in place so that the crates wouldn't float in the cargo bay when the doors were opened. Jayne and Zoë pitched in and helped removed the part of the big crates that faced the cargo bay doors. That wood, they piled behind the stacked crates. Once Zoë got a good look at the 'ships of ssssafe,' she fell to her knees. Of course, Serenity had just gotten hit again by the Reavers, but the ships were beautiful in their deadliness.
They were sleek as swords.
Carter and Jack were putting on helmets and doing a quick preflight check. They were calm and sure in light of the ensuing battle. In no time –these two didn't waste a single motion- they were buckled into their ships and starting the engines. Zoë dashed for the safety of the kitchen. Jayne closed and locked the doors behind her and then hit the intercom.
"We're in, open the doors." The captain had already lowered the ramp and pressed the button as soon as the intercom had switched on.
Zoë, Jayne, Simon and River crowded around the windows. They couldn't see anything but the back of the crates. The lids of the crates floated in the air. Serenity shook. O'Neill had fired before even exiting the cargo bay. River turned and dashed up the stairs to the cockpit, everyone followed. They were just in time to see O'Neill and Carter in perfect formation obliterate the second ship.
"What about the other one?" Jayne asked.
Wash, very aware of the open back doors, maneuvered Serenity so that they could see the pieces and parts drifting in space.
"How the hell did the Independence last so long against them?" Jayne blurted out.
Mal and Zoë were wondering the same.
"They finally agree with the Tollan," River explained simply. "Well, up to a point."
The crew looked at each other and shook their heads in confusion.
O'Neill and Carter continued to patrol, just to make sure none of the Reavers made it to the escape pods. Mal was pretty sure that they were showing off and taking advantage of the time to be free of Serenity's hull as well. Mal's crew (and yes, even Mal himself) were an appreciative audience.
"I wonder why they're going the Rim World that doesn't have a colony anymore," Simon murmured, more to himself than anyone else.
"They want to disappear," River answered seriously.
Zoë turned to the crazy girl to ask her directly. "Can they?"
"A day is a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day."
"Capt'n," Kaylee bubbled over with the possibilities. "You have to ask them to stay. Be part of the crew."
Mal shook his head. "They don't want to, Kaylee."
"They're tired," Zoë explained.
Mal answered this time. "Of everything."
"I don't understand."
No, Kaylee would not understand and Mal hoped and prayed that she would never change.
O'Neill's cheerful voice came over the intercom. "Permission to come aboard, Captain?"
"Get your ass aboard," Mal responded. "We're like a sitting duck with our pants around our ankles."
O'Neill laughed. "Yah, sure, yabetcha. You're the worm on the hook."
"What the hell you mean by that?" Mal asked.
"Fishing?" O'Neill sounded a bit distracted. Since the cockpit couldn't see either 'ship of safe' anymore, Mal guessed that O'Neill was parking his in the bay. They could hear the ship powering down. "Your turn Carter."
They waited several minutes before Wash asked. "Can I close the hatch yet?"
"No." O'Neill sounded disgruntled. "Jolinar," he ordered. "Park the damn ship."
"Of course, Lantash." That was Carter's voice but it sounded different somehow.
"How many names do they have?" Jayne asked.
"Who they were and who they are together," River answered with a shake of her head. "Names of what you can't see."
Most of the crew ignored River's rambling.
"We're in," O'Neill announced. "You can close the hatch."
Wash closed the hatch and flooded the cargo hold with oxygen. Then he set a course for the O'Neill's planet. The rest of the crew tromped down to see them getting out of their ships. They needed to have a talk.
Though Jack's ship had been in storage in the upper crate, he had parked in the lower one. Jack was standing next to his ship and patting the hull affectionately. Sometimes Mal treated Serenity like that. Carter was doing a post-flight check on his ship. Neither of them turned their head when Mal opened the door to the cargo bay.
River skipped ahead to Jack and folded her hands together in a plea. "Can I play? Can I?"
Jack patted her cheek. "No."
He very gently but firmly maneuvered her out of the crate.
"But I'm smart enough," she protested.
"No, River. That's final."
"I gotta say," Wash whispered to his wife. "I'm half tempted to join her in pleading for a ride."
He wasn't quiet enough. Carter reluctantly dragged her head out of the 'ship of safe' engine and grinned. "No, Wash. That's final."
Kaylee hovered at Carter's shoulder. "Does that mean that I can't look in the engine? I can beg too."
"Hey, hey," Jack called. "The gliders are getting packaged up right now. No rides, no engine-looking, no nothing."
Carter cleared her throat.
"'Cept for Carter's work," Jack corrected himself
"They're so shiny," Kaylee breathed. Carter smiled at her but made no move to start teaching, as she had in Serenity's engine room.
Mal had other things on his mind. "Any chance that we can give back your money and you make a weapon's system for Serenity?" he asked.
"No," Jack and Carter chorused.
Mal frowned. Even Jayne would have accepted that sort of trade, especially if he were trained to use them. "Are you sure?"
"Arguing with the Tollan," River sing-songed.
"I think I'm insulted," Jack muttered. "Look, we don't want to see another civil war. And weapons are made to be used."
"Hell yes, they are," Jayne added. "We could get different jobs if Serenity wasn't defenseless."
"No," Jack and Carter chorused again. "The agreement stands," Jack said to make things clear.
"Bummer," Kaylee and River muttered.
Jack put an arm around both girls and led them toward the kitchen. "Come on, little ones. Let's leave Carter to her toys. Sorry, she isn't in the sharing mood."
Mal jerked his head at the boys and made them leave the cargo bay as well. Zoë stepped forward. She would stay with Carter for a while and make sure she wasn't bothered. The two had a lot in common.
Mal stomped into the kitchen where most of his people had gathered. They all knew that Carter and Jack's time with them was coming to a close and wanted to chat and laugh with them. For being not-crew, Carter and Jack had been accepted by the Serenity folk. There was no talk of Miranda. Simon had relaxed enough to leave River in Jack's care without supervision. He still winced every time he saw River with the 'Game Boy.' Carter and Zoë had bonded about being second-in-commands. Mal had made himself scarce during that conversation and he knew that Jack had too. The laughter had filled the ship.
People were laughing now too.
"That would be rude," Mal heard Jack say. "Are we rude, Carter?"
"Wouldn't dream of it, sir," Carter replied in a perfect 2IC voice.
"Why aren't you rude?" Mal asked.
Jayne spoke up. "I jist asked if they had made some sort of ghosts that chase everyone off their planet. Every colony that the Alliance has placed on Caloca has failed and even Reavers don't go there."
"I sure hope Reavers don't go there," Mal said. "'Cause we be landing by breakfast tomorrow. You all packed?" he asked the couple.
"Yasureyoubetcha," Jack drawled.
"Are we going to have to deal with ghosts or some other sort of defense while we land?" Mal questioned. He would not be surprised at all if the pair had some low-key deterrent on their planet.
Jack grinned, "You say that like we're inhospitable."
Mal normally was an excellent judge of character. He knew when even his own crew was playing him false. He had no clue about Jack though. The man could just be messing with him. "How long has it been since you been home?" he asked.
"Been a while," Jack admitted.
"Things will be different," Mal told him. "Jayne's right, the Alliance has tried to place a colony or four there."
"Not an issue," Jack shrugged. "Caloca is a big place."
In other words, whatever the O'Neills had stashed there was very well hidden, but then they had walked away from the Alliance with two of the most deadly spacecraft in existence and no alarm had gone up on the universal wave.
"DNA is the key," River announced.
"You don't have the right stuff, kid," Jack told her.
She lifted her chin. "Are you sure?"
River deflated. "Maybe not now, but these things change."
Jack laughed at her but turned to Mal with a serious mind. "You want the containers for the birds?" he asked.
"We'll take them." They'd be able to sell them on some world as premade homes. The ships' containers were sturdier than most homes on the Rim.
"We'd like to borrow your mule when we land."
"You want help haulin'?" Mal asked just to be annoying.
Jack rolled his eyes. How had this man been a commanding officer? "No," he muttered. "We can handle it."
Mal sat at the table and joined the conversation and laughter.
Wash set Serenity down where Jack directed, in the middle of the desert. Jack loaded up the mule with the first couple crates as Carter prepped the gliders for flight. Then Jack climbed into the glider and Carter drove away on the mule. Once, Jack was ready, he started the engines of the glider and flew in the same general direction that Carter had taken.
Mal and his crew milled about on Caloca. Like many Rim planets, it was dry, dusty and deserted. There didn't seem to be any green or people. Wash kept an eye out for Reavers (and tried to follow the gliders on the radar). He didn't see any ships of any kind.
Kaylee yelled into the ship when she saw the mule returning in the distance. Both of the Murrays were riding it. Jayne and Mal helped Carter load the last of the crates on to the mule. She paid them the full amount that had been agreed upon for the trip to the Rim. Jack climbed into the cockpit of his glider and flew it around Serenity. Now he really was showing off. Wash, River and everyone else was an appreciative audience. Once Carter was on her way toward their secret hideout, Jack followed. Mal knew that it was just protection for the 'supply train.' They might not have been part of the military anymore, but they still thought in those terms.
Mal and his crew waited again. This time, Kaylee was prepping the engines and fixing anything that needed to be fixed on Serenity. The Tams were just out enjoying the sunshine. Finally the mule returned. Both Carter and Jack were riding it. They both returned to say goodbye. Mal didn't go for that mushy stuff but was pleased when Jack told him that he had a good crew and to continue taking care of them. Carter handed both Kaylee and Simon a set of data disks. Kaylee's were for if Carter had been allowed to completely refit Serenity's engines. Simon's were all that the Murrays knew about brain chemistry. Carter admitted that it might not help River at all, but Simon thanked her profusely all the same.
Carter and Zoë hugged goodbye and that seemed wrong to Mal.
Finally, there was no more to say and Mal ordered his crew onto Serenity. General O'Neill and Colonel Carter stood and waved goodbye. Mal wished them well.
That was before he found out that Jack had given River his Earth-That-Was handheld gaming system and his whole crew got into a fight over whether or not to sell the damn thing.
Jack did the grunt work for the crates. This was the crystal they had stolen from the 'scientist.' Leaving that woman maimed had been a gift to society. Here are the microchips they had blackmailed out of Parliament member. That wiring? They had upgraded a manufacturing plant just for one hundred feet. They had called in a military favor to get the intergalactic wave IDs of the Alliance for the next hundred years. They had done all this so that they could hibernate. No one would be able to wake them up.
They were so tired.
Carter/Jolinar did most of the work.
Jack spent his time between the bodies of Teal'c and Daniel. He talked to them even though they would never talk back. Lantesh was just as quiet. It was hard being the last of your species. Finally, Carter was done. She came and offered her hand with a smile. He reached out and grabbed it. She pulled him to his feet. He made some inane comment about his knees to make her smile. It worked.
She led him to the Ancient hibernation chamber and he stepped inside. Carter stepped close and linked their other hands together. She laid her head on his chest and he his head on hers. They were both looking out into the main room of their underground bunker (You could take a snake from his galaxy, but you couldn't get him out of his hole).
"I'd bet that River's will be the next face that we see," he murmured.
He felt Carter smile. "You're on."
Cold so cold it was warm.