With A Little Help From My Friends

Forty-five minutes earlier, as the Serenity was being slowly pulled towards the Foresight, the crew had gathered in the cargo bay. Alan had immediately dashed towards a set of lockers quite close to the airlock, and began to pull various pieces of spacesuits out of them. The others looked at him, puzzled.

"What are you doing?" Alistair asked.

"We can't let the Alliance catch us all," Alan replied. "They're probably familiar with all the hidden spaces on a Firefly, so it's too risky hiding anyone on the ship. There's only one place left."

"Are you crazy?" José asked; eyeing the spacesuits warily, he realised where this one hiding place was and now looked very nervous. "What if they have scanners or happen to look out of a window?"

"You try coming up with a better idea then," Alan snapped. José fell silent, apparently unable to think of such an idea.

"Now we need volunteers to go outside," Alan continued. "Obviously myself and Alistair are ruled out; the suits weren't made with our body shapes in mind. So who's going out there? Don't make me order anybody."

"I'll go," Rachel suddenly chimed in. Alan had to admit that he hadn't expected this; Rachel didn't strike him as the space-walking type.

"I'm not gonna let anything happen to Serenity," she said bravely. "If there's any way I can help, I'll do it."

"Count me in, amiga," José suddenly chimed in. Alan was sure he could guess why José was eager to stay with Rachel. The engineer looked rather taken aback, but nodded appreciatively.

"Bishop?" Alan asked.

"I'd better stay with you and Alistair," Bishop replied. "It's very unlikely that just two people can keep a Firefly running. Having three crew members is less likely to attract suspicion. I also suggest forming a cover story in case our cabins are searched."

"We'll just say our missing crew members are ashore," Alistair said.

"Right," Alan nodded. "Rachel, José, get these suits on. Here's what I want you to do..."

Alan explained the rest of his plan to the two humans as they were quickly sealed into their spacesuits. It was a very dangerous plan with so many things that could go wrong, but it was the best chance they had. Their only hope was to catch the Alliance forces off-guard; everything hinged on that. As the Serenity slid under the enormous Foresight, José and Rachel emerged from the top emergency hatch. Using special magnets on their boots and gloves, they were able to keep themselves attached to the hull and slowly crawled towards the windows above the galley.

Out in space there was nothing but a gaunt quiet. Not even the hissing of steam as the Serenity docked could be heard by either of the humans. When they were close enough to the windows José checked them every so often while the Alliance soldiers conducted their search. Fortunately none of them looked up and spotted him. He vividly remembered his zero-gravity combat training, especially how it had made him sick to his stomach. He had avoided going out into the vacuum of space unless he had no other option; he soon found himself feeling very queasy and kept his eyes firmly fixed on the hull. Rachel, however, was gazing up at the stars with an expression of total awe on her face. The starfield was the most beautiful sight she had ever seen. Neither of the two spoke, in case their radio transmissions were intercepted.

After about twenty minutes, the coast seemed to be clear, so José decided to risk going back inside the ship. He motioned for Rachel to follow, and the pair made their way back to the airlock. Within minutes they were climbing out of the airlock and back into the small annex near the crew cabins. Both of them peeled off their helmets, looking relieved. The ship was very quiet; the soldiers had gone.

"Right," Rachel said in a loud whisper "time for phase two." She and José dashed onto the flight deck. Their plan was to send the distress signal and alert Mitsu to what had happened. However, Rachel was very observant when it came to the machinery on the ship, and she immediately noticed a problem.

"Oh no..." she groaned. She bent down beneath the console and started extracting bunches of wires.

"What's going on?" José asked. Not being as well-versed in machinery as Rachel, he didn't spot any difference. Rachel turned to him, looking very worried.

"They must have expected us to try something like this," she said. "They've booby-trapped both consoles. If we try to do anything to them, we'll probably get blown to bits!"

"How long will it take to fix?" José asked.

"It could be minutes, it could be hours," Rachel said uncertainly. She looked back down at the wires in her hand. "If I sever the wrong connections... well, you can probably guess."

"Work on it!" José suddenly said. "I've got a Plan B!" Suddenly he strode out of the flight deck and back into the corridor. "Seal the door after me!" he said before slamming the door shut.

"What are you doing?" Rachel shouted, but he was already halfway down the corridor and didn't hear her. Frustrated, Rachel sealed the door shut and set to work on removing the traps, trying her hardest not to let her hands shake.

José, meanwhile, moved quietly into the cargo bay and pulled open a long crate marked 'BFG'. Slowly he pulled what looked like an enormous cannon, longer than his arm, out of it. Luckily none of the search party seemed to have bothered to check the crates to any great length. Glancing back down towards the hatch leading to the airlock, he saw the back of one soldier standing guard. Fortunately the guard didn't hear him, so he tiptoed back to the crew's quarters. Outside the airlock he slammed his spacesuit helmet back onto his head, and climbed back outside.

He stood on the hull, his boots gripping it firmly, trying not to look at the stars. The cannon was a modified Spartan Laser, designed to be held by regular humans. Part of his mission from Malcho on this ship was to test the capabilities of the weapon, and it just so happened that one of the requirements was to test it in the vacuum of space. The gun was much easier to hold out in zero gravity, and so he took careful aim at a promising-looking dome on the underside of the ship. He held the trigger, allowing the weapon to charge up a shot in his hands.

"Here's a distraction for ya, fright-features," he muttered, before firing the weapon. No sound came out of the gun, but the enormous red laser that cut its way through space gave the impression of being a noisy weapon elsewhere. The laser struck the dome, causing it to explode. With a grin on his face, José quickly climbed back inside the ship.

He was not a moment too soon, for he heard running footsteps from the cargo bay. He quickly set aside the Spartan Laser and pulled out his own handgun. Seconds later two soldiers ran into the corridor. They didn't see José as they ran towards the flight deck. The mercenary jumped out from his cover and shot both in the legs. Both soldiers went down, crying in agony. Rachel emerged from the flight deck, beaming.

"I did it!" she said triumphantly. "I sorted out the consoles and the distress signal is on its way!"

"Right," José nodded, taking the soldiers' weapons away. "We'll take these two to the passenger cabins and lock 'em up. The Captain can decide what to do with them when he gets back."

The soldiers, barely able to move, didn't struggle as they were led to the passenger cabins next to the common room and locked inside. Afterwards, José and Rachel ran back to the cargo bay. There was a lot of noise coming from the ship, and the sounds of approaching footsteps. There was a violent shaking, and the two humans dived for cover behind some crates as more soldiers entered the cargo bay and began shooting. José fired back, taking down two of the guards while the others also hid. Both he and Rachel exchanged shots with the soldiers, but it was clear that they didn't have enough ammo on them to hold back the siege for long.

Suddenly the soldiers were gunned down from behind. José and Rachel peered over the crates, and were relieved to see Alan, Alistair and Bishop stepping over the bodies. Bishop immediately went to the airlock control and closed both the hatch and the metal doors.

"You made it!" Rachel said, overjoyed.

"Great job, guys," Alan said, grinning. He looked around the dead soldiers on the floor. "We've got no time to be neat. Bishop, let's get out of here!"

"I couldn't have put it better myself, Captain," Bishop said. The five of them ran back to the flight deck and Bishop sat himself down at the console. Within seconds he had disconnected the ship from the airlock and was speeding away from the underside of the ship. A vivid sight welcomed them.

The Holy Justice had arrived on the scene, having answered the distress signal. They had managed to get to the scene in record time through slip-space, and now the ship's cannons were blazing, the plasma fire tearing the ship apart. The Foresight's own laser cannons were having almost no effect on the Destroyer's shielding. Several sections of the ship were evidently on fire, and whole chunks of it had simply disintegrated. Some of the lasers shot in the direction of the Serenity, but Bishop was able to steer the ship safely out of their way. After a short while the laser fire from the Foresight stopped; the Holy Justice must have taken out its weapons array.

"Open a channel to the Holy Justice," Alan said.

"Aye-aye," Bishop nodded. Mitsu's face soon appeared on the small communicator screen, looking at Alan shrewdly.

"Looks like we got here just in time, Shipmaster Tyler," he said. "Are you all alright?"

"We're fine," Alan replied. "Now I want you to cease fire. I'm going to open a channel to that ship."

"Why?" Mitsu asked.

"I've got a proposal for them," Alan replied. Mitsu looked unsure, but in the end he nodded. Outside the Holy Justice's cannons stopped firing, leaving the Foresight badly damaged but operational.

"Right," Alan said. "Now patch me through to the Foresight," Alan said. Bishop nodded, and seconds later a static-filled picture of the station's interior could be seen. Boscoe's face was on the screen, bruised and bloodied, but looking very angry.

"I told you my crew would get the word out," Alan said. "Now I want you to listen very carefully. Your ship has been incapacitated. My associates and I are prepared to offer you and your surviving crew transport off your ship and into our custody. We are even prepared to set you down on a neutral landing site and be on our way."

"You're offering them that, even after all they've done?" Alistair asked, looking dubious.

"It can't hurt to try," Alan said. "We're supposed to be the good guys, aren't we? I'd rather not let ourselves sink to the Alliance's level." Boscoe, however, clearly did not share Alan's view, for he continued to stare at them with a look of great defiance.

"I will never surrender to the likes of you," he growled. "I would rather suffer a thousand deaths than be indebted to any who fly in that accursed ship. Mark my words; the Alliance will rise again, and they will hunt you down and destroy you all where you stand."

"Alright, kill the line," Alan said to Bishop. "Get Mitsu back on," The pilot did so and opened a channel to the Holy Justice again.

"What are we waiting for, Shipmaster?" Mitsu asked impatiently.

"They had their chance to surrender, and they blew it," Alan said coldly. "These guys make José look like the most tolerant person in the galaxy." José chose to ignore that jab; after everything they had just been through he wasn't in the mood for an argument.

"Give 'em Hell," Alan snarled.

"With pleasure," Mitsu rumbled. The Holy Justice resumed firing on the Foresight, and the outcome was inevitable. Within seconds the station exploded in a gigantic fireball, its remains scattering themselves to the stars. Alan felt bad that the rest of the crew had to die, but Boscoe had made their choice for them.

"Captain," Bishop said, "I'm detecting several smaller signals that got away from the Foresight before she exploded. They must be escape pods, though not many of the crew managed to make it out."

"Let them go," Alan said. "Maybe they'll be a bit wiser for their trouble."

"It looks like we're at war with a whole new batch of humans, Tyler," Mitsu said, sounding almost glad of the fact.

"That won't be necessary," Alan replied shortly. "These ones aren't worth the bother. Let's just finish our survey and go home."

"What about our prisoners?" Rachel asked.

"Come again?" Alan asked, rather surprised.

"José managed to catch two of the soldiers that came on board," Rachel said. "We've got them locked up in the passenger cabins."

"I see," Alan said, scratching his chin. "We'll try to coax the location of the Alliance's home-planet out of them; that'll be one less planet to worry about surveying, anyway. Then we'll drop them off on some anonymous dirt-ball with a beacon and some supplies. The Alliance can have 'em back."

"They're your prisoners, Tyler, so it's your call," Mitsu said. "If you come on over, I'll let you borrow some of my warriors as security."

"You got it," Alan said. "We'll be right over."

"See you soon," Mitsu said, then he started to chuckle. "This survey took an interesting turn, didn't it?"

0

Moments later, the Serenity and the Holy Justice parted ways once again to continue their mission. The Serenity now had a compliment of Mitsu's Special Operations warriors on board, who were in the process of interrogating the Alliance prisoners. José had objected at first, saying that humans needed to deal with their own prisoners on their own terms, but he had been sorely outvoted.

Rachel spent her time in her usual haunt of the engine room. She preferred to be here beside machines; there were times when she tired of the company of others. Machines were not complicated, after all; they couldn't decide to suddenly turn on each other, or subject each other to horrible experiments like what had happened to her Auntie River. The sight of her aunt's panicked, blood-stained face on that screen was one that she knew would haunt her for the rest of her life. She was so lost in thought that she jumped at the sound of someone stepping into the engine room.

"You alright?" Alan asked, leaning in the doorway.

"Yeah..." Rachel said, in a very unconvincing tone.

"No, you're not," Alan said, sympathetically. "I've always got an open ear, Rachel."

The engineer turned to look at him. Amidst the dirt on her face from where she had been fixing the fusion drive, there were tears on her cheeks.

"I can't believe what they did to her..." she said quietly. "I'm glad you're the Captain and not me. If it had been me, I wouldn't have even let them surrender; I would have blown the bastards away." She looked away, as if ashamed for saying such a thing.

"I was sorely tempted," Alan muttered.

"Why didn't they tell me, though?" Rachel asked indignantly. "Both my parents never said anything about this to me! They had to have known! Why would they keep me in the dark? Did they think I couldn't handle it? I just don't get it..." She sniffed, trying to stifle a strong urge to weep. Alan knew that he would be feeling the same; it was his own hatred of secrets that had led him to meet Kiryuu Knight for the first time and set his life on a course which he could not possibly have anticipated.

"I won't pretend that I know anything on that particular topic," Alan said calmly. "I'm not going to say they had your best interests at heart or anything like that. I'm not in the habit of guessing what goes through people's minds. All I'm interested in right now is you keeping those engines running and helping us find the missing President. Can I rely on you for that?"

Rachel slowly turned to face Alan, trying to put on a brave face. She knew that the Captain was right; she couldn't let herself go to pieces right now. She had a job to do, and she would see it through to the end.

"Aye-aye, sir," she said slowly.

"Oh, by the way," Alan said. He pulled a data disk out of his pocket and tossed it to her. "That has all of the information we took from the facility. Everything's on there. I figure you have the most right of all of us to decide what's to be done with it."

Rachel looked at the disk uncertainly. She put it into a pocket on her boiler suit, shaking her head slightly. She had no idea what to do with the disk; she didn't know whether to destroy it or confront her parents about it at a later date. In the end, she settled on the idea of making a decision when the mission was over; there seemed to be little sense in fretting about it now. She sighed, looking rather forlorn as she thought back to her family; this whole expedition had made her rather homesick.

"Come on, chin up," Alan said. "Someone on this crew has to be the optimistic one."

As Alan departed from the engine room and back to the bridge, Rachel couldn't help smiling.

THE END