Firefly/Serenity and all the characters contained within are the sole property of Fox/Universal
The situations and contents of this story are mine and are intended solely as recreational and for the enjoyment of myself and other fans.
FREESpace and all the characters, terms and concepts are the sole property of The Wise Duck (Kenneth LeDuc).
FREESpace is a work of fiction. All Characters and events portrayed in this story are fictional and any resemblance to real people and events is purely coincidental.
Thus starts two firsts. My first story outside of Kim Possible Fan Fiction and my first attempt at publishing some of my own original work.
For the Firefly/Serenity fans out there a hopefully quick explanation. My son is a hardcore Firefly fan. He also reads and enjoys my original science fiction universe which I have been working on for almost ten years. About six years ago, just before I actually got into FanFiction, he asked if I could do a crossover story combining the two. I did some thinking and research into Firefly (which I knew next to nothing about) and found (1): Firefly was a very good program which lasted way too short a time, (2): that it abounded in possibilities for fan fiction and (3): it would actually connect in a crossover form very well with my own private universe.
Then I got involved with Fan Fiction, specifically Kim Possible FF and five years and six published stories with something like 500,000 words went by.
When I finished my Kim Possible novel, 'What She Can't Say' and its side story, 'Clothing in on Cuddle Buddies', four and a half years had gone by with nothing but Kim Possible coming out of me. At that time I needed to get back to my own work which had been neglected so long and I explained this to my K.P. readers that although there were still many K.P. stories left in me, this story would have to be done before anything else could happen.
But just like WSCS which when originally envisioned at roughly 130,000 words but ultimately grew to over 395,000 words, this story grew and is continuing to grow all out of proportion to my original thoughts. Not wanting to be away from the writing scene for 4-5 years didn't appeal to me so I decided to break 'The Tale of Lady' down into 'books' and publish it as the books were completed.
So what we have here is Book One.
To my Kim Possible readers, this is what I have been doing for the last two and a half years. My main decision to publish this and risk the wrath of Firefly fans was to allow all you guys to see where I've been, what I've been doing and what it is that has taken me away from the KP world. There is also the egotistical (let's be honest) desire to showcase something of my own creation and see the reaction to it. Hopefully it will be positive and something which I hope you will like.
To the Firefly/Serenity fans, I hope you will allow me to play a while in your world. But there are a couple of things I want to be up front about.
This is most definitely an Alternate Universe Tale. It starts shortly after the final Firefly episode 'Objects in Space' and continues on from there for a considerable amount of time instead of the six months that supposedly passed between 'Objects in Space' and the movie 'Serenity'. So the first fail is that any timeline for the shows canon is shot.
The second is that certain other aspects of canon will also go out of the window. I say that with the understanding that things like that happen and are generally accepted in AU and Crossover stories. That's part of what Fan Fiction is all about. But I also understand that some readers/fans have a very hard time with that. I can only hope that the fact that this is not done maliciously will at least mollify those fans.
One thing about non canon that I will say up front. I both realize and acknowledge that this universe belongs to Joss Whedon and he can do whatever he wants with it and that is canon.
Both myself and my son (who remember is the hardcore Firefly fan) are disinclined to go along with what has been put forward as the history and background of Darrial Book as put forward in 'The Shepherds Tale'. For the purist, please excuse this.
Firefly: The Tale of Lady
Chapter One – Events
He upended the bottle into the mug, then regarded that empty bottle and all it signified.
At the moment, he had a ship full of drunkards. And he didn't much give a gorram.
But that was going to stop. Now that they were less than two hours out from their destination, he had passed the word that by tomorrow morning at the latest, after they had finally reached their destination, after they had finally dropped off their taso de cargo, after they restocked their empty pantry and reefer, they would be returning to the professional standards that had always marked their operations in the past. The cheer that the crew had given to this pronouncement only served it emphasis the terrible ordeal of the last couple of months.
His ship was a commercial courier, not as fast as some but quicker than most. Prior to this trip, the ship had spent its entire operational lifetime passing back and forth through the worlds of The Core moving important original documents, items of ongoing research and development or the occasional large currency transfer. Despite the speed and availability of electronic media that literally replicated things 'perfectly' despite vast distances, there was still a demand for 'the real McCoy' when it came to certain legal documents or actual 'hands-oh hardware'.
So the ships that did courier work were kept busy. One trip in ten might leave the region of the Central Worlds, going out to The Boarder and an important commercial headquarters branch or scientific field site involved in major work. Regardless of the nature of the particular run, there had never more than a twenty day trip and those were even rarer as they usually involved going between the two far displaced systems that comprised 'The Boarder'. A 'usual' run was between one and three days. Sometimes they were only hours if it involved a moon and its parent planet.
The courier's captain had always been acutely aware of his crew and the obvious professionalism that they displayed in both their appearance and performance as befitted their various employers. And while their work might have been described as monotonous, it had more than enough benefits. More often than not, there were usually three or four 3-day 'off' periods in any given operational cycle which allowed both the singles and the married personnel to have a more than adequate personal life. Such a cycle also allowed for all routine maintenance and the occasional upgrade work to be accomplished in a timely manner. It—
It allowed him and his personnel to become involved in . . . things that they were probably better off not being involved in.
They weren't smugglers. Their professional pride and the danger to their lives, lifestyle and loved ones would never allow such behavior into their lives. But . . . both the Captain and several of his crew were veterans of the war . . . on the losing side. They had been a space crew together during the war, abet solely involved in supply and support functions with no actual combat. After the end, the Alliance had allowed them to keep their individual licenses even though their ship was taken and they were broken up. In the years that had followed, they had slowly drifted back together from what work they could find until they were once again together on this ship.
But they still shared the same feelings, the same anger, the same disappointment, the same—
They all had friends and 'contacts' who felt the same way. Some of those 'contacts' were still working to subvert the Alliance, using other veterans in advantageous positions who still had their own need for revenge to participate in 'small acts of defiance'.
For this Captain, his crew and his ship, they had participated in many small acts. In a sense the Captain had to admit that they were doing a different kind of 'smuggling'. But they weren't moving stolen goods or contraband; they were moving messages that couldn't be sent through normal Alliance or commercial services. They were delivering information storage from one contact to another. Vary rarely they transported an actual person from point to point.
Regardless of whatever they had carried, they had always stayed within their usual operating area of The Core with the occasional dash out to The Boarder. Sometimes they had made quick rendezvous with other ships doing the same as they; more often they met contacts planetside. Regardless, it had never interrupted their 'true' work nor had it ever caused them to stay 'out in the Black' longer than any of their normal assignments.
The Captain turned his eyes to look at his personal console in his quarters. He certainly hoped that the contacts who had arranged for his ship to take this little 'detour' knew what they were doing as far as dummying up all of his logs and covering his butt for all the consumables they had used.
The cover was a special mission for a Boarder industrialist. The logs were suppose to show that they had made a trip across the entire Boarder, followed by the ships first ever trip out to The Rim . . . to Kalidasa . . . with multiple stops in all systems.
The Captain looked at his screen, looking at the depiction there of what was known to one and all as 'The Verse', humanities last home, a distant place sought and reached by mankind after Earth . . . or as it was known, 'Earth-that-Was' the homeworld of mankind, was 'used up'.
It was a complicated quintuple sun system comprised of a white central star system known as 'The Core', orbited by four other star systems comprised of two yellow's, a red and a blue in a complex dance of mutual attraction and interaction. The two 'middle' systems made up 'The Boarder' while the final two, the farthest ones out as well as the most recently settled (and therefore the most primitive) were known at 'The Rim'.
For three centuries, the last survivors of man had lived here, starting life anew amid the devastating memories of a homeworld wasted. There had been determination not to repeat the same mistakes twice. For the most part, that determination had paid off . . . as least as far as the fact that mankind had survived. For each of the five stars possessed a multitude of planets, nearly seventy for the entire mutli system. Much of what wasn't inhabitable had been made so through terraforming and they had done this not only to the terrestrial sized worlds but also to a bewildering number of moons large enough to be made 'earth like'.
Added to this were the gas giants, protosuns, asteroid belts, free planets (held in sway by those interconnecting multiple gravity fields rather than a particular star), a plethora of space platforms, stations and facilities filled the spaces in between the stars, spreading out from The Core to The Rim.
Here mankind had survived and more. Their history told them that Earth had had over six billion inhabitants when mankind had forced to the stars. Now, in this system, over fifty billion members of the human race made their way, living in circumstances that ranged from ultra opulent cities of fantastic wonders and advanced technology (in The Core) to worlds where oil lanterns lit the night, wood stoves cooked and provided heat and labor was done with the horse and the strong back (most of The Boarder and all of The Rim).
All was under the firm grip of the central governing body known as the 'Alliance' which monitored its citizens and enforced the laws and regulations of both order and commerce.
A monitoring that fell away the farther that one travelled away from The Core. Out on the Rim, things were rough and raw. There was a lot of empty space to get lost in—
Which was something that many appreciated in more ways than one.
For beyond The Rim was darkness. In all their time and with all their resources, those who lived in The Verse never looked back out beyond The Rim. It was almost something that just wasn't done. More in likely it never really occurred to them. It might have been the old stories of the harshness of the exodus from Earth-that-Was with its hardships and loss of life and knowledge. But whatever it was, the Darkness beyond the The Rim was never mentioned. It was okay for the inhabitants to talk about 'The Black', their pet name for the empty space that filled the spaces between their five systems. But The Black was not the Darkness. And that Darkness was enough to send shivers through any spacer's bones.
The Captain thought back over the last eight weeks and literally quivered in his seat. He then took a hefty swig on the contents of his mug. He still didn't understand it. He and his ship had made dozens of rendezvous with other 'contact' ships at various lonely spots within The Border regions. But—
Despite what all of their ships logs said, they had not spent the last eight weeks making their way about first The Boarder systems followed by Kalidasa. The fact of the matter was that they had made a beeline out—
Into the Darkness. They had gone so far outside of The Verse that they had been able to see all five stars of The Verse together for the first time out their front viewport. The sight had been both awe inspiring and frightening.
Very frightening. To their knowledge no one had been this far out since the original refugees that arrived from Earth-that-Was. So frightening that—
It had almost developed into a mass psychosis. Despite the Captains relaxation of all the professional rules and regulations, despite the presence of an entire store room full of alcohol brought along for this very reason, two of his crew had gone around the bend, having to be sedated to an almost comatose state.
For they had spent almost three of the last eight weeks just sitting out there in the Darkness waiting for their contact to arrive. Why this rendezvous could not have occurred somewhere out on The Rim away from either of the systems he didn't know. At this point he didn't care either. He and his crew had already agreed that regardless of their anger and need for revenge against the Alliance; their days as a courier for the underground movement were over.
Day after day, going into weeks, the weight of the Darkness had pounded down on them. Fights had broken out between long time friends. Food was starting to run out as they didn't have the galley capacity for this kind of extended voyage. Their recycling systems started to show signs of strain from not having the kind of regular maintenance that they were use to.
During their vigil, the couriers sensors were straining outward . . . into the Darkness . . . into the void . . . toward the massive dust clouds that blocked their view of most of the rest of the galaxy. History told them that the direction that their sensors were pointed was supposedly the direction of the Earth-that-Was. None of them knew if this was true or not. It really didn't matter. Slowly their edges frayed as the weight of all that incredible void, that Darkness beyond their understanding . . . hammered down on them.
The alcohol flowed freely. Only the one actually on the sensor watch was to keep somewhat sober. That was because whenever the first detecting of the incoming contact was made, the ship was to then shut down all its sensors and recorders, the instructions being that they were to have no electronic image of the contact as well as no visual sighting. The contact would both approach and depart along the courier's aft aspect where no one could even get a glimpse of it.
By the time the rendezvous was made however, neither the Captain nor any of his crew could give a good gorram about anything but taking the cargo on board and getting out of the Darkness and back to The Verse.
But even that event was extraordinary. The sealed orders which the Captain had opened upon the first detection of the contact, along with the shutting down of all sensors, the courier was simply to open an airlock door to receive whatever was coming across. It would be ferried by someone in a spacewalk from the contact. It would be under complete radio silence. Only when that airlock was closed from outside after the cargo was placed inside it, would the courier be allowed to start its engines and make its way back home.
The crew cursed their luck, being unable to believe the extremes they had been put through. The Captain could not fathom why, when their contact ship finally did show up, why it came inward from even farther out in the Darkness as if it was coming in from somewhere 'out there', a foolish and ridiculous notion. As had been said, The Verse was the last home of mankind.
The remainder of the sealed orders were just as strange. They specifically stated that the Captain and the First Mate were to convey the transferred container to an empty cabin. After that, the Captain was to be the only one allowed to see what was inside the container.
At this point however, they were too shocked, too strained, too drunk to give a gorram. The internal gravity was turned off in order for the Captain and the Mate to haul the container to the assigned cabin. Once that was done, the Captain gave the word—
And none of the crew looked back. All eyes were ahead . . . on The Verse. They were going home. The relief the crew felt was almost a physical thing. Discipline and professionalism got even sloppier. They were going home so who cared? Only the Captain had to worry about the contents of the strange container.
This had turned out to be a person. The Captain's own 'eyes only' section of the orders demanded that he have no conversation or any other type of interaction with this person. He was simply to take the person meals at the proper time as well as actually feeding that person for they were physically restrained in both hand and foot.
It hadn't said anything about dealing with that person's sanitary needs. Obviously, whoever had written the orders had never lived aboard a small spacegoing vessel. The Captain was forced to improvise. He did so by rigging a small explosive device on his person with the First Mate outside in the passageway. The person was informed that the restraints would be taken off in order to allow them the use of the facilities. Any attempt to attack or overpower the Captain would result in the death of both.
This had been going on for two weeks now. For the last part of the sealed orders consisted of instructions on where to deliver the person as well as directives for getting there. That part of the orders was not to be opened until the ship had reentered The Verse.
They almost caused a mutiny. For the first time since the war, the Captain had armed himself, swearing he would use it if he had too. The orders stated that the ship, after crossing back into The Verse was to proceed inward almost to The Border before turning back out for their final destination. This was to cover any possible trial back out into the Darkness, another ridiculous notion that the Captain had had half a mind to ignore. But—
The fact that where they were going was considered the most dangerous part of The Verse, a place where only armed fast ships dared to go with any frequency. Had the Captain known in advance what his ultimate destination was to be he would have refused the mission, he would have—
As he took another heft swig of the contents of his mug, the Captain reflected on this. When they had been recruited for this mission, it had been made very clear to him that they on a mission as directed by 'superiors' much higher in the underground than the Captain had ever encountered before. The impression the Captain received was that these superiors were right at the top . . . an indication that this mission, and the captive person they were transporting was considered to be of the highest priority. His crew did not understand really what they were doing. How could they? To their minds, the horror of their present destination coupled upon the stress of so much time out it The Darkness might very well be more than they could stand.
The Captain had been forced to do something he never thought he would have to so . . . he had asked for their trust and fidelity. The crew plainly didn't like any part of what they were doing . . . but the Captain had passed along the same promise that he had received from the superiors. A promised that this mission and that captive were important . . . very important . . . possibly the most important thing in The Verse since the end of the Unification War.
But that knowledge, that promise and trust didn't stop the fraying. They all, Captain and crew both tried to fight the feelings . . . the nervousness . . . the rising terror caused by the weight of the unknown, of the fearsome rumors and legends of the areas surrounding the farthest star of The Verse. It was argued that only those mad or insane came out this far in a courier.
The Blue Star of The Verse, known as Qing Long (or Blue Dragon) was also known throughout the Black as Reaver Space.
But the Captain was resolved. He held the crews very humanity in his hands. In return of that trust and fidelity, he responded by ordering the ship to maximum performance over a period far beyond the builders specs. This coupled with the long delay in routine maintenance started to cause thing to come apart. It didn't matter to any of them. Their mind set was now, get in-get it done-get out.
Day to day existence became one of staying barely sober enough to do the jobs that needed to be accomplished. The Captain continued to allow this, the heavy use of alcohol even if it caused a loss of efficiency . . . to the point where it was now, after the past weeks, it had become a crutch and a handicap. The Captain was aware of this but he had no other way to deal with their current existence. They had run out of their normal consumables more than a week prior, they were living on emergency rations, morale was below rock bottom; one of the young lads had tried to suicide, had had to be put under.
But now they were hours away from their final destination. The Captain had allowed for one big blow-out party in celebration to the point he had himself had just now finally reach, by the emptying of his last bottle.
He, like the rest of his crew . . . which now included a total of four under full sedation, all he could think about was getting rid of the cargo, picking up the fresh consumables that were waiting, and heading back to The Core where a full months leave was promised to them, an indication that someone in their parent company was fairly high up in the underground.
Unfortunately, that was not to happen. Even as the red emergency light came on on the Captains console indicated—
The Alliance cruiser was not supposed to have been there. The Alliance never spent any time this far out. Why should they considering what else was out here? The Alliance only worried about Reavers on the very rare occasions when they penetrated to the Central Worlds. The Captain almost laughed despite the fact that his bowels felt ready to let loose in his terror. Normally, considering where they were, he would have cheered the presence of an Alliance cruiser. Now—
He was going to have to run from one, in a ship where the very engines that normally made it not as quick as some but faster than most were in a state of near shutdown—
It didn't matter; the Captain didn't even bother with the intercom. He ran from his cabin yelling at the top of his voice.
In the end, none of it mattered. The crew didn't know if the presence of the Alliance cruiser in Reaver space was merely chance or if betrayal was involved. But they could not lead the cruiser to the moon that was their destination—
And they could not be boarded, could not let their cargo be found.
Several of them broke . . . the rest . . . including the Captain panicked.
The cruiser came after them.
It was a small arid moon like so many of The Rim worlds. The advantage of this one was that the majority of its population was gathered around the ore bearing fields near its one small sea. That left the rest of its surface pretty wide open and very lonely. Smugglers liked areas like this to trade off cargo, coming in real quick, dropping the load and getting out. Generally they didn't like to hide in such places for a moon was still a moon, lots smaller than planets when one was trying to hide from Alliance detection equipment.
Then one added the fact that it was a moon in a region of Reaver space. Things tended to get a whole lot more interesting in places such as that. That was why most smugglers didn't like to come to such regions at all let alone hide in them.
Unless you had a pilot who was skilled enough . . . or crazy enough to park the ship someplace where it was harder to see and detect. Even that had its limitations. A deep gorge could still be seen from directly overhead and Alliance sensor operators were trained with this kind of a maneuver in mind. Any other options—
This ship was a Firefly, what it didn't make up for in appearance it made up for in maneuverability. It also had a pilot who was both skilled and probably slightly crazy.
It was huddled back under a large scooped indentation in the wall of a fairly substantial cliff. There wasn't much more than forty feet between its dorsal and the 'roof' of the depression. It was canted partially sideways as the depression also wasn't that deep, the cocked angle being necessary to get all of the ship under cover. The cliff faced 'south', effectively keeping the ship out of any direct sunlight during the course of the moons sixteen hour day. This kept it from showing as a metallic/ceramic 'hot spot' from space during the day. The rest of the time however—
"—I'll take three, how much longer are we gonna sit here?"
Jayne Cobb had his hand out for the requested cards from the player on his right but his eyes were on the man sitting to his left.
"You in a hurry to get somewhere?" Malcolm Reynolds asked without even a look at the man asking.
"Jus don't like to sit anywhere too long," Jayne replied, the surliness in his voice hiding the discomfort that lay underneath it. "It ain't healthy. Specially round these parts." He glanced around as if he expected enemies to come bursting through the walls any moment. "Reavers can smell blood two AU's away they say. Stay too long in one place—"
"Well it appears," Mal continued as he considered his own cards, "that it would be definitely be a different kind of unhealthy to be wanderin about these parts right now." His eyes came up from his cards looking toward the dealer, "take two."
The dealer, Hoban 'Wash' Washburne dutifully passed the cards to the Captain as he added, "haven't seen anything on the passives in six hours or so." He shrugged his shoulders, "could be that they caught whoever they were looking for and moved on." A happier look came to his face as the thought struck him, "or maybe they found Reavers and are chasing them over to the other side of the Verse."
Mal was studying his freshly supplemented hand but gave an absent shake of his head. "Five Alliance cruisers, a pair and a threesome, crisscrossin the area in what looked like a search pattern might be one thing, but two more of them lyin powered down and dark—Alliance ships don't do that. It's—against their egos or somethin." Even as he studied his cards, Mal shook his head in wonder. "Course, there ain't been this many cruisers together in one place anytime since the war. They're lookin hard for somethin or someone that ain't Reavers and I don't want us to stumble in where we don't belong." He adjusted the cards in his hand before saying, "That many cruisers lurkin about, it would be hard to run without running into another. And that might be a tad bit of a problem.
Wash gave another 'agreeing' shrug, "yeah, there's the point. We almost did run right into the the two powered down ones and if we hadn't been dark ourselves from that threesome earlier they would have seen us."
That in itself could well be thought of as a minor miracle. Upon entering the Qing Long system, Wash had been more than his usual careful if for no other reason than keeping an eye out for Reavers. The first pair of cruisers had announced themselves by going active on their sensors before Serenity had come into their effective range. From what Wash had been able to tell, some other ship had fallen into the web and it was that poor unfortunate that the pair of cruisers had gone after.
The trio had come up a while later. Wash was effectively into his 'tippy-toe' mode and some inner sense had told him that things were not good. On his own, he had Kaylee shut things down going 'black', allowing only their current momentum to carry them forward. The three cruisers had appeared far over to their side, arranged in a vertical triangle for maximum sensor coverage. Wash had used the maneuvering thrusters to keep the bow of Serenity pointed toward the cruisers as they flew by, keeping their after aspect with its residual engine radiation away from the Fed's passive sensors.
Now thoroughly alarmed, those aboard Serenity were in a heated discussion about their options when they had nearly flown into the two 'black' cruisers. They kept their heads about them, sliding by the two behemoths with held breaths, clenched fists, and hearts in their mouths. After getting by the pair, they figured that the only reason why they had done so was that the 'black' cruisers were slack, probably thinking that the region of space between them and the previous trio of cruisers didn't have to be watched closely as nothing could have possibly gotten by that same trio.
This left them in their current situation.
"So," Jayne came back, sounding slightly surlier, "back to the question. How long are we gonna sit here?"
"Till it feels right," Mal said with the finality of his 'Captains' voice. He then added in his 'card playing' voice, "open with two."
Jayne shook his head irritably, muttering, "least we could do is be normal like while we're waitin."
Mal flashed an exaggerated smile with a light toned, "think of it like you were a kid again Jayne and you couldn't go campin like your daddy promised so your momma set you up to do so in your own room with a blanket and a broomstick."
Wash snorted a laugh and looked around the cargo hold, "yeah . . . I can see you . . ."
He cut off when he glanced back at Jayne and saw the look on the big mercenaries face in the dim half light.
For their table was set up in the center for the floor of the Cargo Bay of Mal's ship Serenity. Their card game was being lit by candles and they were all shirtless due to the hot stuffy air in the Bay from lack of air conditioning.
It had been five days since their seemingly 'chance' encounters with the Alliance ships. Due to the fact that the cruisers and such had been so 'thick' in this part of space, Mal had ordered extra caution for their current cargo wasn't even close to being legit and there was too much of it to get it all hidden in his boat's hidey holes. When they had almost run into the dark cruisers, Mal decreed that a little time out was in order. Some time on the ground (where they would use less consumables) with their passive sensors going wide open, working to get a pulse on this part of the Black, hopefully giving a better picture of just what was going on.
That meant a roundabout approach to the moon New Omaha and as stealthy a reentry and landing that the Wash could make. In the period since, Mal's caution seemed further justified as several Alliance ships, not just cruisers but other classes as well had overflow the moon during the following days.
With that kind of intense activity in the sector, as a further precaution, Mal had directed that not only were they to be completely powered down and dark, but there was to be no chance of any kind of an emission being emitted and detected. So despite the presence of the cliff overhang above them, the Dining Area was off limits making sure that no lighting, heat signatures or microwave from cooking or even the infrared from the stove or a person walking through the Dining Area was to be visible to the sky at the horizon. They were continuing to monitor what was above and around them using passive sensors run on actual wires (rather than detectable wireless) to the top of the cliff enabling a full 360 view.
But all this meant that they were on lantern or candlelight, no air conditioning, eating cold food . . . NO COFFEE . . .
Which did nothing to help certain people's moods.
That certain person continued to grumble even as he saw Mal's opening bet.
Movement on the catwalk caught the Captains eye—
Revealing the other who wasn't happy with the turn of events.
The Companion . . . could be described as certainly less than happy. The trip all the way out to Qing Long had taken her far away from her usual clientele. The fact that they were in Reaver space also dictated that they get into Qing Long, get the cargo dropped and get out which meant that there wasn't even a chance that she could make up for the period of enforced inactivity with a quick contract with one of the high mucky mucks from the major mining companies. All in all, it meant almost six weeks were she was just a passenger along for the ride.
In days past, the Companion wouldn't really have had any real trouble with this as those on the boat were considered 'family' by her. But things were different now and the reasons behind that change were known only to her and the Captain. The others had caught the drift from the chill between the two but no one had attempted to venture farther, which made the both of them at least livable. Anyway, the Companion had been spending the majority of her time in her powered down shuttle . . . which considering the . . . skimpiness of her wardrobe in the heat . . . was also probably a good thing.
Mal accented his own feeling by giving Inara only a glance before returning his attention to the game before him. It was helping that the rest of his crew had no complaints with his actions . . . or at least . . . sorta . . . somewhat . . . kinda. His First Mate Zoe was dealing with the situation as she always did, with quiet competence and a watchful eye. She and her husband Wash were spelling each other on the sensor watch for the majority of the ships day, Mal taking the night shift allowing the two of them to sleep together on the mattress they had thrown onto the floor of the second shuttle. With the inner hatch closed, the outer hatch of the shuttle could be opened for some air at night. Mal was sorry that he couldn't provide them with a little nicer accommodation for everyone (except the Companion of course) was sleeping in that shuttle at night. With life support shut down, everyone's cabins were much too hot and stuffy to sleep in.
His engineer on the other hand, had initially been grateful for the extended power down in order to do work on systems that required such lengthy down time. But Kaylee had finished all that work and had been hinting rather broadly that it was time to fire things up in order for her to check her work.
She had been less than pleased with Mal's less than pleased response to her last little hint.
His passengers, they were being no problem. The Shepherd Book was calm as always, trying to keep everyone's spirits up and making light of the good things. And the Tam siblings seemed to be having a period of relative calm of which Mal was grateful. River, Simon's younger sister seemed to be dealing with her demons fairly well at the moment which allowed Simon himself to be a little more relaxed.
"Raise three," Wash said, sounding slightly . . . 'uncalm', his eyes were locked on Jayne's face and the real strange look there.
"How did you know about my mom—" the Merc suddenly blurted at Mal.
The ex-Browncoat non-com smiled back beatifically allowing that to be his answer.
The small ship had led a miraculous life before the inevitable happened and it finally got tagged. Almost a charmed life in fact for it had managed to outrun the first cruiser it had encountered. But cutting first up and then down through the plane of the Qing Long system it had run into a hoard of other Alliance ships. The crew had more than panicked, their already loose grip on sanity compounded by alcohol causing them not being able to cope with the idea of so many Alliance ships in such a small area of space. Clearly they lost it completely, running full out at a Hard Burn without any evasive maneuvers . . . and in doing so, them managed to overloaded their already overextended and tired drive. In the interim, they had been able to lose all but one of their pursuers, but when the drive flared out, going to less than a third of its efficiency, their fate was sealed for one Alliance cruiser was more than enough to run them to ground.
By the time the small ship entered the atmosphere of New Omaha in a desperate attempt to land, the ship had been shot to pieces, the majority of its crew, including the Captain dead, its surviving crew having lost all hope but having no other option other than suicide, something they still couldn't bring themselves to do even at this point. But they were mad with terror as they made a last final effort to to reach breathable dirt where maybe they could run on foot.
What was left of the ship, now a flaming wreak that started to burn as soon as it was in enough atmosphere to do so, was less than a thousand feet from the ground when the final missile went right square into its tail. The rear end of the ship completely disintegrated in the fiery explosion. It lost all flight ability, twisting about, falling like a stone, flopping down like a dead duck, hitting the ground hard, bouncing as parts and pieces and components flew off in all directions, hitting again—
It then cartwheeled, digging up great hunks of dirt, shredding itself.
The forward part of the hull finally came loose, plowing through the scrub until it at last came to rest, the remainder of the ship, now in thousands of pieces flying and skipping and bouncing off into the desert—
As the star that was the Alliance cruiser rose in the night sky of New Omaha toward the zenith.
And five miles away under the cliffs of the nearby buttes, nine pairs of eyes, called to the bridge by Zoe Washburne in response to the passive sensors watched that horrible end.
Mal had magnifiers to his eyes looking out the bridge viewports. In the darkness, no detail was possible but his military training was able to tell him that at least the burning parts of the wreckage were trailed out over a mile or so in length. There would be no survivors. But that didn't matter, what did was, "alright folks, let's quietly strap our guns on and get ready, it seems as if we could have some company shortly when that cruiser sends down a crew to survey what little is left of that thing." He lowered the magnifiers and turned to the barely visible figures in the darkness. "If they do it right away, they should be in and out before dawn . . . and we should be okay. We're cold and have been for some time. If we stay away from the ports we should be safe from any casual scan."
He glanced at a time piece before going on. "If they wait till daylight, we just might get spotted." Looking at the shortest form, "Kaylee, you best be ready to go from totally cold to a Hard Burn just as fast as you can manage it. We'll stay dark until it looks like they spotted us. If they do, you'll have to do it mighty quick cause we'd have to be out of here for they get close enough to make us or get a shot with a portable ground-to-air. Wash—"
"We'll go out in whatever direction is best Mal," came the reply, the pilot's voice a little distracted for he was already 'flying the route' in his mind. "Be huggin the ground for as long as we can once we go in order to lose their visual on us as quick as we can. It'll be more than a little rough so everyone best be ready."
"So Zoe," Mal continued on from Wash's statement, "get everything that we've drug out put away and tied down. Don't need things getting broken if we can help it."
"Yes sir," came the reply out of the darkness.
"Alright folks," Mal concluded as he turned back around, lifting the magnifiers back to his eyes, "let's get her saddled and lets have one foot in the stirrup 'case we have to light out with a fire behind us."
The Captain of Serenity jerked his head around to his pilot. He then grimaced at the protest his neck muscles made.
The two of them had been keeping watch on the bridge since Mal had given everyone their marching orders. It was now . . . four hours after sunrise . . . and no Alliance inspection crew—
Not so much as even a flyover by a gunship.
Mal was tired, stiff, sore, and a lot more than a bit worried by the fact that the Feds so far hadn't been playing to their normal script.
And now . . . that warning tone in Wash's voice that the pilot used when he didn't understand just what he was seeing.
"What?" Mal asked, his own eyes flashing across the screens of the passive sensors in front of the pilot. Nothing was visible to him.
"I just realized," Wash said slowly as if he was trying to convince himself of something that he wasn't sure of, "that I haven't seen the cruiser."
Mal didn't move for a moment, then he cocked an eyebrow, "how could you have lost the cruiser?"
Wash's hands were moving as if he wanted to play with the sensor controls but was being forced to stop his fingers just millimeters away from their surface. "I think the cruiser lost us," was the pilots absent reply. "I mean, at the moment I'm not really sure cause I've been watching the horizons for a low approach of a shuttle or assault boat." He looked up at Mal, a look combining his uncertainty and worry that he had missed something. "But I just realized that it's been hours since I last saw that beast."
Mal's other eyebrow went up. "Hours?" he repeated.
Wash nodded uncertainly. "She was there where and when I expected her on the first orbit after sunrise. When she made the next orbit after that, she had shifted so that she went directly over the wreck. The passives showed that she did a full sensor sweep and I think that the orbital shift was because they wanted the best visual that they could get. But," he looked back down at his screens, "that was the last time I remember seeing her. It's almost—"
Mal picked up the thread, "as if they just did a visual and sensor confirmation and then pulled out." Mal's head came around to look out of the viewports at the black clouds from the still smoldering wreckage. "And that was three hours ago. They could be halfway to Highgate by now."
Wash shrugged. "Or lurking out at the L3 point where we couldn't pick them up."
Mal thought a moment before, "Don't think so. They may have had to get out in order to rejoin the blockade they've got up. That would mean that they got this one," he nodded toward the wreckage, "but there's more that they're lookin for. But bein as that may," Mal abruptly turned and walked to the hatch leading to the forward passageway where he yelled, "Zoe!"
Mal then turned back towards Wash who could see the gears turning inside of the Captain's head. "Bein as that may," Mal repeated, "this place is now a bit too populated for the likes of us and I think it would best that we were leavin afore a marshal or some such shows up to have a look at what's left." Mal looked at the pilot. "Think bout getting us outta here. I think in this case, since all those Alliance ships were lurkin about in bare and open space—"
"That," Wash nodded with understanding, "they're looking for someone trying to slip in and they're not paying any attention to the regular routes. If we act respectable, we'll get out unseen."
"Unseen cause we're bein seen," Mal agreed even as he turned his head to greet his First Mate as she stepped onto the bridge. She had been sitting atop the hull by the open dorsal airlock hatch, standing by in case the wires to the passives had to be cut in a hurry. Her eyes asking the questions.
Mal nodded at Wash's instrument panel, "looks as if the Fed took a single look from orbit and then lit out."
The questions in Zoe's eyes only got bigger even as she looked at her husband. He just gave her a shrug and, "haven't seen a thing in three hours."
Zoe gave Wash a single nod then looked back to Mal, "so I take it that we're going slip out quietly before anyone gets back?
Mal gave her a nod, "that's eventual the plan."
"Shall Jayne and I start to pull in the passives then?" she asked.
Mal kind of dropped his head a little before saying very slowly, "yeah, bring them in . . . and have Kaylee bring back the internal power and the lights . . . but not the engine . . . not just yet."
The questions were back in Zoe's eyes. Mal gave her a wan smile in response before turning and looking out of the viewports, "I think that maybe we need to do a real quick looksee ourselves." He then turned back to his First Mate, his full 'bad boy' smile now in place. "We jus might find somethin that would be worth our time."
Jayne who had come up behind Zoe in time to hear that statement sounded more than a little worried, "you think that's really smart?"
"Well," Wash's voice was thoughtful, "there is the point that we don't know just how far away that beast is or if there's another lurking about keeping an eye on things. Best bet is that if nobody shows up sooner that our best time to get out would be about an hour or so after sunset."
Zoe sounded like she was trying to understand her husband's train of thought and not succeeding. "How do you figure that?"
Wash's shrug was almost audible. "You've all seen the static discharge and lightning that happens right around sunset and a period after." He got nods from all around. "The mines here . . . well hell, most of the mines that operate on planets with no pollution control, something similar to the lovely garden spot I hail from, the separation process involves a whole lot of different magnetic fields, the excess they discharge into the atmo." He waved his hand around the universe in general. "Lots of free electrical static, electrons, all manner of fancy scientifically named stuff floating around out there. The temperature change that comes with sundown is kind of like a thunderstorm without clouds . . . or wind or rain or hail. Lots of voltage being discharged. Moderate visual impairment for a direct watcher, major sensor impairment. Easy to sneak out at a time like that."
"Sounds kinda thin to me," Jayne mumbled.
"Regardless," Mal said firmly to them all, "we're gonna take a look. We just might find a clue bout why all this (he gestured out toward the wreck) happened. I'd best like to know just how far we should go once we head out, do we have to go straight to Lilac, or should we take a roundabout route."
Zoe turned to moved off of the bridge, "I assume that you'll want the mule?"
"Yeah, with the trailer," was Mal's reply. He continued to look toward the wreckage for a long moment after Jayne followed Zoe's off the bridge, still muttering as he went. Then as he turned to follow, Wash spoke up, the worry now plain in his voice.
"Despite what I said, we're really challenging the odd's by not bugging out right now." He stood up from behind the pilots console to look at a meter on the bulkhead. "It's not something that you would normally do? What is it that you'll think you'll find out there?"
Mal gave the pilot a sharp look as if annoyed that Wash you say anything about what he would 'normally do'. But he bit back any sharp reply and once again looked out into the distance and the burning wreckage there.
"Don't know," he admitted reluctantly. "But somethin's callin . . . " Mal shook his head. "Like I said, I don't know. There's gotta be something strange or secret over there if an Alliance cruiser shot it down and then left without surveying the wreckage. I would just feel better if I had an idea just why that happened. It's too strange to be."
"Well, I'll agree with that," Wash said giving Mal a look that seemed resigned. "But if it's just the same to you, I would rather not have to do some kind of dangerous and daring flying to get us out if someone shows up."
Mal snorted. "Ain't gonna happen."
Wash snorted in reply. "Like I haven't heard that before."
Mal then turned and headed out of the bridge. His eyebrows rose a little when he say that Zoe hadn't gone on her way to start getting things going, she was waiting for him at the bottom of the bridge ladder.
Mal knew that the same thoughts were on her mind as had been voiced by her husband. The difference was that she knew that she would get the truth from her Captain.
"Look," Mal told her sounding just a little bit desperate. "As late as we are on this run, the client might ask for a piece of our pay for not bein on time. Wash and Kaylee are both screaming that there's stuff that they have to get fixed if we're not gonna run outta gas again. We ain't had a job for three weeks prior to gettin this one and the pantry's mighty bare with no pot of gold sittin anywhere close by." He took a deep breath as if trying to control anger before saying, "My behind is sittin on a rare laser pistol worth a small moon that's still too hot to get rid of and the paint on my toilet is starting to peel. On the off chance that there's something out there (he jerked a thumb in the direction of the crash site) that survived, something that's the cause and reason why the Feds wanted that ship that bad and yet didn't come down for a looksee themselves, if we can grab it . . . it just might make this risk and I admit it's a risk justified—"
Zoe nodded in understanding. Mal would do anything that he had to do to keep flying. And everything he had said had also been true. She could only hope that their fickle luck would hold and that they could find something that would make it worthwhile without extracting a price from their hides.
"The mule will be ready in five sir."
A/N: So here it is. Frankly I'm scared to death to actually post this but I earnestly hope that at least some readers will get some enjoyment out of it. If that happens, I will be satisfied.
As had been said, I'm only playing in the Firefly/Serenity universe. As such, I've reviewed all the DVD's and such but obviously that is not enough so I wish to acknowledge the most helpful sources that I found on the Web.
Labarc(dot)com – for interior photographs of Serenity
Reachforthesky(dot)wikidot(dot)com – for ship plans for Serenity
Can't Take the Sky [still-flying(dot)net] – screencaps
Whoa. Good Myth [firefly(dot)shriftweb(dot)org] – script transcripts
Wapedia(dot)mobi – List of Planets and Moons
Serenitymush(dot)com – List of Planets and Moons
Note: The lists of planets and moons are apparently considered to be part of the RPG universe. I do not know how well they are accepted by those who are faithful to canon. But they were the only source I could find. No insult is intended if the information is not accepted as canon.
Alright, that's it for now.
Until next time
I Shall Remain
Your Loyal and Devoted Servant
The Wise Duck