As her eyes rolled forward in her head, Kaylee Frye saw the huge globe of light above her and heard a scratching noise that sounded like a submerged tree rubbing across the bottom of a metal boat. She thought she was lying in the bottom of her father's metal john boat. It felt like a hot summer day; she'd spent plenty of time in that little boat in her bygone youth. "Jacob, push us off… don't want my Pa seein' us like this…" she giggled, still half unconscious.
She heard the scratching again and realized where- and more importantly when she was. The broken intercom in her room, aboard the starship named Serenity, squawked again with loud static. The speaker was broken and she couldn't understand who it was, much less what they were sayin'. She had been meaning to fix it, but she never felt like foolin' with it by the time she was done with her shift.
She stared at the bright light above her, which she had mistaken for the sun. The bulb that was currently in her quarters was supposed to be used in the hanger; the wattage was really high so it could light a large area. But they were out of the size for the crew quarters and she couldn't buy them in a single pack. They sold in bunches of twenty and were a bit pricey; it would cost a week's pay. She had been trying to scrape by with this one until the Captains burned out, but these bulbs were made to last a hundred years and she now thought she was going to have to resort to sabotage in order to get the Captain to spring for them.
She sat up fast and suddenly she felt like a nail was being hammered into the back of her skull, "Ou…ch!" She looked down at her tank top, which had a cartoon bear on the front, and her pink bloomers she was wearing and the events of the prior evening came flooding back to her. She put her head in her hands in shame as much as pain.
She had been drinking aplenty and playing Hold'em with some of the others and had been doing quite well. She had been teaching River how to play; who quickly caught on and started whispering numbers to her after every card. It took her a few hands to realize that it wasn't nonsense; River was telling her the percentage chance of her being able to win. She bided her time until River told her 'Ninety-one' with one card left and she went all in.
Only Jayne called her hand and after the next card Jayne offered to bet Vera, his favorite rifle verses her favorite coveralls; the ones she had sewn the teddy bear knee patch on, which she was of course wearin' at the time. She had a full house, eights over aces. Jayne of course had aces over eights. She remembered thinking at the time that she was lucky that Simon Tam wasn't there. He was the cute dandy of a ship's doctor and she had a crush on him somethin' fearsome. But of course he walked in just as she dropped trow. She had run from the room and to her quarters, where she buried her head in the pillows in shame and passed out leaving the light on. She hoped everyone else was as drunk as she was and didn't remember her walk of shame in her pink bloomers.
All hopes of that were lost as the lock on her manhole was overridden and the Captain yelled down, "Kaylee! Get'cher damn bloomers on and get up here Ace, everything is going crazy! All the systems are shutting down one by one. First navigation, then flight controls, propulsion, now life support!"
"Alright," she yelled grabbing her head in pain. She snatched up a pair of coveralls and deck boots and slipped them both on without lacing or zipping anything. She grabbed the ladder and saw that one of her hands and arms was bright red she looked in the mirror next to her ladder and her mouth fell open. Half of her face and neck were bright red and stung to the touch and suddenly she realized that if was very hot in her room. She flipped her hair to the sunburned side and let it hang in her face to try to save further humiliation until later. As she climbed the ladder she knew her leg and foot on one side were also burned.
Malcolm 'Mal' Reynolds, he was the Captain the 03-K64 Firefly class bulk transport he had rechristened as Serenity, was of course waiting for her to climb up the ladder from where her quarters were located. "So, what's wrong with her Kaylee?"
"Captain, I just woke up…"
"I thought you could feel the ship, or something?"
"It's not a magic trick Captain, besides I'm all hung over and I can't think over your shoutin'."
"Well Ace, if you don't start talkin' to her soon we're all either going ta be barbecued or drowned."
"Pardon?" she asked as they half ran to the engine room.
"We are arriving at Mandarin and we are aimed smack dab at it!"
As she zipped her suit up she mumbled, "Mandarin …never heard of it…"
"That's 'cause it ain't got no land Kaylee, just one big ocean of acid. It's a huge planet too; kinda hard ta miss her…"
"Alright, alright… Give me five minutes…" he was still following her closely, "…alone."
"Right, I'll be on the bridge…"
Kaylee ran around the corner into the engine compartment and froze in her tracks. Half the ship appeared to be scattered across the floor. Computer consoles, pistons, gears, a huge wire harness, as well as what appeared to be the broiler element from the stove were all scattered about. Several large cables were stretched across the room rerouting power to and from different systems.
"What… what… the heck! The… this… is…" she floundered.
"…fixed it!" she heard a childlike voice proclaim from above her.
"River…!" Kaylee exclaimed seeing the culprit sitting on an overhead cross beam.
"It was broken…" she said as she unceremoniously dropped a large part of… something… to the deck."You're welcome!" she grinned seriously and she walked back and forth on the I-beam.
River Tam was the Doctors sister and although she was legally an adult, she had been the unwilling recipient of several unorthodox brain surgeries that had left her quite addled. She had been one of the smartest people in the 'verse before they'd started cutting on her, but now on a good day she had the mental faculties of a twelve year old. On bad days she spoke in a mish mash of ciphers, rhymes, poems, and sheer nonsense. Her instincts were incredible but her logic had massive gaps. It wouldn't be farfetched for her to try to kill flies with a shotgun while riding in a hot air balloon.
River had saved all of their lives once and had protected Kaylee when she was most vulnerable, so Kaylee bit her tongue so hard it bled and held her anger in check, mostly. "River, please come down here and show me… what the heck is this?"
River hopped down and cocked her head, looking at the part. "We need a new one…"
"Where did you get this from? Is the plasma infuser?"
River nodded and pointed to a narrow crawl space that led to the outboard drive pods. "It was recalled in 2456 for a faulty pressure safety valve. Failure during reentry could cause pod drive failure resulting in an emergency landing."
"No, no… I checked that. The ships original owner fixed it and then I replaced this myself a year ago!" She said it as gently as possible, not wanting to hurt River's gentle sensibilities.
"You bought a bad part…"
"The part," she held it up, "it's recalled. I bet you got a good deal on it from the junkyard though," she said happily. "It's broken now…"
"What the heck is the rest of this…" she motioned to everything else.
"I had to take things offline per the checklist," she handed her a piece of paper which Kaylee quickly scanned.
The intercom squawked, [Kaylee! You had your five minutes,] the Captain barked.
River's whole face and manner instantly changed from playful joyousness to abstract horror, "He's mad. He's going to yell at me, he always yells at me…" She started pacing and covered one ear with her hand, "He'll throw me out… I like it here. …don't want to leave! I don't want to leave Kaylee!" she rambled in a panic.
Kaylee blinked twice at being referred to like a place, but it was still heart wrenching to her, "Shhh…" Kaylee motioned her to be quiet, [I got serious issues hear Captain. There's no quick fix here…]
[That's not the right answer… I got a big ball of Orange Juice loomin' large in the window…]
[This will take hours Captain…]
[We got fifteen minutes… What can you get me in fifteen minutes?]
She looked at River and asked her, "If you help me, he might not need to know. Can you bring the nav computer back online, while I do the flight controls?" River nodded vigorously, on the verge of tears. [I can get you the flight controls and the nav computer…]
There was a long silence and she knew that he was swearing in Chinese and planning, [Do it! We'll try to figure somethin' or other out…]
Meanwhile, on the bridge Malcolm Reynolds was in fact cursing in Chinese and trying to formulate some sort of plan."Wash, whatcha got?" he barked.
'Wash's' real name was Hoban Washburne but no one ever called him that, not even his wife Zoe, who was the first mate and longtime friend of Reynolds. All of the remaining crew members were present at this point, most in various stages of undress as it was the middle of their normal sleep cycle.
Wash was a rather goofy looking fellow with a slight birdlike slant to his features; he rubbed the sleep out of his striking blue eyes that matched the background color of his dinosaur pajamas. "Well Mal, with flight controls back… at least I'll be able to steer a little when we hit the atmo, but I can't do a lot until then…"
The ships navigation system was supposed to wake Wash up once they were getting close to orbit, but luckily he always set his calculator watch too since the Nav system was down as well. It was also fortuitous that his wife was a lighter sleeper than he was, otherwise everyone would've been asleep as they crashed headlong into the planet; Wash could sleep though a meter storm. Zoe cut in, "What about the shuttles?"
Mal snapped, "Yeah, y'all best load in them, Wash, Kaylee, and me cut take the escape pods."
"No, sir… the engines… they have propulsion, can't we try to…"
"What… tow us? They shred apart, we are too big," he said flatly.
"I think she means to use them as booster rockets, while still attached to the hull," Derrial Book offered politely. Book was a Shepherd, a member of a monastic religious order that everyone usually referred to as Shepherd. Mal figured that he had once worked for the alliance as a spy or high ranking officer. He had a plethora of knowledge that seemed to indicate that he had captained a ship, or at least been in control of a vast unit of men. He was considered old by anyone's standards. He was old enough to be a grandfather; although he had plainly stated many times that he had never married.
Reynolds countered, "If we pull up, they'll rip off the hull… The docking clamps can't take the strain."
"So, what about coming at the planet keel away and pushing into the ship? That way the pressure is on the hulls and not the clamps?" Zoe asked Wash more than Reynolds.
Washed nodded, "Sounds plausible… until we hit atmo. But maybe then we wouldn't be hitting the planet straight on."
Reynolds blurted, "Inara, Zoe… go!"
The two women rushed from the room to man the two shuttle crafts which were attached to the hull next to each outboard pod drive. Inara was a tenant of one of the shuttles; her occupation often took her to other moons or nearby planets. Her title was a Companion, which if you asked Capt Reynolds, was no more than a high priced hooker that delivered. She always showed proper composer and rarely did anything crack her calm exterior.
As they ran Zoe muttered to her, "You look worried… I wasn't until now…"
"I'm sure we'll be fine," she lied poorly.
"Right, well look at the bright side… at least you're in a shuttle already."
"Good luck Zoe," she muttered as the women split to go to the different shuttles.
"You too," Zoe said quietly, wondering if this would be the last time she saw another person.
Back in the cockpit, "We just got flight controls back Mal," Wash said excitedly.
"Good. Doc and Shepherd… go and get that girl and make sure she is strapped in somewhere," they both knew he meant River and took off to find her. "Jayne, you might want to go batten the hatches or something… or start growing gills," he barked to the last member of his crew. Jayne Cobb stared at him as though he were joking and then his survival instincts took over and he took off down the hall, shutting and sealing all the hatches as he went.
Jayne Cobb was a man of viciously ill temperament that would shoot you just as soon as look at you, but only because he didn't want to waste bullets on blind fire. Jayne was jokingly in charge of: public relations, treasurer, and the ships contract attorney. Basically he was a hired gun and loved his job and his money. In fact, the only thing he loved more than killing folks that got his ire up was getting paid to do it. Mal was a faster draw and better with a pistol, but Jayne was one of the best with a long gun Reynolds had ever seen. He had not only the natural talents, meaning the eye and the physical skills, but also the mental. Not only did he not get shaken or cowardly in a tussle, but he took immaculate care of his weaponry; although you wouldn't know it from his own personal hygiene. Mal had long been of the belief that if you took care of your ship and your weapon that they would take care of you. That went a long way with Mal.
Jayne was only happy when he was killin' folks or getting paid. Mal had learned that people were less likely to crawfish on a deal if Jayne were present and hence his added title of contact attorney. Whenever someone wanted to change a deal- after the fact, he was a good man to have at the table… so long as you were okay with the talks getting hostile.
As Cobb ran through the ship, closing all the bulk heads, he had to wonder what in the hell he was doing here. He and River were the two most ill fitting to serve on this ship, but as long as he was paid well and paid often, he was generally content. After three years he and Mal had finally each other figured out and Reynolds always made sure he was paid and paid fast. Sure there were times where a deal went south and the crew didn't make everything that they were hoping for or sometimes they got nothing at all, but those days were few and far between. Mal had never tried to hold out so much as a cent from him and that went a long way.
Mal got on the ship wide intercom, [We are about thirty seconds from atmo and it's going to get bumpy. Strap yourselves in and get out of exterior areas. That means you Kaylee. Now! We got controls and nav back and I'm right grateful for it, now we need you to be not dead.]
"You too Mal," Wash nodded to the co-pilot seat. "In case I hit my head or something…"
"…might just knock some sense into you. Nice knickers by the way."
He looked at his dinosaur PJ's and laughed, "Yeah, well I'd rather not die in them…"
[Okay ladies,] Wash said over the PA. [Now we are going to roll over and go keel to planet, just lay off the controls for now. Wash used the drive pods as flaps, using the wind resistance as a means of slowly rolling the ship over without risking the clamps on the shuttles.
There was about three minutes of uncomfortable, white knuckled silence throughout the ship as they plummeted through the atmosphere. In common area, the Shepherd looked on with indifference, as though nothing out of the ordinary were occurring, as the doctor appeared as though he might lose his dinner. River looked about in wonder and kept trying to get out of her harness to watch out the window. Kaylee was trying to keep River in her seat as she looked around nervously pondering exactly how much work she was in for. Cobb was sweating and glaring at the preacher, but showed no other signs of worry. The Shepherd knew Cobb didn't fear death, but he knew they would both rather meet death directly.
[Alright, about twenty seconds…] Mal announced over the PA. They all felt a jerk backward as the shuttles pulled up to flatten the angle of decent and then the shuttles separated and broke away. The rest of the crew in the rear of the ship, were thrown forward in their harnesses. All of them cried out or screamed to some degree, even the unflappable Shepherd Book. Pots, pans, pens, rations, paper, books, and all manner of unsecured items, including both of Kaylee's untied boots, flew across the room and collided violently against the far wall.
Before anyone could react, or even say anything River was out of her harness and sprinting at the door, screaming.
"Hey girl, stop!" Cobb demanded. "It could be floodin'."
"I can't hear Mal… I can't hear him Simon!" she was struggling with the door locks when Book grabbed her in a bear hug and pulled her away from the door. The crew had come to realize that River was a reader, a telepath capable of reading minds.
"River, stop struggling. We'll get to Mal and Wash, but we need to be careful," the Shepherd soothed as she continued to struggle. Even though Book was old enough to be River's grandfather he was a powerfully build man and he and Cobb, a man in his prime, lifted weights together every day in the hanger. "River we can't help Mal if we are fighting each other, please…"
Cobb went to the door and checked the pressure gage, "Doc you see this here? There's one by each door. Anything higher or lower than that, or if it's moving around you best not open the door. You best get to your office… take her with you. Make sure you close the doors behind you," he said pointing to the opposite door which was closer to the med bay. "Kaylee, go with'em and get to the engine room and get to work before we are crushed to death. Book and I will go to Mal and Wash…"
No one moved. He was the least respected and most untrustworthy member of the crew. "NOW!" he barked and everyone started following his orders, which all made sense.