Chuck vs. the Past Redux, Chapter 3 – "Ghosts That We Knew"
CAST (in order of appearance):
River Tam – Summer Glau
The General – Bonita Friedericy
Alliance pilot – Theo Rossi
Malcolm Reynolds – Nathan Fillion
Chuck Bartowski – Zachary Levi
Daniel Shaw – Brandon Routh
Frank Mullins – Damian Lewis
Kaylee Frye – Jewel Staite
Jayne Cobb – Adam Baldwin
0100 hours, Alliance Mean Time
19 March 2521
Something was wrong, and River Tam could sense it.
She wasn't quite sure what. It was less of a surety and more of a nagging suspicion, but something was definitely wrong, and it was nibbling on the edges of her consciousness. Somebody was out there who wasn't supposed to be.
The problem was, River didn't know who, or where. She couldn't find anything on sensors, and until she could, she didn't think she should go to Captain Reynolds. Yes, he had learned to trust her hunches, but this one – well, she wasn't even sure there was anything to it.
And so, she just kept piloting Serenity along through the deep black of space, bound for the new resort world of Xanadu to drop off their cargo of fine silk robes acquired on Sihnon. It was that same cargo that the pirates had been after the day before, although River couldn't for the life of her determine why. It wasn't as if the robes were very practical – all the women's robes barely came down below the buttocks and were virtually see-through, for goodness's sake.
The Alliance corvette screamed through space at a speed that very nearly approached what would have, five centuries earlier, been referred to in science fiction lexicon as warp speed. The technology was antique and massively inefficient, but the speed it could put out was well beyond anything the Alliance used these days. Admittedly, the kind of speed that Challenger could achieve would rip some of the massive "skyscraper" ships in the Alliance fleet to shreds.
Alliance scientists had also expressed concerns about the speeds at which Challenger traveled. She traveled on the very threshold of light speed, and while she never actually broke through, the fact that she flew on the raggedy edge of warp bent space and time around her. The Alliance's astronomical scientists believed that that bending could very well have a deleterious effect on the stars, moons, and planets which Challenger flew by, and so, her engines were very rarely throttled up to full. But this was a goddamn emergency.
"Are we in range yet?" barked the red-haired android sitting in Challenger's command chair.
"No, ma'am," replied the nervous Alliance pilot. "We're still too far away. It'll be at least another fifteen minutes."
The General leaned forward. "Fly faster then."
The pilot turned toward the General. It took one of three things to stand up to the director of the NSA – 1) brass balls, 2) insanity, or 3) a scientific certainty of death should he refuse to do so. Fortunately, option 3 was available to the young man just then. "Ma'am, if we fly any faster, Challenger may well fly apart."
The General's electronic eyes opened wide and filled with a cold fury. Her orders hearkened back across centuries, bringing to life the words of a fictional Starfleet captain. "FLY HER APART THEN!"
An observer outside of Challenger would've seen her hull blur as she reached 185,000 miles per second – just barely shy of light speed. Space and light twisted around her, the very fabric of reality threatening to tear as the corvette barreled through the black. But this was no time for caution. The General had all manner of sins for which to atone, and she was damned if the laws of physics were going to keep that from happening.
*beep beep beep beep*
The beeping sound of an incoming comm message caught River's attention, turning her from the windshield. The rarity of incoming messages was such that it actually caught her off guard for a moment, before she recovered and moved toward the comm panel.
"This is freighter Serenity," she intoned into the microphone. "Who is this?"
"tsshchshcshs-renity, this-sthschths-USS Challenger. We ha-sthcshsthsch-message from NSA-chsthcshschsths-"
"Challenger, this is Serenity," River replied. "Your signal is extremely weak and barely readable. Please say again."
"Serenity, this is USS Challenger," she heard again, the signal coming in much more clearly this time. "We have a Priority One message for your commander from the National Security Agency."
As always, the words "National Security Agency" sent a tremor of fear through River Tam. The experiments they had conducted on her in the name of "science" would never heal completely. But time did – time and the knowledge that there were people employed by the same agency who were not entirely horrible individuals. John Casey came to mind.
"Challenger, this is Serenity," she replied. "Acknowledged. Please stand by."
Turning back toward her station, she pressed the intercom button for Mal's room. A sharp buzz sounded, and a moment later, his sleepy face swam into view on her screen. "Whassit?"
"Captain, we have been hailed by an Alliance ship. They have a Priority One message for you from the National Security Agency."
Mal Reynolds sat straight up in bed, sleep instantly banished. A Priority One message from the NSA? For HIM?! What the hell?
"Put 'em through," he ordered River, trying to come fully awake as he watched the screen.
"Captain Reynolds, this is Alliance corvette USS Challenger," he heard a moment later. "Do you read?"
"I copy," Mal replied. "What's this about a Priority One message?"
"We are transmitting to you immediately."
"Wai-" But it was to no avail. The Alliance ship had cut off the audio channel, and had already begun sending the video to Mal's computer. A moment later, the "buffering" bar reached 100%, and the video began –
And the face that appeared on Mal's screen made him feel like he was looking at a ghost. It was Chuck Bartowski. He was a few years older than the last time Mal had seen him. Gray hair at his temples, glasses. But definitely Chuck.
"Mal, this is Chuck Bartowski," he started. "I wish I could say that this is a social call, but I'm afraid it's anything but." He paused and sighed. "A very dangerous rogue agent of the CIA, a man by the name of Daniel Shaw, has escaped from his detention facility in the twenty-first century. He managed to get his hands on the same technology that was used to transport me and Enterprise to your time. Unfortunately, that technology has been perfected to allow him to go wherever and whenever he wants."
Chuck paused again, clearly looking for the right words to explain the situation. "Mal, this man is clinically insane, and carries a pathological vendetta against me. He will stop at nothing to hurt me and those who I love… and I'm afraid that he would have, before going rogue, had access to the mission files from my trip to your time."
His attention not wavering from the video screen, Mal reached out and hit the button for the audio intercom. "River, I need you to wake the entire crew up and assemble them in the common room RIGHT NOW."
He hit the button, cutting her back off as Chuck started speaking again. "Mal, I can't emphasize enough how dangerous Agent Shaw is." A picture of a smiling, brown-haired man appeared on Mal's screen. "This is what he looks like. If you see him, shoot first, then ask questions. Your best bet of safely dealing with him is if he's dead." Chuck's face reappeared. "I'm so sorry to have to put you through this, Mal. I know you and your crew have already dealt with a lot. Good luck."
Chuck's face disappeared, to be replaced by the electronic face of an android who Mal had met once before. "General," he said.
"Captain Reynolds," the General replied. "I must personally take some responsibility for this. I was the one who refused to put a kill order on Shaw. I was the one who asked our scientists to work on the device instead of destroying it."
Mal gritted his teeth. "Well…" He stopped. "You were alive back then. You know what happens. Don't you?"
The General slowly shook her head. "I truly don't, Captain," she replied. "Whatever Shaw has planned, he hasn't set it in motion yet. Until events begin, they won't actually be part of my time line."
"Actually, General BECKMAN, I have indeed set things in motion!" A new voice broke in to the conversation. "Sweet Jesus, how are you not dead?"
"Shaw, stand down!" the General barked over the open channel. "I will blow your ship out of the sky!"
"You're still out of range, General!" Shaw's voice came back, dripping mockery. "And I'm about to dock with Serenity."
"Oh, like hell you are," Mal shot back. Reaching out, he punched the intercom again. "River, take evasive action, right now!"
The little Firefly immediately dipped downward and came about, a THUNK resounding through the hull as something struck the ship but failed to catch hold. "General, any assistance you can render would be highly appreciated!" Mal shouted at the open comm link, before dashing up the ladder out of his quarters, bound for the bridge.
"Dammit," Daniel Shaw cursed, as Serenity dropped away from the pirate ship. The element of surprise blown, the docking tube bounced off Serenity's hull and jolted the pirate ship up and away. "Mullins, does this thing have weapons?"
"Laser cutters," Mullins replied. "Looks like if we put full engine power through 'em, that'd be enough to wreak some serious havoc."
"Do it," Shaw instantly said. "Take out their damn engines."
Mullins punched a few buttons on the console. "Done," he replied.
The laser blast hit Serenity like a fist. Pure amplified energy punched into her engine exhaust. That sparked an explosion, which in turn triggered a catastrophic waterfall of reactions back up the line. Exhaust exploded, and then fuel, and then the energy sought an outlet.
With no way to escape out the now collapsed exhaust nozzles on the tail of the Firefly, the energy went the other way – back toward the engines. Kaylee Frye, having realized that all hell was about to break loose, had already begun running – but as she reached the hatch out of the engine compartment, the force of the explosion reached her, tossing her out and across the cargo bay. Her body twisted through the air, her left foot striking the bulkhead as she descended.
There was an audible snap, and pain seared through Kaylee's leg – though it didn't even register at first, as pain surged through her soul, the pain of a mortal blow to Serenity registering. Pulling herself up to her feet, she tried to cross the bay back toward the now blazing engine compartment – only to find that her left leg wasn't working properly.
That was when an ominous THUMP sounded through Serenity's cargo bay. It was a sound Kaylee knew well – a ship had engaged a docking tube on Serenity's cargo entrance.
"SHAW, DISENGAGE THAT DOCKING TUBE RIGHT NOW, OR I WILL BLOW YOU TO KINGDOM COME!"
"Still not in range, General!" Shaw replied cheerfully. Cutting off the comm link, he turned to Mullins. "If she gets too close, keep her occupied."
"You got it," Mullins replied.
Shaw opened the hatch into the docking tube and walked through to Serenity's cargo hatch. Placing a lock-pick device on the control pad next to the hatch, he let it do its thing – and a moment later, a hiss of air announced that the hatch was opening. As it reached about halfway open, Shaw ducked under, into the airlock. Through the window in the second door, he could see a young red-headed woman and a large, rather thuggish looking man desperately fighting a fire. Ah, the redhead is Kaylee Frye, Shaw thought to himself, and the Neanderthal bears a striking resemblance to John Casey, which must make him Jayne Cobb.
Placing the lock-pick on the airlock control panel, he waited a moment further, and then the door slid open. "Good morning!" he called cheerfully. Both Jayne and Kaylee's gazes swung toward him. Instantly, Jayne reached for his sidearm –
But Shaw was quicker. His gun hand came up, and he fired. The bullet caught Jayne in the center of his chest, and he tumbled backward. He crashed to the deck and lay very still.
"JAYNE!" Kaylee screamed. The fire extinguisher in her hands crashed to the deck, and she tried to limp over to the fallen mercenary. Her leg, however, was not cooperating.
"Get away from him," Shaw ordered her, the gun now aimed at her.
Kaylee, her shaking hands rising into the air, complied. "Now come over here."
"Uh… I can't… I can't really walk," she said quietly, her voice trembling. "I think I broke something when the engines blew."
Shaw rolled his eyes. "Jesus," he sighed. "How on earth did Bartowski fall for a fragile candy-ass like you? No wonder he went running back to Walker at the first available chance."
And at that moment, Kaylee Frye's world seemed to simply fall apart. It didn't help that she was already injured, that the ship she loved was dying around her, but Shaw's words dug into her heart and nearly ripped it in two. She fell to her knees, feeling like a crushing weight was pushing in on her lungs. It felt like her entire world was collapsing.
"Oh, I do NOT have the time for this," Shaw growled. Crossing the deck to the catatonic engineer, he scooped her up and unceremoniously tossed her over his shoulder. He turned and marched back toward his own ship, closing Serenity's cargo hatch behind him and smashing the locking mechanism, to keep her crew from reopening it at any time in the near future.
As he was re-entering his own ship, however, he felt a jolt. Not a jolt of weapons fire, however – this was a jerk upwards, as though something had grabbed the ship –
"Stand DOWN, Shaw!" The General's voice came unbidden over the pirate ship's comm system. "We have you in a tractor beam and will not hesitate to blow you out of the sky."
Dumping Kaylee on the deck, Shaw punched the comm button. "You won't blow me out of anything, General," he snapped at her. "I've got Kaywinnit Lee Frye on board my vessel, and I know damn well you're not going to voluntarily kill her."
"Maybe not, but we can certainly make your life hell!" came the voice of Malcolm Reynolds, breaking into his comms. "You shoot one of my crew members and abduct another? I've still got thrusters, pal, and you're STILL attached to my ship!"
And without warning, Serenity jerked upwards, pulling the pirate ship with it. The ship was still held in Challenger's tractor beam, and ominous creaking sounds began to echo through the ship.
"To hell with you both," Shaw muttered. Leaving Kaylee lying in the corridor, he marched to the ship's control room. "Bring the device on line," he said to Mullins.
"Copy that," Mullins said, turning to the silver briefcase next to him. Opening the case, he flipped a switch, then pushed several buttons. Stephen Bartowski, with his flair for sci-fi touches, had, after adding date calibration capacity to the device, installed a date screen much like the one from the DeLorean time machine in Back to the Future.
LAST DATE LEFT: 25 MAY 2014
CURRENT DATE: 19 MAR 2521
DESTINATION: 26 MAY 2014
"Go," Shaw said.
Mullins pushed the red "EXECUTE" button, and the device began to glow.
The pirate ship, sitting directly in front of Challenger began to glow. "Oh, Jesus Christ," the General breathed. "Disengage!" she ordered her pilot. "Disengage, disengage!"
Punching the comm, she hailed Serenity. "Captain Reynolds, you have got to disconnect from that ship, right now!"
But it was too late. The silver glow enveloped the pirate ship, then crawled along the tractor beam up to Challenger, along the docking tube to Serenity. It enveloped both ships, and then –
They all blinked out of existence.
When Mal came to, he immediately became very aware of the rather large blue and green mass sliding by outside of his windshield. "What the hell…"
"Sir, Shaw's ship has disengaged and disappeared," Zoe Washburn reported as she entered the ship's cockpit. "I think Challenger is still out the- dear God, is that Earth-that-was?!"
"I think it's more along the lines of Earth-that-is," Mal replied, his voice full of disbelief. "Don't ask me how, but we're in orbit around Earth."
"Barely in orbit," River corrected him. "We have no engine power, and our orbit is degrading. We will enter the atmosphere in approximately twenty minutes."
"Gao yang jong duh goo yang," Mal swore. "Hail Challenger," he said. "See if they can get us out of here."
"Challenger, this is Serenity," River said into the comm. "Do you copy?"
Mal turned to Zoe. "We've got serious problems," he said to her. "I'm pretty sure this Shaw character was on a mission of vengeance against Chuck Bartowski. Kidnapping Kaylee's sure a quick way to go ab-"
His voice choked off in mid-sentence. "Chuck," he uttered, taking off at a dead run out of the control room.
Zoe caught up to Mal as he reached Kaylee's quarters. Sliding down the ladder, he slammed his entire body weight into the door, breaking it open. "CHUCK!" he bellowed.
A tousled mop of curly red hair appeared from behind Kaylee's closet door. "Capa Mal?"
Mal scooped up the toddler. "Thank God," he breathed. As bad as Kaylee being abducted was, it would've been an unearthly nightmare had Shaw gone after Bartowki's son –
But neither Bartowski nor Shaw could possibly know about little Chuck. And thank the gods for that.
"Captain Reynolds," the voice of the General came through the P.A. "Your pilot has informed me of your situation. We will be docking with your upper emergency hatch. Prepare to evacuate."
Mal turned and handed Chuck to Zoe. "I'm gonna go help Simon with Jayne," he informed her. "Get the rest of the crew up to Challenger. I'll be there in a moment."
Climbing back up out of Kaylee's quarters, Mal jogged down to the infirmary. "How's Jayne?" he asked as he came through the door.
"Awake," came the grunt from Jayne, much to Mal's surprise.
"And stubborn as an ox," Simon added. "He's damn lucky the bullet struck his sternum. The bone shattered, but the bullet didn't penetrate any farther than that."
Mal grimaced. "Can he move?"
"He shouldn't, though," Simon interjected.
"Well, we don't have much of a choice in the matter," Mal said. "Serenity's about to crash. We're evacuatin'."
"Hell," Simon sighed. Grabbing a tote bag from a shelf, he turned to the cabinet that held most of the ship's medications. Opening the door, he swept as many of them as he could into the bag. "Alright, let's go," he said, helping Jayne to a standing position.
Mal got under Jayne's other arm, opposite Simon, and the two of them helped the large man out the door and down the corridor. Serenity was now rattling ominously, and as they reached the emergency hatch, she had begun to make shrieking noises of protest.
Simon went up the hatch into Challenger first. Reaching down, he grabbed Jayne's arms. Mal helped boost Jayne up into the ship, and once he was clear, pulled himself up into the Alliance corvette. Closing the hatch into Serenity, he climbed out of the airlock, and closed it as well. "All clear," he informed the young Alliance officer standing there next to the airlock.
Nodding, the officer punched a few buttons. There was a jolt as Challenger cut loose from Serenity. Mal watched through the window next to the airlock as Serenity began to fall into Earth's atmosphere. Then Challenger pulled away, and Mal's ship was lost to view.
Wiping away the tears that had begun to gather in his eyes, Mal turned to what was left of his crew, gathered silently in the cargo bay behind him. "Let's find this son of a bitch Shaw," he said quietly, his voice threatening to crack. "And let's get Kaylee back."
Had anybody been onboard Serenity, they would've experienced a roller-coaster ride on the way down. She entered Earth's atmosphere at nearly 10,000 miles per hour, her velocity being drastically slowed as she encountered resistance from the air. A triple sonic boom sounded outside her hull as she dropped below the sound barrier over Los Angeles.
Still red hot, trailing smoke and burning debris that had flaked off of her nose and engine, Serenity fell toward the ground like a stone. Her velocity carried her out over the Valley, past Malibu, out over the ocean. As she dropped closer to the ocean, a pair of F/A-18F Hornets joined up, one on either side. The reason for this would've become readily apparent to an observer on her flight deck – dead ahead of Serenity was an aircraft carrier, the number "72" painted on her superstructure, steaming at flank speed in a desperate effort to get out of Serenity's way.
The pilots of the Hornets had been given orders to shoot Serenity down, but – surprisingly – received countermanding orders from the commander, air group onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. As the craft approached the Lincoln carrier group, the Hornets peeled off. It looked like Serenity would skim over Lincoln and crash into the Pacific Ocean –
But just as she was about to pass over Lincoln, a sudden downdraft hit Serenity. Losing altitude, she struck Lincoln's mainmast. Spinning, she bounced off the carrier's fantail with a crunch, and dropped into the ocean –
Where she, miraculously, did not sink.
Serenity had survived yet another crash – like a leaf on the wind.
gao yang jong duh goo yang - "motherless goat of all motherless goats"