Blue Sun Rising
The hull shuddered, nearly knocking Zoe off her feet as she stumbled onto the bridge. “How bad is it?” she asked.
“Bad,” Mal said over his shoulder, his knuckles whitening on the back of the pilot seat as another boom sounded. “We’ve got two on our tail.”
Zoe blinked. “Two?”
Zoe nodded, not as bad as she feared. Gunships were hardy, and in close quarters formidable, but they didn’t have much speed. Serenity could out fly them. “We making a run for it?”
“We need to be sneaky…sssh.” One leg curled up beneath her, the other on the floor, River swayed in sync with the ship, humming under her breath as she pushed the stick forward.
Zoe raised an eyebrow and looked at Mal. “Captain?”
“River seems to think that it would be a bad idea for the ships to get a heading on our trajectory,” Mal said, his grip on the pilot chair betraying his nonchalant tone. “Apparently, the Alliance wants to hold us a surprise party.”
“And?” Zoe prompted.
“And we’re going to slingshot around the planet, drop a few locater beacons, and run away as fast as our engine can carry us.”
Zoe took a deep breath, and then let it out. “Risky, especially as we’ve used that trick before.”
“No choice,” Mal said, grimly, grabbing the com. “Listen up, ladies and gents. We’re gonna have to do some tricky manoeuvring, so strap yourself in tight and hold on for the ride.”
The view in the window spun away and Zoe glanced at River, noting her frown of concentration. It was still strange to see someone other than Wash in the seat.
“Sorry,” River murmured under her breath.
Zoe’s lips tightened, realising that River had picked up her thoughts. “Not your fault,” she said, quietly, as she strapped herself into one of the chairs.
“What I’d like to know is how they found us so fast,” Mal muttered, sliding into the seat beside her and buckling up.
Another hollow thump echoed off the hull, and Zoe wiped her palms on her legs, death by vacuum was never a pleasant prospect.
“Anytime you’re ready, River,” Mal said, tightly.
Zoe tried to relax back in her chair as the acceleration increased, closing her eyes against Persephone’s horizon, which suddenly seemed to be hurtling towards the view screen. She had seen Wash do this a few times, and trusted him to keep them alive and whole. But this was River, not Wash.
“Not him,” River’s voice piped up, out of the blue, causing Zoe to flinch.
Opening an eye. Zoe caught the scathing look River threw Mal over her shoulder.
“Not the operative, silly.”
Mal’s lips twisted. “Keep your eyes on the view screen, River, let me worry about that.”
“No,” River insisted. “It wasn’t him.”
“Who then?” Mal said, wearily, “Coz, I gotta say, I’m running out of suspects here.”
“Badger?” Zoe suggested.” It wouldn’t be the first time.”
Mal snorted. “Badger and the Alliance getting cosy? Somehow I don’t see it.”
“It mightn’t have been voluntary,” Zoe pointed out.
“Don’t remind me,” Mal muttered, frowning. “No, I think we’d be barking up the wrong tree. It’s someone else.”
“Well, we do have a new passenger on board,” Mal drawled.
Mal shrugged. “It wouldn’t be the first time an Alliance spy has pretended to be a passenger to get to …you know who.” He tossed a head in Rivers direction.
“I don’t know,” Zoe said, doubtfully. “He didn’t seem the type.”
“You think he’s good people?” Mal enquired.
“Yes…no…” Zoe shrugged. “I don’t know. I get a funny feeling off him.”
“Funny ha, ha?”
Zoe rolled her eyes. “I don’t know, something just seems a bit off about him.”
“So, you do think he’s a spy.”
“I didn’t say that,” Zoe said. “I just…oh, I don’t know, I don’t trust him, that’s all.” Mal threw her a funny look. “What? What did I say?”
Their conversation was cut short as Serenity suddenly burst forward, tripling her speed as she hurtled around Persephone. “Bombs away,” River said gleefully, stabbing at the airlock’s button. A series of blips suddenly sprang up on the radar screen, as the rigged barrels set off in different directions.
“Let’s hope it works,” Mal sighed as he unbuckled. “How long before we reach Whitefall?”
“Three days,” River piped up.
Mal nodded. ”We need a plan,” he said, stretching his legs.
“I’m not sure if we can come up with a plan to solve this, Mal,” Zoe said, softly. “We’re in pretty deep.”
“They’ll not stop,” River said glumly. “They’ll just keep coming and coming. Can’t stop the signal.”
Zoe studied River as she bent her head over the controls, she’d become a lot more lucid since Miranda, but she still had her moments. “What do you mean, River?”
River gave a defensive shrug, not looking up from the controls, and Mal grimaced. ”Time for a meeting, I think,” he muttered.
“What about our passenger?”
Mal shrugged. “He’s not invited.”
River giggled. “He won’t like that.”
Zoe caught Mal’s eye. “And why is that, River?” he asked, softly.
“The only secrets he likes to keep are his own.”
“What secrets are those?” Mal asked, cautiously.
The reader’s head shot up, her eyes suddenly sharp. “Old secrets. Not mine to tell.”
“Aia,” Mal grumbled, as he grabbed the com once more. “That’s all what we needed, another gorram mystery man on board.”
Zoe’s mind flitted back to the passenger’s face, and wondered why she felt so uneasy in his presence. “Yes,” she murmured, thoughtfully. “A real mystery.”
“Listen up, ladies and gents. We’re gonna have to do some tricky manoeuvring, so strap yourself in tight and hold on for the ride.”
Methos’s head snapped up, his eyes narrowing as Jayne cursed and prodded him. “Hurry up, will ya, we haven’t got all day.”
“I kind of got that impression,” Methos snapped, trying to hold onto his temper as he manoeuvred his bags through the narrow corridor. “I don’t suppose you care to fill me in as to why the Alliance are trying to kill you?”
“None of your gorram business,” Jayne snarled as he dragged back a screen door. “Your bunk; pretty ain’t it? See ya.”
“Hey! Where are you going?” Methos called after him, as Jayne raced down the corridor.
“You heard what the Captain said. Time to strap in, “
“Yes, but…” Methos’s voice trailed off as he examined his bunkroom. Where were the safety belts? “Why you little...” Cursing under his breath, he dropped his bags, and raced after him.
“You little shit,” he snapped, catching up. “They’re no gorram safety belts in that room. I could’ve been killed.”
“Woulda , coulda,” Jayne muttered, as he heaved a door open. “Stop your bellyaching.”
Methos eyed the small room they’d entered, noting the shoddy looking safety seats bolted to the walls. “This is the best you have?”
“Sheeesh, do you ever stop whining? You’re nearly as bad as the Doc.”
A young man, busy buckling himself into one of the chairs, looked up. “Yes, Jayne, that’s all I do, whine,” he said, dryly. “It’s a great pity we can’t all be as stoic as you.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Jayne asked, suspiciously.
“Relax, Jayne, it’s a compliment…sort of,” a soft voice said, and Methos turned to see a stunning, perfectly coiffed, young woman enter.
“Oh, great, the whore has deigned to join us,” Jayne grumbled. “The safety belts on your shuttle not to your likin’?”
The ‘whore’ ignored him and smiled at Methos,” I don’t believe we’ve met,” she said, softly.
“Alex Caruthers,” Methos supplied, tugging at the strap attached to his chair.
“Inara,” she murmured. “And this is Simon.” Simon raised a hand in greeting as he settled into his seat.
The clatter of boots on metal filled the air, and Kaylee suddenly flitted into the room, banging the heavy door behind her. “This is going to be bumpy,” she said, breathlessly.
“Can the engine take it?” Simon asked, worry in his voice.
“Oh, don’t worry baby,” Kaylee said, her cheeks dimpling as she threw herself into the chair beside him. “Serenity is as tough as an ox.”
“Yeah, it’s the pilot you’ve gotta worry about,” Jayne grumbled under his breath.
Simon stiffened in his chair and Kaylee frowned disapprovingly, grabbing Simon’s hand. “River knows what she’s doing, Jayne,” she said.
“Yeah, you would say that,” Jayne drawled. “Don’t wanna upset her brother, do you? He might throw you out of his bed.”
Simon’s lip flattened into a thin line. “What’s the matter, Jayne?” he snapped. “Jealous?”
“Oh, please, as if—”
“Stop it,” Kaylee interrupted, her face going pink. “Just stop it, okay.
Methos sighed, that’s all he needed, his own personal space opera.
“Please excuse my shipmates, Mister Caruthers,” Inara said. “They tend to be a bit…abrupt, when under stress.”
Methos nodded wryly, watching as she placed her hands discreetly on her lap. He suspected that Serenity’s ‘whore’ was, in fact, a companion; there was a grace and eloquence to her manner that spoke of years of training. The question was, what the hell was a companion doing on the border planets in a ship on the run from the Alliance?
Come to think of it, what was he doing here?
“Get ready, here we go,” Kaylee said.
Methos reflexively held on to the edges of the chair as he was pushed back into it, counting under his breathe as the pressure intensified. It felt like they were trying to…
“Kaylee, please tell me we’re not trying to slingshot around a planet,” he said aloud.
”Wow, good guess,” Kaylee said. “Done this before?”
“I don’t believe this. You’re all certifiable! This is insane.”
“Nah, that’s just River,” Jayne drawled out. “We’re just plain crazy.”
“Thanks a bunch. I feel so much better now,” Methos ground out.
As suddenly as it started, the pressure eased, and the there was a collective breath of relief in the room. “Easy peasy,” Kaylee said, lightly, as she unbuckled her belt. “Told you there was nothing to worry about.”
Methos bit back the words that came to mind. “I don’t suppose anyone is going to fill me in on why we’re being chased by Alliance ships,” he said, flatly.
Kaylee glanced at him ruefully. “Sorry, that’s up to the Captain.”
“I see; then perhaps you can tell me when we next touch down,” Methos asked. “All things considered, I think it might be best if I caught another lift—“
The com hissed to life. “Okay, folks, looks like we’re in the clear for a while,” the Captain’s voice drawled over the speaker. “See you in ten.”
“See us where?” Methos inquired.
Inara smiled as she got to her feet. “We usually meet in the dining area,”
“Whose turn is it to make the grub?” Jayne asked, rubbing his hands together.
“Yours,” Simon snapped.
Inara sighed. “Rice and peas again.”
“You implyin’ there’s something wrong with my cooking?”
Inara raised an eyebrow in reply, and Kaylee tried to smother a grin.
“Fine,” Jayne muttered, stepping through the door. ”I’ll make pasta instead, that good enough for ya?”
“With peas,” Simon and Kaylee mouthed at Methos as they passed him, and he coughed to cover up his laugh.
“I could say you’ll get used to him,” Inara said. “But it would be more accurate to say, you’ll get used to tolerating him.”
“Hopefully, I won’t be long enough onboard to get to that stage,” Methos said, smiling to soften his words.
“Yes, I thought that once too,” she said, cryptically. “Come, I’ll show you where the dining area is.”
Methos frowned thoughtfully as he followed her through the bowels of the ship. Try as he might, he couldn’t figure out why the Alliance was so keen to catch this motley crew. True, they were a bit on the eccentric side, but eccentricity wasn’t a crime…not yet, anyway. With the Alliance, one never knew.
“How long have you been on board?” he asked softly as they neared the sound of voices.
“A few years, off and on,” she murmured.
“May I ask, if it isn’t too indelicate, why is a companion travelling so far from the core worlds?”
“It’s a long story,” she said, quietly. “And a personal one.”
Methos nodded, accepting the rebuff.
“Through here,” she murmured. Methos ducked through the door after her, and glanced around, he recognised everyone in the room. It was a small crew.
“What’s he doing here?” the Captain said, to Inara, from his chair at the table.
“I keep asking myself that same question,” Methos said.
The Captain sighed. “Listen…Alex?” he drawled, a question mark in his voice. “This is a meeting for crew only. So why don’t you toddle off to your quarters.”
Methos eyed him. “I would appreciate some answers first,” he said, firmly.
“Well, you’re not getting any,” he said sharply. “Dinner will be in an hour, see you then.”
“Fine then,” Methos snapped. “But I’ll be damned if I’ll be stuck on a ship that obviously has a price on its head. I’d appreciate it if you dropped me off at the nearest habitable planet. I don’t particularly like the idea of dying because I happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, especially as I don’t have the faintest idea of why!” The room went quiet, and Methos suddenly felt the hairs on the back of his neck go up.
“I’m afraid we can’t do that,” Captain said quietly. “You see, I have a problem, I have two Alliance ships on my tail and no idea of how they found us.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Methos asked, immediately uneasily.
“I’ll let you figure it out…Zoe, show this gentleman to his quarters.”
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