DISCLAIMER: Both Firefly and SCC are the property of 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: A big thanks to zennie for the beta. Thank you for all your encouragement. I probably wouldn't have tried to tackle this without you, hon.
SPOILERS: Up through the movie Serenity. If you haven't seen Serenity, be warned. Character deaths are mentioned here.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
No Rest for the Wicked
By Inspector Boxer
"You do what you gotta do, Captain."
Malcolm Reynolds chased his second-in-command from the galley back toward her quarters. "Zoe, we got to have a pilot."
"River seems to be managing just fine, sir," Zoe stated calmly over her shoulder. This wasn't the first time they had this argument, and the way their luck was running, Zoe suspected it wouldn't be the last. She glanced toward the cockpit as River's shadow moved around inside it. The girl never sat in Wash's chair. Zoe never felt the need to ask her why.
"Be that as it may," Mal continued. "She's not always exactly in her right mind," he reminded her. "I would hate for River to have an episode while she was piloting the ship."
Zoe stopped walking and turned to face her captain. "The only episodes River has had in the last two years is whenever we get right too close to a bunch of Reavers, Captain."
"Be that as it may," Mal said again. "You've seen what she's like in the pilot's seat when we face off against a Reaver ship."
"Zoe," Mal said seriously. "River is given to flights of fancy. I reckon we all rather like that about her at times, but do you want her to be off in her head when we got an Alliance battle cruiser shooting across our bow?"
Zoe took a deep breath, admitting privately to herself that he had a point. River Tam was proving to be an excellent pilot, but she was unstable and that was just a sad fact. "No, sir, but we've been through seven pilots in three years, Captain."
"I am aware."
Sighing, Zoe had to look away. "They all died," she reminded the captain with another glance at the bridge and the pilot's chair that sat forlorn and empty.
"I recall that, too," Mal said without humor.
"You don't think " Zoe licked her lips. "It was Wash's chair," her voice softened when she mentioned her husband's name.
Mal's heart hurt for her, but he knew better than to offer outright comfort. Touching her in any way would just make them both uncomfortable, and she'd likely turn her back on him if he offered sympathy. "Wash wouldn't kill anyone who piloted the ship his wife served on. I don't right imagine his spirit would, either."
Zoe looked at the floor, unable to meet Mal's gaze when she spoke. "People are starting to talk. I even heard Kaylee wondering "
"People will do that. It's what occupies their time when they don't got nothing better to do."
"You don't believe it?" she asked, finally looking at him.
"That your dead husband is haunting the pilot's chair?" Mal hooked his thumbs in his belt loops. "I surely don't." He regarded her in the dim light of the corridor. "Do you?"
Zoe averted her gaze again. "Your call, Captain," she told him one last time before kicking the door open to her quarters and descending down the ladder to her bunk for the night.
Mal stood there for a moment after she was gone. His eyes lifted to the bridge and he sighed before stepping closer to Zoe's ladder. "I was thinking about contacting Connor," he called down after her.
Silence beat back at him for almost a full minute. Just as he was about to give up and walk away, Mal heard Zoe's boot hit the first rung of the ladder, and she reappeared a moment later. "Connor?"
"You remember Connor," he said. "Hell of a pilot. Remember that time in "
"I remember Connor just fine, sir. I'm just surprised is all, considering. And I think you might get punched before you have a chance to make her an offer."
"That's why I had to give the idea some thought," Mal admitted. "Still. A good pop in the mouth would be worth it to get a good pilot on-board."
Zoe shook her head and descended the ladder once more.
"What?" Mal said when she was gone.
It took weeks to locate Connor, but Mal was persistent, using every contact he had to track down the elusive pilot. He'd finally gotten confirmation that she was on Bardeen, a small backwater planet on the outer rim with a tiny but profitable mining operation. Apparently Connor was running shipments between the planet and the Alliance. Surely his former comrade in arms would love the chance to stick it to the Alliance, and maybe even make off with a load of highly valuable ore in the process.
"I don't understand," River said from where she was curled up in the co-pilot's seat, her knees against her chest and her feet bare, her lips forming a slight pout. "Why do we have to get another pilot?" She stared out the window as the ship entered the atmosphere, the interior of Serenity beginning to jostle them slightly.
Mal pursed his lips as he went through the landing procedures. Despite what he'd told Zoe, he was still uncomfortable sitting in Wash's chair. Besides, they had finally just gotten the blood out of the seat from their last ill-fated pilot who died in it. "You're a growing girl," he told her. "You need to be keeping up with your schooling instead of flying this old tub." He patted the flight console to let the ship know he meant no offense. "You should be thinking about dolls and boys and "
River frowned. "I'm not a girl anymore."
The captain suspected that was true. One did not live with the images in their head that River Tam did and maintain the innocence of childhood. "No. You're turning into a right beautiful young lady," he told her.
Mal glanced at her, having forgotten for a moment that River was no longer that scarred, skittish girl that had come aboard his ship. "I know," he lied.
"Simon and I have been on-board for three years. I should have a position on the crew."
"You do have a position," Mal told her. "You help us out with all kinds of things."
"Like reading people's minds," River said. She considered and then frowned. "Seems so unfair to them."
"How often have we stolen something from someone nice?" Mal asked practically. He watched with satisfaction as River smiled just a little. "Exactly," Mal said, taking her smile as a small victory. "Besides, you're the co-pilot."
"I don't want to watch anyone else die in that chair," River protested. "I was here for the last six."
Mal nodded regretfully. More than once he'd found River Tam covered in blood as she tried futilely to save someone beyond saving. "Maybe this one will be different. I think you'll like her, actually."
River looked at him then, her gaze moving off the stars and the growing planet below. "Her?" All the other pilots had been men.
"Yep." Mal flipped a few switches then gripped the helm harder as it started to shudder. "Name's Connor."
"Connor," River tasted the name. "What's her first name?"
Mal hesitated when he realized he didn't know. "Good question. I always just called her Connor or pilot."
"She was a browncoat?"
"Yep," Mal's voice was softer and coated with memories. Not all of them concerning the pilot were good ones, however, and there was bad blood on both sides. But work was work, and Connor was one of the best pilots in the 'Verse.
"Is she as old as you and Zoe?"
Mal's head rocked back, and he turned to look at her. "As old?"
River looked at him all innocence.
"No," Mal said as Serenity began to vibrate more as they sank even lower. "She'd be closing in on about thirty now I suppose." He glanced around and crossed his toes, hoping nothing was about to fly off his ship that wasn't supposed to.
River said nothing more as the ship shuddered her way to a rough landing on Bardeen's surface. As soon as the landing gear was down, she got up and slipped her feet into her boots, not bothering to tie the laces. "I'm going into town. Simon asked me to help him pick up some medical supplies."
"Be careful," Mal called to the girl as she moved past him. "Protect your brother," he added with a smirk.
River glanced back at him then smiled knowingly before descended the steps.
The air was dry and dusty as Zoe, Jayne and Mal stepped out the back door and onto a dirt path. Canyons and rocks stretched out before them, and the three members of the Serenity crew took in the landscape for a long moment.
"Pretty," Zoe said of the red and silver rocks surrounding them.
"It's a bunch of rocks," Jayne growled. He shouldered past the two of them and made his way down the path toward the town around the bend, hoping to find a beer and some cheap company for the night.
The captain turned his head as his engineer appeared in the doorway. "Simon and River head out already?"
"Yep," Kaylee answered as she stuffed her hands in the pockets of her coveralls. "'Bout ten minutes before you, Cap'n." She smiled. "This is so excitin'. Thinking we might have another pilot before the sun sets." She saw Zoe give her a withering look. "Well it is if they don't die or nothing," she added.
"Keep an eye on her, Kaylee," Mal instructed as he slapped his hand flat against a piece of Serenity's hull before he and Zoe headed out after Jayne.
"Will do, Cap'n," Kaylee called after them before closing and sealing the door.
"This is a bad idea," Zoe said after they walked in silence for a few paces. She could taste the ore in the air from where particles of it drifted on the wind from the mines. It had a metallic flavor like copper like blood. Something strong and preferably alcoholic would be required to cover the taste.
"Asking Connor? I think it's one of the best ideas I've had in ages," Mal disagreed.
Zoe shot him a look. "Not asking Connor," she clarified slowly. "Coming here. The planet may be backwater, sir, but it's got to be crawling with Alliance."
The Alliance had been weakened when they'd been exposed for their crimes against the people of Miranda, but those that remained in power were more ruthless than ever and not at all forgiving. River was still hunted, although not as aggressively now, and their names and faces were well known to the Alliance Guard. Fortunately, most people hated the Alliance now, and the crew of Serenity found themselves in higher favor among the locals they usually encountered than before.
The years since Miranda had seen changes to every corner of the known universe. Parliament and the Alliance had once ruled as the triumphant victors of war. Many had wanted to be on the side of the winner and had followed Parliament unwaveringly, their allegiance held in check lest the Alliance came bearing down on your backwater planet with warships.
But River Tam and the images that had plagued her young thoughts had changed all that. Mal knew he gladly would trade to get back River's peace of mind if it meant she hadn't had to carry the weights of millions of souls on her own for so long, but in the end, River's sacrifice had opened everyone's eyes to Parliament's true nature.
At least the girl was now living a semblance of a normal life. As normal as being a reader, lethal weapon, and the smartest person in the room at any given moment would let her be.
Now there were uprisings everywhere, too many for the weakened Alliance to handle, but it didn't stop them from trying. Even losing almost half of their forces to defection after the Miranda Incident, as it was now known, hadn't stopped them from trying to control every inch of space and the people who might be standing or flying in it.
But even weakened, the Alliance was still a force to be reckoned with. No man with the sense God gave him would walk willingly into a town teaming with Alliance when his face was plastered to hell and back on wanted posters across the galaxy.
No man but himself, Mal decided with an inward smirk. There were few things he liked more than thumbing his nose at the Alliance.
"Sometimes you gotta take chances," Mal said as they entered the small mining town, taking in the sights and sounds of children playing and vendors hawking their wares.
Zoe hadn't expected to find her so quickly. Within five minutes of entering the town, she saw Connor leaving it, her familiar purposeful stride catching Zoe's attention out of the corner of her eye. The former soldier still wore her dark brown hair at a shaggy shoulder length. Today it was clipped back into a ponytail, revealing a portion of her back that was exposed by the sleeveless shirt she wore. The pilot's skin was a golden bronze from hours spent in the sun. As Zoe watched, Connor slipped on a brown coat as her knee-high boots kicked up dust as she walked. She had a pistol holstered on each hip and walked with a swagger that showed she knew how to use both. The townsfolk all nodded at Connor respectfully as she passed, but Zoe noticed that they gave the woman a wide berth. Without a word to her captain, Zoe followed.
A few minutes later Mal turned and realized he'd been talking to no one. "Zoe?"
Connor went still at the voice that called out to her. Turning in surprise, she saw a face from her past she thought she'd never see in person again. "Zoe?" The slight accent was still there, a left over remnant from the so-called English Colonies Connor heralded from.
Zoe smiled before stepping closer and embracing her, hugging the pilot hard. She was surprised at how good it was to see Connor, considering where life had taken each of them. "Long time no see," she said as she stepped back and met the woman's familiar jade gaze. Connor looked older, but time had been kind. She was still the striking woman Zoe remembered, maybe even more so.
Connor smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. "You shouldn't be here, Zoe. The town is full of Alliance patrols. They know your face."
Zoe hesitated before gripping Connor's elbow, leading her out of the throng of people and into the relative shade of a closed street vendor's shop. "We came here looking for you."
"Me?" Connor seemed puzzled by that. "What in the hell do you think I can do for you?" The pilot tilted her head only to laugh when she realized Zoe's intent. "Absolutely not."
"You can't like this life," Zoe answered. "Working for the men and women you used to fight. You got some right personal grudges with the Alliance," Zoe said with sympathy.
Connor straightened. "It's a living," she replied tersely. "And it's a legal one, which is more than I can say for you."
"I'm not here to dredge up painful memories or pass judgment."
"Please. We may have some good memories, but most of what we shared was pain."
"There was a little pleasure mixed in there as well," Mal said as he joined them.
Connor stiffened at the sound of his voice before pivoting on her heel and punching him hard in the mouth. Mal went down with appalling ease. "And you," she spat. "I can't believe you would even show your face around me again."
"Just had to go there, didn't you, sir?" Zoe asked wearily.
"You still holding that grudge?" Mal asked Connor while ignoring his second-in-command. "I was as drunk as you were, darlin'. I don't remember any more about that night than you do."
"You were the one still in your clothes," Connor fired back. She glanced at Zoe. "Take care of yourself, Zoe. I've got a shipment to review, and I need to be out of here in the hour."
Zoe glanced at her captain as Connor all but stomped away. "That went well," she drawled as she held out her hand and hoisted Mal to his feet.
The captain rubbed his jaw. "Forgot what a nice right hook she has," he murmured as he dusted himself off and started after the pilot.
"Never learns," Zoe muttered as she followed after him. She passed Jayne in the market looking less than pleased. "What's wrong with you?"
"It's a dry town. Did you know that?" he spat.
"They've outlawed booze here. Ain't got whores, neither."
Zoe glanced around and realized they were drawing unwanted attention. "We're heading out. Soon as River and Simon get what they need and get back to the ship, we'll take off."
"Did we get a pilot?" Jayne asked.
Zoe gestured where Mal was picking up the pace to catch the woman moving determinedly away from him. "He's working on it."
"That her?" Jayne tilted his head as he watched the sway of Connor's hips. "Nice piece of ass."
Zoe rolled her eyes. "That piece of ass could break you in five pieces."
"Yeah?" Jayne said as if the idea appealed to him. "Feisty, huh? I like that."
"Connor. Connor!" Mal kept yelling at the retreating woman to no avail. He finally ran and grabbed her arm, spinning her to face him. Her arm swung back, but Mal caught her wrist before she could hit at him again. "Just hear me out."
"I don't want to hear anything you have to say," Connor replied tightly, but she withdrew her hand and let her fist rest at her side.
"Forget our history forget the night neither of us can remember anyway. I'm here to offer you a job. I need a pilot, and I'll just bet you need to be out from under the Alliance's thumb."
Mal opened his mouth to reply, surprised at being turned down so quickly, but Connor was already walking away. "Well now hold on a minute there," he called after her before giving chase and catching up with her in a few quick steps. Dust kicked up around their boots as they walked, leaving Jayne, Zoe, and the market behind. "You haven't even heard my offer."
"I'm not interested," Connor said again, this time slower as if that would help him understand. "I've heard all about what's happened to your last seven pilots."
Mal stopped walking, allowing Connor to get a few steps ahead before he hurried to catch up. He knew word was going to get out eventually about their bad luck, but he wished it could have waited until they had some poor, unsuspecting soul already on-board. "Alright. I'll concede we've had a spot or two of trouble in that arena."
Connor rolled her eyes and kept walking. "They all died in the pilot's chair."
"True," Mal allowed. "But whatever happened to going down with the ship?" he joked.
"Going down with the ship is all well and good. Getting decapitated, gored, or blasted because a ghost is apparently pissed off that someone is in his chair? No thanks."
"I never figured you for a coward, Connor," Mal commented with forced casualness.
The pilot stopped walking before she turned and looked at the man she'd once fought alongside. "But I guess you did figure me for a fool if you think I'd fall for that line."
The captain's shoulders slumped. "Come on, Connor. You, me, and Zoe had some good times. We could again." He tapped her playfully on the arm and gave her his most charming smile.
Connor opened her mouth to tell him where he could stick his good times, but her words were drowned out by the sudden screams that erupted from the town behind them.
Jayne and Zoe drew their weapons and turned, looking back to see what was causing the commotion. It was at that moment that River and Simon rounded the corner and headed for them at a dead run.
"What'd you do?" Jayne shouted at the doc as they raced by.
"Reavers!" Simon shouted back.
Connor exchanged glances with Mal as River and Simon passed them. "On second thought " Connor decided as she turned and ran after the fleeing Tams.
The rest turned and headed for the hills, as the screams grew closer. A small ground vehicle shrieked out of the town behind them, its engine howling as the gears ground together. Zoe beat tracks for the nearest cluster of rocks, grabbing Jayne's arm and yanking him with her just as a harpoon shot out and struck the earth where their boots would have been.
"Well damn!" Jayne yelled as he fumbled for one of the grenades on his belt. "This ain't my idea of a good time!"
Zoe cocked her rifle then fired off a shot from her cover behind the rocks. The bullet struck something vital, and a plume of smoke rose from the vehicle. Still the Reavers kept coming, the sound from the engine making both Zoe and Jayne wince as it shot past them and continued on after their running shipmates.
"Come on!" Zoe yelled as they gave chase, aware that there would be others behind them on foot. Some would be fleeing the cannibals.
Others would be the cannibals.
Jayne swore again, still trying to unclip the grenade as he staggered after her.
River ran as hard and as fast as she could, aware of her brother not far behind her. She knew she had to get to the ship, to get the loading bay door open. Her foot caught on a rock and she stumbled, but a warm hand gripped her elbow and kept her upright.
"Keep moving!" an unfamiliar woman ordered, and River obeyed without hesitation, putting on an extra burst of speed as she rounded the bend in the road and ran for Serenity looming nearly one hundred yards ahead.
Connor couldn't keep pace with the girl. A part of her was amazed at how fluidly River ran, especially in her ill-fitting, untied boots. The pilot risked a look over her shoulder and her eyes widened. "Everybody down!"
They all dropped, slamming hard into the dirt and sending up dust as the smoking vehicle rushed over their heads. Connor drew her weapon and heard Mal do the same. They scrambled to their feet and began firing while Simon stayed down, out of the path of their bullets or anyone else's.
The vehicle made a hard right turn, gears screeching as they rubbed raw against each other. Mal went shoulder to shoulder with Connor, firing non-stop until he was out of bullets.
"Damn, damn, damn," the captain repeated as the vehicle bore down on them while he tried frantically to reload.
Connor's gun finally clicked impotently, and she swore an impressive string of Chinese as she started reloading her own weapon. Mal grabbed her around the waist and they went back down into the dirt as another harpoon shot out from the cannon on the front of the vehicle, missing them both by inches.
Jayne and Zoe reached them just as the Reavers whipped by above their heads again. They were being toyed with and none of them appreciated the fact. Zoe reached out and snatched a grenade off Jayne's belt, causing the leather to give way and Jayne's pants to fall down around his ankles.
"Hey!" The mercenary yelled.
Zoe pulled the pin and hurled the grenade with accurate precision at the on-coming ship. She watched with satisfaction as the Reavers turned and scrambled for the explosive device.
"Move!" she shouted at the others.
They got back on their feet and ran, Jayne gripping the waistband of his trousers to hold them up. They had only gotten a few feet when the concussive blast of the exploding vehicle sent them sprawling to the ground once more.
Connor was first on her feet, and she hauled Mal up with her. Glancing back, she saw a sea of black clad figures running toward them. Her heart leapt into her throat. She'd seen Reavers before, but never a hundred of them thundering down on her at once.
The others looked back and jerked into motion just as more shrieking filled the air. Two more ground ships streaked toward them at full speed.
"We're not going to make it!" Jayne yelled. He turned back around and drew up short when he realized Serenity was no longer in front of him. "What the hell?"
A sudden blast of wind, dirt and gravel kicked back into everyone's face as Serenity loomed large above them, getting between the helpless humans and the oncoming Reavers. One ground vehicle veered off in time. Another struck one of Serenity's landing struts and began to tumble through the air, nearly hitting Connor and Mal as they dove for cover.
The ship exploded fifty yards away; far enough not to cause them harm but close enough to push them off their feet again and for a wave of heat to bake their skin. They all scrambled as the loading bay door came down, and Kaylee frantically started waving them all aboard.
"Gonna have to jump for it!" Jayne yelled as he rushed past everyone and leapt inside. He turned and held out his hand for Zoe just as she made a leap to join him.
Simon was next as Mal turned to Connor. "You in or out?"
"You're asking me now?" The pilot yelled back at him.
"In or out?" Mal asked, holding her gaze unflinchingly.
Connor's eyes went to the Reavers, so close now she could make out every hideous feature on their self-mutilated faces. If she'd had any bullets left she would have used them on Malcolm Reynolds. "I'm in! I'm in! Let's go."
Mal boosted her up, and Zoe and Jayne caught her hands. Finally Mal took the leap himself, watching from the still open door as Serenity eased up just as the Reavers surrounded the space they'd been in. They howled in rage at being denied the flesh they wanted to rape, destroy and feast on.
And not necessarily in that order.
"Gosh, that was a close one," Kaylee commented when the door finally clanged shut and sealed with a hiss.
Connor turned to look at her, raising one elegant eyebrow at the understatement. She brushed past all of them and headed for the stairs.
"Um excuse me," Kaylee called after her. "You ain't got permission to " She fell silent when Zoe touched her elbow. "Who does she think she ?"
"She's our pilot," Zoe explained.
"Oh. Oh." Kaylee's eyes went wide. "Hope she lasts longer than the last one."
Connor ignored them as she took the steps in twos. She'd flown plenty of Firefly class ships in her time, and it didn't surprise her that Mal had picked one for his bird.
She was surprised at the ship's condition. It looked like it had been to hell and back, but there was love in the corners, in the repairs she could see with the naked eye. The pilot made her way through the galley, noting the silly stenciling around the room's edges that oddly gave it a warm, homey feel, before heading up toward the bridge.
The sight of the empty pilot's chair was disconcerting, especially since the ship was still climbing, passing through the planet's atmosphere and heading for the thick blanket of stars and blackness that lay beyond. Connor stepped inside and turned her head.
In the co-pilot's seat was a young woman. Connor realized by the boots it was the same girl who'd run past her outside. Taking a moment to study her, Connor guessed her co-pilot was around eighteen, maybe twenty. She had long, dark blonde hair and as Connor met the girl's gaze in the reflection off the viewport she realized she had coffee-colored eyes that had seen far more than a girl that age should. There was wisdom and experience there, like an old soul gazing out from those brown depths, but when she spoke, Connor caught a flicker of innocence lurking there as well.
Connor knew her face and name instantly. You didn't work for, with, or even against the Alliance and not know River Tam.
"You're the new pilot?" River's voice sounded frail and shaky.
Connor hesitated as she finally put a voice to that young face she'd seen in so many briefings and wanted bulletins. "I guess so," she finally drawled.
River turned her head and looked at her, fear clear in her eyes. "Then you might want to sit down."
"We have company."
The whole ship rocked, and Connor stumbled backward into the bulkhead when something struck the hull. Swearing, the pilot shoved off, no longer worried about sitting in a dead man's chair and focused more on keeping herself alive for the next few minutes. Her eyes roamed over the controls, reacquainting herself with them before she took the helm.
"Got her," Connor announced. She felt the weight of the helm as control passed to her. The wheel seemed to float in her hands, quick and light, a marked contrast to the heavy-handed, sluggish controls of the mining shuttle she had been flying. Her eyebrows elevated when she detected how sensitive the ship was, how easily she responded to her commands. At least the damn thing would be fun to fly.
River let go then curled up in her seat, her hands going to either side of her head as she heard hundreds of screaming voices, every syllable full of insanity. "They're coming, they're coming, they're coming," she repeated over and over as she started to rock.
Mal appeared a moment later. "What was that?"
"Company," Connor muttered with a quick glance at River who appeared ready to come unhinged.
Another impact thrust them all forward. Mal crashed into Connor's back, and she twisted, not wanting him to touch her.
"Relax," Mal told her. "I ain't looking for nothing from you 'cept your piloting skills, which I am most certainly hoping will get us out of this gorram mess."
Connor banked a hard right, succeeding in getting them out of the line of fire for a moment as well as knocking Mal on his ass. A dark smile shaped her lips as she shook her head. "Not surprising you didn't have this boat equipped with guns," she murmured before plunging them straight down and sideways.
Even River grabbed onto the console and held on as the ship shuddered at the action.
"Damn, woman," Mal shouted. "Try not to fly her apart!"
"If the Reavers get us it won't matter much." Connor let the ship corkscrew, seeing on her monitors how close the enemy ship was. There was nothing she could use against them, no weapons at her disposal so she had to use what she could find.
The pilot pushed down on the helm and willed the ship faster back into the atmosphere.
"Um " Mal got to his feet even though the G-force was pressing him back as it taxed the limits of their gravity generator. "We just came from there, darlin'."
"Shut up," River told him without hesitation, the voices in her mind finally backing off to an almost manageable level. She ignored the surprised jerk of Connor's head as the woman looked at her.
"Did you just tell me to shut up?" Mal asked, knowing it wasn't the time to feel indignant but he did anyway.
"Tell the crew to hold on to something," Connor instructed. She waited until Mal grabbed the radio and warned those below. "This is gonna get bumpy."
Serenity parted the clouds and thundered toward the canyons, the Reaver ship screaming down from the heavens behind them. Dwarfing the tiny little Firefly vessel in size, its shadow fell across Serenity's hull as it blotted out the sun.
Connor headed for the first canyon she could, hoping to outrun and outmaneuver the Reaver ship. A cannon blast ripped past the viewport and impacted the ground below, sheering off a piece of canyon wall as Serenity whipped past it. Then everyone on board had to hold on tight as Connor threw her weight into the helm, directing Serenity into a sideways roll and down, tumbling the ship into a steep and jagged canyon.
"I am not liking this," Mal commented.
Red and silver rocks streaked by as Connor kept the ship weaving in erratic patterns, doing her damndest not to get them shot. Blasts from the Reaver ship continued to pelt the walls around them, showering the windshield with dust that sparkled with ore.
Connor pushed the ship even lower, knowing that the Reavers would follow. Serenity was prey, and the Reavers would either have her or die trying. A dry riverbed stretched out below and Connor followed it, waiting and watching for her opportunity.
"There!" River shouted when she saw a naturally formed arch up and to the left. There was just enough room for Serenity to make it through, but it was going to be tight.
And about as easy as threading a needle.
Connor bit her lip and jerked up hard on the controls. Serenity shuddered, and the pilot could just imagine that the ship's engineer had to be having a conniption fit. But that wasn't her concern. Her concern was getting them away from the Reaver ship alive and in one piece. She rolled the ship one last time, making sure the side engines wouldn't impact rock as the little Firefly almost seemed to float through the opening before blasting away.
The Reaver ship did what Connor had hoped and followed, smashing into the arch with deafening force. The ensuing shockwave gathered up Serenity and tossed her toward a canyon wall, sending her end over end and throwing around her inhabitants inside.
The pilot swore and flipped switches, trying to stabilize the ship, trying to get them right side up and in control. Connor felt the helm come back to life in her free hand, and she gripped it hard, going with the next flip then giving the engines a hard kick in the pants to push them out of it.
Serenity soared toward the heavens, clearing the red and silver canyons below and heading for white sky.
Connor evened out the ship as soon as they broke orbit. The whole crew took a moment to catch its collective breath.
Mal looked at River who was staring wide-eyed at Connor.
"That's why we need a pilot," the captain told her. Mal slapped Connor on the shoulder. "Welcome aboard." He turned and headed below, intent on accessing the damage to his ship.
Her breath coming in painful gasps, Connor sat there in the pilot's seat. She finally glanced sideways, feeling River Tam's eyes on her.
"That was good," River said simply.
There was faint music playing when River returned from dinner to the bridge. Connor was still sitting in the pilot's seat, her features contemplative as River moved to stand alongside her. "The captain asked me to show you to your quarters."
Connor turned her head slightly to indicate the girl had been heard, but she didn't respond right away, her gaze fixed on the stars.
River moved closer. "We should be in safe territory. You can put her on autopilot."
"No place is safe," Connor replied, her voice sounding gruff. She turned fully and looked at River. With a sigh, she flipped the switch to activate the autopilot and slowly stood. Her legs shook a little as she put her weight on them, a reaction to the tension and stress of the Reavers' earlier attack.
"We saved you some dinner," River offered hopefully. She'd been disappointed when their new pilot had turned down the offer to join them for a meal.
"Not hungry," Connor told her as she moved past the girl and descended the steps toward the personal quarters. She waited at the bottom of the stairs for River to follow.
"Feel free to grab anything you need should that change," River said as she stepped off the final step.
Connor's eyes were drawn to River's feet, noticing they were now bare. They were long with tapered toes. There was something elegant about them, about the way River walked. Her gaze moved back up to the girl's features, and Connor held out her hands, indicating the hatches around them. "Ok. Which one is mine?"
River smiled shyly as she eased past her, shoving open the door right behind her. "This one." She didn't wait to be invited in, she merely climbed down the ladder and into Connor's new quarters.
The pilot stood there staring at the opening. The girl had a pair, she had to give her that. With a sigh and shake of her head, Connor followed, suddenly feeling like she could sleep a month.
River was waiting for her in the middle of the room. Connor glanced around as she took in the space. She'd certainly lived in worse. At least it was clean and gave her a little room to move. The pilot noted the bed was already made, and it didn't take much to figure out who was responsible.
"We weren't properly introduced before," River began. "I'm "
"River Tam," Connor finished for her as she moved about the new space she was going to call home. "I know who you are."
River watched her for a moment, seeing the tension in the other woman's frame and wondering what was causing it. She found Connor hard to read, physically or mentally. That was a very rare thing and made her instantly intrigued. "You aren't Alliance, are you?"
Connor snorted. "Not hardly." She moved to her bunk and slipped her jacket from her shoulders before tossing it on the bed. It was all she had with her, the one belonging she'd escaped with that meant a damn, that and the locket around her neck. She fingered the silver unconsciously. "I saw you on their bulletins. I know the Alliance is still looking for you."
"There is a reward," River stated simply.
The pilot looked over her shoulder. "You saying I should turn you in, girlie? Collect a nice paycheck and retire somewhere?"
River leaned against the wall knowing that she was being teased. "No. It's just most people are afraid of me." She crossed her arms and watched the other woman sit on the edge of the bed. There was something about this new pilot that captured her imagination, and she wanted to know more. Maybe because her usual avenue of gathering information about people, the ways the Alliance had created inside her, were strangely curtailed with this woman. "They're afraid of me because they know Parliament wants me."
"Or because they know what you're capable of," Connor commented. She planted her feet shoulder width apart then rested her elbows on her knees before looking at River with open curiosity. "Is it true?"
"Is what true?"
"That you took out a room full of Reavers with an axe and a smile?" Connor smirked at her, finding the image to be ludicrous now that she was presented with the legendary girl in the flesh. River didn't look capable of hurting a fly.
"I wasn't smiling," River corrected blandly.
Connor felt her smirk vanish, and she had to avert her gaze from River's steady stare. "I think I'm going to turn in," she announced as she jerked back to her feet. Suddenly, Connor was uncomfortable sharing space with River Tam, and she could feel the young woman's eyes on her back as the pilot slipped her belt and guns off.
River let her eyes wander over Connor's shoulders and down her lithe frame. The older woman was actually almost an inch shorter than her, but far more muscular. River wondered if the pilot's legs were as toned as her arms. Her skin was a beautiful bronze, and River felt the compulsion to touch it, to see if the surface was as soft as it looked.
She was about to find out, her fingertips and inch from their target, when Connor turned back around and looked curiously at her outstretched hand.
"Problem?" Connor asked.
River shook her head and reluctantly let her hand drop. "Is there anything else you need?" She asked, hoping she could linger longer and listen to Connor's interesting accent for a few more minutes.
Connor frowned. She was sure River was about to touch her shoulder and was baffled by the girl's behavior. There was something wrong with River, something damaged, but she had a charm and innocence to her nevertheless that was strangely appealing. "I think I'm good," Connor announced, ready to have her new quarters to herself for a while.
The pilot sat down and pulled her boots off, kicking them under the bed, and was reaching for the fastening on her trousers when she realized the girl was still in the room. She paused and looked at her pointedly. "You going to stand there and watch me undress?" Connor teased when River made no move to leave.
"No," River replied seriously, as if she hadn't given it a thought. But she stayed rooted to the spot as Connor's hands dropped to her shirt and her fingers toyed with the top button. River glanced up to see a tiny smile grace Connor's lips, and she smiled in return, a wide, innocent smile.
"You should go, then," Connor said finally, indicating the ladder behind the girl.
River looked behind her and then back to Connor. "Oh. Right." With that, she clambered up the steps and was gone.
Connor hefted the ladder up and let the door above her close. She thought about River's befuddled expression as the girl all but ran off, and she smiled.
Exhausted, Connor dropped back onto the bed and slid her hands under her head. She stared at the ceiling, listening to the ship hum around her. It was a soothing sound, and she soon found her eyelids beginning to droop. The pilot would never tell Mal, but there was no place better for her than a ship like this. A ship she could fly where she wanted and how she wanted. A ship that would let her keep running from pieces of her life she left behind
And the pieces the Alliance took from her.
Reaching up and fingering the small silver locket at her throat once more, Connor closed her eyes and thought of the picture inside thought of his name the name she never spoke out loud anymore.
"Night, baby," she whispered into the endless void of space.
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