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


Part 17

Serenity sat silently, the usual hum of her engines deathly quiet. Through the viewport, Kaylee watched the shuttle speed away, its running lights off and the bottom of the hull mere feet from the icy drifts below. It wasn't cold on the bridge, not yet, but Kaylee tightened her heavy coat around her waist and shivered anyway.

She leaned forward in the pilot's seat, taking note of the pale, large moon that hung in the night sky. It lit the snow below, making it sparkle and shine in a way that would have been beautiful had Kaylee been unaware of the surface's purpose. To keep people from running. To kill them if they did.

A soft blip from the radar next to her made her turn her head, but when she looked at the screen there was nothing there. Kaylee frowned in confusion. "Not alone five minutes and I'm already startin' to lose my mind," she murmured, her voice sounding unnaturally loud in the quiet. The sound of it actually spooked her a little.

Her gaze went to the bag Simon had left with her and she picked it up, hearing the crinkle as it folded under her fingers. She tested its weight again and was still stumped as to what could be inside it. With a sigh, she clutched the bag to her chest, crushing the outside until she could feel a small, square-like shape against the center of her sternum. She knew she could open it now, but she decided to wait a little bit longer. If it was something good, Kaylee didn't want to wait so long to give Simon a proper thank you.

Smiling a little at the saucy turn her thoughts abruptly took, Kaylee decided there were worse ways to spend the time than thinking about enjoyable ways to warm up.

"Anything?" Mal waited as Zoe held up a scanner near the shuttle door and Connor finished a sweep with the ship's sensors. They'd landed five minutes ago and had waited to power down before saying a word. The whole crew was motionless, all of them standing save River and Sarah who sat in the co-pilot's and pilot's seats respectively. Outside, the wind was picking up, whipping ice and snow against the hull and already coating the viewport with white.

"Clear," Connor said in a quiet voice. "If the Alliance detected our presence, they aren't showing it."

"Or they don't care," Inara murmured as Sarah got to her feet. "Maybe they're preparing to blast the planet out of the black."

"And ain't you just a ray of sunshine," Mal countered with a frown at the companion.

River's lips curved slightly but she didn't smile as she unhooked her harness and stood. Having Sarah so close was keeping her steady, but she could feel madness creeping in around the edges of her mind. When she felt the heat of Sarah's hand on her shoulder, she looked up gratefully into the pilot's beautiful green eyes. "I'm okay," she promised, suddenly feeling everyone's gaze on her. "But I'd really like to get this over with."

"Somethin' we can agree on," Jayne grumbled. With a look to Zoe who nodded and put the handheld scanner away, Jayne wrenched open the shuttle door and cautiously stuck his head out. He took a quick sniff of the cold air then abruptly slapped a hand over his nose.

"What's wrong?" Simon asked in alarm.

"Think my nose hairs just froze and fell off," Jayne complained. "Burns like a bitch." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a yellow and orange knitted cap that he promptly slapped on his head.

Connor paused at the sight of it but chose not to comment.

"His mother made it," River said in a low tone to the pilot.

"What?" Jayne grumped when he caught them looking.

Learning from Jayne's mistake, everyone wrapped their scarves around their noses and mouths before stepping out into the biting wind and snow. As soon as their feet touched down, red lamps came on in two parallel lines, melting the snow almost instantly and lighting a path to the door.

"Handy," Zoe shouted over the wind to Mal.

"Less talkin' and more walkin'," Jayne urged them, plowing through the thick snow and squinting as slivers of ice stung his eyes.

"Can't argue with him there," Connor admitted as she hustled after him, a shotgun now in hand. She had another slung over her back. River stayed close behind her, and Connor hoped she was cutting at least a little of the wind and chill for the younger woman.

Zoe could feel sweat trickling down her spine from her layers upon layers of clothes that made her feel tight and awkward to move. She was beginning to worry she'd overdressed until the first blast of icy wind rushed over her. Gasping, Zoe lowered her head and struggled after Jayne. Her gaze sought out Inara to see how she was holding up, hoping that Wash's clothes were keeping the companion warm. Inara looked unhappy as the snow whipped about her face, but she wasn't shaking, and Zoe decided that had to be good enough under the circumstances.

Shivering, Mal moved past Jayne once they'd reached the door and used the codes Raggley had sent them in a wave. To his pleasant surprise and relief, the lock beeped and the light turned green before disengaging and allowing them to enter. He owed Raggley one. Mal let his crew hurry inside before stepping in behind them and sealing the door.

Inside it was still cold, but the wind was gone, only a muted howling beyond the door to remind them what awaited them on their return. The captain peeled his scarf away from his face, wincing a little as it stuck to his damp skin. Feeling an unnatural stillness from his people, Mal glanced over his shoulder. What he saw made his last meal try to crawl out his throat. He swallowed.

"Dear God." Inara's hissed words summed up everything they were all feeling. No sooner were they through the first door than they'd discovered enough bodies to trip over.

Simon grabbed River, yanking her behind him in an attempt to shield her from the carnage. Her boots clanged on the metal catwalk underfoot, slipping a little in the blood that had been sprayed all over it. The prisoners looked as if they'd been ripped apart. Blood and bone were splattered against the icy walls, the copper smell pungent in the tight space. They were so many dismembered parts lying about that the doctor couldn't count how many dead he was seeing.

"They're in my head, Simon," River told him with more remorse for him than herself. "I've already felt how they died. It doesn't get worse than that."

Connor's jaw set at the words, but for once, she was in agreement with Simon. She didn't want River to see this. "You should go back to the shuttle."

River shook her head, her stubborn will reflected in her dark eyes. "Need to do this as much as you do," she informed all of them. A tiny swallow was the only outward sign that she was affected by what she was seeing.

Their gazes fenced for a long moment before Connor forced her eyes away, her gaze landing on Mal who pursed his lips and gave her a tight nod. "We stick together as long as we can," he announced. "And she might be able to do us some good," he added in a softer voice.

Connor knew he was right but she didn't have to like it. The pilot yanked her scarf away from her face as Zoe took another reading from her handheld scanner. All of them were wearing recording devices attached to their clothing. Everyone would know the horror they'd seen here if any of them had anything to say about it.

River inched behind Sarah again, needing to feel her close.

Zoe shook her head and turned off the scanner. "Nothing in the air," she murmured quietly. "Not that we expected there to be."

"Ain't air that tore up these men," Jayne said in a subdued voice.

Zoe twitched when she felt a touch ease around her bicep. She turned her head and noticed the companion's fingers had a death grip on her arm. Inara gave her a sheepish look.

"I'm sticking with you," Inara said to Zoe.

"Safer with me," Jayne added like he was affronted. "I'm the one with all the guns."

"Zoe's the one who knows how to use them," Inara answered readily.

A smirk was almost rung out of Zoe, but she thinned her lips and shook her head. "Well I'm sticking with Jayne," she said with the tiniest hint of humor, her hand lifting unconsciously to cover Inara's. "He does have the most firepower."

Jayne looked like he was going to stick his tongue out at the companion.

Connor shook her head at their antics and began shoving through them, cocking the shotgun in her hands as she went. River quickly followed, latching onto the back of Connor's coat so she wouldn't lose her.

"We'll just be going that way," Mal said as he pointed after the pair. He winced and stepped over a body, slipping a little on something he didn't want to examine too closely. Pride was the only thing that kept his stomach from heaving at the smell.

Everyone fixed their eyes forward on the back in front of them as they moved through ice and death.

"Guess this is what everyone means when they say a cold day in hell," Jayne muttered as he brought up the rear.

It took ten minutes before they reached a point where they could no longer continue on together. Mal sighed and took in both hallways. Metal doors lined each corridor, seemingly inserted into the ice. Thin strips of red lamps, similar to the ones they'd seen outside, lined the hallway and cast an eerie, demonic glow off the surfaces. The splashes of blood didn't help.

Everywhere they went there were bodies. Something had torn the prisoners apart with a violence Mal only knew one species capable of committing. "We thinking Reavers, yet?" he asked the others.

Connor glanced around, assessing and processing what she'd seen. "Sure as hell seems like their handiwork."

Zoe looked at River where the younger woman was practically glued to the pilot's back. "River? You sensin' Reavers?"

River shook her head only to hesitate. "Like them," she said slowly. "All hunger and want… lust and need."

"But?" Connor asked, turning her head so she could see River's features.

"This is more controlled," River whispered.

"Controlled?" Jayne grumbled. "Ain't you seen what we been steppin' over?"

"Controlled how?" Connor asked, ignoring the mercenary for now.

River shook her head, frustration clear in her eyes. "Can't pin it down. Not yet."

Mal raked a hand through his hair and eyed their options. "Okay," he murmured. "We're gonna have to part ways a bit. Connor, River, Jayne, Simon… you go right. Me, Zoe, and Inara will go left."

The division of personnel seemed acceptable to everyone and they moved to their respective halls. Mal pulled out his radio. "Keep 'em on. You run into trouble and you start hollering real loud-like."

"Not a problem." With two simultaneous clicks, Jayne slid the hammer back on the gun in his right hand while snapping on a flashlight with the other. He started off down his assigned corridor without a backwards glance.

Mal looked at River. "You protect 'em all, little Albatross," he ordered with a half-hearted wink that managed to release a tiny grin from River in return.

"Okay," River simply vowed as she watched her friends move off into the darkness. She frowned.

"You all right?" Connor asked her. "You sensing something?"

"Just don't like splitting up," River admitted. "Nothing good can come of it." She pivoted on her boot and followed Jayne, leaving Connor and Simon to exchange worried glances.

"You'll get used to the cryptic comments," Simon informed the pilot with a weak smile.

Connor shook her head. "I think I already am." She moved off after River as Simon brought up the rear.

Another door. Another round of security codes. Mal eased through and peered around the corner. He hadn't much wanted to enter the code this time, not with the blood that had been smeared all over the keypad. Wiping his hand on his trousers, he hoped he appeared casual about it.

"Anything, sir?" Zoe asked.

"More of the same," Mal admitted. "Looks like a lab. Maybe an infirmary. Got some gurneys in there."

"There are no guards," Inara abruptly realized.

Mal and Zoe looked at her in confusion.

"No guards," Inara said again as she waved her hand at the dead. "Everyone has been in this dark blue clothing," she pointed out, indicating the nearest mutilated body with the tow of her foot. "I can't imagine the guards wore the same thing."

Zoe and Mal looked at each other. "They'd have been in some version of Alliance uniform," Zoe agreed. "Thicker for certain, but it would have screamed Alliance."

"No guards," Mal murmured, wondering what it meant. He motioned for the other two women to walk through the open door with his gun before shutting it behind him.

"Maybe they all escaped," Inara ventured as she stepped over another body. Thankfully, there seemed to be a few less in their current location. She could actually smell antiseptic and not just blood. "Maybe the Alliance came in and rescued them."

Zoe snorted. "They ain't gonna risk any good men to save guards in this cold hell." Her flashlight beam wandered over something and slowly crept back there. "What is that?"

Two more beams joined hers to light up a small satchel sitting on a metal table.

"Got Alliance insignias on it." Mal moved toward it at a brisk trot. "Science division," he added when he got a closer look at the seal. He shone his flashlight into the open kit.

"Anything interesting?" Inara asked.

"Just that it's here is interesting," Zoe informed her. "Prison colony got no need for scientists."

Mal rooted around in the bag and produced a handful of small vials containing a clear, water-like liquid. "Wonder what this is?" He held it up into the beam of Zoe's flashlight.

"Nothing we should open here," Zoe told him when it looked like Mal was going to do just that.

"Excellent point." Mal stuffed the vials back in the bag, handling them a little more cautiously this time. He glanced around, trying to discern where they should investigate next. There didn't seem to be anything especially telling in the infirmary. Just lots of gurneys and metal tray tables.

"Where are the scientists? The doctors?" Inara wondered.

They heard a deep clang from the bowels of the prison that seemed to vibrate through the floor and up through their legs, making all of them jump a little in surprise. Their flashlight beams jerked off the walls and empty patient beds.

"What was that?" Inara asked in a sharp voice, instinctively moving closer to Zoe.

"Nothin' good, I'd wager," Mal declared. "Sounded a bit like docking clamps." Coming to a swift decision, he zipped up the satchel and slung it over his shoulder. "We'll have the doc look this all over. Ain't going to mean much to the likes of us anyway."

"Sounds like a plan, sir," Zoe agreed, feeling the sudden uptick in Mal's urgency. She jerked her light toward a set of double doors in the back. "What do you think? Morgue?"

Mal hesitated before pursing his lips in a tight line and adjusting the grip on his gun. "Only one way to find out." He moved forward with determined steps only to stop when he heard no one behind him. The captain looked back to find Zoe and Inara exactly where he left them. "Um…" He waved his pistol in a beckoning manner.

"Only takes one to look," Zoe informed him blithely, uninterested in moving and not sure Inara would let her. The companion now had both hands wrapped around one of Zoe's arms. The heat of her felt nice in the relative cold of the infirmary.

Mal gave his second-in-command a dirty look before pivoting and marching over to the door. He entered the same code that had gotten them into the room onto a keypad. The lock disengaged and he yanked the door open, poking his head outside. "More hallway," he announced, his voice echoing weirdly on the other side of the door.

"More bodies?" Inara inquired hesitantly.

There was a moment of silence. "A few. Found your docs. I'd watch your step going out the door."

River watched her breath fog before her. She couldn't remember ever having been so cold, both inside and out. The isolation… the desperation… the fear… everything the prisoners had felt seemed to have frozen into the ice only to thaw in River's presence. She could feel it all, worming into her mind and muscles, making her almost twitch with the urge to escape.

"You okay?" Simon's voice penetrated the thick claustrophobia that had settled over her, and River looked past the mist of her breath in time to see Sarah turn in the hallway and look back at her. The pilot still carried the shotgun in her hands, and one lock of damp hair dangled in her eyes. Sarah tossed her head back to remove it, her green eyes focused worriedly on River.

"I'm okay," River promised. She drew from Sarah's strength and ruthlessly shoved all the emotions down. They weren't hers and she didn't have to feel them, not with Sarah there.

"Would y'all quit jabbering," Jayne called after them, his flashlight beam catching them all in the eyes as they turned to look at him. "I'd like to be getting' out of here sooner rather than later."

"We're coming," Connor called after him. "Keep moving."

Jayne harrumphed but did as he was told.

River straightened and moved past Sarah with an apologetic look, quickening her steps to catch up with Jayne who was shining his light in each empty cell. All the doors were open, but from the looks of things, no one had escaped.

Connor looked at Simon as he drew even with her. "You okay, Doc?" she asked politely.

He took a breath then looked like he wished he hadn't. "I've seen a lot of death," he admitted. "Nothing like this."

The pilot nodded. Even her time on the battlefield couldn't prepare her for the kind of carnage around her. "You think a man could do this. Tear people apart like this?"

"A strong one," Simon confirmed. "One hyped up on drugs… fear." He glanced at the remains of what he could kindly call a body and looked away. "A pack of Reavers could do this. But there would have to be a lot of them."

Connor put her hand on his shoulder and urged him after his sister and Jayne. "Why do you say that?"

"We've seen hundreds of bodies. Most of these men would have been capable of fighting back. I'm guessing a good lot of them would have been even stronger than their attackers."

"You think there would have to be scores of Reavers to overcome so many," Connor murmured thoughtfully, her gaze firmly on River's back.

"Either that or…" Simon trailed off.

"Or what?" Connor's accent thickened with a hint of worry.

"Or… the attackers would have to be highly skilled at quick, ruthless murder."

"Or subduing prisoners," Connor speculated.

"What?" Simon asked.

"You seen a guard, Simon?"

Simon glanced back the way they'd come before his gaze swung back to Connor. "You think the guards did this?"

"I think I want to know why we haven't see any. A lot of the bodies have knife wounds… serrated blades sliced right through some of these men."

"They were butchered," Simon said thoughtfully.

"So we'll either find the guards holed up somewhere…" Connor began as they rounded another corner only to find more of the same.

"Or," Simon prompted.

"Or maybe they'll find us first."

The former Operative frowned at the sound the docking clamps made as they engaged his small shuttle. No doubt, Mal and his crew might have detected his landing depending on their location inside the structure. He used his homemade jammer to disguise his arrival, feeling secure in the knowledge he'd gone unseen by the ships in orbit.

"No matter," he sighed. His arrival announced or unannounced, it made no difference. He kept his flight suit on and moved to the door of his small craft, disengaging the door and stepping out into a biting blast of wind. He studied a handheld scanner and smiled as he detected life signs nearby. A brisk little walk and he'd have what he came for.

Stepping over the frozen remains of a prisoner, he descended a small stack of steps and went on his way.

Part 18

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