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
Mal stood in the now empty galley, his hands resting on the edge of the table as he cast his thoughts back over the last few years. They'd been too lucky for too long. Some unfortunate mishaps with six pilots aside, things had gone well for the crew of Serenity. They'd found more honest work with the Alliance in disarray, and even if honest work didn't pay as well as its opposite, it was good on the soul. Even Jayne hadn't complained much.
The captain and crew had looked over their shoulders for the better part of a year after Miranda, but nobody had been back there that they hadn't expected to be. It was as if the 'Verse decided that River Tam was not to be messed with after slaughtering a room full of Reavers, and by extension the crew she lived among was sacrosanct as well. It had been a nice change, Mal lamented, but it looked like their peaceful days were coming to an end.
The easy thing would be to hand over River and her brother and go on about their merry way, but Mal had discarded that option long ago, and he wasn't inclined to give it much thought now. River was, in her own way, the very soul of the ship. Handing her over was simply not a card to be played no matter what hand the Alliance dealt him.
So that meant running. Or fighting. Maybe both. Probably both.
"You were good with her."
Mal glanced over his shoulder. He hadn't heard Connor come up from the infirmary below. She always had impressive stealth skills, especially for a pilot who really didn't need them. "She deserves some goodness," he answered quietly. "Lord knows she ain't had much the last several years."
Connor nodded at that as she stepped into the galley and approached him. "You care about her." The pilot seemed mildly surprised by her observation.
"Ain't a hard thing to do," Mal agreed. He watched as Connor took a seat at the table. They remained silent for several minutes, listening to the hum of the ship. Zoe had restarted the engines, but they were essentially treading water.
"I believe her."
Mal heard the challenge in Connor's voice. "So do I," he replied quietly, watching as the tense set of her shoulders relaxed. Connor had been spending a lot of time with River, and a part of Mal was relieved that the pilot was already as protective of her as the rest of the crew.
Connor could be damn loyal once she got to know a person and decided they were worth their salt. Still, that she'd taken to River so quickly was a bit of a surprise, even if it was a welcome one.
Heavens help a soul that crossed the pilot, though, Mal thought. Connor's memory was long and sharp. Betray her, and she would not forget. Mal knew all about that. It was just damn unfortunate that he couldn't remember that drunken night all those years ago. If he was going to be left out in the cold, the least the fates could do was let him remember the heat that put him there.
Connor picked up a knife and began spinning it between her fingers. The light caught on the blade as it twirled, sending flashes of silver dancing across the stenciled yellow walls. "So what are we going to do? If she's right and there are contractors there "
"Contractors?" Mal's voice was hoarse from where he'd been lost in thought.
The pilot relayed what River had told them about the men with the hands of blue and watched a shiver chase down Mal's spine. "We can't let them have her."
"We won't. But we have to deliver the goods. We need the coin and the peace and quiet."
"So what are we going to do?" Connor repeated, seeming to accept he was in charge for once.
"Well I've been thinking on a plan." Mal looked up at her then glared. "Ain't no need to look at me like that," he said when he saw Connor's dubious expression.
"It's just if memory serves your plans often don't go accordingly."
"Be that as it may, I got one. You want to hear it and add your two cents, or you want to keep being pissed at me?"
"I can't do both?" Connor toyed with the knife, a half-smile pulling at the corner of her lips as she asked.
The captain smiled. "Didn't realize how much I'd missed that English wit," he drawled.
"Mmm." Connor didn't take the bait. "So whatever this plan is of yours, it better not involve River going planet side."
"Then I'm listening."
The door to the shuttle slid to with a clang. Kaylee noted her hands were shaking where they rested on the handle, and she swore softly at her own fear. Sometimes she felt like a complete waste of space on Serenity. If the engine didn't need tending to, then there wasn't much she could do to make herself all that useful.
The mechanic sighed and sat down on the steps, looking across the way at the second shuttle door. Her friend Inara was usually behind that door, the metal and bolts of her ship hidden behind beautiful satin drapes. Inara's quarters were as exotic as she was, and Kaylee ached for the companion's company at that moment, even if she were glad Inara would be nowhere near the trouble that was coming.
Kaylee jumped and glanced down to find Zoe watching her knowingly. "Yeah. Just thinkin'."
Zoe's eyes cut to Inara's door. "She'll be back aboard soon enough." The older woman climbed the steps and wrapped one hand around the nearest catwalk support pole as she looked down at the mechanic. "The shuttle prepped and ready?"
Kaylee nodded. "I don't know how I feel about this."
"I reckon none of us do," Zoe said. "But it's what has to be done."
"Just feels like we're abandoning them."
Zoe hesitated a moment before moving forward and settling next to Kaylee. "They'll be fine. All they gotta do is hide. Ain't like they haven't done it before." The older woman rubbed her bottom lip with her thumb as she considered things. "Besides, River has shaped up to be a fine pilot. This is the best way."
"Seems to me the best way would be to turn around and go the other way," Kaylee drawled.
"Reigert would be waiting back there."
The mechanic shook her head. "I thought the Alliance was gonna leave 'em alone forever. Why now? Why are they back to huntin' River again now?"
"I think we're going to find out that unfortunate answer very soon," Zoe confessed with a hint of worry to her voice. Putting her hand on Kaylee's arm, Zoe squeezed lightly. "You know they'll be better off on the shuttle than we'll be in here."
Kaylee sighed. She knew. That's what was making her hands shake.
"River," Simon began.
"No," River repeated with more heat. "I'm not leaving."
Mal and Connor chose that moment to enter the infirmary and both hesitated as they caught brother and sister attempting to stare each other down. The glaze of sleep was still in River's eyes, and it was clear to Connor the younger woman had just come to after a medicated nap. River's arms were crossed, and she was glaring at Simon with a look of defiance that was potent enough to make Simon drop his gaze and begin pacing the small confines of the infirmary.
"There a problem here?" Mal wanted to know.
"She won't take the shuttle," Simon informed them as if they hadn't guessed that much already. "Stubborn little " His voice dissolved into Chinese mutterings.
"I don't want to leave the ship." River's brown eyes softened as she looked at Connor, her gaze pleading.
The look hit Connor like a punch in the gut. She glanced at Mal before sauntering further into the room. Hooking her thumbs in her gun belt, Connor took a moment to compose her thoughts. "Why? You were willing to turn us around and send us out into parts unknown a few hours ago."
River tucked her hair behind her ears. "It's a bad idea."
"You know that for a fact?" Mal asked her. "Or are you just being stubborn?"
River gave him a disgruntled look that was more adorable than daunting. Connor wiped a hand over her mouth to hide a grin.
"River," Connor stated calmly. "We want to know you're safe." She glanced back at the doctor. "Both of you."
The young woman hesitated as her brown eyes studied Connor's features. "I don't want to leave," she said in a more subdued voice.
"It's just for a few hours. We'll fly in, drop the cargo, get the coin, and be on our merry way," Mal promised.
"They'll board you. They'll look for me."
"All the more reason for you to be hiding behind a moon somewhere," Mal answered.
"What if they kill all of you?" River asked bluntly.
Mal looked at Connor. "Well that would be a right unhappy ending to this business venture."
Connor rolled her eyes and stepped a little closer to the younger woman. "You see something that would indicate that will happen?" she asked River.
"No," the girl answered sullenly.
"Then why are you afraid? Why won't you go on the shuttle?" Connor asked, puzzled by River's reluctance to the plan.
"I'm not afraid. I " River's gaze roamed over Sarah's features, finally locking on the pilot's green eyes. "I just "
Simon exhaled slowly, his gaze moving from River to the pilot and back again as he watched the charged moment form between them. "You being off the ship protects everyone," he told his sister with a look at Connor for her benefit.
River hesitated, clearly considering things from a new angle. "They'll want to know where I am."
"We'll tell 'em you're off visiting Inara," Mal answered. "Tell 'em she's two systems away. By the time they get there to check it out, you'll be back on the ship, and we'll probably have already rendezvoused with Inara at Fountain City."
"Inara?" Connor asked with curiosity.
"She's a companion."
"She's a whore."
Connor glanced from Simon to Mal as they both spoke at once. She ignored Mal's crude word choice. "You have a companion on-board?"
"She don't service the crew, so don't get any ideas," Mal told her.
Before Connor could give him a heated response, River beat her to it, slapping Mal on the chest and pushing him back a step. He chuckled even as he rubbed the spot where the younger woman had struck him.
"I'll explain later," River promised Sarah.
"Good enough." Connor hesitated before briefly laying her hand over River's and giving it a quick squeeze. "I need to get back to the bridge. You going to be okay?"
"I can handle my sister," Simon snapped before River could reply.
Sarah looked at him, confused by his almost hostile reaction. "Never said you couldn't, Doc." She offered River a smile. "I'll see you on the bridge in a bit."
"Okay," River replied softly. Her eyes didn't leave Connor's figure until the pilot disappeared up the stairs.
Mal looked at the doctor with some confusion, but he didn't vocalize any of the questions that were clear in his gaze. He turned his attention back on River. "You'll go with your brother." The captain held up his hand before she could argue further. "Now that's an order. You'll take the shuttle, and you'll be happy about it. No men are gettin' their hands on you, blue or otherwise, little albatross."
River didn't even smile at Mal's favorite nickname for her. "What do we do if they capture you?"
Mal put his hands on River's shoulders. "Don't you worry none. Everything is gonna be fine. By this time tomorrow, we'll be on our way to say hello to Inara."
River slipped off the bed and padded to the door in her bare feet. "We'll see," was her cryptic reply before she left the two men alone.
"Now why do I not like the sound of that?" Mal asked no one in particular.
Connor had never been to Silver River. She'd heard plenty about their ways, of course, seeing how a majority of the people she ran with liked their meat, but she was startled by the landscape that greeted her.
Silver River made her think of mountains and cool, damp forests, rocky riverbeds and well-worn dirt paths that disappeared into thick thatches of woods. She hadn't been expecting a gorram tropical hell.
Connor narrowed her eyes as she breathed in the cloying, overly sweet tasting air. Sweat made her skin glisten as she stood on Serenity's ramp watching Mal and the others wrangle the cargo. She'd changed into a sleeveless white tank top and a new pair of brown leather pants River had somehow dug up for her. A revolver rested on each hip as her green eyes scanned the vegetation around them.
"You got the willies?"
Jayne's voice was close behind her, and Connor gave him credit for sneaking up on her. "That's one word for it," she admitted.
"Keep waitin' to hear people screaming," Jayne huffed. He picked up a hose and went to the back of the cargo hold to attach it.
"What a happy thought," Sarah drawled, but she knew what he meant. She itched to leave the ship, to check out the perimeter, but she needed to stay close should they need to lift off in a hurry. Her gaze went to the door of one of their shuttles, knowing the vehicle that normally resided behind it wasn't there. River had left with Simon before they'd passed through the atmosphere. She hoped they were safely orbiting one of Silver River's six moons by now.
"We got company," Zoe's voice drifted back to Connor, and her attention shifted to a patch of brilliant green leaves that parted and revealed a small band of six men.
"Malcolm," the man in the lead greeted the captain with a tight smile. He wore a battered cowboy hat that shielded his face.
"Brady." Mal dipped his head in greeting as his gaze took in the five other men. "Didn't figure you were a part of this deal."
Brady pushed the brim of his hat up with a forefinger and smiled. Connor thought he'd be an attractive man if he bothered to bathe. She was glad she couldn't smell him from her position, suspecting the pigs had nothing on the man they were about to do business with.
Zoe glanced at six sets of hands, relieved to see no one sporting blue of any kind. "You brought the coin?"
Brady kept grinning, revealing the absence of more than a few teeth. "I did." He tossed a small bag to Mal who caught it one-handed, filling the air with the satisfying sound of clinking credits. "See you brought the cargo."
"Be happy to part with it, actually," Mal replied.
Everyone stood and stared at each other as mosquitoes buzzed about and the heat baked their skin. Connor shifted, casually letting one hand rest near the butt of her right revolver. A quick glance to her left showed Jayne in a similar pose with a shotgun.
"Okay then," Mal said with a tense smile. "We just gonna stand here admiring how damn pretty we all are, or are we done here?"
Brady chuckled, the sound like fingernails on a rusty hull. "I'm all done, Reynolds. I got what I came for and something a little extra."
"That right?" Mal asked with forced cheeriness.
"Nothing personal. You and yours ain't never done me no harm," Brady answered him. "But you're about to do me some good. You got something on that ship I want. Someone I want."
The captain hooked his thumbs in his belt loops. "Well," he said matter-of-factly, "other than our mechanic, you're looking at my crew, and we ain't got no paying passengers."
Brady's smile faltered as his men shifted behind him. "You're lying."
"About paying passengers? Wish I weren't," Mal said easily. "You're welcome to take a look."
"Where is the girl, Mal?" Brady demanded, all semblance of civility evaporating.
"Girl?" Mal blinked innocently before looking at Zoe. "You know something about a girl?
Zoe began to reply but then jerked back as a beam of blue light struck Mal in the center of his chest. The captain was lifted off his feet and thrown backward, slamming into the damp soil. Jayne immediately returned fire only to have more beams slice through the foliage from all around them.
The sound of screaming pigs filled the air as Connor tucked and rolled, trying to get away from the beams lancing into the cargo bay. She saw Jayne go down, yelling at Zoe to take cover. The second-in-command took Brady out with a well-placed shot to the forehead as his men scrambled for shelter. The beams kept coming; silent bursts of light that pelted all around the two women.
Connor watched as a beam struck Zoe's leg, spinning her about until a second impact hit her friend in the back. Zoe was thrown to the ground and didn't move again.
A second later, Connor dropped to her knees as a beam of light caught her thigh, the suddenly numb muscles unable to hold her weight. She grabbed the deck plating and pulled herself backwards, dragging her useless leg as she tried to crawl back into Serenity's hold.
The blue lights suddenly ceased, and Connor watched as two men in dark suits emerged from the forest. A chill took her, traveling down her spine and enveloping her whole body in a vicious shudder.
They were wearing blue gloves.
The pilot's guns clicked impotently and she swore, throwing one of them at the nearest man. The contractor ducked and simply kept coming, stopping once he reached the soles of her boots. He tilted his head as he regarded her.
"This one is unknown."
The other man looked at Sarah dismissively. "She is irrelevant. Find the girl."
Connor kicked out with her working leg and had the satisfaction of watching the contractor stagger back in pain. She'd broken his leg, and Connor scrambled toward him with grim determination, hoping she could at least stop one of them stop one of these bastards that had a hand in torturing River.
Something struck her back, and Connor saw a flare of white behind her eyelids as cold washed through her and paralyzed her muscles. Then darkness came, and she felt nothing at all.
Her name echoed weirdly inside her head. The pilot slowly blinked open her eyes and gasped as the light from above nearly blinded her.
"About gorram time," Jayne grumbled, and Connor heard him scooting across the floor toward her. "Thought none of y'all was ever gonna wake up."
Connor rolled over on her side and closed her eyes, taking a moment to marshal her very meager reserves. There was nothing that didn't hurt. Her whole body felt like it was on fire as blood flowed through her stiff and frozen muscles.
"It passes," Jayne told her with surprising sympathy. "Those damn new stunners. Makes your whole body feel that pins and needles sensation a thousand fold."
It was an accurate description, some part of Connor's muddled brain admitted. She took short, gasping breaths as she waited for the pain to lessen. When it finally did, she put her head against the cold, wet floor and took in a deep, shaky breath.
Connor slowly rolled again, wincing as her arms pulled in their sockets. Her hands were tied behind her back, and she had to rock her body to get herself up into a sitting position. The pilot took in Jayne who looked no worse for wear. The other members of the crew were around them in the hold, all of them still unconscious. Kaylee was nowhere to be seen, and Connor hoped the mechanic had found somewhere smart to hide. "Where ?" Connor coughed and tried to swallow with a parched throat.
"Don't know," Jayne said, accurately guessing what she was wondering about. "I've heard 'em moving about and the like, but I ain't seen 'em." He regarded her. "You beat Zoe awake. I'm impressed."
The pilot snorted and shook her head. "She took two good hits." Her eyes went in worry to her fallen friend. She watched and waited until she saw Zoe draw breath and only relaxed when the other woman did.
"Wanna place bets on who will wake up last? My money's on Mal," Jayne drawled with grim humor.
"No way am I taking that bet," Connor told him and felt her nerves ease a fraction when he chuckled. They both glanced toward the doorway that led up to the bridge when they heard something clang.
Jayne shifted. "Won't be long until they come down here."
"I know," Connor admitted.
"You think it's been long enough? You think River and the doc moved on?"
They were supposed to contact Simon and River within a half hour of the rendezvous time or else the two Tams were to head for parts unknown. Sarah flexed her fingers as she gave it some thought. She looked out the still-open cargo bay door and tried to tell how far the sun had moved since they'd been subdued. The humid air had filled the space, and the pilot could feel a trickle of sweat roll down between her shoulder blades. The pigs were still in the corral, shuffling about nervously.
"I don't want to rat them out or nothin'," Jayne went on. "But if they do something to make me scream, I'm spillin' my guts."
"Don't even think it," Connor warned him. "Or you'll have worse things to worry about than a couple of guys in blue gloves."
Jayne looked cross but merely grunted in response.
Connor started scooting, trying to get in a position where she could nudge Mal with her foot. Another clang from above had her freezing in place and craning her neck to see if she could see what the contractors were doing.
One of the contractors emerged from the doorway and started toward them. Connor heard Jayne curse, and she felt like doing the same. Her blood went cold, and she swallowed, knowing that pain was coming. The only thing to be determined was just how much she'd have to endure.
At least River and Simon were safe. And she'd take whatever the bastard dished out to keep them that way.
Return to Firefly & Serenity Fiction
Return to The Sarah Connor Chronicles Fiction
Return to Main Page