thewarbingminstrel: (Firefly)
[personal profile] thewarbingminstrel
After all this time, the new episode is here! Sorry for the delay, I was preoccupied. Having a baby.

I know. Excuses, excuses.

I apologize for any typos or errors. If there are any major ones, I'll try to fix it. But otherwise, its just a dumb fic. One little mistake here or there won't make anyone go blind. Hopefully.

So read on and enjoy! And remember, I'm not Joss Whedon. I don't have the parts for it.




Lidiya

“I understand your urgency, Hale, I truly do. But what do you expect of me?”

When I am stressed, there are a few key telltale signs of it. I usually start with my glasses. Taking them off relieves some of the pressure on my eyes, even if I cannot see clearly without them. Its easier to pinch the bridge of my nose this way. I also quickly tap my foot, which no one can see unless they’re actually present, but I’m sure the shaking could be seen on the monitor. And, I’ve been told, my voice goes up an octave and my accent thickens. Whether this is true or not, I cannot tell you. I must be too in the moment to realize it.

The man staring back at me was desperate. But his restlessness was only feeding into my anxiety, and I could not help him were we both to spiral out of control. I had to concentrate. What he was asking of me was…well, what precisely was he asking? I have eyes and ears in the ‘verse, sure, but this was a job for someone with a lot more experience than I had.

“I need to find her! I don’t have much time. My father is in pieces, my mother is ready to fly a ship herself should I lag any longer-”

“So you want me to hack into the security cameras on every core planet and backwater moon there is. Do you have any idea how much time that will take? And honestly, do you think I will find anything?”

“I will pay you. Just look. You can start off with where she was last seen. From there…I don’t know.” Hale punched something that was out of view, then looked back to me, his eyes nearly black with vigor. “I’ll update you on what I find. I just…God, Lids, I need your help! I couldn’t ask anyone better equipped for the job. You’ve got access to damn near everything.”

“When I know what I’m looking for, sure!”

“I will find another picture. A better one. Its just…my family laid low for so long we forgot that photographs weren’t a crime. For now, you have to work with what I gave you.”

I brought up the screen shot of the woman once more. She wouldn’t be picked out of any crowd anywhere. She was simple. Long black, straight hair. Nondescript face. Thin frame, almost willowy. No smile. Dark eyes. And not just that, but the picture was only a profile. How was I supposed to find this woman amongst the thousands of others who were bound to look just like her? Especially if she had no intention of being found. Or worse, if she had been kidnapped by a society of the Alliance who knew what they were doing. All I did was play with codes. What did I know of high security?

Hale was damn near reading my mind.

“You always underestimate your skill. I know that you can help me, Lids. I wouldn’t go to anyone else. You are the best there is.”

“Hale…” My voice drifted off, the fight in me waning. I needed a distraction. Some food. Or maybe just a cool drink. I needed to step away from this conversation before he talked me into…

Dammit, then he did.

“Please, Lidiya. She’s one of the only family I have. Please.”

I hated this. I hated not being able to say no to Fin or any of her crew. The coin wasn’t enough for the task ahead of me. I would be willing to pass the coin up entirely if it weren’t for the sad eyes eagerly penetrating from the screen.

I liked to help the crew of Chunjing. I even enjoyed the feeling of being a part of something bigger than myself. But the endless requests had me taking many pills to counter the guilt, frustration, and fear of the liability of my chosen occupation. If my household had any idea of what I was partaking in, my father would turn me out without a backward glance. Sure, with the coin Fin sent me I could make a living on my own. However it would be at the cost of alienating myself from my family, and I was not prepared for the drama of it all.

My sister, Vanya, was the only Motts I could think of who enjoyed the danger this world had to offer. I, on the other hand, was perfectly content with playing it safe. And I would have been doing just that had my loud mouth sister never told Affinity about my skills at hacking. It had started off as a hobby. I had found some underground articles through the world wide web when I was about eight years old, and I got hooked. There was so much information that the Alliance had blocked from schools, information that I was eager to learn. It wasn’t until late in my teens did I discover how to uncover secreted codes and annex a system, with little more than some clever instruction from a friendly source who will not be named.

May he rest in peace.

I have taken a lot of risks in my pursuit of education. But never have I craved recognition for any of it. The penalty for my skills is a harsh one, one I would rather avoid. The fact that an equally skilled hacker could find my whereabouts just as easily as I had found theirs kept me on my toes. Codes don’t lie. I am not impervious to being discovered. And just the thought of operatives on the look out for a young female who lived on a core planet? One whose family was known amongst society? As if they would have trouble finding me.

“I will do what I can.”

The words were forced from between my stiff lips. I placed my glasses back to my eyes and allowed him to see how insecure I was about the mission ahead of me.

“I cannot promise to find much. But I will start with Bellerophon. Hale,” I paused to release a held breath. “You cannot be angry with me if I do not find anything. You need to realize, this is going to be a very long process. And even if I utilize all of the time you are making available to me, I still may not find her. Nothing is set in stone. I‘m still basically an amateur.”

“I do realize this,” Hale said hesitantly. “And I understand. I am just not willing to look at things so negatively yet. Just see what is out there. That will be enough for me.”

Once the screen went black, I allowed myself the luxury of a louder, more frustrated sigh. Work, work, work. And the tasks weren’t getting any easier.

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Hale

“What does she mean by amateur?” Shad asked me as he scratched his head. “She is far from amateur. Why does she belittle herself?”

“Not everyone can be as cocky as Vanya,” I replied, not really present for the conversation. My mind was elsewhere, on all of the chaos that had happened in the few short days of being planet side. Was there a curse over our heads? Was there a force out there that was just determined to make my life, and the lives around me, a constant hell?

“So, what now?” Shad placed a hand on my shoulder, which surprised me. This was a man who had hands for explosives, not for someone who was nearing the edge of their sanity. It was a moment of affection that threw me off.

“Now…you go check on Case. See if he is awake. I will be there shortly. I have another wave to make.”

Shad got the hint and left me to my privacy. I waited for a while, dreading the call and formulating my words, then pressed the responding buttons on the panel and waited.

“Hale.” My mother. Kaywinnit Lee Frye-Tam. She was hiding her stress with a small laugh and folded hands, which meant that she was just as anxious as my father was. “You must have some news.”

“Hi mom.” I took a moment admiring the familiarity of her appearance. Same happy eyes, lovely smile, reddish hair that she had too much of falling about her shoulders. The constant force in my life. “No news as of yet, unfortunately. Where is dad?”

“Speaking with Mal again, I suppose.” She looked over her shoulder, making sure the door was closed before speaking. “You know, this is destroying him.” She let the worry slip into her voice. “He aint slept for days. I can barely get him to eat. All he does is pace and make call after call, and I think I spied a few clumps of hair on the floor…”

I knew he would resort to pulling his hair out.

“I need you guys to relax,” I told her. “I cannot worry about aunt River and you both at the same time.”

“Don’t worry none, honey. We have each other. But River, she has no one to rely on. No one save us. Oh God, where would she go?” Her voice cracked for a moment before she composed herself. “I can’t stand this. Or what its doing to your father. There aint no clues in her room. Nothing was unlocked, there weren’t no note, her bed sheets weren’t even mussed. Its like she disappeared into thin air.”

“Then she had to of left on her own,” I tried to soothe her.

“What makes you think that?”

The new voice was that of my father. He was angry, and obviously had heard more of our conversation than my mom had wanted. I immediately sat up straight, deeming him with the respect a son should give his father.

“I only say so because we are all aware of aunt River’s capabilities. She can protect herself. If someone were to sneak into her room, there would definitely be a mess to clean up.”

The corners of my father’s eyes relaxed slightly with my logic, but he remained stoic. “So, you think she left willingly?”

“She is a grown woman, dad. She cannot be kept in one nest or another her entire life.”

Zao gao, she needs us!” My father was trying hard not to shout, and failing. “This is her home! She cannot just…go out as she pleases! I have dedicated my life to taking care of her! I have sacrificed everything for her safety, only for what? Her to compromise it? On a whim?”

“We wont know what happened just by getting all riled up.” My mom forced my father to calm down with little more than a firm hand on his arm and an exasperated look. He immediately relaxed and sat beside her, an apologetic grimace on his face.

“Mom is right.” I took a breath, then said, “I need to know everything that happened, or else my source will be useless. When did you last see her? And when did you notice she was missing?”

My mother recounted what happened since my father had worked himself into a stupor. “Last Monday, your father had a presentation for a group of medical students come to town. It was a conference that took up the majority of the day. River said she weren’t feeling well, and she just wanted some time to herself, being we had just got back from a trip to visit Inara at the Shrine on Sihnon.” My mother paused as something hit her. “She had seemed slightly despondent since the trip, but it weren’t nothing out the usual. River most often than not takes in more than she lets out. So when she asked us to leave her be, we didn’t think much of it. We were gone for a good amount of the day, and Simon had called to check on her around the afternoon to see if she needed anything. River answered his wave and told him that she was perfectly fine. So we continued. We got home late that evening after a party. We figured she had already gone to sleep, being her bedroom door was shut and the lights were shut off. So we went to bed. The next morning during breakfast time we waited for her to join us, but she never showed. And then when the day went on and we still hadn‘t heard from her, I decided to check and see if she was feeling alright. And…” she trailed off with her hand in the air, the rest of the story implied.

“Did she talk about going anywhere?” I asked. “Some place local? The shops? Or for a walk? Anything?”

“No.” My father answered miserably, his head in his hands.

“So, it is possible that she could have stepped out and someone would have…” I stuttered to a stop, not wanting my father to get excited once more. But the damage was done. His shoulders stiffened again, and he began to grumble.

“Hale, does any of that help?” My mother asked.

“Its more information than I had an hour ago.” I told her with an attempt at hope in my voice. “Oh, one more thing, do you have any pictures of aunt River? The only one I have isn’t adequate enough for my source.”

“We will get some for you as soon as possible.”

“So, when will you start?” My father asked.

“That is going to be tricky, being that Fin is still hurt and now our pilot is ill…but even if I have to convince Mal to let me tag along on Serenity, I will get out there and look.”

My father nodded. “I am sorry to hear about your pilot. And Affinity, is she going to be alright?”

“She’s fine.” I answered quickly. Maybe too quickly. I did not want to talk about Finy right now.

Luckily, if I was abrupt neither of them commented on it. My mom smiled and gently touched the screen as her voice softened. “We love you, Hale. If you need anything else, let us know.”

I groaned as the screen shut off. I did not want to disappoint them. But what did I possibly have to go on? A hunch. Something niggled at me about her disappearance. It seemed she really did vanish into thin air, and of her own accord.

But if I was wrong, and someone was strong enough to take her, she could be dead before I even got a hint on where to find her.

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Placing my morose thoughts aside was not an option. I had to check on Case. He was in bad shape. This was not the first time his affliction had taken over, and I doubted it would be the last. The worse of it was I had to report this to Finy, who was more than like not going to be in love with the idea of her pilot being abed for the next three to four days. Case was the only one who knew how to fly Chunjing. Not only that, but if this record of sicking up and passing out continued, no one was going to feel entirely at home with him at the helm. We all had demons within us come to surface. But when it gets in the way of work, that’s when they needed to expel before they destroyed our livelihood. And what are you without your livelihood?

I walked into Zoe’s house with trepidation. Sure, she had opened her home to all of these sky folk misfits, but I still felt uneasy. As if I would walk in to see the barrel of a gun aimed to the spot between my eyebrows.

As luck would have it, or not have it, I did not walk in to see a gun. Instead, I walked in to see Jayne pawing the petite Crystal, her arms were wound around his neck and his hands were every which way but north.

“WHOA.” I stopped dead in my tracks and held a hand to my head. “I’d rather have tai kong suo you de xing qiu sai jin wo de pi gu…than to ever see that display again.”

Jayne directed a cocked brow at me. “You would?”

“That’s an awful lot of planets,” Crystal smirked over her shoulder, gave Jayne another peck, then sashayed passed me and out the front door.

“You have an excuse for interrupting my playtime, boy?”

Jayne rose up to show off his height and strength, though at his age both were waning. His spine was going crooked from the tough times of a criminal life, his body was more lean than muscle now, and his hair had gone salt and pepper on him. Jayne’s impressiveness was years gone away now.

“Hey, if it weren’t me to interrupt, it could have just as well been Zoe. I doubt she would look the other way while you molested one of Mal’s crew in her house.”

“Zoe and Mal are off making preparations to look for your pea brained aunt. I got plenty of time for a nice, long, wet-”

“Alright, that just about does it.” Shuddering, I covered my ears and started to skirt passed him. “I’ve heard all that I want to hear from you. Forever.”

Jayne gripped my upper arm, hard, and kept me from walking away. His crinkled, laugh lined eyes were the same after all these years. But he sounded genuine when he said, “If there is anything of her to find, I know you can do it boy.”

I was confused. But I nodded in appreciation of his credit in me. He let me go, then went off to follow in the direction that Crystal had left in. Most likely keen for more of that petting he was getting.

Shaking off the remnants of that encounter, I walked over to the guest room that Case was being kept in. Sliding the door open slowly, I proceeded carefully. I was not sure what to prepare for. When Case has an episode like this, it could mean many things. He could have a fever that has him delusional. Or he could be out like the dead, as if never to wake again.

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Lidiya

My fingers were a flurry on the keyboard as I accessed the security cameras outside the Tam estate on Bellerophon. It isn’t that the task Hale asked of me was impossible. Its that it was so time consuming. It had taken hours for me to sweet talk the codes into working to my favor, and even now the prerecorded video was difficult to bring up on my desktop. Maybe I should have asked Hale to just send me copies of the files, but he had been in such a hurry. I was all on my own.

Soon smooth images began to play, sound included, from my computer. Sighing in relief, I fast forwarded through the many hours of gardeners, cleaning crews and deliveries. It wasn’t until I got to the third recording did I find something.

A small woman, it had to be the aunt in the picture Hale had sent me, was wandering throughout the gardens. She was aimless and leisurely, stopping occasionally to stroke a railing or turn her face to the sun. There was not much animated about her. The randomness of her movements still managed to be drone like. If it weren’t for the gentle rise and fall of her shoulders, I wouldn’t believe that she had any breath in her.

She went from sitting in the walkways to making chains with yellow spring flowers. I was taken by her grace. A dancer’s grace. Even the sway of her simple woolen dress timed to her movements.

After about an hour of her erratic behavior, she began to speak softly. I rose the volume on my speakers and leaned in close to make out her words.

“Worlds upon worlds we tossed aside, and scattered them to and fro,
The night that we stormed Valhalla, a million years ago.

“They are forgiven as they forgive all those dark wounds and deep.
Their beds are made on the Lap of Time and they lie down and they sleep.
They are forgiven as they forgive all those old wounds that bleed.
They shut their eyes from their worshippers; they sleep till the world has need.

“They will come back - come back again, as long as the red Earth rolls.
He never wasted a leaf or a tree. Do you think He would squander souls?”

After reciting the poem, the strange woman began to hum an eerie tune with a secretive smile. The notes floated along the paths in a small echo. She braided her chain of flowers slowly, her fingers intricate in her focus. Without much warning, her head turned in the direction of a camera. If she spotted it, it was hard to tell. The monitors were bound to be well hidden within the side walls of the estate. However, it seemed as if she were staring right into my eyes with purpose.

“The entrance gapes for the holy seeking. Five hundred and forty strong. Just outside grazes the hart and the goat. The mead and water stream richly. The free stand before Glasir. The fallen make way the army field.”

Her shy smile widened into a brazen one, then River stood airily. She spun around as smooth as a petal, as if she could float to the sky and dance on the wind. Instead, she walked in the other direction down the path, back towards the house. Her head was held higher and her step was more determined. I doubted she would reappear, so I paused the feed.

I frowned and rewound the video to the beginning of her strange talk. I held my brow with steady fingers and listened again.

“Worlds upon worlds we tossed aside, and scattered them to and fro…”

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Hale


Zhen dao mei!

I really could not believe my luck since Fin had gotten herself injured. She was going to put this on my head as well. I just knew it.

I turned around as someone approached behind me. I stiffly pointed to the ruffled, and empty, bed as Sebastian leaned against the frame with a frown on his face.

“Where in the hell is our pilot?”

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Katherine

Ghost was a plain girl. Her hair was lifeless and hanging in wisps in an uncaring ponytail. Her pale skin was almost translucent in the hot summer sun. Her pink mouth was small, her teeth too perfect. Her frame was hidden by those God awful clothes that she insisted on wearing. The only thing anyone could call pretty about her were her eyes: big, baby brown, and lush with lashes. If she made the effort to look girly like, then maybe she would be impressive. Otherwise, she was as forgettable as a skinny boy. I was not threatened by her in the least. She was like a mouse.

But it seemed that her past had been fairly exciting, if men being after her were any indication. Maybe looks aren’t everything. She was a lot more complicated than I had ever thought before.

“So.” I sat back and looked at my nails. They were blunt and smeared with dust from the table we sat at. I proceeded to pick at them, less than ladylike, and mulled over my current company. “You got trouble somewheres here in town.”

“That is putting it mildly.” Ghost morosely held her head in her hands, the look on her face marred with guilt and embarrassment. “I was hoping to keep this as close to my chest as possible…however…I must not be very good at keeping secrets.”

“Not when men are bullying you in broad daylight.” My eyes flicked back in her direction. “Who is this man you’ve ruffled? Does he have a lot of pull around here?”

“I don’t know his name, and I am not sure that I want to.” Ghost shook her leg beneath the table, causing her entire frame to vibrate wildly with the chaos of her emotions. “I got in hock with him pretty bad after a solid week off. I just couldn’t help myself. Coin had been good from the last trip, we had time to ourselves, and I indulged.” She thunked the heel of her hand against her brow, then rubbed the spot with her fingertips until it was rosy. “They gave me credit, credit that I should have refused from the start, but I had spent all my coin and I just…couldn’t…stop.”

“Why? I could see if you were good at gamblin’, but obviously that is not the case.”

“I come from the lifestyle,” she defended herself, eyes finally locking on me. “It was my way around a good meal every now and then. When I was desperate, I was very good at counting cards and managing enough coin to get myself something warm for my belly and a bed at night. But now that I have steady work, the skills have evaded me it seems. People get wise when you cheat often enough in the same place, so I had to rely on the luck of the draw. And my draw has become less than favorable.”

“If it were a choice between flyin’ alongside Mal and getting my pretty little neck wrung, I think I know which way I’d swing.” I felt no sympathy for her. She was the one doing this to herself and then claiming helplessness.

“Some say that flying with Mal or Zoe is a fools errand anyhow. When it comes to failings,” she held her hands open in offering over the table top. “I’m all in.”

“Damn fool talk. Leastwise in one ’sitch you got a crew at the bit. Do you expect your captain to stick behind you through all of this?”

“No, I don‘t. Which is why I might have to leave.”

I barely heard her last sentence. I looked up from her sullen face to see a figure walk from the house, shirtless, and raise his arms to the sky. His body gleamed with sweat and hunks of his longish hair stood on end. His feet were bare. The burning, rough gravel had to be hell what with it visibly sweltering from the midday sun.

“Case!” I hollered at the top of my lungs and rushed from my seat. I ran as fast I could to reach him. He ambled slowly in the other direction, not even deigning to turn around.

The gleam of his back near sizzled in the glaring heat. He was whispering something when I reached him, but his words stopped once I grabbed his arm and yanked him around to face me.

His eyes were half closed, his lips parted. He looked ill. The skin of his arm was clammy in my hand. He swayed as if overly medicated. And knowing Sebastian, that had to be it. Our ship medic housed a heavy hand when it came to narcotics, in my opinion.

“You fool man!” I berated him, ignoring Ghost as she rushed up to stop behind me. “What are you doing out of bed? You can’t walk a straight line!”

“My…bunk…” his words were forced between the fatigue of his breath. His eyes met mine, though they were cloudy and distant. “I need…my…bunk…”

“What’s so bad ‘bout the bed Zoe made out for you?” I started to direct him back towards the house. “You really need to rest, Gordon-”

He tugged hard at my grip, harder than I would have expected for a half asleep man. “No,” he huffed. “My bunk.”

I stared at him in disbelief. He was determined even as he couldn’t stand without swiveling about. My brow deepened in a frown, and I sighed with defeat.

“Well, fine. I suppose you should get your way rather than runnin’ afoul through town. You can’t even keep yourself from causing an uproar when you are unconscious. Its one problem after another with you.”

Ghost came over and slipped an arm around his waist, guiding him in the direction of Chunjing. “Here, let me help,” she insisted. Case was too powerless to argue. Instead he hung on her like a sack of grain, completely devoid of any further fight.

I don’t know why, but seeing the tiny woman try to hull the much larger Case about irritated me. We both knew I was the one who should be assisting the huge lug of a man. But I crossed my arms and walked behind them, planning to help should he slip out of her wayward grasp.

We reached the ship without further incident. Ghost needed me to take over once we crossed the threshold of the ship, far too tired to continue holding Case’s near unconscious body. I threw his arm over my shoulders and headed to his quarters, nearly rushing him to bed for further rest.

Once we got him laid out onto his bunk, I stood back and watched him fall into a deep slumber. Perhaps it was the familiarity of the ship, the smell of his sheets, the stiffness of his mattress. Even though it would seem less of a luxury to some, it was just what he needed. Such a military man. The strain on his face released and his breath became steady.

It was the comfort of being home. I could relate with that.

“Do we have to stand watch over him?” Ghost asked. “To be certain that he does not rise again?”

“No,” I answered. “He’s content now.”

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Hale

“Don’t worry,” Seb was being incredibly casual, so the brunt of my stiffness flowed out. “He is safe.”

I frowned, but shrugged a bit. If the doctor knew where to find him, then perhaps all was well. I still looked back to the bed, as if I could summon the last image I had of Gordon. Tangled wildly in the sheets, grimace on his face, sweat dotting his brow. He had looked like an animal. But knowing what had left him bedridden, or guessing rather, the slumber had not come easy. Seb had drugged him until his limbs were useless. The man had needed sleep, I understood.

“He is aboard Chunjing,” Seb finally answered my question. “Some of the crew is there with him.”

“He isn’t planning on flying, is he?” My brow quirked high with my query.

“Heavens, no. The man is not even awake.”

I exhaled in obvious relief, then turned fully to face him. “And why aren’t you aboard the ship with him?”

“I was checking on Affinity. She has been resting her leg well. I was giving her an estimate on when she could use it without issue once again.”

“And that would be?”

“Three to four weeks. If she is on her best behavior.”

Grumbling, I pinched the bridge of my nose. “I’m sure she took that well.”

“Hardly. She wants to speak with you.”

I had known this was coming. So, the issue should be no surprise, correct? I still curled my lip back at the prospect of speaking to my crippled captain, damned to her mother’s house for a fortnight to a month.

“Can’t you tell her I’m busy? Or worse, trapped under something heavy?”

“I doubt she would believe me. Even with your current predicament pertaining to your Aunt River, and she is well aware of it, she houses little excuse for your extended absence. In her words, it was damn disrespectful of you. As a second in command.”

Being that it had been less than a day since I had last spoke to her, I found myself grumbling again. Fin wasn’t used to other people having problems. And if it interfered with the attention on her, she was bound to make a fuss. The woman was addled in the head. But who was I to correct her? I had no issue of my own. I was her lackey. I was called to heel, and if I did not get a move on than the entire house would know of my disobedience. I shuddered in thought of the endless yelling.

“Alright, alright. I’m going.”

Affinity was set up in a nicely sized room with a welcoming feel to it. However, her posture was stiff and far from pleasantries. She was seated by the window, staring out at the street with a grim turn to her lips. Her busted leg was wrapped tightly in a cast and supported by a close stool. Her arms were crossed and her eyes were dark with thoughts.

“Close the door,” she instructed softly. I did as she asked. Fin enjoyed her privacy. Thankfully this meant that I usually got berated behind closed doors, away from prying eyes and ears.

“Do you need something?” I asked when the silence stretched between us. Fin seemed to be distracted.

“Did I just see Gordon walking outside?” she answered my question with a question.

Adjusting my stance by the door, I crossed my arms in preparation for her misplaced ire. “I suppose so. I just became aware of his absence from the house.”

“How are you just now finding this out?”

“I was preoccupied.”

“With what?” The disdain was starting to drip from her tone. I bristled.

“My Aunt is missing, Finy.”

Fin finally cut her eyes in my direction, and I wished she hadn’t. She reminded me of those ancient cat creatures. What were they? Panthers. I saw one at a zoo once when I was maybe six or seven. Even now I remember how agitated it was, the way it prowled to and fro from a cage that should not have been able to contain its power, the heavy way it panted as if in anticipation of the first lunge. The eyes always got to me. Deep, concentrated, leveled with a slight frown and catching your every move. Eyes that could trap and hypnotize you into a solid state of fear.

Well, Affinity had those eyes. It was that same steely gaze that she had inherited from Zoe. A look that could shut anyone up.

Luckily, I had long ago found that I was fairly immune to it. Growing up around her had conditioned me into being able to displace myself from her tricks.

“Yes, I heard.” Fin said. Biting her lip momentarily, she distracted me yet again.

She so much resembled that caged predator. The cast kept her captive, and there was nothing to be desired about it. The foreboding within me hiked to a new level. I could have stood firmly and awaited her first biting comment.

However, before she could begin, I found a surge of courage and a change of tactic. Aw, to hell with it. I wasn’t about to let her make me the enemy here just because she was lame at the moment. Crossing my arms tighter until my muscles strained, I leveled her with the same stare with which she was gracing me.

“Yes, my Aunt is missing. And if you know this already, you should understand exactly why my demands lie elsewhere. My family is in ruins at the moment, and still I am at your beck and call rather than flying the ‘verse in search of her. So please, Fin, spare me any animosity. I will not handle it well.”

Her eyes widened, before she concealed her shock with a bored look. I had definitely caught her off guard. A point for my side, and I didn’t give a damn. Celebrating would have to come after finding River.

“I do understand.” It seemed my attack had drained the fight from her. Good. Let her feel guilt from her constant self involvement. However, she still retained her stiff posture and her superior stare. “It seems we all have our own problems,” she sneered.

“So it does.” I kept my arms crossed. No backing down now.

“River’s absence must be…hard.” She acknowledged. “But your father has plenty of money. He can find her if he uses his smarts.”

“For the time being, sense is taking a back seat over anxiety. Besides, you’d be a fool to think that I’m going to leave this matter in someone else’s hands.”

“Of course. Chunjing must come to the rescue.”

“If Serenity cannot, yes.”

“And you, in your urgency, scheme on takin’ my ship and leaving me high and dry?” Her smile was crisp, her teeth just about bared at me. “Not a chance.”

I found myself growling back. “This could be a matter of life and death. And you expect me to wait for your leg to get better.”

“Do you think I’m not worried about River?” She asked, a hint of disbelief in her voice. “I am incapable of feeling anything for anyone but myself?”

“No, Fin.” I took a step toward her, feeling like an ass all of a sudden. “No. That isn’t it. But you do harbor a penchant for single mindedness when you are injured. Or sick. And you do expect me to sit on my haunches and wait for you to save the day. Well, I can’t do that! My family takes up my priorities. Be they as simple as sitting pretty planet side, or as complicated as one of our severest missions, I‘ll drop everything when it comes to them. Besides, I know how you feel about River.”

It wasn’t a highly kept secret that Fin had certain qualms when it came to River. Fin cared for my aunt, sure, but she has always been terrified of her. If she healed quickly Affinity would help find her, eventually, but only on her terms. River wouldn’t be as high on her ranking as someone else who would go missing. My aunt had always put a slice of unease to my captain’s belly. Perhaps it was the way she predicted when Fin and I would get into trouble when we were younger. Perhaps it was how unstable she appeared to be for so many years. The list could go on and on.

Affinity shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t have to be close to your family in order to want to help. But you cannot take my ship and leave me here. Besides, it is going to take more than a week to get a heading. I assume you have Lidiya working this one?”

“Yes.” This was said in a gruff sigh. “And you’re right. It will take a while to sort through the muddle and figure out where to look first. I had not thought of that.”

“You are over emotional.” She stated this frankly, as if I had little reason to be. “I am sure your father has you on edge.”

“River could be in danger.”

“Has it occurred to you that she could be just fine?” Fin asked.

Not really. And I did not appreciate her nonchalance on the matter. I grunted.

She continued. “Think about it for a second. If someone were really foolish enough to try to kidnap River, they could find themselves in a sticky predicament.”

“Has it occurred to you that were she to leave on her own terms, she would inform us of her intentions? She could already be on her way to dead. This is the worry on my mind. On my parent’s mind. I’ll try to think positively later.”

Fin scrunched her face up in sympathy, and it was the first response I got from her that seemed to hit home.

“Don’t worry,” she finally said. “We’ll find her.”

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Katherine

“Trust me, he’s safe here.” I tugged the light Ghost away from Gordon’s bedside. She locked her legs, but I still managed to haul her away. Give me a break, they don’t call me Champ for nothing.

I eyed Ghost yet again. She was so trembly. Like a leaf too loosened from its fastening on a branch.

“What?” she wrenched her arm from my grasp, only because I let her, and rubbed a stray curl away from her eye.

I wrinkled my nose. My lecture for the tawdriness of untidy hair would have to wait until later. The girl needed to relax. I could see that much. I knew what part of my nature was kicking in: the part that cared too damned much. It was the part that had me constantly second guessing Sebastian’s methods of practicing medicine. It was the part that forced me into relenting and allowing Case to take to his own bunk. It was the part that had me feverishly worrying over Vanya’s seemingly fragile state of mind. Why do I let these people get to me? Why can’t I be more like Jayne? Take my coin and someone to my bed, gracing the ’verse with the middle finger of the hand of my choosing?

“Come on. Lets get a drink.” I waved my arm in the direction we were to go before putting my arm around her shoulders in the friendliest way I could muster up. “We’ll have a sit down, you and me. Talk girl talk over a mug of ale.”

“I don’t always care for ale.”

I slapped her shoulder heartily. “Come now. It’ll put hair on your chest. Men will think you’re sexy.”

Ghost shifted oddly on my arm, taken aback by my statement, but I forced her along anyhow.

The walk to town was ten minutes out, but the cooling afternoon air was perfect for the stroll. We watched the dusty, country air dance in particles on the fading beams of sunlight. Ghost stayed quiet, most likely thinking up an escape from my prying conversation. I, on the other hand, thought up ways to convince her to keep herself safe. Unless she truly had a death wish. The dirt beneath our feet crunched exactly in time. My motives and her apprehension aside, I believe the drink was what we both needed.

We reached the pub without incident. The crowds were just coming in, the working men eager for a hot meal and a cool drink. The working doxies preparing to serve for the night, whether that serving be of food or of the easy offering between their legs. I soaked in the familiarity of the atmosphere. Perhaps this should not remind me so much of home, but it did. Mining country. Where else would a full blooded man spend his evenings? No where else. Not when there was no one to come home to. And, perhaps, sometimes even if there were.

The thing was, in order for a women to enjoy the same tastes she had to endure some rather unsavory talk. Especially if that woman were raised to be a lady, as I was. But Ghost and I had adapted well to our chosen environment. We ignored the leers and stares from those who would judge, and rather focused on the welcoming faces of the greedy or the unimpeded.

“Ol’ ale?” the barmaid asked, her hip jutted out even as she balanced a tray of drinks.

“Please,” Ghost answered.

I just nodded once. The lady inclined her head, then bobbed off to get our orders.

“I know what you’re doing.” Ghost waited until our drinks arrived to speak. “What you’ve been doing, rather.”

I rose a brow at her, but continued to sip my drink quietly as she continued.

“You want to set me straight. That’s what all that talk of Mal and his crew was earlier. Well, am I correct?”

I swallowed a good gulp, then wiped my mouth with my fingertips. “I simply don’t understand the risks you are takin’. For what? A thrill?”

“As silly as that sounds to you, yes. The rush of it all reminds me of when I was at the height of my abilities. It reminds me that if I ever have need, I can take care of myself that way again.”

“As I said before, you’re a damn fool.” I lowered my mug to level her with a stare. “Ain’t no use running back to demons need chasin’. Those demons will face off with you anyway they see fit. And if you’re just handing them your life, well, what good are you?”

“I am plenty good. I haul my weight aboard Serenity just like the rest of them.”

“That well may be.” I leaned in closer with an intimidating glare. “But it aint just your safety you’re mucking up. Our pilot is injured because of your choices, and I‘m sure some crew of Serenity is next-”

“I never asked anyone to get involved! I didn’t ask for a hero!”

“You should know better than anyone the quality of the people flyin’ under the command of those Captain’s back there.”

“I never asked for any of this-”

“Yet it sittin’ on your shoulders anyhow.” I sat back and finished the rest of my ale with one long gulp, then pulled out a small cigar from my pocket. “How long do you expect to survive like this?”

“As if I had any clue.”

“Is life comfortable for you this way? Because if it is, I’ll shut my trap.” I held the smoke between my lips, dangling it precariously as I talked and lit up all at once.

Ghost hung her head for a while. I took three or four good drags before she looked back up at me, eyes red rimmed with emotion.

“I cannot do this anymore.”

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Lidiya

I could not believe it. The one night I could use the work, the one night I planned on buckling down and helping my shipmates, my damned parents find an excuse to bother me.

Tonight was some get together of theirs. A masquerade. And of course they brought it in their home as an opportunity to marry off either me or one of my sisters. We were still on the marriage market. How could they possibly still be playing at this game?

In the middle of my work, my mother sent a maid up with an elaborate dress to tear me away from my computers.

“The misses say you get ovah’ hear now and let me prepare you.” She avoided my eye contact as she said this, knowing my reticence more than anyone else could in this blasted household.

The small Chinese maid looked an ordinary help, but I was not fooled. And others would do well not to be. She was a descendant of the Nine Lotus, a feared and ancient Tong. Her roots were the main reason my parents had allowed her into their employ. Many of our household servants doubled as body guards. Luli was just one of many. My personal guard.

Her body was slender, the curves hidden by the hideous robes my mother forced all the workers to wear. Her long, lustrous hair was coiled around an ornate binding. She was spellbinding, and I always felt myself drawn to her. No matter her errant moods.

She snapped her fingers ferociously. “Come on, Lids. You will not get me into trouble again. I will break your toes!”

Sighing inwardly, I quickly shut down my systems and stood grudgingly. “Not this again. We have been over this.”

“What is so bad about a man?” Luli flipped the embroidered costume out onto my bed, then went about finding proper undergarments to go beneath. “What woman does not want to have a love? Have a-children?”

Wincing, I walked over to her and lightly touched the jagged scar marring the back of her neck. “I do not know, Lu. Tell me. Who would want that?”

She stiffened, then turned to smack my hand away. Hard. I yelped and pulled my hand back, then took a step away.

“I told you before, Lids. You are not to bring up my past. It is dangerous for anyone to know. And I do not appreciate you constantly reminding me.”

“I cannot believe you would damn me somewhere where you are not.” I could feel the tears brimming, as they always did when we hand this conversation. “I cannot believe you…you…”

“What? That I only wanting what’s best for you? Just because you get married does not mean your man will treat you like mine did! Do not hang onto my sob story!”

“That is not what this is about and you know it. You underestimate me. As always.” I angrily pulled my plain dress off and within seconds stood mostly nude before her. “I have REAL work this time. A good mission. I’m bound to get paid more than my usual salary for what Hale has me doing now. I have plenty put aside. I do not need some wealthy fop of a man. I can take care of us.”

“You’ve said that before,” Luli reminded me, looking away. “Yet you stay in this room. You do not want anything but this, Lids. Admit it.”

“I want more than you give me credit for,” I hissed.

“You show me no ambition! Yet you cry whenever I tell you to go. Why? You cannot stay here forever.”

“And you can?”

“Do not worry about me. I can take care of myself.” She walked up to me, holding a hand out to my cheek and forcing me to look into her beautiful eyes. “You cannot stay here. I want you to live. I want you out of this house, away from your father’s dangerous affairs and your mother’s scheming. She can only marry you off once. At least then you will be free of this place.”

“From one prison to another. Damning me to a loveless marriage. A marriage that I do not, and never will, want.”

“Lidiya.” She almost cooed my name. “Please. I worry about you.”

I stared back at her. “No one can tell me what is best for me.”

We got lost for a moment, it was one of the moments that I lived for.

The door banged open and we jumped a good foot away from one another. My mother strolled in leisurely, her sharp eyes quickly flitting around the room. “Lidiya. You are not dressed yet?” Her thick Russian accent trilled off of her flippant tongue. Her garments were of the finest quality, her hair in the latest fashion. One would think she was the one being paraded around as marriage material.

“Miss Lids was having a moment of upset,” Luli said casually, going back to looking for my undergarments. “I was attempting to calm her down.”

“Oh for Christ’s sake.” My mother whirled about the room so that the skirt of her dress would flow like ripples cascading away from a waterfall. “Please, do not be difficult daughter. You are to make finest impression this evening. For my sake. For your father’s hard work. And for your own good.”

I nodded but kept my mouth shut. They couldn’t force me to get married, as had been proven thus far in the past. All they could do was showcase me, wish for the highest bidder, and try again were it not to work out. We had been through all of this before, as I had shouted earlier. Nothing was going to change. I was not going anywhere.

I caught Luli’s gaze one last time before gathering my slip and stockings. She looked nervous for me. I gave her a defiant look back.

No. I was not going anywhere.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Katherine

“Uh oh.”

I was putting the stub of my cigar out on my boot when I heard Ghost’s small whisper. “What?” I asked.

“It would seem…we chose the wrong pub this evening.”

“Why would you think that?” I looked around the room. Everyone was as merry as before. With the exception of a small group of men who were quietly looking our way. I saw what she meant. These looked like hired thugs. Which wouldn’t bother me, but they were eyeing us.

“Uh oh.” I huffed. “Recognize that lot?”

“Only too well.” She answered nervously.

Fei fei de pi yan.

My exclamation was not about to get us out of this sticky situation. I had to think on my feet, something I was not acclimated to doing.

“Okay, lets get up slowly.” I slid my chair back, Ghost followed suit…

And so did the ten or so men watching us.

Ai ya!” I shouted. “Run!”

“Run?” Ghost stumbled to her feet, almost tripping over the legs of her chair.

“RUN!” I said louder, tugging her to get her free of her tangled legs, then sprinting to the door. The thugs all hopped to their feet to follow us, thrown off by our change of tactic. Perhaps this meant we could get away. Or maybe it meant we were up chocolate creek without a popsicle stick.

“Where are we running to?” Ghost was just as fast as I was. Which was a good thing, since I was not planning on getting caught because of her.

“You think I know? This is your town. Where is safe?”

Ghost seemed nonplused by the group of men once I said that. “Come on, I know somewhere! Hurry!”

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Hale

“I cannot get in touch with Lidiya.” Rubbing my brow, I did my best not to slam my fist into the control panel.

“You gave her a lot of work to do,” Shad reminded me. “Maybe she found a lead.”

“One can only hope. But I asked her to touch base with me, keep me informed. If she were at her desk, she’d see me trying to wave her.”

“The woman needs food and rest just like we all do.” Shad tilted his head. “When did you last eat?”

“Before my stomach locked up with worry over every predicament being tossed our way.”

“So… over a year ago?”

“Sounds about right.”

Shad chuckled, then stood to walk away. “I’ll check on Case, see if he is up for some more delicious broth. You should get something in your system as well. You’re no good to us starved.”

Perhaps he was right. I had been far too distracted to eat. And this whole River thing was not helping. I tried Lidiya’s extension one last time, and when it didn’t work I walked away slowly.

She would get my messages. And if I were lucky, she would have some news for me. Good news.

I met Shad in the kitchen. He was throwing together a meal for our sick pilot. I walked over to one of the pantries and flipped it open. Being planet side meant fresh food. It was best to enjoy it while it lasted. I found a orange, spun it in between my palms to check for ripeness, then took it to the table and began to peel.

“You’ve been enjoying it here?” I asked Shad, not sure what to expect. Shad was the quiet type, severely. If he had much going on, he stayed eerily tight lipped about it.

“Somewhat. This place aint much different from the backwater moons we usually trudge through. A little less feds, a little more underground trade.”

“Perfect for smuggling.”

“Just about.”

“So, we could make a killing here?” I surmised.

“Any work that Mal aint taking could go to us, sure. But I do not think this is what we want. The business here, sure its coin, but it aint safe. Reaver work is just as dangerous as the vultures hanging about this town.”

“I suppose you’re right. We got a sure fire taste of it with Ghost’s precarious situation.”

“My thinkings exactly.”

Yeah. Whatever trouble Ghost got herself into, it was something me and my crew did not need to be a part of. It was best if we stayed out of it.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Katherine

“Why you bother to get in her way, we don’t know. But you‘re in for it now.”

The thug holding my hair was huge. And greasy. And he stunk. He dangled me as if I were nothing but a sack of grain. He smiled, something that put an unease to my stomach. That kind of smile was not only unsettling, it meant he knew what hell I was in for. And that did not sit right with me.

His accent was thick and reminded me of Vanya’s. Russian. They had to be.

“Don’t you little girls worry. You’ll pay the price of your sins. Our employer will make sure of it.”

I looked over at Ghost. They were binding her arms and legs and blindfolding her. I knew I was next. I fought against my attacker, but to no avail.

“Who sent you?” My struggling was of no use. Soon I was bound and gagged.

“You will know soon enough. All of your answers are a mere day away from here.”

There was a muted thud from something hitting the back of my head, and everything went black.

Date: 2010-08-14 03:26 am (UTC)
gorgeousnerd: A cartoon Batman from "Batman and Sons" holding his baby Terry, smiling and whistling. (Batman.)
From: [personal profile] gorgeousnerd
YAY LIDIYA. *waves pom-poms* This was so action-packed! I loved every second of it!

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