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TWBH: Chapter 14: The Big Damn Chapter

Title: Tales of a Would-be Hostage
Chapter: 14/16
Author: thefalloficarus @ LJ.com
Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters (except Marisol); I just like to play with them. Joss is Boss though, and don't you forget it! ;)
Rating: PG
Characters: This chapter: The Whole Group pretty much
Pairing: Mal/River, Simon/Kaylee
Spoilers/Warnings: Completely Alternate Universe. River never went to the Academy, certain characters have WAY different backgrounds.
Chapter List:
Prologue: The younger years - Chapter 2: Reunion - Chapter 3: Destiny in the Making - Chapter 4 A Man on the Edge: - Chapter 5: Realizations - Chapter 6: The dangerous one - Chapter 7: Trouble on the Horizon - Chapter 8: The Point of Danger - Chapter 9: Sudden Yet Inevitable Betrayal - Chapter 10: Out of Gas - Chapter 11: 9/10ths of the Law - Chapter 12: A Little Bit of Girl Talk - Chapter 13: Hell Hath no Fury - Chapter 14: Big Damn Chapter - Chapter 15: Moonbrained Star Girl - Epilogue: A Would-be Hostage and a Sometimes Theif

Note: Immitation is the highest form of Art… hence their voyage to Miranda... Honestly I didn’t just sort of ru into a road block and stumble upon this idea to get myself back out...hehe... And as always Comments are Shiny and make me happy (and let me know people are actually reading and enjoying. Lol)

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Mal, River and Zoe stood on the bridge watching the lush scenery circle below them. "I don't know what's going on." River stated, confusion written all over her face. "This is supposed to be a black rock. They said terraforming failed."

"Wash, are you getting anything from down there." Mal asked, equally baffled.

Wash turned buttons and dials while Zoe stepped forward. "Those aren't small settlements Captain, those are settled, civilized cities."

"Captain, I'm getting a signal, faint but there. Looks about in the city we just passed." Wash said.

"Bring her down Wash, I wanna know what in the hell's going on down there." Mal said turning to ready himself. "Zoe, I'm gonna need you to scout with me."

"Yes sir." Zoe said, following him.

River watched the pair depart and then turned back to the view of the lush world below. "I don't understand this."

Wash shook his head. "Not to rain on your parade, but this," He gestured toward the window, "Is typical of the Alliance." He shook his head, bringing Serenity down. "The people you work for, aren't very nice sometimes."

River glanced back at him, searching him for a moment and then turned back. "You think I have or will betray your crew."

"I didn't say that." Wash said defensively.

"You didn't have to." She responded, giving him a sad smile, before leaving to continue waiting for the truth by herself.

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River stepped out into the warm sunlight and took a deep breath of the warm spring air. She coughed then, choking a moment and Simon rushed to her side. "Do you smell that?" She asked, looking to her brother, who in turn sniffed the air. "It smells like death."

Simon shrugged, looking at her puzzled, and turned to Kaylee who shrugged in return. "I don't smell nothin', but maybe it was just your imagination?" She asked hopefully.

River hugged herself, following after Mal, Zoe and Bester as they led the way into the seemingly empty city. She watched Kaylee take Simon's hand and she secretly wished she could take Mal's hand as well.

Mal, having taken point once more, held a hand out, staying the crew where they were. "Bester I want you to get everyone back inside." He said, looking back at them from the end of a tunnel.

Bester turned to bring everyone back, but River stepped forward. "What's going on Mal."

"River, go back." Mal said authoritatively.

"Not unless you tell me why you're sending me back." She said defiantly, taking a step forward.

Kaylee reached a hand out, touching her on her healing shoulder accidentally. River was making a show of bravery so she bit back the pain, but also tugged her shoulder out from under Kaylee's grasp sharply, looking more determined than before.

Mal shook his head then. "It's your nightmares little one." He said enigmatically and moved forward, followed by Zoe. Bester hung back tentatively, while River marched forward, her tightly braided hair, swaying in the breeze. After a moment Kaylee and Simon moved forward, followed by, Bester, Marisol, Wash and Inara.

When River rounded the corner and saw what Mal had seen, she stopped in her tracks and gasped. She heard a scream and a cry behind her, and knew that Kaylee and Simon had come upon the grizzly sight as well.

All around the main hub of the city were dead and decayed bodies. They were in cars, leaning against buildings, lining office floors and cubicles: All of them dead, not a single living soul in sight. "Wha… what happened?" River asked, horrified.

Simon stepped forward, looking more closely at the dead. "There's no sign of struggle…" he trailed off, taking in the full scope of the horrific scene. “There’s no indication of poisoning... could have been gas, but there's no sign of panic or distress, no one tried to run or hide... It couldn't have been natural because it looks like they all just…"

"Laid down." River finished for him, walking over to a glass office building, and touching the pane tentatively. Lights came on inside the building. "They've still got power."

"This just ain't right," Mal said, his gun lowered.

River looked up at him, "Where's the signal Wash was getting?"

"This way." Zoe said, with a nod of her head, and silently they followed.

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"These are just a few of the images we've recorded. And you can see, it wasn't what we thought. There's been no war here and no terraforming event. The environment is stable."

River stared, her eyes trying to make sense of the hologram she was seeing. " It's the Pax. The G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate that we added to the air processors. It was supposed to calm the population, weed out aggression. Well, it works. The people here stopped fighting. And then they stopped everything else."

River raised a hand to her mouth and found it was shaking. She couldn't take her eyes off the image before her, the woman wearing a uniform almost identical to the one she had started her fateful journey in. "They stopped going to work, they stopped breeding, talking, eating. There's 30 million people here, and they all just let themselves die."

Everyone in the room jumped then as loud noises filled the hologram and the projection's eyes filled with terror, "I have to be quick! About a tenth of a percent of the population had the opposite reaction to the Pax. Their aggressor response increased beyond madness. They have become…" River shook her head in stunned disbelief, "Well they've killed most of us. And not just killed… they've done things. I won't live to report this, but people have to know, we meant it for the best, to make people safer."

The crashing grew and the fine tremor in River's body increased. "Oh God, no!" Screamed the voice from the hologram and River turned, heading directly out of the broken down space ship where they'd found the signal and out into the bright harsh light of Miranda. Before she knew what was happening she bent down, kneeling on the ground and her stomach loosed all its contents.

After a moment of retching, she felt a hand on her back and knew it was Simon. She stood then, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand and watched as the rest of the crew filtered slowly from the ship. River stood there, features stony, and watched as they emptied the dead Doctor's fateful resting place. Finally, without thought River turned and marched back into the battered ship, hearing her brother call after her as she went. She ignored his cries, and once inside she walked determinedly to the vid and placed it back in it's holder.

After a moment the semi-darkness brightened slightly as the ill-fated doctor re-appeared alive and well. River watched the sequence of events play out, unchanged from her first viewing, and she leaned in closer as the story unfolded. When it finished she pushed the vid back down, watched it start again, only inches from the projection, her eyes fixed intently on the woman. She started it a third and a fourth time, each time watching the doctor as she was devoured alive. The fifth time she stopped the vid at the words 'we meant it for the best, to make people safer'. In the momentary stillness, she reached out and touched the small image, let her finger tips graze the doctor’s face, and felt the hum and buzz of the light and electricity that made up the projection. Her breath caught in her throat and she pushed play once more.

When the vid started for a sixth time River felt a warm sturdy hand touch her shoulder gently. She felt someone step into her, reach past her and click off the hologram. She turned then, and looked up into the deeply concerned face of the Captain. She stared as he reached forward, touching her cheeks, and it was only then that she realized she'd been crying: steady streams slicked her cheeks and her baggy t-shirt was visibly damp. She reached up feeling her hot moist cheeks and felt the tremor in her hand. Mal paused awkwardly and then closed the gap between them pulling River into a firm yet gentle embrace. River stiffened for a moment and then sagged, tucking her head into his shoulder, allowing herself to shed her horror, fear, sorrow and guilt in white-hot tears, while Mal gently rocked her, and absorbed her shock and pain.

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The crew gathered around the small dining table, each person looking tired and worn. River had not spoken since she stepped out of the shuttle, and Mal was more than a little concerned about her. She sat at the end opposite him holding the vid in her hand, stroking it slightly with her thumb, her eyes fixed on the table in front of her, features more harsh than he'd ever seen them.

He shifted, standing at the head of the table feeling uncomfortable, then spoke, softly, but with a firm voice. "We've found out somethin' unsett'lin... somethin' damn horrifyin', if'n you ask me, and it ain't right." He looked around at the silent faces before him. "I know I said I'd run you back to the alliance, but frankly, I think this is too important to just sit on." He watched as Kaylee and Simon squirmed and wondered if River was even listening to him. "I never claimed to be a great man, hell, I ain't even a good man, but I know what's right and what they done to these people ain't right. If you folks don't agree we can go about business as usual and you can be on your merry, but I aim to see this right." He said looking to the Tam crew. "Only a handful of eyes have ever seen that vid and yet the workings behind it kill hundreds each year, and I for one think these people deserve justice."

Everyone was silent for a moment. "Mal what are you saying?" Wash finally asked.

"I say we bring this to Mr. Universe."

"But…"

"He ain't but on the other side of a hop, skip, 'n' jump from here, and ain't no chance of getting' caught by law man if we go direct." Mal said, knowing what he was asking.

"But that's suicide!" Wash sat upright, outraged.

"Sir, I have to agree." Zoe said, sitting straighter.

"I conjure we go in disguise." Mal replied.

"Cap'in!" Marisol said, going very pale. "It's reavers though… "

"What's to say we don't try your plan and they get wind of us? What then?" Bester asked, looking grim.

Mal looked at them in silence then, without an answer.

"We fight." River said quietly, without taking her eyes off the table.

"What?" Simon said looking at his sister shocked.

"How do you purpose we do that?" Wash asked skeptically, inciting a condescending look from River.

"Did you see where we found the vid?"

"On an alliance cruiser." He responded annoyed.

"And all alliance ships come standard with magnetic locking devices." She explained. "Can't have the bad men running off if you can just lock in their location and pull them in."

"Ohhh…" Kaylee said, as if she finally got the punch line.

"So, we're going to temporarily kill all their ships?" Wash asked confused.

River gave him another look, as if he were a bothersome child and turned to Kaylee. "Do you think we could pull it off?"

Kaylee worried her lower lip silently for a minute. "Well, I don't see why not." She said, giving a shrug.

"I think between the two of use we could at least get an EMP together, but if we can find another I think something bigger's possible."

"Oh." Kaylee said, paling slightly. "That'd be a mighty hard task."

"We could do it Kaylee." River said firmly, no ease or kindness in her tone.

Kaylee stared back at her friend, and then nodded solemnly, turning to the Captain. "We can do it. You get us through as far as you can, and if that's not far enough..." She paused a moment looking back at River.

"We'll get us the rest of the way through." River finished.

Mal nodded and then looked at his crew. "I know what I'm asking you, and this is one of the only times that I won't flinch if you decide to disagree with me. Any who feel this ain't the right course can take one of the shuttles, launch out, start hailing for help. We'll part ways friendly like."

Everyone stirred looking at each other but no one spoke. After a minute's silence, Mal nodded. "All right then. Wash, Bester, I'm going to need you two to prepare Serenity. We have to look and act as much like a Reaver ship as possible." He turned his head toward the Tam crew huddled together quietly at the far end of the table. "River, Kaylee, I ain't a religious man, but if you can pull a miracle out 'a' your hats, I'd be obliged."

Kaylee paled slightly and looked at River who merely nodded, stood, and left the table.

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Mal stood starring at his once beautiful ship, marred for a virtually suicidal mission. It had taken the crew the better part of two days to prepare. He'd only seen River briefly during the previous two days, but he'd checked up on her when he could. From what he could tell, she hadn't eaten or slept for the duration of the preparations, and he hadn't heard her utter more than a few words total.

As if sensing his thoughts, she appeared silently behind him, arms folded across her slender chest, face and skin ashen with the days’ efforts. "Albatross," He said simply, greeting her, feeling more concern for her than he'd felt moments before.

"Captain," She replied stoically.

"You ready?"

"As ready as we can be." She replied with a curt nod, her eyes still trained on the ship before her.

Mal nodded, watching her silently, waiting for one minute, then two. Finally, he broke the silence, "The crew here has really benefited from havin’ some a bonified geniuses aboard." He stated somewhat awkwardly.

"We can't stay Mal." She replied, finding the angle he was playing.

He sighed then, "River you sure as hell can't just go back to them."

She whirled then, turning to face him finally. "And that means what? I should stay here with you? Become a petty thief?"

"Oh, I'm a petty theif now, huh?" He asked, anger and hurt in his tone.

River shook her head, her expression softening for a moment. "That's not what I meant."

"What did you mean? That my lifestyle is so bad you'd rather go back to confirmed murderers who want to throw you in jail?"

"No." She said defensively, shaking her head. "Mal I...." She stopped herself short, startled as if her next few words surprised even herself. She shook her head and then began again, "Mal, I believe in unification. I believe that the 'verse would be better if we acted as a species and not as individuals. We are capable of so much good, and to keep ourselves closed off, quarantined from each other... We cut our noses off to spite our faces."

"So you actually believe that we should be making people different, so called better?" He asked stunned and outraged.

"No!" She cried, "I believe that people are capable of being better without alteration, that it's inside us all, and that through cooperation we can make better worlds. Not like this," She gestured out to the world around her, "but through hard work and some good old fashioned decency."

Mal scoffed, "Bao bai you're living in a dream world."

"Well then let me live there!" River screamed out, emotions coming forth so strongly that Mal staggered back in surprise. "Mal, everything I have ever believed has just been smashed into a thousand pieces. The people whom I have trusted, learned from, looked to, have just betrayed me more than I ever thought possible. That way of life; those beliefs, are so ingrained in me, that I'm not even sure who I am anymore." Tears began to pool in her eyes and she rubbed at them harshly causing her tired flesh to pink with the effort. "So let me figure it out, and keep your 'I told you so's and your sanctimonious opinions to yourself, and let me just figure myself out first, okay?"

Mal stood there, watching her, and wasn't sure what to say. Even broken and lost she had more convictions than most he knew. He wanted to reach out, touch and comfort her, he wanted to hold her close to him always, protect her from any more of the 'verse's harsh truths; Instead he stood there, unmoving. After a moment of silence, as tears began to slowly trickle down River's ashen cheeks, she turned and walked into the ship, head held high, as if to hold on to what ever was left of her slowly slipping pride.

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Everyone was quiet as they slowly slipped into Reaver space. Serenity herself seemed to groan and snarl in disguise and there was a general feeling of total unease among her crew. River was aware of them all, their fear so strong that it pelted her brain in waves. She heard praying, bargaining, and whispered thoughts of 'we're all going to die'. She looked to Kaylee who was checking their device over again for the 100th time and placed a hand on her shoulder. "It's okay Kaylee, this will work." She reassured her, her voice sounding much more confident than she'd felt since they landed on Miranda.

Kaylee shook her head and her fingers traced over the wires of their makeshift weapon.

"We're about halfway through." Zoe called out from the space between the bridge and the engine room. They had agreed to radio silence and thus Zoe was the go between Mal and Wash in the bridge and Kaylee, River and Bester in the engine room. She and Mal hadn't spoken since their last encounter and Zoe had stepped in for the job, sensing the tension now hanging thickly between them.

A few minutes more passed, everyone holding their breaths, and finally a smile broke out over Zoe's face. "It looks like we're clear. We're through the main group and no signs of a tail." She said, relief apparent in her voice.

River let out a long slow breath and she watched Kaylee sag slightly as some of the tension drained from her. Bester sighed behind them and sat down in the corner, shaking his head. Kaylee tensed then, preparing to stand and stretch her sore muscles when a horror stricken look crossed River's face. "They're following." She murmured in an almost inaudible tone, and then she turned to Zoe, "Prepare for evasive maneuvers. We've got a tail, at least two ships, possibly three." She stood then, striding to the door, her orders continuing. "Don't let Wash jump the gun, tell him slow and steady, lure them out, get them away from back-up, it might be the only shot we've got."

"But you said..." Bester said, looking panicked; pointing to the weapon Kaylee was adjusting quickly.

"Shut up." River barked, snapping her head in his direction and then turning back to Zoe who looked calm and was beginning toward the bridge with an odd expression. "Tell him to radio us once we're just outside Callisto." River watched as Zoe retreated to the bridge and then turned to Kaylee. "Okay. I think we should try to disable them first and then...."

Kaylee nodded already preparing. "You really think we can...."

"We can." River interrupted. A few minutes later Wash's voice sounded in the engine room, tinny over the comm system. "Ummm... I don't know how you're getting your information, but I'm not seeing any ships."

River rolled her eyes, "They're in our wake. They're there."

Kaylee and Bester looked at River now, as if they wanted to believe her, but they weren't quite sure of her, and weren’t that willing to give up their newly acquired hope. "River... meet me in the galley." Mal's voice echoed through the engine room's tight spaces. "Now."

River looked around panicked for a moment and then stood, walking quickly into the Galley. "Now, girl you will give me some rational explanation as to why you're unjustly panicking my crew, and you'll give it to me now."

"It's not unjust Mal, they're there."

"How. do. you. know?" He asked, articulating each word, anger flashing on his face.

"Because I know things Mal!" She shot back. "They mean to follow us and kill us on the ground, take out anyone else whom we lead them to."

"And how do you know this?!" Mal asked again, louder now.

"Because I see things!" She blurted. "I see and I know things." She saw the doubt on his face and continued. "Like I know that the scar on your side is from a sword fight defending the companion's honor, and that you had wanted to keep her then, the way you want to keep me now. I know that every night you dream of Serenity Valley. That you walk among the dead, but not just your fallen comrades, but your mother and your friends, all those you felt you've let down. I know that the last night we spent together you found me there in the Valley, and I wasn't dead but I was dying, and you leaned in, and you placed your hand over my mouth and nose and you smothered me." She watched horror fill his face.

"You can't know that!"

"I can, and I do. I've read you, all of you, including the Reavers whose only existence is a blinding anger and rage that is searing into the back of my brain as we speak!" She reached for him them, and he flinched, pulling his hand back slightly. River buried down the pain that one gesture caused her and held her hands stiffly to her sides.

"I'm..." Mal began, half heartedly reaching out to her.

"We're well clear of the Reaver field and coming up fast on Callisto." Wash's voice sounded throughout the ship.

"Tell him to bank a hard right and you'll see them." River said firmly.

"River..." Mal began weakly.

"Tell him." She demanded.

Mal sighed and pushed the comm button. "Wash bank hard right, we can't be sure those bungers aren't behind us till we see proof either way."

They both held on tightly as Serenity shifted and banked sharply, and then River turned leaving for the engine room. She heard a slew of Chinese from the bridge behind her, and a moment later the rest of the crew was informed of what she already knew: they had walked through hell only to be followed out by the devil.

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Wash had done just as she'd asked him and now moments before atmo they were ready. "Okay, EMP first." River said, and Kaylee nodded to Bester. River flicked a switch, felt their makeshift weapon hum and vibrate and then nodded to Kaylee.

"Here goes nothing." She said, and pushed a button. They felt the whole ship buck and rock and after a few seconds of silence heard a cry of cheer from the front.

"They're hit." Wash's voice came, "Breaking into the ion cloud in 3...2..."

River and Kaylee moved in unison, switching over wires, crossing them, attaching them to others that were already stripped and ready to go. River nodded her ready to Kaylee who pushed the same button again. There was stillness for a handful of heartbeats and then a cracking sound that cut Serenity's power.

"Go se!" Kaylee shouted, and she and Bester began frantically trying to repair whatever had gone wrong. River turned without a second thought and ran, sprinting to the bridge and watched as a beautiful light jumped through the thin layer of ion cloud around them, reaching out and touching the still Reaver ships beyond. She stopped suddenly her breath caught in her throat and watched, as one by one each ship seemed to collapse and then explode burning up the oxygen in their holds before blinking quickly out.

A Moment of Imaginary Grace

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