Daniella says: First published in Bird Scramble and, partially, on Gatchamania.
As usual, the day began with the customary briefing in Anderson's office. But he wasn't alone, G-Force noted as they trooped in, a heavy Monday-morning feeling hanging over them. A dark-haired man was standing next to the Chief, poring over a set of maps on the desk's flat screen.
As the team settled in their seats, Anderson ignored their inquisitive glances and finished up calculating something on the map.
"Team, there's someone here I want you to meet. He and his crew has been travelling around the galaxy, and sometimes come up with interesting tips about Spectra's activity in far-flung places, far away from the Federation, but still inhabited -- and, on occasion, targeted by Zoltar for their resources."
He gestured to the dark-haired man -- yummy, thought Princess suddenly -- who was looking around with an amused grin on his face.
"G-Force, meet Captain Malcolm Reynolds of Serenity. A smuggler, con-artist, and very old friend of mine."
Silence followed his words. The team had vaguely heard of teams of smugglers operating in the outer parts of the galaxy, but had not had the opportunity, or the need, to come across them. Nor could they fathom how one of them would be an old friend of the Chief's.
"Ermmm... pleased to meet you, Captain," said Mark, feeling that, he, at least, should show some good manners. "What can we do for you? Do you need some help?"
"And what's Serenity when it's at home?" added Jason.
The dark-haired captain opened his mouth, but Tiny beat him to it, a pained look on his face.
"Jason, you're impossible! Don't tell me you've never heard of Serenity! She's Firefly class! One the best transports ever made! I can't believe you, man," he added, shaking his head.
"Well I had never heard of it either," said Mark defensively.
"You", said Malcolm, pointing at Tiny, "are the pilot, right? At least someone on this team has some sense."
He quickly overrode Jason's spluttered protests.
"Right now it's not what you can do for me, it's what I can do for you. I have information. Quite valuable information, I should say. You see, not sticking around the Federation planets gives me and my crew all sorts of insight into places you lot have never been -- nor would you care to go."
"Well we've got a job fighting Zoltar, in case you haven't noticed what's been happening in this part of the world," started Jason.
Anderson stepped in.
"Team, this is no joke. Captain Reynolds is here, as a favour to me."
"And how much will he ask for this information?" said Jason belligerently.
Malcolm faced them calmly.
"Nothing. The Chief is my friend, and has saved my ass quite a few times in the past. I ask for nothing in return for the information I am going to give you."
Princess raised her hand. Malcolm looked at her more intensely -- and Mark started sharing Jason's misgivings.
"Is this about the electric showers we have been hearing about, at the outer reaches of the galaxy?"
"Bingo," smiled Malcolm. "Chief, your team is not as useless as they appear at first glance. Your girl seems to have enough brains to make up for these two," he pointed at Mark and Jason, who were by now on their feet. "Oh no offence, Commander. My first mate is also a girl. A woman. Something along these lines."
"Something along these lines?" mouthed Mark to Jason. "Is he for real?"
Keyop spoke up for the first time.
"Electric showers?" he prompted.
"Right, kiddo. Here's how it is...On a recent trip to the outer reaches of the galaxy, we kept hearing about a sudden surge in electric storms, an occurrence not unheard of, but not that common either. They would start and stop, like rainshowers, and affect all telecommunications. At first we thought it was the impact of some star going supernova -- but we couldn't find it, and, trust me, you don't need glasses to see them. The locals, on all the planets of the area, were getting spooked. We were getting annoyed, as our comms were getting hit. We couldn't risk sending out shuttles, in case we lost communication with them during an electric shower. So we did what all good smugglers do in situations like this..."
Malcolm paused for effect.
The team looked at him disbelievingly.
"You ran?" asked Mark. "And you left those people there, unprotected?"
"Not much you can do to protect against an electric shower, Commander," said Malcolm evenly. "Yes, we ran. To the nearest space station. And then my pilot starting looking at patterns."
He flicked a switch and the map on the desk was projected on the wall.
"Nature can do lots of things, but creating a repeating pattern of electric showers, targeting exactly the same planets at the same time intervals is probably not of them. Although, of course, you never know. So, anyway, we found out that there is a source for those showers, and it ain't a supernova."
He pointed a laser beam to a cluster of asteroids in one corner of the map.
"If you care to visit that area, and I don't recommend it, you will find it is a state-of-the-art space battle station, producing enough electronic interference to be felt as an electric shower in tens of planets in nearby systems. I'd say your friend Zoltar is there."
"And what's he doing? Is he going after some backwater outposts now?" asked Jason. "I doubt it."
Malcolm turned to face them.
"Nope. If you ask me, and the Chief did, so I told him, I'd say he's rehearsing. I guess the opening night of his little toy will be on Earth, or Riga, or somewhere nearby. And then, my friends, he will just shut you off. Poof, you'll be literally in the dark. So, do you want the coordinates of this sector, or do you want to stay on your high horse until Zoltar knocks you off it?"
Anderson took Malcolm's hand and shook it warmly.
"I can't thank you enough, Mal."
"I'll think of something, Jack, don't worry."
He turned to the team.
"So, would you care to come with me to meet my crew? They have more details that could be useful for you."
"And you've got a woman first mate," whispered Jason, but loud enough for Malcolm to hear.
"Yeah, but she's married and if you value that pretty face of yours, I wouldn't approach her with a bargepole."
"What, the husband's scary?"
"Oh the husband's not scary at all, Jason. It's her I'd be worried about."
Anderson had given permission for Serenity to dock topside and it took them a short shuttle ride to get to it. The team gasped as they saw the old, tired craft. It was probably the most run-down ship any of them had seen, more used, as they were, to the combat crafts used by the Federation.
“You came in this?” asked Jason, incredulous. “What kind of crap is this, eh, Tiny? Tiny?”
Tiny was looking, opened-mouth, at Serenity, paying no attention to Jason.
“A Firefly…” he said, in awe. “I never thought I’d see one. She’s beautiful, Captain.”
“Thank you,” said Malcolm, leading them up the ramp.
“Zoe, we’ve got guests,” he called as he entered the ship.
“It doesn’t look any better on the inside,” muttered Jason.
“We should meet your pilot,” said Mark, “get those coordinates.”
Just then, a vision appeared to Jason. The vision walked down the stairs as Jason nudged Mark urgently.
“Commander, I’m resigning. I want to serve on Captain Reynolds’ crew. He’s got women.”
Mark was also staring at the incongruously dressed woman walking towards them.
The vision walked straight to Princess, the only one with her eyes still in her head.
“They will realise one day how insulting they are to you, my dear,” she said, taking Princess’s hand and shaking it warmly. “I’m Inara. Welcome to Serenity.”
“I’m Princess, and these two idiots over there are my commander and his second.”
Inara nodded kindly.
“You are Jack Anderson’s crew, right? How is Jack?”
“You know the Chief?” asked Mark, snapping out of his reverie.
“Of course she knows the Chief,” said Malcolm dismissively, walking past them to the bridge. “The Chief wasn’t born a Chief, you know.”
A tall woman appeared on the bridge, an ominous-looking pistol hanging from her holster. Jason’s eyes almost watered – a real pistol! A relic from the civil war, he guessed. Which meant that these people here…
“You are Browncoats,” he said suddenly. “I’ve heard of you.”
“That we are,” said Malcolm evenly. “I hope this will not be a problem.”
“No, sir, not at all,” whispered Jason, still in awe. Browncoats. The people who lost the civil war in the outer reaches of the galaxy. Who had preferred to stay independent of any central authority even if it meant they were easier prey to the predators lurking out there. He had always wanted to meet them.
Malcolm led them past the bridge, into the ship’s dining room. A man was sitting at the table, cleaning a set of pistols.
“Jack’s crew?” he asked, looking up.
“Oh, man, I’m sorry for you,” said Jason with feeling, unable to stop himself.
The man called Jayne pulled a knife out his pocket and started running his thumb along the blade. Reflexively, Jason pulled a shuriken out of his pocket and put it in his mouth. Mark could only roll his eyes, but Malcolm seemed totally indifferent to their antics. They sat around the table, the tall woman with the holster still standing.
“This is my first mate, Zoe Washburn,” said Malcolm. “Zoe, this is G-Force. Believe it or not.”
“Pay no heed to him. He’s just naturally cranky. Very nice to meet you finally. Jack always talks about his team and how they are the best fighters in the galaxy. Well, you will have your work cut out here, if the electrical showers are what we think they are.”
A blond man appeared briefly at the doorway.
“That’s the husband,” Malcolm informed Jason. “His name’s Wash. Actually, it’s not. But that’s what we call him.”
The blond man gave a friendly wave, then his eyes locked on Tiny.
“You the pilot? Come with me, I’ll show you the nav charts.”
As Tiny followed Wash to the cockpit, three other people entered the kitchen.
“And here’s the rest of the crew,” said Malcolm. “We’ve got a doctor, a priest and a …”
“You’ve got a what?” asked Princess.
“We’ve got a doctor, a priest and” – he lowered his voice – “a rather disturbed little girl who should be left well alone.”
“What are you doing with a priest?” she asked again. “A doctor, yes, I can see the merit” – especially this doctor, she thought suddenly, blushing – “but a priest…”
“I’m Shepherd Book,” said a kind, older man. “They’re not doing anything with me. I’m here for the moral support.”
Silence followed this.
“He’s joking,” said Malcolm finally. “Trust me, this man can use a weapon if he needs to. We took him on as a passenger, but he decided to stay.”
Just then, Keyop noticed the young, skinny girl trying to hide.
“Hello,” he said softly.
The girl, apparently in her teens but so thin and fragile she looked like a child.
“Hi. I’m River.”
Keyop thrust his hand forward.
He got up from his chair and went to sit on the kitchen step, with River.
“Hey, better leave her alone…”started Malcolm, but the doctor stopped him.
“They seem to be getting along, Captain. It’s not often that River gets to see a boy her age. I’m Simon, by the way,” he said to the assembled team. “River is my sister. She can be a bit…withdrawn at times, but…”
“But other times she may just try to kill you without being withdrawn,” muttered Jayne, and Simon looked at him, annoyed.
“Give her a break, Jayne.”
“Sure, if she doesn’t come after me again.”
Malcolm suddenly sat up.
“Wait a moment. There’s someone missing. Where’s Kaylee?”
“You got more women?” asked Jason.
Mark kicked him under the table and Princess would’ve done the same, but couldn’t reach him.
Malcolm picked up the intercom.
“Kaylee, get your ass to the kitchen. Now!”
“Wow, are you always this polite to your crew?” asked Mark. “Maybe that’s how I should speak to my crew as well when they break my… OUCH!”
This time Princess’s kick connected.
A flustered girl in a flowery top and oily overalls appeared, panting, at the doorway.
“I’m sorry Captain – the central drive overheated again and…who are these?”
She looked around curiously. It seemed that the last half-hour had not really registered with Kaylee.
“This is G-Force,” said Malcolm. “Anderson’s crew. They’re here to get info on the electrical showers we have been encountering. They are the ones fighting against Spectra in this part of the ’verse”.
“Sweet,” said Kaylee, not clarifying what she meant exactly.
“I think you should speak to their gunner,” Malcolm pointed at Jason. “Jason, we would appreciate your help in some modifications to our engines, to increase the capacity of our laser output.”
Jason nodded, suddenly excited. He loved working with engines and weapons. And with pretty, bubbly girls in flowery shirts.
Kaylee smiled at him.
“I think, Jason, you and I will be very good friends.”
To be continued
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