Methos watched grimly as the Alliance troops marched across the space docks, ignoring the quiet panic that shivered through the milling crowd. “It’s official. The ‘verse has gone to hell,” he thought, taking a step back as the squad neared.
Ignoring the dirty looks as he elbowed his way through the crowd, Methos headed towards the hull he could see in the distance. There had been way too many Alliance soldiers on Persephone lately, way too many. Maybe the rumours were true after all…
Methos grimaced. It had been two months since the Miranda tape had aired and the dust still hadn’t settled. Personally, the only thing he found surprising about the whole incident was that people were actually…well…surprised…
But the Alliance weren’t his biggest problem at the moment; that singular honour went to Cameron Wright, a man who just didn’t know when to quit. He’d been nursing a grudge since their time on the Enright, and he intended to collect.
Methos sighed. It had been over two centuries since he’d dwelled on the hellish years on the generational ships; over a century of cramped quarters and irritable tempers. Not many immortals risked the voyage, fewer than forty, but Methos had thought it worth running the risk of being found out. The prospect of a brand new life with only two score immortals to worry about, rather the hundreds that roamed the Earth, was too good to let pass.
It’s a pity that one of those immortals happened to be Cam.
Squinting against the sun, Methos let his bags drop to the ground with a thump as he reached his destination, and tried to make out the name over the hanger door. “The Aces and Eights…hmm, looks a bit dubious but beggars can’t be choosers, and the ship looks sound”. Methos rolled his aching shoulders, and grimaced as he felt the sword harness dig into his back.
Damn it, why did Cameron have to pick this planet to resettle on? It was so damned inconvenient. And rumours of a rampaging fleet of reavers didn’t help either; passage off the planet was a lot harder to come by.
He eyed the gaping carrier doors. Unlike the other ships, they didn’t have a crier outside looking for trade, but that didn’t mean they weren’t taking passengers. And he needed to get of this goram planet quickly–
“That’s a bad idea.”
Startled, Methos spun on his feet, flinching as the spoke of a parasol nearly took his eye out. “Don’t you know it’s bad manners to sneak up on a person like that?” he said, irritably.
The parasol tilted up, revealing a merry smile in a young face. “Sneaking? Who was sneaking? I was just taking a stroll and enjoying the fresh air.”
Methos eyed the packed docks sweltering under the oppressive sun and gave her a dubious look. “If you say so,” he said, as he began to gather up his bags. “Now, if you will excuse me, I have a berth to book.”
“Oh, you don’t want to travel with them,”
“Oh, I don’t do I?” Methos drawled, eying the girl as he threw a satchel over his shoulder. “And why is that?”
“Trust me; you don’t want to put your life in that engine’s hands.”
“Optimistic little thing, aren’t you,” Methos said dryly.
“Yes, actually,” she said, complacently ignoring his sarcastic tone. “But I also happen to be a damned good mechanic and that engine class runs on a mark eight fusion valve. It’s showy. I grant you, but unreliable as heck; one moment, you’re chugging along, not a care in the world; the next, bam, you’re dead in space with six hours of air left and not a planet in sight.”
“I see, and I suppose you have a better option,” Methos drawled, recognising a pitch when he heard one.
“As a matter of fact I do,” she said cheerfully. “Isn’t she a beaut?”
Puzzled, Methos followed the direction of her pointed finger. What was she talking about? All he could see was a clapped out old-
He choked out a laughed. “That,” he spluttered. “You’re suggesting I should put my life in the hands of that wreck of a Firefly? You must be kidding me.”
“Hey! I’ll have you know that Serenity has the smoothest engine between here and the core”
Methos eyebrows rose. “My apologies,” he said, giving her what he hoped was a conciliatory smile. “I didn’t mean to offend your ship’.”
The girl’s head tilted as she eyed him. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
“What gave it away?” he said dryly.
“Everything,” she said, grinning cheekily. “Apology accepted. I know the old gal doesn’t look like much from the outside. But Serenity’s engine is as perfect as can be. Purrs like a kitten and as solid as a rock.”
“Well, you’re the mechanic,” Methos said, diplomatically.
Methos eyed the diminutive girl. “Alex,” he supplied, reluctantly.
“How’ya doing Alex,” she said, impishly. “What’s your destination? Our flight plans are very extensive. Santo, Athens, Whitefall, Newhall, Beylix…what’s your pleasure?”
“Well, that explains why she’s so desperate to get passengers while every other ship is full to the brim,” he thought, bemusedly. With rumours of a reaver armada attacking the core fleet, nobody in their right mind wanted to go further out into the border planets. The favourite destinations were the core planets. The more core, the better.
Well, everyone except Kaylee and her shipmates, apparently.
He sighed. “Sorry, Kaylee, I don’t think- “A hollow slam caught his attention, and his heart dropped as he turned to see that the Aces and Eights hanger doors were now shut. A low, hollow hum filled the air, and Kaylee tugged on his sleeve. “Better step back,” she said. “That engine makes one hell of a messy take off.”
Sand swirled through the air, and Methos hastily narrowed his eyes and grabbed the rest of his luggage. “Damn it, damn it,” he muttered disgustedly under his breath.
“Hey, don’t worry,” Kaylee yelled over the howl of the engine. “There’s still plenty of room on Serenity.”
“Yeah, I’ll just bet there is,” Methos grumbled under his breath as he ran through his options. He still hadn’t checked out all the ships at the east side of the docks. Maybe he’d get lucky.
A familiar shiver ran up his spine and Methos groaned under his breath.“Something wrong?”
Methos looked down into Kaylee’s expectant face. Somebody out there really hated him. Plastering on a smile, he tilted his head towards the Firefly, which looked even worse under closer examination. “You might as well lead the way,” he murmured, trying to keep his face smooth as the other immortal’s presence got closer and closer.
“Really?” she squeaked, before recovering. “Great! Right this way.” Kaylee beamed as she snatched one of his bags from his hands and skipped through the crowds. Methos wondered briefly what medication she was on; nobody was naturally that cheerful.
Scowling, he tried to keep up with her, but whatever magic she performed to ease her way through the crowd didn’t seem to work for him. He determinedly pushed his way towards the Firefly, breathing a sigh of relief as he eventually made it to its cargo bay doors.
“What took you so long,” Kaylee asked, as he joined her on the ramp.
Methos threw her a dirty look and immediately regretted it when he saw the hurt on her face. “Sorry, he muttered. “It’s been a long day.”
“Who, the heck, is he?”
A long shadow suddenly appeared on the ramp, and Methos looked up to see a hulking brute chewing on a cigar and fondling a well-oiled shotgun. He would have looked intimidating, if it weren’t for the fact that he was also wearing a very fetching woolly hat.
“Alex, this is Jayne,” Kaylee said. “Jayne, this is Alex, our passenger.”
“A passenger? “ The brute snorted. “Oh, great, Mal is going to love this.”
“Yes, he is, isn’t he?” Kaylee said, seemingly unaware of derision in her shipmate’s voice. Methos wondered if it was real or intentional.
With a grunt, the woolly-hatted brute disappeared up the ramp and Kaylee grabbed Methos by the arm. “Come on, I’ll show you to your room,” she said as she dragged him into the loading bay.
Methos paused at the entrance, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the dim light. The bay was no different from any other Firefly, although the tire hanging from the ceiling was not exactly regulation issue…and neither was the teenager hanging from it by her ankles.
“That’s River,” Kaylee said.
“Hi,” the girl said, waving. Methos was struck by a brief sense of vertigo as the girl suddenly let go and landed on her feet.
“Nice dismount,” Methos muttered, not sure of what else to say.
The girl shrugged gracefully as she approached them. “Gravity is an illusion that all must follow, even me,” she said, gravely, as she came to halt in front of them. “Although time is another matter…you’re giving me a headache.”
“Excuse me?” Methos said, taken aback.
“You’re giving me a headache,” she repeated slowly.
Large, old eyes suddenly held his, and Methos was suddenly struck by a sense of unease that outstripped even the shuddering presence of another immortal. “What are you doing?”
“Making sure,” she said, her voice eerily calm. The pressure eased and Methos took a step back, resisting the urge to clutch at his head. “He’ll do,” River said, glancing at Kaylee.
“Okaaay then,” Kaylee said, her cheerfulness suddenly sounding forced. Methos heard a snigger and looked up. A smirk covered Jayne’s face as leaned against the rails of the walkway above.
“What just happened there?” Methos said lowly, his eyes dropping to River as she slowly danced across the cargo bay.
“She means well,” Kaylee said softly.
“That isn’t an answer–"
Running footsteps hit the ramp, and Methos swiftly took a side step as a tall angular man charged through the open doorway.
“Jayne, We’re leaving,” he roared out. “Is everyone on board?”
“Everyone except Zoe,” Jayne confirmed from above. Methos heard the sound of a safety catch and groaned. What the hell had he walked into?
“She’s right behind me,” the new arrival said briskly as he took a pistol out of his holster and automatically checked the chamber.
“Hey Captain, what the rush?” Kaylee chirped up. Methos’s heart sank even further. This was the Captain?
“No time, just get to the engine–” The Captain stopped in his tracks, his eyes suddenly falling on Methos. “Who is this?”
“Who? Him? This is Alex–“
“Our passenger!” Jayne interrupted gleefully as he descended the steps, two at the time.
“He gave me a headache,” River piped up, smiling.
“Our Passenger?” Kaylee said, uncertainly, her grin faltering under his incredulous gaze.
“Da xiang bao zha shi de la du zi. Have you gone mad? What were you thinking? Get him off my goram ship, now!”
The ramp rattled once more, and a tall, lithe woman darted into the cargo bay “Captain, we’ve got company,” she said coolly, her serious eyes halting on Methos. He resisted the urge to straighten up as she arched an eyebrow. “”We’ve got company outside,” she amended.
The Captain snarled with frustration. “Chui niu! Kaylee,” he barked. “Get the engine going — now! ”
“Right away, Captain,” Methos watched silently as Kaylee abandoned his side and sprinted towards the stairs.
“Get us in the air,” she said, finishing his sentence as she bounced gracefully to her feet.
“Wait a minute,” Methos said, realisation dawning, “She’s our pilot?”
The Captain’s gaze fell on him. “Correction, she’s my pilot,” he said, flatly. “You, my friend, will have to get your own. Jayne, show this gentlemen out.”
“Now wait a minute,” Methos said. “Like it or not, I’m your passenger, and there’s no way–” A heavy hand fell on his shoulder and Methos glared at Jaynes’s grinning face. “Nice hat,” he bit out.
Jayne’s grin grew wider, “Thanks, my mum made it for me.” His grip tightened like a vice and Methos suppressed a wince.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he protested. “I made an agreement with your mechanic.”
“Oh yes you are,” he drawled.
“Oh no he isn’t,” a quiet voice interrupted. “They’re here.”
Methos silently watched the woman he presumed was Zoe exchange a significant look with the Captain. Briefly, he wondered if they were lovers, and was surprised at the sudden pang of disappointment he felt.
The Captain nodded. “Oh no he isn’t,” he echoed grimly as Zoe positioned herself by the door and raised her rifle.
“Hit the deck,” she said.
Recognising a serious suggestion when he heard it, Methos threw himself to the ground, cursing as a shower of bullets whizzed over his head and bounced off the walls.
“Jayne, close those goram doors. We’ll cover you!” The Captain hollered, rolling onto his feet as he produced a pistol. “Zoe, take the left.”
“Sir,” she murmured, firing out through the hanger doors.
“Who’s firing at us?” Methos yelled over the din.
“The Alliance,” Jayne said, scornfully, as he slammed his hand on the hanger door’s button. “Who else?”
Who else? Were these people crazy? Methos eyed the narrowing gap and wondered if he could make a run for it. Another hail of bullets bounced off the doors and cargo bay and he reluctantly decided against it. Multiple gun shot wounds was not a nice way to die.
The bay doors weren’t fully closed when he felt the engines spring to life and Methos swallowed nervously as he looked for something to hold onto. Unfortunately, he was several feet from the bulkhead and bullets still zipped through the gap in the doors.
This was going to be messy.
Suddenly, the floor angled upwards, and Methos felt himself slide across the floor as the Firefly lifted. Desperately, he snatched at a pole as he slid by and grunted as he caught hold, wincing as one of his suitcases hit him on the shoulders.
“Hold on,” the Captain hollered, belatedly. “This is going to be bumpy.”
With a clunk, the doors shut, and the Firefly tilted further. Methos closed his eyes as he felt the engine accelerate. “Breaking orbit at full speed while clinging to a pole…lovely,”
The pressure became intense, and Methos fervently hoped that engine was as good as Kaylee had said. Engines have been known to fail when trying to perform this kind of manoeuvre and the freefalling back to earth in this hunk of junk wasn’t on his list of fun to things to do. Maybe he should have taken his chances with the Alliance guns.
A hollow boom shuddered through the hull, and Methos’s eyes flashed open. If he didn’t know any better, he would have thought that someone was firing at them.
“They’re firing on us.”
Methos followed the direction of the voice and spotted Zoe, hanging onto a handle attached to the hull.
“I know,” the Captain said, from a few feet to her left.” Don’t worry, she can handle it.”
“I don’t know, Captain, she’s good, but she’s not…” her words trailed off, pain flashing across her face.
The expression on the Captain’s face spoke volumes, and Methos found himself wondering what their story was. “Oh no you don’t, old man, ” he mentally slapped himself. “You have enough problems of your own. Don’t get involved.”
Another boom echoed through the hull, and Methos felt the Firefly’s trajectory alter. This was it; he’s going to die. Not even an immortal can survive being blown into little tiny pieces.
The pressure eased abruptly, and Methos felt himself float for a moment before the AG kicked in. “Well, what do you know, I’m still alive,” he said, aloud.
“I wouldn’t feel too relieved yet,” Jayne said, grimly. “We still have an Alliance ship on our tails.”
“You’ve got weaponry?”
Jayne threw him a withering look. “What do you think?”
“That’s a no then,” Methos sighed. “Figures.”
“Just be thankful you’re alive,” the Captain said as he made a beeline for the steps.
“For now,” Methos muttered.
“Quit complainin’,” Jayne snarled. “And make yourself useful. Got any skills?”
“You mean the kind of skills that will somehow help us evade an Alliance ship armed to the teeth?” A frown developed on Jayne’s face, and Methos couldn’t help but wonder if he was mentally repeating the sentence in his head. A glance at Zoe’s amused face confirmed his suspicions.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Jayne eventually said. “Well, do you?”
“Well, you better have plenty of money, that’s all I’ll say. Welcome to Serenity.”
“Thanks for the warm reception,” Methos drawled. Another hollow boom skittered off the hull.
Zoe sighed “I better get to the bridge, show…”
“Alex,” Methos supplied.
“Show Alex to his quarters, the room beside River’s should do.”
”Hey! How come you get to go to bridge, and I get to be babysitter?”
“Because I’m the first mate, and you aren’t,” Zoe threw over her shoulder as she swiftly climbed the steps.
Muttering under his breath, Jayne poked Methos in the shoulder. “Get your bags and follow me,” he said, not bothering to look back as he strode to the steps.
Methos looked at his luggage, which had scattered all over the cargo bay. “Welcome to Serenity,” he muttered under his breath. “Hah!”
Translation: Da xiang bao zha shi de la du zi - The explosive diarrhoea of an elephant