Part 1: Spin Me 'Round, Carry Me Down
Chapter 1: ~ FALLING ~
"You do know how to fly this thing, right?" Kaylee asked nervously, her eyes fixed on the cockpit portal and the atmo rushing by at much too high velocities for her liking.
"Not flying, falling. Mass plus velocity. What goes up must come down. Timing is everything. I have hopes." River replied, her hands on the steering controls, them and the whole shuttle shaking and jittering like it was about to come apart at the fastenings any second.
"Yeah, hopes... Those are good. Good to have hopes..." Kaylee's gaze went from River's hands, almost blurry now from the vibrations, to the window as they broke cloud-side and the ground came clear and ominous in view.
"If we die, I should think you'll be very cross with me." River spoke, and Kaylee was now even more terrified to see a mad kind of smile light River's lips and eyes with a certain kind of peace that she really wished she could feel at that moment.
"River!" Kaylee screamed in abject panic as Serenity barreled at them up from the ground at escape velocity plus.
A jerk of the wheel and a turn and they felt the rumbling shutter of Serenity's velocity wake slam into them, the other much larger ship having passed within maybe as little as a meter's distance of them. The shuttle rumbled and rolled, set to spinning and twirling uncontrolled. Kaylee got to the floor and held onto the back of River's pilot chair for dear life itself as she felt gravity pull them around like an angry tide. Weightless one second, lurching in any which direction the next. The unmistakable sound of another ship—if anything, larger even than Serenity—crossing their wake shook the air and them in it with renewed force. Up was down, down was up and nothing in between made itself sensible. She screamed and held on. A scraping sound and something hard and heavy slammed into her backside.
The world went hazy and her vision seemed to blur. Her eyes watering, her whole body hurting, she felt herself kind of whimpering and wishing for anything she'd never seen the inside of a space ship and that she was back home nice and safe on the ground. People weren't meant to live in space, the thoughts came. You'd think the coldness deep enough to kill would have given us the hint.
Hard to focus, time seemed to stretch unnaturally long and bendy in ways it shouldn't, and still she held on. Images of running through her beautiful ship, laughing and having fun. Real fun with a really friend her own age like she hadn't had is a long time. River'd stolen her apple, and she'd chase her to the ends of the 'verse to get it back. It's just the way things had to be. She caught River and men tried to kill them for the apple. An apple is a rare and delicious treasure. People have killed for less. She was scared and she hid. Mustn't look, mustn't look River'd said, taking Kaylee's gun from her and going to her feet to face them. Three shots rang out and River smiled at her. No power in the 'verse...
A hard shudder, a growling sound. The shuttle shook, but different. What did that mean? Things seemed to blur and slow. Have to hold on... She told herself stubbornly. But things were muddy and she couldn't focus. A hard jerk and all the world seemed to slip out from under her without her leave.
It was dark and vaguely warm and comforting where she was. No worries. It was familiar... But something was happening. Someone wanted her to do something. A hand on her shoulder, shaking her. Don't want to wake up now. Can't I sleep longer, captain? Engine won't give you a bit a trouble. Serenity's shiny. I fixed her good and... Hand on her cheek, warm and soft. The captain's a lady? How'd that happen? Her foggy mind wondered.
"It's all right. We're safe now." The woman from her dreams—that was her speaking. No power in the 'verse can stop her, her mind supplied as she felt a soft touch along her back. More words spoken, though no one seemed to know what. She was being lifted up. Soft skin, strong arms holding her to a body with a heartbeat to match her own. Where were they going? She tried to move or open her eyes, but the light was too bright and it seemed to scare the world from her again and chase her back into the warmth of the black.
Kaylee woke to a sea of all things soft and warm. A familiar perfume, like wildflowers on a clear spring day, settled into her mind. "'Nara?" She questioned, blinking her eyes open. "What in the...?" Her mind came back to her as her eyes cleared and she remembered that, yes, she did already know what in the 'verse she was doing waking up on Inara Serra's shuttle. She made to sit up, but the shooting pain through her torso immediately told her what a very bad plan of action that had been. "All ideas bright and shiny, that ain't one of them, is it?" She breathlessly questioned herself as she lay back on Inara's bed and stared up at the ceiling... Well, she was in pain, so odds were she weren't dead and gone to heaven. That was a cheerful thought. "River?" She called, looking around what of the shuttle that she could see from her resting spot. "River?" She asked. "You around anywheres?" She called a little louder, her voice a bit uncertain.
She sighed and looked up at the fabric-draped ceiling that, along with the rest of the shuttle it seemed, had seen more orderly days. "We crashed." She spoke to herself. "Zì xuan wo, jiao wo yige muyang ren... What a day." She breathed and remembered. Opal was a colony world about as far out on the rim as you'd like to go. It'd had two previous sets of tenants—settlers who'd tried and failed at being colony folk and met their ends for it. Opal's current tenants though, they were (unusually enough for settlers) some very well-off people, the kind with their own ideas about how a society should be kept. Bunch of passive aggressive naysayers, as the captain'd called them. Land of the irritating people, she'd thought (with some amusement) was a more like title for it than it had. Everyone giving you grief when you didn't act proper is what. But they'd been contracted to do a job. Sheep had been needed and sheep they'd brought. Sheep were a good deal more botherless than cows, and they'd all been much happy about that.
Irritating people aside though, it was one of the nicer colony worlds you'd ever like to find out here. Not near as shiny a proper Alliance world, mind, but well-kept and growing, and with a right fair shopping district. The logistics of it'd been that Serenity's other shuttle had been contracted out to a local land barren for his own use while they'd been there. The rest were busy with the sheep and all, and Inara had taken a client in the governor of the colony. A rich former industrialist with his head in the clouds, as she'd been told. Knowing Serenity was in need of some parts and such, and seeing an opportunity to sneak in a little window shopping for frivolous things in the process, Kaylee'd asked Inara (whom she'd known would not be using her shuttle for her activities with the governor) if she could ride over with her and then use the shuttle to go into town and pick up supplies, then swing back for her at the end of the day. River had asked to go along with her, which had been a surprise. Though she'd still been kind of nervous and unsure around the woman since what'd happened on Adelei Niska's space station a while back, Kaylee hadn't seen the harm in it, and so had agreed. Nerves or not, River had saved her life an all, and... despite her doubts as to the wisdom of it, she'd found that a large part of her did still want to be River's friend... Even if she was no longer quite so sure of the best way to go about doing that...
The two of them'd been in the market more than three hours before they'd come back to the shuttle, just a little behind schedule and smiling, having actually had a great time together. River'd been normal as she'd ever been and things had seemed like, for once, a job would go smooth for them. The commotion they'd heard from the streets behind them as they loaded up their purchases, however, had put a stop to all that real fast though. She remembered, she'd turned to River, who's face had turned a mask of foreboding. "The hollow ones have come for us." River'd said. Kaylee had rushed to the hatch to look out at the sky and seen it: a Reaver ship breaking through cloud-side. Some inventive Chinese cures later, and she was turning and running back in, the sound of the shuttle's engine starting up greeting her as she'd entered. River'd been at the controls and prepping for takeoff. Kaylee'd seen the necessity of closing the hatch and securing the rest of the cargo right quick. Somehow, the fact that River might not know what she was doing in a pilot's chair had never seriously crossed her mind back then... And she'd hated to leave without trying to take on a few from the colony, but there weren't any near and, if they'd stayed, they'd have died too. Sure as sure you could get.
"This is a sanctuary. Don't worry." The words broke the silence of memory and brought Kaylee back to the present. She turned her head and saw River standing in the doorway and looking somewhere in the room, she couldn't tell where. All the sudden though, her crewmate's eyes found hers and River walked over to her and knelt by her side. "How's your back?" River asked, her face full of concern and kindness and her eyes, uncertain and a little haunted all the sudden, seeming to be searching for any visible problems.
"Hurts." Kaylee admitted with simple honesty. "I tried to sit up, but didn't like how it felt one bit. What happened?"
"We went down." River spoke, looking interestedly at Kaylee's arm and tracing one of her veins with a finger, as though trying to work out a puzzle. Kaylee shivered a little at the touch, but not so much that she really minded. "Simon's not here." She again met Kaylee's eyes.
"Figured that." Kaylee said of River's brother, Serenity's resident physician. "How bad do you think it is?"
"I know how to play doctor. It shouldn't present a problem." River replied seriously, lifting up Kaylee's shirt a ways to reveal bandages holding her ribs in place. "Two cracked ribs: fourth and eighth. One broken: second. You need to eat." This last said urgently, River getting up and going to scrounge around through their supplies.
"River..." Kaylee spoke, looking after her apparent physician.
"Calcium would be best, potassium and protean. Vegetable and potato soup is needed as well." She turned to Kaylee. "I made it bright." She smiled, grabbing a few things and scurrying out the door to go back outside.
"River, wait..." Kaylee called out, wincing as she shifted a bit in the effort.
"Yes?" The woman's questioning face showed around the corner of the door.
"I... O, meiguanxi." Kaylee replied. "Thank you."
River smiled. "Bie danxin. I won't leave you." She assured, and then she was gone again.
Kaylee sighed and laid back, glancing down at the bandages on her ribs again before laying her head completely back and looking at the ceiling again. "I am in so much trouble." She told the ceiling.
Some minutes later, Kaylee had almost nodded off to sleep again, but River reappeared with a fresh-cooked meal she'd apparently prepared outside on a fire she'd started. Kaylee was just a little mistrustful of River's culinary skills, she had to admit, but it smelled so good, and she was very hungry—starving hungry actually, now that the smell of food was here to remind her of it. She took her first spoonful with an expectant looking River watching on, apparently intent on judging her reaction to the food with complete precision. And oh did the soup taste good. The smile and look of delight on her face must have met with River's approval for she declared herself a success and the dazzlingly warm return smile on her face showed just how much it meant that to her that she had been.
"It feels nice to be useful." River spoke in a soft happy voice as they continued to eat.
"Yeah... I guess it does, doesn't it?" Kaylee mused, laying back a bit and looking over at River.
"Mm-hmm." River nodded. "...We're not astronauts anymore." She spoke, changing the subject apparently.
Kaylee paused. "What's an astronaut?" She asked.
River just pointed up and looked up at the ceiling, and Kaylee caught the meaning. Kaylee nodded. It was probably just one of those words you learned at school that regular people didn't know, or an old one that'd fallen out of use through the years. River just knew more words than she did. She'd accepted that.
"Do you think they're alright up there?" Kaylee asked. "I mean, they'll come back for us soon, ni bu juede ma?"
River met Kaylee's eyes. "Bushi women shuo..." She answered. "The clouds don't seem to think they'll be disturbed again for a while yet, though." She seemed to ponder her own words. "I think we'll all be all right in the end though." She smiled. "Sometimes, you just gotta have faith... shi?"
It was like something she'd have said herself, Kaylee pondered, and River'd just seemed so serene saying it that Kaylee couldn't help but feel a bit lighter for it. "You might be right about that." She replied.
"Of course I'm right." River answered. "I'm very clever, ni dong? Wise even." She said with a little of a teasing smile. "...You don't have to worry, Kaylee Frye. I'll keep us safe. I promise." She told her with a kind of quiet, sure sincerity.
Kaylee met her eyes. "You know? Somehow, I think I just might believe you will."
Should Kaylee believe? Next time: ~ STRINGS ~
"Zì xuan wo, jiao wo yige muyang ren" = "Spin me 'round and call me a sheep herder"
"O, meiguanxi." = "Oh, never mind."
"Bie danxin." = "Don't worry."
"ni bu juede ma" = "don't you think?"
"shi?" = "right?"
"Bushi women shuo..." = "It's not for us to say..."
"ni dong?" = "you know?"
(please note: I'm getting my Pinyin Chinese from Google Translate, so I can't guarantee accuracy)