Doesn't make sense anymore; any of it. The Dominion sweeps through system after system, the soldiers and their ships wiping out every Maquis cell in their path. Mal gets next to no warning before they show up on his virtual front door. They know the name of the race, but that's it. Not enough to give them much of a chance at all as they run from their current base and into the nearest ship.
They say nothing as they seal themselves inside and Wash runs for the conn. They all have their station and their duties but they follow along behind Wash. They see other ships head up into the sky, racing for space, hoping to get out ahead of the Dominion.
Zoe's face goes still, not a single thing betrayed in her features, but Kaylee's show everything as ship after ship explodes in a bright burst against the dark grey of the sky.
"Hang back," Mal says, standing behind Wash as they lift off, hugging the surface of the planet, hoping the natural interference of the place throws off the scanners. "Can't run yet."
"Can't stay here long either," Wash mutters, voicing Kaylee's earlier worries. "The interference from the planet will burn the engines out and don't suppose you've noticed but there's not a whole lot of dilithium to be found in these parts."
Mal doesn't answer, just watches the screens and the readouts, seeing the future laid out before him in crystal clear resolution.
It's over. The Maquis aren't dying, they're dead, and when the Dominion's done, the only ones left will be the few lucky bastards sitting in Federation detention.
Jayne swears, sounding more defeated than angry as he says, "Ain't nothing we can do against ships like that."
"Not much Starfleet can do, either," Book murmurs. "Not with the way things stand."
Mal can feel the man's eyes on him. Wasn't so long ago they'd stood outside this ship, staring up at the sky, quietly discussing the part where Book used to work for the Federation President. He doesn't know why the man left, just knows it was on good terms and that Book's got friends back in Paris. Friends that could see their way clear to official pardons should they find themselves in need of some.
Truth of it is, he'd never expected to get that far, but he'd never expected to die like this either. Taking out as many of the Cardies as possible, sure, but hiding in a messed up atmosphere, hoping to show up as a sensor glitch?
He grits his teeth. "No," he says, "Doesn't seem much like it, does it?"
His captain had tried to talk him out of leaving. Amanda had sat him down with a glass of the ship's finest engine room hooch and looked him straight in the eye when she said, "There's going to be a war with the Cardassians, Mal, but now. We go to war now, we lose and all those colonists go with us."
She was right, he'd known it then and he knows it now, Starfleet hasn't entirely recovered from Wolf 359 yet. Not enough experienced captains, not enough battle-tested crews, but that hadn't meant much to him then. Not with Shadow sitting inside the DMZ with the Cardassians sniffing around the door.
The planet's not that far from here, but he's never going to see it again and the people on it may never see another sunrise.
The sense of Inara's presence touches his thoughts, but the usual familiar calm doesn't come with it. Her face is as impassive as his, but he can feel the fear underneath it and he reaches out to ease his fingers around hers.
They haven't seen us yet. Her voice is measured and quiet, even in the privacy of their own thoughts, but Mal still feels that shiver of unease run down his spine. He's never going to get used to her in his head like this. Never. They're looking for the base.
Which is empty and broadcasting a few dozen of Kaylee's ghost signals. Life-signs a plenty, with just enough jamming to feign a decent shield, all ready and willing to be blown away from orbit.
It's not much of a decoy, but it's not meant to be. They designed it to be just enough to give them time to run from Starfleet and Cardassian ships. If they can make it to the Badlands, then they stand a chance.
Not that he has any idea where they can go.
He looks over at Book. The man looks back with the kind of calm that says he's seen worse than this. "Think your friends will mind putting us up?"
"No, Captain, I don't think they will. Seems they might be in the way of needing some experts in our particular line of work."
Jayne shoulders his way into the conversation quite literally, putting himself between Book and Mal. "You mean to tell me you're actually thinking of going back into the 'Fleet?"
Mal looks at him. "You think of somewhere better to go? The Cardies have themselves some mighty scary friends. We could use a few of our own, even the fluffy, friendly Federation versions." One thing he has to give Starfleet. Takes a lot to get them fighting, sometimes, but when they do, they don't stop til the job's done. "We signed on to fight the Cardassians and I don't plan on letting a little something like the Dominion stop me."
"The enemy of my enemy," Simon puts in. "Appropriate here, I think."
Mal nods. They'll need to work something out about River, of course. He's not going to hand her over to Section 31 without a fight, but he's getting ahead of himself. He looks back at the sensor readings and tightens his grip on Inara's hand.
"We'll worry about it later," he says, ending the debate. "Wash, you find us a way out of here, you take it."
"What? And ruin the lovely afternoon of hiding and quavering that we've been having?" Wash doesn't look up as he speaks, hands playing over the ancient console like a concert pianist.
"We make it through this alive and I'm going to shoot your husband."
Zoe shakes her head. "Space him, sir. Waste of perfectly good phaser fire to shoot him."
"Fair point, okay, remind me to space him should we avoid untimely death in the next few minutes."
"Just so you know," Wash says, frowning at his console, "that is not encouraging me to work my usual godly magic to save your sorry hides."
"Fair point," Mal says, nodding. "Okay, we'll space Jayne instead."
"Me? What the hell for?"
"Need to space somebody and I can't space the others," Mal moves closer to the console, peering down at the sensor readings. The ships are still up there, but the readings are fuzzier, less distinct as the interference from the planet takes its toll. "Them, I need, you I can replace with a well-paid Klingon."
Jayne sputters, but no one laughs. They're watching the screens and thinking the same thing as Mal.
If they don't move soon the interference will start to seriously damage the ship's systems. Critical damage that will force an emergency landing. The security and the planet's natural signals will hide them for awhile, but not long enough to get to safety.
They need to move soon or they're not going to leave at all.
"I know, I know, but genius can't be rushed." Wash looks back. "Though I would advise you to strap yourselves in. What I'm going to do Kaylee's inertial dampeners can't entirely cancel out. It'll get kinda bumpy."
"Soupy-pulpy bits where your internal organs used to be kinda bumpy." Wash spins around again and the ship starts to hurtle toward the atmosphere. It's not much warning and everyone stumbles about until they can find their way to seats and stay in them long enough to be strapped in.
"Warned you," is all Wash will say, focused intently as he is on his station and the readouts flying across the screen. The ship is tiny compared to the Dominion vessels, no match at all, and Wash's flight pattern gets even more erratic when those vessels open fire.
Kaylee yelps and, across from Mal, Book's eyes close.
Hopefully someone out there is listening and likes Kaylee and the others well enough to overlook the part where the ship's carrying Mal too.
"Zoe, we get close enough to Federation space that you can scan, find me a ship and start yelling for help," Mal says. "See if any of them feel like arresting a bunch of dashing vagabonds such as ourselves."
And, since he's shooting for the impossible today, "Double pay if that ship turns out to be someone we used to know."
She smirks, but unbuckles and throws herself in the chair next to her husband.
"Double pay?" Book says, eyes still closed. "That's mighty generous of you."
"Probably going to die anyway," Mal says, closing his as well. "Won't have to pay it if I'm dead. Besides, what are the chances she'll find someone who qualifies?"
To his disgust, it's no time at all before Zoe's grinning at him and opening a channel.
Tucked safely beneath the belly of a Federation starship (the very one on which he once served), Mal looks at his second in command and frowns. "I didn't know better, Zoe, I'd think you were part Ferengi."
"Don't have the ears for it, Sir," she says, but pockets the double pay just the same.