After 6 months out on tour, they'd totally gotten the routine down: Navigate to the next spaceport, check the port's record for their target, check out the venue, unload and set up. Then the performance: At least 90 minutes of singing and dancing, including at least 4 plugs for Fruity Oaty Bars - the Blue Sun Corporation was nothing if not thorough in getting maximum value from assets. Then the obligatory meet and greet - another hour and a half of signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans, handing out Fruity Oaty Bar samples, Jisoo and Lisa busily fending off handsy local boys while Jennie and Rosé were deciding which handsy local boys would be their entertainment for the evening. Then the next morning, after the boys were sent on their way, check the port's records a final time, lift off, and set a course for the next show. This was the glamorous world of Blackpink's "In Your Area" tour, sponsored by Fruity Oaty Bars.
Jisoo was the first one up. She put her stuffed dog on the table of the ship's tiny kitchen and started fixing breakfast. The tea kettle had just come to a boil when she heard Jennie shooing her last night's boytoy out.
"I love you Jennie!" His words barely came in before the door slammed shut.
Jennie laughed as she came into the kitchen. "Yeah, you and half the other men on Whitefall."
Jisoo joined in the laughter. "Only half? You must be slipping!"
"Well, I didn't want to be greedy - I wanted to leave some for Rosé. Plus there are still guys who haven't figured out about you and Lisa."
"What's to figure out? We're just 'gals being pals'!" That line turned up in so many articles about the band that it had to have come from an official source at Blue Sun, someone who didn't want to believe the truth about Lisa and Jisa, or at the very least didn't want their fans to believe it. Jisoo poured two cups of tea and sat down across the table from Jennie - the two of them were always the first ones up, so over the course of the tour they'd worked out their morning routine.
Jennie stopped peeling the orange she'd picked up from the bowl. "Is Rosé's boy still here?"
Jisoo cocked an eyebrow. "Really? You have to ask that? Rosé likes sleeping in too much to ever let a guy stay over."
Jennie nodded and went back to peeling her orange. "Have you checked the port records this morning? Is Serenity here?"
"I didn't check yet. Have you thought about it?"
"Thought about what?" Jennie looked puzzled.
"Thought about what we'll do if we ever do find them. We were all okay with this because we knew the odds were against us ever finding them... and because Mr. Yang said it was our only shot. But lately I just can't help thinking, what if we do find them? I don't know if I can do it."
"What are you talking about? You were best of all of us in martial arts and in guns."
Jisoo scoffed. "I'm the best in guns? What about Lisa?"
"Lisa?" Jennie gestured dismissively. "She's the most enthusiastic about guns, the most willing to shoot. If you have to make absolutely, positively sure that everyone in the room comes down with a sudden case of lead poisoning, Lisa's the one to do it. But for a controlled shot under actual conditions? I'd pick you every time."
Jisoo smiled, blossoming under her team leader's praise, then shook her head and recovered her earlier train of thought. "Anyway, that's not what I mean. I mean I don't know if I want to do it, you know?"
Jennie looked around - they'd searched the ship dozens of times, but they still weren't entirely certain that Blue Sun didn't have listening devices hidden somewhere around.
Jisoo caught Jennie's meaning. "I'll do it though. It's just hard, you know?"
Jennie nodded, patted her friend's hand, and handed her half the orange. "I know. But we can do it, and besides, what are the odds we'll find them? Hundreds of planets, they're always moving, we're always moving - it's like a game of horses. Now, go ahead and check the records, so we can leave as soon as the tower clears us."
Jisoo got up and turned on the computer mounted on the kitchen wall. She requested the list of ships currently in port, then popped a piece of orange into her mouth while she wanted for the information to come up.
"Well?" Computers were never fast enough for Jennie.
"Just a second - a port this size, couple hundred ships, it takes the computer a while." Finally the list came up, and Jisoo started scrolling through it. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Jisoo scrolled through the list, scanning the ship names as fast as the computer could scroll them. Behind her she could her Jennie humming to herself as she finished her orange and tea. She was almost at the end of the list, and had started turning back toward the table when she saw something that made her stop in her tracks. She read the name half a dozen more times, just to make sure she was reading it correctly. Surely this couldn't be happening - but it was.
* * * * *
River twirled around the broom, dancing with it as she cleaned Serenity's hold. They did their best to keep the ship clean, but there was only so much you could do when everything still had to stay inside the ship. There was no substitute for a landside fresh-air cleaning.
Letting her "partner" lead her around the room, River enjoyed the feeling of having the ship all to herself. Mal was off doing captain-y things, trying to drum up more business for them. Zoe was off restocking their supplies, and Wash had gone with her. Shepherd Book had gone wherever Shepherds go. Inara had a client lined up. Jayne had disappeared as soon as they'd cleared customs; River was sure he was neck deep in drinking, gambling, or whoring - or some combination of the three - by now. She just hoped he didn't get in trouble this time. Which had left River, Simon, and Kaylee in the ship. They had both pretended they wanted to stay with the ship and keep River company, but neither of them was very good at lying. It didn't take much for River to convince them that she'd be fine, that she actually wanted to stay with the ship rather than heading out into the bustling crowds of the port. As they dashed off, Kaylee had promised to bring River back a surprise, but given how excited she seemed about everything else, River doubted she'd actually remember.
As River danced around the hold, she looked out at the crowds moving up and down the busy street, stopping to haggle at market stalls and wandering street vendors. Beggars and musicians trying to capture a bit of spare coin. Friends and rivals running into each other. She loved to people watch, even if she didn't like crowds anymore. But as the morning wore on, River noticed something strange in the crowds outside: Four Asian girls about her age - a redhead, a brunette, a honey blonde, and one with red-violet hair - seemed to be hovering around the ship. They were in different places and doing different things each time she saw them, and she never saw them looking directly at the ship, but there were always at least 2 of them visible through the hold's doorway. It was concerning, but still possible there was an entirely innocent explanation for everything River was seeing. Rather than worrying, she decided to go make herself a cup of tea, and if they were still there when she returned, then something would have to be done about them. She hoped they'd be gone, because none of the "somethings" that she'd thought of so far were anything that would please Simon. . . or Captain Mal . . . or the local authorities, but she had no expectation that they would be.
* * * * *
When she noticed that River was heading back toward the living quarters of the ship, Rosé took advantage of River's absence to stroll up the sidewalk and talk to Jennie. "She's headed further inside. She knows we're here."
Jennie knew better than to question Rosé's reading of a person - if Rosé wasn't psychic, she might as well be. She gestured for Lisa and Jisoo to join them. "OK," she began, as they ambled toward a small cafe. "Tam knows we're here. She doesn't know why, but she's going to be on her guard."
Lisa, as always, was in favor of the direct route. "Then let's charge in, get her out before the rest of the crew comes back."
Jennie looked dubiously at her crew's youngest member. "You've seen the videos they took of her at the Academy. I'm not saying we can't take her down, but that wouldn't be my first choice. Jisoo, take a sniper rifle up on the roof of one of these shops. When she comes back into the hold, put a tranq dart into her. Then we'll move in and carry her out under the pretense of taking a friend home after she's had too much to drink."
Jisoo nodded at the wisdom of this plan, even as her stomach tied itself in knots that the success of the whole operation was being placed on her. "What if she doesn't come back to the hold?"
Jennie looked at her watch. "If she's not back in the hold 15 minutes after you get set up, the rest of us will charge in while you get back to our ship and start getting clearance for takeoff. Now, everybody knows your parts, so scatter, and keep an eye on the time."
As Jennie and Rosé turned and walked off in opposite directions, Lisa stepped forward to have a word with Jisoo before they split up. Seeing the fear in her girlfriend's eyes, tried to infect her with some of her own confidence. "Don't worry, we can take this bitch down. Mission accomplished."
Jisoo nodded. "Mission accomplished. But if I miss-"
"You won't miss."
"If I miss, promise me you'll be careful. Remember the videos? This girl is dangerous."
Lisa leaned in to plant a quick kiss on her girlfriend's lips. "So are we."
* * * * *
After finishing her cup of tea, River decided to head down to the hold and see if her welcoming committee was still there. She hoped they weren't, but knew better than to expect that. She puttered around the hold, trying to look like she was cleaning up again while she was glancing out the door, trying to find her watchers, the whole time keeping up a running monologue inside her head.
"There's Brunette listening to a street musician."
"There's Blondie pretending to browse for secondhand clothes."
"There's Red eating an ice planet."
"Deep breath, stay calm, look again."
"No, she's not there! Damnit, something's gone wrong! Where's Aubergine?"
River was trying to decide if she should walk out and confront them when her subconscious heard a click and threw her body to the side. She saw a projectile hit the wall behind where she'd just been standing,then looked back at the door just in time for Red's ice planet to smack her in the face.
River tried to shake off the pain, simultaneously noting two things: Her nose was bleeding, and her body was still fighting without her controlling it. She blocked the next few blows, then unleashed a roundhouse kick at Red - only to nearly fall over when Red wasn't there. Not like she had moved or dodged, but she just wasn't there. She was about 2 steps further from River than she had been, apparently without having actually taken those steps. River advanced on Red, only for her opponent to vanish again and then turn up behind River, delivering a vicious elbow to the back of her head.
River's vision swam before her. She didn't know how long she could keep up a fight against heavily trained opponents like this, at least one of whom apparently had some of the sort of psychic powers that River recalled in some of her flashes of memory from the Academy. She kept blocking punches and kicks, delivering her own when she was able, but she was getting hit more often than she was landing a blow.
Just then River heard someone else coming aboard. She glanced over for a fraction of a second, at a price of receiving a kick to the stomach, and saw that it was Simon and Kaylee.
"Run!" River yelled at them. "Go get the Captain and Zoe! Go get Jayne!" She had no illusions that help would arrive before this fight ended badly, but she wanted to get Simon and Kaylee out of the way. They'd fight fiercely to try to save her, but they were no match for these girls.
River groaned when she saw that Simon and Kaylee were ignoring her instructions and running into the fight, then she redoubled her efforts, hoping that the distraction of two extra bodies in the fight would even the odds somewhat. It wasn't enough, though - Blondie had just grabbed River's arm and struck a pressure point that left the arm hanging limp at her side when they are heard-
The fact that a human voice was able to make itself heard over the chaos was surprising enough that everyboy did freeze. River looked up just in time to see Jayne stomping up the ramp into the hold, pulling along the aubergine-haired girl with one hand and holding a pistol to her head with the other.
"Everybody who's not a member of Serenity's crew, get on the ground now, or your girl's gonna be a head shorter." Red hit the deck immediately, while Blondie and Brunette stood frozen with surprise a couple of seconds longer, giving Simon time to pull a hypodermic from his medbag, stab Blondie in the leg with it and slam down the plunger, after which her eyes rolled back in her head and she went down. By this time Brunette had recovered her wits enough to put her hands behind her head and kneel, taking a step to the side in the process so that Kaylee was between her and Jayne.
* * * * *
When Jennie woke up, she was tied to a chair, able to move her left arm from the elbow down but nothing else. On the table in front of her was a rapidly melting bowl of ice cream with a tiny spoon - too small to be used as a weapon.
Jennie looked up. It was Dr. Simon Tam, his clothes restored to such immaculate order you'd never guess that he'd been involved in a fistfight just - how long had she been out?
Seeing she was making no move toward the ice cream, he leaned across the table and ate a spoonful himself. "It's not poisoned. The sugar and protein in the ice cream and the salt in the caramel will help stabilize your body chemistry and stave off the terrible headache that you're about to have as soon as the last of the Qarjinx is out of your system."
Deciding she had nothing to lose by trusting him - if they'd wanted to kill her, they'd have done it while she was unconscious - she started eating the ice cream. As she ate, she looked around, trying to figure out what was going on. On one side of the room she saw Jisoo and Lisa, tied up, blindfolded, and gagged, with the giant man who could only be Jayne Cobb standing guard over them with a massive gun that Lisa would love to get her hands on. On the other side of the room, Rosé and River Tam were deep in conversation with a man in a brown coat who must be Malcolm Reynolds - the company's surveillance photos really didn't do him justice - and a white-haired man in shepherd's clothes. Jennie couldn't hear what they were saying, but based on body language it looked like Rosé was trying to convince Reynolds of something and - to her great surprise - Tam and Book were trying to help her. After several minutes of this, Reynolds walked over and stood across the table from Jennie. At a gesture from Reynolds, Jayne Cobb and Dr. Tam started taking the blindfolds and gags off Lisa and Jisoo. Everyone's attention turned to the captain as he began talking.
"As you've probably guessed, I'm Captain Malcolm Reynolds, and I'll probably regret this down the road a piece, but your girl Rosé here has convinced me that by helping you girls out I'll be doing the Blue Sun Corporation a powerful disservice, and that thought pleases me greatly. On the other hand, we were all engaged in vigorous fisticuffs not too long ago, so I'm not entirely ready to trust you yet. But we've reached an arrangement. Rosé will stay here on Serenity-"
"No, Captain," River interrupted. She went up on tiptoes and whispered something in the captain's ear. When she'd finished, he looked down at her skeptically.
"And you noticed that during a fistfight?"
River rolled her eyes, and Jennie heard another woman's voice coming from behind her. "You and Simon are the only one's who didn't figure it out."
Reynolds looked at Jayne. "Really?"
"Oh yeah." The big man nodded vigorously, a lecherous grin spreading across his face.
"Okay, then." Reynolds shrugged. "Jisoo will be staying here on Serenity as a sort of an insurance policy."
Jennie mentally applauded Tam for this suggestion - even if she had been willing to abandon Jisoo, there's no way Lisa would let her. She turned her attention back to Reynolds.
"Now we'll take off and fly to Persephone as if we'd just kidnapped her, you'll take off and follow us to Persephone as if you're trying to get her back. Once we get there, some friends of the Shepherd's will see to it that neither you girls nor your ship are carrying any sort of tracking devices that'd let Blue Sun find you. I'll give you your girl back, and you agree to give up this suicidal quest to kidnap a member of my crew. Do we have a deal?"
Taken aback, Jennie looked from one to another of her team, trying to see if this was what they wanted. They all looked happier than she'd seen them in months.
"All we ever wanted was to play music," Jisoo said, and the others nodded in agreement.
Jennie looked back up at Reynolds. "You have a deal."