Kyra sat staring at her cortex, begging the universe to bring something to the crew. Mr. U was tapped so far as jobs went and Badger had nothing for them so close tot he core. Not even Monty knew of anyone that needed something done. She'd even gone so far as to tap into the Mercenary Guild to see if they needed anything done. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
“God this stinks,” Jack grumbled to herself. She took a sniff of the air as she looked away from her computer and out across the kitchen. “Oh my god, what is that stink?”
“Simon's cooking something,” Inara tried to answer. She was holding her teacup to her nose to try and block the scent out, but her face showed that it wasn't working particularly well.
“He's trying to poison us,” River stared suspiciously at the bowl Simon was holding in his hand. What a brave soul, standing so close to the poison encrusted pan. “He's gone maniacal.”
“River I have not gone...you need to eat something.” Simon tried to give her the bowl only to have River back away. “It's good, it tastes like...” Everyone watched him take a bite to see if he'd gag on the mushy brown paste. He couldn't even make himself swallow whatever it was he was trying to poison River with. “It's good.”
“It smells like crotch,” Jayne snorted. He and Riddick were at the table cleaning their guns and sharpening their knives.
“Burnt ass,” Riddick rumbled out. “With a side of three day old curry.”
“Gumbo what's been left out for two days in the sun.” Jayne grinned. “On Caliban.”
Wash and Zoe came into the room as Riddick came up with something even more descriptive and offensive smelling. They were obviously arguing and Jack was happy to stop hearing about burnt pubes and soured milk; River had taken the entrance of Wash and Zoe to flee her brother and his bowl of stink-mush. Good, no one who was unstable needed to suffer that. As Wash and Zoe's argument got louder, Doo came ambling in to the kitchen to sit by River's feet.
“Zoe, we don't even have to go some place fancy,” Wash tried once more. Doo's entrance stopped Jayne and Riddick just enough for Wash's argument to become clear. “We can just go to a park or something, feed the pigeons even.”
“Sure,” Zoe snorted. She leaned over to set her gun down on the table followed by her boot knife. “Feed the pigeons. Probably get the firing squad for littering.” She was about to take a seat when she smelled whatever it was Simon was trying to choke down. Wash misinterpreted her face for disgust at the idea of walking about.
“Come on, it's not that bad.” He set an arm on Simon's shoulder and his face turned at the smell. Jack almost laughed as understanding hit his face. “Oh, yes it is.”
“It is,” Zoe agreed. “It's a Core planet, it's spotless cause it's got sensors, and where it ain't got sensors, it's got feds.” She grabbed up one of the cleaning clothes from the table. “All central planets are the same and if You-” she waved her knife at Simon “-don't get that stink out of this kitchen now I'm going to make sure I puke on you.”
Simon hopped up with a rather grateful look on his face and dumped the mush into the trash. He grabbed up the pan and threw it, and the bowl, into the sink before hurrying to the incinerator with the trash bag. It made the girls on the couch giggle and Jayne let loose the description he'd been holding in for a while now. It was almost enough to make everyone gag; Riddick only let out a chuckle so deep and long he had to set his knife down so he wouldn't drop it.
“Jayne, my gun is still loaded.” Zoe was smiling even as she threatened him.
“Inara, please, as the only other sane, non-poisonous, not a criminal, Core person on this boat, could you please tell my wife what she's missing out on?”
“Ariel's actually a rather nice place.” Inara was laughing silently at Wash's description of her, completely unaware that he'd only gotten two of his descriptions right. “There are some beautiful museums, not to mention some of the finest restaurants in the core.”
“But, not boring like she made it sound,” Wash sent Inara a look. “There's uhm, ah...Simon!”
The doctor froze like a deer when Wash turned the attention onto him.
“As her doctor I can't recommend anything that would upset her or the baby,” Simon hurried out. Zoe grinned at that and went back to cleaning her knife. “I would recommend avoiding solvents, but Zoe is a very smart woman and she's been craving the smell of gun oil and her gun is still loaded.”
“What?” Wash looked back and forth between Zoe and Simon before settling down across from his wife and starting a new argument.
“How'd you know it was still loaded?” Kaylee asked when Simon sat next to her with a bag of trail mix.
“The charge cartridge is still in it,” Simon pointed at the little glowing lights on Zoe's gun. “Shotguns and surgery are the two things I'm good at. And the only things I'm going to bother with from now on.”
Seemed like a plan and a half to Jack. River seemed to agree with it and as Riddick stood up and moved to the stove, she could see Simon's face become just a bit more resigned. He was losing his sister before he even got her back. Never mind that it was the biggest load of nonsense Jack had ever heard, that's how he saw it. Mal came into the kitchen and Jack nearly laughed at the confusion on his face as he tried to sort of the ruckus. Wash and Zoe were going back and forth between the gun oil and a bioluminescent lake while River and Riddick were talking in their strange Furyan language and Inara was explaining the finer points of sex with Kaylee.
“Ain't no one setting foot on any fancy rock!” he shouted, breaking through everyone's conversations. “I don't want anyone leaving the ship, don’t' even want y’all lookin' out the windows or talking too loud. We're here to drop off Inara and Jack, that's it.”
“What's the point of coming to the core if I can't even step off the boat?” Jayne argued.
“You could have got off with the Shepherd at Bathgate Abbey,” Mal brushed him off. “Could have been meditating on the wonders of your rock garden by now.”
“My rock garden is plenty wondrous,” Jayne scowled. “I'd made plans to meet with someone so's I could get to Ma's place when we next went out that way.”
“Why would you need to meet someone on the core to get to a rim planet?” Wash asked. Everyone was waiting for the answer.
“Cause Woodhouse is the only one's got the visitor codes 'sides Ma and the one she sent is two months outta date.” Jayne made a fully gag-worthy noise before he spit on his knife. “Damn bankers only on Ariel for the next week.”
There was silence for a moment before Jack realized just What was going on with Jayne and his family. Holy Cows of New New Delhi. She knocked her tea-cup on the floor before anyone asked what he meant and the crash of stoneware distracted everyone long enough for Kaylee to bring up a new subject. She'd picked it up too, most of the crew probably had if she thought on it. Key-codes were only needed for a few reasons, one of which was to get in and out of asylums like Ether. The only Rim asylum was also filled to the brim with wealthy folks who were an embarrassment to the family or wanted away from Core values.
“Kyra and I shouldn't be more than a day or two,” Inara was answering Kaylee's question. Kyra had been trying to forget that she had to go too.
“Big stop just to renew your license to companion,” Wash hummed. “Can I use Companion as a verb?”
“It's guild law,” Inara laughed again. “Technically I'm undergoing the examination as a traveling priestess, but all guild members are required to undergo a physical examination once a year.”
There were three people in the room who knew exactly why Inara's examination was going to take so long and it had nothing to do with an annual. Riddick might be suspecting something though; Inara's shakes were getting just a bit more noticeable. He wasn't noticing anything outside of River right now though.
“So, two days in a hospital?” Wash asked. “That's awful, don't you hate doctors?”
“Hey,” Simon grumbled.
“Present company excluded, I hate hospitals and everything in them,” Kyra answered.
Something happened over by the stove and River was very suddenly under a bleeding man. There was a bruise blossoming on her chest as she tried to get air back into her lungs and her fingers were clenched around the same bloody knife Riddick was trying to take away from her. His shirt was ruined, as was River's dress, but the damage to his flesh was a bit more worrying. Most everyone had jumped up and Doo was growling at the couple on the floor.
“River! No!” Simon tried to come closer.
“Fuck off, Doc!” Riddick growled at him. River was finally breathing again but she didn't seem to know what was going on.
“That's a lot of blood,” Zoe spoke up.
“The Silence...” River whispered out. “The Silence is here.”
“Gorram freak's completely off her axel,” Jayne grunted as he stood in the infirmary door.
“Shut up Cobb,” Riddick growled before hissing in pain. He was laying on one of the beds while Simon stitched his chest back together. Any deeper and there would have been more spilling out than just blood. As it stood a faint bluish tint could be seen in Richard's skin.
“Sorry,” Simon apologized. “I don't know what-”
“Shut up Simon,” he grunted as the needle slid into his skin again. “Necros are gonna be on Ariel. Riv's been calling them The Silence ever since our first run-in.”
“So she slices ya up?” Jayne asked. “Just as easy as you please and you're going to go right back to her, leavin' your neck all exposed for her crazy to get friendly with it. I know you got plenty of knives in there ricky, what's to say you ain't gonna wake up chokin' to death?”
“She'll be fine, got confused is all.” Richard relaxed as Simon spread a anesthetic bandage over the cut. It would blend right in before the night was over. “Didn't get trained up so she doesn't know how to control her wild side.”
“You reckon you can fix whatever it is up?” Mal asked. He didn't like being left in the dark any more than Riddick did, but he wasn't about to share something like this with just anyone.
“Can't do much without knowing what was done to her,” Riddick sat up. The doc was smart to stick to healing and shooting folks. “I'll take care of it as much as I can. Might want to start locking things up a bit better til then.”
Mal looked at Riddick for a moment before coming closer to him.
“Only met a few men in my life that would go back to a woman that dangerous. One is my pilot.” He crossed his arms at the Furyan but his mind was someplace else. “You say you got a some kind of thing that can help, fine. She's getting worse though. She gets too bad, we might have to find some place to set the two of you down.”
“Know a couple places,” Riddick stretched his shoulders. “Doesn't change the fact that we got Necros waiting for us on Ariel. They know how to be stealthy when it counts.”
Mal pursed his lips and looked at Jayne in the doorway. They were facing quite the conundrum here. Inara had been more than just a little forceful about stopping for her annual checkup. Serious enough that she'd been holding her gun when she called him in to tell him about her appointment. He'd have given in anyhow. It was hard to miss the way her skin had gotten just a bit paler, or the way she'd started walking along anything that would support her if she got tired or dizzy too suddenly. It wasn't something Simon could heal or it'd have been taken care of already.
Mal looked up to ask Simon about the illness only to see that everyone had left. He'd have to wait and see then.
Kyra never did like dressing up to be Inara's secretary, but it was a chance to get off of the ship for at least a breath of fresh air. She reached up to adjust her headdress and the veil attached to it one last time. Their bags were packed and Inara had been ready for the last few minutes. She was keeping Kaylee occupied until Mal gave them the go ahead to disembark. Any minute now he'd be complaining about the rickshaw waiting for them on the docks.
“Least you can look at the bright side,” Kaylee smiled at Inara. “Maybe you'll meet a young, handsome doctor, and he'll ask you out and...what's the companion policy on dating?”
“It's very complicated,” Inara laughed.
“All sorts of tasks and feats and IQ tests,” Kyra added on. “Once, the house priestess made a man wrestle a Wooly Gator.”
“Well that figures,” Kaylee nodded. It was always kind of fun to make things up like that.
“Just keep everyone out of trouble,” Inara kissed Kaylee's hair. “Including yourself.”
The three of them walked from the shuttle down into the cargo bay, exchanging another farewell before stepping out onto the streets of Ariel and climbing into the waiting rickshaw. It wasn't like the ones back on New Mecca, these ones hovered and had an android to steer the conveyance about. Honestly, Kyra had never been to Ariel, or any of the Anglo-Sino core planets besides Persephone. She had no idea how to act here. Islamic sector meant keeping your head bowed and asking Imam's permission to say or ask anything of anyone. From her occasional visit to Persephone she could see that things were going to be awfully different.
“Don't worry,” Inara leaned over. “Just act like my word is the only law you'll ever have to follow and everyone else is an idiot.”
“I can do that,” She nodded. “Inara, what if you're getting worse?”
“I know I'm getting worse, I'm just wondering if there isn't some way to make it less obvious or to slow it down.”
Phantoplasma Syphilitics had been tearing her sister apart since they were still living on Laputa with their parents. It was a blood disease that got into the bones and the only way to keep it from overtaking you was to have a marrow transplant once a year and weekly injections of medication. Without those, the infected was prone to wild hallucinations and terrible fevers at best, at worst they'd find themselves facing a plethora of boils and burning rashes. The very worst of STD's in the known verse didn't kill you slowly. It didn't kill you at all.
Kyra didn't like to wonder how her sister got sick. There were only a few explanations and all of them made her ill to think about. Instead, she focused on any possible way to save her sister. She'd researched everything from Ganta Root to the slime those glowy jellyfish monsters excreted. She'd even looked into some of those leeches from Caliban. Nothing held any promise.
“Relax,” Inara smiled at her. “I doubt the alliance would let a Necro ship get too close to any core planet.”
“I'm just worried, especially after what happened in the Helios Sector.”
“Parliament would never let that happen Kyra,” Inara leaned over and hugged her. “Never. We are the shining light of civilization, and Death himself couldn't stop that light from shining.”
“Yes, you're right,” Kyra nodded. The android had stopped at a light and his head had been turned to watch them ever since. “Fear cuts deeper than swords, and I am afraid.”
The android seemed satisfied and it's head turned back to watch traffic. It was still listening though. Zoe was right about sensors and feds everywhere. Even when they stopped in front of the Companions hospital and an attendant rushed over to pay the cabbie. Footmen hurried over to take their bags up to Inara's chambers and a priestess bowed low when Inara entered. The Serra sisters bowed in return and when they were ushered in, Kyra realized something. There were no sensors inside of the guild building.
Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. River understood the implication behind the statement, but she didn't understand horseshoes. Her beast didn't understand the game either; it was a game for old men he'd decided. He was not an old man. Not by his standards at least.
“Ha!” Jayne had done something to give him a point. Did throwing things make him forget that Big Sister was gone? Her beast pulled her closer when Jayne yelled. He wasn't nervous like the others, he was determined and when he pulled her closer it wasn't to keep her from jumping, but because he was remembering what they'd done in the second shuttle.
“How're we going to find a job if we don't leave the ship?” Jayne's voice floated up through the cargo bay. River didn't care to find out how, not when Richard was blue and making her insides glow. Their songs had harmonized when the lightning thief had threatened their lives. Harmonized and given her head a solid idea to hang onto.
“Her sound is soured, shattered into the breeze and The Silence destroys it all.”
“I know,” he pressed his lips against her neck. “That's why we're going to try and find your Gran, see if she can't help us.”
“She would bind us. One and one make one.”
The Beast grunted and pulled her down to lay on his chest, thinking on what she'd said and rebelling even as he embraced the thought. It scared her as well. Her brain was hardly her own, to give him pieces would be insulting, to give him nothing would be worse. He was in pieces too. His mind fracturing every time they sent him into cryo. If he went again he would shatter.
“Matching set,” her Beast rumbled. “You were speaking your mind again. Won't go into cryo again if I can help it Khalessi. If I did, I'd never hurt you.”
“Take her to Mandos, far from any who live.”
Simon's voice broke through their blue. His thoughts burned away the cloud and River could smell blood as the Khal growled behind her. His blood was spreading under her fingernails with every thought echoing from Simon's head and out of his mouth. He wanted to see the cracks.
“You've got a job for us?” Mal asked. He would never run short of surprises or adventure with this crew, he was pretty sure of that by now. Simon wasn't the mousey man he usually was or the terrible cook from this morning. He wasn't even the Doctor who lived across from the infirmary. He was a core bred businessman who wanted something done.
“One that will pay for itself ten times over.”
Mal walked closer to Simon, as did the remainder of his crew, but the man didn't so much as blink or flinch. Not even when Jayne growled just behind Simon's ear. Instead he held up a vial of clear liquid. A vial Mal had seen a hundred times since Simon had gone in and made the infirmary His.
“You know what this is? Common immune booster, they give it to school children for free in the core. Isoprovaline, for a dose this size? Fifty platinum at lowest street value.” He looked at it again. “Maybe twenty credits.”
Zoe took the vial in hand and held it by her stomach, looking back and forth between each. Simon held up another vial.
“Propoxine, maybe eighty on Persephone.” For every vial Simon held up, a crew member took it and he brought out another. Each had a higher value than the last and each had come on board with Simon in his med kit or he'd scrounged up as they travelled, paying for it with what he earned from his house calls on smaller planets.
“At a Hospital like the one on Ariel City they'll have shelves of the stuff. Whatever the take is more than enough payment for what I have in mind.”
“So, the medvault isn't the job?” Wash asked.
“No. That's the payment. I'll tell you how to get in, get out, and what needs taking.” He looked directly at Mal. “If you help me get River into the hospital's diagnostic ward.”
“What's in the diagnostic ward?” Wash just kept asking those important questions and keeping Mal from looking like a fool.
“A 3D physical imager,” Simon was still looking at Mal.” If I can get River in there, then I can find out what they did to her at the academy. I can get a non-invasive look at her brain and her body and figure out exactly how to make things right.”
Mal crossed his arms and looked at the floor. The money was promising but the idea of making one of his girls healthy was a bit more tempting. She'd cut into Ricky today, but Jayne had raised a good point as they walked off. What if the Necros came when she was with Kaylee, or Inara? What if she took the ship and Wash was found in a pool of his own blood? He wanted River well and Riddick knew a place to take her if she was too far gone. A place that had a way on but no way off. Last resort kind of thing that promised they'd both be safe.
“So we get you and your sister in there and you tell us how to clean out the hospital?” Mal asked.
“Yes.” No doubt in the boy's mind at all.
“Not to be negative,” Kaylee started. “But, don't the hospital need that medicine?”
“Government run facility,” Riddick's rumble came out from up on the catwalk. “They'd be restocked in a matter of hours and they've always got some stacked up in the pharmacy.”
“He's right,” Simon nodded. “They'll never miss it. Most of the hospital won't even realize it's missing.”
“Folks on the Rim sure could use it,” Mal agreed. He'd finally gotten one of the vials to look at and it was hard to think such a little thing was worth so much. Something that was hardly a drop in a bucket for folks in the Core.
“You know,” Wash started. “It's all very sweet, stealing from the rich, giving to the poor, but you're talking about breaking into a highly secure Alliance facility. How do you plan on getting around security?”
“He's going to kill himself.” Riddick was laughing up on the catwalk and Simon was surprisingly calm about his statement. In fact, he looked impressed that Ricky had figured it out. “Sneak in via black box after dosing up. Suspend brain activity, slow the heart down to a beat an hour, and slide in with the treasure chests we're walking out with.”
“You sound like you done this before,” Mal looked up at the goggled man. River was hiding behind him.
“Used to do it back in Rangers,” He shook his head. “Sarge would dose us up and send us off to enemy territory. Wake up in the storage room at 0'300 and carry out the mission.”
“Ranger?” Mal asked. “Black ops type of thing, right?” Riddick only grinned at him. “Right. So how were you planning to have us get you in?” He didn't want to think about how many times Ricky might have been his enemy or how close he'd come to dying by the kid's hand.
“Well, what Richard knows about sneaking in, I know about medical procedure.”
Kyra sat quietly as a new doctor was brought into the room, blindfolded and led by a rather young girl. She was a trainee for Madera, though for physical trade or assistance she didn't know. They all walked around with soft veils over their hair and silver pins holding them there. Their slippers were soft and if they shuffled at all, the teachers would know by the marks on the bottom.
Inara had disrobed and now sat on the examination table in her undergarments with a blue veil covering her face and hair. Kyra could see the scar patterns on her sister's skin. Without the incense to dull her senses or the soft lighting of the shuttle the scars glimmered and shone. It was almost pretty.
The doctor had his blindfold removed and he moved closer to the examination table. A different trainee came over with a tray of diagnostic tools the doctor probably hadn't seen before; too new for civilian hospitals. Kyra was there to make sure he didn't try to bully the trainees into keeping silence if he did something terrible. In the past it had been someone else, one of Inara's house sisters, but since she'd taken on an assistant it fell to Kyra.
The examination was the same as it had been for the last few years. It was the same look on his face when he saw what she had. Kyra wondered what had happened to the previous doctor to give them this guy. Maybe he'd retired, or died from old age, maybe he'd just moved to another temple.
The one in front of them knew what to do though. Even if he did have a mullet and acted kind of like a soldier. Probably a field doctor who'd never left the battlefield.
“You are allowed to speak to me you know,” Inara laughed. She was always laughing. Always trying to hide her pain.
“Forgive me, I wasn't sure you'd wish to speak on anything.”
“It helps the time pass,” Inara assured him. “You're new to the guild roster, aren't you?”
“I am,” he nodded, looking up from the screen. “I only arrived on Ariel a few days ago.”
“It's always nice to see a new face. Especially a handsome one.” She smiled a mischievous smile. “A shame there aren't any nearby.”
The doctor's eyes widened before he smiled in return. He realized she was teasing him and soon, Kyra felt like she was almost intruding on something private. Something softer than what went between Inara and Mal. She wondered what might happen if she were to walk out and take the trainees with her. For one she'd be fired, but on a more emotional, personal level, she wondered if Inara would find something with Dr. Vaako she hadn't found with Mal.
“Kyra,” Inara called to her.
She couldn't leave during this part. Kyra pulled her seat closer to the exam table and took Inara's hand into her own. She was laying down now, waiting for the doctor to insert the syringes so he could replace her marrow.
“I'm right here,” Kyra reached over to Inara and touched her hair through her veil.
“Would you like the topical?” Dr. Vaako asked.
“No,” Inara shook her head. “I can't stand it.”
If Kyra had been watching the doctor, she'd have seen something like relief enter his eyes. And when he slid the needle into Inara's skin, she'd have seen a sort of satisfaction when Inara kept her silence.
“The Silence is waiting for us,” River shook her head. “Waiting and watching.”
“That's why I'm going with Riv,” Riddick kissed her hair. “Inara showed me how to paint up to change my face shape. Blue bases make different faces. Even Simon's going with.”
River rubbed her head against his chest and stuck out her arm. Riddick took it into hand and spoke soft Furyan whispers as Simon injected her with the sleeping serum. Her form crumpled quickly, smaller than Simon's and just a bit more sensitive to drugs than either man was. Riddick picked her up and carried her to the waiting coffin. He'd painted himself up before going into her room and Jayne was making sure he wasn't too different looking with his own paint. Zoe had been the one to apply it; Inara was gone and Kaylee wasn't much good at anything that wasn't mechanical.
“It's probably a good thing you're the one Grandmother picked.” Simon climbed into his own coffin as Riddick made sure River's hair and clothes weren't caught. When he was sure, he slid the lid shut and clamped it tight.
“Limited options,” Riddick answered. “Then again, I was supposed to be a general by now.”
Simon flinched when Jayne stabbed him in the arm. He was enjoying this far too much. The whole crew was enjoying this a bit more than they needed to. Then again, they tended to do everything a bit more than other people did. Maybe that's why he liked the crew so much. These were his thoughts as he fell into a temporary death.
Riddick wheeled River's coffin in right in tandem with Jayne. Didn't need to do more than keep his mouth shut and give the basics, if he didn't know what to say just look tired and bitch about your boss. Thats all a night shift nurse wanted to hear and half the time they didn't even care. Jayne seemed awfully happy to hear that. Mal though, he seemed put out that he wasn't going to get to deliver his carefully practiced speech.
“What do you got?” The nurse asked. She looked tired of people altogether.
“Got a couple of DOA's,” Mal started. He was about to open his mouth again but the nurse really didn't care. Dead was Dead and she labeled each coffin as such before going back to her magazine.
“Met enough nurses during training,” Riddick shared as he and Jayne pushed forward with their load. Quiet enough that the woman wouldn't hear but Mal and Jayne both would. “If there's no doctor around, they don't care unless a person's screaming and making a mess of things.”
“You'll have to tell me how you went from Ranger to Medic one day,” Mal said as he pressed the elevator button.
“Maybe,” Riddick shrugged. “Gonna take a lot of alcohol.”
The trip down to the morgue was quick; a big button at the bottom of the elevator menu told them exactly where to go. Simon and River had both been given a dose of something to wake them up but they didn't seem to be responding to it very quickly. No matter, Mal and Jayne had gone as soon as they were on the cold steel beds, excited to rob the medvault right under Alliance noses. Kind of thinking was going to get Mal killed. It would make a pretty decent haul though. Simon had given them a list, sure, but Mal was going to fill the rest of the coffins with whatever he could fit inside. That left Riddick with little to do except wait for River to wake up. It had been some time since he was alone in a room with a bunch of bodies around him. First time it hadn't been him to take them out.
“Copper for a kiss?”
Riddick smiled at her greeting. River was smiling at him, happy to be alive again and happy to see him just above her.
“I'm not that cheap,” He grinned. He leaned down and kissed her none the less.
“He is easy,” River smiled against his lips.
“I'm so glad you never met our father,” Inara managed. The pain was making her sweat and several times the attendants had come and gone with fresh cloths and cool water. “So very glad.”
“Inara, you shouldn't talk.” Kyra tried to calm her sister and keep the secret buried.
“You need to know who to run from, in case he tries to find us.” Inara let out a breath as Dr. Vaako pulled out one of the needles. He was going to give them a break rather than carrying on like the old doctor had done. Further proof that Inara's condition was getting worse.
“I don't...” She tried to shake it away but her sister's grip on her hand was surprisingly strong.
“He did this to me for fun,” Inara spoke harshly. “You have to know who to run from.”
Dr. Vaako seemed just as troubled as Kyra was. He came over with a pain killer, contrary to Inara's earlier wishes, and injected it into her flesh. Her sister didn't seem to mind overly much, in fact she smiled at the doctor gratefully.
“He's not on Xibalba anymore,” Inara told her seriously. “He hasn't been for a few years. He's not dead either, or there'd be some kind of record.”
“He's tried to contact you, hasn't he?” Kyra asked. Inara nodded and her body began to go lax. “That's why we're with Mal.”
“One of many reasons,” Inara hummed as the pain killers began to kick in. “You were the important reason. Seeing the verse was another. Finding love another still.”
“Two out of three isn't bad,” Kyra smiled at her.
“Two out of five,” Inara argued. She tried to wag a finger at her but it only tapped against the bed. “I'm going to rest now. Thank you doctor.”
“Please, call me Siberius.”
Riddick was glad that Simon's awakening surprised him. It kept River from vomiting on him, or worse still in his mouth. Simon was puking a few seconds later and Riddick wondered why they hadn't invented something better yet. They probably had and it just wasn't on civilian market. He could have stayed in Rangers, been privy to all this, but that meant turning a blind eye to everything he saw. He could barely do that now, after almost a decade of running and living for himself and the Beautiful scent.
“I thought you didn't eat anything,” Riddick tried not to laugh. He was holding Beautiful's hair back while she continued to paint the floor. Simon had changed into his scrubs and he seemed to be looking for a bucket, but he also seemed to be having some trouble standing.
“She was fed by Sisters.” River reached over for her discarded clothes and used her shirt to wipe her mouth. “Looks suited to being in a hospital now.”
Riddick had changed from the medic uniform to that of an orderly while he was waiting. No one would question a big guy in a uniform on the core. Whether it was civilian police, private security, or hospital staff. Big guys were never questioned, merely waved along with their charges; His size and stance would mark him as a private nurse in a place like this.
“Private care is never cheap,” River hummed as she was wheeled along. Out of the morgue and down the corridors that would take them to the imaging center. Her body tensed as they came near one of the recovery wards. “Can be rewarding. Filled with Toombs, can't go there.”
“River, it's the recovery ward, no one is going to die in there.” Simon leaned down and smiled. “We came from the place-”
“Not tombs, Toombs,” Riddick corrected. He started to wheel River back from the doors. “Merc. Must have done something right if the guild is treating him here.”
“There's no other way for us to get to the imaging center,” Simon looked back and forth from Riddick to the door. “Not without passing more sensors and taking an extra hour at least.”
“His sister needs you Simon,” River whispered. She held up a hand, listening to something no one could hear. A sad smile spread across her face oh so slowly as her hand lowered. “Her heart whispers and murmurs, mumbles out until it goes silent.”
A machine started to fidget inside of the recovery ward and before a real thought entered anyone's head, Simon had darted in and started barking orders.
“Classic misdirection,” River hissed. “She can walk, and running will be faster than the chair.”
She wanted him to go into the room where Toombs was already panicking. Three of the biggest bounties currently on the boards in one room and one she'd thrown in front of him on the good faith he'd ignore it in favor of his sister's life.
“Hurry, he's beginning to look at Simon's face.”
He took the girl into his arms and moved through the recovery room. Stoney faced and all soldier as he kept his eyes on the exit at the other end of the room. Nurses jumped out of his way and River was putting on a good show of trying to escape him, even going so far as to kick over a tray of tools. No one gave them a second look though. Not even Toombs, who's scent had gone from worried to wondering. Big guys were never questioned.
Things were taking a bit longer than planned for everyone on Serenity. Unless you were a pilot or a mechanic. If you were one of those two then you were perfectly fine. Actually, if you were a pilot, a mechanic, or a first mate, then you were having a very lovely time. Yes, Wash had managed to convince Zoe to come along on the caper and then convince her to take a few steps off of the medicraft to a little bistro he knew of not too far from the hospital. A bistro that made most of it's money catering to the maternity ward and women who were in a family way.
It wasn't a bioluminescent lake, but Wash would take what he could get right now. If Zoe wanted to have a gourmet sundae made from wax peppers, chocolate syrup, and cottage cheese, he would bend over backwards and act as a table for her. He was really just happy to take her someplace that didn't serve protein cakes and stale water.
“Which planet did you grab her form?” Riddick asked as he leaned against a free console. His hands were gripping his biceps to keep from tearing into everything around him.
“They've moved by now,” Simon shook his head. He was forcing himself to look at the scan of River's brain instead of focusing on anything else. Globules of Spirits were building up in her brain stem and behind her eyes. They'd been gathering around her heart and her stomach and ovaries before Simon had focused on River's brain. Her brain was missing an entire section, and not just any bit, They'd taken away the part that let her control her emotions. The part that could have kept him from know anything, even with scent.
“Anni Khal,” River extended her hand. She was scared, relieved, worried, but most of all she seemed relaxed. “The secret is out and she finally knows it.”
“What would grandmother say,” Simon tried to smile.
“Probably try to smother you in your sleep,” Riddick grinned. He moved to take River's hand into his own and was a bit surprised to see his own skeleton appear beside hers. Her spirits were beginning to spread through her system as his trickled in through the skin. “Or wonder why she hadn't given you a better chance.”
“I somehow doubt that.” Simon's answer was distracted as he watched the interaction. “Her system is taking cues from yours...What...what are those?”
Riddick didn't answer. He kept watching the imager as it covered the unorthodox treatment. River was the one to answer her brother. Just as well, Shirah had never really told him what they were. The Spirits were vaguely intelligent microorganisms that had created a symbiosis with the original human female settlers of Furya. They'd attempted to create a bond with the male settlers, but according to River, it didn't really mesh with everyone's plans. Over time, the women and the Spirits had developed a repertoire and eventually came to an agreement over their distribution.
“Your daughter will have them.” River smiled. “Grandmother liked you just enough.”
Simon smiled faintly before taking a deeper look at the scans. He tried to keep his focus purely on River's system but when he glanced over at Riddick, the larger man let out a grin and the doctor went to town on the new data before him.
“Better picture.” River let out a deep breath and her eyes drifted shut. “Differences are negligible, basic human function. Sees the forest now instead of trees.” Her eyes shot open a few seconds later and the spirits were buzzing in her system. Buzzing enough to make Riddick's start to glow. Like a bottle of water tilted from end to end, the reactions kept reflecting one another and building up. “Toombs gave a head start. Tired of trying to get more information. The wrong blue is coating the sky!”
Riddick didn't wait to pull River up from the bed and Simon had been smart enough to load the scans onto his portable. Never could depend on Toombs for anything but a ride from here to there.
The pilot, the first mate, and the mechanic were excited to help Mal and Jayne load the caskets back onto the medicraft. All three were grinning and even though Zoe didn't really help, she held their hats and welcomed them back.
“How much did we get?” Wash asked as he set himself into one of the pilot seats. What a strange little vessel this was. Room for three medics and two pilots, plus a little bench for family that wanted to ride along.
“Enough to keep us flying,” Mal answered. He patted one of the caskets. “Maybe enough to fly us some place without a job waiting.”
“Can we fly someplace with a beach?” Zoe asked.
“Maybe a naked beach,” Wash grinned.
The married couple smiled at one another and Mal had to look away from it. Jayne was looking pretty darn thoughtful though. That never turned out well for Mal. Thoughtful Jayne tended to mean an angry pair of Serras or a death threat from the entirety of the crew.
“Got words?” Mal asked.
“Just thinkin, they got a few beaches out on Ether. Wouldn't mind it overly much if I could see my ma for a couple hours. Maybe have her meet Kyra.” Jayne was looking at the casket of liquid cash with a face like a kicked puppy. Gorram but Mal had a weakness for keeping families together.
“Ether ain't all asylum,” Mal agreed. He'd folded his arms in front of himself and wondered how to say his next words. “Fairly certain I might have some old war buddies livin' out there too. Nothing wrong with having a bit of a reunion.”
Jayne looked up at him with thanks in his eyes. He wasn't getting emotional though, his face was still serious and strong, his eyes were still dry. Jayne was an idiot most days and a certified numbskull on his particularly grand ones. He did have moments though, and as much as they tended to go against Mal's plans, they were pretty good ones.
“I'll be sure to let folks know,” Jayne nodded. “Means no knives though. No guns either.”
“I take it you won't try taping anything to your stomach?” Mal smiled faintly.
“Not a chance.”
Riddick was going to kill Toombs. Her really was. One day when it was just the two of them or they weren't stuck on a core planet, surrounded by Alliance and purple bellies. Oh, and lets not forget the necros hiding out somewhere or the blue-hand operatives that River kept mumbling about.
“Simon, get to the rendezvous.” Riddick pulled them into a hallway just before a pair of Mercs came through. “River and I are going to head over to the Companion's Guild, try and meet up with Jack and Inara.”
“No,” River shook her head. “No, the Silence are waiting. Watching for starry eyed boys and moon brained girls. Healing and hurting as they shoot poisoned arrows into the sky.”
“Are Kyra and Inara okay?” Simon asked. He was glancing from the door to a rather tight air duct.
“Inara is sick,” River whispered. Her hand was running through her hair and Riddick wanted to know why he hadn't run across the hospital shouting for Toombs. Might have given them a few hours at least. “Can't leave a mate, can't let her suffer.”
“Simon, same plan, you head to Mal, let them know we're going to be late.” Riddick kept his eyes on the corridor Toombs' men were inspecting. “Less you know, better off you'll be if you get found.”
Simon looked ready to argue with him, but Riddick had been watching the corner where the men had disappeared and the doctor was soon shoved out the door. It was funny to watch him go from panic to pompous. Really funny. Simon's entire being changed and Riddick could see that he Belonged in a hospital. River's hand slid into his and her scent shifted slightly.
“Where he was meant to be.”
“He's meant to be where he wants to be,” Riddick whispered back. “With us, on Serenity.”
The mercs were coming back now, but Simon had disappeared into an elevator with a few other doctors who looked equally haughty and privileged. He'd even started talking to them and they'd been laughing as the door slid shut. Toombs' boys saw the door he and River were hiding behind and Riddick knew he was going to be changing clothes as soon as they managed to get out. Riddick pushed River back against the wall and adjusted his grip on a blade he'd nicked form the morgue. Wasn't a knife, or a shiv, but it was sharp and easy to work with.
The first one in didn't even see him coming and the second only barely saw River. He didn't have time to make a game of things. He was in the wrong place with an untrained sidekick. Didn't mean he couldn't show off a bit though.
“Time?” Mal asked as he leaned back against the medicraft. He was keeping watch for Simon and now that he'd seen a few other medics milling about on break or nurses on their smoke breaks, he could see that they probably made just enough to live. They were all tired, hungry, and annoyed by the patients who came in. A little cluster of nurses were even talking about splitting housing costs by getting a two bedroom; there had to have been five women standing together. Not everyone in the Core was rich and happy and somewhere he knew that. The wait staff and the people who actually worked always had a little less to live on no matter where they were. He somehow figured that nurses and medics might have something good going for them, instead they had ungrateful patients and impotent, pigheaded doctors who harassed them or got them fired.
“Ten minutes past Rendezvous,” Wash replied. Zoe had gone back to the ship with Kaylee and a diaper-bag full of meds in case anything went south. “Things are looking a bit warm captain.”
“Something's happened,” Mal pursed his lips. “Jayne, you see 'em yet?”
“Negatory,” Jayne's voice came from atop the craft. He was pretending to sleep after they'd seen a few other medics climb on top of the crafts and take their own naps. “Wait a second. Got one comin' our way.”
Wash had climbed inside of the craft to see if Kaylee and Zoe had gotten back yet. Mal could hear Kaylee respond to Wash's question about security alerts but he could also see Simon looking very Doctor-ish and angry. The little cluster of nurses fluttered off as he came closer and every medic had climbed back into their ship as quick as possible without being noticed. Wasn't fair that people worked so hard and lived in fear.
Mal felt his own bit of fear for a moment. The door of the craft slid shut and Simon nearly collapsed onto the bench in the back.
“What's going on?”
“Toombs,” Simon sighed. “River and Riddick are going to find their own way back, but we have to go now.” Jayne clambered down into the craft with a look of his own and Mal knew things were really close to the South Pole.
“I hate seeing her like this,” Kyra sighed. They were on the second segment of the marrow transfusion and Dr. Vaako was looking more drawn with every injection. “She's always trying so hard to be happy or assure everyone else. Always offering herself to anyone who needs it, but she never takes anything for herself.”
“Two out of five,” Dr. Vaako hummed. “Do you know what she meant?”
“I'm not privy to Companion knowledge. I only manage her schedule and arrange transportation.” Kyra smiled sadly. “Sometimes I double check security, but she's stopped bothering with it lately.”
The machine beeped and Vaako replaced one of the canisters before he spoke again.
“Her illness, it's seen as a precaution on Xibalba, isn't it?”
“Anti-incest. Xibalba is just at the border of the Mesotec and Islamic sectors and just in between Rim and Core.” Kyra rose from her seat to readjust her sister's veil. “Everything on that gods forsaken rock is seen as the fault of a woman. Doesn't matter what the problem is or who started it, it's our fault.”
“Foolish ideals,” Vaako scowled. It was close to a sneer and for the barest of seconds, Kyra was a bit afraid. “It makes me glad to know the two of you were able to escape.”
“We were lucky,” she nodded. “I just wish she'd been luckier.”
“I think she will be.”
Two Furyan's stalked through the hospital basement giving off the faintest blue glow as they went. The lights hadn't been cut, not entirely, but something had happened to make the lights go down and now they were taking out more than just mercs. Operatives had come through upstairs and to hear River whimper and tug him away from doors, they were hunting them down too. Riddick had been forced to leave Operative training before he'd gotten into the real heavy stuff. Damn good thing too.
“Gotta use that thing now,” he whispered to her. “Got three mercs up ahead and a purple belly. I can't take them all without letting the Blue Meanies know about it.”
“The girl knows, she will take the other girl. Her mind is distracted.” Whatever had distracted the other girl was making his Very unhappy. It made him smile as they ducked through the doors and into the corridor where their prey would soon pass by.
The purple belly was taking lead, all professional pride and Core stink that was soon spilling across the floor. Riddick realized that he liked scalpels. Easy to hide and sharp, they cut through just about anything including the body armor that left a body's sides exposed. He was only vaguely aware that the woman went down next, slower than he'd taken the officer down, but he was more focused on his hunt. First the young guy, blade right through to the brain stem, then the elder with a slightly less quick death. Finally the other woman went down and Riddick decided he really needed to know what she'd been thinking. Later though. Riv was starting to shake again and mumble about blue skies and blind men. Good. They'd almost made it to the emergency exit. Just through the next room and they should be able to hide out for a while.
“Two by two, gloves of blue,” River hummed as he pulled her into the final room. “Can't be scanned, can't see. See the blind spot, hear the Silence. Jabbing needles into her eyes and demanding to know what she sees!”
“Your eyes are fine Khalessi,” he pushed her towards the door. “Shining bright, seeing what they need to see.” His white uniform was dark with blood and for the first time he wasn't having as much fun as he usually did during a chase. He grabbed for the door only to let out a roar. Electronic lock must have kicked closed when they cut the power. “Graddakh...Riv, you see me fall, I need you to go straight to Vaes Tolorro, you got me?”
“Richard,” River pressed against him.
“Do you got me?” Riddick snarled as he brought the Morgue blade in front of him. They were coming for her and he knew they'd snatch him up just as fast. Two heads were better than one; male and female made a matching set.
The door opened up behind them with a blast and Mal's scent hit Riddick in a wave, followed close by Jayne's. The captain was smiling, but he wasn't at all happy about things. Riddick was sure he had some kind of smartassed one-liner loaded up, but getting out was more important than giving Mal any sort of glory. Both of them pushed him out of their way and jumped into the waiting Medicraft without pause.
Mal was smart enough to run close behind them. The scent of...blue...had come into his senses when the door finally slid shut and Wash was lifting them away.
Kyra was worried when her Inara insisted on walking upright out the front doors of the guild, but she seemed to be doing it for a reason not relating to the grace of a companion. Actually, she seemed to be smiling a bit differently as her doctor escorted her to the entry hall of the companion's hospital. It was a strange thing to see, a delicate woman leading a blind man through the mysterious halls. Blindfolded, technically, but it sounded way more poetic the other way. Or something. It made Kyra smile. She loved Mal like a father, and once she wouldn't have minded seeing her sister and him arguing over paint chips and furniture. Thing was though, once she started seeing her crew in actual relationships, strangely functional and bordering on unreal, the more she started seeing how unrealistic Mal and Inara were.
Would Mal understand if he found out about Inara's illness?
Could he do it?
“I do wish I could see your face before you leave,” Dr. Vaako spoke when they came to a stop before the front doors.
“Perhaps the fates will give you their favor and we'll meet again.” Inara was smiling wider than she'd done in a long while.
“Perhaps so. Though fate is often fickle, and a man must create his own.” He smiled in Inara's direction and neither sister could say it was unattractive. “May your fate be forged by your own hand.”
“May your own be without flaw or nick,” Inara replied. She bowed lightly, and though he couldn't see, the soldier doctor was bowing to her in return. Then Inara did something rather surprising for everyone in the room, including trainees and footmen and other companions.
She kissed her doctor on the corner of his mouth.
The doors were opened and Inara left in a flutter of silk and linen, Kyra a half step behind her. The doors were shut and the doctor was being led to another door in the back of the building. His own conveyance was waiting to take him back to the hospital or his home, whichever they'd kidnapped him from, and he'd never speak of his time in the temple again. What a souvenir though!
“You kissed him...” Kyra teased as they rode back to the ship. They had a carriage this time around, with real horses and a canopy to keep the sun off.
“I did,” Inara laughed. “I have no idea why but it seemed...it seemed like the thing to do.”
“It seemed like he was super cute and you couldn't resist,” Kyra corrected.
“Perhaps.” Inara was looking at the road ahead of them, smiling still despite the pain in her bones. “Something about his words rang so clearly though. I left the temple to forge my own path and to find you. After I found you I thought I was done, I'd figured it out.” She looked down at their joined hands. “I haven't though. My life isn't over yet, and I don't think it will be for a while.”
The ride back to the ship was relaxing and Inara even asked the driver to take them around Lake Salome before he took them back to the docks. The very human driver didn't seem to have a problem with that, taking them just a bit slower as they rode. It felt nice to take things slow and ride around the glowing green lake. It didn't seem like a thing to swim in, though there were plenty of people all around it, laying in the sun or playing in the water. Having a picnic or a party in the gazebos. Zoe would have hated it, Kaylee would have been interested for a few seconds, and River would have scienced it away in seconds.
“I wonder if your doctor likes this place?”
Kyra laughed and did the exact opposite. Even the driver seemed to giggle now and again as they spoke. It wasn't too long before the were at the docks, the driver looking at the ship with a healthy respect while he unloaded their bags. Inara paid him well and tipped him a lot more than he'd been expecting before offering him a blessing and prayers for his happiness. He bowed in returned and thanked her, giving his own before hopping back into the carriage and riding off.
“Oh! Hey Inara, Jack, how was the doctor's office?”
“Same as last year,” Inara answered with a smile. There was a challenge in her eyes when she looked at Jack. Okay, fine, she'd leave it alone. “What's going on here?”
“Where's anyone?” Jack agreed, turning to see Zoe eating something as she waited on a pile of crates.
“Oh, well, let's see,” Kaylee was smiling and just a little bit vacant as she ticked her fingers off. “We killed Simon and River,” Inara couldn't keep from gasping and Jack wondered if she'd stopped breathing, “Stole a bunch of medicine, and now Jayne and the captain are off springing those what got pinched by the feds.” She leaned over and looked past the sisters. “There they are now!”
An ambulance pulled into the cargo bay and Jack wondered what the hell they'd done. She didn't have much time to ask because Mal was hopping out, followed by Simon and River and then Riddick, while Jayne pulled up the rear with a big gun and Wash climbed out from the cockpit.
“Tell me we weren't followed,” Mal spoke to Wash. He hardly tipped his head to welcome the sisters back.
“Nothing in our rear-view the whole way back,” Wash answered as he darted over to the stairs and up.
“Take us home then,” Mal called as Wash disappeared from sight. “Ladies, welcome back. Iffin you'll find a seat and strap in, we'll be breaking atmo in a little under five minutes.” He paused for a beat. “How was your thing?”
“Lots of needles and cold exam tables,” Inara responded. “I heard you had some excitement.”
Mal was ushering them up the stairs while River and Riddick climbed up behind them and simon headed towards the infirmary.
“Nothing much, lots of running around, bit of costumery.”
“Knife-play in dark rooms,” Riddick added on. “Couple of needles.”
Jack didn't want to know. She really didn't. Instead, she went with Inara to their shared shuttle and Mal and the others went into the crew bunks or up to the cockpit. Zoe had gone after Simon to the infirmary and for the first time in a while, Jack wondered if she was ever going to get used to this ship. Then she realized that it was completely in accordance with everything they'd ever done ever.
“This is too confusing!” Jack laughed as she threw her cards down on the table. “Simon, I'm not a doctor, I doubt I ever could be, please stop using big words.”
“I'm just trying to explain the game,” Simon shrugged. He was smiling as he picked her cards up and reshuffled them. “I'll try to use little words though. Teeny tiny, little words, nothing bigger than seven letters.”
“Oh shut up,” Jack flicked a bit of her tea at him. She glanced over at the couch where a faint blue shine could be seen coming off of Riddick and River. “So what are they doing?”
“Furyan thing,” Simon answered shortly. He looked over his shoulder and then back at the deck. “Looks like they're reading though.”
“Must be a good book.” Mal slid into his seat and took a draw from his coffee. “You get what you needed?”
“Yeah.” Simon nodded and dealt Mal into the game. “I have to take a few more looks at it, really assess what's going on, but...I'm hopeful.” He looked it too. His shoulders weren't so tense and he didn't have the funny wrinkle on his forehead anymore. “It was nice to have the right tools again, but I realized how much I needed to be working on the Rim.”
“Well, it's a good thing we kept some of those meds for our infirmary, isn't it?” Mal took a sip from his coffee and picked up his hand. “Alright, explain to me how to play Canasta.”
Vaako looked at the image he'd captured while in disguise. The blue of her veil made it impossible for their technology to filter it out and show her face, but he'd something much better than a glimpse of her breeding shell. It was a lovely shell, to be sure, though it wasn't what had cemented his need to have her. It was the way she endured. The way she knew she would die, but continued on and accepted, embraced the pain that would give her life for another year. He was sure he wasn't supposed to know her name, but he did now, and more than that, he had the ghost of a kiss on his skin.
He flicked through the information as his ship broke orbit. They'd refueled and converted a few new brothers and sisters, they'd even taken a link to the Alliance data core. That gave him everything he needed to know. Inara Serra, priestess to House Madera, traveling guide and former companion was going to be much easier to track, as would the quarry she carried with her.
“Necromongers were found within the lower levels of Ariel City General Hospital.” The operative listened as the agents relayed their news to him. “Along with several members of the Mercenaries Guild and two members of the civilian Police.”
“Guardian Corp or general forces?”
“General forces,” the agents answered. “The Guardian Corp could not be trusted to keep their silence regarding what was found.”
The Operative nodded and watched as nothing took out the mercenaries. Nothing moved from one side of the screen to the other, only flickering into something for the barest second. Two somethings that took down four opponents; one of them taking their time with the female mercenary. The something became just a bit clearer for the barest of seconds and it showed itself to be feminine. River Tam had all sorts of tricks when she was with her new partner.
“Have we pulled Richard B. Riddick's files?” the Operative asked.
“Affirmative,” an agent walked forward with a data chip. “He was in line for your position.”
A handler. River M. Tam's handler was supposed to be her chosen mate and for the barest of seconds The Operative wondered why Riddick had left his post. It was emblazoned upon his files. Uncontrollable. Non-programable. Regardless of Authority. Hardly an issue. Murderer. Escape artist. Even less of an issue there. Nothing in his files suggested he'd have been thrown away so simply when he was the perfect match for Operative.
He'd simply been in the right place at the wrong time. The Operative would have to finish cleaning that mess up before he continued on with the hunt. Two heads were better than one, and they would make a matching set.
I'm sorry it's so late, but school has been pretty intense recently and that will always come first. Even if The Doctor came, he'd have to return me in time to turn in my work. I hope you like it, i feel like something is missing…
Also! According to cannon and an interview at one of the comicons, Inara is dying from a terminal illness, so there ya go ^_^