Chapter 11: The Academy

With gloved hands folded behind his back, Malcolm Reynolds walked down the corridor of the lab that no one knew existed. Well, no one but those few who made it their business to know. He tucked in the back of his mind a notion to make gorram sure that the rest of the 'verse learned of this.

What he had seen of the facility turned his stomach. Being in a prison or somewhere out in Serenity Valley faired a mite better than this, he thought, given the darkness of the surroundings. What little light existed cut through the dark like a knife, harshly and with ragged edges.

Mal noted the conditions the 'students' were in; suspecting protein cubes weren't the main focused fare for diet based on the numerous tubes he saw. If any of his crew were put in a place like this, he'd cut down every Alliance agent between him and them. Too many souls were down here, too many torn families above ground…

Now, he had one soul to save and one soul only.

He looked over this Doctor Mathias fella and could tell he was a smart idiot. Smart, like Mal's own doctor – yes, he'd taken to keepin' Simon on as doctor, given the boy's persuasive arguments of how he wanted to earn his keep proper. Idiot like Jayne, but not as smart. Jayne had the sense enough to know when what he was doing was wrong to somebody- like Simon, for instance. No. This Mathias fella was a smart idiot.

Such a smart idiot, Mal thought, that he probably didn't even know that Mal had already turned off the security cameras with the little device Kaylee and Wash cooked up. Jayne suggested the 'replay' feature, so nothing changed that shouldn't have.

"Tell me about this subject," Mal said, keeping his face and figure as cold and rigid as possible. His heart tugged and leapt at the same time – tugged at the anger of the insanity he saw before him in terms of Alliance arrogance at its worse and leapin' because, without a shadow of a doubt, he found the lost soul – the sibling resemblance not even a blind man could miss.

Mathias blubbered about capacity, training procedures, physical strengths and the like. Mal paid close attention when the doc went on about side effects, notin' things he knew Simon would want to hear about.

"Something troubling you?" Mal asked turning to the man by him now silent.

Mathias gave him a look of annoyance that Mal recognized from a commander he fought beside in the war. It was that 'holier-than-thou' look that Mal hated. That commander dropped dead two Alliance bullets later, an inconvenient kindness, considering. Mal wanted to drop this moron the same way, but knew that things would not go smooth after that.

"I fail to see the purpose of this visit," Mathias said. "What could you possibly gain that the others haven't learned?"

Mal knew this would break the mold of the role he was supposed to play, but he couldn't resist, because, in a way, it was fittin'. "That's your problem," he said admonishing the man. "You fail to see quite a bit." Mal positioned the baton, hoping he had it right. With a smile, Mal added, "As to gains, that's something you'll never understand."

Mal dropped to one knee, slamming the baton with full force and watched the Alliance drones fall like puppets with their strings cut. Satisfied, he went quickly to River Tam, freeing her of her restraints.

"Come on, Darlin'," he said giving her shoulders a gentle shake. He went to the door to see if anyone was coming.

"Who sent you?"

Mal nearly jumped out of his skin as the girl stood right behind him. 'Gorrammit,' he thought, 'she was as good as Zoë.' Taking the charm out of his uniform shirt pocket, he said, "Butterflies' Ballet." The wistful smile she gave answered her question.

Mal shed the Alliance uniform, revealing a medical student's tunic beneath. "All right, Darlin' think we can-?"

"The ventilation shaft," she said softly. "Up is out."

Mal looked at her in awe and weariness. If she was a reader… "That's right. Ready to-?"

River already removed one of the other tech's tunics and put it over her clothes. "Let's go home," she said.

Mal was impressed by a number of things: first, that none of the drones followed them as they made their escape through the shaft; second, everything was going according to plan for once; and third that River got into the cryo with little fuss, giving the charm up last after she held it to her cheek, muttering something or t'other to herself.

He followed the directions Kaylee and Wash had given him about sealing up the cryo, hoping the recordings and vitals indicators were working accurately, and then left for the rendezvous point, frustrated that more families couldn't be reunited as well.

Mal and Jayne moved the cryo box to a secure place in the cargo bay, fastening down the sides. "It's gonna be a long week," he told the mercenary.

Jayne looked down at the box as the rest of the crew gathered around. None of them said anything as Simon weaved through the small group, slowly kneeling down before the box. He ran a hand over the top, then edges of it, tears trickling down his face as he did so.

Jayne and the others recognized the unspoken command by the Captain and each of them gave the young man the space he needed.

As Jayne went up the stairs ready to go to his bunk, he swore he'd make every gorram sons of whores pay.

Zoë stayed with Wash on the Bridge, her hand on his shoulder as he reached back and held it with his. They didn't need to say anything, knowing what was going through the other person's mind. What a curse of a blessing….

Kaylee swayed in her hammock in the engine room, holding a small figurine in her hand.' How could folks be so mean to one 'nuther? Thank goodness, it wasn't a coffin,' she thought.

Inara lit incense at her small alter and said a prayer, aware of some things Mal and the others weren't and ashamed of her being a part of the Alliance.

Book sat at in his room, Bible in hand, and said a prayer for River, for Simon, and for the strength to get through the trials yet to come.

Mal sat alone at the dining room table, tapping an empty coffee mug against the table top, wondering just how 'shiny' things were going to get, and how they were going to get through the week. In the meantime, he had a doc to send a wave to.

Simon sat on his heels, still in shock of what he saw as the clinical part of his mind took in the readings. His sister was free – or at least on her way closer to free. This family had accomplished what their blood one refused, what he was unable to.

He did remember some of what another informant had said, of the importance of the cryo – given the hazards one family had faced when that wasn't done, the shock driving their family member to suicide. Simon prayed that week would go by fast, as fast as Serenity did in when it went into hard burn.

For now, he pulled off his sweater, folded it into a pillow, and lay down at his sister's side – as close as he could get – and slept.

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