blue flamingos

Scavengers

Fandom: Firefly

Category/Rated: Gen,

Year/Length: 2006/ ~3436 words

Pairing: Mal + Kaylee friendship

Disclaimer: No, I don't own them, for which I should think they're profoundly grateful.

Summary: Not long after Kaylee joins the crew, she and Mal go scavenging on a not-so-deserted planet.

Author's Notes: For the [info]spook_me challenge: Cyborgs, bogeymen and objects with mysterious powers – two out of three's not bad, right? Also for [info]30_friends prompt no.5 Hidden Treasures

Feedback: Yes please. Even if it's bad. Especially if it's bad.

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Kaylee had expected that, even grounded and with no-one walking around her, Serenity would make more noise. There were still parts of her running, after all, even if the engine was off.

Down in the cargo bay, though, the silence seemed to echo, bouncing off the metal walls and drowning out any noise the ship might be making. She couldn't stop looking behind her, expecting to see someone coming down the steps, or appearing out of the shadows, even knowing that Wash wouldn't be coming down from the flight deck until he'd found them a safe route to their drop-off.

Kaylee ran her fingers lightly over the door controls under her hand. She couldn't see out of the small door the Captain and Zoë had left open when they'd gone, but Mal had made it very clear that she was to keep the main hatch closed until she saw them coming back.

All she knew of the planet was the glimpse she'd got as they'd landed, rows and rows of identical white houses laid out in squares and, right in the middle, a huge crater that looked as though it should still be smoking. They'd flown right over it before Wash landed them, and there wasn't a sign of life in the whole city. The Captain'd said something 'bout the Alliance when he'd told them about the job, and Kaylee hadn't asked anything more: she might only have been on Serenity a few weeks, but she knew not to talk about that, or the war, to either him or Zoë.

She took a few steps towards the door, just to hear the sound of her boots on the metal floor, the sound of something alive on the planet. Maybe they really were the only four people alive there, though Wash had said, when they were alone in the kitchen the night before, that the people who lived in the city must all have gone somewhere after the blast. It couldn't have killed them all, and they couldn't all have left the planet. Kaylee didn't know if that made her feel better or worse: maybe they wouldn't like a ship coming in and taking some of their things, even if it was only rocks that she couldn't see anyone having a use for.

She leant against the door frame and looked out. They weren't far from the edge of the city, just a narrow strip of dead grass between them and the first houses. It was as quiet out there as inside Serenity, not even a wind blowing, and it didn't look like they'd had a drop of rain in months.

Something moved against the houses, a dark shadow, and Kaylee ducked back into the ship, peering cautiously round the edge of the door. The shadow was still moving, slow against the white walls, something odd about how it moved, person-shaped but not natural. Kaylee frowned, trying to see it a little better, though it was too far away and the brightness of the sun made seeing anything difficult. The movement reminded her of something she'd seen back home, but she didn't know what. Whatever it was, it didn't notice her, going along its slow walk round the edge of the city.

Then, suddenly, there was a blur of movement against the city wall and the Captain and Zoë were coming towards her on their little buggy, throwing up a cloud of dust behind them that obscured everything else. Kaylee rushed back into Serenity to open the hatch, and they powered up it almost before it had touched the dust, Zoë pulling the buggy to a stop right at the bottom of the steps.

Piled on the back were three large boxes of what Kaylee assumed to be their cargo. Zoë climbed off the buggy and went over to unlock a side panel. Mal came over to where Kaylee was standing, grinning. "Any trouble?"

Kaylee couldn't stop herself glancing out of the hatch, back at the city. Whatever had been there was gone and now there were people filling the silence, she wondered if she'd really seen anything at all, or if it had just been the sun and her imagination playing tricks. Her mother had always said she had an over-active imagination, and that it would get her into trouble one day.

When she'd been offered the job on Serenity, Kaylee had kind of wondered if maybe that was what her mother had meant, especially when it turned out that Serenity was a smuggling ship.

"Didn't see a thing," she told Mal, smiling back at him. No way was she going to tell Zoë and Mal, who'd fought in the war, that she was seeing shadows.

"Grand." Mal patted her shoulder. "Now what was it you said we needed for the engine this week?"

"Fuel cells, new heat conduction tubes –"

Mal held is hand up, cutting her off before she could go on. It was a pretty long list. "All right, never mind. You think you could get these off a wreck?"

"Sure. If it aint too badly damaged, of course." Kaylee frowned. "Why?"

"Zoë and I went past one. Aint no-one around to want it, so I figured we might take a look."

"Really?" If it was a wreck, there might be all sorts of the kind of expensive parts she knew the Captain would never have the money to buy for the ship. "Just... let me get some tools."

The Captain nodded, moving back to where Zoë was waiting for his help to unload the buggy. "You run and get what you need, tell Wash you and me are going out again, and we'll take the buggy soon as we unload it."

Kaylee took the steps two at a time, running through Serenity's corridors, enjoying being able to hear her again after the echoes of the cargo bay. "Wash! Wash!"

Wash turned quickly from his controls. "What's up, Kaylee?"

"Captain and Zoë found a wrecked ship out there, me and him are going out to look for parts. Zoë's gonna stay here."

Wash's face brightened immediately. "Well, you kids have fun, won't you?"

Kaylee shook her head. Zoë had barely said two words to him since Kaylee had joined the ship, but that didn't stop Wash. He was completely head over heels for her, not that Kaylee blamed him. "We will. You need me to look for anything?"

Something buzzed behind Wash and he turned to thump it firmly. "A new control panel would be good. If not, a couple of decent screens would be nice." He thumped the buzzing screen again and the noise stopped.

When she got back to the cargo bay, the wall panel had been screwed back into place, the cargo hidden away. The Captain had turned the buggy round and was leaning against it, saying something to Zoë that Kaylee couldn't hear over her boots on the metal steps. He looked up when he heard her. "All set?"

"Yes, Captain." Kaylee slung her bag across her shoulder, screwdrivers and drills clanking together as she did.

"All right then." Mal swung one leg over the buggy and revved the engine. Kaylee felt the vibrations run through her when she climbed on the back, smaller than Serenity's and familiar in a different way, from the buggy her father had used to get around to wrecks. "Zoë, we'll radio when we're on our way back. You're in charge till then."

"Yes, Sir." Zoë's voice never changed, but Kaylee fancied she could hear the other woman's thoughts anyway, nothing good about being in charge of Wash.

They bumped slowly over the step from the hatch, then Mal gunned the engine, sending them flying across the open grassland towards the city, dust getting into Kaylee's eyes. She blinked it away, trying not to rub them and make it worse, and looked over to the right, to the brightness of the empty houses, looking for a shadow. For a moment, she thought she saw something flicker, but when she looked again it was gone.

Mal slowed the buggy as they neared the city, slipping between the houses and down the street. They really were identical, long rows of box-like buildings, with two windows on the ground floor, and two above them on the first, no roofs, and doors bang in the middle of the houses, opening right onto the street. The street itself was paved with large grey stones, some of them missing so that the buggy jerked and bumped over them, Mal cursing and Kaylee gripping hold of him to keep from falling off.

They rattled down one street, then turned into another and another, heading towards the centre of the city, where they'd seen the blast crater from the sky, no signs of life anywhere. When they came to a stop and Mal turned the buggy's engine off, the silence seemed to rush back in, completely empty.

The ship wasn't as wrecked as Kaylee thought it might be, one of the wings missing, and signs that it had bounced a couple of times when it crashed, but otherwise not too bad. It was a firefly like Serenity as well, so the parts would even match up without too much work. Kaylee couldn't help grinning: maybe the passengers had survived, with it looking like that and... She didn't think past that, since whatever had happened to make them abandon their ship couldn't have been too good.

The engine was as undamaged as the rest of the ship, so much so that even Mal raised his eyebrows when he saw it. "Our lucky day," he said quietly, patting Kaylee's arm as she pulled a drill from her bag. "You're OK here?"

Kaylee fixed a bit into her drill. "Shiny, Captain."

"Good." Mal dropped a radio handset on a shelf above the engine. "Call if you need me."

"Yes, Sir." Kaylee watched him stride towards the kitchen, then shrugged and turned to the engine, fitting her drill into the first of the screws.

She carefully dropped each screw into her pocket, remembering scrabbling round her father's garage for the last screw she'd needed to fit her first engine together. The vibrations rattled through her fingers and up into her shoulder, as familiar as Serenity's.

Pulling the last screw out, she heard metal clank against metal at the other end of the ship. It was a good thing, Kaylee thought, smiling, that they never took on any jobs that needed secrecy.

It didn't take her long to pull off what they could use. There was still no sign of Mal, so Kaylee shoved a few tools into her pockets and went up to the flight deck. The door slid open easily when she pushed it and Kaylee stepped up from the corridor.

She stopped just inside the door, looking round. Like the rest of the ship, the flight desk seemed undamaged but there was something strange about it. She took another step forwards, leaning over to look at the desk. The screen in front of her had a crack running through the top right corner, no use for Wash.

Kaylee froze.

Below the flight deck, something moved on the metal walk-way. The shadow outside the city walls flashed before Kaylee's eyes. She reached for the handset Mal had left her, and came up empty-handed.

The sound of movement below – footsteps, she realised – came again, moving towards the ladder. Kaylee swallowed hard, trying not to panic. *There's no-one left in this city* she told herself firmly. *It's all your imagination. It's just the Captain walking around.*

Except that the Captain was down the other end of the ship.

The ladder jolted as someone stepped onto it, and Kaylee turned and ran.

She ran past the engine, not stopping for the handset or the parts she'd taken, along the corridor and into the kitchen, gasping for breath as she came to a halt.

"Captain?" Some of the locker doors were open, boxes of protein packs on the counter where they'd been taken out, but there was no sign of the Captain. Back on the flight deck, the footsteps started again. "Oh..." Kaylee groaned. She passed her screwdriver from one hand to the other, wishing for the handset instead.

The sound of the footsteps echoed. "Think, think..." If he wasn't in the kitchen... Kaylee clutched her screwdriver tightly to her chest and made for the cargo bay, concentrating on the sound of her own boots on the metal walkway.

The doors to the crew rooms were open, gaping mouths along the side of the corridor, all of them dark. Kaylee ran past, not looking down, afraid of what she'd see if she did.

She slid down the short run of stairs to the next level of the ship, burning her hands against the metal. Her feet slammed hard into the walkway and she grabbed at the wall to catch her balance.

A hand came down on the wall next to hers.

A hand in a black glove.

Kaylee forced her eyes up, over black pants and a black shirt. The smooth face above smiled.

"Argh!" Kaylee staggered backwards, crashing into the metal barrier on other side of the walkway.

"Hello," the figure said.

The voice was smoother than anything Kaylee had ever heard, matching the smooth face and close-cropped hair. She couldn't tell if it was male or female.

"Where's the Captain?" she asked, hearing her voice tremble.

"The Captain?" The figure tilted its head to one side, its eyes unblinking on Kaylee. "The other man. He took things which belong to us."

"Did you..." Kaylee stopped, not wanting to ask.

"Kill him?" the figure asked. "No. He wanted to wait for you." It lifted one black-clad arm, pointing down into the cargo bay.

Kaylee turned slowly, forcing her eyes not to close, her hands tight on the railing. The bay below was full of identical black figures, their faces turned up to look at her. At the back, two of them flanked Mal, who raised one hand when he saw Kaylee. "You all right there, Kaylee?"

"Yes, Sir." Kaylee glanced back at the figure behind her, who hadn't moved.

"Shiny." Mal smiled darkly. "You want to ask your friend if we can leave?"

"No." The figure shook its head. "You took what belongs to us."

"And you're more than welcome to it back, if you tell us what it is." Kaylee recognised the frustration creeping into the Captain's voice, but the figures ignored it.

"You took what belongs to us," Kaylee's figure repeated. "You cannot leave until you return it." It took Kaylee's arm firmly and began to push her towards the steps, its hand cold against Kaylee's skin. "You wait with the man."

"So," Mal said as the figures adjusted themselves to flank Kaylee as well. "Did you find any usable parts?"

Kaylee dragged her eyes away from the army of figures. "Yes, Sir."

"You dropped it when you heard something?" Kaylee nodded. "That's OK."

"What, um... " One of the figures turned its head fractionally, and Kaylee started again. "Who are they?"

Mal glanced around the cargo bay. "Cyborgs. Humans with mechanical parts."

"Cyborgs," Kaylee repeated. The smooth faces and voices... She'd heard of them back home, but never expected to see one. She'd never even been sure they really existed. "What do you think they want from us?"

"No idea." Mal sighed. "Might as well get comfortable."

Kaylee shivered. The rows of completely still figures made her nervous, like she was waiting for them to do something.

"You cold?" Mal asked.

"A bit," Kaylee admitted and, to her surprise, Mal pulled her against him in a one-armed hug.

"We'll be fine," he said quietly.

"Of course, Captain."

Time seemed to crawl as they stood there. At first, Kaylee shuffled from one foot to the other, as they started to hurt, but eventually they got so cold that she couldn't feel them. The figures stood without moving, all facing forwards.

Kaylee's eyes started to droop, until she felt herself leaning further into Mal. She pulled herself upright, but a moment later, her eyes were drifting closed again.

Suddenly, a burst of static jolted her awake. "Sir?" asked Zoë's distorted voice.

The entire row of figures turned as one, their eyes going instantly to Mal and Kaylee. Mal smiled at them.

"Talk to her," one of the figures said.

Mal reached into his pocket and pulled out the handset. "Zoë, we're having a few problems here."

There was a pause, then Zoë's voice came through, dead-pan as ever. "Problems, Sir?"

"Just a small matter of a group of cyborgs who think we've taken something of theirs."

"Thought you said thee was no-one here, Sir."

Mal glanced round the room of blank faces. "That may have been a slight error on my part."

"I see, Sir. Do you need a rescue mission?"

"Tell her to bring back our property," the figure said.

"Your property?" Mal repeated. "Oh. Your property, of course. Zoë, they want their property back."

"You mean our cargo, Sir?" Zoë's tone of voice didn't change, but she still made it clear that she thought the Captain was being an idiot. Kaylee would have agreed, except that she hadn't thought of that either. The cargo was just rocks.

"That I do, Zoë. Quick as you like."

The figure nodded slowly. "Good."

Kaylee fancied she could hear Serenity's hatch opening, across all the empty space between them. She thought of the parts she'd promised the ship, all the things they needed and wanted and weren't going to get. She thought of the shadow, moving along the edge of the city, and wondered if it was in the hold of this ship with them, or out there somewhere, waiting for them, or for Zoë.

Her and Mal had the buggy, so Zoë came on the next best thing, a motorised cart that Kaylee was still working on, trying to get to run better, or at least in a straight line. She could hear it coming a long way off, the engine jumping, until it pulled up outside the ship and one of the figures went to open the hatch.

Zoë was standing on the other side, her hands up, looking trouble-free. "Evening, Sir," she said, sliding her eyes over to them. "Kaylee."

"Zoë." Mal pushed Kaylee gently away from him. "Any trouble?"

"Lot less than you've got."

One of the figures stepped forward, two others following, then moving round it to take the first box off the cart. "You brought it all back?" the figure asked.

Zoë nodded. "That's everything."

The two figures dropped a box in front of the other's feet, and pulled the lid open. Kaylee leaned forward, just far enough to see into it, layers and layers of rough, square stones, each one giving off a pale blue light.

The figures leant towards the box with her, as if they were drawn to it, their heads tipping backwards, and Kaylee saw something pass over their expressionless eyes, like ecstasy.

"Sir?" Zoë stood in the doorway, half-turned to their buggy. "I think it's time we left."

Kaylee looked between her and the figures, none of them paying any attention to the three people in the corner of their ship. She couldn't stop the shudder that ran down her spine.

"Never a truer word spoke," Mal agreed. "Come on, Kaylee."

They left the cart with the second two boxes on it, Mal and Zoë as keen to get away as Kaylee was. There was something about the look in those blank eyes, far more threatening than they had been when she'd seen them over the railing. She didn't want to be there when they came out of it.

On the back of the buggy, listening to Zoë and Mal shout about power sources and mysterious rocks, and Mal complain about having to explain why they didn't have any cargo to deliver, Kaylee kept her eyes on the destroyed ship as it faded away. The further they got from it, the less it looked like Serenity, like a firefly of any kind, until they turned the corner and it was gone.

Back on Serenity, up on the flight deck with Wash as they took off, she looked out of the front window, over to the crater, where the other ship had been. She couldn't see the ship, but even from that distance, she could see the dark figures, moving over the city.


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