Episode 512: Unusual Alliances

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Air Date: 12 Apr 2011
Present: Kim, Maer, Terri, and Andy

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We’ve done our best. We’ve managed to avoid the surveillance cameras, release the prisoners on both prison levels, and regroup … just in time to be captured by an Operative from IAV Aceso who we’d named amongst ourselves The Psychiatrist. She walks in on us with one of Malcolm Reynolds’ crew, a young woman named River Tam. As we’re all staring at the Operative in surprise, she utters a single phrase in a foreign language and it sends River Tam and Joshua Drake to the floor, writhing in agony.

So much for our escape plan.

Thursday, 07 May 2522
Secret Installation, St. Albans
Red Sun (Zhu Que) system

The Operative watches the two on the floor a moment and then looks back up at us. We are all holding guns. She’s holding nothing, save our friends’ lives, hanging by a word.

The Operative: Put down your weapons and I will release them.
Kiera: Or we could just shoot you and get this over with.
The Operative: Then they will not be released.
Kiera: I don’t know. If you’re dead, they oughta be released from something.
The Operative: This isn’t magic.

As much as Kiera would rather shoot the mǔgǒu, Joshua is her friend and she doesn’t want to trap him in an endless loop of pain. The look she cuts at Nika is eloquent: Captain? Instructions?

What she sees is Nika calmly assessing the situation. And what Nika is thinking is: There’s a whole lot more of us. Between the lot of us, we’ve got some advantage.

The Operative waits. The rest of us pause. River and Joshua writhe.

Jayne: Gorammit! Stop it. You’re hurtin’ ’em!

Nika nods at Kiera and gives Rina a hard look.

Nika: Drop ’em.

Kiera lays down her rifle and slowly the rest of the crew does the same. Rina gives up her weapons one by one: scalpels, hemostats, everything else she’s managed to scrounge … Serenity’s crew follows suit.

The Operative: Step back to the other side of the room, please.

Everyone moves back.

The Operative: Egizu beti on.

For those of us still standing, the phrase means nothing. For River and Joshua, it means instant relief. The pain disappears in a flash, leaving them with a lingering memory of it. Joshua instinctively looks at his hands for the marks that must surely be there and finds nothing. Simon tries to rush over to his sister but is still rocky from his recent torture. Joshua looks up and glares at the Operative. So is everyone else on his crew. For her part, the Operative seems supremely unconcerned by the animosity aimed at her. She touches her ear and speaks pleasantly to the general air.

The Operative: I could use a couple people down here.

Rina narrows her gaze at the words. If the Operative is calling in reinforcements, it means that they’re on the levels above and she wonders how many more of them there are as opposed to were present when we were first captured. Did the Operative bring security forces of her own? Or were these reinforcements already here but stationed elsewhere? A couple of minutes later two people who appear to be Federal Marshals walk in.

What the Marshals see is one lone woman in a business suit facing off twenty people, with a big pile of guns sitting next to her on the floor. The look the two Marshals trade is also eloquent: Da-aaaaaaamn.

There being little else for them to do, they silently gather the weapons and pull back with them. One of them leaves to lock them up somewhere, the other stays. The Operative steps aside to give them room and she watches as they withdraw before turning back to the rest of us.

The Operative: So. I suppose we should have some sort of—let’s see, how about a game of ‘You correct me when I’m wrong’.
Joshua: (sourly) I love games.
The Operative: Miss Tam contacted Cmdr. Wise on the Aceso. Right so far?
Joshua: Go on.
The Operative: And … informed him of the location of this laboratory.
Joshua: Go on.
The Operative: I’m guessing, Miss Tam, that you also hacked the computers to provide the alert that sent the fleet away.

At this, River looks at daggers and nods. For her part, Rina’s estimation of the slight young woman goes up by several notches: Rock on, little girl. Hacking into the Fleet’s systems was a bold move.

The Operative: If you wanted to keep them secure, you should have used a multilevel encryption algorithm instead of the simple one that you used. Any moron could hack that system.

Moron? River bites her lip and keeps what she thinks behind her teeth, but you can see she doesn’t like being insulted.

The Operative: Then you came here. Where is the Director?
Rina: Six feet under, I hope.
The Operative: Did you kill the Director?
Rina: I wish.
Joshua: Who?
The Operative: Agent Kappa.
Joshua: Oh, no. We would all be dancing in glee if we managed to kill her. And I say that from the standpoint of someone who is against killing.
Rina: (to Joshua) You need to revise your list, dear.

The Operative is talking to the air again.

The Operative: Find Agent Kappa. Send her down here with an escort. (back to us) I see you’ve overpowered the guards. Attempted to effect a rescue. (sighs) Well. Am I leaving anything out? It seems that you’ve shut down the power.
Joshua: Your Director is a total psychopath, a sociopath.
The Operative: How so?
Joshua: She’s … she revels in pain. And … and …
The Operative: Pain can be useful.
Joshua: (grim) I understand pain can be useful. I am not short of experiencing that. She goes beyond pain being useful. Pain is pleasurable to her.

The Operative takes a deep breath and expels it.

The Operative: This is … sloppier than I would have hoped for. I don’t like things to be a mess. Now to figure out the best way to clean this situation up.
Joshua: What? Okay. Sure.
The Operative: Now, I see that locked doors and that sort of thing doesn’t send a message to you that we would like you to stay put.
Nika: Really. Is that what it’s supposed to tell us?
The Operative: Well, traditionally a locked door says do not open.
Rina: Depends on what side of it you’re on.
The Operative: If there was any confusion about what side of a locked door you were supposed to be on, I’m sorry. When you were locked in, the thought was that you would realize you were meant to stay there.
Rina: It wasn’t a matter of confusion. It was a matter of consent.
The Operative: Yes. Okay. Your consent is not required.
Rina: Obviously.
The Operative: However, it would make things less messy. And I think we could all appreciate that. Nobody wants to have a fight here.

The looks off the rest of us say otherwise. Kiera actually nods: yes, really! Rina’s thinking: There’s twenty of us and only one of her. Why the hell aren’t we rushing her yet? The Federal Marshal is armed with an assault rifle. Even if he took out 13 of us, there’s still 7 of us left. So what’s holding us back from attacking? Nika’s thinking along the same lines and then answers the question internally: That rifle is the only reason we’re not.

The Operative: Suffice to say, while I am confident in the power of words and negotiation over the mere power of violence, I am not opposed to using violence if necessary to solve a problem. So! If as a last resort our negotiations fail here and you take it upon yourselves to act in violence to solve this situation, let it be known that should something happen to me, the ship in orbit above this thing is ordered to bombard this area with enough ordnance to ensure that there are no survivors. And that would include your ship.
Rina: (natch!) That would also include you, would it not?
The Operative: Well, this is assuming—
Joshua: That she’s dead.
The Operative: That I am unsuccessful in my mission. And if I am unsuccessful, that would mean that I am dead or …
Joshua: Or?
The Operative: Or I am in bad enough shape that…
Joshua: That we won’t miss the difference.
The Operative: Yes.
Kiera: All right. That’s a difference we can live with.
Joshua: Right. Go ahead.

If the idea that we’re all ready to suicide in order to take her with us affects her, she doesn’t show it. She keeps her expression pleasantly neutral.

The Operative: So I’m going to ask you to return to your holding facilities. We’ll make special arrangements for the additional people up here. I believe there’s enough room up here for you for the temporary. It will give me a chance to speak to the Director and decide what your fate shall be. That’s seem all right. Will that work for you. If you have any specific reasons—or let me put it this way, if you have anything to offer to make this a better situation, your input is valued and will be taken into consideration. You may elect a representative if you wish. (a beat) So why don’t we put the … hm. Let’s see … crew of the Equinox in this room.

She points to our old cell.

The Operative: And the crew of Serenity in this room over here … (points to Sorren’s cell) … The crew that were already here … (points to Captain LaSalle’s cell) … and that should cover everyone, I think. Is everyone in agreement? That this is the best way to handle this? (a beat) You could all rush me. I could be bluffing. If only you had some mind readers that could tell you.

Joshua cuts loose a chuckle.

Joshua: Sorry. Couldn’t help it.

The Operative looks at Nika.

The Operative: You’re the Captain. What do you decide for your crew?
Nika: (drawling) Seems like we’ll go along for now.
The Operative: You made the wise choice. It seems you value the lives of your crewmates.

It’s hard to say which woman is more ironic.

The Operative: Captain Reynolds?
Reynolds: We’ll wait this out a bit. We’ll see what you have to offer.
The Operative: It’s more about what you have to offer.

The other prisoners start marching back to their cells. It’s just us and Reynolds still standing. We take a moment, size the opposition up, and decide that retreat is the better part of valor—for now. Kiera takes up the rear position, guarding our backs. She cuts a look at the Operative that is sharp and glittering, licks her lips, and smiles with predatory anticipation: I’m going to kill you.

The Operative: That’s the spirit, Miss Sullivan. Keep up your emotional strength. You may need it later.

Kiera walks into our cell, laughing. Once the door is securely locked behind us, we start plotting again.

Joshua: (to Kiera) Next time, just shoot her. I wish I could have told you to just shoot her.
Kiera: I wanted to. The only reason I didn’t kill her was you.
Joshua: Admittedly I would like to live but on the other hand, the thought of going back into a cage again does not please me.
Kiera: All right, so you’ve experienced this before. If she had died, would it have kept on going?
Joshua: I don’t know. Generally what happens is they say something in some mysterious language and I shut off. I wake up at some point and whether that requires some other phrase—I am a non-participant in that.
Nika: Here’s a question you may or may not have the answer to. River Tam clearly is one of you and she’s clearly got an attitude adjustment issue that I like. So … apparently her conditioning is at least broken. What are the odds that between all of us we’re going to be able to take that woman out before she has us all bombarded from orbit?
Joshua: The problem with the bombardment is that it happens when we take her out.
Nika: We don’t know that. She’s claiming that. But how the hell are they gonna know she’s been taken out?
Kiera: That and she doesn’t have to die.
Rina: Yet.
Joshua: Well …
Nika: All we gotta do is gag her and tie her up.
Joshua: She was … She was good. She was Number One in the Academy.
Nika: The Operative?
Joshua: River. You were asking what our chances were. As for the Operative, I don’t know. My only interactions with Operatives were with … with Otto and Zelle. Oh, and crazy Preacher-guy.
Rina: (quietly) Iskariot.
Joshua: Iskariot. Thank you. So you can see where my pool of what Operatives are capable of is probably a bit skewed.
Nika: No, it looks pretty straight-on to me.
Joshua: So, really, I don’t know what River’s capable of.

She’s a wild card, a puzzle, that one. Speaking of puzzles ...

Nika: Okay, so … (points past our door) … If that guy is Malcolm Reynolds, then who the hell did we pick up in space?

She means, of course, the dark-skinned man we’d rescued soon after acquiring Summer’s Gift, off the ship that has been set as Reaver bait. The man who later had our backs in our first escape off Colchester.

Rina: It could be another man named Malcolm Reynolds.
Nika: Okay. That’s bizarre. There are things such as coincidences, but that’s just bizarre.
Rina: (eyeroll) So? It’s not like his name is copyrighted.

Kiera drags us back on-topic.

Kiera: So if we knocked you and River out, those words wouldn’t work on you at all or torture you?
Joshua: That I don’t know.
Kiera: Cuz they got a big guy. That guy could carry this River.
Nika: Yahh. He is a big man.

Nika is not a tiny woman. Tall, leggy, and physically fit, for her to call someone huge is sayin’ something. Joshua concurs.

Joshua: He’s like a sledgehammer.
Kiera: I was about to say if worst comes to worst, he can definitely carry River if we knock her out. And at least make him half-carry him. (points to Joshua) So, if they’re out—seriously the only reason I didn’t shoot her was because of him. And it was a hard thought, lemme think about it.
Nika: Well, I noticed Reynolds kept his people in check too.
Kiera: They’re following our lead.
Nika: No, it was more a community decision there that … If he’d gone for it I’d’ve had us back him up, but that seems to be his crew member on their side.

Meaning River. Shooting the Operative ran the risk of shooting her.

Kiera: Then somehow we gotta get this one—(nods to Joshua)—and this River girl out of here. That’s the only thing stopping her. That’s her control thing.
Nika: So they’re torturing her brother, her husband, her father—no, not. Too young to be her father. Her husband or her brother, they’ve the same name. So, they’re torturing him to keep her under control?
Joshua: And for the fun of it, obviously.
Kiera: And they’re torturing them to keep us under control.
Nika: Now, her, I’d like to let loose with a scalpel to slit a throat or two.

Nika nods at our door. River, she means.

Joshua starts feeling strange, like a handball held in a tight fist suddenly slamming into a wall once it’s thrown. Emotions swamp him—frustration and a little bit of fear. Joshua staggers a bit on his feet.

Rina: (oh, no) Joshua?
Joshua: Aughnnn … (recovers) … I do not know what’s going on but this is not comfortable.

Arden has been standing at the door, looking out the window, and he speaks up.

Arden: Hm. I wonder if it has to do with that thing I saw?
Nika, Kiera, and Rina at once: What?
Arden: Our friend, the little troll, stormed off, tears in her eyes, into the restroom.
Kiera: What?
Arden: The agent. The psycho.
Kiera: The little—?

Joshua sighs, rubs his head, scrubs his face. Still looking shaky. He says past his fingers:

Joshua: Kappa.
Nika: Is crying?
Arden: Well … Kinda. It looked like she was trying to resist the urge.
Rina: To do what?
Arden: To cry.

Rina goes to Joshua and wraps her arms around him and thinks safe happy thoughts at him. Hopefully it will help. Maybe. It’s worked before. For his part, Joshua lets her do it and gets a grip on things by thinking aloud.

Joshua: So … Kappa is crying? I wonder if our Operative friend is teaching her a lesson. I don’t know. (softly) … Ow.
Rina: It’s too late for that if you ask me.
Kiera: But it means that they’ve talked, though. Which means they oughta be comin’ to talk to us soon. She said that she was going to talk to them.
Nika: Here’s the thing. What does she want from us?
Kiera: Compliance or silence, I’d assume.
Rina: (convinced) Joshua.
Nika: Possibly Joshua.
Joshua: Me. River. Back into the—although I find it interesting that she still referred to me as Commander Wise. I don’t know how to use that but I feel it should be useful somehow.
Rina: Do you want to fake her out?
Joshua: I don’t know what I want.
Nika: That does bring to mind the idea that she does not know that he’s completely broken conditioning.
Joshua: I don’t know what she knows, but if she talked at all to Kappa, she’ll know ... she’ll know everything. Or at least … Cuz Kappa knows. So unless Kappa isn’t saying, isn’t talking, our Operative friend will know soon enough.

Joshua drops his hands and straightens.

Joshua: If it got you guys free …
Rina: I’m not leaving you.
Nika: Okay, you can leave that trailing right there or you can finish it and I can smack you.
Rina: Get in line.
Kiera: Or he can finish it. We can just knock him out and drag him anyway and he’ll be surprised when he wakes up.
Nika: When have we ever taken up that option?
Joshua: I know. I know you’ve never taken that option. I’m giving you the option.
Rina: Joshua, were you not here when I offered myself up and she slapped me into next week for even considering—
Joshua: I know, I know. I knew that when I said it.
Kiera: (to Nika) They keep throwin’ themselves on the altar like we appreciate it.
Nika: I have zero appreciation for that.
Kiera: Yeah. So, like, get off. You’re not getting any gold stars. It just makes us mad! It just makes us mad. Right, Captain?
Nika: That’s right.
Kiera: (to Joshua) See? Now you got us both pissed off. So I’ll slap both of you. Including you.
Nika: For good measure.

Slap! goes Kiera on Rina.

Rina: Ow!
Joshua: She didn’t do anything.
Kiera: Because. She will. And you’ll do something just as dumb. Just give you a few minutes.
Beglan: If you’re so smart about this, what do you think we should do?
Kiera: (bitterly) I shoulda shot her when I had the chance.
Beglan: That’s probably what we should have done. What should we do now?
Kiera: Actually, I really want to wait and see. Since obviously the Director was losing it from the conversation and I want to see she’s decided.
Nika: My assumption here would be ‘why the hell didn’t she keep River Tam under control and what’s wrong with your process that this is not working’ would be the expectation of that confrontation.
Kiera: It would depend on how much she want to get rid of—(nods outside).
Arden: That’s a pretty big fail.
Nika: I would say that’s an epic fail, right there.
Kiera: But the problem is, is if you look at it at that point, I’d get rid of us because we are the only evidence of the epic fail and she gets him back.
Joshua: It’s not about the evidence. It’s about—
Nika: I don’t think she cares about evidence.
Joshua: It’s not about evidence—although I’m sure that’s somewhat a concern—it’s about getting a system that works cleanly, quietly, and efficiently.
Nika: She doesn’t like messes. I wonder how loud and messy we can get?
Rina: I don’t know. Quite a bit.
Joshua: The trick here is I don’t think there’s any solution that comes out of talking. Unless I’m wrong—and trust me, I’m a big believer in talking things out—I’m not sure there’s any solution that comes out of talking that does not involve or end up with River or me working for her. Now whether the scale of how that works out is why, but I’m not sure if that’s the last thing that is—but I’m willing to listen to them, like ...

Okay, that last part didn’t make a lot of sense. But what part of this situation is actually sensible?

Kiera: Okay, just help me remember, this is off a couple of conversations she’s had with me and what she’s given up to you guys … they’ve broken away from Blue Sun and they’re almost like an independent corporation now, trying to make money. Correct?
Joshua: I’m not sure what they’re trying to do. Wait. Let me rephrase that. I don’t think it’s money. I don’t think it’s money. Or if at least if money is involved, it secondary.
Nika: Influence and power would be better.
Kiera: Maybe what we need to do is talk to her and find out what we need to do to help her achieve her motivations.

Because Kiera knows power and influence. She’s grown up watching her father use it and manipulate it to his own ends.

Joshua: Let me back up for a second. Everybody we released in the cells across from us were either working against the Alliance—air quotes—or were thought to be working against the Alliance or maybe there was a slight rumor that blew in off a wind. If you look at the pattern, that’s what it’s about—or looks like what it’s about. It’s about the Alliance consolidating power again. And that’s different from money. That’s ideology.
Kiera: So that means we need to offer her something that will help her achieve her goals. What can we offer her that will make her let us go?
Arden: Which her are you talking about? The Operative or Kappa?
Joshua: The Operative.
Kiera: We need to talk to her to find out what she wants from us. She said ‘I’ll come back and negotiate’. So we gotta figure out what it is she wants. Maybe what we need to do is ask. As Captain, you need to ask what we can do to make her life easier, that she’ll want to let us go. Cuz obviously we’re not going to stay here. And we’re gonna cause her trouble.
Nika: And we’re messy. And loud.
Kiera: That means she’ll kill us so she won’t have to deal with us anymore.

Good point. Damn.

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