BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

MAL4PREZ

Easy Tickets: Chapter 4
Tuesday, May 30, 2006

One of the baddies has a secret; the crew entertain themselves while on a slow journey; Kaylee and River figure out how to really get stuff done.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1778    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

See Chapter 1 and my blog for disclaimers and such.

Except I have to say thanks to VERA2529, LEEH, and GUENEVER for the beta help!

Edit: thanks to lvs2read, I have the Chinese mouse-over definitions! Scroll over pinyan to get the meaning. Cool!

* * *

Hank wiped at the sweat under his beard as he followed Ray and Will over the stony ridge. The men were careful to stay behind rocks and the remains of dead trees as they descended toward the Firefly on the floor of the valley. Hank was at the back of the pack, but he didn’t mind. Nor did he care that he wasn’t privy to the details of the job. He knew they’d be taking a ship and getting away from this dried up rock for good, heading back to the Core. That was enough. For now.

Hank was not the man he’d been when he arrived on Niflheim ten years ago, shipped out by a construction cartel as part of the security staff. He’d had a spiffy uniform back then, also a fairly decent gun, a healthy paycheck, and every expectation of a peaceful, mundane life. Something involving a good woman and a home in the fertile green countryside around the town of Alsvidh. Eventually he’d give up the job and raise cattle, maybe grow some crops. His own tobacco for one. He always did love to chew.

Hank spat in the dust. Things hadn’t quite worked out the way he’d thought back then. Life had been easy for about a month, then he’d showed up at work one day to find locked gates in front of an empty, silent compound. It was a few weeks before he found out that the top members of his cartel had packed it up and left; it was a few years before he knew why.

His employer wasn’t the only one to go under. The number of folk needing work grew steadily, but jobs were scarce. Hank still had his uniform and gun, and his clean wholesome look and steadfast habits helped him find and keep work early on.

The next few years had poor harvests, and refugees from the countryside trickled into the city. Those who could afford passage to the Core disappeared. Their abandoned homes filled with families of ex-farmers who competed for low-paying jobs, and the food shipped in from offworld was increasingly expensive.

The autumn of Hank’s third year on the planet, the truth reached finally reached the streets: the terraforming process had failed. This was no temporary blight; it was the ongoing death of the entire world. The scientists from the cartels had figured it out years ago, and those with the means had already gotten away clean.

Even before the news spread to the masses, any ship headed for the Core was loaded with minerals mined from the planetary rings, and the few passenger berths not reserved for cartel VIPs were incredibly expensive. It had always been difficult for a common person to find transport; after word of the dying environment got out, it was impossible.

Hank was stuck. He was broke, jobless, and essentially friendless on a dying world. The work got shadier, the pay less. Between jobs, Hank begun to reward himself with as many hours of oblivion as he could afford. There was nothing else to do.

The few remaining cartels were still pulling in a fortune from mining the planetary rings. Cartel members moved up to orbital platforms, living fat, surrounded by every luxury that could be brought from the Core. From time to time, a few of them would come planetside, looking for adventure in the untamed wilds or the lawless streets of crumbling towns like Alsvidh.

It was just such a fancified rich hún dàn who cornered Hank in an alley one night, looking to show off his high-tech handgun to his two admiring friends. By then alcohol was scarce, but there was a steady supply of locally made drugs to fry one’s brain for a small price. That night, Hank had been so high on drops that he could hardly stand. Through a haze, he’d looked into the faces of those three men and seen that he was not human to them; he was entertainment. At that instant Hank understood with brutal clarity the futility and failure of his life. He was going to die here, a pathetic used-up junkie whose death wouldn’t even stir the interest of the apathetic security forces. His body would most like dry up and wither where it fell.

That was the moment it all changed. Hank looked the man with the high-tech gun in the eye, drew like he’d been born to do it, and shot him square in the throat. The other two men froze in shock, unable to process the fact that even wealthy young billionaires were mortal, and Hank gunned them down where they stood. After that, he pried the fancy pistol out of the dead man’s hand, then staggered into the first deserted building he found and passed out in a dark back room.

Some might have called it dumb luck, but Hank knew different. He should have been shot dead by a sober man holding a gun like that. He should have been found by the security sweeps during the long hours he was passed out, a murder weapon in one hand and a very expensive stolen gun in the other. But neither of those things happened, and Hank knew there was a reason. He was meant for something else. He was meant to get off this world and achieve some important goal. He believed it with every fiber of his soul.

The proof of this piled up. After that night in the alley, folks saw the prize gun on his hip and the rumors started. People figured that he’d been the one to shoot the rich guy, and they wanted to shake his hand.

Other folks wanted something else from him. He learned to be ready for some hot-shot kid, long-toothed geezer, or anything in between looking to test their draw against him. But Hank beat them, every one. No one could touch him. He quit drinking, quit the drops, and generally kept himself fit and steady. He took to being spiritual, and spent time outside the city, fasting and listening the death throes of nature. It strengthened him. This hard place was a whetstone, honing him so he’d be ready for what the future surely did hold.

The jobs came, and the jobs always paid. Hank became a legend, and that’s how he got in with Ray’s gang. They picked him to help with this job, a job that would get him off Niflheim at last. He’d be going back to the Core, ready to find the higher purpose that awaited him.

Hank looked at the two men walking ahead of him, winding down the valley side toward the Firefly. Will was a fool, overly sure of himself just because he could smile pretty and talk flowery. Hank saw through that. The man was just an overgrown bully. All Will wanted was to get his way, as if winning the little battles meant anything in the long run.

Ray, on the other hand, was a man Hank could almost respect. Ray was a hard ass full of hatred and violence, but it was a violence born of surviving in the same hard times that Hank had known. Problem was, Ray had no higher cause, no reason for being beyond continued existence. Ray saddened Hank.

They couldn’t know it, but these two men were tools provided to move him along his path. He’d be surprised if they lasted long, and he wouldn’t mind at all if they didn’t.

Hank quickly lowered his eyes when Will turned back to halt the group. They were getting close to the Firefly and needed to split up for the final approach. Hank was ready. He’d stand quietly to the side and let Ray talk, cess the situation inside the ship. When things got hot it’d be Hank’s time. The gun he’d earned in that dark alleyway years ago would do its work.

That was Hank’s way. Do his job, follow his path, and wait for his real purpose to become clear.

* * *

Two days ago

The trip should have taken no more than a few hours, but with the acceleration limit and the need to conserve fuel, it would be more than a day before they reached Niflheim. Knowing this made the short trip seem incredibly long and tedious.

When Serenity finished her slow acceleration, Wash announced the all clear and headed straight to his bunk, ready to grovel if necessary to get Zoë to help him unwind.

Mal climbed out of his bunk a while later, and was the first to arrive in the dining room. He sat at the head of the table, waiting for the crew to gather for the morning meal. So far so good – if the grav drive crashed now, all they’d have is a little fun moving around with no gravity. Anything that could be strapped down was, so no one was likely to get hurt. Not from free-floating objects, anyway.

A while later, Jayne and Kaylee came in from opposite directions, Jayne from his cabin and Kaylee from the engine room. Book followed soon after. Jayne ignored everyone and went into the cooler where the grilled bear meat was stored.

“Bear for breakfast,” Mal said. “I guess, given the options…” He got to his feet to help. “You wanna bring the whole platter out, Jayne?”

“You don’t pay me to fix meals,” Jayne replied sullenly. He threw enough for himself onto a big plate and headed back to his bunk.

“Not feeling social?” Book asked.

“The drink is better in my bunk, and I ain’t sharin’ it,” Jayne said over his shoulder.

“Guess he’s feelin’ the need to make up for doin’ something decent,” Mal said to Book and Kaylee as he went to the cooler for the platter.

“You think so?” Kaylee said. “But it was so nice!”

“What was?” Simon asked as he came in.

“Jayne gettin’ that hovercraft.”

“Oh. Yes.” Simon didn’t sound convinced.

Mal set a plate of meat out on the table. “Where’s River?” he asked Simon.

“She’s… sleeping.” Simon’s answer was hesitant and Mal studied him.

“She actin’ up again?” Mal asked.

“No, just tired.”

Mal continued watching Simon as the doctor filled a plate and left the room. Boy wasn’t being forthright, but now wasn’t the time to force the issue.

Book brought a big bowl of greens to the table, and Kaylee set out a few plates. Mal and Book sat down and started in, but Kaylee stayed standing as she put a few tidbits in a plate for herself.

“You ain’t stayin’, Kaylee?” Mal asked.

“Got lots to do,” she said happily. “I can work on it now, right?”

“Yeah, go ahead,” Mal replied. “But keep it neat in there, we could lose vertical any time.”

“I know, silly Captain – I am the mechanic here!” she replied with a grin on her way out. Nothing could bring Kaylee down right now, not with a whole hovercraft to work on.

Mal sat silently with Book for a few minutes, then Zoë came in. She wasn’t much for conversation, either. In fact, she seemed in quite a hurry to pile a plate with enough food for her and Wash and get back to their bunk.

Inara came in as Zoë left. Mal didn’t expect her to stay, which would have been fine with him, but she did. She sat at the far end of the table from him and ignored his attempts to ignore her.

“Mal, any word about the Alliance?” she asked in a pleasant, conversational tone.

“Like a greetin’ card?”

“No, I mean, are they pursuing you actively?”

“Dunno.”

“Do you think they’re really interested in finding you?”

“Maybe.”

“As in… are they putting up bulletins and scouts everywhere?”

“Wouldn’t be surprised.” “Because, it could be they’re only checking arrest lists and checkpoints.”

“Could be.”

“Niflheim is so remote. No checkpoints, no Alliance police.”

“S’what I hear.”

“So… do you know how long we’ll be staying there?”

Book’s head was swinging back and forth as he watched the exchange. Mal noticed and set his chopsticks down with an impatient sigh.

“Inara, we may touch down for five seconds and have to tear out with all the bounty hunters and Alliance gunships and Reaver scouts in the `verse on our tail. Or, could be that one of the Cartels is run by Jayne’s long-lost uncle who’ll take us in as his very own and we’ll spend the rest of our lives luxuriatin’ and eatin’ bon-bons. Any other questions or will you just tell me what you’re after?”

Book looked to Inara, not even trying to feign lack of interest.

Inara dropped her easy manner. “Fine. Actually, I’d like to look for a client.”

Mal looked at her for a few seconds, then took up his chopsticks and picked at his food. “Since when d’you need to ask me before you do that?”

“Since the Alliance has been looking for you, and they know that I rent a shuttle on your ship.”

That caught him by surprise, and he looked up at her again. “That’s why you ain’t been takin’ clients?”

“That… and the fact that there haven’t been many decent opportunities.”

He only held her stare a bit longer before he returned to his meal. “So why you wanna look now?”

“The cartel branches on Niflheim are known for their autonomy.”

“And that’s attractive why?”

“It’s not attractive. I just mean that they operate largely outside of the Alliance’s control.”

“They don’t chat with the Feds?”

“Only within beaurocratic and political spheres. I believe word of my visit would take weeks to reach the military, if it does at all. Which is why I was asking - if it’ll be a short visit, it should be safe. If you’re planning on staying for a long time, it might be risky for the crew if I let my presence be known.”

Mal finished off his salad of bitter greens while he considered her request. He realized that Book was watching him with interest, so Mal turned to the preacher and to give him a do-you-mind? look. When Book lowered his eyes to his plate, Mal finally replied to Inara.

“These days we can’t be stayin’ anywhere for long. Go on and do your business.”

“Thank you.”

“Not a problem.” Mal stood up and gestured at Book’s empty plate. When the Shepherd nodded, Mal took it and went to the sink in the galley.

“I’ll be careful,” Inara said. Mal didn’t answer, so she stood up and turned to leave.

“Inara?” Mal said just as she reached the hatch.

She turned back. “Yes?”

“Thanks for askin’.”

She smiled and nodded, but Mal hadn’t looked up from the dishes and he didn’t see it.

* * *

Simon quietly slid open the door to River’s room. The mattress he’d brought in it to protect himself during Serenity’s careful acceleration was still on the floor. He set the plate he was carrying on the table at the end of her bed, and sat down on the mattress.

River was still out, curled up on her side facing him. It wasn’t real sleep; he’d had to sedate her to make her lie still. Her unstable state had lasted a few days now, but an explanation for it had occurred to him after what she’d told him on the catwalk yesterday, about how a person needs to know what they want.

In all the months since he’d gotten her away from the Academy, she’d never been as lucid as she was during the days that the Captain was held by the Alliance on Oeneus. It was possible that there’d been something about that situation, about her mental contact with Mal, which had helped her. And now it was wearing off.

Simon thought he understood what it was, and he should have seen it sooner. River was confined to this small ship, with little to do and limited social interaction. How different this was from the activity and society she’d been accustomed to as a child. Like him, she’d had every day filled with mental and physical challenges, and like him, she’d thrived on it. Her time at the Academy, while obviously less pleasant, must have been similarly active. River had never had to deal with empty time.

Here on Serenity, Simon had developed a routine to help him pass the idle time that often dominated his life. He’d gotten through many a sleepless night planning new treatment regimens for River, and spent long days maintaining the infirmary way beyond necessary orderliness. And then there were the jobs, the sudden life-or-death situations that fired up his adrenaline. It exhausted him and he wouldn’t call it fun, but it made him look forward to the long journey to follow, when he could relax with a sense of accomplishment at his patient’s recovery. How would he have fared without his work to give him a sense of purpose?

River had nothing like that. When she was sleepless, when nightmares and voices she couldn’t silence filled her head, she had nowhere to turn. All the hours she spent drawing or exploring dark corners of the ship, she was just looking for something to get her out of herself. Her only respite lay in the drugs he was always ready to give her, but that was a bandaid, not a cure.

Helping the Captain had been a boon for her. Not only did it distract her from the workings of her surgically altered brain, it gave her a sense of being important, useful for the things she could do and no one else could. Instead of fighting what the Alliance had done to her, she’d used her abilities to help Mal. She’d turned her handicaps into strengths.

Simon sighed, seeing his shortcomings clearly. With his background, he had automatically assumed that only medicine could help her, and he’d tried to make her the person she used to be by shooting her full of drugs. That approach was too limited. He needed to think like a psychologist.

No one could thrive without some sense of purpose and usefulness; he needed to help River find that.

“It’s a good idea.” River’s voice floated across the room, soft and sleepy.

“I didn’t realize you were awake,” he said softly, looking up into her half-open eyes.

“Not yet,” she replied, eyelids heavy as she fought off the remains of the sedative. “Almost.”

“You like the idea?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“You understand? Because I’m not sure I do yet.”

She rolled to her back and closed her eyes. “Makes sense, Simon. They changed me. No good trying to make me normal. Don’t fit the mold. Hurts to squeeze.”

“I can’t make you what you were,” Simon said sadly.

“Don’t need to. Shouldn’t try,”

“But I can help you be happy with who you are now.”

“I can be useful. I can help.”

“It will make you feel good, having a purpose of your own. One’s that true to who you are.”

She turned her head to him and smiled, her eyes more awake now. “That’s what I meant. Couldn’t explain. Too close to the problem.”

Simon smiled back. “That’s why I’m here, mèi mei.” He pushed himself to his knees by her bedside and reached out to take her hand. “So how shall we go about this?” he asked.

* * *

“Captain’s been a little tense,” Wash said while he chewed. “I mean, more than usual.”

“You think so?” Zoë replied.

“Yes I do. You do too, don’t deny it.”

Zoë frowned at Wash, but didn’t argue. He knew her too well. “He’s always had his moods,” she said. “No big deal.”

“Do you think he’s really recovered?” he asked. “I mean, something like that…”

“He can handle it.”

Wash set down his plate on the desk and shifted over to their bed, stretching out and patting his full belly contentedly. “Haven’t you wondered about it?” he asked. “I mean… having to live your worst nightmares. All that stuff in the back of your mind that you never even think about.”

Zoë had finished her dinner too, but she stayed where she was.

“What do you think would have happened, if it’d been you?” he asked.

“Let’s not talk about it.”

“Really, I’m curious. When Mal was going through all that, you regretted not talking to him more. Like it might have helped him if he’d vented it. And most of the things he’s been through, you have too.”

“That’s very insightful of you, dear.”

“That’s me, insightful guy.”

“Let’s not talk about it.” She moved to the bed and crawled over him.

“I have ways of making you talk,” he told her as he wrapped his arms around her waist.

“And I have ways of making you not talk,” she replied, sliding a hand down his body. “At least, not coherently.”

Wash exaggerated a back arch. “Whazuh gerbuh hyaaaa…” he groaned loudly. “My god, what are you doing to me, woman?”

Zoë laughed. As always, he distracted her as much as she distracted him.

* * *

Kaylee thought the craft already looked much better without the roof. She’d cut that off right away – it was just for blocking sun, but the mule would be faster and easier to handle without the extra weight on top. The large sheet of metal composite was tilted against the stairway by the hatch to the infirmary, attached to the railing so it wouldn’t fly about if they lost grav.

She’d managed to rig cables to hold the craft a foot off the deck, and she scooted underneath to get a better look. The rust on the thrusters wasn’t as bad as it had seemed; the structures would work for a while, and hopefully she’d find replacements on Niflheim. The real problems were the fuel line and empty fuel cells, and the crankshaft that connected the steering controls to the engine.

“Um… Kaylee?”

Shiny black shoes were standing next to the craft. She rolled out and sat up.

“Hey, Simon! Wanna help?”

“Actually, I wanted to ask for your help with something.”

Kaylee made it a rule to never say no to someone asking for help, but this one was hard. She cast a look of longing at the hovercraft.

“Oh, but I’m…” She stopped and bit her lip. She really did hate to say no, especially to Simon.

“It won’t take any of your time,” Simon said. “You could still work on the hovercraft.”

“Oh. Well, then, sure! What d’ya need?”

Simon actually sat down on the dirty deck next to her, and wrung his hands a little. Kaylee realized he was nervous. “Actually, I should explain it before you accept. You see… it’s a little… personal.”

Kaylee smirked and slapped his shoulder playfully. “Simon Tam wants to get personal with me?”

“Actually, River does.” He looked over his shoulder. River was on the stairs, her eyes just peeking over the hovercraft’s ex-roof.

Kaylee cast a confused look at River.

“No - not like that!” River called out.

Simon looked confused, but only for a few seconds. He blushed when he worked things out. “No! Not at all! I just…” He took a deep breath and scratched his head. “How do I say this?”

“You just say it, ninny!” River said impatiently, and skipped down the steps. She sat down next to him and looked at Kaylee, eyes wide. “Let me read your mind,” she said.

“Oh,” Kaylee said. She looked back and forth between the Tams. “Oh! Um… well, I dunno know – that’s kinda…”

“Weird,” River finished her thought. “I know. But I wouldn’t go far in. Just the surface.”

Simon tried to explain. “I want… River wants to learn how to control it.”

“Control it?”

“Her ability to read. I reduced her medication, to make it easier for her, and she’s going to try to… listen.”

“I’ll just sit here while you work,” River said.

Kaylee looked at the girl doubtfully. “You could’a just done that, you didn’t need to ask.”

“Wouldn’t have been right.”

“Well… “ Kaylee glanced at Simon, then back at River. She really did want to help, and it was hard to refuse the doctor when he looked at her like that. “Okay. It’s okay. I’ll try.” She smiled hesitantly. “But you can’t go tellin’ people what you see in here,” she pointed at her head, “if it’s private. Okay?”

“Okay!” River smiled brightly. “You can go away now, Simon.”

“But I…”

“Need only one mind around. Go away.”

Kaylee relaxed a little and laughed when Simon just stood up and did as his little sister told him.

* * *

Jayne was sprawled on his bed, his empty plate on the floor and one of his growlers of beer tucked under his elbow. It was noticably lighter already.

“Gorram mule. What the guĭ was I thinkin’?” he muttered, and took a long draw from the jug. “Never gonna live it down.”

The worst thing was, he was gonna have Kaylee looking at him like she had in the cargo bay, like he was Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny all in one. She’d be thinking she had some reason to be hugging him and kissing his cheek, like she was always doing with the Captain.

Gorram girl didn’t understand it was just business. They’d been needing a new mule since they blew up the old one on Niska’s skyplex. Now they wouldn’t have to hire other folks to move their stuff, and his cut would be bigger. That was the bottom line.

It’d been a good chance to get Mal off his back too. Not that Jayne thought he’d done anything wrong, but Mal sure did get testy. Huài le, it wasn’t Jayne’s fault those folks made beer with more alcohol than Mudder’s Milk. No way he could have known that.

You could’a asked. Or you could’a drunk water and sat by Kaylee when those fellas moved in on her, acted like the cold hard professional you think you are. What if they had sweet talked her away…

Jayne took another long drink to silence a voice he wasn’t used to hearing. That was stupid thinking. Girl should learn to take care of herself, or she should go the hell back to her dumpy little world. It wasn’t his job to look after some silly chit who didn’t know enough to care for herself. That voice in his head was just Mal’s worries rubbing off on him.

“Stupid girl,” Jayne muttered as he slid onto his back, the bed spinning under him. The last thing in his mind before he passed out was the memory of that gorram mechanic pressed against him with her hands locked behind his neck, smiling at him like he was something special.

* * *

Kaylee was self-conscious at first, and had a hard time focusing on her work. But when she scooted out from under the mule to grab her torque wrench and found River already holding it out to her, she thought that this might not be too bad.

And it wasn’t. After a half hour, it got to be like she had four hands and twenty fingers. River was always where she needed assistance, just as she realized she needed it. Handing her tools, helping with stuck parts, even running up to the engine room to grab a power generator to she could test each system as she repaired it. And not a word needed to be spoken.

The next four hours were incredibly productive. They rebuilt the steering shaft and checked the antigrav system. When they finished connecting the power generator to the engine, Kaylee put the thought clearly on the top of her mind:

*you do the honors*

River smiled and climbed into the driver’s seat. The engine powered on with a purr that wasn’t quite smooth, but it didn’t die out. River tested the thrusters, lifting a few inches so that the chains hanging from the ceiling sagged loosely. Lightly she tapped the steering column, and the craft shifted slightly side to side.

River grinned joyously as she returned the craft to its starting position and shut it off.

“You did it!” she yelled, then hopped out and hugged Kaylee ecstatically.

“No silly – we did it!” Kaylee replied, returning the hug. “That was amazin’, River!” She stepped back, still holding River’s arms and looking at her friend with wide eyes. “That was just… We got so much done - it woulda taken me all day to do by myself! I wish you’d done that before!”

River’s smile faded.

Mèi mei, what’s wrong? You okay?”

“I’m okay. I’m just…” Kaylee was shocked to see River’s eyes get a little watery. “I’m sorry, Kaylee, but I’ve done it before.”

Now Kaylee’s smile faded too. “You’ve done… what?”

“Gone into your mind.”

Kaylee dropped River’s arms and stepped back. “Gone into my mind? Without askin’?”

“I’m so sorry. I know I shouldn’t have. But sometimes it’s so hard, there’s voices everywhere, not just the people here but old voices and…. I can’t make them be quiet. And if I can’t sleep… sometimes I find you and I listen.” Kaylee stepped back again, but River followed her. “Please don’t be mad. I tried all the others but they have dark places. They have so much that hurts and they can’t help. Even Simon, he worries so much, But you… you don’t have any dark. When you fix the ship, you love her so much and you’re helping her. I pretend it’s me and it makes the other voices get quiet. It helps me sleep. I never listen to anything personal. I try really hard not to.”

River was crying all out by the end of this, and Kaylee’s heart melted. She took the sobbing girl in her arms and held her.

“Your mind is so peaceful,” River continued. “Even when you’re mad. Especially when you’re mad because it’s never a mean mad. It goes right through and doesn’t leave any bits of dark caught up in the corners. Your mind is the safest place on the ship.” River finally seemed to run out of things to say, and trailed off to a few soft sniffles.

“Ya know what, River?”

“What?”

“I think that’s the nicest thing anyone ever said to me.”

Kaylee could feel River’s answering smile against her shoulder.

“But River?”

“Hmm?”

“When I’m thinkin’ `bout your brother – ”

“I know. Private, stay out.”

Kaylee leaned back to look at River. “You know?”

River only blushed in response.

* * *

After dinner, Mal warned everyone to strap down tight; the deceleration would begin in the early morning, and they’d be arriving mid-morning ship time. Mal sat at the head of table, brooding quietly as they wandered off to bed, one by one, all except Kaylee.

Sometime in the wee hours Mal forced her to leave the hovercraft. He helped her get settled in her temporary bunk in the engine room.

“You just sleep tight, li’l Kaylee,” he told her. “You got a lot to do tomorrow, and I can’t have you all sleepy eyed. If anything breaks, Wash’ll call you over the comm.”

“Right, Cap.” Despite her protests when he’d dragged her out of the cargo bay, her lids had started falling closed as soon as her head hit the pillow.

Mal checked that the comm unit was securely taped to the bulkhead next to Kaylee, and wouldn’t go flying about if the grav broke. When he looked at Kaylee again, she was sound asleep. He smiled fondly and pulled the blanket up over her shoulders before he left the engine room.

He went to the galley for a fresh cup of tea, and settled into a seat in the lounge. There was no point in trying to sleep. His tendency to worry over the crew wasn’t the only thing bugging him of late. He couldn’t place what was getting to him, just a general sense of ill ease, of trouble on the horizon.

Guess that was to be expected, seeing as very few things were going right. But he’d noticed that the feeling was worse after he slept. Some mornings he’d wake up with his hands clenched in the sheets, body covered in sweat though the blankets lay on the floor. And that sense of being hunted would stay with him for half the morning.

Following the pattern he’d fallen into over the past week or so, he simply avoided thinking about it too much. Of all the things he was worrying about, his sanity didn’t need to be one of them. That would just feed on itself. Just take one thing at a time, he told himself. Fix the ship, don’t fret about the rest till you have to.

Mal pulled a deck of cards from a shelf under the table, shuffled, and laid out a game of solitaire.

* * *

Translations

hún dàn: bastard guĭ: hell huài le: shit on my head mèi mei: little sister

* * *

On to Chapter 5.

COMMENTS

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 4:13 AM

MAL4PREZ


*dunking to avoid rotten fruit throw by the S/K fans…*

Hey, it’s not my fault! Simon’s just dense!

Anonymous gun expert – can we say Ginger’s using a super futuristic cool gun that likes being at 60 meters? Okay, lame. I changed it to a vague ‘couple hundred meters,’ that should pass muster. Thanks for the tip!

- gun ignorant mal4prez

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 4:34 AM

ARCADIA


Wow. River really shines in this chapter. I'm glad that Simon has finally realized that River isn't going to be fixed. I think this could be really good for her (though I'm betting it will get her into trouble, first).

The Mal/Inara scene was very sweet to, in its own way. I don't think Inara's work is going to go as smoothly as she'd like, but we'll see, won't we?

Over all, just a really pleasent chapter.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 5:08 AM

LEIASKY


I like Simon realizing that he won't be able to fix River and that she asked permission to enter Kaylee's mind. Nicely done. I was wondering if the subject of Simon would come up during their time. Glad you didn't disappoint:)

Zoe and Wash banter is always fun and Inara asked Mal for something and he agreed without her having to use her wiles? Hah. Wonders will never cease!

Jayne's feeling so uncomfortable about how Kaylee reacted to the hovercraft was nicely done as well.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 5:59 AM

LEIGHKOHL


Great Chapter! I loved Kaylee and River together, they have such a sweet bond. River admitting that she had been in Kaylee's mind before and the explanation for it, that was so a great moment for their friendship. I also like Jayne's thoughts, and you don't have to duck. Maybe with River learning to exercise her skills and control them, Simon can wake up to the charms and attributes of a certain mechanic. Zoe and Wash, love it! And the moment between Mal and Inara, her asking him about getting a client on Niflheim, well wonders never cease! Can't wait for your next post!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 6:38 AM

TAYEATRA


Some nice moments here, especially with River and Kaylee.

Also... no rotten fruit from this corner (yet) it's on standby based on how much angst you intend to throw at Mal/Inara!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 8:59 AM

MAL4PREZ


Hi anonymous! Thanks for the comment!!

This is definitely pre-BDM (Wash and Book are alive!) and is still sort of aimed at the movie, but I've certainly departed from the comic books and I'm going to have my own little character arcs, which won't line up with the movie. That's just no fun, I want to take them places, you know?

Tayeatra - so lots of angst is bad for you? I'm putting on my rotten fruit protectant suit, because I do love my angst...

making myself shut up now. Zip (that was my mouth)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 3:22 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


This was an amazing chapter, m4p! I especially loved how you had Mal and Inara have a conversation that anyone familiar with the characters would assume would lead to a verbal sparring match...but actually was calm and collected! No yelling....just restrained comments about the reality of the situation facing all of them;)

And the Kaylee/River moment? Lovely stuff, including River's admission she has visited Kaylee's mind before, but for harmless purposes. I can see River needing to use Kaylee's optimistic mindset to help reorient herself when she suffered an attack psychologically:)

BEB

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 9:09 PM

SQUISH


I have to say, in addition to the overall excellent writing as always, that I love your OCs. You've taken the time to describe them so well and have made them interesting (and complex, not entirely evil bad guys).
Great work!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 10:24 PM

NOSADSEVEN


Nice chapter, smooth ride. Again, good with the OC. I love your handling of Mal and Inara, and I love how Book (in this chapter and last) is always sort of nosing in. Loved Zoe and Wash disctracting each other, loved Jayne's passing out to the thought of how Kaylee looked at him. I was amused by Simon's 'epiphany' - needed to stop treating her just as a doctor would, he needed to think like a *psychologist*! Granted, there is a big difference between pshychiatry and psychology, but it's still so "I'm going to fix you", which, I guess, makes it so very Simon. It just amused me.

I think I'm all caught up now, with the story, at least. With sleep, not so much.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 11:35 PM

BOOKADDICT


The bad guys are really well drawn, Hank's back story...whew!

I like Kaylee's fixing the mule with River and her understanding of her friend's difficuties.

And I really liked Jayne's denied guilt and the subsequent liking of Kaylee making him feel special.

Friday, June 2, 2006 5:52 PM

NUTLUCK


I wouldn't call myself a expert by any means. Mostly just your basic typical military experince from service.

Your welcome though.

As just a FYI for refernce sake your typical rifle can be fired accurately with out a scoop up to 400-600 meters depending on the rifle and quality of the shooter, anything beyond that requires a scoop and really anything under 400 meters and a scoop actually makes it harder to shoot. Since your no more accurate and the scoop absucres your vision to be able to quickly find other targets.

So in short you can use a scoop at 60 meters, it would actually make things harder. Anyways I know it is just a story and didn't let it effect my enjoyment of the story I just thought i would be helpfully a critic it.

Sunday, July 9, 2006 4:55 AM

SILLYLITTLEDUCK


oh... poor jayne *sniff* the heart ache. and then the ever present denial. I hope this puts Simon's butt in gear or holy crap I just might to kick him. (granted that wouldn't be a very productive venture towards my labtop...)

I liked this whole thing, the story is moving right along and River confessing that kaylee's mind is the only safe place on the ship... how adorable! *gasp* I'm in love. So glad I don't have to wait for you to post the next part, it's just sitting there for me all nice and shiny.

Thursday, July 13, 2006 6:37 AM

RIVERISMYGODDESS


The mouseovers weren't workign for me, but it might be my gorram fed computer. In either case, can you message me on here or e-mail me at jimi dot spettel at gmail dot com and let me know how to do it? I would love to know.

When Serenity finished her slow acceleration, Wash announced the all clear and headed straight to his bunk, ready to grovel if necessary to get Zoë to help him unwind.
-LOL @ the grovelling

The terse Mal/Inare conversation was very good.

The Wash/Zoe stuff was nice too.


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Back Stories Book 3, Chapter 25
Zoë nodded. “I’ll bet there’s a little committee of suits back there trying to figure out how best to lie.”&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

“Or how to tell some horrible truth,” Inara replied softly.&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

“Or how to make the most effective use of medical waste incendiaries to get rid of our bodies,” Wash chimed in.


Back Stories III, Chapter 24
Mal returns to a few familiar places.

Back Stories III: Chapter 23
The BDH’s find themselves enmeshed in too damned many OCs. But hey, they’re necessary. Plottiness and all.

Back Stories III, Chapter 22
Inara tells the story of why she left the Core. Well, half of it anyway.

Back Stories III, Chapter 21
The battle with the Reavers continues, and Mal makes a choice. All decisions have consequences.

Back Stories III, Chapter 20
Finally a little Mal POV, but it doesn't last long.

Back Stories III, Chapter 19
The trials and tribulations of an older, wiser River Tam.

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The aftermath of an unexpected encounter. Except—not all of the crew are accounted for…

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A lovely day in the mountains: friendly locals and fresh air under a clear blue sky. What could possibly go wrong?

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 16.
Zoë tells of her soiree with terrorists on Oeneus.



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