CHECK MATE: Black Queen back to start, Red Queen moved into position. (9/22)
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Book explains what happened to River and Inara gets her mission orders from Monty.


Disclaimer: I can't let these characters go, Joss. Hope you don't mind me playing with them.

* * * * *

CHECKMATE: Black Queen back to start, Red Queen moved into position.

* * * * *

“Could do with some help here, lamby-toes. I know I've had some training in the carrying of heavy objects but these crates are ... well, heavy.”

“Shouldn't be carrying anything heavy in my condition, honey.”

“Hey! It's me with the hangover, not you. You weren't even drin....” The penny drops. “Oh my God!”

Zoe gives her husband a warm smile and places both hands on his shoulders. She nods her head in reply to the question his eyes are asking.

“You told the Captain?”

“No. You think I'd tell him before you?” There's a note of hurt in her voice, but Wash can't help himself.

He shrugs. “Yeah. No. I dunno. You two've got that old war buddy thing going.”

Zoe frowns. “This ain't his baby, Wash. It's yours. Yours and mine.”

Wash should be saying how happy he is, how proud. Instead what comes out is “He won't like it.”

Zoe shrugs. “Don't suppose he will.” But Wash soon will. She's sure of it.

* * * * * *

Mal is glowering into his mug of coffee, watching the bubbles on the surface swirl round. His head feels much the same. Spinning with crazy, fragile hopes and plans that are doomed to vanish painfully. Ofcourse, that might just be the hangover.

Kaylee bounces into the mess, catches sight of him and cries “There you are! Been lookin' for you all over. Just got a wave from Inara askin' where we're heading next.” She tilts her head on one side. “I di'n't even know she was gone..?” her inflexion rises turning the remark into a question that Mal ignores. “Seems one of her clients has engaged her for a whole week! Can you imagine that?”

Mal can imagine it only too well. It feels like Niska is twisting a particularly jagged knife around in his heart. He gives Kaylee a sharp look. “I ain't interested in this... You got something important to say?”

She puts her hands defiantly on her hips and glares back. Don't need to be a mind-reading genius to know the Captain's jealous. And too damn proud to admit it. “'Nara needs a rendez-vous point. Shall I tell her Persephone? Ten days' time? Ain't that the agreement with Badger.”

“If you know so much, why are you botherin' me with this fei hua? Inara's business is none of mine.”

Kaylee holds up her hands in mock surrender. “OK. Shiny.” She heads off to the engine room muttering under her breath “Better hope the wind don't change, Cap'n or you'll have that grouchy face forever.”

Mal drains his coffee which tastes nearly as bitter as he feels right now. Sure is glad he di'n't make a ruttin' fool of himself by making unwanted declarations of love to his shuttle tenant. Anyway, right now he ain't so certain that he *does* love her. He knows he loves Serenity – she gives him everything he needs and asks for nothin' in return, 'cept fuel and the odd spare part. He knows too that he loves Kaylee because he wants to give her everything and needs nothin' back other than her smile and joy in living. His feelings for Inara are jus' too gorram complicated. He wants to take from and give to her in equal measure. Trouble is he's not sure he's got a right to the one nor resources enough for the other. Best leave it alone. There's pain aplenty in this 'verse. No point in grabbin' more'n your fair share.

* * * * *

Jacob “Jakey” Stone has the look of a man up to no good as he sidles up to the public Cortex link on Main Street. Which is strange, considering how long he's been doing this sort of thing. He casts his eyes up and down the street, reassuring himself that there's no-one around who'd recognize him.

“Mr Stone. Another proposition for me, I gather?” The man on the other end of the line has deactivated his video link so there's a Blue Sun logo on the screen where his face should be but the voice is familiar enough.

Jakey huddles up close to the audio receiver and speaks in a low voice. “Got something from the scene. A weapon.”

There's a pause. “Amazing. A weapon. From the scene of an attempted assassination. Who'd have thought it?”

Jakey stares darkly down into the receiver as if he'd like to follow the wires and emerge the other end to strangle the contempt out of that voice. Instead he plays his trump card. “You know who's gun it is, then?”

Another pause. A more respectful one this time. “Enlighten me.”

“Malcolm Reynolds'. Even got his initials carved on the handle. Yeah, Malcolm Reynolds, himself. One of them Browncoat war heroes.”

“How soon can you get it here?”

“Soon as you like. How much you payin'?”

“Usual rate.”

Jakey says nothing. What Parkin says next will tell him all he needs to know about how much the gun is really worth.

“Plus a bonus of, say, fifty percent.”

“Double the usual rate,” Jakey replies firmly. Oh yeah, it was a good thing the girl shot that other fella. Gave him time to salvage something for himself out of the whole sorry affair.

* * * * *

Kaylee is happy. Very hapy. Simon less so. He eyes the blow torch she is wielding nervously. Just one slip and ... well, he could get lit on fire. Which Mal would doubtless find hi-larious.

Simon and the Captain are having another of their many off days. Simon is still seething about Mal knocking the sanity back out of River – whilst trying to forget that sanity for his sister involved her trying to kill people - and Mal is fuming about the damage River did to the shuttle. “Our only shuttle in point of fact,” as Mal said, “since Inara don't see fit to warn us before takin' off in hers.”

They managed to find the spare shuttle and get it back on Serenity, but it's looking pretty battered. Kaylee declared it was repairable, so Mal told her to get on with it. “And the Doc can help you out. Seein' as this is mostly his fault.”

Simon looks at the twisted metal before him in total bewilderment. If Kaylee was impressed at his being a doctor when they first met, he's even more impressed now by the way she knows exactly what to do to restore the shuttle back to health. They've been doing this for two days now and he still isn't sure what he's meant to be doing. All he can do is follow Kaylee's orders and try not to be a hindrance.

At least it's better than watching over Jayne in the infirmary. The mercenary is back to full angry, swearing consciousness although he still needs to rest. The frustration of being stuck in bed is making him even more hostile towards his doctor than ever and every time Simon has to go check on him, he is subject to a torrent of abuse ranging from criticisms about his core-world manners to questions about his masculinity.

All in all, it's better to be here with Kaylee, listening to her hum happily and catching an occasional broad smile. At least she likes him. If only he could .... but he can't. Not just now. River is too needy.

Finally Kaylee puts down her tools and wipes her hands down the front of her overalls. She looks over at Simon and tells him “All done. She's shiny. Fancy a drink?”

Simon hesitates. He doesn't want to go into the mess for fear of running into Mal. Kaylee understands his reluctance. “I've got some wine in the engine room,” she says with a twinkle. “We could go hide out there for a while. Jus' the two of us.” And she gives him a little wink.

Simon knows he should go see River. Or even Jayne. But he desperately needs some time away from people making demands on him. “Thanks.” And he follows Kaylee up the stairs from the cargo bay.

* * * * *

After the heat of the day, the evening brings welcome cool. Rantoong and Parkin have moved out onto the verandah from where they can look down over the lights of Capital City as they sip their mint juleps.

“If Noe weren't such an obdurate optimist the incident might have convinced him the Independents aren't interested in making peace,” Rantoong muses as he stirs the sprig of mint around his glass. “But I have it on good authority he's still trying to broker talks.”

Parkin gazes up at the sky. “It looks so quiet from here. No-one would ever guess the battles still being waged out there. A thousand thousand terraformed worlds and still men can't work out a way of coexisting peacefully.”

“Thank the stars and moons!” Rantoong exclaims, raising his glass. “War keeps fear alive. And fear is envy's cousin as they say. Without war the Corporation would find it hard to turn a profit.”

“To war!” Parkin agrees, joining the toast.

For a moment they drink in silence. Then Parkin makes his suggestion. “We have Reynolds' gun. Perhaps he should use it? Or at least, some Browncoat hothead could use it on his behalf. Slaughter the Consul and bring the wrath of the Alliance down on every Independent backwater?”

Rantoong shakes his head. “Pleased as I would be personally to hear of Noe lying in a pool of his own blood, I fear the rest of the 'verse would be profoundly indifferent to his demise. He's too shadowy a figure...”

The hairs on the back of Parkin's neck prickle and he looks at his colleague with interest. “You have a new plan?”

“I think what we need is the death of a high profile Alliance hero. Killed in convincingly cold blood by a Browncoat of some reputation himself.”

Rantoong's plan is so delicious Parkin can almost taste it. He licks his lips with his pointy grey tongue. “I'll make the call immediately.”

Rantoong holds up a restraining hand. “No need. The wheels were set in motion two days ago. Sit down and finish your drink.”

* * * * *

Instead of easing, the dull ache tugging at Inara's heart only gets worse the further she flies from Serenity. It's as if her heart were tied to Mal's with elastic cords that will only stretch so far. She hopes the over-stretching will finally break them and she will be free of him. Sometimes she hates him for having sewn the seeds of hope and desire in her again, for making her feel when all she wanted was to be numb.

She prays that the numbness will return when she has something else to think about. When Monty gives her a mission at long last. But even if it doesn't, at least her days of having to live in close quarters with a man she wants so badly but can never have will be over.

* * * * *

Book scrutinizes Mal's face carefully, trying to gauge the effect his words have had on the Captain.

Mal leans back against the kitchen counter and folds his arms across his chest. He regards Book with something between interest and suspicion. “Well, preacher, that's a hell of a story. Want to shed any light on how you came to think of it?”

Book smiles wearily. “Maybe someday, son. Right now I'd like to be helping River.”

Mal is all for that. And for ensuring the girl don't go shooting up any more of his crew. “Let's say you're right... an' I'm not sayin' you are... but how did she get what'sitted?”


“Yeah. Triggered. Wou'n't someone need to say the special words to her?”

“I believe they did,” Book replies gravely. “I think there was something on that dance music tape Kaylee pl...”

“Whoa!” Mal interrupts, holding up a hand and eyes flashing. “Sure hope you ain't suggestin' Kaylee had anythin' to do with this.”

“Not intentionally, no,” Book reassures him. “But I'd put money on that tape her father sent her being the trigger. If I were a gambling man.”

Mal frowns. “Don't make no sense. How'd they know River would even hear it?”

“I suspect they know a lot more about us than we'd think, Captain.”

“You sayin' I got spies on my boat?” Mal asks, taking a step towards the Shepherd. The challenge is clear but Book stands his ground.

“Not spies exactly. But people who are being manipulated...”

“Right. Only one way to be sure about this. Let's go get River and Kaylee.”

* * * * *

Kaylee is chewing her lip nervously and twisting the fabric of her overalls between her fingers. She looks pleadingly up at Mal as he pushes the tape into the player. “Ain't there no other way, Cap'n?”

“'Fraid not. Now, you be a good girl Kaylee and start the dancin'.”

Simon gives a little snort of disgust. “If you're suggesting I dance whilst you experiment on my sister's brain...”

Mal rounds on him angrily. “I ain't suggestin' anything, Doctor. I'm tellin'. Now gorram dance!”

“I could shoot at his feet,” Jayne offers helpfully with a sneer at Simon. “That generally makes 'em dance.”

“I imagine it's the only way you could get anyone to dance,” Simon spits back. “What with your charming manners...”

“Ni men dou bizui!” Mal yells. “And start dancin'. Ma shang.”

He presses the play button and everyone begins shuffling about half-heartedly. All except River, who responds to the music with enthusiasm. “Come on, Kaylee,” she pleads, trying to whirl her friend around. “Faster! No power in the 'verse, remember?”

Zoe and Wash manage to make a fairly convincing show of enjoying themselves as they dance and even Kaylee is smiling at River's graceful light-footedness. Despite having the choice of two partners – Book and Simon – Mal's expression is grim and he never takes his eyes from River. For a long time nothing happens but then the music reaches the part where the rhythm accelerates and just as before River collapses. Simon wants to take her to the infirmary but Mal holds him back. Everyone waits in silence as the spasms shaking River's body build and finally cease.

“Sorry,” she says with a shy smile after she has recovered. “I think I need a drink. You carry on with the party – I'll be back soon.” And she heads for the stairs.

As planned Mal and Book follow her and Simon will not accept Mal's orders to stay where he is. Time is of the essence, so there is no argument. Just a glower that promises retribution later.

Up the stairs, along the walkways and up onto the bridge, River seems oblivious to her retinue. All the crew are following her now. She sits down in the pilot's chair and switches on the Cortex link. Her fingers move over the keys rapidly as she stares intently at the screen. A flicker and the Blue Sun logo appears. Mal and Book exchange a significant look.

River begins to wail, pounding the control panel with clenched fists. “There should be something here. A path to follow. A meaning. But there's nothing but the Black. None of it means a gorram thing!” And she dissolves into tears, calling out for Simon. He's beside her in a heartbeat, holding her, stroking her hair and making soothing noises. But her sobs increase and she starts vomiting. Simon grits his teeth and glares at Mal. “I told you it was a dangerous thing to attempt, you qing wa cao de liu mang.”

“Uh-huh,” Mal responds dismissively. “When you're done cussin' you'd better take your sis back to her quarters.”

River struggles free of Simon's embrace and walks over to the Captain. Staring him straight in the eye, she shakes her head sadly. Then she places her forefinger on his lips and whispers “Mary is the little lamb. But careful! Here come the wolves!!!”

Mal is just about to point out to Simon that River is back to her unusual self when she suddenly announces “Dans l'antre du reynard, il y a une poule de luxe.”

“She me?” Mal asks.

Simon shakes his head.“It sounds like one of the old languages from Earth-that-was. Something about a fox and a chicken.”

“Hooker. A fox and a hooker.” Book corrects him automatically.

“A hooker? Where?” Jayne asks hopefully.

Mal frowns. Preacher seems to know about every damn thing. “Looks like you were right, Shepherd,” he says thoughtfully. “Gorram Alliance turned River into an assassin. Care to tell us how you knew?” Book says nothing. “Is this whole crew full of secrets? Anyone else got anythin' they like to share?”

Kaylee raises timid hand. “Inara sent a wave to save she'd be back day after tomorrow.”

Zoe gives a little cough. “I'm pregnant, Sir.”

Mal looks like he's been punched. “Why didn't you tell me?”

“Tellin' you now, Sir.”

“No. Before. Why wasn't I consulted? Asked?”

“Wasn't looking for your permission, Sir,” Zoe replies coolly.

* * * * *

Inara swallows hard. This is not the mission she wanted. She wanted something that would take her to the other end of the galaxy. Away from Mal. But no. She has to go back to Serenity and ... ye su tamade, she's not sure she can do it.

Monty leans forwards across the desk and looks at her closely. “You ain't gonna turn down your first chance to serve the cause, are ya?” His expression is balanced between disbelief and contempt.

“No, no. Not at all.” Inara takes a deep breath. “I'll do it. I'm just a little surprised.”

Monty gives her a toothy grin. “That's the girl.” He stands up and shakes her hand. “You'll be restorin' a man to his former glory, remember.”

Inara nods her assent and leaves with a heavy heart and head-spinning at the prospect of what she has to do.

Monty is still gazing after her when from behind him comes a soft sultry voice. “Must say I'm impressed husband. You played her perfectly.”

“I was taught by a master, Bridget.” He turns and takes his wife's hands in his.

She flutters her eyelashes daintily and gives him a slow wide-eyed smile. “I've never forgotten Malcolm Reynolds' sickening little homily about having people with him, 'people who trust each other, who do for each other without always looking for the advantage'. He's got this coming to him. And as for Inara – well, I must admit I'm enjoying playin' her. It has a kind of poetry to it, her being the one to destroy his life. And the rest of the crew's. Almost wish I could be there to watch that happy family fall apart. “

* * * * *


Wednesday, May 12, 2004 3:54 AM


Hi everybody! Back from Fusion and suffering severe withdrawal pains. Captain unspeakably wonderful in real life. Ditto for his girls - but less lust-inspiring (to me at least!).

Hoping to get round to reading other peoples' fics soon.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004 7:26 AM


Damn, even Monty's not who he's seemed? Don't see how you're going to make this work out - But I'm sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004 8:46 AM


Interesting myth. I'm a bit worried about how all the sharp pointy objects in the 'verse seem to be lining up to take out our shiny (if grumpy) Captain. Gorrammit, just hope River manages to scupper those sneaky *wanga dans*. And I ditto what Kispexi2 said about meeting Nathan, Jewel and Summer at "Fusion". Wow, seems hardly enough to do it justice and the Cappy is one fine wonderful man, very charming and all kinds of pleasing... Roll on the "Serenity" convention next year, should have most of the gorram crew flying over. Hopefully lots of Browncoats too! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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