Ruse de Guerre
Monday, October 23, 2006

So, like, what happened to that scavenger ship during "Out of Gas"? Here's one possible answer.


Sounds returned first: the hum of an engine; the clickings, whirrings and beeps of a control console; soft voices that grew louder and more familiar as she fought her way back to consciousness. Sound, then sensation – she was lying down, on some hard surface; within was a vague and distant notion of pain. Scent returned, in the grease and ozone smell of a ship’s interior. Last of all came sight, as Zoe opened her eyes and took in her surroundings: one of Serenity’s shuttles. The one Inara didn’t use.

Simon was there, hovering. “Welcome back,” he said, that soft voice he used when he was working. Working on her? Why would Simon be working on her?

Before she could sort her memories sensibly, Wash was there too, smiling nervously. “Baby? Hey, Zoe, good to have you back.” He was speaking softly, like Simon – worried. Wash had been worried about her, and Simon was working on her, and they were in the shuttle. Why were they not on Serenity? Her last memory, she was certain of it, was of the common room on Serenity, and now she was here instead. Injured.

“She doesn’t know,” said River, and Zoe knew that River meant that Zoe didn’t know why she was where she was, or why she was injured. But Wash and Simon didn’t know what River meant, and they ignored her cryptic comment. Wash grasped her hand, and Simon was checking some sort of monitor.

Zoe tried to speak, but her throat was dry.

“Wait. Here,” Simon said, producing a small cup of water from somewhere nearby. Wash slipped a hand under her head and helped her taste it. Helped a little too enthusiastically; Zoe nearly choked, and the water spilled down her chin. She gagged, swallowed, forced her voice to work: “What happened?”

Wash and Simon exchanged looks. “There was an explosion aboard Serenity,” he said. “You saved Kaylee’s life. But you were hurt,” the catch in his voice was pride, and worry, all in one.

“What else?” she demanded. She knew she was hurt, that much was obvious. Tell me what I can’t figure out my ownself, she wanted to say. What are we doing on the shuttle? Just the four of us? But words were such an effort.

“Life support went down. Kaylee couldn’t fix it,” Wash went on, although the words seemed to be coming hard for him, too. “So Mal ordered us onto the shuttles. Us here, the others with Inara.”

“He’s with them?” she asked. Again, that significant glance between the two men.

“No,” Simon said.

“He stayed with Serenity,” Wash added. “We couldn’t . . . he wouldn’t leave.”

Zoe would have sworn, long and floridly, at this information, had speaking not been so difficult still. As it was, all she could manage was, “Go back.”

“Zoe,” Wash said patiently, “There’s no air. No heat. Serenity’s a derelict.”

Zoe closed her eyes and gathered her strength. When she opened them again, she fixed Wash to the deck with her don’t argue with me about this glare. His jaw tightened, and he glared right back, but only for a few seconds. Then he dropped his gaze, and hung his head, and she knew she’d won.

“Wait!” Simon said, alarmed. “You can’t be thinking of going back to Serenity? Wash?”

Wash sighed. “Thing is, she’s right,” he said. “I put us where we are, remember? So trust me when I tell you, there is no place we can get to in this shuttle that puts us within even the faintest hope of help. Serenity’s distress signal can actually travel farther and faster than we can. So, truthfully, there’s not a whole lot of hope for us either way – but what hope there is, is with Serenity.”

Simon’s shoulders drooped in dismay.

“Anyway,” Wash added, “Mal shouldn’t have to die alone.”

He dropped bonelessly into the pilot’s chair and started punching in their new course.


The derelict Firefly’s airlock door clanged shut, as the five scavengers stood on their own deckplates and watched.

“Cap,” said Billy, “We’re not really just going to clear off? Are we?”

His captain smirked at him. “You saw the guy,” he said. “Give it an hour. He’ll bleed to death. Or he’ll freeze to death. Or he’ll suffocate. And then his ship will be ours.” He punched a comm unit and said “Stern. Disengage and stand off at a safe distance.” To the crewmen in the room with him he said, “Just in case our firefly captain decides to get smart and take us with him.” ** The sensor panel on Wash’s console beeped. “That should be Serenity,” he said, checking his screens. But the mass readings he was getting were too big for Serenity, and there were indicators for engine signatures that couldn’t be Serenity, even if she were powered up. “Something else, too,” he muttered, more to himself than for anyone else’s edification, as he bent over the console and demanded more information from it.

Simon was at his shoulder in an instant. “What else? Maybe somebody responded to the distress signal?”

“Maybe,” Wash said, still trying to make the computer sort out the various sensor readings into a ship ID. It was having trouble – telling him no known ship matched the readings. Which could mean a couple of things, but he wouldn’t know which until he could get a visual, and he couldn’t get a visual until he came in close enough that whatever he was seeing could see him, too.

“Well?” Simon demanded.

“Can’t tell yet. Wait a minute; let me think,” he said. The shuttle was small; the third ship might not notice it right away. He could slip in, get a look at the situation, and slip out again before they noticed – if he got lucky. The shuttle was already running as efficiently as he could make it – all nonessential systems powered down. He did a quick mental calculation of their velocity against the shuttle’s sensor range, checked the local conditions, and laid in a course that would take them in a slow, inertia-driven arc into, then back out of, visual range of Serenity and whatever other ship was with her.

“I’m going to get us in visual range,” he said. “Then back out again, so we can decide what to do.” He counted down slowly, waiting for the right moment to cut the engines, which ought to make them very nearly invisible. Now.

They drifted into range, and Wash looked at his screens. “Shen dei shi hen wo. Scavengers! And they’ve docked with Serenity.”

“Looks like they’re moving off, though,” Simon observed over his shoulder.

“Yeah . . .” Wash and Simon watched as the scavenger ship disengaged from Serenity, then used its thrusters to move a short distance away. Wash watched the readings he was picking up off the scavenger’s main drive, but they remained flat. “Looks like they’re planning to hang around, pick off the scraps after a while.”

“So . . . maybe Mal’s still alive?” Simon said hopefully.

“Maybe. Could just be they’re waiting around on their guys to finish making repairs to Serenity before they go,” Wash speculated. He didn’t add in which case, Mal’s probably already dead. He stared in dismay at the two ships as the shuttle drifted out of visual range, and all he could see was the black. He hadn’t seen any external weapons on the scavenger ship, but that didn’t mean they didn’t have any. Still, chances were he could get in quickly and dock – but once onboard Serenity, what would they find? A relieved and gasping Mal? Or a ship full of armed pirates, not so eager to give up their plunder? If it was the latter, well, they couldn’t count on Mal, Zoe was out of the action, and Jayne was with Inara. Which left him, and Simon, and River, with only small arms, against an unknown number of thugs.

“You know, I never thought I’d hear myself say this,” he commented aloud, “But I really wish Jayne were here.”

There was a strangled sound behind him, and Wash spun around in alarm. It was Zoe, trying desperately not to laugh. She grinned at him. “Never thought I’d hear you say that either,” she croaked.

He grinned back at her, and finding something to smile about buoyed his spirits. “Well,” he drawled, leaning back and lacing his fingers behind his head, “With you and Jayne and Mal all out of the action, I guess me and Simon and River will just have to be the big damn heroes today.”

Zoe moaned. “Don’t make me laugh,” she pleaded. “Hurts.”

From the shadows at the back of the passenger compartment, River said “I am a big damn hero. It’s just that nobody knows it yet.”

Simon shot a concerned look in his sister’s direction. Wash ignored the girl. He was staring at his readouts, but not really seeing those, either.

“I’ve got it,” he announced, slipping out of his chair and under the console, where he started pulling off the panel covers. “Or maybe I don’t,” he amended, sliding out from under the console and heading purposefully for the back of the passenger compartment. River moved with effortless silence out of his way, as Wash pulled open the various cabinets and started throwing bits and pieces out into the cabin.

“Come on, Kaylee, tell me it’s in here somewhere?”

“What are you looking for?” Simon asked, dodging a box of protein bars that came flying perilously close to his head.

“You know how –“ Wash closed one cabinet and opened another –“me and Kaylee pick up little bits and pieces off of other ships – nav sats, pulse beacons, all that stuff we use to make the crybabies and things?”

“Uh huh,” Simon said, arranging himself so that his head and most of his torso were protected by the shuttle’s interior beams from Wash’s flinging spree. “What about it?”

“Well . . . last trip, we picked up a real prize. Pulse beacon off an Alliance scoutship, short range, kind they’d have on one of the big cruisers. And we thought,” Wash pulled open another cabinet and began systematically emptying it out, “Hey! Short range Alliance scoutship isn’t all that different in mass and configuration from one of our shuttles. So we should, you know, put the thing on the shuttle in case, well, in case we ever needed to bring the shuttle to the rescue of the ship. See?”

“Ah,” Simon said. “Okay.”

“It could happen!” Wash insisted. “Like right now!” He turned, triumphant, holding up a small, square box with several wires sticking out of it. “Here it is!” Then he looked at the little box in consternation. “Only, we never installed it.”

“Can’t you install it now?” Simon asked.

Wash’s face fell. “All my tools are on Serenity.”

The two men stared at each other in frustration.

River said, “Simon has tools.”

Simon looked momentarily confused, then scrambled for his medical kit. He threw open a compartment to reveal an assortment of physician’s tools – scissors, retractors, probes, tweezers, and scalpels of various sizes and configurations.

“I don’t suppose you’ve got a screwdriver?” Wash asked.

Simon plucked out a small screwdriver, its blade no more than half a centimeter wide. “For calibrating and adjusting medical devices and equipment,” he said. “Will it do?”

Wash grinned broadly, plucking the screwdriver from Simon’s grasp. “It just might!”

** Stern glanced at the headsup on his console. “Ship coming in,” he said, and his Captain came to stand over his shoulder.

“Who?” the Captain asked.

Stern swore. “Alliance. Short-range scoutship.”

The scavenger’s Captain considered this new information. A short-range scoutship would have a bigger ship not too far away – but there shouldn’t be any larger Alliance ships in this area.

Then he remembered the Serenity’s distress signal – how it had fubared his navigation and brought him to a standstill until he’d dug it out.

They did that by crosslinking their nav sat to their beacon, he realized. And he hadn’t undone it before that wounded Captain ran him off at gunpoint, which meant the signal kept going, beyond its normal range – where it had apparently reached some Alliance warship.

Which meant Serenity was most probably screwed.

Well, he didn’t mean to let his ship be picked up, too. “Let’s clear out of here,” he said, and Stern applied himself hastily to the controls.

** Aboard the shuttle, Wash and Simon cheered as the scavenger cleared off. Zoe smiled, and even River seemed pleased.

“More good news,” said Wash, “Serenity’s main drive is up. Mal must’ve got a catalyzer off those xue chi gou.” He didn’t tell them the troubling revelation his scans showed – no life readings aboard Serenity. Could be wrong, after all. Shuttle’s scanners weren’t all that great, really.

Then they were docking, and River left the ship with Simon in tow and made straight for the bridge, where they found Mal barely breathing on the deck. The two of them moved him to the med bay, and River went to fetch Wash from the shuttle.

“Come quickly,” she said, but Wash hesitated, looking at Zoe.

“I’m fine,” she said. What she meant was, I’ll be fine here for a time, while you see to Mal,, but it was more than she could say. Wash seemed to understand, though, and left her in the shuttle.

In the med bay, Simon demanded “What’s your blood type?”

“My . . . what?” Wash asked. Mal, lying on the table, looked deathly pale. He was covered in blood.

“Your blood type,” Simon said, grasping Wash’s hand and turning it palm-up. “I’m not a match.”

“Match?” Wash had no idea what the doctor was talking about. “Is he dead?”

“Not yet,” Simon said, swabbing the tip of Wash’s index finger with alcohol. “Blood type wouldn’t matter on any core world, at any decent medical facility. Out here, though –“

“Ow!” Wash protested, as Simon pressed a small gun-shaped device to his finger and pulled the trigger.

Simon glanced at the readout and nodded. “He needs blood. Now. And you’re a match, so you’re going to give him some.”

“But, Zoe –“ Wash said, accepting a piece of gauze from the doctor and pressing it to his bleeding fingertip.

Simon wasn’t listening. He pulled a stool over next to the table where Mal lay, and guided Wash to it. “Take off your shirt,” he instructed.

Wash obeyed, even though the ship was still somewhat chilly. As he stripped it off, he had another thought – one that didn’t involve him giving blood, which made Wash just a mite squeamish. “We should call back the other shuttle,” he said, as Simon wrapped a thick rubber band around his bicep.

“I’ll do it,” River said, and vanished without asking how.

Simon slipped a needle into Wash’s elbow, and Wash flinched. Blood poured from Wash’s arm into the tubing attached to the needle, and from there into a device attached to the side of the exam table. Then it flowed back out again, into the tubing that ran into Mal.

“How much does he need?” Wash asked.

“No more than you can spare,” Simon replied. “At least, I hope not, anyway.”

“I thought doctors were supposed to be comforting sorts,” Wash observed, but Simon ignored him. He was working on Mal, and when he pulled back the pressure bandage Wash could see that the Captain had a ferocious-looking gut wound. Wash thought unkind thoughts about the scavengers, while his own blood flowed from his arm into Mal’s.

On the bridge, River pressed the red callback button that Wash had wired up before they left. She sat in the pilot’s chair, watching the scans, until she saw Inara’s shuttle returning; at that point, she left the bridge and met the shuttle’s occupants as they spilled onto the catwalk.

Kaylee and Inara came full of talk and questions – “What happened?” “There’s air now! How did that ---?” “When did you get –?”

River only shook her head in reply. Too much noise; too much confusion, and she didn’t want to forget her purpose. She looked first at Jayne, then at Book. “Come with me,” she said.

Jayne started to protest, but Book put a silencing hand on his arm. While Kaylee and Inara watched, River led them across to the second shuttle, where Zoe waited patiently.

Book, quicker than Jayne to figure matters out, said “Zoe, you’re looking well. Nevertheless, I think perhaps we should get you to the med bay.”

As two men carried Zoe out, Inara asked, “Where are Wash and Simon?”

But River saw no reason to answer stupid questions; she merely stepped into a shadow, quietly. Inara and Kaylee trailed after Book, Jayne and Zoe; they’d forgotten River almost instantly, which was how she wanted it. The med bay would be full of people, and noise, and River didn’t want too much of that. Silently, she slipped toward her quarters by another route.

In the med bay, Inara and Kaylee went instantly to the unconscious Mal; Wash’s attention turned immediately to Zoe.

“Hey, bao bei,” he said.

“Hey,” she replied, barely audible over Kaylee and Inara’s solicitations after Mal.

“He’s been shot, and he’s lost a lot of blood, but I think he’ll live,” Simon was saying, in response to Inara and Kaylee.

“You seem better,” Wash said.

“I am some better,” Zoe replied. “In fact, I’m hungry. And I seem to remember there was cake?”

“Please, ladies, I need to work,” Simon said, shooing Kaylee and Inara toward the door.

Wash grinned, “Yeah. For Simon’s birthday.”

“I’d really like some,” Zoe said.

On the exam table, Mal started to stir as Wash said, “Would you? Well. I’ll run up and scrape you up a piece.”

“You’d do that for me?” Zoe asked. She saw Mal moving, and wondered how close to consciousness he was. Could he hear them? Feel the tubes in his arm? Smell the tang of blood and antiseptic in the med bay?

Wash was watching Zoe, not Mal. “I’d do anything for you, you know that,” he said.

In the hallway, Inara and Jayne were arguing quietly. “I think it’s something he should see when he wakes up,” Inara said.

“He’s seen blood before,” Jayne said dismissively. “Lots of it.”

Mal opened his eyes. “Welcome back, sir,” Zoe said, smiling.

Wash turned, and smiled as well when he saw Mal awake. Mal swung his head slightly, and caught sight of Kaylee, Inara, and Jayne just outside the med bay door, and Book standing just inside it.

“I go someplace?” he said, his mouth thick and cottony. That was new. He hadn’t felt like that in any of his hallucinations.

“Very nearly,” said Book.

Now they were all hovering. “I thought we lost you,” Inara said.

“I’ve been right here,” Mal pointed out. He was still trying to figure out exactly what was going on. Like, why Wash had a thing in his arm. He’d understood what he was seeing in his hallucinations, but he couldn’t figure out right now why Wash had a thing in his arm. “Wash, you okay?”

“Yeah, Mal, I’m fine.”

“You got a thing in your arm,” Mal said. It had a name, surely, but not one he could come up with right now. He knew he could make all of this make sense, if he could just clear the fog from his brain.

Wash grinned. Whatever the thing was in his arm, he seemed unperturbed by it. “Yeah.”

Simon appeared at Wash’s shoulder, looking stern and holding a hypodermic. “Try not to speak,” he instructed. “You’re heavily medicated, and you’ve lost a lot of blood.”

Mal groaned. The pain was hitting him now. He sure hoped whatever Simon had in that hypodermic was a painkiller. He hoped it was real. But he ought to be alone on the ship. Oughtn’t he? When did they all come back? Had they really come back? “I thought I ordered you all off the ship,” he said. “I call you back?”

“No, Mal, you didn’t,” Wash replied.

Beyond him, Zoe said, “I take full responsibility, Captain.”

“Decision saved your life,” Simon said, and Mal wondered why the doctor was criticizing him. That seemed real enough, though.

“Won’t happen again, sir,” Zoe said.

That was more like it. Somebody speaking with respect in their tone. “Good,” Mal said. “And,” he added, lest Simon scold him again, “Thanks. I’m grateful.”

“It was my pleasure, sir.”

“Hey!” Jayne said from the doorway, sounding offended, “Y’know, we’d have been back first, except there’s something wrong with Inara’s shuttle. She done somethin’ to it, Mal. It smells funny.”

“I told you, that’s incense,” Inara put in. She looked as though she’d very much like to slug Jayne.

“So you say,” Jayne retorted. Mal made a mental note to assign them to different shuttles next time. If it should ever come up again. Which he fervently hoped it wouldn’t.

Kaylee stepped around Jayne. “Hey, Captain,” she said.

“Hey,” Mal replied.

“You fixed the ship,” Kaylee observed, looking pleased. “Good work.”

“Thanks,” Mal said, preferring Kaylee’s soft-spoken praise to Jayne and Inara’s sniping. Although, come to the point of it, he really couldn’t remember what he’d done. Or how the ship got fixed. But it was undeniable, they were all breathing something, and not suffering from it. Maybe he really had fixed the ship.

Simon stepped toward Mal. “All right. I have to insist. The captain needs to rest,” he said, and Mal wondered again why Simon couldn’t relax just a little bit. Needs a little of whatever he’s given me, Mal thought, but didn’t argue the point. In fact, Simon was right. Even if he was hopelessly prissy about it.

“Yeah,” Mal slurred. Must’ve been a sedative in that hypodermic, because his vision was fading fast at the edges. “I think the doc might not be wrong about that one. Just going to need a few . . .” the room faded, and Mal forced his eyes open again, remembering that they might all be a hallucination. But this felt different from the hallucinations he’d had earlier, when the air was going and his blood was going and his strength was fading. “You all gonna be here when I wake up?”

They smiled. They nodded. Book said, “We’ll be here.”

“Good,” Mal said. “That’s good.” And he slipped, for the moment, into the black.

Shen dei shi hen wo -- God must really hate us. xue chi gou -- flesh-eating dogs


Monday, October 23, 2006 6:37 PM


Very nicely done! I always love when someone fills in the missing pieces in their fic and does it well!

Monday, October 23, 2006 11:38 PM


This is just brilliant! I love how you have expanded on the shuttles returning to Serenity and also explained why the Scavenger ship and crew left the area rather than hanging around until the Captain died so they could take the ship. Very neat. You were spot on with everybody. Would have loved to have seen this in "Out Of Gas". Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 3:45 AM


I haven't read a whole lot of fan fiction yet, but I'll have to admit, that was a decently written bit of speculation. Good work.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 5:36 AM


Nicely done scene.

River's line made me think of the film where she turns out to be a Big Damn Hero.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 7:31 AM


I liked it. Good explanation about the scavenger ship - I wondered about it too, why didn't they just wait around and try to retake Serenity. And very good crew voices.
Keep it up. :)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 8:42 AM


honestly i'd never thought about this, but truly i'm glad someone did! i can totally imagine this happenin. very shiny. characters seemed very real. i like!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 8:42 AM


honestly i'd never thought about this, but truly i'm glad someone did! i can totally imagine this happenin. very shiny. characters seemed very real. i like!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 8:42 AM


honestly i'd never thought about this, but truly i'm glad someone did! i can totally imagine this happenin. very shiny. characters seemed very real. i like!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 8:42 AM


honestly i'd never thought about this, but truly i'm glad someone did! i can totally imagine this happenin. very shiny. characters seemed very real. i like!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 8:42 AM


honestly i'd never thought about this, but truly i'm glad someone did! i can totally imagine this happenin. very shiny. characters seemed very real. i like!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 8:42 AM


honestly i'd never thought about this, but truly i'm glad someone did! i can totally imagine this happenin. very shiny. characters seemed very real. i like!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006 4:24 PM


Excellent missing scene. Very plausible. Characters ring true. Loved it!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006 4:47 PM


Brilliant work, nauticalgal! Definitely love how you had Wash and Simon juryrig the scoutship pulse beacon to make the scavengers think the Alliance were on the scene...cuz unless Mal tracked down the Walden (scavenger vessel was supposedly called the "Walden") and got his justice, she would have stayed around like a metal vulture:(



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The Four Winds, Epilogue
The end...or maybe just another beginning.

The Four Winds, Chapter 25
The rest of the crew return home.

The Four Winds, Chapter 24
Me and Elwood, we're puttin' the band back together.

The Four Winds, Chapter 23
Inara investigates matters; Mal discovers that the impossible has been done in his absence.

The Four Winds, Chapter 22
River needs Mal to solve her problem; Mal is forced to provide information to the Alliance.

The Four Winds, Chapter 21
When Mal tries to recover the cargo, will he lose more than he stands to gain?

The Four Winds, Chapter 20
Mal makes changes to his plan; River puts her plan into action; Inara decides on a plan of her own; Wash finds something he'd lost.

The Four Winds, Chapter 19
Simon gets an alias; Mal gets a look at his client; Wash gets a shock.

The Four Winds, Chapter 18
Our Heroes - and Our Villains - try to figure a way out of the mess they're in.

The Four Winds, Chapter 17
River finds out what's really going on; Simon and Zoe fall into the wrong hands.