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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE
Frame story: A job goes badly for Wash and the crew of Serenity.
Backstory: A job goes badly for Wash and the crew of the Turtledove.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 988 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
The buyer was late. Zoe was starting to get a real bad feeling about this job, and she was pretty sure Mal was, too. Twenty minutes was a long time to wait, when the cargo was a shipment of Alliance-made sniper rifles with laser sights, and twenty cases of ammunition. How they’d been lifted in the first place, Mal and Zoe didn’t know and hadn’t asked; security on this type of item was normally tighter than on shipments of pure platinum ore. Mal and Zoe only knew that they’d been hired to deliver the stuff to a buyer on Whittier, and that buyer was now twenty-five minutes late.
“I don’t like it,” Mal muttered.
“If we leave, are we in worse trouble?” she muttered back. Whoever had gone to the trouble of stealing these weapons was bound to be mighty put out if Mal and Zoe simply up and disappeared with them.
Naturally, there was no cover where they were. It was an old landing strip for atmospheric craft, long abandoned, its tower burned to the ground. Nothing around but pavement – the two runways, the taxiways, the parking lots all testimony to someone or some group who had believed that this backwater world would someday support a thriving economy. It hadn’t happened. Unless stolen and smuggled sniper rifles counted as a thriving economy. The only other thing thriving here were the weeds, poking stubbornly up through the tarmac, breaking it up in a slow war to recover their lost ground.
Mal raised his commlink. “Wash? You see anybody? We are all alone out here, for all we can tell.”
“I got nothing, Mal,” Wash said. “You want me to come get you?”
“No. Sit tight for now.”
“Sir.” Zoe pointed south, where a faint cloud of dust was rising. Mal squinted in that direction until the source of the cloud resolved itself as a largish ground vehicle – an armored personnel carrier, relic of the war, that looked as though it had lived through at least one explosion. Its right side was dented, and the vehicle was covered with black scorch marks.
“Uh, Mal, I got something now,” Wash said.
“I’m looking at an APC, coming up fast,” Mal said into the link. “That it?”
“I’m looking at three Alliance police cruisers, coming in from the west in a huge hurry,” Wash replied. “I think I really should come get you now.”
“No. Sit tight,” Mal instructed.
“Mal?” Wash said uncertainly.
The APC roared and bumped up next to them, and a woman shouted at them through a slit in the driver’s door. “Get in!”
“Where’s our buyer?” Mal demanded.
“GET IN!” she replied. With a glance at Zoe, Mal pulled open the back seat door of the APC, and Zoe leaped inside. Mal followed, and before he could close the door, the vehicle had taken off, heading north.
“Where are the goods?” the woman demanded.
“Where is our buyer?” Mal shot back.
“Rotting in an Alliance prison for twenty to life, most likely,” she replied. “I’m the last minute replacement.” She tossed something into the back seat: a small leather bag. Mal checked – cashy money, and a fair amount, although it would be impossible to count under these circumstances. “Alliance has been looking for those rifles, and I guess they’ve found them. But I mean to get to them first. So where are they?”
“Half mile north, in what used to be an airplane hangar,” Mal told her, tucking the cash safely away.
“You got a ship?” the driver asked.
“No, we came on ponies,” Mal said.
She cast a venomous look over her shoulder. “If you got a ship, have it meet us at the hangar. We got Alliance coming in fast, and I don’t want to get caught. Do you?”
Mal spoke into his link. “Wash, meet us at the hangar where we stashed the goods.”
“Copy that,” Wash said. “You better get aboard fast, you like being a free man,” he suggested.
The driver pulled into the hangar and stopped next to the cargo crates with a squeal of tires. “Get them on the APC,” she said, throwing herself out of the vehicle. “Your ship hold my vehicle?”
“Yeah,” Mal said. “We got room for this.” Zoe grasped the handle of a crate of ammunition that had three others on top of it, and Mal grabbed the opposite handle. They lifted the crates carefully into the APC. The driver loaded the guns into the vehicle, then helped them load the remaining ammunition. Outside, they could hear the whine of Serenity’s thrusters as she settled onto the broken tarmac, and the bang as her cargo door came down.
“Hang on,” the new buyer said, and Mal and Zoe grabbed the side of the APC and stepped up onto the running boards as the driver threw the vehicle into reverse and backed it right into Serenity’s cargo bay. Zoe stepped off the running board and hit the button that started closing the ramp.
Mal heard another sound – police cruisers – as the woman shouted “Go! Go! Go!”
Mal said into his link, “Wash, go!”
Serenity rose abruptly into the air, her cargo door still hanging partway open, and did a flip-and-roll that turned her eastward, running at the best speed she could make in atmo. Zoe’s stomach flipped with the ship, as ship’s gravity and centrifugal force held her feet to the deck, and planetary gravity threatened to throw her onto the ceiling.
The cruisers, close now, streaked after Serenity.
9 years earlier (2506)
The anteroom outside Jack Tallis’s office was inhabited by life-size robotic dinosaurs. Many people found it unsettling when the huge gray stegosaurus turned its head toward them, or when the 30-foot triceratops shambled in their direction with programmed curiosity. But during his internship here the summer before he left for flight school, Wash had come to share his uncle’s enthusiasm for the lumbering creatures, and to regard them almost as pets. He took his time walking toward the glass doors of his uncle’s office, stopping to greet each one and scratch their chins, or above their eyes. Out of the corner of his eye he watched for his uncle to finish the business call he was on – and willed him not to hurry.
Jack finished his call and looked out through the glass wall to catch Wash’s eye. He gestured for his nephew to come on in, and Wash gave the stegosaurus one last, affectionate pat before going to sit across the desk from his uncle.
“Well, well, and well,” Jack said, admiring the shiny new pilot’s license Wash slid across the desk to show him. “Very nice. Top of your class, too, I’ll bet?”
“Second, actually. But the top guy cheated.”
Jack laughed. “Nothing wrong with a little subterfuge, I guess,” he said. “You could learn to out-cheat him, you know.”
“When it comes to flying, I don’t need to cheat. And Manny -- the top guy --knows it, too,” Wash said with a shrug.
“So, which of the top commercial lines will you be flying for?” Jack asked. “You had, what, twenty offers by the time you made your last solo? Who’s got the best money and the best benefits and the best life has to offer for their pilots?”
“You do,” Wash said. “You know I’ve meant all along to work for you.”
Jack shook his head. “Wash. Kiddo. Listen, I love you like the son I never had, I’d do anything for you, but I can’t give you the kind of life they can, and I don’t want you coming to me out of some misguided loyalty. You do what’s best for you.”
“This is what’s best for me,” Wash said. “I don’t want their jobs. I won’t take their money. I mean to work for you.”
Jack frowned. “You sound like your folks. What’s so wrong with ‘their’ money that you’d rather partake of my ill-gotten gains?”
“You make your money smuggling things people need to the people who need them, when nobody else would bother to,” Wash said. “All those Alliance corporations? They make their money on the backs of whole worlds full of people like my dad. I won’t do that. Now or ever.”
Jack sat back in his chair and appraised his nephew through narrowed eyes. The T. Rex behind him swung its head around also, so that it looked as though both man and dinosaur were contemplating the youth before them.
Jack finally said, “You want something to drink?”
Jack punched a button on his desk and asked his assistant to bring them some coffee. While they waited, Jack stood and walked to his bookcase, where he pulled out a book and paged through it idly. Wash shifted in his chair, and wondered whether his uncle was mustering the nerve to tell him to get lost.
The coffee came, and Wash accepted his cup. Jack put the book back on the shelf and picked up his own coffee.
“Not all my business is . . . shady,” he said. “I run a legitimate courier service from here on Boros to half a dozen border worlds and moons – Dovetail Couriers. You’ll get what all my Dovetail pilots get. It’s less than the commercial lines would pay, but it’s not slave wages, either. Nothing all that interesting about it. You fly from here to there and then back to here. I have an opening for a pilot with Dovetail. Been having trouble filling it because this type of job . . . I won’t kid you, for a pilot, it’s near to bottom-feeding. I have trouble finding folk who don’t have some kind of serious issues I don’t want to have to deal with – drug addictions, trouble with the law, intractable laziness, or just plain incompetence. You want it, it’s yours.”
“I want it,” Wash said.
“All right, kiddo. I guess you got yourself a job.”
Six Years Earlier (2509)
Ita was a small and desolate moon that lived up to every expectation Wash’s mother had ever given him about it. The colonists on Ita, who had been set down with precious little in the first place, found themselves with even less after a series of earthquakes, some volcanic activity, and other near-apocalyptic cataclysms – most of which could be attributed to the fact that Ita orbited a gas giant that had a more severe effect than anyone had anticipated on the moon’s weather and geological stability -- struck the moon shortly after the final group had landed, and continued to strike regularly. Folks on Ita lived a hand-to-mouth existence on a world with fewer resources than most.
No business venture on Ita had ever earned out and created prospects for offworld trade except one: sheep. Turned out that a breed of sheep genetically engineered for harsh climates and poor feed elsewhere did even better in what passed for the temperate regions of Ita. Two dozen lambs imported as a joint venture by three communities had become the closest thing Ita had to a viable economic pursuit. Their wool was valuable for trade; on Ita, they were also occasionally eaten, despite the fact that they were not really bred for meat. Wash, who had never eaten mutton before, decided after a few bites that this variety, at least, ranked pretty low on his list, possibly even lower than the processed protein that made up so much of the standard diet out here on the fringes of the ‘verse.
He was on Ita with the Turtledove, one of his uncle’s Dovetail Courier ships, bringing seeds, medicines, farm equipment, building materials, and other badly needed trade goods in exchange for a cargo of wool that the Turtledove would dutifully haul back to Boros. They’d been on the ground a week, because it took time for all of the little towns to get their wool to the ship, some on carts drawn by sturdy ponies, others on the backs of the citizens themselves. Wash had been sleeping on the ship, but during the day he went in to the town with the rest of the small crew, bartering with the locals for the Turtledove’s cargo in exchange for their wool or other small items, such as local handcrafts. He was beginning to wonder how much longer they’d be stuck here, and whether they should maybe try their luck somewhere else on the moon, although there really weren’t all that many places to try. Only the world’s temperate zone was really habitable, and that was a belt around the middle of the moon that ended, in the polar regions, in a frozen, waterless moonscape.
This latest group of woolgatherers were from well outside the region, and they were a rough and silent lot. Wash was no real judge when it came to wool, but their stuff seemed to him to be poorer quality than what had passed through his hands already this week. He thought of his mother and the poor starving colonists on Ita as he weighed the stuff, and gave them the same price per unit as he’d given the last group, out of simple pity. Surely Uncle Jack would approve.
“Why ain’t you got a gun?” his gruff and malodorous customer asked. The question surprised Wash; he’d never before been asked why he went unarmed, while the rest of the crew – the captain, first mate, and three gun hands who served for security – carried multiple weapons. Wash shrugged. “I usually just fly the ship,” he said.
It was a mistake – a careless one, that Wash would spend much of the next couple of months playing over in his head, and cursing himself for a rare fool. Had there been a frisson of danger he’d ignored? Had a week in sleepy Coleville, Ita’s largest town with barely a thousand inhabitants, lulled him into utter complacency? Had he really believed that the captain and crew went well-armed for show?
He never could sort it out properly later, beyond the certainty that he had, himself, been an idiot. He’d no more than finished his sentence when the man’s arm shot out, catching him around the neck and dragging him across the table, scattering a pile of wool, and Wash was pressed up against the stranger with a knife at his throat.
“I got the pilot!” the fellow shouted, and the captain and two gun hands who’d been behind the table with Wash had their weapons in hand, and had flipped the table on its side for cover.
They found themselves surrounded by the scruffy party. The ship’s complement were far better armed than their attackers, who mostly had half a sheep-shear apiece, though two had pistols and several also had knives.
Wash’s captor dragged him in the direction of the ship. The captain and the two gun hands fired into the band of thugs, holding them at bay and killing some. But the colonists were fighting in retreat, forming a knot around Wash and his captor as they worked their way in the direction of the ship.
“Here’s how it is,” his captor explained, pressing the knife against the underside of Wash’s jaw. “We’re taking that ship, and we’re getting off this rock. You’re going to fly it for us.”
“Sure,” Wash agreed. “Whatever you say.” Fly you straight to the nearest police post, you Neanderthal, he thought viciously, along with every other unpleasant thought he’d ever had about this world and its inhabitants. With any luck, though, he wouldn’t have to; the first mate and the other gun hand were with the ship, which was locked down tight. Soon these cretins would be caught in a well-armed crossfire and this thing would come to an end. Of course, Wash would be in that crossfire, too. He had his captor for cover from one side; he wondered if he could somehow manage to get some cover from the other when they got within range of the ship.
“Listen,” he said, “There’s two armed men with the ship. You don’t get some cover we’re both going to be riddled with holes.”
His captor grunted acknowledgement. Unfortunately, except for scrub grass, the ground was bare. Rocky, pitted and uneven, but flat enough that there was effectively no cover. And the ship was now in sight. His attacker’s best hope for cover, Wash could see, was to get to it, using Wash as a shield. So they stumbled awkwardly forward together.
The ship was already under attack, Wash saw. The first mate and Voyle, the gun hand, had taken cover beneath the ship and were firing from behind the landing gear struts at a crowd of colonists who threatened to overwhelm them with sheer numbers. Bullets zinged past Wash’s head, and he tried to duck without impaling himself on his captor’s knife.
They passed two colonists, lying on the ground with bullet wounds – one was alive and moaning, the other not moving at all. Then they were in the thick of the attacking crowd. “Make for the airlock!” Wash’s captor bellowed. “I got the pilot! Crash the lock!” The mob surged forward together, and Wash was pressed and pulled from all sides. Through the crowd, he saw the first mate laying down a steady covering fire, while Voyle had stepped from cover and was drawing a careful bead . . . on Wash.
“Ai ya tien ah!” Wash struggled to get free, tugging at his captor’s knife arm, trying to twist around so that the oaf was in between him and Voyle. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Voyle fire. Desperately, he threw himself aside. His captor struggled to hold him. The knife twisted, sliding along Wash’s jawbone as they both went down. Voyle’s bullet smacked into the outside of Wash’s thigh and tore through his leg. Wash and his captor were on the ground, and the knife lay between them. Wash rolled over and grasped the sweat-slick handle, noting distantly the connection between the blood on the blade and the spike of pain along his jawbone. The colonist lunged for the knife as Wash grasped it, and without thinking, Wash brought the blade up. It punched through the other man’s cheek, into the roof of his mouth, and the colonist howled in pain and rolled away, clutching his face. Wash ducked and slithered sideways, putting the fellow’s bulk between himself and Voyle.
The captain and the other two gun hands had chased the mob this far, pinning them in a crossfire, and had taken cover behind four stacked corpses. All five of the Turtledove’s crew were firing with careful aim now, picking off the colonists one by one.
The captain caught sight of Wash, and crawled through the scrub grass on his elbows toward him.
“You okay?” he asked.
“My leg’s hit,” Wash said. “Voyle shot me!”
“Voyle did? He was aiming at the man who had you,” the captain said with confidence.
The few uninjured colonists were scattering now. The captain scooted backward to get a look at Wash’s leg. “Missed the artery,” he said. “Ain’t bleeding bad.” He glanced forward, then nodded to the gun hands still sheltering behind the corpses. With a flick of his hand, he indicated that they should make for the ship. He helped Wash up, supporting him, while Voyle and the first mate covered them.
The captain dragged Wash all the way to the pilot’s chair before setting him down and assessing his injuries. “Clean these up, some gauze to stop the bleeding, you ought to be okay to get us back to Boros,” was his assessment of the knife cut under Wash’s jaw, and the bullet hole that went in the outside of Wash’s thigh and out through the top of his leg. He broke open the ship’s medical kit and started patching Wash up. “They can do better for you there, especially about that bullet hole.” He nodded at the console. “Go ahead and get us in the air. I think our business here is done.”
“No,” Wash said. To the captain’s look of surprise, he said. “I am not taking anybody anywhere while that man is still aboard.” He nodded at Voyle, who smiled.
“Nasty crossfire,” Voyle said.
“You shot our pilot?” the captain asked.
“Oh, that’s right, ask him, he’s sure to tell the truth,” Wash protested.
Voyle shrugged. “I figured if I hit the guy holding him, he’d get free, and if I hit him, that mob couldn’t take the ship out from under us like they was planning.”
“Jing chai,” the captain said dryly. To Wash, he said, “I wouldn’t abandon a rabid dog on this rock. Warm her up.”
“No. You want to go somewhere, ditch the chwen joo there, who thinks it’s so clever to keep somebody from stealing the ship by shooting the pilot,” Wash said stubbornly.
The captain looked at Voyle, then at the first mate. “Disarm him and confine him to quarters until I can sort this out,” he said. “Now, Washburne!”
Wash decided that was likely the best he’d get, and reached for his console.
Voyle eyed him evilly as he turned his weapons over to the first mate. “If your uncle weren’t Jack Tallis . . .” he said.
“Stow it, Voyle,” the captain barked.
Wash’s leg was starting to throb. Gritting his teeth, he lifted them out of atmo and set a course for Boros.
Ai ya tien ah! [merciless hell]
chwen joo [retarded pig]
Jing chai [brilliant]
Friday, November 3, 2006 2:40 PM
Saturday, November 4, 2006 11:06 AM
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