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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Zoe spends some quality time with her guns, and the plan is revealed to the crew.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2100 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
It was late at “night”, ship’s time, and on the morrow they would land at Persephone. The idea was bittersweet to Zoe – she and Wash had enjoyed some high times on that world, and it was as close to a home off the ship as they’d had. She loved the beautiful landscape of the planet, still raw enough so that it’s pre-terraformed features were still visible, not yet eroded away by atmo and aqua and the pace of human civilization. In fifty years it wouldn’t look like that. The wind and rain and the mad hand of development would smooth the rough edges until it was as close to Earth-That-Was as made no never-mind.
Zoe wasn’t nervous about the visit, not even after the last few times they’d been there. They had enemies on Persephone. And they had friends that could barely be trusted. But she didn’t care. She knew nothing untoward would happen there. Even if it did, without Wash’s laughter and bad jokes to sooth her, she didn’t much care what else happened.
She was kind of hoping for gunplay, though.
Zoe hauled out her arsenal, nearly every piece, and brought it to a tarpaulin she’d spread in the cargo bay. This late at night, with River on watch and everyone else asleep, she doubted she would be disturbed there as she performed her most intimate ritual. She brought out a bottle of premium booze, a bold bourbon from Greenleaf, and poured four fingers into a metal cup next to her left knee on the tarp.
She preferred the tarp. Mal liked to spread his gear out on the kitchen table. Jayne kept most of his toys in his room, or the armory, and tended them there. But to Zoe the tarp reminded her of soldiering, where a comfortable bunk or a cozy table was a luxury, and the tarp was just good enough to do the job. She’d cleaned her guns on tarps under a dozen skies, and she took to the ritual with all the intensity of a samurai sharpening his sword.
Or an executioner his axe.
She started with the pair of lever-action rifles she’d picked up right after the war. Still under parole, military-grade hardware hadn’t been permitted to ex-Browncoats. But she had found a gunsmith on Hera who had hand-made the pair, and was hard up for cash. They were sturdy, rugged guns, heavy calibre and weighty enough to use as a highly efficient hand-to-hand weapon. “Hunting” rifles, technically, although the lack of a closed sight made that a dubious claim. The burl of walnut that had made up their stocks, though, that was a thing of beauty. No war-fighting weapon should be that pretty.
Next she picked up her Dragon, a Yuanese heavy assault rifle favored by the Imperial faction during the war, and preferred by most Browncoat infantry over some of the earlier alternatives. She had carried one herself, towards the end. It was an iteration of a centuries-old model, firing 7.62 mm rounds from the cold black steel at an impressive rate. This was a weapon you could take into battle – lethal, heavy, reliable, and powerful. She stripped the weapon and quickly, efficiently cleaned it as she reassembled it. She could have done it blindfolded. She had done it blindfolded.
There was also a pair of cheap Kalishnakov knockoffs, Singh AKV 29s that she had looted from a bandit camp – former business partners – that had once tried to get the drop on Mal and didn’t expect snipers in an interlocking field of fire. The Singhs were inelegant, but sturdy, easy to use – and you just couldn’t kill the damn things. Half-rusted and marched through swampwater and hellfire and they’d still perform. She didn’t focus as much on them – they could take care of themselves.
She reserved her babying for the sleek, technologically advanced XLP 9mm submachine gun, the one that Wash had carried for a few months. It had been an indulgent impulse-buy, but she hadn’t regretted it. She was a seasoned soldier and adept gunfighter; he, on the other hand, was prone to hasty retreats and devastating taunts. He needed a close-quarters weapon that would do his thinking for him. She had to admit, she’d coveted it a mite after she gave it to him – to the point of insisting on firing a few magazines through it to spare him the “painful breaking-in period.” He’d recognized her gun-lust and let her have her way, like a good husband.
The Singer machine pistol was more of a toy than a weapon. .22 rounds made it a slightly lethal annoyance. She hardly ever carried it anymore, but occasionally it did have its uses. And the ammo was cheap.
The big .45 automatic, was one of her favorites – it had been a wedding present from Mal. The gleaming chrome looked magnificent, and the stopping power and accuracy was just incredible. She lovingly polished the shiny surface until she could see her face in it.
The twin 9mm pistols were next, and she went through them quickly. The twins were another favorite; she liked them in situations where she would have to deal with multiple targets at close range. Between the two of them they could put a disturbing amount of lead into the air. They were loud, though, and after blowing through both magazines she was usually a little deaf.
Wash’s Bad Boy Magnum revolver almost made her cry. She’d given it to him after he’d used it at the Skyplex, setting Mal free from that tortuous rat, Niska. He’d used it well, too. It was a good pilot’s weapon, fitting well into a shoulder-holster when you were seated and feeling confidently heavy at your hip when you were in port. Wash had said he liked it because of the classic styling – and then admitted he’d pop a woody after firing it. It made him feel manly. Zoe didn’t laugh, much – she understood the connection between sex and firearms.
Love and death are intimate, private things.
She cleaned the small, elegant black .38 auto with a quiet sense of pride. She’d had this pistol since the war, and had managed to hang on to it through everything. She always carried it, as often as she did her regular sidearm. She could fit it places most wouldn’t suspect could hide a gun, and it had saved her life – and Mal’s – dozens of times because of that. It could go in a boot, a belt, or a cocktail dress, if you knew what you were doing. There were just times when a lady preferred subtlety over firepower.
A hand-tooled 14 gauge double barrel was next, sawed off to carbine length. That was her minesweeper, something that she could use to put a very large amount of lead in one small area. She could fire it one-handed, even while driving, and it’s pistol grip made a behind-the-shoulder holster convenient.
At last she came to her best friend among them all, her dogleg. Constant companion and utterly reliable, it had never failed her. She liked it for the heft of it, a magic wand of steel and wood worn smooth by its constant proximity to leather, gun oil, and sweat. It was a comfortable gun in her hand, compact, powerful, highly maneuverable, and very accurate. Its brass lever was made for busting crooked teeth out of ugly heads and she’d used it like that plenty. Or used the pistol grip pommel as a blunt object for those quiet, back-of-the-head occasions. She loved that gun, and spent twice as much time on it as was properly needed.
“Nice,” a strange voice said from behind her. She caught herself before she reacted, and identified the voice: Rachel.
“We get along,” Zoe said at last. While she was annoyed at the interruption of her ritual, she also suddenly found that she wanted company. “Faithful, that’s what it is. Always there.”
“You’re lucky,” Rachel said, walking around to the far edge of the tarpaulin. “I’ve lost most of mine. Hard to keep a goodly store when you’re disguised as a refugee or a slave or something.”
“I can imagine,” Zoe nodded. “Still, I’m sure you have your favorites.”
“Pistols, actually,” Rachel volunteered. “I’m mad for them. Always keep a few around, if I can. And, of course, I know my way around a knife. Comes in handy, that, when someone mistakes you for a poor little refugee girl or a slave. Quiet, too.”
“I just usually twist their heads off,” Zoe shrugged.
“That works,” agreed Rachel. “That a Dragon?”
“It surely is,” Zoe said, picking up the weapon and handing it to her. Rachel handled it with professional ease, sighting it and checking its heft before she handed it back. “Didn’t see many o’ them until it was about too late,” she sighed. “Might o’ made a difference, earlier.”
“The Imps had to get their act together,” Zoe pointed out. “Alliance wasn’t too keen on that kind of trade.”
“So I recall,” laughed Rachel. “I fought the first two years of the war with naught but a hunting rifle. By the time we started gettin’ munitions proper, I’d been tapped for MilIntel, and didn’t carry anything but a pistol. Mostly,” she amended. “I guess I did grab that machine gun that one time, but that was special circumstances . . .”
“So,” Zoe interrupted, before Rachel could launch into a war story. As much as she enjoyed them herself, the Reunion had been filled with a gracious number of them, and she couldn’t stand another. “You knew the Captain back on Shadow.”
Rachel’s smile hid a lot of mixed emotions about that, she could tell.
“Oh, yes, I knew Malcolm Reynolds,” she said. “Knew him from grammar school. Joined up together. Um, got room in that bottle for me?”
“Always,” Zoe said, passing her the bottle. Rachel took a comfortable swallow without undue reaction to its potency – a woman used to drinking, then.
“What was he like back then?” Zoe asked, intrigued. Mal’s life ante bellum was mostly a mystery to her. And one didn’t casually bring up a man’s destroyed homeworld unless you were an idiot. Or Jayne.
“He was . . . goofy,” admitted Rachel. “Too big for his body, if you take my meaning. Ears too big for his head, gawky, a little. Always looking to do the right thing. He was a gorram Boy Scout. When he wasn’t bein’ a gorram bandit. He had . . . oh, God, I shouldn’t be tellin’ tales, but – he had big puppy-dog eyes.”
“Puppy dog eyes? Mal?”
“It was pathetic!” giggled Rachel. “He’d look at you with these wide, innocent eyes that just made your heart go out to the poor creature, and then Royce’d talk him into doin’ something stupid and he’d get the biggest, most devious grin on his face – once he had committed a sin in his head, like, he was committed to it in the World. Every now and then, he’d brood – real, dark, mean broods, too, where you couldn’t even talk to him for days. Unless he went to church or got drunk, that’d usually break it.”
“Mal did love the church,” agreed Zoe, nostalgically.
“That’s where the wide-eyed innocent look came in handy,” Rachel said with a smile and a sip. “He got so good at it that the chaplain started calling him his angel. That was his first war-name, I guess. Back on Shadow, I mean, afore we were joined up to the Independents, proper. Fell outta use, after that.”
“‘Angel?’” Zoe asked, astonished. “Big, hulking, brooding killer in a long dark coat, and you call him . . . ‘Angel?’ What kind of sense does that make?”
“I expect we were waxing sarcastic,” snickered Rachel. “’Cause Sabbath services was ‘bout the only time he was even remotely angelic. After he got over his shyness, weren’t a day went by he didn’t pull some sorta—”
“Zoe!” came a voice from the catwalk, above – the voice of a very agitated Captain Reynolds.
“Sir?” she asked, looking up.
“You got better things t’do than play with your toys and jawbone?” he demanded sternly.
“Not at the moment,” Zoe admitted, an edge to her voice. “Just tendin’ my gear, Captain.”
“Well . . . I don’t think I gotta remind you just how much I dislike any of my extensive personal business bein’ the topic of crew gossip?”
“Just discussing the finer points of firearms, one old soldier to another.” Zoe turned to look at him, and grinned savagely. “Lookin’ forward to a little dancin’ on Persephone, Sir. Want to make sure my slippers is in order.”
“Get on with it, then. And don’t be in such a hurry to kill folk – you remind me o’ Jayne. Well, how Jayne use to be,” he said, walking towards the cockpit muttering.
“He don’t like it much, me bein’ here,” Rachel observed when he had passed.
“I noticed that. He’s been pure grumpity. You got any notion why?”
“Conjecture, purely conjecture,” Rachel said with a sigh. “We’ve known each other a long time. Could be many a thing. Mal . . . I guess I remind him of better days.”
“Mayhap,” Zoe said, gathering up her ordinance. “Could be he’s just havin’ his monthlies.”
Rachel grinned, but shook her head. “I know you served with him a long time. Know him pretty well. You don’t know him the way I did. He’s grown up into somethin’ hard, cold . . . I guess we all have, some. But with him, it’s like the . . . the fire has gone out, or something, and just left cold steel.”
“No,” Zoe said, shaking her head. “His fire’s not out. Just banked. He’s a big ball o’ hurt, any way you look at it. But he’ll get on. Or die tryin’. That’s what we do up here. Hey, you want to help me cart the kids back to my bunk? I got another bottle tucked,” she offered.
“I am powerful thirsty,” she admitted with a smile. “Don’t bother tryin’ to pump me for intel on Mal’s adolescence, though,” Rachel cautioned. “That look he gave me tol’ me what to expect if word got out about his early cross-dressing years.”
“He really did that back then?” Zoe asked, shocked and amused.
Rachel stared at her, then giggled. “Oh, if you only knew,” she sighed, “you’d lock your gorram closet at night.”
* * *
“So this is the gig,” Mal said, addressing everyone on board. They had congregated in the lounge. Though they were shy some chairs, Jayne crouched on the floor defensively, while River hung from one of the ceiling struts by her hands. No one knew why she was doing it, and when asked, she’d just look at Mal dully and said, “I’m a primate, duh!”
“There’s this ship. Old ship. Left over from the war. Kaylee?” Mal asked, as the engineer raised her hand.
“What kind o’ ship, Cap’n?” she asked.
“Doesn’t matter yet. Big whoppin’ ship. Old bulk freighter. Huge. This ship is owned by a corp that’s owned by another corp that’s a wholly owned subsidiary of some other gorram corp.”
“So what’s on the ship?” Jayne asked.
“About three thousand Browncoats,” Mal said, swallowing. “POWs from early in the War. Only they never got let in on the victory celebration. Purplebelly thugs there been shinin’ them on about the War bein’ over. So they’ve been sitting there for twelve, thirteen years, now, thinkin’ the Yellow Black and Green is still flyin’ somewheres other than the hearts of the stupidly romantic.”
“That ain’t proper,” Jayne said, offended. “You get collared, you serve your term. But you don’t go one day over.” While mostly recovered from his field trip to his frontal lobes, Jayne still had a heightened sensitivity to the suffering and injustice in the world. While those were good a noble ideals, the fact that they were being filtered through Jayne Cobb’s brain meant that they came out a mite skewed, compared to what an ordinary non-bloodthirsty killer mercenary might recognize.
“In the land of make believe, you’d be right,” Mal said with a smirk. “But here in the Alliance, well, you do what they tell you. And if they tell you that crap is caviar, they want you to believe it. Well, for whatever reason, these fellas have believed it. And there are some of us what think it’s a shame, and a crime. So we want to go after them.”
“You want to rescue three . . . thousand Independent prisoners of war. With Serenity,” Simon said, open mouthed. “I hope you bought more toilet paper on Muir,” he warned, after consideration.
“They use bark. Leaves a rash,” Mal said, making a face. “No, it ain’t just Serenity in this little windmill tilt. There’s a whole bunch of us crazy Browncoats that got together to do this. After due and thoughtful consideration, I volunteered us.
“Now I know that this ain’t, strictly speaking, a payin’ job. We’ve got our immediate expenses covered, but this is a not-for-profit enterprise, so don’t expect a big pay-out. The goal here is live bodies, not coin. But I also know that we ain’t exactly hurtin’ right now. We can afford a little excursion, and there may be ways to recover costs along the way. We’ll just have to keep our eyes open and our wits sharp.”
“And this ship is near Persephone?” Inara asked, skeptical.
“Nope,” Mal agreed. “It is not. But this isn’t a straightforward military maneuver. This is more like . . . a hijacking. You see, this little POW camp is also the place where they invented Paxalon. And these Browncoats were the lab rats who tested it before they built Miranda. So brighter minds than mine have decided that getting these men out right now, with things in the Core getting so shaky, is going to have to take stealth and wits, not brute force.”
“So . . . naturally they came to you?” Inara asked, skeptically.
“Serenity has been assigned to an essential precursor task,” explained Rachel. “I’m the liaison to the people who organized this. Former Independent Intelligence agents, like me. All nice and legitimately criminal, now that the war’s over, but this . . . this has implications beyond the War. Especially now that Miranda is public knowledge.”
“So what you’re asking us to do is to possibly fetch the final nail in the Alliance’s coffin,” Simon said, concerned. “Is that necessarily a good idea? I mean, cold-blooded bounty hunters and obsessive Fed agents and Interpol dogging my every step aside, I do kind of like the way they keep the cortex running and enforcing health codes and such.”
“What we’re asking you to do is rescue three thousand innocent people imprisoned under false pretenses. And likely being subjected to medical experiments without their free consent,” Rachel pointed out.
“More importantly, it’s the job I’ve chosen for us to do,” Mal said. “If you have moral objections to the mission, Doctor, we’ll be glad to leave you on Persephone. I believe that’s where you got on.”
“Oh, no moral objections,” Simon said quickly when Kaylee, who sat next to him holding his hand, shot him a nervous glance. “If the Alliance can’t stand up to the likes of us, it doesn’t deserve to survive.”
“If this thing runs right, shouldn’t be nary a ripple in the cortex about it,” Rachel said. “Even with limited resources, we have excellent planners. And this is part of the plan. Serenity is to go to Persephone and extract an intelligence asset.”
“ ‘Extract’?” Kaylee asked, confused. “That sounds painful.”
“Can be,” agreed Jayne. “That’s fancy soldier talk for ‘kidnap’.”
“Oh, kidnapping,” Kaylee nodded. “Uh, do we do that?”
“It does seem like more of a bad-guy sort of thing,” agreed Simon. “Not that I’m judging.”
“It will be a very temporary kidnapping,” assured Mal, patiently. “We go and get this guy. Bring him in. Ask him a few questions. Send him on his merry. Things go proper, shouldn’t even bruise him.”
“I vote we reconsider that part of the plan,” Zoe said, maliciously. “Leaving a victim behind ain’t a good idea.”
“I’d rather not be party to murder,” Inara sniffed.
“Are you in this, too, all of the sudden?” Zoe asked, an eyebrow raised.
“She is,” Mal assured, before Inara could say anything. “Upon my request. I think I might have need for her.”
“I know I sure do,” Jayne murmured fervently.
“Shut up, Jayne,” nearly every woman in the room said at once.
“Is that . . . prudent, Sir?” asked Zoe. “I mean . . . she’s had no training—”
“It shouldn’t be a surprise to you that a Companion has a wide array of training in variety of arts and skills,” Inara said, coolly. “Including how to surreptitiously gain information, if need be. And I have . . . other skills.”
“And I think we should get a dem—”
“Shut up, Jayne.”
“Ai ya, just jestin’,” he grumbled. “Kinda like you wanting in on this caper. Gotta be a joke. Why you ain’t puttin’ out the red light when we get to Persephone? Thought that was rich feeding ground for you workin’ girls.”
“I . . .” Inara said, struggling for words.
“She’s suspended from the Guild,” Kaylee blurted, then realized it wasn’t her place to. “Oops. Sorry, ‘Nara.”
“It’s fine, Kaylee,” Inara said with a sigh. “When Mal kidna—rescued me from the Operative at the training house, the Guild thought the students may have been put in danger. They’ve asked me to take a temporary leave of absence until it’s established that nothing . . . untoward happened. Since I’m on vacation anyway, I’ve decided to help the Captain with this job . . . although now I’m wondering if the Doctor wasn’t right. Is this the best idea? I mean, there was another report on the cortex just an hour ago about another riot on Hera. And one of the MAPs was assassinated. Perhaps . . . perhaps this isn’t the best idea at the moment.”
“That’s too big of a question for us,” admitted Rachel. “But don’t think we ain’t been askin’. While it was bad ‘nuff that the wrong side won the War, fact is they’re runnin’ the show. Kick the legs out from under ‘em and there’s like to be violence. Power vacuums don’t last long, and the short list of who might step in to fill it ain’t real encouraging. We got some pretty smart analysts looking at just that, right now. Thing is, it’s just as likely to blow up into a stink if we don’t do nothin’. Folks are looking at Miranda real ruttin’ hard right now. Someone’s bound to learn about this ship, and then the damage is done but we probably loose three thousand good men that did nothing worse than fight for their cause and honorably lay down arms. So we feel we have to act, and if we have to act, we have to act now.”
“I . . . take your point,” Inara said, after a moment’s thought.
“Any more compelling ethical issues?” Mal asked, searching faces. “Good. Because I’ve made my decision. We’re doing this. That’s what matters. And the first thing we do is kidnap this guy and make him sing.”
“You want me to creep inside his brain!” River said with a look of exaggerated horror on her face, which would have been more effective if she hadn’t been brachiating.
“Or something,” Mal said, shooting her a look. Rachel still wasn’t aware of River’s abilities, and Mal preferred to keep it that way for now. River should know that.
“Just what do we want to learn from this man?” Simon asked.
“Everything he knows about the security and resupply protocols for this ship,” Rachel said. “And anything else we can squeeze out of him.”
“That’s a lot o’ squeezin’,” Jayne said, shaking his head. “Could get colorful.”
“That’s a selling point,” Zoe said. “Alliance spies an’ me, we just don’t mix well.”
“We’re trying to avoid attention,” Mal reminded her. “We want to do this smoothly. Pick ‘im up, wring ‘im out, head for the Black before they know he’s missin’. We don’t want to leave the system with a gunboat on our tails. Again.”
“But that’s always so exciting,” protested Simon facetiously.
“We’ll just have to get our jollies in other ways. I don’t expect this to be all that complicated. We have a name, and an occupation. Fella works a prestigious and utterly useless Alliance government job, probably a reward for turning the place over to the purplebellies. He’s got guards. He has a fortified estate. He has Alliance operational training. We got to get him and proceed to business, no time for fun.”
“Agreed,” Rachel said, nodding. “This is a finesse job. A light touch would be best.”
“So . . . how do we do it, then?” Kaylee asked.
“Well, we can’t do it without some on-the-ground help,” admitted Mal. “Leastways, no way I can figure. We need intel on him, his habits, his routine. We get that, it’ll be a simple matter of finding a weakness in the works to exploit.”
“Do we got a name, at least?” Zoë asked.
“As a matter of fact, we do,” Rachel said. “Our target is one Sir Arnold Pao Fa, Assistant Administrator for Off-World Affairs. His estate is about a hundred and fifty miles outside of Eavesdown, in the well-to-do Demeter Hills area.”
Inara let out a low whistle. “I’m familiar with the place,” she said lightly.
“Figured you might,” nodded Mal. “Stands to reason.”
“Atherton had a place out there,” she continued, warily. “A ‘country house’ – only three dozen servants, and about thirty rooms. One of the smaller ones. Mal, those estates, most of them are fortresses. Hard core private security. That’s not going to be easy.”
“If it was easy, they wouldn’t have come to us,” Mal pointed out. “And I’m not sure that his home is the best place to take him.”
“No, it’ll be a lot easier to snatch him in transit,” agreed Zoë.
“He comes to work in the capital three times a week,” supplied Rachel. “Flies there in a private plane, run by contract security. Really good contract security. His job is mostly a cover – he still reports to Alliance MilIntel. But since Persephone has been all quiet and peaceful since the War, he hasn’t had much to report. His office is in the Chantara Government Complex, just north of the city center – and it’s security makes Demeter Hills look like grass huts. Real Purplebellies there, with lasers, robots, air support, the works.”
“Any personal habits?” Inara asked. “Mistress? Girlfriend? Favorite restaurant? A love of the opera?”
“Our data is pretty scant on those points,” admitted Rachel. “Sorry. Our resources aren’t as deep as they used to be.”
“So that’s why we need help on the ground,” agreed Mal. “Which means we’ve got to turn up some . . . old friends.”
“We got friends?” asked Jayne, incredulously.
“Some of us do,” Inara reminded him.
“We’ve been dirtside on Persephone more than any rock spinnin’,” Mal said. “We have contacts. Assets, even. Those that the damn Operative didn’t take out in his little slaughter of the innocents.”
“Yeah, I’m thinkin’ our ‘friends’ might not be real friendly, on account o’ that,” Jayne said. “Having a platoon of Alliance combat troops break down your door and start shootin’ up your family life . . . it puts a man off. Especially if he knows why they done it.”
“I know,” Mal agreed with a heavy sigh. “Can’t be helped.”
“Our enemies ain’t like to be any more friendly,” Zoe pointed out. “We got us a generous helping on Persephone. As soon as we hit dirt, the word will be all over Eavesdown.”
“Which is why we aren’t landing at Eavesdown,” Rachel said. “We’ll be landing at a farm about fifty miles up-river. It’s owned by one of our operatives. We set down there and use the shuttles. Come in fast, dodge the controlled areas, use a different transponder code, and hope to God there aren’t any gunboats lookin’ in our direction.”
“Well, golly, that’s a fool-proof plan!” Jayne said sarcastically.
“I’m going to sterilize my tongue later for saying it, but I agree with Jayne,” Simon said. “As plans go, hoping they aren’t looking doesn’t seem very . . . plannish.”
“It ain’t perfect,” Rachel said, shaking her head. “But it’s what we got.”
“We’ll improvise,” Mal assured, evenly. “That’s what the Independents always had to do. It’s what we’re good at.”
“That an’ losin’,” Jayne muttered. A three-pronged icy stare from the veterans in the room shut him up.
“We’re playing it fast and loose. Just like always. Just another job.”
“Is kidnapping a Federal clandestine agent considered ‘taking up arms against the Alliance’?” Inara asked.
“Well . . . I ain’t a lawyer,” conceded Rachel, “but kidnapping is a planetary crime, one that will get you indentured if you get caught. Sir Albert’s status as a MilIntel station chief is clandestine, though. I doubt the Feds would want to try us for that. They’d risk losing too many data points when it hit the cortex. But that should just make us extra cautious.”
“We’ll hammer out the details tomorrow morning, when we land. Everyone not on watch get some sleep. It’s gonna be a busy couple o’ days.”
As people got to their feet and started drifting back to their bunks, Inara caught Rachel’s arm – a maneuver she saw instantly the woman did not like. Inara let go and gave a small bow.
“Forgive me,” she said, a catch in her throat. “I . . . I hope you don’t put me into a position where I have to betray a friend. My . . . professional position is a bit precarious, right now, and to have any negative publicity would not help my case.”
“Nor would incarceration, I’m guessin’,” Rachel concluded. “Don’t worry, Princess, we’ll keep you nice and safe. We used to do this sorta thing all the time.”
“Kidnapping Federal agents?” Inara asked, skeptically.
“Dozens. There were plenty of them in the War. Not everyone was so fond of the black star out here, and in places the Alliance had more spies than we had pilots. I was in on several snatches. Some even got rough. But mostly, they went fine. No one thinks that they’ll get caught, see, or that we’d do anything about it. But the Brigadier, he was a demon about counter-intelligence. So I’ve been in the kidnapping business. It’s easier than it looks. Even for someone like Sir Albert.” Rachel looked her up and down. “Why? You getting cold feet?”
“I . . . but . . . sorry,” Inara said, her voice almost in a whisper, “this is my first kidnapping.”
“Relax,” Rachel assured her with only a hint of sarcasm. “We’ll be gentle.”
“That’s what they all say,” muttered Inara as she bowed and headed back to her shuttle.
“Odd ‘un you got there, Mal,” Rachel said when she was out of earshot. “You really think she’ll be up to it?”
“Oh, she’ll do fine,” Mal said, matter-of-factly. “She’s been up to her pretty arse in Reavers before, and come out alive. I’ve seen her wrap men around her finger with the bat of an eyelash. And she’s very intelligent.”
“Yeah, she looks brilliant,” Rachel dismissed. “Mal? When are you gonna stop avoiding me? We been on this boat together for almost a week, now, and you’ve barely said ‘pass the salt’ at dinner.”
“I ain’t real happy about it, truth,” Mal said after a long pause. “Too much gorram history twixt us. Figured the best way for me to not be tempted to stuff you out an airlock was to leave you the hell alone. So I did. And glory be, here we are almost there and I ain’t killed you yet.”
“It’s not convincing, you know,” Rachel said. “The ‘tough captain’ act. You don’t scare me.”
“Then you ain’t payin’ proper attention,” Mal retorted. “I ain’t the boy you knew any more’n you’re the girl I knew. Those two kids are dead. Let ‘em stay that way, why don’tcha?”
“I just wanted to chat,” Rachel said, a little bitterly.
“Last time we chatted, it didn’t come out so well.”
“If you’re talkin’ ‘bout that ‘discussion’ we had on Muir—”
“I ain’t,” Mal said, darkly. “I’m talkin’ about the time before that.”
“Mal, I had my orders!” Rachel said, her cheeks coloring.
“So I heard. And what great orders they was, too. Probably won the war for us—oops! We didn’t win the war, did we?”
“Once again, you’re bein’ an ass,” she said with a grimace. “Dhu Kang was . . . it was hard on everybody. A nightmare. I’m sorry it turned out that way, but what was I supposed to do?”
“Win,” Mal said at once. “I told you that –”
“Leave it!” Barked Rachel. “It weren’t my call! And I’ll be damned if I was going to let some grunt sergeant make strategic battlefield decisions when I had the best military minds doing it for me!”
“You got a lot of good men killed!”
“And that gun that kept our planes on the ground, what happened to it? Gone! Which gave you gound pounders a chance to retreat under cover and save your unworthy necks to fight another day!”
“And the time before that? On Stormy?”
“No fair! That was right after . . . what they did to our home. And after Royce was captured. I couldn’t very well make an exception to the Overlanders, not when so many other units were in need. Even if you were part of the unit. It was taken out of my hands by the defense minister – I told you that then!”
“Jesus, I –” Mal said angrily. He then visibly calmed himself. “If I had gotten those weapons—”
“Then you would have shot up the place we were trying to take intact! Mal, the war’s over! Arguin’ the point ain’t gonna make us win it retroactively!”
“No, but you didn’t—”
“—have to be such a bitch about it?” Rachel blinked. “Well, duh! I had my own set o’ issues back then. Personal issues. Buryin’ myself in the work was how I coped.”
“Well then,” Mal said, a cold look in his eye. “Hope that worked out for you.” With that, he skulked up the stairs towards the Bridge. He stopped half-way up and turned around over his shoulder. “But for the record, that’s probably the closest you got to death in the War. I was ready to blow a hole in your face. Had my own issues, too, I guess. But I never let a friend down. Never. Someone asks for my last can o’ lo mein, he’s got it. It’s how I do business.” And with that he stomped away.
“Oh, this is gonna be fun,” Rachel whispered.
Thursday, February 22, 2007 8:44 PM
Thursday, February 22, 2007 9:41 PM
Friday, February 23, 2007 7:02 AM
Friday, February 23, 2007 7:09 AM
Friday, February 23, 2007 8:38 AM
Friday, February 23, 2007 10:15 AM
Friday, February 23, 2007 3:35 PM
Saturday, February 24, 2007 2:02 AM
Saturday, February 24, 2007 10:52 AM
Sunday, February 25, 2007 4:02 PM
Sunday, February 25, 2007 6:53 PM
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