Joshua 1/2
Thursday, April 5, 2007

Old enemies, Ivans, childbirth. Some days, nothing goes smooth for Mal and Inara.


Post-BDM, some spoilers. This is a standalone story, a prequel to "Last Act". It takes place about three years after Miranda, what would have been the end of season five of Firefly. Standard disclaimers; most of the characters belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. I'm not making any money off of them. Any and all comments are very welcome.

"I am a leaf on the wind. I am a leaf on the wind. Gorramit, it worked for Wash, why not me! Come on, focus. I am a leaf on the gorram wind."

River was, in fact, piloting exceptionally well. She deftly sent Serenity through graceful loops and sudden switchbacks, but even she was starting to run out of tricks. Their pursuer had planned this ambush well. There was no place to run to, no masses to use for cover. The pilot of the pursuing ship was not as skilled as River, but his ship could push out more acceleration for longer periods. For all his planning, he had not expected River's skill, or that a fifty year old transport would be sporting a mil-spec ECM suite. Still, he was slowly but surely closing the distance to where he could tag Serenity with an EMP and end the chase.

The real danger, as far as River was concerned, was from inside Serenity. Her psychic abilities had saved her and the crew more than a few times, but now they were a nearly disabling distraction. The storm of emotions coming from shuttle one threatened to shatter her lucid state. It was taking precious mental resources for River to shield herself, and she needed all her faculties focused on the task at hand.

A new wave of pain mixed with fear and love crashed against River's psyche. For an instant, her control shattered. She jerked in the pilot's chair as she cried out, sending a shudder through the ship. In the few seconds it took River to compensate, her pursuer gained nearly a kilometer. On the stairs leading up to the bridge, Kaylee Tam recovered her balance and came up behind River.

"We're runnin' maxed out, and no problems so far" Serenity's chief mechanic said, "Got her set up for full burn at Cap'n's orders. Won't last but a few minutes with our fuel, though." She looked at her friend's sweat-soaked face,

"You okay, sweetie?"

"Just humpin' shiny. Where's the captain, and how are the others?"

"Cap'n bugged down to check on Inara. Ain't heard no news from there yet. Got Wendy in the cabin, told her to stay there 'til we reach Arial."

River noticed the comm light flashing. Someone was hailing them. "I need the captain up here. Where are you heading?"

"Check on Inara, then back to the engine room"

"Keep your comm open" a pause, and then "Kaylee, I'm nervous"

Kaylee smiled reassuringly, "Aww, sweetie, you're fine. We'll all be just fine. I'll send the cap'n up"

"Do it quick."

As Kaylee turned to leave the bridge, she felt the ship shudder again. She turned back and saw River white-knuckled on the controls, hunched over as she tried not to cry out. Kaylee turned and dashed from the bridge, her comm already out.


"Well, darlin', guess we can't say you fell and bumped your head this time."

"One more joke, Mal, and I will hit you hard enough to alter your DNA. Dong ma?!"

Inara Serra's beautiful face screwed up as the latest contraction hit. She was lying on her bed in her shuttle. Captain Malcolm Reynolds held her hand and winced in pain from her grip. Simon watched with detached concern. Serenity's medic was actually more nervous than he was comfortable with, but controlled his reactions for his patients' benefit. He would vent his fear later, and took immense comfort to know Kaylee would be there to help him with it.

"Captain, may I have a word? Zoe, will you watch Inara, please?" Zoe nodded from the pilot's chair, then moved to Inara's side, wiping her brow with a cool cloth.

"Doc, uh, is she supposed to be saying stuff like that to me?"

"No, but I can't blame her for wanting to. Really, that's normal. Kaylee cursed my entire family and demanded I leave the ship while I was performing the delivery. Captain, I really wish I could move Inara to the infirmary. This is not going to be an easy birth. Inara's condition isn't stable, and it's accelerating. I couldn't even give her an anaesthetic now without risking damage. We need to get her to Arial. I would prefer-"

"I would have preferred it too, but this child's choosing to be impatient. Fact is the shuttle's safer. Vitteli tags us, the whole rear section's like to get fried. He won't target the shuttles first. Worst case, you all launch here and the rest'll take shuttle two, head for the patrol line. Man can't chase down three targets. I'm counting on you being a better doctor than he is a nuisance."

"I'll do my best."

"I know, Doc. Wish it were easier, believe..."

Mal's comm came to life. Kaylee's voice was tight with urgency "Cap'n, River needs you on the bridge, ma shang!"

"Okay, be there." Mal turned to Simon "Are you sure it'll be okay if I..."

Simon's face softened just a little "Go on, Mal. You take care of River. I'll take care of Inara. Shiny?"

"Shiny." Mal turned to Inara, "Darlin', I'm going to check on the bridge. I'll be..."

"Go. Get rid of that chun zi."

"You sure, cause...?"

"GO!!", Mal ducked the silk pillow that flew at him.

"uh..Yes, dear" Mal said quietly as he hurried out of the shuttle

Simon turned back to the bed, "Inara, you shouldn't throw things during labor."

"Why the hell not? Will it make the situation worse?"

"No. It's just...undignified"

Inara shot Simon a look that spoke volumes.


Mal nearly ran over Kaylee as he raced up the catwalks from Inara's shuttle, to the galley. Jayne was there at the long table, cleaning his guns. The big mercenary looked for all the 'verse like it was just another day in the Black, but a quick glance told Mal a different story. Jayne had Lux, his mini-gat, and his favorite combat shotgun stripped on the table, cleaning and oiling each part with a care that was at odds with his normal self. Years of living in close quarters with the man had taught Mal that the more Jayne was worried about something, the heavier the weapon he selected to clean. During Kaylee's eleven hours of labor Jayne had gone through his entire arsenal, spreading it across the far end of the cargo bay floor where he could, just coincidentally, keep an eye on the infirmary.

"Any news, Cap?" Jayne said without looking up.

"Yeah, my old CO's is trying to kill us, and I think Inara might be pregnant." he responded automatically while covering the length of the short corridor to the bridge.

Mal grabbed his coat off the co-pilot's chair and came up next to River. His brilliant-if-not-quite-right pilot looked pale and drawn, her long black hair plastered to her forehead. Outside the stars spun dizzily as River pulled another maneauver designed to prevent their pursuer's targeting computer from getting a lock. For an interminable second Mal found himself frozen, staring at the wobbly stars and not comprehending why he was here instead of at Inara's side, or why he had gone to Inara when he was needed here.

"You're nervous. Stop it. Now." River said while executing a disjointed Immelmann.

River's calm voice broke his paralysis, "erm, I'm not nervous."

"You are, now stop it. Catalyzer don't work, then the wheel don't turn, we don't breathe, and I want to keep breathing"

"OK, I got no idea what that means, now..."

River took her eyes off the instruments for an instant and her voice took on venom "It means there's one working amygdala in this room. Start using it, and answer that hail."


River's voice instantly returned to its former calm, "Pursuer's sending out a hail. I'd guess it's a final concerned appeal for us to stop before we force him to kill us in a nasty pyrotechnic manner."

Mal exhaled. Now this he understood. Malcolm Reynolds was in uncharted waters regarding childbirth and relationships, but death threats from old enemies were familiar territory. "Well, to put such a peaceable man in that dilemma." Mal responded gravely, "You need anything?"

"Tactical information"

"Maybe if I try diplomacy." He stabbed the comm button to open a channel.

"Ni how, ji bai! I'll make it quick; you ain't geting what you want. So disengage and gun dan!"

River spared enough resources to roll her eyes. At least he was acting like himself, now.

"That any way to address a superior officer, Sergeant Reynolds?" the mocking, Rim-accented voice answered. Mal saw the weathered older face of the speaker on the view screen. Vitelli looked lean and hard, not at all the doughy man Mal remembered from Hera. From behind him, Mal heard River start to breathe more regularly.

"You were never a superior officer, Vitelli. You and your brother just held higher ranks is all."

"Says the man who retreated at Du Kang. Now, I could reminisce with you some more, but let's get down to business. You have a weapon in your possession that would help the Cause immensely."

"I got nothing of the kind. But if you're referring to my pilot, she don't belong to no-one 'cept herself. Now, it'd serve you right for me to let her come within reach of your throat. I'm sorely tempted. But she told you 'no'. So am I. Seems that concludes our business."

Vitelli sounded regretful, "I wish it did, Mal. I really do. But she's unique, you understand. With her abilities we could hit the Alliance where they live and breathe. Imagine if we'd had her during the war."

"Wouldn't have done much good, I conjure. And the war, Captain Vittelli, is over. Maybe you didn't listen to the news in the last year, but the gorram Alliance may not even exist right now!"

"You may be fool enough to believe that go se, Reynolds, but don't spew it at me!", Vittelli snarled, "Core is Core, they'll be back and worse in a year's time. We got to beat them down, now, and that little hu li jing you're carryin' holds the key to do it. Now, I was nice an' all. Offered good terms for her. Last chance. You gonna hand her over and allow her to serve the greater good, or do I have to be proactive?"

"You think you can be proactive? 'Cause, where I'm standing, I don't see where you're going to make that big an impression with a mothballed Alliance patrol boat."

"Oh, I think you know the facts. My ship is faster than your hunk of fei ou, and armed for bear"

"Biggest gun in the verse still can't hurt what it can't hit"

"True. Oh, did I mention I have a state of the art tactical computer?"

Mal chuckled, "A no-brainer? I remember the tac-coms you bumblebees used. Couldn't win a game of tic-tac-toe"

"I said SOTA you grunt! The best upgrades to the best system M-Blue ever made. Smarter than you'll ever be"

While Vitelli ranted, River jotted a few words on a piece of paper, balled it up, and threw it over the pilot's station down to the foredeck. A few seconds later, one of her screens came to life with flow charts and lines of code.

Vitelli continued, "Now, as I was saying: I am faster than you, stronger than you, and smarter than you. You have nowhere to run. No options remain. Just give me the girl and I'll let you go on your merry"

Mal glanced at the newly active screen as it diplayed vectors and probabilities. "Point of interest, but wasn't ending slavery one of the reasons for the war? Don't know about you, but the people I fought with had some pretty strong opinions on the subject."

One side of Vitelli's mouth quirked upward, "The ones you fought with were the losers. No grasp of the big picture. And I'd just as soon destroy a strategic resource than risk it falling into enemy hands. Basic strategy"

"Oh, killing young girls is part of the big picture? Is this something new, or did you have it when you caught the evac shuttle out, Captain?"

Vittelli's expression turned murderous for a second, "I made a strategic decision. A grunt like you would never understand. And it's Colonel. Colonel Garfield Vitelli serving the command of the Border Defense Force. I hated your attitude when you served under me, and I hate it more now. You are a liar and a thief. I am a soldier, with honor, and you will gorram address me as such or I will scatter your atoms across the Black!"

Mal plastered a grin on his face that he had perfected from years of irritating Inara. "Well, when you put it like that, I just can't help but be intimidated. Tell you what. Come back in a few days, when we're in a better mood. We'll talk about this some more, share our feelings. I'll make tea."

Vittelli's eyes narrowed, "You're trying to play a fool Reynolds. It's unseemly. I want an answer, now."

"Colonel Vittelli. Exactly what part of gun dan don't you understand? How about chi shi? Or how about this?" Mal leaned into the camera "I will burn in a special hell before I let you breathe the same atmo as River, and I'll make sure you're there to keep me company."

"You're gonna burn in hell anyway, Reynolds. You aren't worthy of the coat"

Mal put on a hurt expression, "But I like my coat. Got a nice lining and all..."

"Shut up! River Tam, I know you're listenin'. You hand yourself over, else we will destroy you and everything you ever cared about. Crew, family, your whole ruttin' diseased world! It's all gonna burn lessin'..."

"Cao ni ma" Mal said as he closed the connection. He looked over at River. She was still working the controls, eyes slightly unfocused.

"I could go with him." River said in a small voice

"No, and you need to work on this habit of offering to surender to anyone who looks at us funny. Man knows what you're about. We don't know what else he could know. Might know what poultry find amusing. It's too much of a risk."

A smile crept onto River's face, "Feel better, Captain?"

"Yes, actually. Were you all able to get what you needed?"

A new voice answered from the stairs leading to the foredeck, "Yes, captain, we were. I was able to trace his software and replicate it to the pilot's station. His tac-com is analyzing our flight patterns and feeding his pilot intercept vectors. We should now know his next move before he does. River can keep wrong-footing him unless he unplugs."

Mal turned to see the man climbing up. Te Jian Chan was average height and built wiry. He kept his head shaved and wore pressed coveralls. His polished Londinium accent contrasted with his current appearance. Although Te had been a member of Serenity's crew for over a year, Mal still found the accent off-putting. Too many times in his experience, people with that manner of speaking had wanted to run long pointy swords through him. Te could be trusted, though. He had been at different times a Cambridge don, a hacker, and a gambler. When the crew of Serenity rescued him, he had been a slave on a Border world terraforming station.

"So we'll be able to outrun him to the patrol line?"

Te paused, awkward, and River answered for him, "No. He's still faster. Arial's gunships won't intercept for another thirty minutes. I can't outpace him, but I can hold him off longer."

"How long?"

Te answered, "He will be have a shooting solution in approximately fourteen minutes"

"So we got thirteen minutes to put a brilliant plan into action"

"You have a brilliant plan?", River asked

"Maybe. River, keep your lead as much as you can, and put some noise out on all frequencies so Vitelli can't wave anyone. Te, I'm going to need you to grab Chatterbox and hook it into shuttle two, then prep the shuttle. I'm going to talk to Jayne and Kaylee."

Mal stopped and turned a grim face toward the darkened viewscreen, "I know what your sin is"

As Mal rushed off the bridge, River noticed the blinking light that annouced a hail from their pursuer. She stared for a second, then gave an evil smile.


"Kaylee! How many fuel cells can we pull without affecting full burn?"

Kaylee responded almost immediately "Five that ain't at full charge. I ain't gonna like this plan, am I?"

"Expect not. Come up to the galley," Mal clicked switched his comm channel as he walked into the galley and turned to Jayne, "You and me need to start pulling cells, now. Zoe, you listening?"

"Yes, sir" Zoe answered as Kaylee came jogging in.

After Mal finished outlining his plan, Jayne commented "You know there's a big pile of 'if' in the middle of this"

Mal shot him an annoyed glare, "Zoe, feedback?"

"Hate to broadcast this, sir, but I agree with Jayne. Plan hinges on too much luck"

Mal looked frustrated for a moment, "Any ideas on how to plug it?"

Jayne responded, "Matter of fact I do. Got the equipment for it, too"

"Let's see it, then. Kaylee, I need you to rig our exhaust so we blow plasma at the right time. Can you do that?"

Kaylee nodded quickly, "Shi a, Cap'n. I need to take Wendy to Inara's shuttle, first"

"Course. Zoe, you got anything to add?"

"You sure you don't want me there, sir?"

"You stay there. Keep the shuttle prepped in case this all burns up. Okay, people, let's move!"

Kaylee and Te took off in opposite directions, Kaylee for the passenger dorms, Te for the foredeck. Mal scrambled for the cargo hold, taking the stairs two at a time. As he rushed through the passenger dorm, he glanced at the wing Simon and Kaylee had converted into a home for their family, at the wooden sign proclaiming 'Tam Residence' in elegant script flanked by roses and strawberries. Mal grinned briefly. The sign had been a gift from Jayne. The big man may not have had much book learning, but there was precious litle he couldn't do with his hands.

Mal tossed his coat onto a convenient crate as he entered the bay and punched the button to lower the port cargo crane. He grabbed a driver and began undoing the maintenance cover that would give him access to Serenity's fuel reserves. Jayne joined him, carrying a small black box attatched to a net of wires. He had Vera slung across his back in her vacuum case . Mal saw what Jayne was carrying and smiled.

"You weren't kidding. Wait! Where the gorram hell did you get something like that?"

"Traded Monty for it a few years back", Jayne replied as he gently set it down and helped Mal yank the two-meter long fuel cells from their racks.

"You've been keeping a detonator in your bunk. What if River had gotten ahold of it?"

"Nui shi, Mal. Without the codes, this ain't nothing but a proximity alert, and the only way to get the codes is out of my head." Mal turned and saw pieces falling into place in Jayne's mind. "Oh, go se." Jayne replied.

"Yeah, exactly. Let's hoist these to the shuttle then you set it up. You got time enough?"

"Time an' more. Heck, I was plannin' on checking in on 'Nara."

"Really?" Mal said as he hooked the cells onto the crane.

"Yeah, figure it's the only time I'll get get to see her woman parts"

Mal stopped and took a deep breath, "You're all heart, Jayne"

"Yep. Only thing bigger than my heart's my.."


"Mouth," Jayne finished with a smirk, "Hell, Mal. You need to get your mind out of the gutter, you 'bout to be a daddy and all"


Zoe finished prepping the shuttle in time to see Kaylee enter carrying her daughter. Gwendolyn Sharon Tam was a precocious child, with looks that favored her mother. She held onto Kaylee with one arm, and a large battered teddy bear with the other.

"Okay, here we are. Uh-oh, close your eyes, honey. Daddy's working"

"When can I..." Wendy asked with eyes screwed shut

"Many years," Simon said without looking up

Zoe took Wendy and belted her into the co-pilot's seat, then took special care to belt the teddy bear to Wendy's lap. Kaylee stopped to say a few words to Inara. Simon caught her as she was leaving.

"Kaylee, are you sure you can't stay here? Te can.."

Kaylee held up a finger to stop him, "We've had this talk before. Te ain't good enough, yet. Something could go wrong, and he can't think on his feet. I need to be there."


"But nothing. We both knew what we were in for when we came back. Ain't like this is a surprise, and I ain't hiding just because the timing's not serendipitous"

Simon smiled, "'Serendipitous'?"

Kaylee returned a smile that seemed to brighten the whole shuttle, "I still have a few surprises, Doctor Tam." She leaned in to give Simon a quick kiss, "Take care of Inara and Wendy."

"You take care of yourself," Simon said as Kaylee turned and left. "I love you" he whispered to her retreating back as the hatch closed.

In the front of the shutle, Zoe checked the controls for the third time and wished there was more she could do. Wendy stared out the viewport and hugged her bear.

"Aunty Zoe, Mister Badger wants to know why the stars are spinning"

"Well, honey, your aunt River is turning the ship really fast"

"Why is she doing that?"

"So the men following us won't catch us"

"Are we in trouble?"

"No, little one. Captain and Mommy are helping River, and your Papa's taking care of Inara. We'll all be fine. Tell Mister Badger not to be afraid"

"Okay. Is this a game?"

"It's like a grown-up game. We don't want to keeping playing, but some people don't know how to do anything else, so they're trying to get us in the game again. Silly, isn't it."

"Oh," Wendy nodded with a look of philosophical comprehension. "Aunty River is overcompensating on her yaw"

After a pause, Wendy said, "Aunty Zoe, Daddy says it's not polite t'stare"


Te Jian Chan was used to feeling out of control. The past two years had seen him in enough odd situations that he could have written a book on the subject. He took pride in his developing ability to adapt to new situations (starting with being referred to by his last name so as to avoid confusing Jayne), but this was straining his limits. He knew what his part in this scheme would be, and felt he could handle it, but that did little to calm his nerves. He sat in the pilot's seat of shutle two, wearing a vac suit. In the body of the shuttle, Jayne was also suited up, adjusting the bundle of fuel cells they had lashed together. Neither had their helmets on, yet. To help him stay calm, Te did what he usually did; he started asking questions.


The mercenary grunted a response, intent on placing sensors and explosive charges in the right places. His brain barely registered Te's existence.

"Why did you bring Vera to the shuttle with you?"

"Case Mal really does manage to blow the ship up this time. I'd like to have something 'sides my diao when I see this hun dan."

"Why does Vera need a vacuum case? I mean, powder will ignite in a vacuum, correct. Even the captain's gun will fire outside of atmo."

Jayne's hands never stopped moving, "Well, that's cause Vera's special. You see, a Callahan fullbore's designed to fire with atmo. Her sensors read distance to target, motion, temperature, air pressure. Then she calculates the vectors needed to adjust the trajectory, and directs air jets out the vents on the barrel. Gives her sniper accuracy using AP shells and full auto, unmatched in all the 'verse. Course, that all needs oxygen, so that's why the custom case. Why, I conjure Vera has more brainpower than one of your source boxes,"

Jayne stood up, satisfied with his work. He turned to Te, "Now...what was we talkin' about. Wasn't quite payin' attention."

"Uh, nothing. Nothing of import, Jayne. We're just about ready here."

"Good. Get yer headgear on and tether up in the back. I'm pilotin'"


"Yeah, me. You heard the captain, right?"

"Yes, but..well, I thought he misspoke."

"When'd you learn to pilot a shuttle, kid?"

"Two months ago."

"Right, I'm pilot. Best tether yourself to something fore the gravity switches off."

Te hurriedly attached his tether to the wall next to the hatch. As he closed the seals on his helmet, he began a silent meditation to emulate the calm of the Buddha. It almost worked, until Te realized that the Buddha had never ridden in a shuttle piloted by Jayne Cobb.


Mal closed the hatch to shuttle two and double checked the seal. He'd only seen this particular maneuver done once successfully. Not great odds, but he couldn't think of better. This whole plan revolved around Vitelli being predictable. Man could have made some powerful changes over ten years, but these last encounters had reinforced Mal's impression that this was the same bumblebee he'd known before, grown bitter and fanatical.

Mal stuck his head into the engine room on the way to the bridge. "Serenity ready to do this?" he asked. Kaylee looked up from splicing the final wires. She snatched the laser solder from between her teeth and nodded. "Shiny, Cap'n," she replied.

Mal jogged to the bridge, pulling his coat on as he went. He jumped up the steps and halted. River was singing happily into the mike.

"Oh, I know a song never ends Yes, it goes on and on, my friends I know a song that never ends And here's how it begins...

"Oh, I know a song never ends Yes, it goes on and on, my friends I know a song that never ends And here's how it begins..."

"Lao tien ye!" Mal thought, "If Vittelli doesn't kill us, she'll have every other ship in the sector trying to."

Mal sat in the co-pilot's chair and made a quick gesture. River nodded and clicked a couple of keys on the pilot's console.

"What was that?"

"You said keep him off the comm. I have a loop playing the song now, so we can talk" River responded with an innocent expression.

Mal struggled to keep from pressing his temples. "Shiny. You understand your part in this?"

"I am to perform an Ivan, and mess it up."

"Right. Mess it up very exactly. You ready?"

River reached above her head and flipped three switches. "Now I am", she said getting up from her chair. She took a step, then sceamed and crumpled to the deck.

Continued in Part 2.


Friday, April 6, 2007 7:12 AM


Ah! This is great! Really, really great! I can't wait for part 2.

Friday, April 6, 2007 3:26 PM


I enjoyed this story so much I went and read all your other fics. What a joy to read! I especially enjoyed the letter to Santa, and finally understood the reference to Pandora's box. Lots of imagination and planning goes into your work - keep it up!

Monday, April 9, 2007 3:46 AM


I did the same as Katesfriend--gorgeous all.

Now, River crumpling had better be a temporary response to Inara's contractions, or it's going to put a hell of a crimp in the Big Damn Plan.

Does Joshua Serra's name perchance refer to some wall-tumbling action about to take place in this battle? With the Pandora ref, we've seen how you can get all allusive on us, Schooner....

Monday, April 9, 2007 3:48 AM


...more please?!

Monday, April 9, 2007 6:31 AM


Getting caught up, Spring Break and all

love the Pandora's Box analogy too as well as Santa's Letter

good characterization of all, especially like your S/K, most writer's write them way to sappy and flowery... I just never get that from the series or BDM

Pretty please don't have Inara die in childbirth. With Zoe and Simon there she should be alright, right?

Thursday, April 12, 2007 10:53 AM


Oh...this was just too shiny for words, schooner! I mean, this was just all kinds of friggin' brilliant and skillful writing, combined with sheer insanity for imagery!

Honestly, the number of completely spot-on/Whedonesque lines contained here completely astounds me! Between Simon's remark about Inara's reaction to Mal's departure being undignified and Mal's thought about how River's use of "The Song That Never Ends" to muck up Vitelli's comm. will cause allies to shoot at them...I was struggling to find one moment where I wasn't busting a gut;)



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