BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

GUILDSISTER

Blue Sun Job, Part 17: Going Through the Motions
Wednesday, July 28, 2004

So, if Mal had to rat someone out to the Feds, which one would he pick? Mal's busy with that so Zoe's in charge of backstory flashbacks.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3275    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Blue Sun Job, Part 17: Going Through the Motions


Sequel to the
Truthsome series (link is to part 1)
Blue Sun Job, Part 1: Plans and Schemes
Blue Sun Job, Part 2: Into the Lion’s Den
Blue Sun Job, Part 3: Going Smooth
Blue Sun Job, Part 4: Return to the Core
Blue Sun Job, Part 5: Life That Was
Blue Sun Job, Part 6: More Life That Was
Blue Sun Job, Part 7: ...and Robberies That Were
Blue Sun Job, Part 8: Zoe’s Tale
Blue Sun Job, Part 9: More of Zoe’s Tale
Blue Sun Job, Part 10: Going In
Blue Sun Job, Part 11: Home Again...
Blue Sun Job, Part 12: Waiting
Blue Sun Job, Part 13: Bushwhacked Revisited
Blue Sun Job, Part 14: Two By Two
Blue Sun Job, Part 15: Give the Devil His Due
Blue Sun Job, Part 16: The Edge

Chinese:

No critical dialog using actual Chinese characters, just exclamatory expressions

他妈的 = ta ma duh = f*ck, or motherf*cking
哎呀 = Ai ya = damn
狗屎 = go-se = crap
我的妈 = wo de ma = mother of god


Blue Sun Job, Part 17: Going Through the Motions
靑日 Job: Going Through the Motions

Zoe wasn’t troubled by the absolute darkness, nor by being forced to stand in a restrictive position. What gnawed at her was the realization of what the change in her status meant for the captain. They were finished with him, or near to it. Had they given up on getting anything out of him? Or…?

She had no delusions about the limits of endurance, and Zoe knew full well that the captain had more than a few cracks in his defenses that could break if met with a correctly applied assault. Everyone had an edge, and his--hers, anyone’s--could be reached. She’d seen Mal at his breaking point more than once; had stood at the cliff’s edge right there with him staring into the void. Responsibility and failure were the breaches in the captain’s fortifications--the sense of having failed those he felt responsible for, those he thought he could have, should have, saved, whether realistic or not. Now, in this situation, he’d be feeling responsible for their getting caught. Did Commander Harken know what Mal’s weak points were? And how to attack them? Zoe sighed. Harken hadn’t struck her as the brightest star in the Alliance’s constellation, but he’d obviously been called back here for some specific reason. His brief interviews of her, thus far, had failed to impress her. Just the usual hogwash about the others having confessed all.

Having run through every instant of the mission in her head, Zoe still couldn’t find the critical mistake. The primary candidates for having ratted them out remained the missing Jayne (Bastard! She’d have spaced him!), and Monty’s Fed nephew (But Monty trusts him.). Of course, and she had to give this due consideration, there was the possibility that she and Mal just being who and what they were on that 他妈的 moon had caused the failure. Clearly they’d been spotted at that hotel…

That hotel… Zoe indulged in a moment of pointless struggle against the bonds that held her secure. The Feds weren’t fools--well, they were fools, but insidiously clever, evil fools--they’d be working on Wash too. And Zoe knew too gorram well just exactly which tack they’d be taking with her husband. Stand firm, my love, Zoe tried to send the thought out into the ether to him. Trust me. Trust my love. And hold your ground, she silently implored. Trust me and Mal. We would never

* * *

Years Earlier…

Zoe opened her eyes, doing an immediate and automatic scan of her surroundings. 哎呀. This wasn’t her room. More significantly, it wasn’t her bed. Even more significantly, she was bare-assed naked beneath the blanket. Holding still, Zoe reached her senses out, feeling the atmo in the room. Double-哎呀. There was a warm presence behind her and the soft sounds of a sleeping person breathing.

With a low moan, inspired in part by the dazzling hangover waiting to pounce on her the moment she moved, Zoe slowly and carefully rolled over. Mal slept face down about a foot away from her. A louder moan escaped her.

Mal’s eyes opened, then snapped closed as the light hit them. More cautiously, he opened them again, focusing on her after a blank moment.

“Zoe…? Ummm… You…? Here…?” he mumbled.

“Yes sir, here I am,” she said, shifting her gaze to the ceiling.

“Did we…?”

“Kinda wondering that same thing myself, sir,” she said.

“So… you don’t remember if…?” He rolled over, pulling the blanket away as he did.

“No, sir, and apparently neither do you,” she answered tersely, snatching the blanket back over her.

He seemed to be taking some time to process that. “You mad at me? For not recollecting something you don’t remember yourownself?”

Zoe climbed out of the bed, trying to keep herself covered with the blanket, but he wouldn’t let go of his end. Without the covering, or any remaining shred of her dignity, Zoe stood, swaying and clutching her head.

“Where are my clothes?” she asked.

“Didn’t know I was in charge of keeping track,” he muttered, sounding more than a mite pissy. “Listen, Zoe…” Mal said, “If we were that drunk… I mean, if I was that drunk… I mean… ummm… just technically speaking…. it seems unlikely…”

He stopped talking when she turned around and glared.

Zoe found her clothes, and his, scattered through the common room that separated their two bedrooms, tangled with the loot from their last job. Not a fortune but enough to keep them going for a few weeks.

Rummaging through a small cupboard, she found some hangover tabs, gulping down a couple. At the bedroom door she called, “Here,” and tossed him a few. Leaning against the sink, Zoe tried to decide if plain water was bland enough to stay down. Through the grimy window, she stared out at the tangle of streets around the space port. Six months and three systems away from Beta and Delta but still not far enough. No honest--no legal--work to be had for former Independents. Restrictions and suspicions (some now fairly earned) followed them everywhere. Still too close in to the Core. Still too deep in Alliance territory. It was like a shroud darkening the brightest of days.

She heard a chair pull out from the table as Mal sat down. He’d managed to find clothes. Glancing down, she groaned, and started to pull on her scattered attire. He didn’t look up as she dressed, sitting with his head in his hands.

“Last I recall,” he said, “You were pawing all over some scrawny fella in that bar. Don’t know what you saw in him.”

“I liked his laugh,” Zoe said tartly, putting a pot of water on the stove to boil.

“Whatever happened to him?”

Zoe gave a soft snort. “I think you hit him, sir.”

He looked up. “Why would I do that?”

Zoe held a bland expression. “I wouldn’t care to go visiting your intentions in that area,” she said. Possessive, she thought. And protective. Of her. Of himself. And of them.

Mal stared at her. “Well, I’m sorry as hell. If you were fixin’ to hump that little bastard, weren’t no business of mine to get in the way.”

“How very gracious of you, sir.” Zoe found two cracked, mismatched cups and poured tea in them. Tea seemed safer than coffee this morning… she glanced out the window, uh… afternoon. Setting a cup in front of Mal, she sat down in the chair opposite him, sipping from her cup. He clutched his tightly, staring unseeing into it.

So this was life, she thought idly. They’d survived so many levels of hell to climb up out of literal graves only to find a whole ‘nother kind of hell. One with no meaning, no purpose, no drive. Nothing seemed real. Certainly nothing was right. Stealing for a living, getting blind drunk most nights, they lived together--but not together, all appearances this morning to the contrary--in a bindingly close but also curiously distant relationship. Waking in bed with Mal didn’t touch the sense of estrangement. But was it estrangement from him? Her? Or life itself? And did she even care?

All the words likely to pass between Zoe and Mal had already been spoken for the day, and it was more than most. If you talked, you had to think, and that led to memories and feelings. She thought she’d had a tight lid on it all, at the prison and in the difficult times immediately after. The nightmares returning were an unsettling surprise, when they moved out into world of the living and more-or-less free. But it was the occasional flashbacks that truly chilled and frightened her, images so abrupt and vivid she could not only see and hear but smell, taste, and almost touch. Odd moments triggered them--the stench coming from a poorly cleaned butcher’s shop had caused the last one, the sight of a fortified wall built out of the dead appeared in front of her, stopping her cold in her tracks. Even Mal, walking at her side, had faltered for a split before taking her arm and hurrying her along. Did such things trouble him too? Zoe didn’t know, and wouldn’t ask, but she had a strong hunch they did. They didn’t discuss it.

Too much introspection for a hung-over day following on the heels of a blacked-out night. Had they…? Not that it was such an awful notion. Still, it seemed somehow wrong. Lots seemed wrong. It was just so hard to care, impossible to change. They roamed the edges of a world of dark violence and depravity amongst people lacking in any of the sort of morals or ideals Mal used to embrace. Zoe had known such places before, but had been shielded from their full impact by her daddy and his crew. Mal hadn’t. It sometimes struck her as a wrongness how easily he’d taken to this life. But, then, so had she.

“We are some seriously screwed up people,” she whispered, not even aware she’d spoken out loud until she saw Mal look up to meet her eyes. He didn’t say anything. It wasn’t like he could argue the point.

Then she saw the corners of his mouth twitch and realized he hadn’t been on the same thought track at all. Instead he’d gone to the dirty joke place. Her own mouth twitched. Ah, well, where inappropriate humor yet lived, there was hope.

* * *

Now…

Zoe leaned her head back against the metal wall. If there was one thing both of the men in her life were masters of, it was inappropriate humor. She sighed. Stand firm, beloved.

* * *

Mal turned fully internal as the impact of what Harken said slammed down on him. Un-他妈的-believable. They’d gotten in and out of the tightly secured Blue Sun treasury, snatched a fortune in platinum and--as far as he could tell--gotten away with it clean. But a stupid little nothing smuggling job gone bad at the ass-end of the galaxy was going to cost them all their lives. God had an evil sense of humor. But, then, Mal already knew that.

Harken was still talking, blazing the trail of their doom, “...found at the scene of the carnage a handgun with all the cartridges spent, covered in your fingerprints...” Mal’s pistol... someone, one side or the other, must have made use if it. “...at the jail, your smuggling contact found dead, along with two murdered Alliance troopers. A transmitter matching the type found on your ship, with your prints on it as well as partials of your pilot. Then there’s the stolen Blue Sun property... the case bearing both your fingerprints as well as those of your first officer. And on the Blue Sun property itself, the prints of your young mechanic...”

Gads... all of them, all of them tied in to the killings of the Alliance garrison on New Horizons. Every 哎呀 one save for Jayne. Huh? Had he really ratted them out? Then why for this and not the Blue Sun robbery? Zoe, Wash, Kaylee... An abrupt, uncontrollable vision sizzled through his mind. Sleep-deprived hallucination? Or flashback? He couldn’t tell, but as vividly as if he was still there, he saw one of his young soldiers at the prison... standing on the gallows. She was just a young thing, scarcely more than a girl. She’d been under his command there at Serenity, at the end. Now, she’d been caught killing a guard, and he was helpless to save her. Again. Trying so hard to be brave even as tears welled up in her eyes. The executioner brushed aside her brown hair to tighten the noose...

Mal almost stopped breathing. She looked just like Kaylee.

This was it, then. This was the edge of the cliff. The breaking point. Mal recognized it with an odd sense of distance even as he stared into the depths. He’d do, or say, anything Harken wanted if only it would take away the image of lil’ Kaylee on a gallows... no more… no more little girls lost…

Bizarrely, it was Commander Harken who threw him the thread to pull back from the brink. Just a millimeter at first, but back from the plunge. It was the impulse to smart-ass-ness Harken inspired that caused Mal to pull back. Did Harken realize he had him and then went just a fraction too far?

“...still fighting the same battles, sergeant. Only those soldiers you murdered...”

The echo of Harken’s accusation from their first encounter suddenly struck Mal as absurdly, if inappropriately, comical. First Harken had credited Mal with the work of Reavers. He gotten a promotion, in Harken’s world at least, from Reaver to mere mass murderer.

“Something amusing here, sergeant?” Harken demanded, his face reddening with anger.

Mal gave a bitter-tinged laugh. “You just got this habit of accusing me of murder. You ain’t been right a once, yet you keep on trying. I did not murder any of those in that garrison. Not me nor any of mine.”

“I’m not wrong,” Harken said coldly. “The evidence against you is overwhelming.”

“Yeah?” Mal jerked at the chain holding his left hand, displaying the clip attached to his finger. “You notice that lie detector of yours didn’t so much as twitch when I said that? Huh? I ain’t lying. You’re wrong.” He leaned forward, holding Harken’s eye. “I didn’t fire a shot on that world. We didn’t murder your gorram garrison.”

Harken glared at him. “I don’t believe you.”

“So don’t,” Mal said, stepping even further back onto steady, stable ground. “Don’t believe me. Believe your own 他妈的 lie detector. That fella behind me didn’t make a peep when I said what I said. I ain’t lying. I didn’t murder those soldiers.”

A slow, dangerous smile spread over Harken’s face, stopping before it reached his eyes, which glittered cold and deadly. He spoke one word that spread the chill into Mal. “Semantics.” Now that million credit word Mal knew. Gorramit.

Shuffling through his papers, Harken extracted a page which, near as Mal could tell, he read and reread at least three times before looking back up.

“How many Alliance solders did you murder in the Shadow revolt?” Harken asked but didn’t wait for an answer. “None. That’s what you said, correct? But when asked how many you killed, the answer changed to ‘three’. You don’t see the killing of Alliance soldiers as murder, do you Sergeant Reynolds? You see it as a continuation of the war. Battles. You didn’t let it end, so we will end it for you.”

Carefully, Mal said, “Listen to your lie detector, Harken... That Fed lieutenant busted in right on the heels of the sheriff and arrested me. That’s how my retinal scan ended up in his gadget. You say you found a gun of mine there... well enough. My gun got took from me. I don’t know whose hands it ended up in, but I did not fire it. Not once. Not at nobody. All right, you got me on the smuggling. I’ll admit to that. I didn’t know it was stolen property--or that it was Blue Sun’s merchandise--until that lieutenant of yours showed me the markings. But, hell, you want to nail me for that, fine. I’ll confess to that too. But me. Just me. You leave the others out of this.”

* * *

Years Earlier...

Night had long since arrived when Zoe and Mal ventured out into the streets and alleys. They sought... what? A nice spot of violence. Some opportunity for crime. Make some contacts, perhaps. Or maybe just to drink themselves into oblivion so they wouldn’t have to think about the date.

Passing a table with three men, three glasses, and four bottles, they suddenly froze. Wearing what were as clearly leftover uniforms as what Zoe and Mal wore, lacking only the insignia, sat soldiers... ex-soldiers. Only these were Alliance uniforms they wore. Once the enemy, always the enemy. Zoe slid her gaze over them. When they clinked their glasses together the word the center one spoke was “Serenity.”

Zoe laid a restraining hand on Mal’s arm as he glared down at the trio. The looks that passed between them required no words for the understanding to be evident. They’d all been there. The surprise came in the center Fed’s next words. Waving his arm toward the empty chairs, he said, “Join us.” He motioned for the bartender to bring more glasses.

The greater surprise was that Mal sat down, though his eyes never strayed from the Fed. Glancing around the bar to measure the odds they’d be facing when the brawl broke out, Zoe slid onto the chair beside him.

The Fed in the center, apparently the senior of the three, filled five glasses, nudging two toward Zoe and Mal. The three Feds raised their glasses.

“Whatcha drinkin’ to?” Mal asked in a deceptively calm tone.

“Them that never left,” the Fed in the center said quietly, his eyes taking on a haunted look that puzzled Zoe. These were the winners.

“From which side?” Mal’s tone was still even, but his eyes were dangerous.

The Fed sighed. “Don’t matter. Them that never left,” he repeated raising his glass a touch higher.

“Living or dead,” the smaller fellow to their right added in a hollow whisper.

Mal held a still moment, then touched his glass to theirs, Zoe following a split later, the five glasses meeting with a clink.

All downed the liquor. Two more rounds were poured and drank without words spoken, only the sound of the glasses clinking together. On the third, the fellow to their right crumpled into sobs. No one looked over at him.

After a moment, the senior of the Fed ex-soldiers said, “Used to be four of us. Last year this day Private Ytteroy killed himself.”

“Mmmm.” Mal made a sound of acknowledgement. Not sympathy, just acknowledgement. Zoe could see him thinking, remembering, just as she strove not to. “Last year this day we were still in one of your prisons,” he said, “watching one of ours, a young gal, get hanged.” The Fed made the same sound of no-sympathy acknowledgement.

The first bottle emptied. Half way through the second, Zoe said in a puzzled tone, “You won.”

The Fed focused on her. He scoffed softly. “Yeah. We won.” He raised another glass.

In the middle of the third bottle the one to their left, who hadn’t yet said a word, had barely even looked up, whispered, “Hundreds of thousands of dead, rotting winners…” He put his head down and quietly passed out. The sobbing chap had long since curled up beneath the table, dead or passed out, no one bothered to check.

As the remaining Fed poured the last drops out of the third bottle, Mal asked, “You been back there?”

Hand wavering as he raised his glass toward the center of the table again, the Fed said, “Every damned night.” He gulped down the liquor, glass slamming hard down to the table. Suddenly he stared, transfixed, at something between Zoe and Mal. They both cautiously glanced around. There was nothing there. “Never leave,” the Fed whispered, then passed out.

Zoe and Mal stared at him for a long moment.

“Huh,” Mal said. Profound comment, Zoe thought.

Standing, Mal swayed. Zoe stood up and caught him, either holding him up or counterbalancing her own rather serious list. With drunken wavering, they gave their passed-out Fed comrades friendly pats on the backs. Mal snatched up the last unopened bottle and they headed back out into the night.

In an alley a short distance away, they extracted the cash from the Feds’ wallets before tossing them in the trash.

“Now what?” Zoe asked.

Mal shrugged, then clutched at the wall to keep from falling over. “I feel a need for a quiet drink somewhere. Somewhere Fed-less.” He staggered back toward the street.

Zoe followed. “Whatcha suppose he meant by ‘never leave’?”

Mal glanced at her. “Don’t mean nothing.”

* * *

Now…

“Rather than argue the semantic differences between ‘kill’ and ‘murder’,” Harken said, “Let’s move on to another area.”

Mal groaned. “You know, I am taking a powerful dislike to you, Harken. I gave you a confession--smuggling and theft. What the hell else more do you want?”

Harken shook his head grimly. “Everything. You’ll tell me everything you know about the Independent’s underground organization. Names. Locations. Recognition codes. Everything” Harken’s fingers twitched purposefully at the vial sitting in front of him, a clear threat.

“There ain’t no…” Mal stopped. The rest of that sentence would sure as certain trip that lie detector, leading to him being held down and that drug shot into him, maybe making him blurt out all sorts of things he’d rather not. “There ain’t no single organization,” he said carefully. “Just scattered bunches of blowhards who ain’t managed to leave their grudges behind as good as me.”

The lie detector guy almost laughed out loud, Mal could hear him turn the sound into a strangled cough. “Uh,” the voice behind Mal said. “I think it was the part about him leaving grudges behind that gave the reaction.”

“Um hmm.” Harken stared at Mal. “I’ll let that stretching of the truth go as poetic license. You were quite clear in your dissertation yesterday as to what you think of the Alliance and your lingering resentments of us.”

Oh, yeah, Mal thought. When he’d let that truth drug have full rein and told them just exactly what he thought of them and their government. Fun as it had been at the time, in retrospect maybe he should have been a little less forthright on that point.

Harken shuffled through his papers again. “So… we’ve been backtracking you and your ship and found a recent interesting layover on a world called ‘Three Hills’. Do you recall that?”

“Yes,” Mal said. Uh, oh. Danger warnings flashed in his head. Their meet with Monty to arrange the Blue Sun job. And the Shepherd acquiring the counteragent to the truth drug. 我的妈. Mal hadn’t even worried on the preacher before. The burst of adrenaline the jab of fear caused helped him become more alert, more focused.

“Your ship downed near a village where, apparently, you had no business, legal or illegal, to conduct. Why were you there?” Harken asked.

Mal shrugged. “Our Shepherd wanted to stop off at some church place there.”

“Yes. But you and your first mate apparently took a side trip. A pair matching your descriptions--which in combination are fairly distinctive--were reported by a police patrol as having been in a bar on the far side of that world. A bar that is a known underground meeting place. What were you doing there?”

Again, he and Zoe--Jayne not tied in to them. “Nothing. Just meeting a client.”

“Who?”

“Couldn’t say.” Absolutely wouldn’t say.

“Don’t play the semantics game again. Who did you meet there?” Harken insisted.

“Like I said, a client. We arranged a hand-off load of cargo. Not stolen property, as far as I know. Just some entrepreneur ducking local tariffs and taxes.” Utter truth, as far as it went.

“Again you are playing word games. Answer yes or no: Do you know the name of the person you and your first officer met in that bar?”

Trapped by Harken’s phrasing, Mal answered, “No.” A flat lie. He held his breath. Behind him, the lie detector guy…

Nothing. Huh…

Huh!

Was he finally free of that gorram device?

Harken went round and round on the point, and several surrounding it. Mal cautiously told lie after lie to divert the trail around and away from Monty, his ship, and his crew. Throughout, the fella at the lie detector never made a sound, backing Mal’s story with his silence. Mal was starting to feel kinda good again, when…

“Have you ever had any dealings with an underground organization?”

“No.”

“That’s a lie.”

What?!

Before the guards could stop him, Mal twisted around to get a glimpse of the fellow at the console behind him. 他妈的 familiar voice, indeed. And a familiar gorram face bent over and near hidden by his Fed hat. Monty’s gorram nephew. No wonder the voice was so distantly familiar. He hadn’t spoken a word to the boy since the war years, a good ten years past, and had only seen glimpses of his face in the night during the Blue Sun job. 狗屎. If he had or hadn’t ratted them out, he sure as hell was here just to make sure Mal didn’t rat out his uncle Monty. Never mind what happened to Mal and his own crew.

“I told you, Sergeant Reynolds, that the first instant you lied…” Harken handed the vial to his aide. Mal gave a brief, futile struggle against the grip in which the guards held him.

As the aide filled a syringe, Mal tried to think fast. The somewhat panicky fear layered on top of everything else didn’t help. Had he laid in enough diversionary groundwork to keep them all from hanging for that Fed garrison? The underground…他妈的. He and Zoe had told Jayne the truth. It wasn’t them. But they knew some, had some dealings, had some connections… He couldn’t give up those people. Couldn’t.

Wincing as the needle bit into his arm, Mal tried to come up with a diversion. A tale he could tell and stick to--truthfully--that would keep him from ratting out, albeit unwilling, all those others. He didn’t know if the drug’s counteragent would still work; still give him a measure of control and resistance. He gorram well had to try and try hard. But it was with a chill, Mal realized the only tale he think of to tell that might divert Harken would also sell out the one person in the ‘verse who meant the most to him. Zoe.

Blue Sun Job, Part 18: Never Leave

COMMENTS

Wednesday, July 28, 2004 11:23 AM

RELFEXIVE


Jiminey!

Wednesday, July 28, 2004 5:09 PM

CAT85


more...more!!!
Can't wait for the next one.

Thursday, July 29, 2004 4:45 AM

KISPEXI2


I love the psychological truths behind this story - the fact that everyone, no matter how noble, has a breaking point. The way that you can never make a complete break with the past because it is part of you.

Another thing that made this special for me was the sympathy you showed towards the enemy. The getting-blind-drunk scene was so well played - the characters not really liking each, but not hating each other either.

Think I detect a bit of Existentialism in here too. "So this was life, she thought idly. They’d survived so many levels of hell to climb up out of literal graves only to find a whole ‘nother kind of hell. One with no meaning, no purpose, no drive." Alienation and contingency beautifully expressed in the Firefly context.

And the whole lightened by the 'inappropriate humour.' " “If we were that drunk… I mean, if I was that drunk… I mean… ummm… just technically speaking…. it seems unlikely…”" to pick just one example.

Thursday, July 29, 2004 6:13 AM

AMDOBELL


I loved this to pieces, you really have a most wondrous tale unfolding but what a shock for Mal to find Monty's nephew in cahoots with Harkan. I hope and pray our noble Cappy gets saved in time and all those flashbacks with Zoe are so gorram shiny. Very much liking this and very impressed. Can't wait for the next part, gorrammit! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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