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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE
What do you do when you run out of options?
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1745 RATING: 7 SERIES: FIREFLY
Annie M (firstname.lastname@example.org)
See part one for disclaimers and summary
Five men carrying various types of shotguns had met them as they'd entered the ramshackle warehouse and were led through a series of large, darkly lit storage areas.
Each room seemed to house merchandise and Mal spotted boxes and crates piled a top each other, technical gadgetry, spare parts and even what looked like the outline of ground transports in the semi-darkness.
Serenity's cargo hold could never hope to accommodate the contents of a single one of these hangers, Mal mused.
Passing into yet another large space the armed men turned to them and told them to wait. Mal watched one of the men approach a woman and whisper something in her ear.
Drooda, Mal surmised.
To call Drooda overweight would have been an understatement. She was an enormous woman, one who might have been called pretty in her youth, if you would have been able to distinguish her head from her neck and shoulders. She appeared to be middle-aged, possibly younger; bad skin and greying blonde hair made it difficult to say. She was sitting in what appeared to be a custom made chair, judging from the bright metal frames and struts that supported it.
Motioning with a flabby arm, she waved them closer while Jayne hung back.
The woman greeted Mal and Zoe through a haze of tobacco, blowing circles of smoke that disappeared up into the eaves.
"So you're Malcolm Reynolds," Drooda said, inhaling on her cigarette when Mal stood before her. "Badger sent word you might be coming my way."
Mal gave a rueful smile. "Word is you're looking for people, and my crew's the best there is."
Drooda gave a low chuckle, which quickly disintegrated into a low-pitched wheeze. "Badger said you get the job done," she managed once she'd recovered her breathing. "But I also hear say that you *shi gechu* a job with Adelei Niska."
"That was a misunderstanding--"
"Word is that you and yours done shot up some of his men and left Niska for dead."
Mal exchanged a look with Zoe, but said nothing.
"Oh yeah, I sure heard of you, Captain," Drooda laughed between puffs.
Sliding his hand down his duster to the edge of his holster, Mal asked, "Is this going to be a problem?"
"Now don't be getting tetchy, boy," Drooda said, her eyes following Mal's hand. Four of her guards stepped forward, guns raised. "I wanted to know if what I heard was true. I guess it is," she said slowly while she stubbed out her cigarette and signalled for her men to stay their ground.
Impatiently, Mal started, "If you got a job--"
"I got jobs," she interrupted. "But I ain't got one for you. Niska and I have had dealings in the past--good business, and we respect each other. I ain't about to put a wrench in the works, have him know someone who disrespected him so is getting fat off it. That's bad for business. My business," Drooda said coldly.
Mal couldn't believe what he was hearing. "And you're gonna let our problems with that old bastard get between you and a perfectly good opportunity for trade?" he asked evenly.
"That 'old bastard's' a friend of mine, Captain," Drooda said as she reached into an ornate box on the table before her and pulled out another cigarette. "Now I ain't saying what you done wasn't maybe what he had coming to him, but Niska puts a lot of work my way, and I ain't stupid enough to let good business slip off the edge on account of you."
"So that's it; you let us come down here for that?"
"I'm sorry, Captain. I know it's a disappointment to you."
"Too bad we couldn't work something out," Mal said. Signalling to Zoe they turned to leave, Jayne falling into step beside them.
"Trouble is, Captain Reynolds," Drooda shouted out to them when they'd neared the frame door they'd come in through, "if you're thinking of getting work anywhere on this moon, I guarantee it ain't gonna happen."
Mal paused mid-step and turned around. "How's that?" He could see the outline of Drooda in the back of the warehouse, her massive frame lighting up like a whale emerging from the sea as she lit another cigarette.
"I'm the woman on this world, see. All the jobs that ain't Alliance, legit or otherwise, go through me. So, when I tell you there ain't no job for you here, you ain't gonna find a job anywhere, not on this planet. But best of luck to you though, Captain, I admire a man who can stand up to Adelei and come out with his liver still intact."
"Thanks," Mal said evenly, turning to face the door. "You send him my best when he throws another pot roast your way, you hear?"
Over the unmistakeable sound of weapons being cocked in their direction Mal could hear Drooda's wheezy laughter. "Let 'em go, boys," she chortled to her henchmen. "I can take a good joke, and that there fella is awful pretty to these here eyes. You get yourself straight with Niska," Drooda advised Mal. "You do that and I'll have plenty of jobs for you, Malcolm Reynolds."
Mal was about ready to kill someone. Moving in angry silence he walked quickly, Zoe and Jayne a few paces behind, towards the nearest saloon. He needed to think, collect his thoughts and find some way out of the tangled chain of events that seemed to dog their every move.
Stepping through the seedy tavern's doors Mal made his way directly to the bar, throwing down a few coins as he ordered. The shot burned on its way down Mal's throat and he had to concentrate on keeping his hand steady when he pulled the glass away from his lips. Jayne wasted no time ordering his own brew, and Mal could feel the mercenary's eyes on him when he motioned the barkeep over for another shot.
"What?" Mal demanded angrily.
Jayne raised his eyebrows over his tankard of beer and swallowed. "Hey, now, don't be blaming me for what just happened back there," he said defensively. "Messing with Niska was your idea."
Mal turned a furious gaze on Jayne, but before he could react further Zoe was standing between them, her mass of curly hair obstructing his view.
"Jayne," she said, in a warning tone. Turning to face her captain Zoe motioned to a small table in the back and said quietly. "Sir, let's sit down and regroup."
Mal could barely trust himself to speak, but Zoe's calm request was enough to get him moving.
"Jayne, you stay here," Zoe advised following Mal's stiff back across the room. Jayne shrugged, but obliged, turning back to his drink at the bar.
They sat in silence for several minutes and Zoe watched patrons enter and leave the grimy but well stocked saloon while Mal brooded over his drink.
Zoe eventually broke the silence between them. "We need to find a job, sir."
Without looking up Mal spat, "I'm well aware of that fact, Zoe."
"We can't find one sitting here drinking, sir," she replied coolly.
Mal brought his head up and looked directly at his first mate. He noticed that contrary to her remark, she wasn't drinking, didn't even have a glass before her. Instead she sat watching him, her elbows leaning on the table, face calm, dark brown eyes reflecting no hint of accusation. Mal took a deep breath.
"Zoe, maybe you hadn't noticed but it seems to me all employment opportunities on this here planet just crawled up that *heng, edu nuren's hou bian*."
"I heard what she said, sir, but what about Sunshine and Dunlop; we've had dealings with them before, and besides, she can't really have *everyone* on her plate?"
An image appeared in Mal's mind of Drooda, tucking into endless platters of a roasted and succulent workforce, and he laughed suddenly. "She was fat, wasn't she?"
"That she was, sir. Think it's possible she ever leaves that chair?"
"Not without a crane; besides, I figure she was sitting on a commode."
"That's some throne!" They both cracked up at that.
Jayne ambled over to their table. "So, what's the plan, Cap?"
Spirits slightly restored Mal answered, "I have a couple of other contacts on this planet. Let's go pay 'em a visit."
Finding Mal's contacts had been hard work. Dunlop, an old-timer who lived in the hills beyond the main town, had practically retired. He was happy to run his little sour hooch business from the comforts of his two-roomed wooden A-frame. He'd confessed to Mal that it was easier to supply directly to Drooda, who paid him a good price and could distribute his liquor further a field than he could ever manage on his own.
Sunshine Hicks, a bear of a man with most of his front teeth missing, was even harder to find. Dunlop hadn't seen him in months, suggesting that maybe he'd finally left the planet, as he was always threatening to do.
A full day later it was Zoe and Book who found him, up on a solitary hill that over looked River Creek docks. Calling Mal on her hand held comm unit, she'd told him to call off the search.
"Well, where's he at?" Mal had demanded.
"The Shepherd had a good notion, sir," Zoe explained, glancing around the small churchyard. "The local preacher recognised the description and well... I'm standing over his grave."
Shepherd Book was kneeling by Zoe's side, praying quietly next to a simple tombstone marker while she delivered the news. "Sunshine's dead, Captain."
There followed a long silence before Mal's tired voice came over the comm again.
"Both of you come on back to the ship."
Mal hated to admit it, but he was becoming desperate. Two days on and they were no closer to finding a job than when they'd first set down on Talos; he and his crew were now officially on the drift--no money, no job, and not much in the way of prospects.
Stepping into the dining area for their customary evening meal, Mal sighed with relief to see all of his crew there. Not that he'd expected them to bolt at the continuing bad news, but it was a comfort none-the less.
Inara was present too he noted, but he couldn't decide if he was pleased to see her because she was sticking with them, or because he knew that at least her own dealings had remained unaffected.
Mal seated himself at the head of the table, Inara to his right and Jayne on his left. Simon and River were seated next to Jayne; Book, Wash and Zoe on the opposite side of the table, Kaylee sat at the other end, facing him.
Helping himself to the various dried but colourful protein blocks on display, Mal started to eat, ignoring Book and the crew's bowed heads as they paused in silent prayer over their meal.
Soon they were all eating, passing each other servers of dried food and old bread, their conversation muted. Taking the pitcher of cider and pouring a glass for himself and River, Simon decided to broach the subject that everyone else seemed to be avoiding.
"Captain," he asked, "if we can't find work here, what do you intend to do?"
"Who's this *we*?" Jayne snapped, reaching for more protein biscuits.
Simon ignored him. "You said yourself, Captain, that there's an Alliance base on this planet. You can't expect River and me to stay cooped up here on the ship indefinitely."
"The captain knows that, son," Book admonished lightly.
Inara turned to Mal and spoke quietly. "I think I know where you can get a job, Mal."
"Wash and me were able to sell off our dead fuel cells this morning," Kaylee offered.
Wash smiled encouragingly at her from across the table.
"And what good was that?" blurted Jayne. "Ain't worth more than a peek at a whore's ankles," he said, grinning across at Inara.
Inara gave Jayne a cutting look, muttering, "*Dongwu*," before turning back to Mal. The captain remained detached, appearing to ignore her as he gulped his cider.
"And how much money did you make today, Jayne?" Wash asked sarcastically. "We're all dying to hear about how much you were *paid* to get drunk this afternoon."
Over the growing commotion, River had stopped eating and was playing with her hair. "He has ideas, but he's afraid," she said.
"You spying on me, little man?" Jayne demanded.
Wash shook his head. "I knew it."
Simon tried to get Mal's attention again. "Captain--"
"Everyone, please," said Book. "We don't need to be at each other's throats at a time like this."
"Stay out of this, preacher, it don't concern you," Jayne growled, his stare fixed on Wash.
"You better take that look of your face," Zoe directed caustically at the mercenary from beside her husband. "I don't much like it."
Jayne opened his mouth to speak then shut it, moving his gaze back to his plate.
"Mal, did you hear me? I said *a job*," Inara tried again, raising her voice.
The table quieted with Inara's revelation and they all turned to face her.
Jayne was the first to react. "A job you say?" Forgetting all about his wrangle with Wash he continued with enthusiasm. "Where? How much?"
Inara turned to Mal; he was finally looking at her, but still said nothing.
Looking around the table Inara guardedly gave a few details. "A client I've recently had dealings with here has need of crew."
"A client?" asked Book.
"Yes," she answered. "He's the respectable sort and when he mentioned his situation I thought perhaps you could help. You being Mal, not you specifically, Shepherd," she added quickly, seeing the preacher's startled look.
"That's great, Inara, isn't it great?" Kaylee said excitedly looking from the companion to her captain.
Inara gave Kaylee a guarded smile before turning back to face Mal. "He's willing to meet you. I can send him a wave and arrange it, if you're interested," she said casually.
Mal looked around the table at his crew; their expressions were equal parts hope and scepticism. Finally turning to the Inara he asked brutally, "You fixing to turn this boat into a floating brothel?"
Inara shook her head in disgust. She should have known Mal would react like this--the stubborn brute just couldn't help himself. Their beleaguered situation was bad enough, but for her to be the one to possibly get them out of their dire straights--and she a mere whore--it was probably more than the dolt could handle.
Pushing her chair back she moved away from the table. "I was trying to help!" she said angrily. "But if you'd rather let everyone starve to death or worse...." She couldn't bring herself to finish, hastily making her way from the dining area.
"Inara, wait!" Shepherd Book was on her heels in a flash with a restraining but light hold on her arm. "The boy can be foolish, child, but I'm sure even he realises he can't spurn your offer outright, not before hearing you out," he said, turning to give Mal a stern look of reproach.
Inara let Book guide her gently back into the main dining area. Mal had moved to into the kitchen and he stood against the counter, thumbs casually hanging from his braces.
"This 'respectable' guy, who is he working for?" Mal asked.
Book, still standing close to her, gave an encouraging nod and her shoulder a sympathetic squeeze before letting go.
The preacher's simple touch renewed her resolve and dampened down her own instinctive anger and hurt over Mal's cutting remark. She knew she shouldn't care so much, or react so overtly to him, but all of her years in the Academy had never prepared her for the walking contradiction that was Malcolm Reynolds.
Preparing herself for another insult she said as calmly as she could, "He's an Alliance Commander."
"*Tamade diyu*," Mal sighed. "Did the *quan zhou pa zhu zhengzai benren sou haishi mouwuma?*" he cursed angrily.
"We'd be working for the Alliance?" Simon spun around in his chair to face the companion.
River was smiling to herself and playing with her food. "Like apple bits, they use you up and spit you out, " she whispered. "Scared. Weak."
"How could we help the Alliance?" Book asked.
"We can't," Simon said, his voice rising. "If they find us--"
Raising a staying hand in Simon's direction Book asked again, "What would we be expected to do?"
Inara glanced at Mal. His arms were folded against his chest and he was shaking his head, but he looked towards her at Book's question, nodding for her to continue.
"The Alliance have a small training moon on the edge of this sector. Several days ago Commander Choi sent a unit of a dozen men out there to return with some technical equipment. They haven't been heard from since," Inara explained.
Mal snorted dismissively. "They don't need us. They can easily signal one of their big almighty cruisers to go find 'em."
"He's tried that," Inara replied. "But there's only a small Alliance presence in this sector as it is. The earliest a cruiser could get here would be a week."
"So they wait a few days," said Zoe, still at the table.
Inara turned towards the former soldier. "They're not coming," she clarified. "Apparently Talos nor the training moon are considered a high priority. The Alliance expects the commander to wait another week before contacting them again. They won't even consider sending a ship out this way until he does."
"What about this equipment the Feds were moving, don't they care about that?" asked Mal.
Inara shook her head. "Whatever it is, it's not considered important enough to send a team out right away. Commander Choi's worried that local pirates might have attacked the moon, but he doesn't have the man power here to conduct his own investigation."
Mal was incredulous. "And they want us to go out there and do their dirty work for them?"
"Choi's willing to pay you, and I might add that it's likely more than you would have made for that job with Badger."
"Now that's what I'm talking about!" shouted Jayne.
"But even if we find these men, we'd have to let them onto the ship. River and I wouldn't be safe," Simon argued.
Mal was shaking his head. "Inara, I appreciate what you done, truly, but ain't no way I can work for those bastards. It just ain't gonna happen."
"But you need a job, Mal."
"Captain," Book queried. "What choice do you have? Drooda, as I understand it, has made it quite plain that she controls all aspects of trade on this planet. Who else are we going to work for if not the Alliance?"
"Preacher's right, Cap," Jayne agreed. "We already tried those other contacts of yours, plus some. Ain't no one dealing on this here rock without her."
"It's just one job, Cap'n," Kaylee said from the table. "And maybe it wouldn't be so bad. One job can't hurt, right?"
Simon leaned across the table in disbelief. "I can't believe this," he muttered. "Kaylee, don't you see it's too risky?"
"I guess it is," she said softly. "But, Simon, we need to be flying again. Serenity's no good stuck on land, for any of us."
Turning towards his first mate, Mal called, "Zoe?"
Zoe straightened her spine at the table, sitting a little higher in her chair. "I'm against it, sir," she spoke in a voice that remained as unruffled as ever. "We start living in Alliance's pockets and before too long we'll be so used to the scraps they throw us, we'll never get out from under. Seen it happen."
Wash spoke up next to her. "Baby, I know this is a rough deal, and I'm not exactly excited by the prospect of working with these guys either, but we're kind of out of options now, don't you think?"
Avoiding her husband's gaze Zoe focused her attention on Mal. "It's your call, sir."
"Won't get under," River said enigmatically, smiling at Zoe. "Just spit us out."
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