Blue Sun Job, Part 19: The Bottom
Friday, August 6, 2004

Bleak. Bleak, bleak, bleak... but the story's not near over.


Blue Sun Job, Part 19: The Bottom

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
Blue Sun Job, Part 17: Going Through the Motions
Blue Sun Job, Part 18: Never Leave


No critical dialog using actual Chinese characters, just exclamatory expressions

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

Blue Sun Job, Part 19: The Bottom
靑日 Job: The Bottom

Mal collapsed on the hard bench that passed for a bed. He felt awful just about every way imaginable. Had to count as a purely crappy day when getting locked in the brig of an Alliance cruiser ranked as its happiest moment. But--hey!--still didn't make his top ten list of worst days ever. And didn't that just say something?

He rubbed his face with his hands. Just that simple thing smacked a big damned dose of ‘context’ on his situation--having both hands free… He’d been restrained, cuffed, and guarded with intensity since the moment he last walked aboard Serenity. Mal let out a short sigh. Harken really did think he was that damned dangerous. That’s why they were being so strict in the way they handled him. They thought Mal could and would take out an entire Alliance garrison, among other things. Didn’t know… didn’t know if he’d managed to talk, divert, or babble his way out of that fix. Or how many others he’d stumbled into in the process. Too many gaping black holes in his recollections of the proceedings. The only sure-on certainty was they wouldn’t be letting him go any time soon.

Dropping his hands, he stared dismally down. Red. They’d taken his clothes away, replacing them with a bright red t-shirt and trousers. Prison-wear. Creepifying bit of 他妈的 reality. Red… not Independent’s red. Danger warning red. Branded again.

How had he come to this point? Was it him? Something about him? In him? Something that put him permanently out of joint with the rest of the ‘verse? Others managed to live with the Alliance, all its works and all its ways. Embraced and admired it, even. Advocated it. Encouraged it. Forced it down the gorram throats of those who… Maybe it was him.

Mal looked at the tray of food they’d left. Same tasteless 狗屎 the Alliance always fed prisoners. Still, didn’t pay to be fussy. Especially when you had no choice. Reaching toward the tray, Mal froze. A creeping trail of red oozed out from the gray lumps. Bloodbath’s not just a figure of speech. The gray shifted into crisped, blackened flesh. Now that was just not right. Mal pulled his hand back and stared. He was perfectly aware at an entirely conscious level it was just an hallucination. Just. He still wasn’t keen to tangle with it. If this was what a lack of sleep brought it didn’t bode well for the truly bleak places sleeping was like to take him.

Stretching out on the bench, Mal laid face down, burying his face in his arms to block the too-sharp light. You can force good dreams if you work at it, if you concentrate hard enough, if you lie to yourself… The barbed barricade snapped up. Rutting drugs still barraging his system wouldn’t let him lie even to himself.

* * *

Simon scanned the sky yet again. They should have been back by now. Serenity should have been back. He wanted to worry about himself and River--what they’d do if Serenity never returned--yet he couldn’t manage to do so. Well, quite. But more so, and it was an internal revelation to himself, he worried desperately about the band of thieves on that ratty little ship. And, even more strangely, he worried about Serenity herself.

Sitting down on a bench in the shade, Simon fingered the volume he’d borrowed from the Sanctuary’s library. He’d not expected to find such a work in a religious order’s collection--nor, in point of fact, an entire, quite complete, section on psychology with the overwhelming emphasis on traumatic and post-traumatic disorders. His training and experience were as a trauma surgeon, dealing with injuries to the body. Those he could patch and heal. Then the patient would leave his care before he ever saw what the trauma had done to the mind--to the actual person. Simon sighed. He’d been removed from the concept of the patient as a whole being until dealing with River, and until he had to sit down to dinner each night with the people he’d stitched up the day before. The well-worn volume in his hands fell open easily and naturally to the section on combat stress disorders. Many hands had opened and read these pages.

With a gently knowing smile, very reminiscent of Book’s, the head brother of the Sanctuary (they didn’t call him ‘father’) had told Simon, “Men are not born Shepherds. That comes when they’re reborn.” Eyes opened in a new way, Simon had looked more closely at the quiet men roaming the Sanctuary. Simon began to wonder whether the purpose of this place was more medical than spiritual. How many of these tranquil facades hid combat veterans seeking to banish nightmares of the past? And Shepherd Book’s own past…? Book had chosen this place for them with a purpose, Simon realized. He just wondered if that purpose was to help River? Or the other troubled souls of Serenity?

Serenity. Serenity. Serenity. Serenity. Simon scanned the sky once again. Once you’ve been in Serenity, you never leave, Zoe had once told him. Simon was beginning to understand that, save that the ‘Serenity’ he would never leave--whether he ever saw it again or not--was not a battlefield, but a ship.

How had he come to this point? Life had been so clear and precise before. Everything had been planned and plotted out as though it were choreographed. Simon’s life was meant to be stupendous. He could still see the pattern of it laid out before him; could see precisely where he was supposed to be at this moment and exactly what he was meant to be doing. Now… the future was a blank, a void where each step into the very next minute was a step into the unknown. He had no idea of any whats, whens, hows, or wheres. And the one tiny fragment of solidity left him--Serenity--had failed to return.

They’d gotten caught. Or they’d gotten killed. Or they’d been chased or tracked so they just couldn’t return here in safety to pick them up. Or they’d done what Simon always privately feared and cut them loose. Seriously, how much could he expect them to go through and risk for he and River? Their freedom? Their very lives?

No, the captain would not sell them out, Simon told himself with a firm resolution. Or, if he did, the price would be dear and wrenched from him unwillingly. Simon swallowed hard and glanced back toward the cottage where River lay. The things she said… The things she’d been saying… Seldom, if ever, could he fathom the contorted tangle she spouted during her bad times, but the recurring themes seemed to revolve around her experiences at the Academy and the medical torture inflicted upon her. Now, however, she spoke in disjointed fragments about blood and blackness, with bodies rent and burned. Simon shivered. If he didn’t believe it to be patently impossible, he’d think the things spilling from River were the very things the captain kept hidden away within himself.

It was impossible. River was merely extremely intuitive and perceptive. If she spoke things that sounded like the captain’s memories and thoughts, it was only because she had constructed a fabrication of what she envisioned Mal’s experiences to have been based on what she’d heard from and of him and his life. That was all. River was cognizant Serenity was late and manifested her internalized worry in a stream of consciousness monologue based on her artificially constructed perception of the captain’s experiences.

Simon nodded confidently to himself. Yes. It was a good rationalization… ur… theory. Even if she did read minds (no, she didn’t), it would be impossible for her to read the captain’s mind over this great span of distance.

Rubbing his eyes, Simon groaned. He was supposed to be a scientist yet here he was defining absolute limitations on telepathy when he didn’t even believe it existed in the first place. Maybe the rest of them were sane and he was the one who had gone mad.

The sky remained cloudless and vividly blue. And empty.

He should go back in to River. Somehow his decision didn’t translate to his body, for he remained seated. Maybe in a bit. He needed a break from her. Just a small one. Everything he tried today had failed. The last sedative he gave her just seemed to make it all very much worse.

A sharp crack caused Simon’s head to snap up. He didn’t react to the noise the way he’d seen the captain and Zoe, and even Jayne, react to sudden sounds, but his senses and reactions were definitely tuned in a new way. Rapidly scanning the sky, Simon hunted to forward track the sonic boom to the ship that had caused it. There! A faint vapor trail. Still too high up to see the ship.

It descended in a broad, sweeping circle. Simon’s heart gave a dull thud. It wasn’t Serenity.我的妈… An Alliance patrol? He scrambled to his feet, backing futilely away further into the shadows.

The small ship landed on the lawn down the slope from the Sanctuary buildings, its engines whining down. Simon smiled as the door slid open. The brilliantly and exotically dressed Companion in the austere setting of the religious Sanctuary created an amusing juxtaposition. But… His smile faded. What was Inara doing here alone in her shuttle?

“It’s about time!”

Simon spun to see River march across the lawn toward the shuttle.

“River!” he called, hurrying to catch up with her. “Inara… what?”

Inara laid a hand on River’s shoulder, but she looked very seriously at Simon. “Mal, Zoe, Wash, and Kaylee were all arrested and are being held on an Alliance cruiser,” she said.

“Oh,” he groaned. Simon abruptly understood what it felt like to be gut-shot.

“We have to leave. Now,” Inara said. “Simon, it’s not safe for either of you here.”

“But, I don’t…” Simon stared at her, bewildered.

Softly, Inara said, “They all know where you are. If they talk…” She let the sentence trail off. There was no need to finish it. None of them would talk willingly. And there was the second slug to the gut.

“There’s a chance, doctor,” Inara added. “A small one, that we might be able to save at least some of them. But I need your help. It’ll be at some risk to you, though, going in there, to the Core.”

Simon’s flick of hesitation was only on River’s behalf, not his own, he was proud to realize. “We can leave River off at Bathgate Abby…” he began.

“Like hell,” River cut in. “We’re gonna get there just in the nick of time,” she said, pulling away from Inara to step into the shuttle. She leaned back out with an expression Simon hadn’t seen on her face since they were children. “And what does that make us?”

She ducked back in. Simon gave a short laugh, waving off Inara’s puzzled look. “Big, damned… well, makes me scared, really.” He glanced at Inara. “But let’s go.”

* * *

Mal leaned against the corner of the cell, staring dully at the gray walls. When you’re past worry, past fear, past caring, all that’s left is the nothing. He didn’t know how long he’d been locked up in here. Sleep had been physically restorative, if unpleasant every other way he could conjure. Jumbles of chaotic horror. Mal let out a long breath. All that was inside him. He knew that. Just, having to look at it all over again…

The food held still for the eating now, at least. That was something. No more sleep deprived hallucinations. But everything that had been called to the surface, all the black doors opened, strove to swallow him whole if he even gave in for a moment. The only refuge was to retreat into the nothing. That he could do. He’d had practice at that. Don’t think. Don’t feel. Don’t even be.

Didn’t work. Didn’t work like it used to. The others had invaded him. Breached his perimeter defenses, left him vulnerable. Kaylee with her cheerful softness. That lil’ gal really did love him, scary, mean, and dangerous as he could be. Kaylee always took him just exactly as he wasn’t, or how she thought he should be, used to be, maybe. Then there was Wash. How had he come to fill his crew with such cheerful idiots? It seemed a little out of character. But Wash made his Zoe happy, no denying.

And why’d he let a preacher stay on his boat? Hmmph. Mal’s own perverse, out-of-joint-with-the-‘verse nature having him keep a preacher about to bait him? Or to bait the preacher? Or did he want… No. The hell with that. You can never go back to what was.

Oh… Zoe. Never go back to what was, or almost was. Mal closed his eyes, trying to see her in their days of youth, passionate and happy, but the images wouldn’t come. Instead he saw the blood, the violence, the death.

Out of character to have a whore on his ship, too, or to have such strong feelings for that whore… woman. A fine one, too, in lots of ways, not all of them physical. She’d be quite something if she could ever set herself free from being what they’d convinced her she had to be. Quite something--hmmm… kinda like how he recollected Zoe was way back when, Before--fierce and sparkly but soft and warm, too. But that was his own damned fool nothin’ going nowhere. Didn’t do to think of her--she was gone, getting herself well rid of him. Smart gal. She might live in her own kind of prison, but it was one she could unlock herownself, she ever make the choice. Himself, he’d fouled things up bad and like as not for the rest of his days someone else would be holding the keys, Mal thought looking away from the blank cell door.

The cell door opened. Mal sort of wished it had just stayed closed. Just nothing good was bound to be coming his way.

“Out,” the guard ordered. Their vocabulary hadn’t grown, Mal thought, as he stood. He walked out just slowly enough to annoy them.

Helluva lot of guards again. Mal stood passively in the corridor, letting them do what they were gonna do anyhow, whether he resisted or not. His hands were guided up to his head and he was pointlessly searched. Where the hell did they think he was going to get anything dangerous in their own damned brig? Then his hands were locked close to a chain fastened around his waist and shackles attached to his ankles. Two MPs stood off at a distance the entire time with those sonic stun rifles aimed at him. You’d think they didn’t trust him or something. So, he though dully, the odds of pulling off that dramatically impossible escape were looking pretty… impossible.

Several MPs moved off down the corridor, opening a cell a few doors away. Zoe stepped out when ordered. Mal studied her. She wore the same red prison-wear as he did, and her face… Okay, now he got what she’d meant about a ‘wants to murder them all expression’. She sure as hell had it on her face just now and from the increased tension among the guards they could tell it. She didn’t look at Mal except for the briefest flick of a glance that didn’t tell him anything except that she was in full warrior mode and not to be tangled with lightly.

When Zoe was fully restrained, they were led off out of the brig area. The guards held to a slow pace as the chain between Mal’s ankles cut his normal stride off short. It wasn’t to the interrogation room they were led, but to another room with a long table in it with a row of chairs on one side. Mal and Zoe were seated in two bolted-to-the-floor chairs facing the table, their leg chains clipped to the floor. Mal glanced around. It had a courtroom atmosphere to it. Judge, jury, executioner, he thought, counting off the three empty chairs facing them. The guards left save for two with stun rifles positioned at opposite corners of the room.

Mal felt Zoe turn to study him but couldn’t quite bring himself to look over at her yet.

“What did they do to you?” Zoe asked. “You don’t look good.”

He glanced toward her. “They shot me full of something, made me sick,” he said, hoping she’d get it without him having to spell it out. Though as near to being alone as they were ever like to be, the Feds would most assuredly still be listening in. “How about you? What did they do?”

She shook her head. “Nothing, really. A little ‘stress and duress’--nothing much. Then Harken spouting some 狗屎 about how you’d offered up a full confession.”

Mal winced. “Uh, yeah… Ummm, Zoe… about that…”

He didn’t get to finish. A side door opened and several uniformed officers entered. The senior took the center chair, Harken sat on one side with his aide standing behind him, and another, who glared at them with undisguised contempt, seated on the other side.

Harken spoke first, barely glancing at Mal and Zoe. “This is the judge advocate for this sector,” he said, indicating the senior officer in the center seat. “He has final authority in the disposition of your case. On his left is a representative of the authorities on Beta.” Harken began digging through his paperwork.

“This a trial?” Mal asked, not hiding his own contempt for the proceedings. “Don’t we get a defense?”

Harken looked up at him, giving Mal a quick up and down glance. “I’m here acting as your defense,” he said evenly.

Mal stared at him darkly. “Thanks, Commander. That’s the best laugh I’ve had in days,” he said without a trace of humor in his tone.

It was probably his imagination, but Mal thought he detected the briefest twitch of a smile at the corners of Harken’s mouth before his expression went serious again. “Strictly speaking, no, this isn’t a trial,” Harken said. “It’s more a negotiation.”

“There something to negotiate?” Mal asked.

Shaking his head, Harken said, “No. You have absolutely no choice in the matter. No variables. No discussion. You take the offer we make you here and now, or reject it and the full weight of Alliance justice will descend on you and squash you like the insects you are.”

“ ‘Alliance justice’,” Mal echoed. “And the jokes just keep on coming.” He could feel Zoe giving him a ‘shutup, you idiot’ look. She didn’t know yet that the point of no return had been met and passed and nothing he said now mattered.

Harken ignored his comment. “You were initially arrested for the deaths of the Alliance garrison on New Horizons--” Mal felt Zoe’s breath catch. Harken hadn’t gotten even that far with her? “--a conviction on which charge would certainly result in the executions of your entire crew. While we have good physical evidence of complicity for each of you, your answers under questioning regarding the matter have placed some doubt on the level of your involvement. Yet,” Harken looked up at Mal, “the nature and form of your answers on the matter did not clear you entirely of potential involvement.”

Mal scowled. He couldn’t remember exactly what he’d said about it. There was some fuzziness in his recollections on that point. Putting down his papers, Harken dropped the formal tone and spoke directly to Mal. “Let me put it to you this way, sergeant--You’re just not worth our bother. Trials, investigations, evidence, prosecution, defense… that all involves more time, effort, and money than you’re worth. The proceeds from the sale of your ship were insufficient…”

“What?!” Mal cut in.

“Hmmm?” Harken stared a moment. “Oh, yes. Your ship is forfeit. It has already been sold. Your admission of smuggling Alliance-controlled property and entering this system with false registration were sufficient for that. The new owner took it out of the system yesterday.”

Mal had to close his eyes and just concentrate on breathing for a moment. He should have known that was coming. Still… He couldn’t look over at Zoe.

“As I was saying,” Harken went on and Mal could hardly listen, “You apparently aren’t the risks to Alliance security we initially thought. Yet you are roaches crawling around the cracks and dark corners of the Alliance, causing trouble and spreading your disease, but at the lowest of levels. You aren’t worth a major effort on our part to eradicate, but we are going to squash you, one way or another.”

“Great defense speech there, Harken,” Mal said faintly. Serenity already gone?

Harken leaned forward, staring intently at Mal. “I coordinated this deal to save your life, Sergeant Reynolds, and the lives of your other crew members. I don’t want to see that little mechanic of yours on a gallows any more than you do. She’ll be returned to her home world, never to be allowed to leave it again, if you accept this offer. Her fate is in your hands. I feel a little less charitably toward your pilot,” he said, rubbing his bruised lip, “but he also falls into the mostly harmless category, merely having fallen under your bad influence. Grounding him on Beta with a few years of probationary restrictions--no more flying, ever--should suffice.”

“And us?” Zoe asked softly.

Harken glanced at her. Sympathy in his expression? For the penalty he was about to name? Or the about-to-come revelation that it was Mal who ratted her out? Mal couldn’t tell. He stared down at the floor as Harken answered her.

“Fifteen years each,” Harken said quickly.

“For what?” Zoe sounded puzzled.

“The robbery on Beta,” Harken answered. Don’t blurt out anything, Zoe, Mal suddenly though, looking sharply at Zoe, willing her to silence. It’s not that robbery--not the Blue Sun job. She saw his look and after a flick of absolute bewilderment, held her silence, waiting for Harken to finish. “The robbery seven years ago of the payroll of the guard unit from the prison in which you were held after the war. Your captain offered up a full confession of his involvement, and also fully implicated you.”

A soft sound of shock escaped Zoe. Mal couldn’t meet her eyes, but felt the stunned look she gave him. He shifted uncomfortably as far as the restraints would allow.

Stumbling a bit, Mal said, “That’s, um, a pretty harsh penalty for a petty crime that long ago, Commander.”

The officer in the center spoke up. “The sentence takes into consideration the plethora of other crimes we can, and if necessary shall, attribute to you. Among other things, you had a pass key to a hotel, with the hotel’s current security code on it, in your possession when you were arrested.” Mal flinched. He’d forgotten about that. “A hotel that was also robbed the last time you were known to be in its vicinity. Your admitted involvement with an underground organization on Beta--” another shocked sideways glance from Zoe “--false ident cards… need I go on? I think there’s not the slightest doubt that if we initiated a full investigation of you, back-traced your travels, we’d find many more items of interest to add to the list. Consider this offer to be merciful.”

“Yeah… mercy…” Mal muttered. “Lots and lots of Alliance mercy.

“Actually, yes, sergeant,” Harken said mildly. “I know you don’t believe that at this moment, but…” he hesitated, then went on, “…your stories of the war--of your rescue of your first officer here, and of Serenity Valley--had an impact on me. I exerted my influence to get you this deal and stop the ongoing investigations before too much more about you and your activities was uncovered.” He gave a short sigh.

“Let Zoe go and I’ll confess to anything you want,” Mal said. “Lock me up forever. Execute me. Whatever.”

Harken shook his head. “That won’t happen. Your confession irrevocably tied her in. You’re a team--partners in war and in crime. Listen--you’re both still young. You have a chance at a life again once you’re released. Save yourselves. Save your crew. Take the offer.”

Mal sighed. Defeat. “We need to talk. Need to talk to our people.”

Blue Sun Job, Part 20: Countdown


Friday, August 6, 2004 2:23 PM


Gorrammit, I am *so* in tears. Poor Mal and still trying so hard to save Zoe at the end whatever it costs him yet Harkan not even giving him that. I sure hope our newly forming Big Damn Heroes (Simon, River and Inara) can come up with a way to get them out of this kangeroo court. Very shiny story, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, August 6, 2004 4:19 PM


You are so cruel....leaving us w/ the mother of all cliffhangers. Is there any chance that zoe and mal will actually get to talk alone let alone to the crew??

Guildsister, we seriously need to get some fluff for you to read...maybe then our Cappy won't be hurt so much.

Friday, August 6, 2004 7:46 PM


Ah, Jebbypal, you're funny! This *is* the fluff. A freebie fanfic that's turned into a whole gorram novel--all for no pay with characters I don't even own... It beter be fluff! I must be crazy--embrace the crazy. Crazy is a valid lifestyle choice... (didn't I have Wash saying that in one part?)

Didn't really think this one was particularly a cliffhanger chapter. Hmmm... Kinda important for the characters to hit rock bottom (and play out my recurring cliff/edge/falling metaphor) before we can reenact the other recurring metaphor of climbing out of the grave back into life.

Thanks so much for your comments--all of you who leave them, Ali, Kispexi2, everyone--this is my first fanfic experience and I'm really enjoying the immediate feedback and comments.

Sunday, August 8, 2004 9:59 AM


Ok, Guildsister. I surrender. You win. Where are you going with this? I have been trying to anticipate (with no luck) what you have in store for my favorite BDH's. And what's keep leaving us w/ these torturous endings that just beg for more. QUESTIONS!!! TOO MANY QUESTIONS!!! Who bought Serenity? Where is Jayne and all the money? What do Inara and the twins think they can do against an Alliance cruiser? Please hurry and write more! Way, way shiny

Friday, August 13, 2004 1:54 AM


Pyschologically profound. Emotionally excruciating. Intricately, enticingly plotted.

You really make these characters live. Thankyou.


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Blue Sun Job--A Sequel: It Means a Thing
Post-Serenity, Mal & Zoe share a moment, or two. And then some. Story takes place in the context of the "Blue Sun Job" scenario. COMPLETE One-er.

Blue Sun Job, Chapter 39: Into the Black
The conclusion of the Blue Sun Job.

Blue Sun Job, Chapter 38: Shadow
Mal & Zoe's past smashes into the present. Everyone on the crew gets an earful, especially Wash.

Blue Sun Job, Chapter 37: Plan B
There's a dead Shepherd on the floor, a bunch of angry live ones, and Mal, Zoe, and Simon in their midst.

Blue Sun Job, Chapter 36: One Down
Return of the "Blue Sun Job"! First of the last four chapters of this story.

Blue Sun Job, Part 35: The Worthier Part
Book's more nefarious, Mal's less crazy, and Zoe is dangerously pissed.

Blue Sun Job, Part 34: Of Many Books...
Book's nefarious. Mal's crazy. And Simon is bewildered.

Blue Sun Job, Part 33: Light and Shadow
Mal has just had his big tell-all session with Book concerning his and Zoe's history. Now landed at the Shepherd's Sanctuary, they have to deal with the fallout and with Book's mysterious past and plans.

Blue Sun Job, Part 32: Revelations
Mal and Book talk about some Big Damned Things.

Blue Sun Job, Part 31: The Heart of the Matter
Tales & stories come out into the open--more than a little dark. But not to worry, Jayne, the philosopher, also explains women.