The Guns of Yamenmiao (Pt. 4)
Monday, May 12, 2008

The Old That Is Strong - Book 1, Part 4. When Kaylee has a happy reunion with her old friend, he turns out to be no stranger to Mal and Zoe.


Author's Note: First of all, thank you to everyone who answered that blog entry about what I could possibly be doing wrong with this fic. I feel far better about it now - I'd just hate for history to repeat itself after that abysmal experience with Star Wars fanfic. Thankfully, that blog will always be there to remind me that things aren't near as lousy as they could be. ;)

Ever with the beta-thanks to PhyreLight; see prologue for other blurbs and disclaimer.

Prologue Part 1 Part 2 Part 3


If Kaylee's grin had dimmed at all since she re-entered Serenity, it was indiscernible as she ascended the ladder from her conspicuously marked room and flitted aft to the galley. True as it was that she loved new faces, there were old faces aplenty that she couldn't ever imagine turning away. Nor could she deny that not all the memories of this face were pleasant: but she told herself to forget about them, to enjoy the moment as it passed, like any other moment aboard Serenity. She instead indulged herself in worthwhile memories of the moments she and Robert had happily shared during his month-long visit to Guonian, as she filled two glasses with her own blend of strawberry banana juice.

What had drawn them together in that short time was their mutual love of simplicity, of functionality, and machinery that operated within those bounds. And even then they had broadened each other's horizons of functionality, whether advanced or anachronistic: Kaylee had jumped at the chance to show Robert how to fix a crabby hydraulic pump, and Robert in turn had taught her how the simple expansion of water into steam could keep an endless chain of people and supplies on the indefinite move. He had been impressed with her mechanical knowledge – considerably more profound than his own – as she was helping to fix the equipment he and his fellows used to build a light-rail network on Guonian: in her own spin, she didn't mind admitting how excited she was to hear and learn about his work. She found herself itching to hear all about it again, and to regale him with her exploits on Serenity, as she repaired to the common area via the aft stairs.

Robert was relaxed in the easy chair, looking up with a pleased smile as Kaylee approached. She returned the smile radiantly and handed him one of the glasses, settling on the outboard couch with one leg curled beneath her.

"So how's the Eighty-Seven been treatin' you?" she asked curiously, lounging back on the couch against the bulkhead.

"Oh, the Eighty-Seven's the Eighty-Seven," Robert said loftily. "Go easy on her and she'll just march right up the hill, but beat on her and she'll beat you right back. Steam engines ain't never run elsewise. Last year they re-tubed the superheater, and next run we weren't hardly past Manchu Curve when the throttle started doing one of these." He slowly swung his arm upward, pantomiming the motion of a pendant throttle lever, noting to his amusement that Kaylee was glowing with delight. "All by itself, my hand to God. She wanted to run so hard, she got a three-thousand-ton container train up the Killer Hill at fifty per. Funny thing, though. She hadn't steamed that well since the war. It's like she knows we lost, and she don't want to get usurped by the Feds."

"Sure'n all she does," Kaylee said with a reflective smile. "Ships, trains - like you said, they's like to have a person inside of 'em. I remember one time we ported on Persephone, and I wandered off toward the triplex, but musta taken a wrong turn somewheres while I was walkin' back. And in the Eavesdown Docks, you take one wrong turn and you're humped, you'll never find your way clear to where you gotta go. I was goin' a mite staticky in the brain pan if you know what I'm talkin', just wanderin' around town like a little kid lost in a museum. Had no idea where I was, had no idea if the cap'n and Zoe were out lookin', but then Serenity found me. All of a sudden I turned around and there she was, sittin' right there in front of my nose, same as she's here now. I swear, she picked herself up and flew all by her lonesome right to me."

"Cute," Robert said, cracking a smile that looked almost as cynical as it did amused. "She must have one hell of an autopilot."

"Well, who d'you think keeps it workin'?" Kaylee smirked. "One o' those things just takes the right person, I guess."

"Always comes down to that." There was a flinty glint in Robert's eye and Kaylee missed not a lash of it: the conversation was taking a direction for ill. Best she keep it in safer lanes, she considered, especially in the situation at hand. She saw his eyes drift away and along the piping rising overhead beside the infirmary: aimless they absorbed every line of the little freighter with a curious streak that was no news to Kaylee, for it was almost the same streak she'd experienced at her first meeting with the ship.

"Serenity, eh?" Robert repeated after a moment.

"Yup," Kaylee said lightly.

Now it was Robert's turn to grow reflective. "Y'know, them's times when I wonder if my old man was better off kickin' it at Boros. You know I was still a rookie fireman when the news about Serenity Valley got this far."

"Hell of a time for cortex trouble," Kaylee said, frowning slightly.

"Ain't the end of the battle I'm talkin' on. 'Twas about a month afore we got wind of what went on after the surrender. Even if my old man lived to see that battle and survive it...."

Kaylee nodded in understanding. "Yeah, might've been just as well. Cap'n Reynolds held down the fort for months – but the Alliance, they made sure every history teacher in the 'verse forgot about the heroes from the other side. It sure don't seem like the captain's lost much bitterness from that his own self. I'm thinkin' he'll have a snowball fight with the devil 'fore he lets go of it any."

"Who'd blame him?" Robert shrugged, leaning forward with elbows to knees. "We're still after flickin' the Alliance's ear, you know. They talk all this fei hua about our great and shiny and glorious future, but what makes 'em think there's no glory to be had in the past? I mean, you seen a little bit of how we live here when we did our thing for you on Guonian. Might be time forgot some of what we make and do around here, but we sure ain't."

"Sometimes the old ways is best," Kaylee smiled, picking up the thread. "A ship, a train, a planet - less fixin's a thing has, the easier it is to fix. I mean, it gets down to it, what makes things go? How's Serenity make it to full burn, and how's the Eighty-Seven cook up enough steam to get over the road? How's a world get started? Even if it's, like, Londinium or Sihnon or Guonian or Roma, not a one of 'em would be livable if they wasn't near enough the same as Earth."

"Yeah, well, that's why we get so many settlers hereabouts. 'Cause they know same as us that there ain't no reason to let the Feds complicate things, so we don't. And there's still a lot of outer planets ain't even got as far as we done."

"Could be they prefer it that way, same as you. Or, could be they've tried and the Alliance had other notions. Me and Serenity seen more'n a few of them – all folk want is a chance to live the life they like, if there just wasn't somebody didn't wanna let 'em."

"Yeah." Suddenly taciturn, Robert nodded his head, peering absently through the window at the opposite end of the infirmary. "I know exactly what you mean."

An upbeat, sunlit avenue to continuing the conversation eluded Kaylee, wrack her brain though she might to open one. As she thought of the last chat they'd made to last longer than five or ten minutes, she could no longer focus on what had drawn them together, nor refute what had driven them apart. For Kaylee, everything was sunshine, clear skies and fresh strawberries, a brightly shining view of how the universe could be at its best moments, an unconditional love of almost all things mechanical or natural. For Robert, the universe was just what it was: black. Seeing him again bothered her in a way: it bore on her a regret that she'd been unable to fathom their night-and-day outlooks on life before coming to live on Serenity. She knew it was their differing life experience and she had felt genuinely sorry for him, but she knew she just couldn't live with it - and doubted if she could live with herself had she tried to make him change.

She eyed his hands, ingrained with dirt and if her memory served, nearly immune to heat. That immunity, like any other, came with time and frequent contact with hot and heavy machinery, unique machinery, machinery Kaylee had only once seen up close but was still longing to learn about. Maybe that chance now was here, and with it, maybe a chance to reconcile their differences and forge what at the very least could solidify into a lifelong friendship. If the chance was about, however, it was hedging around Serenity waiting for the intense wildfire of Mal's determination to cool.

For Mal was making tracks through the cargo bay and Mal had about him the force of a human cyclone. The lull in the conversation alerted both Kaylee and Robert to his approach, and at the same time, to his voice and Zoe's engaged in talk unintelligible beyond the doorway. By the time they glanced toward the door, the two old soldiers were already in it - lacking Inara, the rest of the crew summarily piled down the stairs into the common room, heedless of its two occupants until Mal stopped short at the sight of the new face.

"Hey, Cap'n," Kaylee beamed. "So, where's the fuel truck?"

"Hit a few speed bumps," Mal's tone was non-committal, pointedly leaving out the street battle. No need for Kaylee to know about that until after the job briefing, he reasoned. He nodded toward Robert, eyes visibly hardened. "Who's the new kid?"

"Oh," Kaylee said quickly, remembering her manners. "This's Robert Berakis, an old friend of mine."

Robert was already rising to greet Mal, but he froze when he saw the shocked look on the captain's visage as Kaylee disclosed his name. A similar expression was upon Zoe: it escaped neither Wash nor Book, versus Jayne's usual ignorance. None of them, however, spied River's fixed stare through the window of the infirmary, where Simon had herded her for one of the day's checkups.

Robert himself, waiting to retrieve Mal's gaze, slowly nodded his head in guarded greeting. "Howdy," he said just as slowly.

"Hello there," Mal said, near toneless.

"You two meet on Guonian?" Zoe surmised.

"Oddly enough, we did," Kaylee said, trying not to add to the discomfort. "The Alliance hit our transport network pretty hard during the war. Rob and some of his lot came out for a few weeks to help us rebuild."

"Sounds right helpful." Mal's gaze had barely wavered from the younger man. "Like you'd go out of your way to help folk who need some savin'."

"It's a family tradition," Robert said briefly.

"I imagine it is. Well." Mal paused, glancing at Kaylee, shock and reflection giving way to business. "We got a job to brief on, so best we get upstairs and get about it." Again he looked on Robert, steadily, but this time with a bit less ice to his stare. "You're welcome to stick around, son. Little local colour might not go amiss."


"Been an interesting morning, hasn't it?" Simon said conversationally, emptying a small bottle of propoxin into a test tube.

"Define 'interesting'," River muttered. She was fidgeting slightly on the exam table, her eyes flicking endlessly at nothing particular.

Simon looked up, almost forgetting about the test tube in his hand. His eyes narrowed slightly at the unsettled expression on River's visage: it occurred to him that her anxiety, though still palpable, had subsided somewhat after they returned to Serenity. One could hope that was a good sign. Then his face softened as he tried yet again to guess what was on her enigmatic mind.

"River, what did you mean when we went to get Zoe and Wash? About the ringing? Is someone coming after us? Or...." Even as he was asking, he was silently praying that the Alliance agents who had pursued them on Ariel were no longer in Serenity's wake.

"Too much heat." River's voice was barely above an uneasy whisper. "Found Old Faithful, but the heat is still too intense. It'll melt everything. If there's an insufficient level of protective water, everything will weaken and overpressure will initiate a cataclysmic explosion." She half-turned on the table and looked plaintively into Simon's eyes, a look he recognised from the first several times he'd tried to bring her into the infirmary. "He can't let us explode, Simon."

"Don't worry, River, we're not going to explode," Simon promised, mixing the test tube's contents into a glass of water. "Okay, so I'm whistling in the dark here, but even if Jayne catches on fire and ignites what fuel we have, there's hardly enough left to crack any of the viewports."

"Spontaneous human combustion is an unsubstantiated theory borne of paranoia," River said in a low drone. "Frigid, compared to the fire within. Could burn out of control, could die in a flash." She tarried, her eyes dropped and she took a long, shuddering breath, holding her brother stock-still with her ominous ramblings. "Just like we will when the ringing stops."

Continue to Part 5....

Let there be feedback!!! ;)


Monday, May 12, 2008 3:30 AM


Ypu write so smoothly, I get jealous. I'm liking your character Robert. He's very interesting. As always, very good. Your faithful reader, ;) Angelle

Monday, May 12, 2008 5:07 AM


Ooh, nice and mysterious. If this were in printed form, it'd be a page-turner. I'm really looking forward to the next part.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 10:04 AM


Interesting chapter. I'm still getting to know Robert, but I already like seeing Kaylee interact with someone she has a past with. It serves to make her thoughtful about herself, which didn't seem to happen often in the show. Insightful.

Not that I quite trust Robert. I'm wondering where Mal's going to go with him. I'm also maybe seeing a tie between River's rants and Robert's steam engine experience, with the heat and all. Hmmm.... enigmatic River!

Now here's a little constructiveness: I found a few sections a bit muddy with the words. You come up with some brilliant wordplay, like: "An upbeat, sunlit avenue to continuing the conversation eluded Kaylee, wrack her brain though she might to open one." Great metaphor, but clearer without "to open one". Strunk's golden rule: Less words, same meaning = better.

Also, I'm not entirely sure of the narrative voice. One paragraph starts with "not a lash" - very Kaylee-speak - then ends with "aimless they absorbed every line of the little freighter with a curious streak that was no news to Kaylee, for it was almost..." which is not at all Kaylee. It's poetic and quite lovely, but it leaves me wondering who's telling the story, and why such an eloquent voice in a Kaylee/Robert scene in the Firefly verse? (By all means, don't change it! It's just food for thought...)

BTW, I'm very picky. Can you tell? ;) It's why I seldom leave feedback. I have a hard time saying less than this. Hope it helps!

Saturday, May 17, 2008 2:31 AM


You have a very interesting writing style, very enjoyable and nicely flowing. You're leaving a lot of hints in supposition and that always makes for interesting follow up reading. Enjoying this very much. Please don't compare yourself to other writers in the amount of feedback. Every writer here is on their own creative path, and the best we can do as a community is give everyone a space to grow in their own way and time.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008 3:33 AM


I can't help thinking that Robert is connected to the train that is hidden somewhere inside that mountain. Wouldn't be surprised if it was a steam train which would fit in with River's warning. I can't help but be very suspicious about him just turning up at Serenity and reconnecting with Kaylee as if it is all coincidental. I don't like how, even with her tiny reservations, good hearted Kaylee just invited him along inside the ship. I would have wanted to wait until all the crew and the Captain was back before having him set foot inside what is essentially their home. What if Robert is acting for the bad guys or has plans of his own either for Serenity or Kaylee's skills as a mechanic? Whatever, it would good if he turned out to be a blessing not a curse but given the crew's luck I am not holding my breath nor taking my eyes off him. Great writing. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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Solar Winds and Silver Skies
"You're going to shoot a Mountie? They'll hunt you to the ends of the 'verse!"

Where They Don't Follow (Prologue)
The Old That Is Strong - Book 2, Prologue. Roughly six months after 'The Guns of Yamenmiao', Inara says her final farewells before Serenity returns to Roma on a new job. This time, Mal's treasure quest must run the gamut of a not-quite-right scientist, a nameless, ruthless privateer, and a deeper penetration of the Alliance than Mal has ever attempted before.

The Guns of Yamenmiao (Epilogue)
The Old That Is Strong - Book 1, Epilogue. Kaylee and Serenity are once again flying. Mal and Inara are once again at odds.

The Guns of Yamenmiao (Pt. 16)
The Old That Is Strong - Book 1, Part 16. The crew reaches the end of the line, only to find out that the confrontations - and the mystery of the ghost train - are by no means finished.

The Guns of Yamenmiao (Pt. 15)
The Old That Is Strong - Book 1, Part 15. The stakes are no less than Inara's life when Mal commences the last fiery showdown.

The Guns of Yamenmiao (Pt. 14)
The Old That Is Strong - Book 1, Part 14. Mal has a trainload of destruction behind him and a passel of violent criminals ahead, holding Inara hostage. With no backup, how can he emerge victorious without destroying himself and his crew?

The Guns of Yamenmiao (Pt. 13)
The Old That Is Strong - Book 1, Part 13. Mal's cover is altogether blown, and he must figure out how to keep the mission from going south - but he has only one dangerous way to get the word out.

The Guns of Yamenmiao (Pt. 12)
The Old That Is Strong - Book 1, Part 12. Tensions mount on the Yamenmiao expedition, coming to a head when Mal enters exactly the dire strait he feared the worst.

The Guns of Yamenmiao (Pt. 11)
The Old That Is Strong - Book 1, Part 11. The crew finds that their venture to recover the train is not without its unspoken fear of grievous injuries or death - but River finds herself concerned by something altogether different.

The Guns of Yamenmiao (Pt. 10)
The Old That Is Strong - Book 1, Part 10. The train has been found, the plan has been made, and Mal and the crew are all set to head out and put it into action - before an unexpected hitch forces them to act far faster than hoped.