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Blue Sun Job, Part 28: A Preacher, a Whore, and a Thief...
Sunday, September 26, 2004

Nine characters view the 'verse, and the Blue Sun Job, nine different ways... Shepherd Book's view of him, the captain, and the 'verse are affected by what he sees.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3922    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Blue Sun Job, Part 28: A Preacher, a Whore, and a Thief…

Resolving plot elements from chapters 3, 10, and 11. And beginning the resolution of a major plot element established between Mal and Book in chapter 1.


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
Blue Sun Job, Part 19: The Bottom
Blue Sun Job, Part 20: Countdown
Blue Sun Job, Part 21: PS1467
Blue Sun Job, Part 22: X1823
Blue Sun Job, Part 23: Fallout
Blue Sun Job, Part 24: The Wrong Side of Normal
Blue Sun Job, Part 25: In Trouble
Blue Sun Job, Part 26: Interactions
Blue Sun Job, Part 27: Caught

Chinese:

No critical dialog using actual Chinese characters, just exclamatory expressions

他妈的 = ta ma duh = f*ck (used for all variations)
混蛋 = hwoon dahn (hundan) = bastard


Blue Sun Job, Part 28: A Preacher, a Whore, and a Thief…
靑日 Job: A Preacher, a Whore, and a Thief…

Clanks and thuds against Serenity’s hull echoed as the Alliance ship settled in position over her. Demands for their surrender continued over the comm until Mal slapped the control to silence the gorram thing. Mal stared out the windows at the dark shape eclipsing the stars as it swallowed his ship. In the whale’s belly, the thought came oddly to mind... again. There wasn’t time for cursing, though the strongest words in the ‘verse would certainly be appropriate. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. They’d gotten away with it, gotten away from the last mess.

“They’re locking onto the cargo bay airlock,” Wash announced. “They’ll be trying to override the door in another minute.”

Every eye fixed on Mal, waiting for the solution to pull their butts out of the fire. High ground is death with that skiff in the air. That’s our problem. Thanks for volunteering. Zoe’s eyes fastened on him, too. No suggestions from her, just questions waiting for the answers. It didn’t look good. Couldn’t run. Couldn’t fight.

“Stop ‘em,” Mal told Wash.

“If you block them, they’ll cut through,” Shepherd Book said quietly. Mal stared over at him. Wreck the airlock, breach the ship. Probably gas them all before boarding.

“Stall ‘em,” Mal amended.

“How?” Wash asked, but even as he did Mal could see his hands fly over the controls, rerouting and changing the airlock commands, slowing the Fed’s tap into Serenity’s systems.

“Tell ‘em... Tell ‘em... we’re trying to comply but they’re messing up our systems,” Mal said. “Hell, tell ‘em anything, just buy us a couple minutes.” He turned away. Wash had to cope as best he could.

Turning to Zoe, Mal snapped, “Any hiding places the Feds didn’t find the last time around we can stash those two?” He pointed sharply at Simon and River.

Zoe nodded. “Yes, sir. You, with me.” She headed briskly off, Simon and River scurrying behind.

“And stay out of sight yourself, long as you can,” Mal called after her. “Low and quiet--let ‘em split up,” he added. It was orders enough for Zoe. She’d know what to do.

“What’s the crew complement on one of those things?” Mal directed the question toward Book. Somehow he knew the Preacher would have the answer.

“About twenty,” Book answered without hesitation. “You can’t fight it out with them and do anything but get killed.”

“If I could breach their hull or their airlock with Vera...?” Jayne said it low. Mal studied him, trying to figure if he was serious; if it would work. Explosive decompression of the whole gorram Fed ship? Kill the lot of them? No turning back from that. Hell… no turning back anyhow.

Book shook his head. Mal wasn’t sure if it was disapproval at the murderous plan, or...

“Wouldn’t work,” Book said. “Self-sealing compartments. You’d only take out a few. The rest...” Mal nodded. No need to go further with that. Mal saw Jayne’s scowl. He didn’t really figure Jayne was too itching to take out a whole mess of Alliance marshals no how. Willing, maybe.

Plan A. Plan B. Plan C, Plan D... 他妈的. He didn’t have a Plan D. A was a stall, B was getting their fugitives out of sight, C was murder slash suicide. But if the Feds were here for the Blue Sun robbery, and they were after him... him and Zoe... It’s him... Last time ‘round the Feds were specifically after Mal. Maybe, just maybe this time... Would they settle for just him? He couldn’t let them take the ship, not with River and Simon onboard, no matter how well hidden. That was death to them all. If they’d settle for just him and let Serenity go... Mal took a deep breath and met the waiting eyes.

“Okay,” Mal said, “I’ll meet them at the airlock, try to stall them off from searching the ship. Far as we know, Shepherd, Inara, and Kaylee, you’re in the clear. Jayne... don’t know. If they tracked that money you laundered, could be they tagged you. Cover me but don’t get hasty. If worse gets to worst and I can’t keep ‘em out, maybe we can lure them in and you and Zoe can pick ‘em off a few at a time. Wash.--” Mal turned around “--you stay out of sight. Hopefully I can keep them from looking for you...” 他妈的. They were gonna arrest him again and lock him up and...

“Captain,” Shepherd Book caught his attention with the low, urgent tone Mal had heard from him before. The preacher gazed thoughtfully at the dark shape enveloping Serenity.

“What is it?” Mal asked. Book met and held Mal’s eyes.

“It wasn’t a robbery,” Book said.

“Huh?”

Book shook his head but held Mal’s eyes with intensity. “What you did. It wasn’t a robbery. Technically, it was a burglary.”

Huh? Okay. Yeah, sure. Robberies--technically--are done by armed force. They were armed but hadn’t run into anyone, so, yes indeedy, the Blue Sun job was technically a burglary. Interesting point, at any other time. But not so much at this very minute. “What you gettin’ at, Preacher?”

They called it a robbery,” Book said insistently. Mal stared hard, trying to divine his meaning. “They’re the law. They called it a robbery.”

Sonuvabitch. Mal saw the Preacher’s point. Plan 他妈的 D.

“Inara,” Mal gathered his band with a wave of his hand as he hurried toward the dining area. Snatching the folder of ship’s registry Inara had acquired, he tossed it to her. “A grand entrance...” Mal said, letting the notion hang in the air.

Mal headed toward the aft stairs.

“You got less than a minute before they’re in,” Wash called back from the bridge.

“Preacher,” Mal said low to Book, “If you’re willing, I’d sure appreciate if you could have that magic ident card of yours on hand.” Book nodded. “Your call on when or if to play it, though,” Mal added.

In the cargo bay, Mal pointed to the damning crate of Blue Sun platinum--Kaylee’s engine parts--as he strode by toward the airlock. “Kaylee. Park your hiney on that crate and do your damnedest to look like an innocent kitten. Jayne...” He glanced up toward the catwalk where Jayne hung back just out of sight. “Just stay cool. We ain’t in a position to take ‘em on in a straight up fight. But I don’t mean to just give in.”

Mal sucked in a deep lungful of air as he reached the cargo bay doors and closed his eyes for a split. Through one of the windows, an angry face glared. Here we go... again, Mal thought and slapped the button. As the doors slid open a full half dozen Fed guns trained squarely on him. Mal’s hands went up instinctively.

“Easy fellas,” Mal said, trying hard to seem pleasant and agreeable, and don’t-shoot-me-harmless. “Ain’t none of us armed here. We’re complying and such best we can. You just caught us unawares, sneakin’ up on us from behind like that. Don’t expect to get pulled over by the cops way the hell out here in deep space.”

The senior of the marshals looked Mal over scornfully, then scanned the cargo bay. He moved to step in but Mal stepped quickly to block him. The gun barrels steadied on Mal.

“Step aside,” the marshal snapped.

“We ain’t done nothing wrong here, officer,” Mal said insistently. Had to play it that way. Had to bluster and bluff through it. “You got no call to be boarding us.” The officer gave Mal an up-down look laden with contempt. Ship of the disreputable type and the captain pulling a blatant stall at the door wore the wrong colors. Mal didn’t need to be a mind reader to know where the Fed’s assumptions immediately tracked. Course, he was right.

Yet, it weren’t no small comfort to Mal that he was still on his feet arguing, not down on the deck bleeding or getting cuffed. Might could be the preacher was right. Dodge the bullet aimed square at ‘em one more time? He saw the Fed’s eyes stray over toward Kaylee and the crate of platinum. Was that a flicker of doubt in the cop’s eyes? That girl never looked to be no master criminal. Then his eyes shifted again and Mal was hard pressed not to turn to look. Inara’s grand entrance?

* * *

Concealed from view, Shepherd Book watched from the doorway of the common area before entering the cargo bay. The captain tried to play the innocent with the Feds, always a humorous thing to see. It would be a more convincing act if he could get that look out of his eye when he looked at them. And if the man could, for once, not dress in such overt Independent’s apparel. Book gave a slight shake of his head. The captain knew full well he incessantly baited the Feds with his attire and did it on purpose. Ah, well, we all wear our uniforms, whatever they are, to say who we are inside, or who we want others to believe we are. Or perhaps, at times, to remind us who we aspire to be, Book amended, running a finger around the inside of his collar.

Fingering the ident card he’d placed in his pocket, Shepherd Book considered the situation gravely. Was he about to help thieves escape the legal justice they’d so richly earned yet again? That choice had taken him no time to make. Simple necessity spoke to him on the point. Another cobblestone on the road to Hell? Still, the lack of boundaries between right and wrong, law and crime, judgment and sin kept reminding him of the crooked path on which he’d embarked when first entering Serenity. Wrong wasn’t always wrong out in the Black.

He hadn’t converted a one of them on this ship. Yet they’d drawn him back into parts of his life he’d tried hard to shun and forget. It was the lesson for both he and the captain, Book realized as he observed Captain Reynolds put himself between the marshals and his crew. Honor among thieves. What we were is always a part of who we are. Malcolm Reynolds, thief, killer, and hopeless reprobate who actively rejected God, was, in many ways, a better man than he, Shepherd Book. For all he’d lost, and the blows he’d taken, the captain hadn’t hidden himself away from the world as Book had. He’d kept fighting the sometimes-not-so-good fight. Damn it! Book thought irreverently. Jayne was right about Mal. Jayne. From the mouths of really large, crude babes could come a raw truth.

There was a purpose, Book had come to believe, a meaning, in his presence on this ship. Whose path, and what purpose, he remained uncertain--his own? Or one of the others? The captain? He’d been drawn here to this ship, guided here, and must--to the best of his abilities--rely on faith that his purpose was to guide the lost onto their true path, or to secure his own direction. Maybe both.

The moment of epiphany flooded over Shepherd Book. He’d sat down with sinners and a harlot had pointed the way. He was right where he ought to be. The point of no return in choosing a path through the tangled and merciless landscape stood before him. Commit to the path? Or step back into the pious, disapproving haze? Here I stand, Book thought, contemplating the captain facing down the law and the legal retribution he’d justly earned. Book straightened. I can do no other.

With his Bible clasped to his chest, Book strode slowly, yet confidently into the cargo bay. The captain didn’t look around--wouldn’t take his eyes off the enemy even though he faced them armed with nothing but defiance. Kaylee shot him a frightened glance as he passed her. That dear child had been through a lot too, the past week. Book should comfort Kaylee, but for what? For stealing? For killing? The child was a genuinely radiant innocent in a ‘verse that ate innocents alive and spit them back out. Could the girl continue to walk in this world of violence and sin and yet keep her light shining? Could he?

And yet...

“Good day, officers,” Book greeted them serenely, purposely not noticing the rifle barrels that swung his way.

“Shepherd?” The marshal examined him with obvious bewilderment.

“The noise on the hull drew me from prayer and meditation,” Book commented, making sure he looked each of the men in the eye, personifying them and forcing them to do the same to him. It was exactly, and purposely, the opposite of how the captain treated such situations. Mal’s eyes remained locked unwaveringly on the head man, the decision-maker. The others were objects. Not people. Objects he might have to end. Might end him. It was a cold, survivalist view of the ‘verse. A necessary view for one who lived the life the captain did. Once it had been Book’s view, but he had learned another approach. Each of these men would now hesitate to drop the hammer on the man who’d just warmly met their eyes man to man, human to human. This was why he’d told Simon not to think, just shoot. And why Kaylee couldn’t shoot.

Book moved casually closer. The gun barrels didn’t hold as steadily on him as they did on the captain. He smiled calmly. “What seems to be the problem here, sir?” Book asked.

“The Blue Sun treasury on Beta was robbed. We’re stopping and searching all outbound ships from that system,” the marshal said. Book could feel Mal’s surprise at the volunteered information, though he admirably kept his mouth shut. Searching all ships meant Serenity wasn’t the sole target. As Book had suspected from the marshal’s use of ‘robbery’ rather than ‘burglary’, something else was at work here.

“Robbed?” Book said, feigning shock. “And the bandits got away?”

“Some of them,” the marshal said. “Two were killed outright in the treasury, but an accounting in the vault showed a substantial amount of platinum was missing, so their accomplices clearly escaped.”

Book dearly would have loved to exchange a glance with the captain at that bit of news, but dare not. He also would have liked to probe deeper into the story, but the guise of unknowing innocence would not permit it. Had Monty and his crew gone back in to the treasury?

“I’m astounded,” Book said, clutching his Bible a touch higher, like a shield. He again scanned the others, meeting each one’s eyes in turn. Their gun barrels lowered a touch further. “When did this shocking crime take place?”

“About twenty-four hours ago,” the marshal said.

At that, Book did exchange a glance with the captain. Mal’s puzzlement showed. It was about six days past that they’d stolen the Blue Sun platinum.

“Well, sir,” Mal said, with a touch of hesitation in his voice. “Then you know for sure it ain’t us. This boat torched on outta there long before that. Ain’t no need to search us.”

It would have been better, Book considered, if he hadn’t added the last sentence. “Indeed,” Book added. “This ship lifted from the port on Delta at least seventy-two hours ago.”

The marshal’s eyebrows raised. Disbelief? “Really? Your velocity and relative distance out of the system suggest you left far less than seventy-two hours ago.”

Damn physics, Book could almost hear the captain think. Serenity had left that system twice--first with Inara and Jayne aboard enroute to pick up Simon and River, then had returned to rescue the others before blasting out again, regrettably, about twenty-four hours ago.

“Well…” the captain started, stumbling a bit, while Book also tried to hunt for an explanation. “It’s an old ship…” Mal said, gesturing with his still-raised hands.

“Yes,” another voice came from behind them. Inara. Book turned and smiled. A grand entrance must also be a well-timed entrance, he thought with admiration. The lady waited until he and the captain had both run out of options and were fumbling, then arrived with a dazzling sweep of rich color and glitter--both in her clothes and the smile she graced upon the marshals. Book heard the intake of breaths from the boys arrayed in the airlock.

“Forgive me, officer, for not arriving sooner,” Inara said smoothly as she flowed down the stairs. “As I’m sure you know, your arrival caught us unawares. It took me a moment to find our paperwork.” She presented the leather folder to him with a graceful gesture. “As you can see, I purchased this vessel only a few days ago and immediately left the system.” She favored the marshal with a heat-laden expression even a celibate Shepherd could feel. “As the captain here was starting to explain, this is an old ship, with quite a few miles on it.”

She gave a dainty, fluttering gesture with her hands--a helpless, who-me female gesture as old as time. Book doubted Zoe ever had, or ever could, pull that off as convincingly as Inara. Even from Inara it was pure act, he knew. The marshal, on the other hand, remained locked in place, dazed and a mite flushed as he stared at Inara. The folder of documents hadn’t moved a micron from when Inara put them in his hand. “I don’t even pretend to understand all the science and mechanics behind it all,” Inara went on. “But the captain here assured me it was safest if we started out slowly. We didn’t want to run the engines out all the way until they’d been tested--took our time about accelerating.”

The marshal shook himself, glancing quickly at the captain and Book before returning his gaze to Inara. “Miss Serra?” he asked. “Don’t you remember me? It was years ago, on Sihnon.”

Inara beamed at the marshal with a sudden show of surprise and recognition. She was an astonishingly good actress, Book silently applauded, as she evidently had no idea who this particular Fed was. It also gave Book a flash of sorrow for the young woman that she could have been intimate with so many and yet have shared no hint of actual intimacy with any. Flicking a glance at the captain, Book saw his face frozen, eyes gone dark as he watched Inara take the officer’s hands, laughing and smiling at her artificial recollection of pleasure with the Fed. Mal had just spent the night in Inara’s bed though, Book suspected, it was another case of ‘sleeping’ together meaning ‘sleeping’ and nothing more. But judging from the reaction contained behind Mal’s eyes, Jayne had struck another chord right on tune where the captain and the Companion were concerned.

“Oh, of course.” Inara’s laugh twinkled. “Do forgive me.” She leaned and whispered, loud enough for the marshal’s men to hear, “I’d have recognized you at once if you were out of that uniform.”

The marshal blushed slightly, but did puff his chest out a touch proudly. Book saw Mal roll his eyes, finally looking away from the lead man of his enemies. Inara had definitely defused the tension and suspicions. She leaned in close and she and the marshal exchanged a whispered conversation.

“Well, of course,” the marshal said, glancing cursorily over Inara’s ship documentation, scarcely taking his eyes off the Companion, “your paperwork is in order.” He handed the folder back to an aide who consulted a Cortex screen.

“Yes, sir. This vessel does show departure from Delta three days ago. But the bow markings and name on the side don’t match these documents,” the aide said after a moment.

“Well, we haven’t exactly had time to repaint,” Inara said, fluttering her eyes imploringly at the marshal. “Oh dear… are you going to have to cite me for that?”

“I think we can let it go this time,” the marshal said, raising her hand to his lips. The man appeared positively besotted. Book risked another glance at the captain. He’d put on a studiously blank expression.

The marshal straightened. “Just a routine check of identities of those onboard should do it,” he added, looking pointedly at the captain, then toward Kaylee.

“And I must say ‘oh dear’ again,” Inara said in a sorrowful purr. She lowered her voice and whispered conspiratorially to the Fed, “As you can see this ship has a bit of a disreputable look to it. As I hear it, it was actually confiscated from criminals. Well, I needed a crew quickly and that port on Delta isn’t entirely respectable in every regard--you understand--so I’m afraid I wasn’t too particular in checking the backgrounds of the crew. Yet I simply can’t afford to lose any of them way out here in space on a technicality…” She trailed off. It was a cliché, Book realized, but she literally batted her eyes at the man. Seeing the marshal struggle with his conflict of duties, Book decided it was time to step back in.

“I helped Miss Serra acquire some crew, officer,” Book inserted. “I came to know many of these people through my mission work.” The captain would loathe that claim, Book thought, quelling an urge to look at him. “Their histories may not be sterling in every regard, but I assure you they’re competent ship handlers and trustworthy custodians of Miss Serra’s wellbeing. The lady is in good hands. I take it as a personal obligation, for her kind charity to my work, to ensure her safety.” He gave a sincere smile and glanced back toward Kaylee, cowering on the crate of stolen platinum. “And she graciously permitted me to bring along some passengers. Miss Serra is helping that poor waif find a new home and life.”

“I understand, Shepherd,” the marshal started, “But I still…”

“Oh, please, feel free to verify my credentials,” Book said, handing over his ident card. He tried to hand it to them in such a way that it faced away from the captain but the aide turned it as he took it. From the corner of his eye, Book saw Mal’s eyes widen a touch, but he didn’t change the carefully blank expression.

After due consultation of the Cortex screen, the aide and head marshal nodded. Handing Book’s card back, the marshal said, “Very well. This clearly isn’t the ship we’re after. I’ll overlook any other of your unintentional violations.” He gave a sharp gesture to his men, who backed down the airlock toward their own ship. The captain cautiously lowered his hands.

“Please do wave me,” Inara murmured as the marshal again raised her hand to his lips.

“Just as soon as I’m able,” he answered. He turned to his aide who handed him a flyer. “Here’s a bulletin on the robbery we’re investigating, in case you run across anything.” He handed the animated sheet to Book.

The airlock door closed behind the last of the Feds. With a deep sigh, the captain slapped the inner airlock controls. As the doors slid closed, Book saw him stare at the deck, breathing deeply.

Clanking again resounded against the hull as the Alliance ship retracted its grapples.

“They’re gone,” Wash’s voice sounded over the comm. “Detached and heading away.”

Footsteps sounded on the catwalks as Zoe and Jayne came into the cargo bay. Book glanced up. Zoe carried a large knife. Jayne held another so huge it almost qualified as a sword, with Vera slung over his shoulder. If the marshals had boarded it would have been ugly. Sitting on her crate, Kaylee gave a little whimper and dropped her head into her hands.

“What the hell happened?” Mal demanded.

Book handed him the bulletin. “It appears someone attempted to rob--burglarize, rather--the Blue Sun treasure only a few days after you. It turned into a genuine robbery when they encountered vault guards, took them hostage, and tried to force their way out. The vault was gassed, killing the robbers and the guards.”

“Nice bunch,” Mal muttered, staring at the sheet. Book wasn’t sure if he meant the robbers, or Blue Sun who gassed both the robbers and their own guards. “I know this fella,” he said, pointed to a picture of one of the dead robbers. He tilted the sheet toward Zoe.

“Yes, sir,” she said, peering at the picture. “From the prison. He was in on the tunnel.” Book leaned in to look. The picture shifted to the other dead robber.

“Don’t know that one, though,” Mal said.

“I do,” Zoe said. She shook her head with disgust. “That’s the 混蛋 followed us on the shuttle from Beta to Delta. The one I thought I recognized.”

Mal shook his head. “You are never wrong on that stuff.”

Peering over their shoulders, Jayne added. “Yeah, I seen that one too. At that first meet with Monty. You was facing ‘way from him, Mal, but I was eyeing him on account of he seemed a mite too interested in you all.”

The captain handed the sheet back to Book. “So it ‘pears,” Mal said, “we had someone doggin’ us the whole way, only it wasn’t the law. That fella musta figured out what we were up to and got himself ahold of another one of us that knew about the entrance and codes and such and just tagged on in on our heels. Figured if it worked for us, it’d work for him. How ‘bout that?”

“Only they missed the extra layer of security added,” Zoe commented. “They tripped the beams, brought the guards down on ‘em.”

“If it wasn’t for River and her gizmo…” Mal said quietly, seemingly more to himself than to the others. Book narrowed his eyes curiously at that comment. A sound from the catwalks caught their attention. River, Simon, and Wash walked down to join them.

“Did you bring it back?” River asked Mal.

“Oh, no, sweetheart. We used it up there, just like you figured,” he said. He glanced over at the others. “A little doodad River gave me. Just a bitty Blue Sun advertising gadget. Turned out to be mighty handy on the job, though.”

“Used it up?” River cocked her head, looking puzzled.

“Sure. Used the battery on the security system,” Mal said, “and then used a piece of the case to hold the vent screen back closed behind us.”

River gave him a keen look. “You left a piece?”

“Yes… needed to,” Mal said slowly. He peered closely at the girl. “There a problem with that?”

“Did you leave fingerprints on it?” River asked.

Book saw the captain grin. “Ain’t no mind reading genius, girl, but I ain’t that stupid.”

River grinned back. “I mean my fingerprints.”

The captain groaned.

“Still…” Zoe inserted thoughtfully, “if they did find River’s fingerprints in there, with robbers we have no connection to…”

“…and thinking mayhaps River got away with the rest of the loot…”

“…then we’re in the clear and River’s gonna get a name for pulling off the biggest hit on Blue Sun ever!”

Everyone exchanged a bemused look. Book saw the brotherly-protectiveness shield of Simon’s flash up, about to speak in protest, when River spoke up again--

“Good!” She snapped off a stream of the nastiest and most graphic Chinese cussing Book had ever heard. The captain looked amused. Jayne looked slightly shocked. Wash admiring, and Simon embarrassed. River spun and dashed off toward the rear of the ship leaving the others standing in stunned silence.

“She don’t much like Blue Sun,” the captain commented mildly. He glanced at Jayne. “You might want to avoid wearing that shirt around her,” he said. “You really do look better in red.”

* * *

That too-gorram-much feeling threatened to swamp over Mal again. Book and Inara just pulled his ass out of the fire one more time. If that Fed had done an ID scan on him he’d have been humped in the least fun way ever.

“This could still come back to haunt us, sir,” Zoe said low to him, drawing him back a few steps from the others who chattered nervously about what had just happened.

“I know it,” Mal answered dully. “Sure as certain we’re gonna be on the suspect list, but so is everyone else who was in that prison. What? Hundreds still alive?”

“Yeah, but the list shortens up a mite when you narrow it to those as got a rep for crime,” Zoe said. “We gotta unload this platinum quick.”

Mal suddenly chuckled. “We got away with it, Zoe. Sure, the 混蛋 will suspect us. Hell, they suspect us all the time for every damned thing anyhow. It’s like you said way back, we’re nothing but criminals to them, always were. But this one--I call this one a win.” He paused and added thoughtfully. “Just too bad we can’t go back and have another run at that treasury.”

He was gonna cherish Zoe’s expression for a long time. “You weren’t seriously thinking about going back in there, were you?”

“Why not? The setup was still there, all intact. And this one went smooth,” Mal said with a grin. “Well, it did. Everything else around it went well and truly to hell, but the job, that was smooth.”

Zoe gave him the look he was intimately acquainted with. “You’re crazy, sir.”

He studied her a long moment, suddenly aware Wash watched them from near the others. “And what does that say about you?”

With a mysterious half-smile playing over her lips, Zoe held his eyes for a few measured beats. “Maybe that I like crazy men with warped senses of humor,” she said softly. Then she turned toward her husband, pausing to look back over her shoulder and add, “sir.”

Women could be purely problematical at times, Mal considered as he watched Zoe latch herself back onto Wash, twining her arms in his. He’d lived with that one near half his life and still she managed to perplex him now and again. Weren’t no wonder Wash was well on his way to a bout of the crazies his ownself, what with the dribs and drabs of his and Zoe’s weird history coming up to smack him around every now and then, and what with Zoe holding back on important parts she ought to be spilling out to him, things the man had every right to know. Mal shook his head. It weren’t near over. The damned drama and fighting between them two. Between us three, he amended, to himself. 他妈的. Hadn’t even come to a full boil yet.

It had been so much simpler when it was just him and Zoe. Then Mal let the voices echoing in Serenity’s cargo bay sink into him. Friendly voices. Familiar voices. Sometimes quarrelsome. Sometimes annoying. Not necessarily friends. Not necessarily comrades in arms. Something else… family.

It wasn’t exactly a cheering thought. Families died. Families left. Mal looked at Inara, as she watched him covertly. Spent a night in her gorram bed. How many Feds had lain where he had? How many had… Even though he knew she was a whore and did that for a living, he still couldn’t quite finish the thought. 他妈的, Jayne was right. And that notion was as galling as the truth of it--he and Inara would never be friends. It was all or nothing. And that left purely and exactly nothing.

He ought to be thanking her for saving him and the ship, but somehow he couldn’t manage the words. Instead he sealed and locked that door--what Zoe’d call avoidance, ‘cause the denial just weren’t happenin’ after that little scene with the Fed she’d humped for money--turning instead to Shepherd Book. “Preacher,” Mal said. “I think you owe me.”

Book raised an eyebrow, amused. “That’s an interesting reaction to me helping to save you. Twice.”

“Nope,” Mal said, chewing over the card he’d seen the preacher hand those Feds. “You owe me.” He lowered his voice, though none of the others seemed to be paying any mind to the two of them. “There’s a tale I think it’s time we ride on back to.”

Remembrance lit in the Shepherd’s eyes, along with it a spark of taunting defiance. “And how do you figure that?”

Mal gave the preacher a cool smile as he considered a moment. “E-C-C-one-two-one-zero,” Mal said evenly.

Shepherd Book studied him a moment. Mal could see him process that bit of code, then smile a touch sheepishly as it clicked into place. With a solemn nod, the Shepherd said, “Of course.” He gestured toward the passenger dorms. “After you.”

Blue Sun Job, Part 29: ...On a Spaceship, and the Thief Said...

COMMENTS

Sunday, September 26, 2004 12:00 PM

AMDOBELL


Oooh, very mystifying bit of code at the end. Loved this, can't wait for the next part. Feel a sadness around Mal and Inara but oh so good that they got out of that one by the skin of their oh-so-shiny teeth. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, September 26, 2004 1:57 PM

JEBBYPAL


so why did river have the toy in the first place? really just something she picked up or more significant than that? Just curious if i missed something.

Great job:)

Sunday, September 26, 2004 9:06 PM

NEROLI


So gorram shiny it hurts. Can't wait to see what Mal and Books little chat reveals. :-D

Sunday, September 26, 2004 9:30 PM

GUILDSISTER


Hey, Jebbypal--River's little Blue Sun ad gadget is going to get another mention/explanation coming up. It's not hugely significant, just a little tidbit that lets me play with a notion I had about River and her psychic abilities--she picked it up in ch.3 and gave it to Mal; told him to keep it with him on the job.

Sunday, September 26, 2004 11:25 PM

RELFEXIVE


Grooovy!

Monday, September 27, 2004 6:08 AM

ARTSHIPS


Superbly enjoyable, as always. Although I'm really curious about Book's Tale, Zoe's reticence with Wash is a tragedy.

Monday, September 27, 2004 9:44 AM

ANONYMOUS


I love this story. Can't wait until the next chapter.

Monday, September 27, 2004 10:01 AM

ANONYMOUS


I thought I'd lend a bit of theological assistance for those of us who aren't Christians, or Bible scholars. Ecclesiastes 12:10 is, in the King James Version: The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth. The next two verses seem pertinent to the story however, so here is the entire passage:

10 The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth. 11 The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. 12 And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

I for one, am interested in seeing one of the many Books that was denied to us by the demise of the series, as interpreted through the words of Guildsister.

I’ve not yet wearied of them,
Solon

Tuesday, September 28, 2004 1:30 AM

KISPEXI2


It seems I've been waiting for EVER for this chapter to appear, but -darn me! -it was worth the wait. There are so many things I love about this story - chief amongst them today is the way things move on, relationships grow and develop and yet nothing is fully resolved. Just like life. Utterly believable and, as always, beautfifully written.


I'm going to pick out a few really good bits but this isn't a comprehensive list (I'd just have to copy and paste the whole thing if I wanted to do that).

This little details that tie the story into the Jossverse - the echo from "Serenity", the way Mal breathes (OoG), the Spikeist analysis of Mal/Inara - even the movie references.

I loved Book in this chapter. His internal dialogue about faith and Right. His smirking at Mal's reaction to finding out Inara had serviced the marshal. Much funnier too see it through his eyes than delving into what Mal was feeling - although that was there too.

Then " It weren’t near over. The damned drama and fighting between them two. Between us three, he amended, to himself. 他妈的. Hadn’t even come to a full boil yet." That managed to convey SO much as their history, present and future as well as Mal's deep sense of commitment to, need for, ALL his crew.

And the ending - so neat, so cheeky. Love it. Again.



Tuesday, September 28, 2004 10:10 AM

CASTIRONJACK


You know its one of those pivotal Book moments, realizing the difference between a robbery and a burglary. It's neat that you would be able to touch on the most tightly concealed character on the show with so little to work from. At least that's my duo of pennies worth.

Good job,

Keep flyin'





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