BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

AINTWEJUST

WASH: DOUBLE BOOKED | Part 3: Turbulence
Wednesday, October 7, 2009

In the third part of WASH: DOUBLE BOOKED, Wash and the ladies go for a walk in the freight yard, Jayne plays guardian angel with a "dumb-ass piece of Alliance plastic" for a gun, and our intrepid pilot finally faces her fear -- with surprising results!


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1063    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

WASH: DOUBLE BOOKED

by AintWeJust

Part 3: Turbulence

This here is the third chapter of a sequel to WASH: CONNECTING FLIGHT, so you might want to go read that first. Just a suggestion. *grin*

As much as she would have liked to be with the group, River needed to be elsewhere. If Zoe’s plan was going to work, everyone had to feel like these men held themselves back just because they should -- that they had the willpower and the basic goodness not to behave like a horde of sexists, rapists and thugs. The funny thing was, River’s initial scan of the crowd revealed that most of the men who worked here would behave themselves, just as Zoe and Inara thought they would. It was the very small percentage that actually were sexists, rapists and thugs that River had to worry about.

All River had to do was keep a lid on those few simmering pots of misogynistic rage and hormonal excess, and stop them from boiling over just long enough for Wash and the ladies to reach the dispatch office, do what needed to be done, and get back to Serenity in one piece.

‘As the Captain would say,’ she muttered to herself, ‘best be about it.’

She moved through the dispatch yard like a ghost. It was partly because of her natural grace and her stillness, and partly because of those abilities the Alliance had enhanced in her to make her become a living weapon. Mostly, she would reach into the minds of the men around her and just make herself ... unnoticed. To the men she touched with her talent, she was a shadow, or a doorway, or a drainpipe -- just another part of the everyday landscape for the eye to pass over and ignore.

###

From on top of the ship, Jayne watched as River flowed around the groups of working men like ... well, like a river around a bunch of rocks. It was pretty, how she moved, almost like she was dancing. But that made it all manner of creepifying, too, since none of the men on the field seemed to see her at all.

He shifted uncomfortably, looking through the scope of the Interceptor with the magnification pulled back so he could watch River dance. When she reached the dispatch shack, she changed her rhythm and seemed to scurry up the side of the wall like a spider to land lightly on the roof. Jayne shuddered. ‘It just ain’t natural to be able to do something like that.’

‘What does that make me, Jayne?’

“Cut that out!”

“Here’s the plan,” River’s voice whispered in his head, and he could almost hear her grinning. “Set the amount of paralyzing agent in each shot for no more than three minutes. We don’t want to leave the crew chiefs with a bunch of unexplained statues where they used to have working men.”

“How do I do that?”

The young girl sighed. “Hit the red recessed button below the sight to switch to operations mode. Go to the main menu, then ammo, then settings. Adjust the slider to three minutes, hit save, and exit. Honestly, Jayne, didn’t you even glance at the manual? It’s right there under your bed in the duffel bag. I read it one night last week when you were lifting weights. It’s not bad.”

“I prefer poking at somethin’ to figure out how it works,” the shooter replied, a little defensively. “And I ain’t never been good at book learnin’.”

“You might want to start thinking about getting good at it, Jayne. A lot of women are attracted to smart men.” As his temper rose a bit, River continued. “And you’re smarter than you let on. I can see it in you. You just need to be able to show it ... and Linda needs to be able to see it.”

Jayne felt himself turning red at the unexpected compliment. “Can we get back to the job?”

“Okay.” Another sigh. “Here’s how it’s going to work. I’m going to read everyone in the crowd and find the troublemakers. I’ll try to keep the men on the edge from going over, and mark the ones you need to paralyze before they explode.”

“And how are you gonna mark ‘em so I can see ‘em?” Jayne growled, looking at her standing there in plain sight while the rest of the world ignored her. ‘It ain’t natural,’ he thought with a scowl.

“It is for me.” He could hear her smiling, and he shook his head and smiled too, just a little. “You’ll see it when it happens. Yellow means they could be trouble, so keep an eye on them. If they turn red, hit them before they do something stupid.”

The shooter grunted and nodded. There was a pause, and then River’s voice spoke again.

“I meant what I said, back in your quarters. If you have questions about why Linda is the way she is, I’m here. I know you’re talking to Mal about women, and that’s fine. But I know things he can’t, and I think you and Linda have ... possibilities. I just want to help you get together, if it’s meant to be.”

Jayne paused, one eyebrow raised. “You mean it?”

“I do.” There was a short pause. “Here they come!”

###

Dolph Trumbauer put down the crate he had been carrying, sweat pouring from his body. His arms and chest were solid slabs of muscle from the hours spent shifting cargo from one point to the next, and that wasn’t a bad thing for a man to be able to say. Still, he wondered whether Mister Berenger might think about getting some decent exo-suits to take the load off. He liked working in the depot, no question -- but a machine assist could make him a lot more productive, and he enjoyed looking at his work sheet at the end of the day and seeing how much he had moved, all by himself.

“With the right exo, I could move twice the weight in half the time,” he said to his friend Yuri, pulling a rag from his hip pocket and mopping his face as he spoke. “A regular Colossus. Boy, that would be something to see.”

The whole yard seemed to fall silent, all at once. The forklifts and loaders they did have coughed and died, and everything suddenly went very still.

Spasebo!” Yuri breathed, his voice just barely above a whisper. He nudged Dolph’s arm. “Talk about something to see ...”

Dolph turned, and watch four angels walk out of the cargo bay door of the Firefly-class boat on pad three. They glided down the ramp and into his heart with an ease that made him ask himself why there was no woman in his life, and how he could ever find someone like this to share his days and warm his nights. These women ... they seemed to embody the essence of what men think of when they think of woman. They walked past dozens of working men like they owned the yard, and headed for the dispatch hut with a stride that left no doubt they knew where they were going.

For a moment, Dolph remembered when he was so much younger. He had always been a big reader, and had even written poetry for a while – some of it pretty darned good, too. He had secretly wanted to go to college and learn more, until he made the mistake of mentioning it where his father could hear. The man had beaten Dolph until schooling and poetry were the furthest things from his mind, and his ambition had stayed locked away for twenty years or more.

Until today, when the poet in Dolph’s soul rose up and tried to paint these women with words.

‘There’s the elegant one, dressed in white, fair of face wth a noble’s grace,’ he thought, ‘And the one in purple, strong and true, with beauty and loyalty none can undo.’

Every man followed their every step, their eyes full of fantasies. Dolph looked at the woman in the stained jumpsuit, with a warm smile on her face

‘That one tastes like strawberry wine -- a burst of light when the sun doesn’t shine.’ The loader smiled and turned his attention to the one beside her in a yellow sundress. She almost seemed to hesitate, even as she moved forward.

‘That redhead,’ he mused, ‘so pretty, yet so unsure ... is she afraid, or just demure?’

Dolph paused a moment, thinking about that last line.

‘She’s not shy,’ he realized. ‘She’s frightened. But why? What could she be afraid of?’

He turned slowly, looking at the men struck dumb by the parade of beauty. Some of them were openly leering, and Dolph could almost see the lust pouring from their bodies in waves, their eyes glistening with barely suppressed desire.

‘Us,’ he thought, the idea coming first as a surprise, then as so much a certainty he almost kicked himself for not seeing it sooner. ‘She’s scared of us!’

It made him sad, that such a pretty woman could fear him without even knowing his name. Then he looked around again, thinking that maybe she wasn’t wrong to be afraid at all.

He knew some of these men didn’t like pretty women at all ... or strong women, for that matter. Oh, they wanted the beautiful ones, to be sure, but they seldom managed to charm any of them, because their manners were coarse and their overtures rude. Eventually, they came to see every woman as a tease, dangling a vision of something they could never have just out of reach. This frustration made them angry ... and sometimes violent.

He’d seen ‘em on a few trips to what passed for a major city on this Alliance-heavy rock. They always tried to take the ladies down a peg, getting rougher and rougher until whatever establishment they were in kicked them out. Then they would wait in the street until the women left, only to follow them with words (and sometimes hands) until the local police stopped them and sent them on their way.

As Dolph watched, the crowd became more and more excited. The men began talking to each other, and he began to worry about the angels from that transport. As the rumbling of voices started growing louder, his eyes kept scanning the freight yard. Before he realized he was moving, he had started pushing through the crowd towards the dispatch hut, and the worry turned to fear.

Because there wasn’t any law enforcement to speak of in the Berenger depot, but there were more than enough idiots to go around. And it only took one to start a riot.

###

Jayne kept his eye on the Interceptor’s scope and tried real hard not to look at the four ladies walking across the field. He was supposed to be keepin’ ‘em safe, but they were enough of a distraction all by themselves to make savin’ ‘em harder than it oughta be. He gave ‘em one look when they left the cargo bay, just to make sure River was right.

‘Of course I’m right, Jayne. Keep your eyes on the crowd.’

He did what she said. Eyes on the crowd. She was right. He wasn’t gonna save anybody watchin’ the ladies. He was in this to keep Linda and the rest safe, and that’s what River wanted, too. So he listened. Didn’t mean he liked her poking around in his head, even if it was for a good reason.

There were a few folks out in the crowd colored yellow, but no reds yet. Jayne didn’t want to think too hard about how deep inside his head River had to be to do something like this, but it sure made his job easier.

The ladies walked into view, and he pulled back on the scope’s mag to take in a wider view.

‘Some of the crowd’s still yellow,’ he thought, ‘but I’m thinkin’ a few of ‘em are getting a mite orangy around the edges. Is she supposed to be doin’ orangy?’

“JAYNE!”

The shooter felt his whole body tense, and his trigger finger twitched.

“Gorram it, Mal,” he growled, forcing all his muscles to relax. “I almost wasted a trank on some poor idjit juss standin’ there watching the parade go by.”

“What the hell are you doin’ up here?”

“Watchin’ the ground crew get all heated up through this dumb-ass piece of Alliance plastic,” Jayne replied, his eyes not leaving the scope. “Tryin’ to look out for the ladies without lookin’ like I’m tryin’ to look out for ‘em.”

“Why?”

“Cause River said Zoe’s got some damn fool idea in her head about showin’ Linda she don’t hafta be afraid of every guy, just ‘cause a what happened on the Skyplex. Inara and Kaylee went, too. Hell if I know why.”

Mal stepped forward and looked down at the procession making its way across the compound. “Huh,” he said, as his thoughts ran to catch up with the rest of him. “Inara, too. Showin’ me she can go where she wants to, I reckon. Like I didn’t already know that.”

“Zoe wants to throw Linda into a pit full of men and show her they can keep their hands to themselves.” Jayne snorted. “I ain’t sayin’ it’s the worst plan in the Verse, but I guess I’m just here makin’ sure they keep their distance, ‘cause River knows some of ‘em won’t.

The captain thought for a second, then nodded slowly. “Like getting’ back up on a horse that threw ya.”

Jayne squinted and cocked his head. “In a dress?”

Mal smiled, remembering saying the same thing to Zoe a few minutes ago. “If that what it takes.”

He walked over and stood beside Jayne, watching as the ladies approached the dispatch office. “Look at ‘em, Jayne. Takes all manner of courage to go through the world lookin’ that good without being afraid some man’s gonna try to scare you, bully you, or make a toy outta you, juss ‘cause they think they can. You and me, we make our way and don’t think twice, ‘cause most folk know enough not to try and push us too hard.”

The mercenary grinned, still watching the crowd through the scope. “Gorram right. Not if they know what’s good for ‘em.”

Mal continued, almost thinking aloud. “But womenfolk go through life havin’ to be better, all the while pretendin’ they ain’t afraid that some sah gwa with too many muscles and too little sense decides he wants a poke and won’t take no for an answer. I think Linda just forgot how not to be afraid. I guess Zoe and Inara and Kaylee ...”

“And me.” River’s voice echoed in both of their heads.

“And you, little Albatross ... they want to remind her that it ain’t as bad out there as she thinks it is.”

“Only it is that bad,” Jayne muttered, “or I wouldn’t be here, waitin’ for some ruttin’ fool to get stupid.”

“One hundred sixty seven men, and only eight of them could be trouble,” River said from her vantage point on the building across the way. Jayne watched as eight of the men glowed orange for a moment, and suppressed a shudder. “The captain’s right. It isn’t as bad as Linda thinks it is.”

“Well, if everyone would just shut up a while, maybe I could do my job and convince her its true, even if it ain’t.” Jayne settled back down behind the gun, muttering to himself. “Then she’ll get back to the boat thinkin’ all the men in the Verse are church-goin’ Sunday school teachers. Until one of them grabs a piece of her that ain’t up for grabs."

The shooter rolled his shoulders and tried to loosen up some, as the women walked the last ten feet into the dispatch office.

“Halfway home,” he whispered, a trickle of sweat making its way down his back. “Get back quick, Linda, afore somethin’ goes wrong.”

###

The inside of the dispatch office was a peculiar mix of the latest Core technology, a forest of paper forms and folders, and the usual clutter produced by men who don't have anyone to impress with either cleanliness or attention to detail. Used food and drink containers mixed with ancient alerts from Alliance traffic control, covering every flat surface, along with discarded animated newspads from a hundred Alliance worlds.

Zev, the older of the two on duty that day, was a graying Buddha of a man, balding with a long mustache and a wispy beard. He was built like a scaled-down version of a sumo wrestler, and looked like one as he hunkered down over a collection of monitors that tracked everything from Boros space command intercepts and local traffic control to loading completion and dispatch assignments.

Viktor, the other man in the dispatch center, was small, thin, and pale, with dark, wild hair, sunken eyes and a sharp chin. His job was to keep the crews on task and the cargo in the depot flowing smoothly, and his eyes darted from monitor to monitor to make sure the crews were doing their jobs.

Only they weren't. They were standing around, their heads turning to follow something moving through the center of the dispatch yard. Viktor kept switching from camera to camera to try to see what it was they were looking at, but he always seemed to switch views too late.

He turned up the sensitivity of the external microphones, only to receive another shock. There was dead silence for a few seconds, and the men started talking softly, apparently commenting on whatever they were looking at, but in tones too low to be distinguishable as individual words. Viktor growled to himself and turned to his partner.

With a genial laugh, Zev sat back in his seat, his headset perched upon his head like a black preying mantis carved from plastic and metal.

“So den Viktor asks her if she's just flyin' urr if she's really ON duh stick,” he said to the dispatcher at the Hung Dao depot a few hundred klicks away. “Yoo shoulda hurd hur pitchun ah fit!” He laughed again, bigger the second time. Frustrated, Viktor picked up an empty bottle of Blue Sun Cola and threw it at the back of Zev's head. It bounced off and hit the tile floor with a clatter, and Zev spun around and gave the other man a stern look.

“Wut duh hull iz yur prublum, Viktor?”

“My problem? MY problem?” Viktor jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the depot monitors. “WE got a ground crew full of meat mannikins out there instead of men moving cargo.”

Zev raised his eyebrows in confusion, and Viktor raised his voice in response.

“There's a hundred sixty men just standin' around the depot like statues,” he said, “and when Mister Berenger sees that nothing is getting done, he's not going to care whose fault it is. He's not going to care about ANYTHING but the bottom line, and how WE let productivity drop to zero in the middle of a work day. So it's OUR problem, Zev. Not mine, OURS.”

The older man stared at his partner for a few seconds, then glanced at the depot monitors before turning to his own station and pulled up the camera displays.

“Dey'ur luukin at sumtin, yah,” he said, switching from camera to camera. “I canna see anyting, doh.”

As he kept looking, Zev became more and more frustrated he muttered, “Wut wur dey luukin at?”

An unquestionably female voice came from the doorway. “That would be us.”

Both men turned towards the sound and found four women standing there, three dressed for a night on the town and a fourth in a mechanic’s jumpsuit that hugged her curves. The fourth one reminded Viktor of Ludmilla, the girl he left behind on New Smolensk. Of course, Milla never looked quite as good in her jumpsuit, which is probably why Viktor left, but still ...

The redhead with the figure that didn't stop seemed to stumble forward, and turned to the woman in the jumpsuit behind her with an annoyed look on her face, as if she'd been pushed. Standing up straight, she turned back to the two men.

“I'm the pilot of Tranquility, the Firefly-class over on pad three,” she said, her voice loud and strong. “I need the manifests, dispatch logs, and scheduled departure times, please.”

“Yur deh pilot? DAT pilot??” Zev stood up, a huge smile spreading across his face. “Gurl, you made my day, dat’s fur damn suur. Gave yu greef, und yu turn ‘roun’ und giff bak’ as gud as you got, und den sum. Been tellin’ the utter disbachers ‘bout yu, how yu damned neer ripped us boat a new vun, ain’t dat right, Viktor? If I had a hat on, I’d take it off t’ yu, und dat’s a fact.”

Viktor stood up, too, grinning like a loon. “You sure shut us down. I ain’t been slapped so hard long distance since I called my best girl Carla on a comm call.” His eyes twinkled. “Her name was Ludmilla.”

Both men laughed, and Wash found her lips twitching into a half smile in spite of herself.

‘These were the men I was afraid of?’ she wondered, as Viktor started bringing up the documents on the system and setting them to print.

“We’ll have you squared away in no time,” Viktor said, “even though we’d love to have you stay a while.”

“Dammed straight! Yoo giff us sometin’ bettah to look at den dose fellahs outside,” Zev rumbled, jerking a thumb at the central display. “Boring times infinity, yoo bet. We culdn’t wait fur yu to show up.”

“Then why were you so mean to her on the comms?” Kaylee burst out. The pilot turned around, having completely forgotten about her companions.

Viktor grinned.

“It breaks up the monotony,” he replied. “No offense to the pretty pilot here, but we’re pretty much rude to all the pilots, because ... well, because they’re pilots!”

Zev nodded. “Dey’re always so full of demselves, deh ‘kings uf deh sky!’” He snorted, and his eyes twinkled. “Viktor und I, we tink uf it as a public survice to take dem down a few notches when dey fly into dis depot.”

“The first time Zev rips ‘em up, most of them are so surprised that their brains shut off.” Viktor shook his head. “But you ... you handed it back as fast as we dealt it. Shoulda figured a woman wouldn’t put up with that sort of sh -- uh, talk.”

There was a sudden beeping from Zev’s console, and he dropped back into his seat and swiveled around to face the microphone. He flicked a switch with the back of his hand.

“Oh, its yoo, Toshi,” he roared with a grin that woudn’t quit. “Since I know yoo, I’m not surprised when yoo show up like dis tree hours outside yur pick-up window, und I bet yur pro’bly so drunk yur seein’ five depots when der’s only one. Tell yah what, doh ... if yoo ken pick deh right depot and put dat rat trap yoo call a ship down on pad five without turnin’ it into scrap metal, I got a few containers needin’ movin’ t’ Whitefall. But if yoo crash und burn in my yard, all bets ur off.”

Zev flipped the switch closed, then swiveled back to face the ladies, still smiling.

“See?” Viktor almost laughed, but managed to keep it inside. “Zev’s an equal opportunity offender!”

Zoe came up behind Linda and touched her shoulder. The pilot bowed her head.

“I feel so silly now,” she whispered. “Just a little teasing, and I fall apart.”

“Hush, now,” Zoe replied, her tone a little fierce. “It was more than these two, and you know it. You had leftover baggage from the Skyplex weighing you down, not to mention Kaylee’s stunt with the dress.”

There was a muted “hey!” from behind them. Both women ignored it.

“Besides,” the first mate went on, smiling. “How could you possibly know they were a pair of harmless idiots before you met them?”

Both men looked at the two women, clearly confused.

“Is something wrong?” Viktor took a step forward.

“Linda was almost raped at gunpoint a few weeks ago,” Kaylee replied.

Both Zoe and Linda turned and spoke as one. “Kaylee!”

“Well, you were!” she protested, “And it don’t make much sense to keep it a secret if these two sah gwa want to know why you’re so upset.”

Linda glared at her. “MY secret to tell, péng gū niang.

Inara stepped forward. “Your teasing brought back how she felt then, and made her feel . . . weak. And scared. We came with her to provide a little moral support when she came to get our paperwork.”

Kaylee snorted. “She didn’t expect to find two wán nán rén playing silly games.”

The two men looked at each other, then back at the women. Zev sighed, then rose and took a few steps to the pilot.

“Nee ta ma duh tyen-shia suo-yo duh run doh gai si,” he muttered. Then, taking her hands in his, he looked into her eyes. “I um sorry ve said anyting to disdress yoo. We didn’t know, or we wuldn’t haff said wat we said.”

“We didn’t mean to hurt you,” Viktor said. “We just figured that, since you’re a pilot, you’d have the same planet-sized ego all the other pilots have. We’re sorry.”

Both men looked so sad, Linda couldn’t help but smile. She shook her head and gave Zev’s hands a squeeze.

“Apologies accepted,” she said, and the two dispatchers visibly relaxed. “No real harm done, after all. I expect I’ll have more than a few rough times ahead getting over ... what happened. You just happened to hit me when I was feeling it more.”

“Well, we were really impressed with how fast you came back at us, Miss Linda,” Viktor said, turning back to finish processing the paperwork. “I sure wouldn’t call you weak, not after feeling the sharp edge of your tongue.”

“Ya, dat’s true,” Zev agreed, letting go of Linda’s hands and slipping his in his pockets. “If dat’s yoo when yur feelin’ weak, I be shoor ta stay a few clicks outta range when yur at yur peak.”

Viktor started hitting some keys. “I’m going to put your ship at the head of the line, ladies ... get you loaded and cleared as quick as I can. It’s the least we can do to make up for our rudeness.”

“Thank you,” Inara replied, fidgeting slightly. “Our captain is anxious to get back out in the black.”

“With uh crew full uf such beeyoutiful women, that’s no surprise,” Zev grinned. “After all, out dere he can keep all dis beauty to himself.”

Zoe walked over and put her arm around Inara.

“Well, Inara here is more than enough beauty for the Captain,” she said with a smile. “And Kaylee there has got the ship's doctor keepin' his eyes on her vitals, right enough. Linda's got herself a man, too ... though whether she plans to keep him or not is still up in the air. But I thank you for the compliment, from all of us.”

Zev took a sheaf of paper from the printer and handed it to Linda with a flourish.

“I'll get sum loaders out dere to put deh cargo on yur boat,” he said, glancing up at one of the overhead monitors and shaking his head. “If I ken ever get dem to start movin’ again. You ladies damn near shut down deh yard, un dat’s a fact.”

“And we probably will again on the way back.” Inara sighed. “I'm glad that's all that happened, though.”

“Don’t be too sure it’s over,” Viktor said, looking up at Inara. “There are men in that crew out there I wouldn't trust within a hundred miles of a good-looking woman – and they're a damned sight closer than that. You've got a long walk back across the yard, and a lot can happen between here and there.”

###

The situation in the dispatch hut having resolved itself well, River turned her attention back to the yard. She tried to see through the rising waves of lust and excitement to find the ones she had singled out before, but she hadn’t counted on the raw power of the primal emotions rising from the crowd. Trying to single out the dangerous ones from the emotional “ground clutter” was pushing her to the limit of her gift, and River began to feel overwhelmed.

‘Not quite so easy to control events, is it?’ Chiang’s mental voice held just a touch of mockery. ‘Maybe it’s not a game for amateurs.’

‘I never said it was easy, old man,’ she replied through gritted teeth, watching as the women left the dispatch hut and started back across the yard. ‘The Verse was born in chaos. For all our talk of a natural order, the Verse thrives on confusion and coincidence, laughs at cause and effect, and thinks all our plans and schemes mean nothing. It’s full of messy people living their messy lives and making all the wrong choices for the wrong reasons, every minute of every day.’

‘Then why try to change anything?’

‘Because we can. Because nothing worth doing is ever easy. And because if a job is hard, you try harder, and do better.’

‘And still fail?’ River could hear the smile behind Chiang’s words.

‘Sometimes,’ she said. ‘But you’re going to fail anyway if you don’t try, Gladys. Now I’m busy. Bizui and let me work.’

Unfortunately, Chiang’s distraction was enough. River’s concentration wavered, just for an instant. It turned out to be an instant too long.

###

Viktor’s prediction was all too accurate. Fifty feet from the dispatch hut door, two men stepped out of the crowd in front of them, blocking the way back to Serenity. The women stopped, almost as one.

The taller of the two, stepped forward and cleared his throat.

“Ladies, allow me to introduce myself,” he said, staring down at Linda. The smile that followed was little more than a barely disguised leer, made more obvious by where his eyes rested. “My name’s Dalton Sweeney, and I know you’re gonna want to remember it, ‘cause me and my friends here plan to show you the best time you ever had, right here.”

Linda looked up at him, her face an emotionless mask. “I’m sorry, but we can’t stay. We’re on a tight schedule.”

“Aww, but it’s been so long since anybody as purty as you came visitin’, we’re thinkin’ you’ll stay awhile, git better acquainted.” He put a hand on her shoulder, and she looked at it as if it was some kind of alien insect.

“And we’re thinking we’ve got deliveries to make, and very little time to make ‘em,” she replied evenly, her heart pounding in her chest. “Nothing personal, Mr. Sweeney. Just orders. Our ship’s a freighter. We pickup and we deliver. That’s how we make our way. So when the captain says we fly, we fly. Dong-luh-mah?”

“I could have a word with your captain,” Sweeney looked down at the pilot. “Make him see its better off for him if you stay awhile, keep us happy.”

Zoe moved forward to stand beside Linda, and smiled slowly.

“I see you don’t know the Captain very well, and that’s a shame,” she said. “He’s not about to do anything to keep you happy ... and trying will only make him mad.”

Sweeney shifted his eyes to her, and his smile became more vicious than sexual. “Then maybe we don’t load your boat until we have some time alone with you all.” He took a step closer to Linda, and she looked up at him, afraid but refusing to take a step back. “Hell, maybe we just take your boat until he lets us do what we want with you.”

“Oh, that’s a bad idea,” Kaylee piped up helpfully. “I remember one idiot who tried to ‘take our boat.’ Cap’n wound up kicking him into the port engine . . . while it was running. After that, wasn’t much left of him but an awful stink and a bad memory. It was a couple of trips across the system afore we finally lost the smell.”

“Well, your captain isn’t here now, is he?” Sweeney sneered. “It’s just you, and us.”

He motioned in the air, and two more men appeared behind the women. “You can’t go forward, and you can’t go back. So why not come play nice while you still have a choice?”

###

“Gorram it, those idjits ain’t even yellow!’ Jayne swore, trying to get a clear shot at the men. “If I woulda known they was targets, I coulda tapped ‘em with the re ... recog ... with the part that lets the shots know how to find ‘em. Then I coulda juss shot up in the air and let the gun do the work.”

He turned to Mal to complain, but all he saw was the hatch closing. He turned back to the scope and kept trying for a shot. ANY shot.

“River!” he almost shouted. “Ai-yah Tyen-ah! Where ARE you, girl? We got trouble.”

Suddenly there was her voice, echoing in his head. ‘It’s okay, Jayne. Stand down. It’s okay.’

“No, it’s not!” he shot back. “Damn it, open your eyes.”

‘I don’t need them,’ River replied. ‘I can see it all from here. More than you. So don’t worry. Everything is going to be fine.’

The mercenary looked up at the sky and growled. “How do you KNOW that?”

‘Because I know. Trust me.’

Jayne shook himself like a wet dog, then leaned back over the Interceptor’s scope. “Like I have a gorram choice,” he muttered.

###

“The gentlemen in the dispatch hut might have something to say about how you’re treating us.” Inara gave him a scathing look. “You do work for them, you know.”

“We work for Mister Berenger.” One of the other men spoke up. “He knows what women are for, and he knows when to look the other way. Anyway, Zev and Viktor ain’t comin’ to help anybody. There’s only one door in and out, and we got it covered.”

Linda glanced back to see two large men holding the door closed, and she could hear the two dispatchers banging on it. She turned back to see Sweeney smiling, and it suddenly raised an unexpected emotion in her ... something that seemed to bring Wash and the Linda-That-Was together in a way they’d only been once before.

She was angry. No, she’d gone way past angry, and moved clear into a furious, blinding rage.

###

Sweeney felt a savage kind of joy, knowing he’d managed to put these bitches in their place and his smile widened, thinking of this redhead on her knees before him.

It lasted all of two seconds, before her fist collided with his chin.

He staggered backward, his hand coming up towards his face, just in time to see her foot slam into his groin with every ounce of strength she could muster. It hurt so badly he couldn’t even scream, just whine as both hands sunk towards the source of infinite agony that used to be his testicles.

The other three men stood there, stunned, as their leader curled up into a fetal ball on the dusty ground. Sweeney’s companion took one look at Linda’s face, glanced behind her, and stepped back, his hands in the air.

The pilot turned, and saw Zoe standing there with two small pistols in her outstretched hands, ready to shoot anything that moved. Inara’s bracelets had somehow become a matching pair of daggers, and from the way she was standing, it was pretty clear she knew how to use them.

And Kaylee stood behind them both, holding what appeared to be the mother-of-all wrenches. She was trying to look fierce, but to Wash, she just looked like a kitten trying to frighten a pack of bulldogs. No matter what, she was still just Kaylee.

‘And she always will be,’ the pilot thought, suppressing a smile. After a second, her anger resurfaced and she turned back to face the crowd.

“Listen up!” she shouted, fists clenched. “You have absolutely no idea who you’re dealing with here. I’m just a gorram pilot, but I put him down fast enough. And I’ll do the same to anyone who tries what he tried. Maybe we aren’t a match for a hundred men. Hell, maybe we aren’t a match for twenty. But three of us are armed, two of us are downright dangerous, and all of us are angry. So you WILL get the hell out of our way, or you will learn exactly why it’s a bad idea to get between any woman . . . and her home.”

It was so quiet, she could clearly hear Zev cursing on the other side of the dispatch door. Then a mountain of a man stepped up behind the two men between them and the dispatch hut and lifted them clear off of the ground, holding them both by the back of the neck.

“Ain’t none of us going to do anything but wish you all well, miss,” Dolph said, his voice betraying no special effort. “These yuán wò don’t speak for us, and never will. We apologize for their actions. They have disgraced us all, pretty ladies, and they will be punished for it.” He raised his voice. “Isn’t that right, gents?”

The crowd answered with a roar that stunned the women, and Dolph grinned. Spinning around, he tossed both of Sweeney’s men up into the air. The workers on either side of the path caught them as they fell and lifted them high, passing them from man to man across the dispatch yard until they disappeared from sight.

The two men by the dispatch hut doors had tried to slip away, but the men closest to them grabbed and held them both as the dispatchers finally wrenched the door open and stepped outside.

“Yu and yu,” Zev roared, his face red with fury. “Yuur SO fired, I’m surprised there ain’t nothing but a smoking spot where yu used to be standin’!”

Viktor turned to the ones holding them. “You two – throw ‘em all inna crate until we can figure out where to send ‘em – and if they give you any trouble, send ‘em back to their next of kin in a unpressurized cargo drone, cash on delivery.”

Another cheer rose from the rest of the men as the two were hustled away.

Dolph walked over, picked Sweeney up, and pitched his whimpering body out into the crowd overhand like a giant beach ball. Then he looked at Sweeney’s other man. The thug looked up at Dolph, shrugged, and faded back into the mass of workers on the edge of the path.

The huge loader turned to Linda and the others and bowed once.

“We aren’t all like them, miss,” he said softly. “I saw you walking across the yard to the hut, and it made me sad that you were so afraid. You don’t have to be frightened, or angry, around any of us. We’re all just people, that’s all. Most of us good people, most of the time.”

Dolph ducked his head and grinned. “A little rougher around the edges than you ladies, I think, but still just people all the same.”

Zev came over and clapped Dolph on the shoulder. “Trumbauer! The ladies need to be loaded and gone, so we’re shiftin’ dem up the queue. Grab some of the best we got and hustle ovur to pahd tree.”

“Yes, boss,” Dolph replied.

###

Inside, Wash felt surprisingly whole. Her body and soul were closer than they had ever been, and it almost seemed as if the rage that Sweeney brought forward in her had also brought them both to a common ground.

But it wasn’t the rage that united them. It was what Wash had discovered about who she was now, and what she was capable of. Her courage was still there, and the part of her that made her such a damned fine pilot – the part that knew how risky some things are, and did ‘em anyway. Because you had to, to be who you were. Who you are. And who you wanted to be.

For the first time in a while, she felt comfortable in her own skin – probably because the part of Wash that had been holding back finally knew it was her own skin.

She stood there, in that summer dress she knew was pretty and those silly heels that she vowed she’d never wear again. She felt the fabric wrapping every curve, and accepted that those curves well and truly belonged to her, for the rest of her stay in the Verse. And everything finally came together in a way that left her in no doubt as to who she was – who she truly was, and who she was meant to be, now.

‘I am a woman,’ she thought, a small smile slipping onto her lips. ‘And that means whatever I want it to mean, nothing more or less. I don’t have to be anything I don’t want to be. I don’t have to be afraid, and I sure as hell don’t have to live my life on anyone’s terms but my own. And that’s as it should be.’

And just like that, the parts of Wash that worried about what being a woman would mean to the rest of her life were gone – or at least had quieted down enough for now to let her figure it out as she went along.

She was still Wash, all the way down to her core. But the parts of Linda that still lingered seemed to accept her as part of them ... provisionally. And Wash accepted them, as well as all of Linda’s history they brought along.

Provisionally.

There was still a long road ahead for both of them, but Wash and the Linda-That-Was had gone a long way towards becoming one. And to Wash, that felt just fine.

###

There was the sound of boots running hard on the packed surface of the freight yard, and Mal came into view down the open path between the dispatch hut and the ship. When he saw everyone standing around like a gorram tea party, he realized that his full-tilt run from Serenity may have been a mite uncalled for. With an odd shuffle and a previously undiscovered grace, the captain managed to turn his run into an easy amble with enough time to stumble to a lazy stop and hitch his thumbs on his gun belt.

“Ladies,” he said, cocking his head. “I was wonderin’ what was keepin’ you. With us wanting to be on our merry so quick and all, I woulda thought you’d been back by now.”

“We were on our way, Sir.” Zoe threw him a quick smile, her guns back where they had been hidden before she drew them. “In fact, the dispatcher just moved us to the head of the queue for loading, so we should be gone within an hour.”

“Shiny,” the captain replied, feeling a lot of tension slip from his body. “For once, a plan goes smooth.”

Inara walked over to Mal and slipped her arm in his, her bracelets once again just bracelets.

“How about walking a pretty girl home, Captain Reynolds?”

“it would be my honor,” he said, throwing her a half-bow with a small click of his heels. Then Mal grinned. “Just as soon as someone tells me why Kaylee is holdin’ that wrench of hers like she’s plannin’ to hit something.”

“This?” Kaylee looked down at her hands, almost surprised to find herself holding the tool. Then she looked back at the captain and smiled. “I only brought it along in case somebody needed fixin’.”

Mal cocked his head. “Don’t you mean ‘somethin’, Kaylee girl?”

She just smiled that little smile of hers and pushed past them both to wander back toward the ship, her wrench resting on her shoulder like a parasol.

“I’d best see to the loading, Sir,” Zoe headed after Kaylee with a purposeful stride that looked just as powerful in a slinky dress as it did in her working clothes. Mal and Inara turned to follow, but the captain looked back at his pilot.

“Comin’, Linda?” he asked.

“In a second, Cap’n,” she replied with a smile. The pilot turned her smile on Dolph, and his eyes widened. “Thank you ... for stepping in the way you did.”

“It’s what a man does,” Dolph answered slowly, “if he wants to be the kind of man worthy of a woman like you.”

Wash found herself blushing. “You don’t know me,” she said. “You have no idea who I am.”

The loader looked down at her and smiled. “I know you are brave enough to walk across a field full of men, even when your fear made you white as a ghost. I know you are strong enough to face down someone like Sweeney, even surrounded by men twice your size. And I know you are fierce enough to challenge a hundred men to a fight you couldn’t possibly win.”

He reached down and took her hand in his, and his touch was surprisingly soft. She turned a deeper red.

“I know you well enough to know that I truly don’t know you at all.” Dolph looked into her eyes, and she saw his sadness. “And I know you well enough to mourn that I will probably never get the chance to know you better.”

“Mr. Trumbauer!” she said with a smile. “You’re a poet!”

“Once upon a time,” he replied. “A long time ago. Not anymore.”

“Still, I think.” She squeezed his hand. “And before you decide to mourn missed opportunities, we DO have a ship to load, and a walk across the field to reach her. We have the time to at least get started knowing each other better ... if you’d like.”

“It’d be my pleasure,” Dolph replied, “but please ... call me Dolph.” He offered her his arm. Without a thought, the pilot slipped her arm through his and gave it a squeeze.

“Dolph,” she said as they started back towards the ship. “And it’s not like I’m flying off on a suicide mission or anything. It’s just a gorram delivery, after all. And it’s a small Verse, when you think of it – at least the parts we can reach.” She grinned. “We may meet again.”

As they followed the rest of the crew, the pilot bumped Dolph’s shoulder with her head. “So tell me, Mr. Trumbauer ... Dolph ... how does a poet get biceps like these, anyway?”

Dolph chuckled. “Lifting dictionaries, splitting infinitives with an axe on cold winter mornings, and thinking heavy thoughts, Miss ...?”

“Linda,” Wash said without missing a beat. Then she smiled and shook her head. “Just call me Linda.”

###

© 2009 as a work in progress. The universe belongs to Joss Whedon, I'm just borrowin' it some. Posted by the author.

COMMENTS

Wednesday, October 7, 2009 12:04 PM

NUTLUCK


Nice to see the next part up.

Thursday, October 8, 2009 2:57 AM

JANE0904


I love that you were able to show Linda/Wash that all men aren't the kind of rabid animals that need putting down, but I think it's going to be increasingly interesting that Linda's feelings are coming more to the fore - what is she/he going to be like when and if he/she ever gets around to that 'first time'? And how does Jayne feel about all this flirting she/he's starting to do?


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