Back Stories Book 3, Chapter 10
Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Serenity assumes a new name with a reduced crew, as the “legally questionable” must find a separate means of travel.


Back Stories Book 3 Chapter 10

Many thanks to desertgirl for the beta read.

Disclaimer: It belongs to Joss and all those business people. I'm just playing. Though I do claim the T-hed shuttle for myself.

Links: The Fish Job, Easy Tickets, BS Book I, BS Book II, BS Book III, Chapter 1. Timing, pairings, and canon blurbs are in my FFF blog.

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On Serenity (now the Argus) :

The main engines fired as soon as the ship cleared atmo. Wash tightened his grip on the controls and the swirling blue world below swung out of the cockpit’s view, but New Melbourne’s traffic control made one last transmission:

Firefly Argus, have a good journey to Oeneus. And walk soft, Captain. It’s a tinderbox out there.

The reply came in Shepherd Book’s gravelly voice. “We’ll do what we can.”

As soon as the comm connection was cut with a sharp snap of a switch, Kaylee swiveled the co-pilot’s chair. She cut her eyes at the preacher and snorted. “Captain.

Wash glanced over his shoulder; Book stood in the center of Serenity’s small bridge with one hand still hanging from the comm controls. His head was tilted in thought and a small smile played on his lips. “The day I booked passage on this ship,” he said, “I hadn’t an inkling that I’d someday be the captain of it.”

“Wasn’t exactly part of the fare,” Kaylee agreed with a grin.

Wash snapped on the autopilot and leaned back in his seat. “We have some strange rules for rank change around here,” he muttered. The preacher’s new title was meaningless, merely a part to be played during the ship’s current crisis, but Wash couldn’t resist playing up the bitterness of being passed over for promotion.

Book wasn’t sympathetic to the pilot’s disappointment. He reared back proudly and lifted his chin. “I like to think it has to do with my air of age and wisdom.”

“Yeah, all that gray hair,” Wash said, then he turned to Kaylee. “Is that it? Is that why I'm still a bottom-rung, opinion-never-heard pilot after all these years? Because my tresses are too youthful?"

He patted the straw-colored hair in question, but Kaylee's reply followed a different line. Her thoughts seemed to be tending toward something other than the men’s petty power struggle. “It's more about Zoë bein’ too busy to bother with runnin’ the comm herself,” she said absently, her eyes on the windows. “Wish I could be helpful to her, but mysterious powders that hurt people ain’t something I know about. And I’m right glad I don’t!”

“What’s this?” Book asked with a look of concern. He’d been away from the bay when the ship’s current cargo was delivered, busy helping the others prepare for their separate journey. Wash had told the Shepherd that Zoë was staying on the ship instead of Jayne, but he hadn’t taken the time to explain why. He wasn’t looking forward to the religious man’s reaction, even if such a dirty job hadn’t been taken by choice.

“I don’t know much,” Kaylee said. “Zoë came askin’ me and Simon for any equipment that’d help her figure out what exactly it is we’re carrying.” At Book’s deepening frown, she explained further.

“I guess guns ain’t good enough for Kamath. He’s got something mixed into bags of rice flour, something to make folks sick is what I think, and Zoë does too. Simon got her started running tests, but then he had to run off with Inara to catch the ferry.”

“I… see,” Book said.

“I sure hope Zoë finds a way to make it not do whatever it’s supposed to,” Kaylee went on. “She’s a smart lady, and saw all kinds of things in the war. Might be she can work something out to spoil Kamath’s plans.”

The bridge fell into silence while the captain (in name only) stood tapping his fingers against his leg. After a few thoughtful, frowning seconds, he nodded to Wash.

“Let me know if you need me. Otherwise, I believe I may be of service to Zoë.”

Kaylee’s mouth fell open as Book turned and left the bridge. She leaned toward Wash as soon as the preacher’s footsteps faded. “Sometimes,” she said in a hushed voice, “it scares me to think of the information livin’ in our Shepherd’s head.”

Wash nodded his agreement. “But he is helpful.”

“Sure is. Especially now. He’ll make sure we don’t deliver any kind of chem-bio-nasty-weapon. Can you imagine? Bein’ part a’ something like that? I don’t think I’d be able to sleep for the rest of my life!” She sat back in her chair, drew her knees up, and stared out into the Black.

“Zoë seems to sleep all right,” Wash murmured under his breath, wondering again how his wife had come across such expertise. He couldn’t recall any stories of first-hand encounters with chemical weapons during the war, not the kind where she'd learn how to use them.

Thankfully, Kaylee didn’t hear his words, and he was left to stew over the question of Zoë’s experience on his own. Not that Kaylee seemed any more cheerfully engaged. But, after a few minutes, she sighed her frown and her dark thoughts away. “At least Book’s havin’ fun with the whole captain thing,” she said with a renewed smile.

“It is apt,” Wash admitted. “A good part for him. All that age and wisdom. And gray hair. Speaking of parts—what do you think of Simon being a married man?” He glanced sidelong at Kaylee, wondering if Simon’s cover had set a jealousy bug scuttling through the love-struck young mechanic.

Kaylee only shrugged and smiled. “I think it’s a good idea. Him and Inara look real nice together.” Wash raised a brow, a reaction that Kaylee noticed.

“What? It ain’t real. Don’t bug me none.” She leaned back in her chair and put her feet up on the dark console. “`Sides, we all know that Inara’s heart is full up…” She stopped there, as if giving a Wash a chance to argue. He wasn’t about to; he preferred to avoid discussing the captain's love life.

“I just hope Simon’s up to it,” he said. “I know he’s cute as a button and you think he’s Mr. Good At Everything, but as far as acting…”

To his surprise, Kaylee nodded agreement. “Don’t need to explain to me that words ain’t his power suit. But Inara’s got acting skills enough to cover for the both of `em. They’ll be all right.”

* * *

“Oh, look dear!” Simon said in a crooning voice that Inara had never heard pass his lips. “A T-Hed shuttle! Who’d have thought they had such a thing out here?”

“We’re traveling on that?” Inara demanded shrilly. She frowned and imagined chewing on a sour cud. Her performance was aided by real life inspiration; the interplanetary ferry they were preparing to board was not much to look at. A jumble of tanks and pipes and blocky machinery jutted out of the water at the end of a long pier, as if a set of enormous building blocks had been piled together on a raft by a giant, unruly child, then abandoned to the mercy of the elements.

“Now, now, my… um, my sweet,” Simon replied with an awkward pat of Inara’s gloved hand. She’d managed to cobble together a decent enough travel suit from one of River’s skirts and a top and loose jacket she’d found in the back of Kaylee’s closet, all painstakingly cleaned, then pressed against the heat of a convenient panel in the engine room. She thought she looked tidy enough to pass for an adventurous escapee from the Core, as long as no one actually from the Core saw her.

“Most of the ship—the better part—is under water right now,” Simon continued to explain. “All that is just the engine, which sits on top.”

Inara knew as much. She’d traveled on this model of ferry before, but she was enjoying playing her role as an ignorant and overly pampered wife. “That makes no sense at all! Why would anyone park a spacecraft under water? I just don’t see the use of it. Besides, it must make the ship so very dirty. I hope it doesn’t smell. I’ve had quite enough of a few particular odors on this world. My poor stomach is a wreck. I think one could do a service to these worlds by sending a chef out to teach the proper preparation of tilapia. I mean, what good is a fresh catch if you don’t bother to season it properly?”

“Tickets, please?” a porter asked as they reached the gated entrance to the pier. The man cast Inara a quick disparaging look, then Simon a nod of pity, but made no attempt to interrupt her chatter.

“You did reserve us a private cabin, didn’t you dear?” she crooned as her “husband” set down their bags and handed over their boarding passes. “It will be refreshing to have a moment to ourselves. I don’t know why I let you talk me into this. ‘It’ll be an adventure,’ you told me. ‘Roughing it is romantic,’ you said. Romance is fine, but if I had known the extent of this roughing it plan I might not have let you convince me. Imagine, a vacation where one has to carry their own bags!”

Inara noted with some amusement that both Simon and the ticket taker glanced at the pair of suitcases Simon had been carrying. One, a tasteful black bag, was compact and easily handled, but the other, green with a garish floral print, was huge and full to nearly bursting. Inara almost smirked; she should have Jayne do her shopping more often. The results were quite amusing.

“Travelin’ light, then?” the man asked Simon.

“As always,” Simon replied wryly.

“I don’t know how I’ll manage,” Inara said. “Hardly a thing can be fit in just one bag. I’ll have to dine in my travel clothes, I suppose. I would die to be seen doing such a thing on Sihnon.”

“We’re not on Sihnon, dear,” Simon interjected in a patient, sighing voice as he handed their luggage over to the porter. The bags were set on a belt to enter a scanner—a very large and shiny scanner, Inara noted. Apparently brand new, and much higher tech than anything else on these docks. But she wasn’t about to ask about it; that wouldn’t be in character. She’d have to leave the information gathering to Jayne’s group.

“Clearly we’re not!” Inara went on, not missing a beat. “No one will believe we’ve actually come out to the Border worlds and survived unscathed. The girls at the club will positively swoon when I tell them all we’ve been through.”

She had to pause to inhale, and the porter took the chance to interrupt. He was holding a pair of silver metallic globes: key-passes to their cabin. But he didn’t hand them over. “Ma’am, sir, speaking of that, I’m required to tell you about a travel advisory for Oeneus. Political ruckus and such. Your personal safety can’t be assured.”

Inara didn’t have to fake a surprised widening of her eyes. “Oh dear,” she said, and she looked to Simon.

“Don’t be worried,” Simon told her. “I’m sure it’s just one of those things the travel companies have to say to protect themselves from law suits, like the warnings that là jiāo are hot.”

The man shook his head. “Actually sir, bad things’ve been happening out there, and you might reconsider this leg of your trip. We’re offering full refunds on Oeneus travel, even at the last minute.”

“Oh, but…” Inara stuttered. She found herself genuinely tongue-tied. They had to get on that ferry, but also had to play their parts. Right now, the most likely thing for her character to do was to panic and run.

Luckily, Simon had his wits about him. “Nonsense!” he said as he snatched the cabin keys from the porter and slipped them in his pocket. “I’ve heard so many good things about Oeneus, and I’ve been looking forward to seeing it for quite some time. I won’t have some… some… rabble of malcontents interrupt our vacation plans!” He took Inara by the elbow and guided her to the end of the scanner. With short, impatient motions, he lifted her bulky suitcase in one hand, tucked his small bag under the same elbow, and used his free hand to steer his “wife” down the pier.

After a time, Inara glanced over her shoulder, checking that they’d gotten some distance from the gate, then leaned into Simon to whisper, “That was smoothly done.”

He smiled and released her arm so he could redistribute the bags more evenly. “Did I actually do anything? You pretty much carried that scene on your own.”

“Was I too much?”

“Not at all. Just the right mix of charming and annoying.”

“You know I do complain, darling,” Inara said, reverting to her higher pitched “wife” voice, “but that’s just my way of coping. Once back on Sihnon I’ll do nothing but brag of the wonderful, romantic adventure my dear husband treated me to.”

Simon’s grin grew. “And your friends will be wildly jealous and I’ll have affairs with every single one.”

“You monster!” Inara exclaimed as she lightly slapped his arm, then she lowered her voice again. “But seriously, Simon. That was quick thinking. It’s very odd, that they’re warning tourists away. It’s as if they don’t want us to visit Oeneus.”

“It makes me wonder what we’re walking into.”

Inara met his eye and nodded, and then all real conversation had to end. They were nearing the entry to the ship, where the thin stream of embarking passengers thickened into a queue.

* * *

“Sir, I have to tell you about the situation on Oeneus.” The porter’s voice was flat, as if he’d said these words so many times that he wasn’t hearing them anymore.

Jayne frowned. “Whatssat?”

The man went on dully. “A political mess on Oeneus. It’s picked up in the past months and your safety can’t be assured. Travel to that world is at your own risk.”

Jayne knew better than to fall for such a line. “I ain’t worried,” he said. He jabbed a thumb at his travel companions, first Malcolm, then River. “My brother here can hold his own, and my, uh… my kid’s got us two looking out for her.”

River’s mouth pursed, and Malcolm scoffed audibly. Jayne tried to ignore them and look fatherly, but he needn’t have wasted his time. The porter was barely paying attention to them. He only shrugged, handed over their room keys, and nodded them past. They paused to pick up their luggage from the back end of a security scanner: each had a small shoulder bag holding toiletries and a change of clothes. It wasn’t only to play the part; the ferry wasn’t the fastest means of travel. It would take two full days to reach Oeneus.

As they left the entry gate, Malcolm asked in a voice full of irony, “So I’m your brother and she’s your daughter?”

“Hush!” Jayne ordered.

Malcolm grinned at River. “Guess that makes me Uncle Malcolm. Uncle Mal?”

River looked horrified at the idea. “Ew!”

“You both keep quiet,” Jayne said with a huff. “Don’t make me say it again. If I’m dad, and if I’m big brother, I’m the kind ain’t worried about using a switch and a fist. Got it?” He held up a clenched hand to make his meaning fully clear.

River and Malcolm shared a look and an eyeroll, but quieted down as they strolled down the pier toward the ship, giving Jayne a moment to eyeball their ride. The visible part of the ferry had one flat face: a weathered metal hull a good twenty meters across that rose only a few meters above the water. A jumble of machinery piled above it; a wild jumble of pipes ran over and in between large round tanks and blocky vents that leaked thin wisps of steam as the engines warmed for flight.

A small line had formed where a walkway extended across the green, foamy water to an open hatch. Just before he joined the waiting passengers, Jayne caught a whisper behind him, “I ain’t nowhere near old enough to be his brother.”

River’s reply was careful. “You look… older than you are.”

Jayne turned to glare at them.

“Come on,” Malcolm complained to Jayne, his voice still low. “It’d be weird for kin to travel together without ever talkin’.”

“Depends on the kin,” Jayne replied pointedly.

“I think we should be the friendly type,” River said, and she smiled at Malcolm. “What should we talk about?”

“How about that.” Malcolm nodded up and to the side. Large engines were mounted on each of the four corners of the ship, though only two were visible now. They towered up on either side of the line of passengers, business end pointed down. “Like to be quite a sight when those fire,” Malcolm added. “Also like to burn up the dock and anyone on it.”

“Not a problem,” River explained. “They’ll tow us out to open sea before we launch.”

“Kind of a pain, huh?”

“Easier than building a landing platform to withstand the engine heat. Hot, rolled steel, even with the best insulation, loses strength at one thousand degrees Kelvin. Fifty percent room temperature yield strength. No—sixty percent. The newest grade, powder metallurgy and heat treating, does better. Ultimate tensile strength of over 800 Newtons per meter squared. Brinell hardness number 203. But repeated exposure to engine burn is always a problem. Can’t solve that one, unless you avoid it altogether.”

Both Jayne and Malcolm frowned down at the girl while she lectured. “How you know all that?” Malcolm asked when she paused for breath.

“My father worked for an engineering firm.” She glanced at Jayne, then she crooked a finger at Malcolm. He leaned down and she whispered, loud enough that Jayne heard, “My other father.”

Malcolm smirked. “Obviously.”

“So, anyhow, …” As they stepped onto the gangway, Jayne noticed other passengers starting to eye River, so he reached out a toe and jabbed her in the calf. She turned to look at him, and he let his expression carry the rest of his message.

River sighed. She didn’t shut up, but at least changed the subject. She guided herself with one hand on the railing so she could keep looking back at Malcolm while she spoke. “Besides all that, it’s pretty.”


“The T-Hed.” She patted a hand on the ugly weathered hull beside the open hatch before she stepped in. “You’ll see. That’s why I love the T-Hed. You can see everything.”

Malcolm shrugged his lack of understanding at Jayne, then followed the girl into the dark corridor.

* * *

“Are you sure about your destination, sir? Ma’am?”

The porter looked from one passenger to the other, and Ginger had to fight the urge to shift her weight side to side nervously. She only nodded, but Will sneered at the man’s sudden change in manner.

The sight of the tickets had done its work. The man’s blasé attitude had turned inside out as soon as he saw the words printed across the stubs: Penthouse Suite.

“Don’t waste our time with travel warnings,” Will said shortly. “We’re going to Oeneus, and we’re going now. My lady here has business.” Ginger’s stomach sank as his lip curled more, a sure sign of mischief in his head. “She’s something of a celebrity, you know.”

The porter gave Ginger a questioning look. She stood as tall as she could, hoping that her black clothes, newly darkened hair, and thickly applied eye makeup did at least a little to uphold the lie. But then, what spoke more of one’s place in the verse than one’s attitude?

“Don’t be frownin’ your doubt on me,” she told the man, her firm voice startling a look out of Will. “I got folks a’plenty waiting to see me in person. Tickets were sold. Every damned one bought up.” She met Will’s eye and was pleased to see appreciation in his crooked smile.

The porter swallowed hard. “Uh… I’m sure… I’m sure you’re the toast of Oeneus ma’am.” He turned and waved at someone in the distance, someone off the side of the pier. “Course, you folks don’t need to be messing with any of this line while you board. I got a shuttle that’ll take you to a separate entrance and you’ll get to your Suite directly.”

“I appreciate that,” Will said. “Spare the hassle of folks wantin’ the take a capture or get a signatory of this lady’s famous name on their ticket stub.”

“I do hate to get caught up with that mess,” Ginger said with a sigh. She couldn’t but feel a thrill at Will’s stealthy wink, though she tamped it down and gave him nothing but a frown in response. This was what it’d been like once, the two of them acting like one, thinking like their brains had a higher level of communication, making fools of the ignorant folk around them. They’d been quite a team, once upon a time.

“We’ll spare you all discomfort, Miss… uh, Miss. You just enjoy your journey.” The porter left it at that and got busy moving their bags.

A skinny local kid ran the power boat that took them to a service entrance on the far side of the ferry. He stayed back on the stern, running the engine, which left Will and Ginger free to converse.

“What do you suppose that ticket man is imagining about me right now?” Ginger asked.

Will looked her up and down, then his lip quirked. “Lion tamer.”

She couldn’t help but to laugh right out loud. “If there’s a kind of celebrity I could earn,” she said, “that would be the one.”

Will chuckled to himself, then turned his crafty eyes on the ferry they were about to board, his thoughts planning out the mission ahead, maybe.

It gave Ginger a warm feeling, this pretending that all was right, that she and Will were just how they used to be. It was like warming her toes beside a fire when a harsh winter freeze waited just outside a door she knew she had to pass through.

* * *

Once across the walkway, the boarding passengers passed through a corridor directly into the center of the ship. Impatient, River led them past the line for the lifts and descended a curving staircase to emerge in the top passenger level of the ferry. Level 1 was all one large space, except for a wide central column containing lifts and staircases as well as lavatories and snack machines.

Rows of low-backed booths lined the outside of the room; most of these tables were already claimed, and many a child had his or her nose pasted to the outer wall—for good reason. The level of the ferry currently above water was the only part of the hull made of solid metal; every other vertical outer surface was fully transparent. From floor to ceiling, soft blue-green sunlight filtered through the water outside, and the shadows of fish and jellies could be seen passing by.

Malcolm stared at the windows with an open mouth, but Jayne didn’t have much of an eye for it. He stood in the center of the room and squinted at the ticket stubs in his hand, trying to make sense of his destination, until River snatched them away.

“Level four, cabin fifteen,” she said, and she pointed to a sign next to the stairs they’d just descended. “Further down.”

“`Course,” Jayne huffed, but she was already moving on, again passing the busy elevators to lead her “menfolk” down the next flight of stairs. Level 2 was similar to Level 1: steerage with plain booths and amenities in the center column, but this room was noticeably smaller than the one above, and the light coming in the outer walls was a deeper blue-green.

Another level down, Level 3 was smaller still. It was mostly cafeteria and dining tables, and behind a eating bar workers were busy finishing preparations for the trip. One corner of the level was walled off with waist-high clear plexiglass; inside was a gaming area which was being put to use by several enthusiastic children. It was a noisy place.

Jayne had barely taken in the scenery before he felt his hackles rise. He knew the feeling—he was being watched.

He took a careful look about the space and soon found the culprit: Simon sitting at a table halfway across the room, staring at the new arrivals intently. No doubt, the doc just had to make sure his precious little sister was safely aboard. He wasn’t being especially discreet about it.

River either didn’t see Simon or kept her head enough to ignore him. She went straight to the crew member standing at the curve of the central staircase, blocking the entrance to the private cabins on Level 4. While she presented their tickets, Jayne traded a short nod with Simon, letting the doctor know that all was well.

The porter waved the “family” of three by, and they descended to a quiet hallway lined with doors. Jayne didn’t bother to search: River was guiding them without hesitation. “Home!” she declared when she found the cabin marked #15. She’d already claimed her own key, and soon had the door open.

Jayne wasn’t impressed with what he found inside. It was a small room with two banks of seats facing each other, each just long enough to serve as a bed if a full-grown man curled himself up tight enough. Above the seats were two more bunks that would fold down. It looked much like an average train cabin, except that the far wall was window from floor to ceiling. But that wasn’t much to look at; there wasn’t light enough to show much but a dark green murk.

“No sunshine down here,” River said with a sigh, then she got busy settling in. She stowed her bag overhead, claimed a window seat, and reached down to tug at a handle in the floor. A rectangular panel lifted, but stuck at ankle height. Malcolm leaned in to offer a helping hand, and with a screech the table freed itself from its dock. It clicked into place at waist level, taking up half the cabin but giving River a place to rest her elbows.

“Brought cards?” she asked Malcolm.

He shook his head. “Wish I had. Guess we’ll have to find something else to do.”

Jayne didn’t like the sound of that. He folded his arms and stared down at the pair while he spoke firmly. “Forget it and settle in. We got two days on a small ship with a whole passel a’ strangers, and I won’t be having a single one of them passengers recalling either of you. You won’t be doing a thing that might call attention.”

River threw herself back in her seat dramatically. “Out to kill us with boredom, aren’t you?”

Jayne didn’t give a bit. “I aim to have you bored. You let it kill you, that’s your business.”

Malcolm kept his focus on the girl, completely ignoring Jayne. “What’s he gonna do?” the ex-captain asked in a low voice. “Shoot us?” He fixed his eyes on her thoughtfully and chewed his lower lip; whatever he was thinking, River caught the gist of it. The girl’s face slowly broke into a grin, then without warning both of them jumped up.

Jayne couldn’t decide which he ought to catch hold of, and as a result he missed them both. They made it out the cabin door before he could block it.

“Gorammit!” he swore, and he set out after them.

* * *


là jiāo : chili peppers

* * *

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009 5:32 PM


Hah! How much did I enjoy Simon and Inara playing at the spoiled core-bred couple!! That was perfect and hilarious! And Simon can be quick on his feet when he's more in his element!!

And it looks like Book has some inkling as to what that powder is - somehow that makes it seem all the more sinister to me *shudder*

And I like the T-hed! Great idea (Why would anyone park a spacecraft under water? *G*) River and Malcolm are certainly going to be a handful! I'm afraid of what their mischief may result in... I'm not sure it's going to be good things!

Looking forward to finding out!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009 6:23 PM


Oh god! There's three trains, and they're all rushing towards the same switchtrack!


Tuesday, December 29, 2009 6:27 PM


So glad to see more so soon. Loved the idea of the "kids" escaping for some thrills, now both of them get to play at being kids again.


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Back Stories Book 3, Chapter 25
Zoë nodded. “I’ll bet there’s a little committee of suits back there trying to figure out how best to lie.”&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

“Or how to tell some horrible truth,” Inara replied softly.&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

“Or how to make the most effective use of medical waste incendiaries to get rid of our bodies,” Wash chimed in.

Back Stories III, Chapter 24
Mal returns to a few familiar places.

Back Stories III: Chapter 23
The BDH’s find themselves enmeshed in too damned many OCs. But hey, they’re necessary. Plottiness and all.

Back Stories III, Chapter 22
Inara tells the story of why she left the Core. Well, half of it anyway.

Back Stories III, Chapter 21
The battle with the Reavers continues, and Mal makes a choice. All decisions have consequences.

Back Stories III, Chapter 20
Finally a little Mal POV, but it doesn't last long.

Back Stories III, Chapter 19
The trials and tribulations of an older, wiser River Tam.

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 18
The aftermath of an unexpected encounter. Except—not all of the crew are accounted for…

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 17
A lovely day in the mountains: friendly locals and fresh air under a clear blue sky. What could possibly go wrong?

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 16.
Zoë tells of her soiree with terrorists on Oeneus.