Unfinished Business -- Chapter Thirty-One
Thursday, January 27, 2011

The battle begins, Rachel changes plans, and River meets the politest baboon she's ever met.


Col. Chen studied the situation map on the antique command vambrace display and saw that large sections of the internal security sensor grid were gone. Essentially everything in Prisoner Territory, and three sections above, was hidden from his view. Excellent strategy, of course, and he felt a hint of admiration for McNab. The Engineering sections were still on-line though, and if they were any indication, the Browncoats – he could not let himself think of them as “prisoners” any more – were making for several relatively unprotected sites of enormous strategic value with a great deal of determination. That would be problematic, if the battle raged too long, but for now he could safely ignore the tactical importance of them. If he controlled the tactical situation, the strategic situation would sort itself out eventually.

“Sergeant Anhauser!” he said calmly into the command frequency to the senior surviving soldier in charge of a little knot of his men who had taken refuge in a medical supply room – ostensibly more secure than any of the other rooms – and had been thus-far able to defend their position thanks to two pistols and a non-lethal riot gun. “I want you to send two men to junction box 19-244C and by-pass the security feeds from the main trunk line to the emergency line, or I’m not going to be able to see anyone sneaking up on you.”

“Uh, Colonel?” came Anhauser’s frightened voice, “I’m a security officer, I got two grunts, a horticulture tech and a supply guy, and the tech has a belly wound. I doubt any of us know how to do that,” he added.

“Challenge yourself, Sergeant,” Chen said, evenly. “It’s not brain surgery. Take the black cable out of the socket, put it into the other socket that will accept it, the one with the hao jie symbol in red. Then get back to your position. But you’re the only operatives I have in that sector, and that’s where they cut the feed.”

“Yes, Colonel, I’ll handle it,” Anhauser said, grimly. Chen had already moved on to the next tactical situation before the intercom was dead.

From reports by the few surviving soldiers in the captured section of Alliance territory, the Browncoats had torn through the sections nearest the overtaken security checkpoints and held them in strength, while large roving bands of them patrolled or struck out at strategic targets. They had been spotted as far north as Deck 11, Section 17, though that isolated pocket had been quickly put down. But there were other bands out there, some just hunting and killing anything in a uniform, others with more purposeful missions. Everything above Deck 10 was solid Alliance and secure – including the bridge and most of the controls of the ship – and he had most of the territory from decks 10 to 20, sections 15 forward, but below 20 it was all Browncoat. He had no idea of what was happening in the distant Engineering sections, but until he had secured the command section fully in force, the engineers would be on their own. And getting an armed force together was proving surprisingly difficult.

He had twenty-five men in full combat gear so far, and the moment he raised the general alarm more than a hundred were to spring into action and arm themselves, as per drill. He had the most vital access points south of Deck 15 covered with a pair of troopers each, fully armed with automatic weapons and no compunctions about using them. The lifts between decks were cut, though the emergency accesses would still function. But until he had more men in armor with weapons, he could do little more than defend.

The loss of the useful Pax was disturbing, but Chen had expected it and had not figured it into his response plan. He hated the stuff, what it did and what it did to men. If this was going to be the last action of his military career, and that seemed likely, then it would be conducted with guns and steel, not chemicals.

He looked up sharply at Lt. Hoag, who had arrived at a dead run, his battle armor spashed with fresh blood, stopped, and snapped to attention. “Colonel! I’ve got twenty-two more men ready for action gathered in the locker room. Arms and ammunition have been issued as ordered. We’re waiting for orders!” .

Chen referred to his vambrace again. “Take ten of them and have them reinforce the line at Deck 15. Four more are to secure the main power station on Deck 18. The remaining eight shall establish a forward line along sections 13 to 28 on Deck 19. I believe that Deck 19 is where the line will establish itself. We needn’t be concerned with the sections beyond 13 – those back up to the sealed-off Below sections, and they won’t try to come through there, you can bet. They aren’t that desperate.” Not yet, he added mentally. “And have the next ten-man squad that comes on-line draw heavy weapons from the armory; then have five of them take up positions around the Command Center and the rest establish a string of strong points along the Deck 19 line. That’s where we’ll want to fight them. It’s the narrowest deck north of the Yellow zone. They can’t get at our flanks, and they’ll have to go through us to get to the Bridge.”

“Do you th-think they have a chance, Sir?” Hoag asked.

“At taking the ship? Highly improbable. And not before we could disable it permanently, and they know that. I don’t think they have much of a chance to get passed our lines, if we get them establish and vigorously defended. And once we stop their momentum, all we’ll have to do hold our positions and wait them out. We’ll either get the Pax online or we’ll seal off the forward section and blow the locks on their territory.”

“That seems a little drastic, doesn’t it Sir?”

“Desperate measures for desperate times. Which reminds me . . . we still have the twenty hostages – I mean, ‘maintenance workers’ in Holding?”

“As far as I know, Sir,” Hoag shrugged.

“Have them taken Below, Mr. Hoag. I did promise to do that, if the Browncoats started trouble, and I am a man of my word. I’m certain that will enflame the rest of them, but that’s where they will all go, eventually. Or shot. Or spaced.”

Hoag swallowed and looked pale. “Aren’t we going to try to restore order, Sir?”

“You’re looking at this situation wrong, Lieutenant,” Chen explained carefully as he flipped his vambrace closed. “You’re thinking of this as a prison uprising. A riot. This is not a riot. This is a battle, and those are enemy soldiers. They will kill each and every one of us, given the chance. We’re fencing with real steel, now, son. And if you forget that for a moment, you’re going to die. You might die anyway, but at least you’ll die as a soldier. Dismissed.”

“Yessir!” Hoag agreed, and then ran off to carry out his orders. He hadn’t the heart to tell the kid that he, and probably everyone else aboard this ship, was doomed regardless of the outcome. Making the Suri Madron an atomic nova would solve a lot of problems for a lot of important people in Parliament, and all it would take would be the slightest deviation from protocol for their gunboat shadow to launch the nukes that would destroy her.

Being doomed did not bother Chen. He had been doomed since he’d been assigned this duty, and the idea that his endless torment would soon be over, one way or another, filled him with a serenity he once thought he’d never enjoy again. He might be doomed and die in a thousand different ways before the day was over, but he took solace in the thought that he, too, would die as a soldier.

He tagged his radio as he hefted his own antique assault rifle and called back to the Command Center, where Lt. Kim was coordinating efforts. “I’m dressed, now, Lieutenant. I’ve given orders for immediate defense and disposition of troops. When you see them settle on your screens, feed half of troopers coming online to the front and keep half in reserve around the Command Center.”

“Colonel?” came the frightened, tinny voice from his speaker, “aren’t you coming back here?”

“I’ll be there presently,” he replied as he headed down the stairs to Deck 5. “I want to head to Deck 19 and reconnoiter personally before I do. I need to see how conditions are if we’re going to counter the Browncoats.”

“Yessir,” Kim replied. “Good luck, Colonel.”

He didn’t need luck. He just needed a target. The prisoners – enemy soldiers, he mentally corrected – would only have a chance if they pushed as far and as hard into the Blue Zone as they could, as fast as they could, before an organized defense could be established. While that was well on its way, Chen knew that every living Browncoat above Deck 25 was a threat – and he was a soldier with a gun.




River felt the emotions of the thousands of people on the Suri Madron, felt them the way most people felt the air around them. And just like the air, she was ordinarily able to ignore it – until some strong force whipped it up into a gale. Over the course of twenty minutes the echoes of strong feelings surged like a tempest, from the moment the mysterious loss of air pressure had happened onward. As she padded down the barren corridors of the ship in her bare feet she could feel a spark turn into a blaze in the forward sections of the ship. She could also feel the bestial buzz of men with a mission, bent on violence, scurrying through the mostly empty section she wandered. They were headed for the huge engines of the old wreck, determined to capture them and kill everyone who got in their way.

River stayed out of their way. Compared to the Monkey King, they were boring. She’d seen soldiers and violence before – nothing new there – but her innate curiosity drove her to follow the trail of mental breadcrumbs the simian had left until it directed her to a deserted, non-descript intersection with a broken light fixture. That’s where he had told her to wait. So she waited.

Moments after she arrived, a the grate of a ventilation duct opened, far too small for a human to traverse, unless, she noted, they were both anorexically thin and had broken shoulderbones which was a theoretical possibility, she determined, if the bones were broken just so. She watched with what childish wonder she could muster as a little brown furry head appeared and looked up and down the corridor, before he made a graceful landing on the ground in front of her.

River didn’t hesitate – she folded her knees tailor fashion so she would be closer to Sun Wu-K’ung’s bright and curious eyes. She forced herself not to move as the baboon tentatively approached her.

Are you she? he thought at River.

Yes, my name is River, River thought back, visualizing the Chinese character for her name, chuan, as she did so, since Sun Wu-K’ung seemed to think better in Chinese. The baboon made an astonishingly proper formal bow to her, causing River to blink in surprise. Are you the real Monkey King?

I am the only one I know, he admitted. You are the only Big One who has ever spoken with me, face to face.

You’re my first monkey, too, River agreed, happily. Shiny!

There is much happening now, the monkey thought to her, and I do not have much time. We are all in great danger.

I’m pretty used to that, River admitted. And you are right. There is going to be . . . an attack.

There is already an attack happening. The white-clad-submissive ones are fighting with the purple-clad-dominant ones. Some are dying. Can you not feel them?

Like I said, I’m used to that. It’s still horrible, but there’s usually nothing I can do to stop it. Sometimes, but not often. Simon says it is part of the human condition.

And the baboon condition, Sun Wu k’ung agreed. This Simon . . . he is your mate?

No, Simon isn’t my mate – eww! – he’s my brother. My littermate, she added, wryly.

Show me his face, please? The monkey inquired, politely.

River complied, producing a number of images that showed Simon’s face from many different viewpoints. Sun Wu k’ung nodded sagely. Yes, I have seen your littermate.

Simon?! You have? How is he doing? Is he okay?

He was well when I saw him last. But he smelled frightened.

He always smells that way, River observed. Except when he smells like Kaylee.

He is in your troop, Sun Wu k’ung observed.

Yes, River agreed, realizing from the emotional state the word produced in the monkey’s mind that the word ‘troop’ had a meaning far beyond the usual conception of a well-organized group. There was family and love and sex and grooming and laughter and pain all mixed in together. It startled her that she recognized, cognitively, exactly the emotion that the monkey was projecting with the word. It was how she felt about Serenity and her crew.

My people, my troop, are very frightened right now, the monkey quietly thought to her. My people are very afraid of what might happen to them.

Your . . . people? River asked, amazed. There are others like you? Some . . . not exactly like me. Some can do some of what makes me different. Some are unable to do these things. But all of them are part of my troop, and they are all frightened of the noise and chaos. They fear that they will die.

They might, River agreed, somberly. We all might. It’s going to get worse, before it gets better. Where are your people?

Sun Wu k’ung showed her his version of a mental map of the ship – from a much different perspective than a human would have. But it was a simple enough matter for River to superimpose the monkey’s memory over the map of the ship she’d memorized, and in a moment she knew where they were: the phytotron laboratory complex.

Can you not get them to safety? she asked.

And just where would that be? The Monkey King asked, a hint of sarcasm and despair in his thought. Everywhere is death, now. And you say it will get worse.

I . . . might know of a place, River admitted, taken aback by the monkey’s profound sadness and feeling of responsibility.


Serenity, River thought back, using the Chinese characters in her mind.

I don’t think remaining calm is going to help keep my people safe, Sun Wu K’ung thought, his manner polite but skeptical.

I don’t mean the emotional state, I meant the vessel I pilot, which is docked . . . here, she thought, projecting the best route to the ship as she could. You could lead them there, and they would be safe. I . . . cannot. I have to tend to my master. And I could not get past the white-clad-submissives without raising suspicion.

Can’t you use your magical powers to free them?

Isn’t speaking mind to mind with you enough? Apparently this incarnation’s powers are limited to that alone. Beyond that I have no extraordinary powers. Only my wits.

Which you seem to have more of than . . . well, most of the people in my . . . troop, River thought, admiringly. Tell you what, Sun Wu K’ung, if I help your people escape to Serenity, can you keep an eye out for my brother?

If you can bring them to safety, then I will look after your littermate, the baboon agreed. But how are you going to get past the white-clad-submissives?

Leave that to me, River thought, confidently. I’ll use my wits. And my feminine whiles. Actually, probably just my wits. The last time I tried to use my feminine whiles things went . . . poorly.

But you can do it?

Will your people listen to me? River countered.

Show them this image in your mind, he said, projecting the Chinese characters for his name, and they will do as you ask. I am the leader of the troop, he thought, as if there was no question that they would obey.

Then we have a bargain?

We have a bargain, Sun Wu k’ung agreed, bowing low. Then he stuck his paw out and grabbed River’s finger, shaking it twice. River stifled a giggle as she watched the little figure push open the air vent and struggle to get through. Then he was gone, quickly.

I just met the Monkey King, River observed unhelpfully to herself. She didn’t mind the wasted mental expenditure, actually, because Simon said it was important to indulge in the occasional bit of blatant, self-indulgent appreciation of the mysteries of the ‘Verse from time to time, and by all objective data, meeting a jing tzai mind-reading monkey who was also extremely polite and a dedicated statesman seemed to meet the required criteria.




“Are you sure?” the private grunted into the pickup.

“Colonel Chen’s orders,” Lt. Hoag’s voce said, assuredly. “All twenty are to be sent Below immediately. And make room for more in a hurry. In case you haven’t heard, there’s a riot going on.”

“Yeah, where’s the gorram Pax?” the private demanded. “Wasn’t that supposed to get released the first—”

“I don’t know how, but they’ve taken the Pax off-line. We’re armoring up for combat now, establishing a front along Deck 19. You should be safe, where you are.”

The private looked automatically up at the battered, scarred blast door that was the only way into or out of the sealed-off section known as “Below”. Safe was a relative term.

“All right, I’ll send ‘em in,” the private sighed. “Holding, out.”

He walked slowly back over to his regular post, a desk outside of the plexi wall of the holding cell. Behind it were a score of Browncoats, clearly nervous and impatient and terrified by what was behind the blast door. The private wasn’t thrilled about sending so many men to their deaths at once – usually it was just one or two – but orders were orders.

“Looks like your buddies south of here have started some fights,” he told them through the speaker. “I just got my orders to send you through.” The announcement produced a wide range of reaction, from blistering rage to quivering fear. The private had seen it all before, of course, but not usually so many at one time. Not since he had sent the first real aberrations Below, a decade before.

“What if we won’t go?” demanded one of the men – he’d seen him before, a big, sandy-haired Browncoat named Tessarollo, he remembered, but in his job the private didn’t like to make lasting friendships among the prisoners. It made things . . . problematic should someone he knew actually show up in Holding.

“Oh, you’ll go,” the private said, sadly. “We’ve thought of that. See that wall behind you? When I open the hatch to Below, that wall is going to start moving forward. It takes about three minutes to push you xiao gui out into . . . Below, but then the hatch closes. Kind of like a trash compactor,” he explained, matter-of-factly.

“You do realize that this is a violation of—”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, war crimes, violations, I’ve heard it all before. If you happen to see a judge down Below, tell it to him. Maybe he’ll file a motion or something.”

“You know we’re going to die?” Tessarollo asked, his voice cracking with emotion. “You’re executing us!”

“Actually, it’s worse than that. I’ve seen what they do, Below. Oh, yeah, still have a few gorram cams down there, not that they can see much. But I watch. They aren’t just going to kill you and eat you,” the private explained. “They been down there a long time. Not much entertainment. They . . . entertain themselves with you, first. It’s horrible. I’ve seen them make it last hours . . .days, even. Maybe if you all bunch up you can throw the weak ones at ‘em while the rest get away. Might last a few more hours that way. Oh, and don’t get your fingers caught in the door or wall. Down Below, blood smells like ho hsien sauce to ‘em.”

Jiào nǐ shēng háizi zhǎng zhì chuāng!” Tessarollo shouted at him angrily through the thick translucent plastic as the private flipped the switch on, and the decks vibrated as the blast door slid into the floor. At the same time, the back wall started forward, despite the Browncoats trying to push it back in unison. “Ni shì shénme dōngxi! What kind of gorram animal are you?”

The private continued watching as the thick steel wall’s hydraulics pushed it all the way to the hatch. He waited five minutes for the voices to die down as the condemned prisoners tried the inevitable scramble for another way out, and then he closed the hatch and re-set the wall in its usual place.

“Well, that was exciting,” he chuckled with a sigh before he returned to his solitaire game.




Rachel was scurrying down the deserted, half-lit corridors of the engineering section, on her way towards the prisoner’s areas, when all hell broke lose. A utility panel twenty feet behind her suddenly exploded, and while the blast knocked her down, she wasn’t injured.

But it was a problem. You couldn’t have an explosion like that without attracting attention, and there was no doubt in her mind that some young industrious Alliance tech would be hurrying here . . . from any possible direction. That interfered with her plans, and she silently cursed as she looked for a place in the long bare corridor to hide. After he’d fixed the panel, or examined it and called for assistance, she could see which way he was going and go the opposite.

Just as she heard a plodding set of footsteps in the distance she found the catch to an old storage locker, long unused, the lock nearly corroded shut. It was just big enough for her to squeeze into – roomier than some accommodations she’d had – and pull the door almost all the way closed. She left just enough of a crack to spy on the busted panel.

Then her ears popped as the pressure in the ship changed, and the bulkhead vibrated with a far-off explosion. Her heart sank – that could only be the sound of their carefully-laid plans going horribly awry.

The technician was a short, portly little engineer with a beard, in direct violation of standard Alliance uniform codes. He shuffled along quickly to survey the panel . . . when Rachael suddenly heard more footsteps and more voices, coming from the other end of the corridor.

She watched in fascinated horror as the tubby engineer looked up, then turned around and began to run, terror in his eyes. Moments later three large men in undyed cotton fatigues, carrying lengths of pipe or severed struts as weapons, pursued the man. They weren’t being quiet about it either, shouting derisively as they chased down their prey. They were quickly out of view, but in only a few moments Rachael heard the sounds of them catching the engineer, then his pleas for mercy and pitiful cries of surrender, and then the sound of his screams as the Browncoat prisoners beat him to death. Before they were done, she could hear them being joined by another crew, and the few actual words she overheard indicated that the entire gang had a mission elsewhere.

Oh, sweet Buddha’s big toe, Rachel thought, despairingly. Those gorram idiots have decided to start a rebellion . . . three hours before their rescue! That would be a monumental change in the battle strategy, she knew. If the rescuers invaded in the middle of a revolt then a whole lot more people were going to die than anticipated. The whole battlefield situation would be changed.

Her heart failing, she realized with painful clarity just what her duty was, now. She had to abandon her search for Tessarollo – at least for now – and figure out some way to get a message out to her people before they arrived, or the whole plan would be going into a cocked hat.

I’m coming, she promised him in her mind. One more mission, and then I’m on my way, my love.


Thursday, January 27, 2011 9:44 AM


Sorry for the problems, folks, but I think it's all sorted out now. Formatting issues . . .

Thursday, January 27, 2011 5:43 PM


No problem! After a hiatus in posting, parts of the how can be lost and forgotten. Just happy to have more.

The monkey king is nice. :) River needs to set him up on a planet with lots of bamboo and trees.

feelings sorry for... everyone involved here, though less so much the Alliance, since they're guilty of warcrimes. But I guess they figured they're screwed by this point anyway, and so there's no reason for them to stop now.

Thursday, January 27, 2011 5:43 PM


Monkey king and his troop

Saturday, January 29, 2011 6:22 PM


Great your back. I hope you can manage to stay more active this time to finish this book and the next ten you write. :)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011 4:01 PM


Great job with this chapter. Glad to see your love for the 'verse coming through in your persistence to finish this story. Loved the irony of the rescue and the rebellion happening at the same time.

Monday, February 7, 2011 2:41 PM


Glad to see you back StA! another great chapter!

Monday, March 21, 2011 3:35 PM


love this novel, can't wait to see more!

Thursday, May 5, 2011 3:06 PM


If y'all have been wondering what I've been doing in my spare time, you can check it out here:

It's on lulu, too, but most of y'all probably have Kindle. Thought you'd like to know. And yes, I'm ready to do the next chapter now.

Sunday, June 26, 2011 3:50 PM


more more more!


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Unfinished Business -- Chapter Thirty-One
The battle begins, Rachel changes plans, and River meets the politest baboon she's ever met.

Unfinished Business -- Chapter Thirty
The Uprising Begins

Unfinished Business -- Chapter Twenty-Nine
A whole lotta folks get ready to do a whole lotta stuff.

Unfinished Business -- Chapter Twenty-Eight
The Confession of Dr. Rendell.

Unfinished Business -- Chapter Twenty-Seven
River remembers her birthday and meets a monkey . . . sort of.

Unfinished Business -- Chapter Twenty-Six
Inara Serra's Temptaion: The Lady, or the Tiger?

Unfinished Business -- Chapter Twenty Five
Inspector Simon and Dr. Romano have a little chat, and Fate gives him a gift

Unfinished Business -- Chapter Twenty-Four
The excitement of piracy, the agony of waiting, and the anticipation of a completely stupid stunt!

Unfinished Business -- Chapter Twenty-Three
Serenity arrives on the Suri Madron.

Unfinished Business -- Chapter Twenty Two
Simon gets tested, Zoe gets quizzed, and Kaylee gets . . . satisfied. For the moment.