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EBFIDDLER

A LION’S MOUTH (01) Part (02)
Saturday, May 14, 2011

Serenity encounters unexpected company.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2571    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

(01) A LION’S MOUTH Part (02)

Follows the SERENITY MOVIE. Precedes (02) ADVENTURES IN SITTING.

Serenity encounters unexpected company.

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* * *

Everything was sleek and shiny on the bridge of the stealth ship. The flight desk blinked with an array of the most modern equipment, a single flat surface that shifted to display different controls and dials as needed, as well as their human interfaces. Right now the central display showed a schematic view of a Firefly class transport, rotating wildly in and out of a set of cross-hairs. Blue-gloved hands glided over the control panel, unable to ignore the red-lettered message blinking at the bottom of the display: “Unable to lock target.”

* * *

It would have taken a very acute observer to notice the stealth ship. It did not reflect visible light. It did not reflect most wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. Its shape was a stream-lined V, reminiscent of some fighter jets from Earth-that-was. From some angles its profile was nearly flat, and that made it extremely difficult to spot the only visual clue of its presence—the fact that its invisible form eclipsed the points of light in the background.

As Serenity backed and veered and swerved and rolled its way through the rubble of the Lion’s Mouth Asteroid Zone, it zoomed around a small moon, known as Simba, that had never been terraformed. An Alliance patrol boat, flying by Simba on a routine check of the Leo sector, spotted Serenity, apparently out for a joyride. Clearly the pilot of that Firefly transport was crazy, or at least flying under the influence, so the patrol boat pulled out of its orbit and joined chase. The stealth ship, undetected by the Alliance patrol, nearly ran over the patrol boat and initiated a hard avoidance maneuver to prevent a collision.

* * *

“River’s right,” Mal said, “there’s some kind of odd thing in our wake readings. Can’t see a ship, though.”

“You won’t see it, but it’s still there. If a tree falls in space, does it still make a sound?”

“No. Ain’t no trees in space,” Jayne cut in to River’s philosophizing.

“Absence of evidence does not prove non-existence.” River seemed about to continue. An accurate assessment of the situation, or wild philosophical ramblings?

Mal turned to Zoe. “I haven’t seen the likes of this since…”

“…since the war,” Zoe finished. “It’s a stealth ship.” Neither Mal nor Zoe had actually seen a stealth ship in the war. That was sort of the point. But they sure as 地狱 dìyù had felt the effects of them. The stealth ships always seemed to turn up at the critical point of a battle, delivering unexpected aid to the Alliance. You couldn’t target them, couldn’t even spot them. Sometimes the Alliance didn’t seem to be expecting them either.

他妈的! Tāmādē! ” Mal said. “River, keep it up. We gotta lose these people.”

River seemed much happier now that Mal got it, and spoke lucidly. “Aye-aye, Captain.”

* * *

Serenity’s wild flight continued unabated. The stealth ship, barely a disturbance in the black of space, tracked Serenity’s every move. The Alliance patrol boat followed in hot pursuit. Once they were clear of the asteroid field, though, the possibilities for avoidance diminished, and despite River’s best efforts, the stealth ship closed in. They were in serious danger of being locked down in the sights of the stealth ship’s targeting device. But the Alliance patrol boat seemed to have gathered speed, and now came chugging closer. Again the stealth ship chose to avoid an Alliance collision, and ducked out of the way, still unobserved by the patrol boat. The stealth ship backed off, hiding in the dark of the Black.

* * *

“Playing hide and seek,” River stated.

“What?” Mal asked. River had ceased ranting some time ago, and Mal had been following her pilotage as if he himself were at the controls, no longer finding it wild and crazy, now that he understood it was a run for survival. “Hide?” Then he realized that River was no longer flying avoidance maneuvers, but steadier.

“What should I do about the other one?” she asked.

Mal was confused. “Other w…?” He consulted the sensor screen, and spotted the Alliance patrol boat. “ 哦, 这是一个快乐的发展 Ò, zhè shì yī gè kuàilè de fāzhǎn . As if we don’t already have enough on our minds…”

* * *

Which devil to choose? Mal thought. He had no love for the Alliance, no love at all, and not a one of his past encounters with Alliance patrols was a fond memory. The best of them amounted to harassment—as soon as they figured out he was a Browncoat, which was generally right away—while the worst of them…well, he had his pick as to which jail on which planet was the least pleasant, and it was a tough call. And that was before the Tams joined his crew.

But the other choice—fleeing from the Alliance patrol boat—amounted to throwing himself into the arms, or maybe the gun sights, of the stealth ship. River had asked him what to do about the Alliance boat. But with the stealth ship, she’d taken matters into her own hands. There was no doubt as to which she feared the most.

It all hinged on the Tams.

Time was he would have run from the Alliance patrol, but this voyage, he had nothing illegal aboard and no particular worries that weren’t part and parcel of being Malcolm Reynolds, Captain of Serenity and former Sergeant of the defeated Independent Army. No worries other than the dubious fugitive status of the Tams. The Operative said that he’d told the Alliance that “the Tams were no longer a threat—damage done,” but could he trust the Operative? Mal didn’t like him. Man was a monster. In fact, Mal would do his level best to kill him, no regrets, he ever saw him again. Still, the monster had given the order to patch up their hurts, let them go, when he could have done different. The man had some moral principles, sick and twisted as they were. Mal had broken him, gained the high ground in that battle. Didn’t trust him a bit as a general rule, but in this particular, the Operative would keep his word. It was all he had left.

Mal was still edgy from the chase, his system pumped with adrenaline. He tried to think logically. Cargo, registration, licensing—all in order, and that made him confident. But how would this Alliance patrol view his personnel—starting with his own self—and especially what would they do with the Tams? He’d hedged when he registered the ship and crew, listing “pilot” as an open position and likewise not listing a medic. He could claim he’d hired the Tams to fill those positions, or not, depending on how things played out. But the time to play the hand was fast approaching.

* * *

The Alliance patrol boat was no luxury yacht. It could go at a good clip, but took an unreasonable amount of time to come to speed—not a good characteristic for a federal police vessel. The captain, a woman close to Mal’s age, sighed inwardly. On her beat, the miscreants she encountered were frequently smugglers, whose vessels typically could put on a burst of speed that allowed them to run circles around her patrol boat. It wasn’t easy upholding the law in this sector. When she did catch a smuggler, she was tough and did not stand for any nonsense. She’d heard all the excuses and could see through the stalls, the pretences, the lies, the evasions and omissions that most smugglers tried to pull. The Firefly could well be a smuggler—the ship had clearly been pulling avoidance maneuvers ever since she spotted it. Not many would pull such maneuvers in the Lion’s Mouth Asteroid Field, however. Were they more desperate than usual? Or just crazier?

Ensign Chang spoke. “They’ve slowed a just bit, ma’am.”

“Close in. Time to hail them.”

* * *

The Alliance patrol boat hailed Serenity, and Mal opened the channel. A federal police captain appeared on the screen. She looked to be the no-nonsense type and presented a severe demeanor. Reminded him a bit of Zoe, point of fact, had Zoe been an Alliance police officer.

“Firefly class transport, you are ordered to cut thrust. Prepare to be boarded.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He instantly complied.

Jayne couldn’t believe it. “No ruttin’ way!” he exclaimed.

River knew what Mal had in mind—literally. There was no better time to do this. Papers all in order, legal cargo. Plus it’ll shut down those 混蛋 húndàn chasing us in the stealth ship. She saw his worry about her own and Simon’s dubious status.

Mal thought, “Reckon it’s like puttin’ our heads right into a lion’s mouth,” just as River said, “Into Alliance mouth.”

Mal gave River a startled look. Even if you knew she could do it, it was still creepifying to have River gettin’ inside your head. Still, he asked her, “What do you mean?”

River gave him a look. “What do you mean?”

该死 Gǎisǐ, but this was not the time to be sorting out River’s cryptic comments. He was not going down that path. “Zoe, get the ship’s papers, cargo manifest, muster the crew in the cargo bay. No weapons.”

Zoe started to protest, “Sir, you’re not gonna just let them…”

Mal cut her off, “I am. No better time. All our registrations and licensing are in order, Operative saw to that. We have perfectly legitimate cargo, with documentation. No better time to go through a checkpoint, get a good mark against our names for a change.”

Zoe was still not convinced. “Sir, what about…”

“See how they run,” River broke in, in a sing-song voice.

“We’d best find out what the word is on Simon and River’s status, know what we’re dealing with. We gotta just put our heads in the lion’s mouth. If they can’t move about freely in the Verse, best we know about it now. Plus, it sure shuts down those 混蛋 húndàn chasing us.” Mal had an afterthought. “Nobody say a word about River flying—she ain’t got a pilot’s license.”

“Three blind mice,” River sang. “See how they run.”

* * *

The entire crew stood in the cargo bay by the airlock. Mal had made himself quite clear: don’t go mentioning Miranda, nor the broadwave. The doors opened and they found themselves confronted with a team of armed Federal marshals. Mal and Zoe, veterans of many an encounter with the Alliance, already had their hands in evidence. Mal had placed himself in front, with Zoe right beside him. Jayne, Kaylee, Inara, Simon and River stood further back. The Alliance marshals moved onto Serenity and began patting down the crew for weapons.

“We’re unarmed. We got nothing to hide. I’m Captain Malcolm Reynolds.”

“Ship’s papers,” Zoe said, offering the leather-bound folder.

Mal addressed the patrol captain. “This is just an ordinary cargo run.”

The search turned up no weapons. The patrol Captain addressed her officers. “Search the ship for contraband. Hold the crew here. They are not to leave this area until called for.” She then addressed Mal. “Captain, you will follow me.”

* * *

Federal marshals escorted Mal into a sparely furnished room. Many months ago, Commander Harken had interrogated Mal in a similar but much larger room, when they’d tried to salvage goods off that settlers’ ship that’d been hit by Reavers. This was a much smaller vessel, and although it was the same sterile Alliance grey, it was clear that this patrol boat didn’t enjoy the same budgetary advantages as Harken’s military vessel.

More polite than Commander Harken, this patrol captain gestured for Mal to be seated. He studied her face. She looked familiar somehow, though he couldn’t have said why. Again, something about her reminded him of Zoe. They didn’t look alike nohow, it was more a matter of how they held themselves—a “don’t mess with me” bearing that he knew he’d be well advised to mind. She was, like Zoe, a good-looking woman, though the severity of her clothing, hairstyle, and demeanor disguised this somewhat.

Mal moved stiffly to the chair and sat with a twinge of pain. There was no disguising his recent injuries, and he saw that the patrol Captain took note of everything.

“Captain Reynolds, that was pretty wild flying for an ordinary cargo run. For a man with nothing to hide, you take an awful lot of evasive action. We’ve been chasing you through half a sector. Took a lot of work to get close enough to hail you, even. Would you care to tell me why you were fleeing?”

No, he wouldn’t. He said nothing. This was not a good beginning.

“Ship’s log and cargo manifest, ma’am.” An aide handed her an electronic paper file, which she consulted while speaking.

“Right, let’s start at the beginning then,” she said briskly, scanning the documents. “You took on a cargo of Gurtsler pinblocks on Persephone; you’re bound for Beaumonde by way of Boros. I see you recently updated your registrations and licenses. Your registration had lapsed…”

“Finally had the opportunity,” Mal broke in. “Ship like ours has to keep moving to make a living.”

…two years ago,” the captain continued. “You had no ‘opportunity’ to renew your licenses for two years?”

Mal felt like he was being dressed down by his officer in the war. He hadn’t had this feeling in a long time. But he wasn’t going to let this Alliance officer rattle him. “Took the opportunity, being in dry dock for repairs.”

“How long were you in dry dock, Captain?”

There was a trap in that simple question, he thought, but soldiered on. As far as possible, tell the truth. “Five weeks.”

She leafed through the records. “Replaced port thruster, repaired multiple hull breach, re-containment of radion-accelerator core, installation of an entire new suite of landing gear…That’s one 地狱的 dìyùde repair job. How did your ship come to need so much work?”

“We had a run-in with Reavers.”

“Reavers,” she said flatly. “You know, two months ago I wouldn’t have believed a word of that. I didn’t even believe Reavers existed. But…”

“You saw the broadwave?” Mal asked. This was a test. Was that broadwave in any way connected to him or Serenity? A lot hinged on the patrol captain’s answer.

The patrol captain nodded briefly and continued with her line of questioning. Good, Mal thought. To her there was no special significance. He was careful not to let his thoughts show on his face. “But now,” she was saying, “I’m wondering, how could any ship survive an encounter with Reavers? Don’t they tear apart everybody they find? You’re pushing the limits of credibility here.”

Mal decided to play his hand openly. He told the truth, just not the whole truth. “We were near the abandoned communications station on Ferdinand Moon, when the Reavers come after us. We ran. No one lives, who gets boarded by Reavers. It was a rough chase—we lost control of our helm. I thought we’d all be killed. Wash—our pilot—had to glide her in for an emergency landing. Wash was brilliant….” He paused and swallowed. He still couldn’t speak easily about the events that led to Wash’s death. He wouldn’t lose his thread in front of this Alliance official. “Landing gear sheared off,” he reported flatly. “Shredded up the hull. Port thruster tore off.”

Although Captain Reynolds spoke tonelessly, the patrol captain knew he was reliving a horrible moment. Every ship’s captain fears a crash landing. Despite herself, her sympathy was engaged.

“We came to rest,” he continued, “and just when we thought, we made it through alive, a Reaver harpoon breached the starboard bridge window. Killed Wash, dead in an instant. The rest of us ran, took shelter in the communications complex. The Reavers came after us and…” Mal paused. For a moment, he couldn’t go on. He extended the moment a wee bit to consider how to tell the rest while omitting important details about the broadwave.

“And?” she prompted. Her moment of sympathy was apparently short-lived.

“We fought ’em off,” Mal stated.

“You fought them off,” the patrol captain repeated, her face and tone expressing her patent disbelief.

“I’m not sayin’ it was easy. Two of us nearly died. We had two more crew seriously injured, an’ one with minor injuries. The rest made it through with cuts and bruises.”

There was a pause while the captain took this in. She was clearly wondering…

“You’re still wondering how we made it out of there,” Mal offered. “An Alliance ship that was in the area patched us up, towed us to dry dock at Persephone for full repairs.”

“That’s quite a story, Captain Reynolds. But it still doesn’t explain why you were fleeing arrest.”

Mal knew he wasn’t out of the woods yet.

* * *

Serenity’s first officer had a decidedly military bearing. The patrol captain noticed this immediately. Her answers also had the feel of an official report, terse and to the point.

“…Captain was shot in the back, stabbed in the gut, beaten black and blue. By this time I was flat on my back, unable to move.” Zoe paused and added, “Then the captain passed out from loss of blood.” She stopped. Enough said.

“The soldiers from the Alliance ship finished off the Reavers?”

“No ma’am,” Zoe replied. “We did. But we wouldn’t have survived if Alliance hadn’t tended to our wounds. Captain and Simon nearly died. Took them weeks to recover. Captain’s still not fully healed.”

“You and your Captain seem quite capable fighters in desperate circumstances. You’re survivors.” The patrol captain referred to an electronic record. “It’s not the first time you’ve survived against the odds.”

Zoe stiffened. Always, always, those Alliance 混蛋 húndàn came back to this.

“You served with Sergeant Malcolm Reynolds in the 57th Overlanders, Independent Regiment. Highest rate of attrition in the Battle of Serenity Valley.”

“You seem very well informed, ma’am,” Zoe replied in an official tone.

“You served in ‘A’ Company, Lieutenant Baker’s platoon.” Suddenly, the patrol captain’s entire affect shifted, and she asked with a very different tone, “Did you see him die?”

Zoe was completely taken aback. “Who?” she asked.

“Lieutenant Baker. Harold Chien Baker.”

“Yes,” Zoe replied. What does this have to do with our discussion? she wondered.

“How did he die?” the patrol captain asked with emotion.

* * *

*

*

*

glossary

地狱 dìyù [hell]

他妈的! Tāmādē! [Damn it!]

哦, 这是一个快乐的发展 Ò, zhè shì yī gè kuàilè de fāzhǎn [Oh this is a happy development]

混蛋 húndàn [bastards]

该死 Gǎisǐ [Oh hell]

混蛋 húndàn [bastards]

地狱的 dìyùde [hell of a]

混蛋 húndàn [bastards]

Mouse over the Chinese words in the text for translations. I have tried to fix this so that the longer phrases translate as well as the single words.

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COMMENTS

Saturday, May 14, 2011 5:23 PM

EBFIDDLER


Alright, looks like there are still some formatting bugs to work out. But I got the really long mouse-over translation to work! Sorry about the entire second half turning up in italics. Oh well. I'll get used to the formatting stuff one of these days.

Saturday, May 14, 2011 6:31 PM

BYTEMITE


Ooh, I like using the patrol boat to scare off the other ship.

I also find myself wondering what the other ship must think as they saw them in evasive maneuvers even BEFORE they started chase.

It makes me think of police officers in speed traps, or looking for drunk driver/pilots. Amusing, but on second thought, also understandable in a way.

Sunday, May 15, 2011 5:57 AM

NUTLUCK


Hmm wondering if the twist at the end is what I think it is.

Sunday, May 15, 2011 9:38 AM

AMDOBELL


I think I'm thinking what Nutluck is at the end there. Really enjoyed this outing just hope that stealth ship doesn't move in and claim Serenity's crew. With luck they won't want to reveal their presence - yet. Great chapter! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, May 15, 2011 4:43 PM

EBFIDDLER


Alright, I fixed the bit with the italics. Hopefully that makes it easier to read.

Thanks for the comments. I'll post the next in a few more days.

Sunday, May 15, 2011 4:53 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Hmmm...I think I'm thinking what Nutluck and AMDOBELL are thikning. Though you gotta wonder about just how such a thing came about, though it's not impossible.

;D

In any case, ebfiddler, a fantastic chapter and I can't wait to see where things go next as the crew gets interviewed!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 3:46 PM

EBFIDDLER


So, nutluck, amdobell, and BEB, what were you thinking about the twist at the end? Now I'm wondering if it panned out the way you were thinking, or if I twisted it a different direction. PM me if you like...I'd be curious, and maybe I can work it in to the later storyline! :-)


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