A LION’S MOUTH (01) Part (03)
Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Uncomfortable scrutiny from the almighty Alliance.


(01) A LION’S MOUTH Part (03)


Uncomfortable scrutiny from the almighty Alliance.

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* * *

The ship’s mechanic was the opposite of terse. She spoke easily and fluidly. She clearly had an abundance of empathy for her captain and crewmates, and an unusually tender spot in her heart for her machines.

“We was so tore up, broke my heart to see the state of Serenity when I first got a chance to take a good look at her. But the Captain takes such good care of us, he always does. And he takes care of her ’specially, he loves her…”

Who? the patrol captain wondered, with a questioning look.

“Serenity, I mean,” Kaylee clarified. “He’s the only one in this ’Verse loves her more ’n I do.”

“So you and the Captain fixed up the ship?”

“Well, no, I mean, he would have, he did, soon as he could get up. He nearly died, you know. But Zoe recovered first, an’ it gave her something to take her mind off her loss…”

“Her loss?” the captain questioned.

“Wash. Our pilot. Zoe’s husband.”

* * *

The interview with crewman Jayne Cobb was an exercise in pointlessness. The man just sat there, glaring belligerently, refusing to say a single word.

* * *

“Jayne’s a man of few words,” Inara said. “But I was glad to have him at my side in that fight. He and Zoe are consummate fighters: we wouldn’t have survived without them.”

“And Captain Reynolds?”

Inara realized that she had come close to revealing Mal’s absence from the scene of the fight. She covered her error smoothly. “Captain Reynolds is…stubborn…and very determined. He’ll carry on against very long odds. He’ll keep fighting after others have given up hope, and turn a desperate situation around.” That was enough. Part of Inara realized that, but she found herself talking on. “I find that, the longer I know him, the more I…respect him.” Inara was astonished, actually, to make this discovery. The notion of Mal as someone she could respect was a new one, and she needed a moment to take it in. Mal was a rule breaker, but a man of principle, when he had something to believe in. She actually missed the patrol captain’s next question. “Excuse me?” Inara asked. Focus, she told herself. She applied herself to reading the patrol captain’s facial expressions and body language, and picking up the thread of the conversation again.

“Why would a Registered Companion even be aboard a tramp cargo vessel such as Serenity in the first place?”

“Well, I had flown with Serenity before, when I was expanding my business. So when I felt that I needed a break from my work at the Training House, it was natural to ask.”

* * *

If the captain had been evasive, the first officer terse, and the crewman mute, the doctor was reserved, cautious, and so tightly wound he would have twanged if plucked.

“You’re the ship’s physician?”

“Yes,” Simon answered. He wasn’t so sure Mal’s plan of openness was a good one. He could be bound by law at any moment, and he was regretting that he had not insisted that he and River hide somewhere, somehow, while the ship was inspected. “But you took a more active role in fighting the Reavers?”

“We all had to. It was the only thing we could do.”

“You finished the Reavers off?”

“They nearly finished me off. I received an abdominal wound, upper left quadrant, projectile weapon. The pyloric artery was damaged and considerable exsanguination ensued…”

The captain was not interested in the medical details. “How did you defeat the Reavers?”

“I was unconscious. I don’t personally know how the fight ended. I regained consciousness in the infirmary of the Alliance ship a day later, after surgery.”

“Dr Tam, you were a wanted fugitive.”

For the first time, the veil of reserve lifted. She actually saw his eyes light up. Yes, he heard her say were. “Yes, I was,” he replied.

“That warrant has been superceded by a recent bulletin canceling it. Can you shed any light on this development?”

“My theory is that the authorities have finally deduced that I was not a culpable party.”

He was still cautious, the captain noted. “What was your sister’s role in all this?”

“My sister is ill, mentally unstable. In her lucid moments, she’s a very intelligent girl, graceful and capable. But she hasn’t many of those moments. You can’t expect to interrogate her.”

* * *

The young woman—girl, really—before her didn’t seem especially odd, until you looked into her eyes, which held the patrol captain’s eyes in an unblinking stare, disconcerting in its intensity and penetration. The patrol captain broke eye contact first. 该死 Gǎisǐ, that was her interrogation technique. Still, she started off with the assumption that River Tam would behave normally. No point in assuming insanity—that excuses the subject from the responsibility of answering. “What is your role on Serenity?”

“Playing a role. We’re all playing a role. Rolling along.”

“I mean, are you a passenger, or part of the ship’s crew?”

“Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream,” River chanted, “merrily marry…merry widow, waltzing through the black.” She looked directly at Captain, and spoke quietly. “Gone for a soldier…”

“Do you have a job, on the ship?”

“Finished his schooling, gotta find a job. He’s gone for a soldier. Cried my fill, all my tears would turn a mill—Military police.”

“Yes, I’m a federal police marshal. Who are you talking about?”

“He is dead and gone, lady, he is dead and gone. At his heels the grass-green turf, at his head a stone,” River intoned, half-singing.

The captain was silently upset by this. How could she know?

“Sell my rock, sell my reel, buy my love a sword of steel.”

The private memories that she ordinarily kept deeply buried rose dangerously near the surface. The conversation she’d had earlier in the day had opened the doors, and now the carefully walled-off emotions threatened to escape. She was actually near tears. She tried to collect herself. Some of those tears were tears of frustration.

“Don’t cry,” River said. “Time can heal your woe—the time has come to talk…”

The captain’s look brightened a little—was this inquiry going somewhere at last?

“…of many things. Shoes, and ships, and sealing wax…”

What-huh?! “Sealing wax?

“Do pigs have wings?” River asked, seriously. “If you can’t see the wings, do they still fly? If they’re hiding, are they still there? Hide and seek…” River smiled a disconcerting, creepy little smile, “…hide and seek, waiting, waiting for us to come out and play.” Suddenly she spoke, clearly and directly to the captain. “I was flying.”

* * *

“River Tam said she was flying.” She held Captain Reynolds’s eyes, challenging.

“Did she?” he responded. “That girl’s a bit addled in the brainpan, I’m sure you noticed.”

“So you were flying?”

He looked her in the eye, blinked once. “Yes, ma’am.”

“You’re quite a pilot. I’m wondering why you weren’t in the Space Force during the war.”

“I volunteered for Infantry,” Mal answered, then stopped. He shouldn’t have said that. Always made the Feds all manner of unreasonable, any time his service record came up during an interrogation.

The patrol captain’s question was blunt. “Where did you learn to fly like that?”

“I took flying lessons, back on—” he recollected himself, “before the War.” Didn’t do to go mentioning Shadow, neither. Hotbed of insurrection, more volunteers for the Independent forces than any other world of its size. Being from Shadow made him a marked man, as much as being a Browncoat. Tended to put the Feds in a real arresting mood.

“Planet-based flight school doesn’t teach that kind of flying.”

哎呀 Āiyā this woman was sharp. Picked holes in his story soon as he made it. “And I learned a lot from Wash,” he amended quickly. “He was the best.”

The patrol captain made no immediate rejoinder to that. Instead she let the silence sink in for a moment. “Captain Reynolds, let me be blunt: We found no contraband on board your ship. We even looked in the smuggling hold. Don’t look surprised: you know those hiding-holes are there. But I can still cite you for reckless operation of a space vehicle, and even evading arrest, unless you explain what you were doing.”

“We were being chased…” Mal began. He ignored the captain’s look that clearly said by us of course and forged on. “…by another ship. A fast, maneuverable craft. Couldn’t get a good look at it.” That’s a fact, he thought. The pure truth. “Chased us right through the Lion’s Mouth. I think we nearly lost them,” he stated, as ever unreasonably sanguine about his skill at fighting losing battles, “by the time you caught up to us. Didn’t you see another ship?”

The captain’s stare so clearly stated “no” that Mal tried another angle. “It’s good to have cargo,” he said with a bit of a smirk. “But it makes us a target for every scavenger out there.”

Inara had liked that line, but this woman seemed to have heard it before. “So you really think this ‘other ship’ ” (he could hear the quotation marks) “was after your cargo of Gurtsler pinblocks?” Gurtslers were some of the most common ship parts in the ’Verse.

“Don’t know. Maybe there’s a roaring black market trade in them pinblocks somewheres.” This sounded very improbable as soon as he said it. “Wouldn’t be something I’d know about, myself.”

The captain’s silence spoke to the improbability of that last statement. Mal shifted uncomfortably. “’Sides, how would they even know what we’re carrying?”

The captain said nothing, but eyed the cargo manifest. “Right.” 该死 Gǎisǐ ! Was he so unused to flying legal cargo that he forgot? Ship’s manifest is a matter of record, anyone in the transport business could look it up. “Honestly, I don’t know who would want to chase after a cargo of Gurtsler pinblocks,” Mal admitted. “It’s got to be about the most unsexy cargo in the ’Verse. But it don’t alter the fact that they chased us.”

There was another pregnant pause, but this time it was the patrol captain who broke it. “Do you know of anyone who bears you ill-will, harbors a grudge against you, or would want to cause you trouble?”

Now that was downright funny, Mal thought, trying desperately to keep his face blank. He could come up with at least a hundred without even trying—Operative, Niska, Saffron, Patience, Wing, Badger, the Blue Hands guys, not to mention Blue Sun and the almighty Alliance itsownself. “Don’t know of any,” he answered. Her unremitting glare caused him to amend, “Well, okay, maybe there’s a few.”

哎呀 Āiyā, he weren’t doing too well in the credibility department with this patrol captain. “It weren’t Reavers, anyhow,” he added.

The captain gave him a hard look. He got the idea she saw right through him, and had him pegged exactly for what he was: a tariff-dodging, illegal cargo-transporting, petty criminal smuggler who skated at the edge of the law. It just happened he was skating on the legal side this time. A damned uncomfortable moment.

How had he gotten himself into such a fix? This was supposed to be an easy checkpoint—get pulled over by the feds, get the shiny legal cargo inspected, get a happy face stamped on his official papers, and be on his merry. Why was it always so complicated? This Fed officer was a sharp one. She’d homed in directly on the dangerous territory—just what he didn’t want to talk about—Miranda, the broadwave—and she seemed to see his omissions as clearly as he did. Only one dangerous topic she hadn’t hit yet.

“I’d like to talk about Serenity Valley…” she began.





该死 Gǎisǐ [Damn it]

哎呀 Āiyā [Damn]

该死 Gǎisǐ [Damn!]

哎呀 Āiyā [Damn]

Not very creative language here in the glossary department, but it serves.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011 4:58 PM


Ooh, Simon's warrant is over. That's nice.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 5:08 PM


Well...I gotta that last line is gonna shift the conversation in a mighty interesting direction, as Mal (and Zoe) don't seem to take that line of questioning to hospitably.


Probably showing my "I love River" colours here, but I gotta say that River's session with the Alliance Capt. was one of the funniest thing I had ever seen! It almost beats River's conversation with Badger during "Shindig" for just how amazingly quick River can turn the tables on someone in conversation. Must have drover her parents simply apeshit!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 3:39 AM


I too loved River making the Alliance patrol Captain a mite uncomfortable, as for Mal's session. Really don't like the conversation turning to Serenity Valley. Just how nasty and vindictive is this patrol Captain going to be or is there a hidden sympathy yet to be tapped? Shiny stuff, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, May 21, 2011 6:29 AM


Thanks for the feedback. I love reading the speculations about where this is headed!

Byte: Yes, the warrant's been rescinded, but is he really home free?

BEB: Oh, it has been fun writing River. I bet she did drive her parents nuts, even before the Academy messed with her brain.

Ali D: Avoided responding to this speculation until I posted part 4, so you can see for yourself. And yes, it is fun to make the characters squirm a bit.


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ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (20)
“Vaccinations?” Jayne asked, with a stupid expression. “Fer chickens?”

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (19)
“Inara, I ain’t willing for you to bribe—” “Who said anything about bribes?” “What other form of persuasion you plannin’ on using? I’m not sure I like this plan.” “Mal, I can be very persuasive,” Inara replied. After a short beat, she added, with a touch of asperity, “Fully clothed.”

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (18)
Extreme measures as more things go wrong

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (17)
In which things begin to go wrong

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (16)
Waiting for the other shoe to drop

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (15)
Serenity enters the Core, Mal and Inara sleep together, and Simon and Ip come up with a plan.

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (14)
In which we find out more about Miranda

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (13)
Simon makes an announcement; Zoe and Inara take Mal to task

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (12)
Mal tells Inara a folktale from Shadow

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (11)
Inara and Zoe have a little palaver