The Four Winds, Chapter 11/28
Friday, May 27, 2011

Mal tries to get the cargo squared away; Inara tries to warn Mal; Zoe and Simon go to ground.


Mal was fretting like an old woman, Jayne thought, and Wash wasn't much better. The pilot had gone all snarky trying to actually reach the shuttle's helm around the unyielding bulk of the torpedo; he'd had to strip out of his own suit, climb under the torpedo and then over the back of the pilot's chair, and was now struggling back into his suit in the confines of the pilot's seat. Jayne busied himself checking the seals on his suit, while the Wash and the captain wasted time and breathing air on their sniping. "Just how am I supposed to get back out of here?" the pilot demanded, "if I can't get in with the suit on, how am I supposed to get back out again?" "Figure something out," Mal snapped irritably. "Preferably somethin' as don't involve whining, 'cause I'm sick of listening to it." "Right," Wash said, "No more whining about being sent to my certain and agonizing death. Got it." Jayne watched Mal's mouth twitch and thought, if he could get at Wash, he'd slug him. His own lips curled at the thought. As it was, he figured he'd have to manhandle the pilot, suit and all, back over the seat and under the torpedo to get him free. Be a real shame if that suit caught on something and tore. Not that he'd do it on purpose, or nothin'. Just that it could happen, and Jayne couldn't say as he'd regret it all that much. Well, he admitted grudgingly to himself, he might not regret losing the pilot all that much -- stupid gao yang had been right difficult lately, going on and on about his missing cat and his missing wife and his missing breathing air like anybody could do anything about any of that -- but once they all got back together and everything set to rights again, well, it could get a little uncomfortable then. Especially if Wash's missing wife got herself found. Sometimes Jayne wondered just why he'd chosen to stay in a spot where there were so many people -- Mal, Zoe, River, even the doc sometimes -- could make him want to sleep with a gun in his hand. But, he allowed grudgingly, 'cept for River, they mostly wouldn't make trouble for him unless he made it for them first. And that was a step up from where he'd come from. That was why. The pilot seemed to be ready now, seals on his suit glowing green-for-go. Jayne snapped his own helmet into place, and drew a deep breath. All his strength came with it; all his focus, in a breath of fully pressurized, thoroughly oxygenated air. He could follow a month-old trail; he could carry a fully loaded safe fifty miles, if he could just have air like this to breathe. He could certainly manhandle a whiny little man in a spacesuit out of one shuttle and into another. No problems there. Mal's voice came through the helmet speakers, buzzing slightly on the left side. Jayne really needed to sweet talk Kaylee into fixing that, sometime. Through the buzzing, Mal sounded haggard and worn. "One more time. The plan," the captain said. "Two men enter, one man leaves," Wash muttered. "Can it," Mal snapped. "This is the plan. We take both shuttles to the surface, and park this one in the middle of that abandoned survey post. You two come join me in Inara's shuttle and we come back. Once we get straight with the ship, and the client, and the buyer, we come back for the cargo. That work for everybody?" "Everybody who can get out from where they're at," Wash said. "You want I should just leave him when we get down?" Jayne asked. "Yes, I do want that," Mal said, "I think that's a fine idea." Wash turned far enough to glare at Jayne through his faceplate, and Jayne gave him a carnivorous smile. "Let's go," Mal said. "I want this target off my boat." ** Kaylee's thumb was aching. She had chewed the nail clear down to the quick, sitting here on the bridge in Wash's chair, watching for other ships and waiting for the Cap'n and Jayne and Wash to return. No ships, no alarms, no nothing, but to sit here and worry until they all got back. If it took too long, she'd be clean out of fingernails before they made it. With an effort, she twisted her thumb away from her mouth and gripped it in her other hand, putting pressure against the pain. Come back, she thought. Be safe, come back. The comm panel beeped, startling her, and she checked the ID. Inara. Kaylee keyed "accept" with shaking fingers: did Inara have good news? Or bad? She couldn't immediately tell when Inara's face appeared on the screen. "Kaylee! Are you all right? You're pale as a sheet!" was the Companion's greeting, and Kaylee managed a shrug in reply. "I'm okay, I guess," she said, still twisting her wounded thumb in the opposite hand. "You got news?" Inara shook her head. "No, nothing. Simon and Zoe have gone to ground somewhere, and River must have, too. Even Jerrode hasn't been able to find them. You haven't heard anything, have you?" "No. Cap'n had comms shut down for a while, so's nobody could track us," she said. "We thought somebody might be trying. I guess we're pretty far underground now ourselves." "Is Mal there? There was something I thought he should know." Kaylee could see Inara trying to look past her, to see if Mal might be in view somewhere on the bridge, or if saying his name would bring him to the screen. "He ain't here," she said. "Should be back real soon, though. Real soon. I'm minding things until he is." "He's . . . not on the ship?" Inara asked. "Where in the 'verse did he go?" "He -- ah --" Kaylee was pretty sure that information shouldn't go out over an open comm, given that it involved the cargo, which seemed to be pretty hot stuff. "He just had to go out in one of the shuttles. But when he's back I'll tell him you called," she offered. Inara frowned. Inara never frowned; frowning led to wrinkles, she'd said to Kaylee, and wrinkles were a hassle to get rid of. But now she was frowning. "Kaylee, he needs to know," she said. "Blue Sun was here. They're looking for River." Kaylee wrapped her arms around herself, chilled through. "Why?" she asked. "I thought nobody was looking for River anymore." "I don't know. And I shouldn't talk long. But I thought Mal should know that. Tell him, okay?" "Course," Kaylee said. "I will." "Good," Inara glanced around the room she was in. Nervous. Of course; if Blue Sun had been there, well, anybody sensible would be. Inara looked back into the screen, her face composed once more. "When I do have news, I'll call," she said, with a reassuring smile. Kaylee didn't feel reassured. "Thanks," she said. The comm display read 2:36. Long transmission in the clear, and they were trying to stay off grids. She hit the disconnect. Alone again, she pulled her knees up to her chest, and wrapped her arms around them. Come back, she prayed into the vast black. Be safe. ** "Don't," Zoe said, as Simon stopped at a kiosk just three ships down from where they'd landed. He didn't bother to ask her what she meant; they both knew. Simon had been stewing for three days -- from the moment she had bundled him unceremoniously aboard the transport that had brought them here, to this very instant. He wanted to contact the ship, Inara, somebody on Nassau Point -- anyone, anywhere, to try to find word of his sister. And Zoe had forbidden him, to the point of physical restraint, and then knifepoint. It had not come to gunpoint. At least, not yet. But it still might. Zoe looked at Simon and saw mutiny in his eyes, the set of his jaw, the clenched fists he held along the seams of his pants, and felt her own shoulder muscles loosen. She stiffened them; her shoulders would not sag. It would not do, not now, not when they were so close to her intended destination, to falter. Her reasons were sound, even the reasons for playing matters close to the vest. But Simon's concern for River overrode everything, and he would not comprehend her reasons until she made them explicit. "Listen," she said, tossing her head toward the ships lining the docks. Simon unclenched his fists and followed, stiffly, reluctantly, as she led him away from the main thoroughfare, into the space between two ships that were locked down tight and dark. She turned to face him, there under the looming metal and composite, and in every line of his body read opposition, animosity, This had better be good. She knew it had to be. So she considered how to begin. Not with You're not the only one who left someone behind you care about, even though it was true. Serenity had limped away, injured; were there casualties? Who? How bad? Had they been pursued? Had anyone survived, or been taken? What she wanted to say was, Don't you think I'm worried, too? But he didn't trust her now, wouldn't believe in feelings she hadn't let show, so she would have to start somewhere else. Somewhere pragmatic. "We couldn't risk our cover on the transport," she said, because he would know that was true. Their identities might be known to their enemies, and if they turned out to be valuable to someone on Nassau Point, the crew of the transport might have turned on them. Their flimsy, spur-of-the-moment cover story -- that they were lovers fleeing jealous spouses -- had to hold, at least until they got back on the ground. It had become a hard enough sell by the third day, when she'd pressed the point of her knife into the small of his back, in the guise of a lover's touch, to prevent him plainly demanding to use the ship's broadwave. Simon should have understood that much without being told; would have done, except that he couldn't see past his concern for his sister, and possibly guilt over having failed her. You're not a bad brother if you act circumspectly when you have to, she thought, but again, she needed him to listen and not shut her out, so she chose her words with care. She had learned long ago that that meant not saying most of them, ever. "We're not on the transport now," he pointed out, all his consonants hard-edged. "No. But we still shouldn't transmit in the clear." She waited, letting him comprehend. "Just a little farther." His face was still set. The kiosk was just steps away. "We need a secure comm," she said. His jaw clenched, then unclenched. It was the only sign he gave, but it was enough for Zoe. She walked past him, out into the fading evening light, walking quickly because she didn't want to have to deal with the denizens of this area who came out after dark -- the drunks and the cutpurses, but also the security forces who came on their account. She didn't know for certain whether he had followed, until she stopped. Her destination was the lobby of the best hotel within walking distance of the dock; not a five-star place by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly at least three. Terrazzo floors and cut-glass chandeliers were home to faux-suede chairs and couches, and the scent of the warm cookies enticed from a tray on the reception counter. After months of ship food, they were too tempting. Zoe took a cookie and waited for the clerk's attention; at her elbow, Simon helped himself as well. He was still with her. And she had moved quickly enough that he had to have left the kiosks alone. She checked them in -- fake names, different from the names they had given on the ship. They were now a married couple; she did not state their business. She paid the clerk in cash, cringing inwardly at the expense. One night would be all they could manage, if they wanted to keep anything in reserve for food, or further transport. One hour would have been better for their pocketbooks, but, she reflected as they made their way in silence up the elevator, along the carpeted and paneled hallway to their room, a place that rented by the hour wouldn't have had that. A broadwave console, hardwired, secure connection, unobtrusively blended with the decor, sat on the room's small desk. Zoe closed the door. Relaxed. Breathed. Felt Simon, beside her, do the same. "Now we can call whomever we like," she said.


Friday, May 27, 2011 5:27 PM


Longer and faster chapters. :)

Friday, May 27, 2011 5:39 PM


Still building. Looking forward to your next post.

Saturday, May 28, 2011 11:32 AM


Oooh, lots of tension mounting. I'm glad that Simon finally, begrudgingly, listened to Zoe. Sometimes his over riding concern for River outweights his common sense and they all need to be extra careful if they are to stay safe. As for Wash and the bomb, I hope he can squeeze out of there when the time comes without setting the gorram thing off! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, May 28, 2011 12:08 PM


Well now, I gotta say that this chapter was freaking awesome, nauticalgal, if only for Wash's (presumably unintentional) "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" reference when Mal was discussing his plan!


Really, though, this was definitely a lovely piece of the puzzle, and the moments with Inara talking with Kaylee and Zoe thinking on how she's been corralling Simon really helped add to the air of desperation the BDHs must be feeling. Kaylee's recollection of Inara's thoughts on frowning alone was worth it!

Saturday, May 28, 2011 3:25 PM


It absolutely cracks me up that y'all got the Mad Max reference. I thought it just made me look old! (And while it may have been inadvertent on Wash's part, it certainly wasn't on the author's).

I am also really glad y'all are enjoying the characterizations.


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The Four Winds, Epilogue
The end...or maybe just another beginning.

The Four Winds, Chapter 25
The rest of the crew return home.

The Four Winds, Chapter 24
Me and Elwood, we're puttin' the band back together.

The Four Winds, Chapter 23
Inara investigates matters; Mal discovers that the impossible has been done in his absence.

The Four Winds, Chapter 22
River needs Mal to solve her problem; Mal is forced to provide information to the Alliance.

The Four Winds, Chapter 21
When Mal tries to recover the cargo, will he lose more than he stands to gain?

The Four Winds, Chapter 20
Mal makes changes to his plan; River puts her plan into action; Inara decides on a plan of her own; Wash finds something he'd lost.

The Four Winds, Chapter 19
Simon gets an alias; Mal gets a look at his client; Wash gets a shock.

The Four Winds, Chapter 18
Our Heroes - and Our Villains - try to figure a way out of the mess they're in.

The Four Winds, Chapter 17
River finds out what's really going on; Simon and Zoe fall into the wrong hands.