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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
"Serenity lands on Lilac. Mal and Zoe go to meet Nelson in the mule and pick up the cargo when they discover they are being followed."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1472 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "OUT OF SIGHT"
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: Kaylee/Simon. Mal/Inara.
STATUS: Sequel to "FRIEND OR FOE".
ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where.
WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at Fireflyfans.net
SUMMARY: "Serenity lands on Lilac. Mal and Zoe go to
meet Nelson in the mule and pick up the cargo when they
discover they are being followed."
The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly'
are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.
No infringement of copyright is intended.
"HIDE AND SEEK"
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
Simon Tam stared at the screen. As far as he could fathom, the nanobots were working as intended but for now all he could make them do was follow simple linear commands. It was frustrating and limiting. The Captain listened in silence as the doctor updated him, grateful that at least Book was not able to do any harm. The man had not stirred since being shot with the tranq but how long that would last was another problem. What did they do when he woke up? The nanobots were not a permanent solution and they couldn't keep the man unconscious forever.
"Even now he's plotting and scheming."
The Captain turned his head, he had forgotten that River was sitting in the corner of the infirmary, her legs folded under her, dark hair hanging like a ragged curtain. Her large eyes made her pale face seem more colourless than usual. If he was honest, the effect was kind of creepifying but then this was River. Couldn't compare her to nobody but her ownself. "What you sayin', little one?"
She was staring at Book but her voice sounded distant. "He can't help it, it's the way he's programmed."
Mal shot Simon a look of alarm. Had thought re-programming the nanobats would take care of that. "You mean...?"
River shook her head. "*Bu qu*, just the way his mind works. He's spent so much of his life telling half-truths and lies he doesn't know any other way."
The Captain decided it was time to go up to the bridge and speak to Wash. Wouldn't be long before they reached Lilac. Didn't want anything to happen to jeopardise the job. Cashy money would buy much needed supplies and re-fuel the ship. Keep them flying. "Let me know if an' when he wakes. An' Simon?"
"Wanna know if you come up with any shiny ideas about that implant, *dong ma*?"
On the way to the bridge he met up with Zoe.
Zoe stopped on the walkway in front of him which meant Mal stopped too. "Was anythin' he told us true, sir?"
The Captain ran a hand through his hair. He was looking a mite frayed around the edges, worry and confusion knotting him up inside. Wasn't doing much for his gorram headache either. His second in command frowned.
"Think you should see the doc."
"Just came from there or you thinkin' he can shed more light on this? 'Cause I have to tell you he's as baffled as we are."
"No, sir." Zoe pointed to his head. "But Simon can give you somethin' for that headache."
Zoe stepped passed him and walked briskly towards the bridge. The Captain huffed. "How'd she know?"
"Zoe always knows."
He jumped, just a little bit but still. Girl shouldn't go creeping up on him, he was the Captain gorramit. He turned to look at her. "You followin' me?"
"Like twins but no shared placenta."
His eyes widened. What the good gorram was she talking about now? "Wha..ba..what?"
"Zoe always knows." She repeated more slowly, as if he were a not very bright child who needed to be handled with care.
"That a fact?"
River nodded. "Like Death and Taxes."
"Not much likin' those odds."
He reached the bridge with a feeling of relief, the girl just a step behind him but mercifully silent. As he stepped through the doorway he looked over his shoulder but there was no sign of the girl. Mal gave a little shake of his head then turned to Zoe and Wash. "Huh, I'm surrounded by ruttin' comedians."
Wash pretended to be offended. "I'm supposed to be the funny one!"
The Captain spun round to see River had stuck her head around the doorway and was looking at him. "Huh?"
"You said comedian. Male. Comedienne is the female form."
Zoe hid a smirk. Wash didn't bother. He always found it mighty entertaining when River unsettled the Captain.
"Anyone tell you you're a gorram know-it-all?"
Her grin lightened something heavy in Mal's heart, not that he had any intention of telling her so. "It's a burden I was born with."
Then she was gone again. Wash looked down at his console as a light flashed. "We're getting wave, Mal."
The Captain moved closer. "Who is it?"
Wash looked up. "It's from Lilac."
A smile transformed the Captain's taut features. It was about time something went right. "Put it through."
Mal did not recognise the face. The man looked to be mid-forties or thereabouts, had one of those clean shaven but never smooth faces and eyes that were permanently screwed half shut from a life in harsh sun. Definitely a native of Lilac.
The Captain shifted into view. "I'm Captain Reynolds, an' you are?"
The man's face relaxed. "Marcus said to expect you. Got half a warehouse of goods for him."
Mal couldn't quite hide his alarm. "Half a warehouse?" *Wode ma*, how in the nine hells was he gonna fit half a warehouse of goods in his boat?
He got a chuckle, the rough but honest face creasing into a million smiles hinted at in the folds of his skin. "*Fang xin, chuanzhang*. More like a gorram shed just sounds fancier, *dong ma?"
The Captain felt himself relax, happy to see the man on the screen doing the same. "Never did get your name."
"Portree Nelson." The man's face twisted a moment as if tasting something sour and distasteful. "Be mighty obliged you just call me Nelson." At Mal's raised eyebrows he rushed to explain before too much was made of it. "Mama named me after the place she gave birth, Portree. *Tianna*, I've hated the name ever since."
"Then Nelson it is."
Nelson gave directions to Wash and when he finished he addressed himself once more to Mal. "Be shiny to meet you, Cap'n Reynolds. Don't get many willin' to help out if you take my meanin'. Me an' my folks'll be waitin' for you."
The screen went black before Mal could answer. What did he mean by his folks? His family, his work crew, or something less friendly? The Captain shook off his suspicious nature. Monty vouched for Marcus Bole and this Nelson was Bole's contact on Lilac. The two men obviously had a good working relationship and he seemed like a good man. No need to be complicating things with suspicions that had no foundation in good sense. Besides. They needed this job and not just for the cashy money it would put into their much depleted coffers.
He blinked and realised he had been staring at the blank cortex screen for a couple of minutes now. Ignoring Zoe he addressed Wash. "How long 'til we land?"
"Forty to forty-five minutes."
The Captain nodded then flashed them a smile. Didn't want them thinking anything was wrong when for the first time in weeks things were going right. Zoe was frowning at him. "*Shenme*? Can't a man be happy?"
Zoe noticed his smile was somewhat forced and he carried a pinched look she knew too well. "See Simon, sir."
He opened his mouth to ask what for then realised she was referring to his headache. The headache that never actually went away, just stepped up a level or two. Maybe she was right. He would need a clear head when he met Nelson and his folks. With a careful nod he left the bridge to do just that. Once he was gone Zoe and Wash exchanged a look.
"Did Mal look worried to you, *bao bei*?"
"He's the Cap'n." Said Zoe stoutly, as if worry went with the territory.
"Yeah, but this is a milk run, *dui*?"
His wife said nothing, her head dipping down to drop a lush kiss on her husband's lips. Zoe smiled as she pulled out of the kiss, loving the look of agonised loss on her *zhangfu's* face. It never got old. "I'll let the crew know."
Wash didn't turn back to his pilot's console until Zoe was out of sight. With a little sigh he got back to work, happy to have a job and looking forward to everything going without a hitch.
Kaylee Frye loved being with Inara. The woman was not only stunningly beautiful she was graceful, kind and everything Kaylee imagined a real lady would and should be. She was also the mechanic's friend and that combination was priceless. Even more so in the Black. Inara drew the brush through Kaylee's tangle of hair, her strokes gentle but firm, the repetitive action calming and more than a mite hypnotic. Kaylee loved it.
"You have beautiful hair, *mei mei*."
"Really? Ya ain't just sayin' that?"
Inara Serra smiled, her eyes a bright sparkle of indulgent humour. "No, I'm not just saying that but it could use some conditioner."
"I wash it regular, or regular as I can. It ain't dirty."
"Conditioner isn't to clean the hair, Kaylee, but to nourish it. Feed it."
The girl turned and looked back at her friend. "Ya gotta 'feed' hair?"
"Just when it needs it. We've all been through a lot, *mei mei*, and that includes our hair."
"What are you laughing at?"
"Ya gonna tell the Cap'n?"
"Tell me what?"
Inara sighed and gave the Captain an irritated look, somewhat spoilt by the dazzling smile Kaylee turned on him. "That a gentleman knocks before entering a lady's shuttle."
He fiddled with ornaments. "Then good job I ain't a gentleman."
Inara felt her good mood draining away. Why did he always bring out the worst in her? Impossible man. "Was there something you wanted, Captain?"
Mal straightened and left her things alone. "Just that we'll be landin' on Lilac soon."
The Companion raised an eyebrow in the most elegant manner Mal had ever seen one raised. It was kind of fascinating how she turned even the simplest act into something graceful. "I take it the ship's com isn't working?"
"No, no, it works fine but..." The Captain trailed off.
Inara's irritation vanished. "Is there a problem?"
"*Bu qu*, just think River an' Simon should stay outta sight. Least 'til Serenity's back in the air."
"Mal, Lilac isn't an Alliance world. They don't even have a military base there."
"*Wo zhidao* just bein' *xiaoxin*."
Kaylee's happy smile faltered. "We expectin' trouble, Cap'n?"
"Expectin' it no, but it does always seem to find us."
In his bunk Jayne Cobb felt out of sorts. What the good gorram were they gonna do about Book? Well, whoever the ruttin' *diyu* the man wearing his face was. During their time on Serenity the man had become a good friend to the mercenary and he missed that closeness, that cameraderie. Book had been someone he had come to respect, to trust. Him being a Preacher just added to that. Now he was left feeling not only betrayed but a mite lost. He missed his friend, wanted him back, but was his friend even in there any more? Jayne didn't know and that worried him most of all.
Nelson stared at his friend. "What's goin' on, Marcus?"
On the screen Marcus Bole was not smiling. Nelson thought he would have been pleased to know Serenity was coming in to land on Lilac, that his goods would soon be on their way to him. "*Yiwusouyou* - I hope."
"Best you spit it out 'cause I'm not about to put my people at risk for Malcolm Reynolds."
"*Fang xin*, it's not that Nelson. Monty speaks highly of Reynolds, they go way back."
"Yeah, to the war."
Marcus nodded. "An' beyond. They're tight but that ain't what bothers me." He paused and Nelson waited, not wanting to push but anxious to hear him out. "Seems they had trouble, both him an' Monty. Some really bad *tamade hundan* messin' with 'em. Don't know all the details Nelson but there was torture involved."
The look of shock on Nelson's face almost made Marcus relieved in an odd, back-handed kind of way. His own worries now halved with that of his friend's. Nelson looked angry. "How could ya set me up with trouble like that? I got family, Marc! Ain't just a business to me, *dong ma*?"
"They're good people an' it ain't them I'm worried about. It's whatever *goushi* might be followin' 'em."
Nelson's eyes narrowed. "Then why give Reynolds the job?"
"I owe Monty." Marcus sighed deep, right down to his toes. "Don't wanna be such a suspicious sumbitch, Nelson, but I did some checkin' on the man. Reynolds has been in more scrapes an' trouble with the Alliance than we've had hot dinners."
"Ya sayin' he's got a price on his head?"
"*Bu qu*, but we need to tread light my friend. They seem liked goodly enough folk but if they're bringin' trouble in their wake I don't care if they're gorram Arch-Angels from on high, don't want 'em tanglin' us up in 'em."
For a long moment neither spoke. Nelson watched his friend carefully then leaned in close to the cortex screen. "We could just cancel the job."
Now Marcus looked uncomfortable. "An' what would I tell Monty?"
Nelson shrugged. "You changed your mind."
Marcus thought about that for a moment then shook his head. "Nah, I promised Monty an' I keep my word. Just be careful, Nelson. Keep those gorram eyes sharp an' the first sign of somethin' not bein' right, well, you know what to do."
"An' if everything goes like clockwork?"
"Then you take care of 'em ya hear?"
"Take care of 'em or, you know, take care of 'em?"
"Exactly! The works."
That surprised him. Nelson nodded slowly, his look thoughtful as the screen turned to black. For a long time he did not move, quietly mulling over everything his friend had said and everything he hadn't. He had liked the look of Malcolm Reynolds but now he was wishing he had never heard of the rutting man. He checked the time, Reynolds' ship would be landing in less than fifteen minutes. Just enough time to put a little insurance into place.
Simon Tam checked Book. All his vital signs were within normal parameters and the nanobots seemed to be working without any trouble but Book had yet to wake and that was slightly troubling. He wished he could look inside the Shepherd's head, see the workings of those tiny machines and inside the nanobots themselves but that wasn't possible.
"Easier than you think."
He closed his eyes a moment then opened them and turned to look at his sister. "River, nanotechnology isn't easy, especially when someone else has engineered it. I don't know it's original programming or what they are capable of and the controls I have reprogrammed are rudimentary at best."
"You want to spy on the spies. Microcircuitry. Inject some nanobots that you programme to send back data. Let them be your eyes, Simon."
For a moment he just stared at her. His beautiful, gifted sister. Then a slow smile lit his face, pride and love in equal happy measure. "Why didn't I think of that?"
"Think of what?"
Simon resisted the urge to sigh. "What can I do for you, Captain?"
"Just need somethin' for this gorram *touteng*."
Immediately the doctor looked at Mal in concern. The Captain would have snuck in and taken the pills if he could have but with Book in the infirmary, Simon did not dare leave him unattended. Mal inwardly groaned as the penlight came out.
"Everythin's shiny, just need some meds doc. No need to fuss."
"Captain, you had intricate surgery on your brain. I need to check that the headache isn't a sign that something is wrong."
Paling, the Captain stopped objecting and let Simon give him a thorough check. When he finished, the doctor took a step back, his look thoughtful. The Captain tried to lighten the atmosphere. He had places to be, things to do, and none of them in the infirmary. "Am I gonna live, Simon?"
"Um, yes, *dang ran*."
Mal frowned. "Then why the long face? Just hand me the pills an' I can be on my merry."
Simon stared at him in silence for a moment. "I just need to do a few more tests, Captain."
A look of disbelief came over Mal's face, "*Weishenme*? It's just a headache."
The Captain was getting agitated now. "Can't, got to meet with Marcus's contact on Lilac. Wash is bringin' Serenity in to land, Simon, so you wanna go proddin' an' pokin' it'll have to be after we pick up the cargo, *dong ma*?"
"Let Zoe and Jayne do it."
"That's the other thing I came to see you about."
Simon had no idea what he was talking about but River did. Plucked the thought right out of the Captain's brainpan.
"Have to hide."
"*Shenme*? I can't leave the infirmary. Book..."
"He ain't Book."
"The man we know as Book needs to be constantly monitored, Captain."
"It'll on'y be while we're on Lilac. Once we get the cargo an' lift off you can go back to fussin' over your patient. 'Sides, Jayne'll keep an eye on him."
The doctor realised he would not be able to change the Captain's mind. He could see the worry deep in the man's eyes though Mal being Mal he tried to hide it. "What are you so afraid of?" Simon asked softly.
"Just keepin' you an' your sis safe, doc."
He watched the Captain stride briskly out of the infirmary and realised the man didn't have his pills, not that he would be happy handing them out without knowing what had brought the headache on. River touched Simon's hand. "Captain Daddy's just being *xiaoxin*, Simon. Doesn't want to lose anyone else."
The words made the hairs on the back of his neck tingle. Before he could think of a reply Jayne Cobb came into the infirmary, bristling with weapons. In his hands Vera was cradled ready for action. Simon's eyes widened.
"Jayne, this is the infirmary not a battlefield."
Simon felt a tug. River pulled again at his sleeve. "Hide now, argue later."
With a sigh, the doctor went with his sister. Looking back he caught the smirk on the mercenary's face as he watched them leave. Jayne's expression darkened once they were gone. Locking the infirmary door, Jayne took up position several feet from where Book lay. He was not going to take the chance of the man waking and lunging at him before he could react. They already knew how easily he could feign sleep. All his senses on high alert, Jayne Cobb was ready to wait Book out, hoping Mal and Zoe would be back before the man regained consciousness. The mercenary might no longer trust the man lying on that bed but it didn't mean he wanted to be the one who had to put a bullet in his brainpan.
Zoe didn't like the arrangement but Mal was the Captain. She would have preferred to have Jayne with them. At least they were taking the mule and Wash had been advised to monitor their hand held coms which Mal insisted he and Zoe leave on an open channel. Zoe wondered what the good gorram he was afraid of. Had something happened and if so why hadn't he shared it with her? Kaylee had wanted to come with them, said the mule had a little niggling glitch that kept popping up at the most inconvenient times. It was not enough to risk the vehicle breaking down but it cause the mule to slow down and use up more fuel, neither of which was a good thing. Mal had refused and said he needed Kaylee in the engine room keeping Serenity ready in case they needed to make a quick exit. None of the crew were happy with the vibes they were getting from their Captain but no one had any idea why the man was so anxious.
They followed Nelson's directions to the letter and when they came out of the dock district to the business sector the Captain had to work to stop himself laughing out loud. Man had said it wasn't so much a warehouse as a shed. Looking at the little ramshackle place he thought calling it a shed was a kindness. Zoe looked around, her eyes sharp and wary. There were warehouses but they were set back at odd angles, nothing so neat and tidy as anything in a row. It both calmed and unsettled her. The Captain drove up to the ramsackle shed and stopped a few feet away from a cockeyed door that looked as if a puff of wind would blow it apart. Come to think of it a puff of wind would likely take the whole damn shed with it.
The shed door opened a crack. Mal frowned, suddenly getting a bad feeling about this. No one else seemed to be around and he and Zoe were kind'a exposed. The pause was brief then the shed door was flung open and Portree Nelson stepped out with five beefy men. While none of them were pointing a gun at him, every one of them was armed. Mal made sure to keep his own hands clear of his gunbelt and gave Nelson a nod.
"Hope your cargo's waterproof, Nelson."
The man carried on walking while his men stopped several feet from the mule. Nelson didn't stop until he was just a foot from Mal, his weathered face accommodating a careful smile. It raised the hairs on the back of Mal's neck. What the good gorram was this? "Why waterproof?"
Mal nodded at the shed but didn't take his eyes off Nelson. "Your shed, looks like it couldn't keep sunshine out. Tell the truth I'm amazed it's even standin'."
Nelson didn't laugh or smile. "Where's the rest of your crew?"
"Thought I was here to pick up the cargo?"
Portree could not believe Malcolm Reynolds had come out with just one crew member. Maybe Marcus was wrong, Reynolds wasn't the threat. He covered quickly. "It's heavy, that's all."
As Mal and Zoe were about to make their way to the shed Nelson gave a little shake of his head, a genuine smile now spreading across that leathery face. The man was broad and stocky of build with light flyaway sandy coloured hair. At least a head shorter than Mal but powerfully built. "*Mei shi*, let my men do the humpin' for you, Cap'n."
The Captain nodded slowly, watched Nelson give a small hand signal and the five men turn and go into the dilapidated hut. Oddly enough, Nelson seemed relaxed now. Friendly even. What the good gorram had changed? Nelson slowly put his hand in his top pocket, the left hand Mal noted. Nelson's gun was on his right hip. So, not his gun hand. It was obviously intended to let the Captain know that he wasn't planning any funny stuff but Mal watched him like a hawk anyway. When Nelson withdrew the money pouch, something in the Captain lightened just a mite. They weren't out of the woods yet. Nelson held up the bag so Mal could see it clearly. "Half now," he threw it and Mal automatically caught it and handed it to Zoe "half when you drop off the cargo, *dong ma*?"
Mal nodded, glanced out of the corner of his eye at Zoe who blinked once - slowly. The money in the bag was correct. Nelson's men began coming out of the shed carrying what looked to be heavy boxes between them. Two men to a crate with the fifth looking as if he was watching their backs. Well now, wasn't that interesting.
"You expectin' trouble, Nelson?" Asked the Captain quietly.
"*Bu qu*, don't hurt to plan for it though."
The two men's eyes locked and an understanding passed between them. Zoe watched the men load the cargo. Six crates in all. Once satisfied the load was secure she gave the Captain a nod. Mal held out a hand to Nelson. "Pleasure doin' business with you."
Nelson nodded, clasped the Captain's hand and held on a mite too long. Mal's eyes narrowed, his spine stiffening. Behind him he could sense Zoe doing the same.
"Don't turn round, Cap'n, but I think you were followed."
Mal swore under his breath. "Anyone you know?"
Surprise flickered over Nelson's face. It told Mal and Zoe everything they needed to know. "*Bu qu*." Nelson dropped his voice to a soft whisper. "There's another way back to your ship, not so direct but safer, *dong ma*?" Out loud Nelson said "Come an' take a drink with us before ya go. Ain't often we get folk out this way."
The Captain nodded, not trusting himself to speak and wishing he had brought Jayne to back up him and Zoe. Not that she couldn't handle just about anything but if this were an ambush the extra firepower could be the difference between walking away from this or never walking away from anything again. Mal gave Nelson a tight little smile. "Sure is a pretty day."
Nelson frowned. It was cloudy and looking close to rain. Zoe nodded but was not looking at the Captain. "A really pretty day, sir."
Up on Serenity's bridge Wash swore and lifted off. As the ship rose towards the atmo, Inara came onto the bridge, her brow creased with worry. "Did we pick up the cargo already?"
Wash shook his head but did not turn around. He was watching his instruments like a hawk, waiting to see if they would be hailed by the port authority but there was nothing. Kaylee clattered on to the bridge, her eyes wide and worried. "What's wrong, Wash?"
"*Wo bu zhidao* but Mal gave the code to lift off, *mashang*."
The men were converging on the area of the docks where Serenity was berthed just as the ship lifted off. Anger and disbelief darkened their faces. They wore dark nondescript jackets but as they walked there was the slight jingle of metal where their shiny uniform buttons and catches rubbed. A large heavyset man with a sour face and even worst disposition turned accusing eyes on his men. "Someone must have tipped them off."
A round of "No, sirs" assured him it was not any of them but the Alliance Commander already knew that. What he didn't know was how Reynolds' crew had known they were there. Commander Rigden glared at his lieutenant. "Did they make the rendezvous?"
Lt Downs nodded. He was listening to a com in his ear. "Yes sir, but it seems Reynolds has gone with Nelson and his men to have a drink."
Rigden's expression showed disbelief. A drink? "They were tipped off."
No one spoke, they didn't dare. Rigden turned a stern eye on his men. "I want to know who tipped them off and tell Ryan and the secondary team to follow them. I want to know where Reynolds goes and what he does."
Lt Downs hesitated. "*Shifu*?"
"Do you want us to take them out?"
"*Bu qu*. Orders are to take them alive."
"What about Nelson and his men?"
Commander Rigden's lips were bitter and twisted. Rumour had it his soul was in a equally sorry state. "Orders said nothing about them."
Downs nodded knowing what that meant. He didn't like taking out innocent bystanders but his was not to reason why. As the saying went, his was but to do or die. Today he planned on doing.
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *dong ma* = understand? *shenme* = what *diyu* = hell
*wode ma* = mother of God *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *qu* = yes (lit. go)
*chuanzhang* = captain *tianna* = oh God! *bao bei* = precious/treasure
*dui* = correct *zhangfu* = husband *mei mei* = little sister *wo zhidao* = I know
*yiwusouyou* = nothing *tamade hundan* = fucking bastards *goushi* = crap/dog shit
*touteng* = headache *dang ran* = of course *weishenme* = why? *xiaoxin* = careful
*mei shi* = it doesn't matter *mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *shifu* = sir
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