The Four Winds, Chapter 15
Thursday, June 2, 2011

An old enemy -- or is he an ally? -- makes a reappearance.


Book, or Book's ghost, or the illusion of Book -- River wasn't certain -- led River through an older section of the Abbey, one that was being remodeled. It was hung with plastic curtains to keep the dust from spreading, but there was still a fine layer of dust on the floor. River glanced back, and saw that her shaky, shuffling steps had left a clear trail. She turned back, wanting to point out to her companion that they could easily be followed, but he had stopped, and his attention was on a blank section of the Abbey's outer wall.

Book gestured with one hand.

A faint shimmer, and the holograph faded, revealing a wooden door.

Book swung the door open, and River followed him through into an alley alongside the Abbey, forgetting about the shuffling trail of footprints.

Behind them, the holo shimmered back into place, leaving the visual and tactile impression of a stone wall.

River glanced along the alley, and was surprised to discover that she knew where she was.

Book started down the alley to their left, but River went right, and their shoulders caught. Their eyes met; Book looked uncertain. River was not. He turned, and went where she led.

What she led him to looked like a dead end. But the abbey's holograph wasn't the only illusion in the alley. What looked like a blank brick corner stacked with trash bins actually hid a narrow opening into a mazelike passage that sloped gradually down into dimness. River followed it with easy certainty until a figure, easily the size of Jayne, loomed out of the low light ahead.

"You lost, miss?" The figure was definitely positioned to block their path, and trying to be intimidating. River was, in fact, intimidated; between her unreliable senses and her shaky arms and legs, she had no idea whether she could protect herself from this brute.

"Come to visit an old friend," she said, in a fair mimic of Badger's cockney accent.

She couldn't quite make out the man's shadowed face, but she sensed surprise from him. With a lift of his chin, he indicated that she should follow him deeper into Badger's lair.

River heard Badger before she saw him, his nasal drawl carrying down the corridor. River was thrust back in memory to the day Badger had come aboard Serenity, charged with holding them all until Mal's duel had been decided.

The duel had turned out okay. River wished for a crystal ball, so she could know whether this mess would come out okay, too.

Before she could get herself any more worked up, River emerged from the dim corridor into Badger's office - a heavily carpeted, curtain-draped room whose opulent, mismatched fabrics hid electronic screens and personal defense devices - or anyway, River assumed they did. Their function surely was not aesthetic.

Her guide stepped sideways, revealing her to Badger, whose eyes first widened, then narrowed. "Well, well, well," he said, "if it ain't Mal Reynolds' little albatross."

"Your information is out of date," River said, mimicking Badger's accent just as she had before. "I've parted ways with him."

"That so?" Badger came around his desk, looking her up and down. "So who you running with now, then?"

"No one you'd know," she asserted with a toss of her head, "but no one you'd want to cross, either."

"That so?" Badger repeated. "what you want with me, then?"

"Transport," River said. "Need to get offworld, me and a friend, on our own."

Badger's head tilted, his eyes narrowed. What did she want, he was wondering, and what might be in it for him? "Where to?"

"Nassau Point," River said with as much nonchalance as she could manage. A carefree toss of the hair, a careful glance away at nothing, as if Nassau Point were a summer resort.

Badger reacted blandly - on the outside. The force of his true reaction hit River like a blow. Badger felt very strongly about Nassau Point.

"I think I can help you," he said. "Got just the ship."


Rear Admiral Terrence Coles was in the middle of his daily workout when one of his staff officers appeared at the edge of the mat. Coles excused himself to his sparring partner, grabbed a towel off the cart, and walked to where the young woman stood .

"Lieutenant?" he said, by way of inquiry.

"Sir, we have a report that River Tam has been spotted in this system."

"Hm," Coles acknowledged. Sightings like this one were not unusual, despite the fact that River Tam was -- in all the paperwork, at least -- dead. Coles himself had . . . well, not killed her, but he had facilitated the paperwork. So, technically, she couldn't be a wanted fugitive anymore. But -- as Coles well knew -- since the Tams and the rest of Serenity's crew weren't really dead, these sightings did occur from time to time, and some of them really did involve Serenity's crew. Coles had never yet actually caught up any of the people whose death certificates he had effectively forged, but he would consider it a true shame when or if he finally did. He bore Mal Reynolds and his crew no ill will, but their "deaths" had bought his promotions, and he personally would not permit them to endanger his current position.

"Did you remind the informant that River Tam is dead?" he asked.

"Yessir," the lieutenant avowed. "But he insisted."

Coles scrubbed at the base of his neck with the towel. "Well, I could stand to get on the ground for a bit," he said. "Let's go have a look. Stretch our legs."

"Sir," the lieutenant replied, with a nod, and went to have his gig made ready.

As she strode away, Coles' personal comm unit vibrated against his chest. He checked the display, and with an apologetic nod to his sparring partner, followed the lieutenant out of the gym. Once outside, he headed for his private quarters to return the call.

When the silver-haired woman appeared on his broadwave screen, Coles forced a smile. "Mother! How are you?"

Eulie Coles did not return her son's smile; her expression held steady somewhere between pinch-faced and pained. "Renny, dear, that man called me about the puppy you wanted to sell, and he said there's a problem."

With great effort, Coles did not grit his teeth as he replied, "What sort of problem?"

"Well," she said, and he could feel her hesitate on the edge of what he hoped was a carefully prepared speech. He'd already gone in person, twice, to coach her in the necessary discretion. "Apparently someone else wants your puppy, and they're willing to go to great lengths to get it. Without paying you for it."

This was bad news indeed. "What happened? Where is the puppy right now?" he asked, careful to evince concern but not fear. No reason to be afraid about the fate of a puppy, even a rare and expensive one.

"He has hidden it," Eulie replied. Coles pondered, with vexation, the report of a sighting of River Tam on Persephone, suspended in space alongside his ship. The Tams had still been with Mal Reynolds aboard Serenity not two weeks ago, when he had last checked on matters. Could she really be on Persephone? And if so, what had happened? And if so, was it linked to the fate of his ... puppy? "All right," he said. "Contact the buyer, and ask him what's going on. Try to set up another opportunity for my courier to meet with him -- and be sure to let the courier know about it, too. Let me know what you find out." "All right, Renny, dear," his mother said. Her voice trembled. He never should have brought her in on this. But he'd felt it necessary, at the time, to remove himself at least one step from the whole process, and he didn't want to trust directly in criminal riffraff. Unfortunately, his mother had proved a poor choice as well. Coles felt as if he were hanging off the edge of a cliff by a hank of his mother's embroidery thread. "Good-bye, Mother," he said, and forced a smile. "I love you, Renny dear," she said, and did the same. Coles' monitor pinged. He checked the message.

Apparently, Blue Sun had also heard the rumor about River Tam. And had beaten him onto the ground.

Coles buzzed his aide. "Scratch the gig," he said. "We're going to need a strike team."


Simon's notions of an abbey were derived mostly from period dramas about Earth-That-Was, and involved crumbling stone facades, heavy wooden doors bound with iron straps, and a lack of climate control. So he was surprised when the cluster of buildings Zoe led him to looked like a set of modern low-rise dormitories. They were ushered by a monk in a plain, traditional habit through a perfectly normal-looking exterior door on the street, walking into a tiled breezeway with a small fountain and a statue of Mary. The monk left them there, indicating that there were benches available if they chose to sit, while he departed to fetch the abbot. Looking out over the abbey's enclosed greenspace, Zoe and Simon elected to stand. The place had been tossed, and recently, too; monks moved along the paths, replacing divots and righting upended benches. It felt more prudent, in the face of such evidence, to stand.

The abbot arrived -- as tall as Zoe, but about three times her weight. He was huffing and red-faced. "You are seeking River Tam?" he said without preamble, dabbing at his forehead with a towel.

"We were told she was here," Zoe said.

"Was, yes," he acknowledged, "but we fear she is no longer among us."

"You fear?" Simon said, stepping forward. He had intended to let Zoe do the talking -- his own voice shook some whenever the subject of River came up -- but that resolve vanished at the word fear.

The abbot gestured toward the visible damage. "Representatives of Blue Sun were here," he said. "We believe they were seeking her. We cannot find her now, although neither do we believe they have her. They did not seem ... content ... when they departed."

"Where do you believe she might be?" Simon demanded. Zoe laid a hand on his arm. He shook her off.

The abbot opened his hands, palms-up. "I do not know. But if you will leave me your contact information, I will be happy to provide any intelligence I might find."

Simon took a step forward, a rebuke ready on his tongue for a man who had promised his sister asylum, and safety, only to completely lose track of her. He was stopped by Zoe's arm across his chest. "Thank you. We'll be in touch," she said, and gave Simon a firm shove backward, toward the doorway into the street. She followed up her shove with a stern look.

Simon thought about the secure broadwave, and about Zoe with her hair still dripping, wasting no time and sparing no expense once they knew River was here, and grudgingly took a step backward. He hated trusting her -- but he did trust her. Like Mal, she really did mean to keep River safe. Like Mal, she had good instincts; better instincts than Simon had, for something like this. So he waited while she told the abbot how they could be reached, and followed as she stepped again into the street.

"Now what?" he asked. He had no plan, so he hoped that Zoe did.

"We need help," she said. She set off decisively through the crowded street. "Let's see if we can find some." She led him away from the abbey, into the warren of narrow passages that was the portside district. A vendor selling kebabs shoved one in Simon's face as they passed, and Simon pushed the meat away, getting grease on his palm. Other vendors crowded him, and Simon put one hand protectively to his vest; if he would not buy, they might try to get at his money more directly. He pushed through them with annoyance, and wondered why none of them seemed to be troubling Zoe. She forged ahead, untroubled by people trying to sell her things she didn't want. Simon broke free and ran a few steps to catch up with her, plunging together with her into a brightly-colored tent that opened off the main thoroughfare.


Thursday, June 2, 2011 7:23 AM


Think I know who the monk is now.

Thursday, June 2, 2011 8:48 AM


Interesting about the admiral and mother and his puppy. Waiting to see what happens next.

Thursday, June 2, 2011 4:54 PM


Huh...glad to see everyone's favourite "pillar of the community" is still alive and well after the Operative plowed through the BDHs' allies. Does make me wonder how he survived, though...


Thursday, June 2, 2011 5:03 PM


The Way I See It, Badger is neither a safe haven nor an ally, just a sometime client. I don't think anybody would mention him among Mal's friends. So, I think we get to keep Badger.


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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.