The Four Winds, Chapter 19
Monday, June 13, 2011

Simon gets an alias; Mal gets a look at his client; Wash gets a shock.


Coles went to the med bay himself to check on his two guests. He touched the pad that cleared the one-way window, and looked in on them, where they lay side by side on two of the medical bunks. They were sleeping, and might have been dead, except that their faces were uncovered, and the monitors over their bunks showed strong vitals, at least as nearly as Coles could tell. He frowned at the readings on the Washburn woman's monitors; there were some indicators there that Coles couldn't parse. And of course, none of the readings could tell him what the pair were doing here. Last he'd known, Mal Reynolds had his crew together on Serenity, trying to deliver Coles's, er, puppy. It couldn't be a good sign that Reynolds' first mate and his ship's doctor were worlds away aboard an Alliance battlecruiser.

But he didn't dare ask them what they were doing here. Just having them aboard was a terrible risk, and Coles was walking a wire every instant. The steps he had taken to obscure their identities were tenuous; a wrong word from either of them could bring down the whole house of cards. Dr. Vincent stepped up beside him. "I hope I never come up against whatever did that damage," the doctor said.

"How are they?" Coles asked.

"They'll recover," Vincent said. "But they were very lucky. A few more seconds' exposure to whatever-that-was, and I don't think I would be able to say the same." He held out a datapad to Coles.

Coles took the datapad and glanced at it. Medical reports on Tam and Washburne, much of it irrelevant -- just a matter of the medical staff being thorough. He clicked through to the identifications, and suppressed a sigh of relief. The switch had worked. Simon Tam might look just like Simon Tam from the fugitive bulletins, but his DNA scan revealed him to be someone else entirely.

Vincent glanced at the datapad. "Strange, that," he commented. "Why have these two been altered to look just like dead criminals?"

"Dead criminals have their uses, Doctor," Coles replied smoothly. Legitimate uses, and illegitimate ones, as well. Coles needed to make these dead criminals look legit. He flipped back to the medical report, this time for the woman, and scanned through it, frowning when he saw the explanation for the unusual indicators over her bed. He nodded in the direction of the Washburn woman, and tapped the datapad. "Is this correct?" he asked.

Vincent glanced at the datapad, at the finding Coles had indicated. "Oh, that," he said, "Turned up in the bloodwork. She didn't report it in the history she gave us, but neither one of them was in very good condition at the time."

"Hmm." Coles considered, and decided the matter wasn't really relevant. He nodded at his two guests. "Can I speak with them?"

"You can speak with him," Dr. Vincent said. "Her condition is more fragile; I'd like to keep her sedated for a while longer."

Coles nodded. "Very well. Let me talk to him."

Vincent touched a set of controls set into the wall, and said, "He should wake up in a few minutes."

Coles palmed the window controls, restoring privacy to the two patients, and excused himself to Dr. Vincent. He had hedged everything about the two with the highest level security clearances he could manage, making broad mention of Blue Sun's involvement. Vincent should not think anything of the confidential interview. Anyway, Coles hoped so, as he slipped through the door to the recovery room and pulled a rolling stool up next to Simon Tam's bed. He set the datapad on the bedside tray, and waited.

A few minutes later, Tam woke, and focused his gaze blearily on Coles. His eyes widened. Before he could speak, Coles handed him a cup of ice water with a straw in it, from the bedside tray. With his other hand, Coles took a silencer from his breast pocket and clicked it on.

"Your name is Reitzel Murtry," he said, as the doctor eyed the water suspiciously. "You are an undercover informant reporting directly to me. Your cover identity is that of Simon Tam, the notorious criminal from the Miranda incident."

Tam blinked several times, assimilating this, and nodded.

"The sighting of River Tam was your signal to me to pick you up, because you had information to provide to me."

Tam struggled to sit up in the bed, finding the controls that raised the mattress behind him, and adjusting himself so that he was looking Coles in the eye. "Information?" he said.

Coles picked up the datapad and tapped a few keys. "This is your statement. Sign it."

Tam, looking faintly confused, took the datapad and read the statement. There was nothing in it about Serenity, her crew, or the Tams. It was a bland, straightforward summary of piracy in and around Nassau Point. Coles hoped that the fellow, in his semi-alert state, would comprehend what he was trying to do, and sign the form without arguing.

He signed it. Coles relaxed fractionally, retrieving the datapad.

"Say as little as possible while you're here," Coles instructed him. Given the security clearance surrounding Tam and Washburne, Coles hoped there would be very, very few people for either one of them to say anything to, but it was best to be as prepared as possible.

"But --" the young man looked sideways, at the Washburne woman.

"She's sedated. Dr. Vincent tells me that her condition was more fragile than yours, and he wanted to keep her sedated a little longer."

"But--" Tam began again.

"I am assured that, like you, she will make a full recovery."

"I see," Tam said.

Coles rose to go, unobtrusively clicking the silencer off as he did so. He nodded once to Simon Tam -- Reitzel Murtry -- and left.

Now, he would have to bring in Reynolds.


Mal sat on his bunk with his head in his hands. Eusabian was the man who had busted up his deal; the man who wanted his cargo; the man who had Inara completely in his grip. Eusabian had a fleet of pricey ships and a private army. Mal had a badly wounded ship, a scattered and hunted crew, and a dangerous cargo that wasn't that well hidden.

There was just no way this was going to end well. Not one that Mal could see. Not when his best hope was to make it to the region of space populated by crazed cannibals as fast as possible.

He had not felt this bleak since Serenity Valley. Not since the word came down: They ain't coming. Not since then.

His monitor blinked. He stared at it for a long breath, and then touched the toggle.

Wash's face appeared. The pilot looked about like Mal felt. Mal translated the pilot's expression as "more bad news," and felt suddenly very heavy, and old.

Wash fumbled for words. "You need to come up here," he said at last, in the tone of one man summoning another to his execution.

Mal, unsurprised to feel condemned, said "I'm on my way."

It wasn't so much that he minded dying, Mal thought as he hauled himself rung by rung up the ladder, step by step along the corridor, riser by riser up to the bridge. It was that he minded having failed all of them so disastrously. They weren't even together. He couldn't even apologize. And what he minded most of all was that he might not die; he might live, like he'd lived through Serenity Valley. He might have to go on living, carrying the reproach of them he'd failed in his heart. He didn't know if he had the strength to do it twice. He didn't know if he had it left in him to start again.

Wash's eyes were huge, like floodlamps, and his forehead was beaded with sweat. Mal steeled himself to meet this new thing, whatever this new thing was.

Wash's gaze flicked to the console. A light was blinking there: incoming comm. Mal nodded. Wash touched the toggle.

Rear Admiral Terrence Coles appeared on his screen.

Mal was so surprised he nearly fell backwards. Coles?

There was no way this could be good.

"Captain Riddle," Coles said in greeting. He nodded to Wash. "Damien."

Mal and Wash traded stunned glances.

"Admiral," Mal choked, because he couldn't think of anything else to say. Last time he'd seen Coles, the man had been a Commander. Those bars on his uniform were Mal's doing. Not that they would save Mal's skin if Coles ever felt the need to make him well and truly dead, as opposed to just dead on paper. Mal glanced at the telltales, noting that the comm was secure at both ends. Serenity had top-notch comms, thanks to Kaylee and the late Mr. Universe; even Eusabian shouldn't be able to unscramble this.

"Captain Riddle, please forgive this unexpected communication," Coles said smoothly. Mal wondered what in the 'verse the man might be about to say. "I have been trying to complete a transaction involving an expensive and rather unusual puppy, and the entire business is not going smoothly. I have been informed that you are the man who was supposed to deliver the canine, so I thought I would contact you directly to see what we could work out."

Mal blinked dumbly at the screen. Wash caught his eye and mouthed, Puppy?

Terrence Coles had gone loony. Unless he wasn't talking about a puppy at all. And if he wasn't talking about a puppy, he had to be talking about...

Mal shook his head, to clear it. First Inara's client, and now... well... Mal's client.

Whatever that torpedo-thing was, the man who was trying to buy it, or maybe to sell it -- Mal couldn't be sure -- was apparently Rear Admiral Terrence Coles. And why not? He had already bought his promotion with a lie, why not try for more? And for money, this time? And why not use a man he'd dealt with in the past?

So, Mal smiled. "That's right, Admiral. We've had a bit of a problem --" Mal floundered for the right words, "delivering your, uh, puppy."

Coles relaxed a bit. Mal had guessed right. "I was told that someone else had taken an interest in the puppy, and was trying to obtain it for himself? Or herself, perhaps? Without paying," Coles said.

"Oh, have they ever," Mal said, warming to the conversation a bit. "I never saw such a ruckus over a critter as this. You, ah, got any advice about how you want me to proceed?"

"Well, first I would like to know if my puppy is safe, or if it is already in the custody of this third party," Coles said.

"It's safe. For the moment, anyway," Mal replied. "Although it ain't directly in my possession, right at the moment." His brain ran on ahead. Coles wanted to buy, or maybe sell, the torpedo-thing. Whichever it was, it was Coles who had brought Mal into this deal. And Coles was an Alliance Admiral, who maybe had a fleet at his disposal. Not that he could afford to expose himself too far; he sure wouldn't want anyone to uncover the deception that had bought him his flag. But if he needed this deal badly enough, maybe he could find a way to be helpful about it. And Alliance firepower sure would be helpful against a private army. "Admiral, I don't suppose you could, maybe, help us out?" Too vague, but he hadn't had time or wit enough under the circumstances to come up with better. If Coles wanted this, he was going to have to give them something. Mal was down to nothing.

Coles frowned into the camera. "Perhaps, Captain. We've had some complaints about pirates getting a little out of hand in that area, and I was planning to come do something about them."

Mal held his breath to keep from sighing in relief. The irony of him feeling relieved to have Alliance guns at his back was not lost on him, but if anything could put Eusabian's fancy yacht at a fair distance, it would surely be an Alliance battlecruiser. That at least ought to give Mal a chance to recover the cargo, and maybe get it where it was meant to go, without getting shot to bits.

He could worry about Inara later. He hoped.

"You gonna want me to deliver your puppy to you, then?" he asked, and Coles shook his head no.

"Of course I cannot take a pet aboard my ship," Coles said sternly, "But perhaps I can arrange for you to deliver it while I am in the area."

Coles wasn't going to touch the cargo directly, then. But if he was willing to park a battlecruiser somewhere in the neighborhood while Mal made the delivery, it could certainly discourage third parties from coming around with guns. Mal nodded, tacitly accepting this compromise.

"There's another matter you could, perhaps, help me out with," Coles added, unexpectedly, and the hair on Mal's arms prickled. "I have picked up some civilians who were... caught up in something unfortunate. They haven't suffered any permanent harm, and I don't think they know anything useful, or dangerous, so I need to return them home."

Coles touched something, and suddenly Mal and Wash were looking at an infirmary room, with Simon and Zoe lying asleep. Mal's throat closed up. He heard the hitch in Wash's breathing. Coles reappeard on the screen. "Do you think you could get these three citizens where they need to go?"

Three? Mal did a quick internal headcount -- him, Wash, Jayne and Kaylee here on Serenity, Inara with Eusabian, Zoe and Simon there somehow with Coles (How in the 'verse? Mal wondered, but saved up the question for later) -- did Coles also somehow have River? Did he think he had River, but she'd gotten away from him and he hadn't realized it yet? Clearly, he couldn't just ask that. "Three?" he said. "Is, er, is the third one a girl?"

Coles looked slightly surprised. "I suppose it might be a girl," he said, "I didn't think to ask."

"Might be?" Mal was trying to catch up to the conversation, to read between the lines, to figure out whether the third person Coles was talking about might be something akin to the "puppy" they'd spoken of earlier, and he was coming up blank.

"I was referring to the woman's unborn child," Coles said matter-of-factly. "I apologize for not being clear."

Woman's...unborn...Mal wondered if the oxygen had dropped again, because he seemed not to be understanding plain English all of a sudden. Had that man just said that Zoe was pregnant? Mal looked sideways at Wash, not caring that Coles would see him do it. Wash was staring at the screen, looking... stupid. Just dumb, as if every brain cell in his head had gone belly-up in an instant, starting with the ones that ordinarily wired up his jaw.

He didn't know, Mal concluded.

Coles was waiting for a response. Mal forced a smile. "Be happy to," he said, "er, help out, uh, those unfortunate citizens."

Coles smiled broadly. "Then I expect I'll be seeing you soon," he said, and the transmission ended.

Mal looked again at Wash, who gawped idiotically back at him.

Mal couldn't think of a single thing to say, except, "Tzao gao."


Monday, June 13, 2011 6:42 AM


Well that was unexpected.

Monday, June 13, 2011 1:52 PM


Heh. Author's postscript: I tend to dislike PregFic and BabyFic, largely because I think they change the whole tone of the series, from action-y to cutesy.

I kinda wanted to see if I could do it and still keep that "Firefly" space-opera gunslinger actiony feel.

Monday, June 13, 2011 3:32 PM


Oh, now this is an interesting development. Still want to see Mal and all aboard Serenity get their air back--they've been oxygen-starved for long enough. Can't be doing them any good.

Monday, June 13, 2011 3:40 PM


Oh, yeah, and I meant to add--
Don't be afraid of the subjects of pregnancy and children. They're part of life, including life on the edge like our BDH's lead, and avoiding them because they might change the gunslinger landscape is a little like the TV execs objection to Joss Whedon that Wash and Zoe shouldn't be married because married people can't have interesting love lives. Just avoid cutesy, I totally agree with you on that.

Monday, June 13, 2011 4:16 PM


ebfiddler: that's exactly how I feel about it. It's part of life. I just don't want it to change the tone.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011 10:52 AM


I chuckled all the way through Cole's exchange with Mal at the end. Not exactly the way Zoe would have wanted Wash and Mal to find out but as Jayne would say, 'anyone you walk away from'. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, June 14, 2011 6:08 PM


I am SO GLAD that the humor is working, at least for somebody! Humor is hard for me, but there's plenty of it in the show, and it wouldn't be right not to have it, so I try to get it in there.


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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.