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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Serenity’s new cargo comes with a complication. Mal and Zoe meet the contact at a dusty dive.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1950 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Follows SPARKS FLY (03). Precedes BREAK OUT (05).
The series so far:
A LION’S MOUTH (01)
ADVENTURES IN SITTING (02)
SPARKS FLY (03)
Serenity’s new cargo comes with a complication. Mal and Zoe meet the contact at a dusty dive.
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* * *
Later that same day, Ip Neumann decided to pay a visit to the offices of Holden Brothers. He thought he’d inquire about when Captain Reynolds’s ship was expected to arrive, and potential supercargo or technical advisor positions that would get him aboard that ship. The open-plan office was a hive of activity. Jack Holden had emerged from his private office, as he did periodically, to stir his employees into a frenzy of activity. The place resembled a beehive under attack by a honeybadger. Everyone, including the receptionist, was in a tizzy, and Neumann decided the better course of action was simply to sit in the reception area and wait for the hive to return to a more sedate hum. Besides, the attack of the honeybadger was quite entertaining to watch.
Jack Holden confronted a young man at his desk. “Jeffrey, any word on that shipment of terraforming gear from Beaumonde?
“None at all, Mr Holden. I’ve tried contacting Serenity at least five times today.”
“Well, keep trying. Carlton Beier is on fire to get his shipment in. He risks having to shut down operations completely if he doesn’t have the gear in place, and that’ll cost him millions a day. He’s been paging me endlessly for the last three days and I expect he’ll be shadowing my every move before long. Let me know the instant Reynolds calls in. I want to see him before Beier gets to him.”
“Yes, Mr Holden,” Jeffrey responded, but Holden had already moved on to another area of the office, calling, “Xiu Ling!”
“Mr Holden?” she responded.
“What’s the status of the surplus export from New Worlds?”
“The warehouse reports that thirty-six containers of gravitational modifiers were loaded in this morning,” she informed him.
“This morning! Why didn’t I hear about this sooner?”
“The manager said they were delivered in unlabelled shipping containers. She was unaware that they were the gravitational modifiers until some of the crates started lifting off the pallets.”
“该死 Gāisǐ!” Holden swore. “Those units need perpetual adjustment by expert hands. I told New Worlds they were not to deliver until they could provide a technical supervisor with the goods. At this rate, my whole warehouse will be taking off into the sky!”
“Sir, that’s not an unlikely event—the manager’s had her hands full.”
“Send her reinforcements! We got anybody here with the technical know-how to bring runaway grav modifiers back to ground?”
Xiu Ling shook her head. “Not really, Mr Holden.”
“ 该死 Gāisǐ again. I intended to give that cargo to Reynolds, but at this rate, it’ll take off before he even lands. Get on the horn to New Worlds, ask them where the 地狱 dìyù is that technical supervisor, get that person over to my warehouse on the double.”
“Yes, Mr Holden,” Xiu Ling replied, but again Holden was already badgering someone else. “Jerome!”
The personnel manager readied himself for emergency intervention. Working for Jack Holden regularly involved solving the crisis of the day.
“We need a Plan B on those grav modifiers. We were gonna have to hire a supercargo to accompany that shipment anyway. So send out the bulletin now.” Holden began dictating without a moment’s pause. Luckily Jerome knew his boss well, and was already prepared. “Position open, Supercargo, technical expertise with gravitational modifiers required, to start immediately. Send references to et cetera et cetera. And offer an attractive wage. Gotta be somebody with the know-how ready to leave this dustball. New World don’t pay enough to make ’em want to stay, and Beier is too tight-fisted to make ’em a decent counter-offer.” As he finished his rant, Jerome polished up the help-wanted notice and posted it.
Xiu Ling tapped Jack Holden’s elbow. “No joy, Mr Holden. Antonio at New Worlds says the gravity tech left planet on last night’s passenger shuttle to Rio Beach.”
“Rio Beach!” Holden’s indignant voice resounded throughout the office, and the younger employees ducked behind their cortex screens as if to avoid flying projectiles. “My warehouse is about to blow up and the guy’s headed to the beach! 粗心的年轻人 Cūxīn de niánqīngrén , 不负责任 bùfùzérèn , 寻找自己的快乐 xúnzhǎo zìjǐ de kuàilè …” Holden’s voice faded as he retreated back into his office. The door closed behind him, and gradually the worker bees settled back into their ordinary level of busyness.
Neumann approached receptionist. “I understand there’s a position open for a supercargo with technical expertise with gravitational modifiers?”
The next morning, Neumann returned to Holden Brothers’ office to fill in paperwork relating to his new position as supercargo in charge of a shipment of gravitational modifiers bound for 泥球 Ní Qiú. The supercargo was to hold himself ready to board the transport ship Serenity, and to be prepared to fly at such time as the captain of said vessel should see fit. Neumann read and signed the contract, signed the releases, and wrote in his name, social control number, and mailing address many times over. All this technology available and no one could be bothered to invent self-filling forms. As he was occupied in this pleasant and cheersome task, the front door swung open and a tall man in a brown coat entered the building. The man was accompanied by two women, one tall with a military bearing, the other short and smiley, and he carried a large, heavy bag filled with lumpy objects. The man strode forward and spoke to the receptionist.
“Captain Reynolds to see Mr Jack Holden.”
Neumann looked up at the name, and paid close attention throughout the exchange that followed.
Jack Holden had just emerged from his office to begin another round of badgering his employees, but when he spotted the newcomers, he rushed over. “Mal! You son-of-a-gun! More than a week overdue! Where the 地狱 dìyù you been? Wondering when you’d get around to seeing us. Your buyer’s on fire to settle the deal…but first I’ll need to go inspect the cargo.” He took Mal’s arm and attempted to steer him right out the front door. “Now, if you’ve done well, I got a good paying export cargo for you to take on next—let me tell you—”
“Slow down a moment, Jack. I been on the planet all of five minutes. There’s some explaining to do. I had no end of trouble getting to this rock, and I’m wondering if you can shed any light as to why.”
Jack Holden had no idea, and looked it.
Mal opened up the bag, and placed several fused lumps of plastic and metal on the counter. “Do you know what these are?”
“I have no idea, Mal,” Holden replied.
“These are my nav sats, Jack. All my nav sats. All the navigational gear I got on my boat. This happened one day out from Beaumonde.”
The wheels were turning in Holden’s head as he began figuring out what had happened to Serenity. “Why the hell didn’t you send me a wave?”
“No cortex,” Mal answered. “Whatever fused the nav sats into useless lumps, also knocked out the cortex feed. I had to navigate by hand all the way from Hera—”
“Hera’s not on the way—”
“Tell me about it. I was saying, from Hera, with a partially disabled helm driver—”
Jack Holden gasped as he realized the sheer extent of damage. “Way I look at it, I’m here early. Hell, I’m glad I got here at all. Now if you have anything to tell me, why don’t we go for a little walk and…” At this point, Jack Holden, or rather the Captain, had steered the whole party out the door and toward the dockyard. Neumann, the receptionist, and a number of other curious employees were now gathered around the misshapen lumps on the counter. Neumann could just make out the melted logo of Blue Sun Corporation on the lump nearest him.
Mal and Jack Holden walked side by side through the dust toward the dockyard, where Serenity berthed. Zoe positioned herself at the ready on Holden’s other side. Kaylee, unsure what to do, finally fell into place on Mal’s other side.
Jack Holden spoke. “They’re prettier than your usual enforcers, Mal.”
“You’ve met my first mate, Zoe,” Mal said, disregarding Holden’s words. “Kaylee is my mechanic. I’m giving Jayne shore leave. He deserves a rest, since he got electrocuted and blown off the boat when we tried to fix the nav sats in space. This wasn’t just a chance failure, Jack. Someone on Beaumonde conducted a very thorough job of sabotage. And not just that. They set a booby trap—a Qianxia proximity detonator to blow up anyone who came outside to investigate. Nearly did for Jayne. Nearly did for us all. So what is it about this cargo that you and Buck ain’t tellin’ me that makes my boat such a target?”
Jack Holden shook his head, and indicated that he was unwilling to speak plainly here in the public square.
“So, the little gentleman in black velvet lives on this planet, too?” Zoe asked, coolly.
The mole again, Mal thought. Where’d Zoe come to be getting so poetical? “I’m thinking, Jack, that you owe me run of your repair yard. Kaylee, give him the list.”
Jack Holden read the list. “Mal, you’re welcome to everything I got in the repair yard. The helm driver should be no problem. Cortex feed, we can probably swing that through our corporate contacts. We even got a shuttle nav system. But we can’t come up with three nav sats. They’re a special order item, take weeks to arrive. Only way you can get them, around here, is reconditioned ones, from Nilsen. Black market.”
“Where’s Nilsen’s?” Mal inquired. “Here in town?”
“Don’t rightly know, Mal. It’s common knowledge that Nilsen runs an illegal salvage yard, but he’s very close about it. Obviously, he doesn’t want to get busted. Illegal salvage and…trafficking. These aren’t the kind of people you want to buy from, Mal. Shoot you soon as they’d deal with you. Thoroughly disreputable, skating this close—” he indicated a small distance with his fingers “—to a conviction and prison sentence…” He trailed off. Mal and Zoe looked completely unfazed. Seemed to be business as usual for them. Kaylee was wide-eyed.
“So, do you know how I can make contact with Nilsen?” Mal asked.
The four arrived outside Serenity. Mal keyed in a code to open the airlock and they entered, shutting the airlock behind them. Jack Holden walked around the crates, looking for something no one else could see. At last he spotted what he was looking for. He reached up toward the crate with an object about the size and shape of a pen. The pen seemed to shoot out a hollow needle into the side of the crate. There was a small whooshing sound like a vacuum filling with air, and apparently the pen had done its work, extracting a microscopic something from the crate. Jack Holden squinted at a tiny display on the pen. It read “data transfer complete.”
Jack Holden turned to Mal with a broad smile and handed him a bag of reasonable size full of coin. “Thank you, Mal. Buck and I are grateful, you have no idea how much…”
“That’s it?!” Mal exclaimed, pointing to the tiny data extractor. “We had someone sabotage the ship, try to kill us all, set us adrift in the black—for that?”
“Information, Mal. Most precious commodity running.”
“You of all people should know, Mal. How many times you get in trouble because of secrets and lies? Government deals in keeping its secrets. Corporation like Blue Sun thrives on keeping its secrets—and buying, selling, and trading on the government’s secrets. Well, now Buck and I have a hold of a dearly bought secret of Blue Sun’s.”
“那些腐败的 狗娘养的 Nàxiē fǔbài de gǒuniángyǎngde , 他们完全不诚实 tāmen wánquán bùchéngshí ,” Mal swore.
“They’re all in bed with each other,” Jack Holden replied.
Mal held an all-crew conference in the cargo bay to lay out the plan. “Jack Holden says he’s got us a shiny new cargo. We’ll load it up, soon as I make the deal with the buyer here and get this junk—” he indicated the tall crates that most of the crew were leaning up against “—off the boat. It’s a tech cargo, surplus grav modifiers, bound for another 荒凉 huāngliáng rock undergoing the terraforming process.”
“Grav modifiers?” Kaylee exclaimed. “Shiny!”
“Kaylee, go to Holden’s warehouse, scope out the requirements of the cargo. Grav modifiers are a fussy sort of machine, need perpetual tinkering, they come with a technical supercargo to keep ’em in tune for the duration of the flight. Jack said he’s found one can do the job. So, Kaylee, pay attention what sort of person the tech is, report back. Need to make up a room in the passenger dorm.”
“I love meeting new people! Shiny!”
“Soon as that’s done, I need you to work on the repairs to the helm, cortex, and nav sats, soon as the replacement parts come available. Draft Simon or the supercargo to help if you need.” Kaylee immediately set to work, as there was so much to be done. He turned to Inara. “Inara, will you condescend to join me for dinner this evening with the buyer and his wife at 尘球 Chén Qíu’s finest restaurant? I gotta close the deal, and...honestly, if you can lend me a hand with your feminine wiles—”
“I thought you didn’t care for me using my ‘wiles,’ Mal.”
“On the buyer—you know, charm him into giving me a fair price.”
“Since it’s you who’s asking…” she smiled.
Mal gave her a smile in return, and turned to the Doc. “Simon, see to food, fuel, water, medical supplies, septic vac…”
Simon gave Mal a curt nod, and moved off, grumbling to himself, “—because three years at the best Medacad on Osiris qualifies me for septic vac duty.”
“And River—” Mal began.
“Watch the ship,” she said, anticipating his words as usual. She continued in his dialect. “Don’t need no saboteurs makin’ the next leg of our journey more interestin’.”
“Right. Zoe, you and I are gonna go make contact with the black market junk man.”
“What about me?” Jayne asked.
“Shore leave, Jayne. You can—”
“ 超 精彩 Chāo jīngcǎi! Gonna go get sexed!”
“—take it easy.” Mal called after him, “And sleep aboard tonight! We may have to leave this planet—”
“—in a hurry. I know, I know,” Jayne called back.
Kaylee entered Mr Holden’s warehouse. It was a large building, and a great variety of packages and crates were stored in it. The most noticeable were a collection of moderately-tall long crates in the center of the warehouse. They had control panels mounted to their sides, with blinking lights in various colors, but what was remarkable was the fact that most of them were elevated off their pallets, some of them crazily so. A couple of them hovered near the ceiling, and a young man had positioned a portable scaffolding to access them. He was lying on the high platform, reaching over into the control panel of one of them, when Kaylee called, “ 你好 Nǐhǎo ! 我可以进来吗 Wǒ kěyǐ jìnlái ma?”
“ 请进 Qǐngjìn!” he replied.
“Hi, I’m Kaylee, ship’s mechanic for Serenity.”
The young man leaned over edge of scaffold, reached down and shook her hand. Ship’s mechanic Kaylee looked up at him, pretty as a picture. “Ip Neumann. Pleased to meet you.”
“Captain Reynolds asked me to talk to you about the stowage requirements for the grav modifiers.” Kaylee took a good look at the open control panel. She never could resist an interesting machine. “哇 Wā! They are no end of shiny!”
Neumann grinned. He had been enjoying his hands-on time with the grav modifiers. Hadn’t worked with them since he was in grad school.
“Are you balancing the radial motivators?” Kaylee asked. He nodded, and she added, “I’ve always wanted to learn how to do that. Need a hand?”
It was getting on towards noon when Mal and Zoe set out on foot to make contact with Nilsen. Nilsen’s business was not the kind to keep a shiny office in the square, so they kept walking past the business district and into the less savory area of Town. The dusty streets became dustier, the businesses less prosperous-looking, and the housing more ramshackle. They crossed an open sewer, a disgusting sight that had Mal wrinkling his nose. Zoe found it even more repugnant, and controlled the urge to vomit.
At last they came to the bar where Jack Holden had told them they might find Nilsen’s man. They entered the building and as their eyes adjusted to the dim light within, they saw the place was filled with laborers and loiterers, a boisterous if not well-heeled lunch crowd. At least it was cooler inside the bar, because outdoors the scorching heat had settled over 尘球 Chén Qíu, the kind of heat that stopped all activity in its tracks and made sensible people retire to the shade for siestas. It must have been all the walking in the dry, dusty heat, because Zoe collapsed into her seat as soon as they reached the table. Mal settled into the seat opposite Zoe, covering the part of the room behind her back. He ordered drinks and suggested they have some lunch as well. Might revive Zoe somewhat if she got something refreshing to eat. His pocket was full of coin from their payday, so he ordered a huge salad for himself, with all the fresh vegetables they’d been lacking for so long in space. Zoe surprised him by ordering ramen noodles, which she could perfectly well have had aboard ship. He gave her a second glance. “Zoe, you feeling alright? You know, we’re flush—no need to skimp. We can perfectly well afford vegetables—or even fruit if you want it.” Mal slipped a folded piece of paper into the waiter’s hand along with a coin as he placed the order. Zoe didn’t reply to Mal’s comments, but sat with the unfocused look that had become all too common a sight on her face in recent weeks.
Mal scanned the bar, looking for the contact. It was a seedy-looking crowd of people. Perhaps it was the dust that settled over everything and seemed to be permanently embedded into everybody’s clothes and hair and skin, but this crowd wouldn’t be winning any beauty contests. Zoe, uncharacteristically, was not scanning the room behind him for the contact or for trouble. Instead, she reached for a handful of deep-fried wonton wrappers from the bowl the waiter had placed on their table, and gobbled them like her life depended on it. Mal was just getting concerned about Zoe’s odd behavior when the food arrived. The fresh vegetables were irresistible, and for a few minutes, Mal focused on eating. After a few large mouthfuls, Mal noticed that Zoe wasn’t eating, just picking at the greasy noodles on her plate. She looked kinda green about the gills. “You wamb dum dalad?” Mal asked her around a mouthful of lettuce. Maybe she regretted not ordering something fresh. Zoe wrinkled her nose at him, swallowed, and abruptly excused herself.
Mal was surprised and not a little concerned. Not the first time he’d noticed Zoe acting a little off in recent days. But a few minutes later, Zoe returned from the ladies’ room, looking considerably better.
“You okay?” Mal asked quietly.
“Just fine now, sir. Don’t know what came over me.” She scanned the room in her usual way, covering Mal’s back. “You mind sharing some of that salad?”
“Still looking for our contact,” Mal said, shoveling a portion onto Zoe’s plate. “Holden said he’s a man in his thirties or forties, face like a boxer, rough manner, wears a torn t-shirt.”
“Sir, that could describe half the people in here. And that’s only because the other half are female.” Mal’s anxiety abated. The regular Zoe was back. They ate in silence for a while, until they were interrupted by a large and noisy stranger who swaggered up to their table with a self-important air.
“Hey! Are you Reynolds?”
“That’s my name,” Mal replied, shifting his feet under him, ready to rise into action.
“Heard you was lookin’ for Nilsen.”
“Could be,” Mal answered, casually.
“Nilsen doesn’t want to see you,” the man said, looming over him. Mal stood up and took a step back, pulling back his coat in the same motion to free up access to his weapon. Mal sized the man up, deciding how to play this one. The stranger was a bit taller, and much bigger. He stepped up into Mal’s personal space, trying to cow him, turning his back on Zoe. Nilsen had chosen his tool for his intimidating size rather than for his towering intellect. Mal noticed the other bar patrons showed little interest in the proceedings. Apparently Nilsen’s man was accustomed to bully his potential customers before talking business.
“I don’t need to see him. Just need to see the gear. If he really has it,” Mal answered, baiting him. Could it be this easy?
The man took the bait. “Nilsen’s got everything,” he said, boastfully. “He got grav dampeners, he got pin blocks, he got Gurtslers…”
Mal made his wow, that’s pathetic face. “He’s got Gurtslers! Who in the galaxy don’t? C’mon, Zoe, we’re wastin’ our time. All this Nilsen fellow got is stuff you could pick up in any common junkyard.”
“Hey!” he said, grabbing Mal’s collar, “I’m not finished. He got G-lines, grav boots, compression coils—”
Huh, Mal said with his expression. “Compression coil—that’s a nothin’ part.”
“Shut up, I’m talkin’ at you! Nav sats, cooling drives—”
“Now you’re tellin’ me the whole catalog. Let’s split, Zoe, all the man’s got is a pile a’ junk.” This was fun. The 傻瓜 shǎguā was spillin’ everything.
“It’s all sittin’ right in his warehouse, middle of the compound. And if that’s not enough for you, you 傲慢 王八蛋 àomàn wángbādàn , he got the full range of buhnders, autolocks, sonic rifles, grenades—”
Mal looked unimpressed. “Right, the usual. Don’t he got no defensive weapons? Perimeter barriers? Proximity detonators?”
“He got the best,” Nilsen’s man boasted. “Georgian Protocol repellent barrier—uses it his own self to protect the store. You want barriers, landlock systems, he got ’em.”
“You didn’t say nothin’ about proximity detonators,” Mal countered. “So you mean he don’t got none?”
“You want banned weapons, he got ’em. You gotta visit his office for that. He don’t use ’em hisself—just cause a headache if one of the local brats got blowed up pokin’ round the compound. But you can’t buy nothin’ unless you come with the right kind a’ gifts. Won’t never make it past the sentries and the dogs.”
“Gifts?” Zoe asked, getting in the game. “You mean bribes.”
“So what does a man of Nilsen’s discriminating tastes like?” Mal asked.
The man leered at Zoe. “Girls. Drugs. He always got buyers for them. ’Course, he don’t mind hard platinum, supposin’ you got enough.” The man eyed Mal with what he figured to be a withering stare. “And I don’t reckon you do.”
Mal had decided how to proceed with the transaction. “We got Ice,” he said, recollecting the street name for isoprovalyn. What was the other drug Simon had mentioned? Hydrozapam. He racked his brain for the street name. “Pam, too.”
Zoe raised her eyebrows at him, with a look that said clearly Are you out of your mind, sir? What kind of game was Mal playing? This could get dangerous, fast.
Mal flicked a glance her way. Wait on my signal. “That enough to buy our way in?”
“Could set up a meet.”
“Wheresabouts is Nilsen’s shop, then?” Mal held the man’s eyes as Zoe moved into position.
“East end of town, behind Rollie’s Wharf.”
“Tonight?” Mal asked.
“Tomorrow at 1:00. Nilsen don’t open for business at night, unless it’s the—heh, heh—‘human relations’ kind.”
Mal was disgusted with the man’s obvious relish of his little joke about Nilsen’s human trafficking business, but he kept that to himself. He only said, “Feel we can do business. See you tomorrow.” He made as if to go.
Nilsen’s man clearly felt he needed the last word. “Don’t forget the gifts, or your girl here’ll be scrapin’ what’s left a’ you outta the dust. Now let me give you your entry ticket.” Now the 傻瓜 shǎguā was settin’ up for a comedian, Mal thought. Wouldn’t he just love to give me a black eye for a ‘ticket’—heh, heh. He could see the man’s wind-up seconds before his fist began moving, and the oaf telegraphed his intentions with his eyes so clearly that Mal could plan his countermoves three moves ahead. There was no need, however, since Zoe dropped the man from behind with one swift blow to the head.
No one in the bar seemed to object to seeing Nilsen’s bully dropped to the floor. All according to plan. “Let’s go, Zoe,” Mal said. “Got work to be done.”
* * *
该死 Gāisǐ [Goddamn]
该死 Gāisǐ [Damn]
地狱 dìyù [hell]
粗心的年轻人 Cūxīn de niánqīngrén [These unthinking young people]
不负责任 bùfùzérèn [no sense of responsibility]
寻找自己的快乐 xúnzhǎo zìjǐ de kuàilè [looking to their own pleasures]
泥球 Ní Qiú [world made up for purposes of this story, lit. “mud ball”]
那些腐败的 狗娘养的 Nàxiē fǔbài de gǒuniángyǎngde [Those corrupt sons of bitches]
他们完全不诚实 tāmen wánquán bùchéngshí [no honesty in them at all]
荒凉 huāngliáng [godforsaken]
尘球 Chén Qíu [world made up for purposes of this story]
超 精彩 Chāo jīngcǎi [Hot damn, lit. ‘super brilliant’]
你好 Nǐhǎo [Hello]
我可以进来吗 Wǒ kěyǐ jìnlái ma [May I come in]
请进 Qǐngjìn [Come in]
哇 Wā [Wow]
傻瓜 shǎguā [idiot]
傲慢 王八蛋 àomàn wángbādàn [jumped-up son of a bitch]
傻瓜 shǎguā [fool]
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