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EBFIDDLER

EXPECTATIONS (04) Part (04)
Wednesday, July 6, 2011

An attempted rescue, a hasty departure, and a new development.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3852    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

EXPECTATIONS (04) Part (04)

Follows SPARKS FLY (03). Precedes BREAK OUT (05).

The series so far: A LION’S MOUTH (01) ADVENTURES IN SITTING (02) SPARKS FLY (03)

An attempted rescue, a hasty departure, and a new development.

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* * *

One of Mal’s specialized tools opened the lock on the warehouse door, and Mal and Zoe wasted no time. They quickly and systematically went through the rows of spaceship parts stored in the dimly lit building. There were only two nav sats, and they loaded them into their bags, and moved back to the door. Mal had edged the warehouse door open a crack when the back door of the house was flung open, and a man armed with a military-grade assault weapon exited, passing in front of the warehouse on his way to another building. Mal waited for him to pass. He stopped at a building right opposite the warehouse, and as he opened the door, Mal caught a view of a disturbing sight. “It’s a slave pen,” he hissed at Zoe. The man had shut the door behind him, and the silence of the night was invaded by cries and moans. They heard a shout and a crack like the blow of a blunt weapon. Then the man emerged from the building dragging a woman with him.

“Shut up, whore,” he growled at her. She struggled in his grip, but without hope. “You’ll clean up pretty. Boss is gonna like you. So will I.”

Mal tensed, ready to spring out to the rescue. Zoe put her hand on his arm and signaled No. “I could take him,” he hissed. Zoe shook her head, and drew his attention back to the house, where another armed man stood on the stoop.

“Hey, 混球 húnqiú, don’t take all night,” the man on the stoop called. “The boys are gettin’ impatient.”

去你的 二百五 Qùnǐde èrbǎiwǔ ,” said the first man. “I’m comin’ fast as I can.”

“Boss won’t like it if you have her first.”

闭嘴 Bìzuǐ.”

By this time, he had dragged the woman into the house. The door slammed shut behind them. Mal was out of the warehouse in a flash, carrying the heavy bag in his left hand, weapon at the ready in his right. Zoe followed with her bag, covering his back. Mal tried the door of the slave pen. It was locked, but he made short work of it with the same tool that he’d used to open the warehouse. Mal pulled the handle out, and opened the door with caution. The room was full of ragged people, men and women, sitting on a dirt floor and looking utterly defeated. They were unshackled, and there were no guards. The people regarded him with a mixture of fear and hostility. He was armed and looked dangerous.

Mal addressed the people in his sergeant voice. “Nobody make a sound. The dogs are asleep and the perimeter barrier’s down. You’re to move out, silently, in small groups. Go building to building, stick to cover. Once you’re outta the compound, split up, and get as far away as you can. I can’t guarantee we took all the sentries down.”

No one moved.

He spoke again. “You’re free, people. Free. Get outta here.” Still no one made a move. He repeated the entire message in Chinese, but it was as if they were frozen. He and Zoe couldn’t hang around here all night.

Mal and Zoe moved out the door. They beat a retreat the same way they had come into the compound. Still none of those people were moving. Mal and Zoe were about two buildings away when suddenly many things happened at once.

The people poured out of the slave pen in a throng, making a hell of a noise. A few had the presence of mind to take Mal’s advice, and slipped off behind the other buildings, but most of them stayed in the grassy yard in front of the warehouse. Their noise attracted the attention of Nilsen’s people in the house. Armed goons poured outside. Mal and Zoe didn’t see what happened, but could take a guess, as they heard lots of shouting and a fair amount of weapons fire.

Mal and Zoe ran from cover to cover, their heavy bags beating against their sides and weapons at the ready. They passed the sleeping dogs, and were nearly to the perimeter barrier, but the noise, yelling, and weapons fire had attracted the attention of a few more sentries they had not taken down before. As Mal rounded the corner of a building, he ran straight into a sentry, who was luckily taken as much by surprise as he was. Mal dropped the bag and disarmed the sentry. Reluctant to signal his location to others by firing a weapon, Mal attacked the sentry with his fists. The man was a trained fighter, and Mal took a punch in the eye and some blows to the face before he managed to give a knockout blow. He spat out some blood. 混蛋 Húndàn had given him a split lip, too. Zoe continued her retreat with her bag, and encountered another sentry. The man had his weapon at the ready, and he attempted to shoot her point blank. Swinging her bag, Zoe knocked the barrel of the gun off target, and the shot went wide. Dropping the bag, she attacked him. Mal came up and together they finished him off, leaving him unconscious on the ground. Mindful of the shot that was fired, they picked up the bags and high tailed it. Hopefully the shot would pass unnoticed in the ruckus down by the house.

* * *

Mal and Zoe jogged along, putting the distance between themselves and Nilsen’s compound.

“Sir, that was a hare-brained idea, trying to rescue all those people.”

“Thanks for the observation, Zoe.”

“Noble, but hare-brained. Made us a few more enemies here tonight.”

“Adding them to my collection. C’mon Zoe, there’s quite a few planets where I still have no enemies.”

“Yes, and most of them are uninhabited.”

* * *

They arrived back at Serenity just before daybreak. Neumann, who had slept in the passenger dorm, was awakened by the sound of the cargo bay doors opening and crawled out of bed in his yukata to investigate the commotion. His jaw dropped as he took in the sight of the Captain and first mate. Their clothing was torn and dirty and they carried bulging loot bags in their bruised and bloody knuckles. The captain sported a split lip and a blooming black eye, and both of them had blood on their shirts. Where the 地狱 dìyù had they just come from? If he didn’t know better he’d say they’d just been out stealing—everything about their appearance screamed “thug” and “thief.” Did he know better?

“Kaylee!” the Captain shouted. “Where’s Kaylee?”

Kaylee emerged from behind Neumann wearing one of Simon’s shirts. Mal and Zoe set down the bags. Zoe set about opening her bag to reveal the nav sat inside.

Kaylee was all concern. “Cap’n! Zoe! What happened? Are you alright?”

“ ’S fine,” Mal said, briskly. “Got you some nav sats. Get up on top of the boat and install them quick as you can. We fly at 0630, first civilized hour we can leave this rock without arousing suspicion. Where’s Simon?”

Zoe opened the other bag, and Kaylee helped her unload the nav sats. Zoe straightened up and followed Mal as he headed toward the infirmary. Simon emerged from his bunk bare-chested, wearing only his sleep pants. Mal passed Neumann, whose mouth was still wide open, and looked him in the eye. “You must be Holden’s supercargo,” he said without warmth. “Welcome aboard. Zoe!” he called, and strode off to the infirmary.

* * *

Mal, Zoe, and Simon converged in the infirmary.

“Doc, I want you to check out Zoe, first thing, make sure she’s alright.”

Simon obeyed the Captain’s orders, but Zoe brushed him aside. “I’m fine, not a scratch. But the Captain needs his head examined.”

Mal shot her a sharp look. He couldn’t reasonably object, since his face sported some obvious injuries. He gave a hint of a smile. Two marks, Zoe, his glance said. It was a long-running game they played. Simon turned to Mal and began cleansing his wounds.

* * *

Serenity took off without incident in the early morning light. They broke out of atmo, leaving 尘球 Chén Qíu far behind. After setting the course and autopilot, River joined the rest of the crew at the breakfast table, slipping happily into a seat beside Ip Neumann. The Captain had gone all-out, authorizing the expenditure of their hard-earned platinum on fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh bread and baked goods, milk, cream, and real eggs, luxuries that were rarely seen aboard Serenity. The crew was thoroughly enjoying the feast, and the mood was celebratory. Except Neumann, who sat in silent shock, wondering just what kind of crew he had agreed to ship out with.

Neumann looked round the breakfast table. Who were these people? Was it all in a day’s work to bring stolen property aboard and make a quick getaway? What had he gotten himself into?

“Help yourself, Mr Newman,” Mal said, pleased with himself for remembering the new supercargo’s name. “Not often we have fresh food like this aboard ship.” He gave the man a welcoming smile.

Noy-man, not Newman, Neumann automatically corrected, but he didn’t dare speak aloud. Most enigmatic of all was the Captain, sitting at the head of the table, Neumann thought. He had seen the man three times, and it was as if he had seen three completely different people. He was having trouble reconciling them. His first impression of the man, when he first saw him at Holden Brothers’ office, was of a competent professional who had just successfully weathered a challenging crisis as ship’s captain. Later, he saw the well-dressed Captain in company with a Registered Companion. Neumann figured that the Captain must be wealthier, and of higher social standing, than he had guessed. His third encounter with the Captain had him completely flabbergasted. For the Captain had turned up at dawn, apparently having committed theft, and ordered a quick getaway.

The supercargo remained silent, and was regarding him with an odd expression on his face. Aw, hell, thought Mal, this was why he didn’t care to take on passengers. There was always something. He seemed to be a magnet for attracting terribly strange folk. The supercargo was staring at his face. He began to get a crawly feeling on the back of his neck. A Fed agent? A spy? Then the light of reason struck him. Of course. 糟糕 Zāogāo . I must look like hell. Probably scaring him senseless with all them bruises. Probably looks even worse when I smile. Mal broke eye contact and applied himself to his breakfast.

Neumann carefully watched the Captain. He looked like hell, with a black eye blooming into full color and a split lip, his face swollen and bruised despite the doctor’s patches and ointment. He’d been up all night. Still, he seemed to be in a great mood, laughing along with the rest of the crew, clearly enjoying the fresh foods and cream in his coffee. Which was the real man—the thief, the rich man, the professional? The man clearly had the confidence of Jack Holden, but why? And had he really been to Miranda? Neumann had been on fire to talk to the Captain about Miranda. Now he wasn’t even sure how to begin to talk to him about anything.

“Would you like some cantaloupe, Mr Newman?” Inara asked him. He was seated on her right, and she turned away from the spectacle of Mal with his poor bruised face to welcome the newcomer. “We haven’t been properly introduced. I am Inara.” She held out her hand and smiled, the courteous Companion smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. The Companion had perfect manners, as he expected. She acted as if the sight of the Captain beaten black and blue in the face were nothing extraordinary. Neumann was puzzled. Was she aboard simply because the Captain had engaged her services? Or was she a part of the crew? She certainly seemed at home, but he supposed that looking at ease was one of a Companion’s professional skills. It was clear that she and the Captain were glad to see one another. Was that professional, too, on her part? What had she been doing while the Captain was out thieving until dawn?

“Reach me one of them bread rolls, willya, Inara?” Jayne called, stuffing a large piece of fruit into his mouth and chewing as he spoke. Jayne hadn’t waited for an invitation to take advantage of the fresh food, and was on his third helping. “Eats better than them choice combustibles, don’t it?” Jayne said around a mouthful of bread.

“Choice comestibles,” Simon corrected in an automatic response.

“Whatever,” Jayne shrugged at the Doc. He didn’t know why the Doc called them protein packets combustibles, but he liked the name. Prolly ’cause when the Doc cooked, he usually set the stuff on fire—all his learning and he still didn’t know one end of a stove from another. Shrugging again, Jayne poured an extra dollop of cream into his coffee.

The large man called Jayne was clearly the muscle of the crew. Neumann had no reason to think ill of him, although clearly sensitivity to others’ feelings was not his strong suit.

“Don’t take all the cream, Jayne. Leave some for the strawberries,” Kaylee admonished.

“You’re just sayin’ that ’cause you want to keep it all for yourself,” Jayne countered. “Make your bottom all fat and round. You know, there’s worlds where all the men like women’s bottoms to be fat,” he added with a leer.

Okay, maybe he did think ill of Jayne. It wasn’t a nice thing to do, talking that way to a sweet girl like Kaylee. The pretty mechanic was so friendly, welcoming, and kind. The first member of Serenity’s crew he’d properly met, and he had felt then that if she were a representative of the kind of people who lived on this ship, then he couldn’t have found a better berth. Unfortunately, she seemed to be more the exception than the rule.

“Ip, would you like some strawberries and cream?” Kaylee smiled sweetly at him across the table.

What was a girl like her doing on a ship like this? Then again, what was he doing on a ship like this? He felt the heat of someone’s glare, and looked away from Kaylee to meet the eyes of the doctor, which were focused on him with hostile intensity. Now here was another enigma, he thought, giving the doctor a half-smile of acknowledgement and breaking eye contact. The doctor was Core-bred and well-educated, that much was clear from his first words. What an educated man like him was doing on a boat like this…. For reasons Neumann couldn’t fathom, the doctor seemed to have taken a dislike to him. He had no idea why, he’d barely exchanged more than a few words with the man. The doctor seemed to have a particular connection with the pilot, and spent a lot of his time gazing intently at her across the table. Neumann wondered if perhaps they were a couple.

River enjoyed being next to Ip Neumann. Here was a fresh—and intelligent—mind for her to meet. And far from simple. Right now he was feeling confused. River understood. The people of Serenity were a confusing lot. They confused each other and they even confused themselves. Circles and clouds and webs, instead of straight lines. Only Jayne thought in straight lines, and he still got confused. Ip Neumann was a web thinker. Good method for a terraformologist. Make the connections between the disparate elements. Learned the web from his mentor. Tree method: solid trunk of knowledge, branch out. Web method: threads of knowledge, draw the connections, see the whole. Mushroom method: keep ’em in the dark, and pile on the 马屎 mǎ shǐ. River laughed out loud.

The pilot sat happily at his right side. She seemed very young. Neumann hadn’t heard her say a word, yet she smiled at him as if she knew him already. It was a little disconcerting. Then she laughed. Had he missed something funny? There’d been lots of jolliness at this meal, inside jokes he didn’t understand, for the most part. There was something unsettling in that girl’s laugh.

Zoe, the first officer, was the only other person at the table who looked as discontented as Neumann felt. She struck Neumann as a right badass, probably dangerous. She’d been out thieving with the Captain, and didn’t seem to have the Captain’s knack for looking like a jolly pirate in the morning. Neumann had seen her boss Jayne around in a very unreasonable way. She looked decidedly unhappy…sick, actually.

“I don’t feel—’scuse me.” Zoe suddenly bolted from the table, and the crew was treated to the sounds of vomiting from the nearby head. Everybody exchanged looks of surprise, except Mal, who looked thoughtful. He flashed a look at Inara. She seemed to have an idea of what was up with Zoe.

“Guess Zoe’s not feelin’ so good,” Jayne said into the silence, and continued stuffing his face. “What?” He glared around the table. “Throw me a few of them sugar cookies, will ya, Doc?”

“Don’t look now,” River said, drawing everyone’s attention, “but Simon’s about to toss his cookies.”

Zoe returned to the table shortly, in a much better mood. Mal was beginning to see a pattern. “You alright?” Mal asked Zoe quietly as she passed by on the way back to her seat.

“Yes, sir.”

“Really?”

“Just fine, sir. And how’s your head?”

* * *

Zoe declined Inara’s offer of tea and preferred to remain standing, but at least she did not seem anxious to leave Inara’s shuttle, despite the sensitive nature of their discussion.

“Don’t you think it’s possible?” Inara asked.

“Wash is dead, Inara, how could it be possible?”

“I’ve seen other women with the same symptoms.”

“Other women with living husbands?” Zoe shot back, angrily. Anger was her defense, because her only other option was crying, and she didn’t want to do that. “Or did you think I’ve already taken up with another…”

“I’m sorry, Zoe, I don’t mean to imply anything of the sort.”

“Besides, Wash was using contraceptives. He wasn’t quite ready for fatherhood. Kept saying he wanted to wait for our life to get more settled.” Now she really was about to cry, despite her efforts.

Inara’s heart went out to Zoe. Had Zoe been a different sort of woman, Inara would have hugged her. “What about you?” she asked, gently.

“I was telling him for the last three years that it was time we started a family,” Zoe stated with some force, re-asserting her control over herself.

“I mean, what about contraceptives? Were you using them?”

“Hell no. I wanted a family.”

“You know, at the Academy, we had a term for women who relied entirely on the men to take care of birth control: Mothers.”

* * *

Inara hadn’t fussed too much about his face, and for that he was grateful. He knew he still looked pretty dreadful. The bruises and split lip interfered with the kissing, but Inara had managed it all beautifully. She just focused her attentions…elsewhere. Mal smiled in recollection. He knew the smile on top of the bruises made him look especially hideous—new supercargo jumped a mile high every time he came upon him suddenly and flashed a greeting, which is why he did it as often as he could. Simon’s ointment and patches were working, and most of the bruises were fading. The black eye felt better, but had turned a spectacular shade of purple and green. Mal exited the shuttle, buttoning his shirt, and ran right into Zoe.

“Oh, hello, Zoe,” he said with a guilty start. “I was, uh, just checking something, Inara asked—”

“It’s alright, sir. Everybody knows.”

“Everybody knows?”

“Except maybe Neumann. They all wish you joy—”

“Joy—” Mal babbled.

“And they hope you won’t screw it up. You and Inara have been having lovers’ quarrels for goin’ on three years now. It’s about time you put some substance behind the first of those two words.” She walked off, leaving him with no reply.

* * *

Zoe sat on the exam table in the infirmary. The door was closed and the privacy screens were in place. Simon ran a test sample through his portable diagnostic device. The machine beeped and Simon checked the result. He looked up with a bit of a smile, and approached Zoe. “Congratulations.”

Zoe looked at him, both surprised and not surprised at the same time.

“You’re nearly twelve weeks along. You really weren’t sure?”

“No, I…missed my cycle, of course, but I figured it was stress. It’s happened before, during the war.”

Simon automatically back-calculated. The baby had to have been conceived around the time of their visit—their first visit—to Haven, right after River had been triggered at the Maidenhead Bar. He gave Zoe a kind smile. “Wash’s legacy.” He paused for a moment of silence, looking down, honoring Wash’s memory. “Would you like me to do a scan? You’ll be able to see the heart beat.”

Zoe nodded. Simon left the infirmary to get the equipment. She patted her belly and smiled a little contented smile—her first genuine smile since Miranda. Her other hand went to her shoulder—she was sure she felt it. Wash resting his hand lovingly on her shoulder, caressing her hand, smiling with love and pride. “Hello, baby,” she whispered.

* * *

*

*

*

fin

glossary

混球 húnqiú [asshole, jerk]

去你的 二百五 Qùnǐde èrbǎiwǔ [Go to hell, you idiot (lit. ‘go to your’ + ‘two hundred five’ What can I say? It’s an idiomatic expression.)]

闭嘴 Bìzuǐ [Shut up]

混蛋 Húndàn [Bastard]

地狱 dìyù [hell]

尘球 Chén Qíu [name of a world]

糟糕 Zāogāo [Crap]

马屎 mǎ shǐ [horse shit]

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COMMENTS

Wednesday, July 6, 2011 8:11 AM

NUTLUCK


Tis what I expected but it was fairly obvious.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011 8:11 AM

NUTLUCK


Tis what I expected but it was fairly obvious.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011 11:10 AM

BYTEMITE


Wasn't River first triggered in the Maidenhead Bar on Beaumonde?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011 12:15 PM

AMDOBELL


I did chuckle at Mal and Zoe getting into a little ruckuss when Mal found out about the slaves and tried to free them. As for Ip, I keep swaying between thinking he is good and convinced he is up to something. Very happy for Zoe. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Wednesday, July 6, 2011 1:23 PM

EBFIDDLER


Byte: Yes, their first visit to Haven was right after River was triggered at the Maidenhead. I have tweaked that sentence to make it clear that I meant what you said.

Ali: On the fence about Ip Neumann? Good! Exactly what I want you to feel at this stage. Glad you liked the Mal / Zoe interaction.

Nutluck: Too obvious? Oh well. I never claimed I could write a plot. Just an amateur writer, here, and a green one. Hopefully you're not too disappointed by the lack of suspense.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011 6:28 PM

PLATONIST


Love Neumann's observations about Mal’s motley crew, I think Inara’s and Simon’s presence would confuse anyone’s senses.

And of course, Mal, smiling purposefully at super cargo, just to make him jump, is so Mal.

Hope everything goes okay with Zoe’s pregnancy, looking for more.

Thursday, July 7, 2011 10:58 AM

NUTLUCK


Well I think just about everyone knows the signs of pregnancy so it wasn't a big shock. Thats not a knock or bad, just saying is all.

Plus a couple of fanfics lately have went with that theme. :)

Friday, July 8, 2011 5:03 AM

PLATONIST


I assumed you were staying within canon in regards to her pregnancy (see "Float Out") so no big surprises.

My thoughts are more along the lines of asking; will she stay with Mal or venture out on her own?

Saturday, July 9, 2011 7:58 AM

EBFIDDLER


Thank you for your comments.

Yes, I also view Zoe's pregnancy as somewhat canon, although I don't incorporate everything from the comic books, just use what seems to apply, as opposed to the original episodes and movie, which I comb through in detail. Just for the record, I don't view the introduction of pregnancy (or even children) as an indicator of all fluff.

Platonist: I had much fun writing the scene at the breakfast table, because writing the crew from the perspective of an outsider was interesting. Glad you liked Mal's joke at Ip's expense.


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