BREAK OUT (05) Part (01)
Saturday, July 9, 2011

Serenity’s new supercargo has a secret.


BREAK OUT (05) Part (01)

Follows EXPECTATIONS (04). Precedes THE TRIAL (06).


Serenity’s new supercargo has a secret.

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* * *

Mal and Inara sat side by side on his bed with their backs against the bulkhead. They held hands, their fingers caressing each other as they talked. One of the best things about being together, Mal found, was the companionship, not in the capital letter sense of the word. Inara, simply by asking, got him talking about some things he hadn’t thought on in years. Turned out his life hadn’t always been all bleak and tragic, after all. He just hadn’t thought about the fine and shiny things in so long. Now she had him telling one of the shiniest stories of all, though it hadn’t seemed that way at the time.

“…so the three of us saw we were right by the local swimming hole. And it was a mighty hot day, and we were tired and sweaty after all that walking…”

“So you went for a swim?” Inara prompted.

Mal nodded, with a twinkle in his eyes. “Now you see, Indian Brook was the prime swimming hole for the entire Northside—everybody went there,” he explained. “Families with the little ones, grannies, grandpas, and all. So it was a proper family swimming hole, strictly suits-on, you understand.”

“I take you had not brought along your bathing suits.”

“That’s more thinking ahead than anybody could rightly expect from three thirteen-year-old boys. We’d set out for a hike, not a swim. But you see, we looked down into that clear, cool water, the color of weak tea, and it was more than we could do to resist walking down the path that led down the steep bank, at least to take off our shoes and dangle our feet in the water. Well, after a while, we thought, ain’t nobody around, so we shucked off our clothes and in we went.”

He paused, surrounded by memories of the fine old swimming hole. “It was glorious. There was a broad, flat area, where the brook made a bend, covered with pebbles and cobbles—that was where you’d leave your towel, supposin’ you had one, which we didn’t—and a shallow area where the parents let the little ones splash about. Then it got deeper, much deeper, as it ran right up beside a rocky cliff on the other side. There were a few spots you could scramble up to a ledge and jump off into the water. So there we were, climbing, jumping, swimming, havin’ a ball. It wasn’t til it was too late to make our escape that we even heard their voices.”

Inara gave him a look of shiny-eyed anticipation, and squeezed his hand.

“It was May Stanley, surrounded, as usual, by a bevy of beautiful maidens.”

“A bevy of what—?”

“She was the queen bee of our school, four years older ’n us boys, and that much higher and mightier. And she and her friends weren’t dressed for swimmin’. I suppose that shoulda tipped us off, but we were too concerned with stayin’ in the deeper parts of the water, lurking behind the few boulders that existed in that part of the brook, tryin’ to keep our—hopin’ they’d decide not to stay.”

“So they stayed.” Of course.

“Oh, yes. And when we begun to pay attention to what they were talkin’ about, we realized we needed to come up with a plan of action to extract ourselves from the brook before things got all manner of worse.”

“How much worse could it get?” she asked with a smile.

“Oh, things can always get worse. You see, we’d clean forgot about the Church Ladies’ Tea.”

“The Church Ladies’ Tea?”

“Every year, the Church Ladies put on a fancy high tea, just for the women and girls. They’d set up the tea tables in some scenic spot, and the women and girls ’d dress in their finest, and they’d eat cucumber sandwiches and tea biscuits and sip tea and enjoy polite conversation.”

“That sounds like my childhood,” Inara mused.

“When we realized that May and her bevy were just the vanguard, that in a few minutes’ time the place would be crawling with womenfolk, we reckoned we needed to get gone immediately, no matter the cost. So we figured out a plan.”

“Another one of your 聪明 cōngming plans, was it?” she said with a smile. She knew it; he hadn’t really changed.

“Won’t deny it. Plan was, one of us ’d create a diversion, and the others would double back along the other side of the girls, retrieve the clothes, and we’d all beat it up the path afore any more trouble arrived.”

“I can just see it.” And she just knew who would create the diversion. Bubbles of laughter started tickling her insides.

“You don’t know the half of it. So I came splashing out of the brook, whoopin’ and hollerin’ like a snapping turtle got a hold of my—uh, and of course they all looked my direction, and Tim and Raj came outta the water just as fast and quiet-like as they could on the other side. Soon as I saw they’d reached the cover of the path, I went streakin’ round to join ’em. Caught up to ’em just as we reached the first bend. And that’s where we ran into Mrs Primrose and her sister Nellie, carrying a tea table and a picnic basket.”

Inara laughed, picturing it. Ho, boy, picturing it, picturing him—she was shaking with laughter, doubling over.

“Raj and Tim were carrying the clothes, at least they could cover their—I didn’t have a stitch on me—not so much as a—” he snorted with laughter, barely able to continue, “—fig leaf—” snort “—and on up the path, past the Farrell twins, Aunt Jess, and on and on—we had to run the gauntlet—every female on the North Side—”

Inara gave a most unladylike snort, and they both collapsed in gales of laughter.

* * *

The grav modifiers required a lot of attention, Ip Neumann found. No matter how carefully he balanced them, they tended to drift off, and the forces were such that by the time he woke each morning, the crates were pulling and straining against the grommets and strappings, threatening to buckle the deck plates. Kaylee often stopped by to lend a hand. He was grateful for the help, and he enjoyed her company.

“—so, just a little adjustment to the lateral line—” he said, reaching over to guide Kaylee’s hand to the right spot.

“I see it,” she said, making the adjustment with her tool. “But shouldn’t I also touch up the G balance while I’m in here? It would last longer that way, wouldn’t it?”

“Good thinking,” he said. She was a natural, Neumann thought. Though she had no previous experience with grav modifiers, she was already thinking up better ways to optimize them. He brushed his hand across her shoulder, accidental-on-purpose.

“Alright,” Kaylee finished, standing up. “Well, fun as this is, I got an atmo fixer calling out to me for some fine-tuning. I’ll see ya around.”

* * *

Simon spent a lot of his time in the infirmary. It was not that the people of Serenity were perpetually sick or injured, although there was generally more of that going around than was reasonable on a spaceship of this size. He had several long-running research projects going, and between running tests, analyzing the results, reading the literature, and checking cortex databases when feasible, Simon actually kept himself very busy. His main project, of course, was trying to find ways to improve River’s state of mind, whether by means of a better drug cocktail, psychological therapy of one form or another, or even the possibility of corrective surgery. He researched all avenues. And he had several other ongoing projects. River wasn’t the only one aboard with a chronic medical condition, and Simon tried to keep informed of pharmaceuticals, therapies, and procedures likely to be of use to all his patients, whether they were willing or reluctant recipients of his care.

He was looking through some recent test results, when he glanced up, and through the window he saw Kaylee and Dr Neumann in the cargo bay. Again. He had no reason to be jealous. Kaylee loved him and he loved her. They’d slept together every night since….He had no reason to be jealous, but he was. Neumann was holding her hand, and the look on his face….He had no reason to think Kaylee responsive to the man’s obvious attentions. She smiled at Neumann. No reason. She smiled at everybody. She smiled at the Captain. She even smiled Jayne. Neumann brushed his hand on her shoulder. She turned to him, laughing. Simon scowled. The ugly green-eyed monster grabbed at his heart.

* * *

“Hello, Cap’n,” Kaylee said, as she headed up the cargo bay stairs toward the engine room.

“How’s my girl?” Mal asked, giving her a one-armed squeeze and an affectionate kiss on the top of the head.

“Serenity’s hummin’ along beautifully, Cap’n. Been hearin’ a little wheeze in the atmo fixer, though, gonna go check it out.”

“You do that, 妹妹 mèimei,” Mal nodded, acknowledging the report. “And how’s my favorite mechanic?”

“Just shiny, Cap’n.” Kaylee gave him one of her heart-lifting sunshine smiles. “Y’ know that jamming device I found on 尘球 Chén Qiú when I was fixing the shuttle navs and comm?” He nodded. “Think I can strip it down for parts. Got a notion I can use a couple of ’em to shore up the atmo.”

Mal looked down into the cargo bay, where the supercargo was hard at work, fiddling with the grav modifiers. Those things required more attention than a temperamental prima donna. Kaylee had been helping out, he knew, but the man still had his hands full. Newman no longer jumped sky-high when Mal encountered him, but Mal figured the man was still a little spooked by the nav sat escapade he had witnessed. He woulda paid that Nilsen fellow if the man had been a decent, honest, ordinary shady businessman. But Mal didn’t have no compunction about stealing the nav sats out of the hands of a slave-trading, drug-dealing 混蛋 húndàn who’d like as not stripped them off a ship whose occupants ended up in his slave-pen. The alternative was to order new from the factory and wait dirtside four to six weeks for delivery or to risk another trip in the Black with no navigational aids. But Newman didn’t know all that. He hadn’t yet spoken much with the fellow, and he liked to know what kind of people he had on his boat. A nice, pleasant conversation was in order, so he stepped down to the cargo bay.

“How’s it going, Mr Newman? Those grav modifiers behaving for you?”

“Yes, they are, Captain. And it’s Dr Noy-man, actually. You can call me Ip.”

“Ip. You a doctor, then, like Simon?”

“Well, no, not a medical doctor. I’m a PhD. A terraformologist.”

“Aren’t you the educated man then? What’re you doin’ slummin’ with the likes of us?” Mal’s tone was casual, but he watched and listened intently to Neumann’s answer. A lot could be revealed in casual conversation.

Neumann declined to address the term ‘slumming.’ “Well, I took the supercargo job because I’m studying terraforming sites—and it pays the passage from one site to another. I do the research on my own time, and I’m writing up papers to publish in the scientific journals.”

“So our destination one of your study sites, then?”

“Oh, no. There’s nothing for me to study on 泥球 Ní Qiú, that’s just a straightforward terraforming-as-usual place. You see, I’m a specialist in studying terraforming accidents and disasters.”

Mal’s good mood evaporated as the loss of Shadow immediately loomed up in the front of his mind. “Really.”

Neumann didn’t detect Mal’s withdrawal, and went on. “Yes. I was on 尘球 Chén Qíu to look into an incident that occurred there about six months ago—caused acid rain, stunted nascent plant life, ate away the workers’ protective gear.”

“So why ain’t you doin’ this work for some university?”

“I haven’t earned a professorship yet. I hope to, though,” he added with a big smile. “I did some work like this when I was still a student, under the guidance of Professor Rao, my thesis advisor. But after graduation, I got a job that didn’t allow me to do any field work.”

Mal encouraged him to go on with a look.

“I worked for the terraforming division of a big corporation. I had access to all kinds of data, and it was interesting work, I guess—but all theoretical. No work at all at actual terraforming sites. I just got fed up with all the rules, the regulations, wanted some independence. So I left my job about three months ago, and I’ve been traveling the ’Verse since then, mostly the outer rim.”

“So why does your contract state that I’m to deliver you to Persephone? Ain’t no terraforming incident to study there, is there?”

“Well, I just didn’t want to be left on 泥球 Ní Qiú. There’s nothing interesting there. I figured Persephone would at least offer some opportunity to get to another study site.”

The fling at Rim worlds—“nothing interesting”—put Mal’s back up a bit, but he had to admit that 泥球 Ní Qiú wasn’t exactly his idea of a prime vacation spot neither, so he let it go. Neumann was still talking.

“What I’m really interested in, Captain, is studying the planets where the more unusual terraforming accidents have occurred. Ones where the facts just don’t add up to an obvious hypothesis. You know, the eyewitness accounts and field observations don’t quite mesh with the data in the published reports. Those are the ones I really want to study—either visit the planet myself or at least talk to an intelligent observer who’s been there. Ferdinand Moon, Miranda, Shadow—these are my top cases. Is it true that you’ve been to Miranda?”

Mal turned abruptly on his heel and left.

* * *

“…so then he just turned and left, without another word,” Ip Neumann told Kaylee. It had been his first opportunity to ask the Captain about Miranda, and he’d blown it. “I don’t understand…maybe I was talking too much, I do tend to go on and on about my work, I probably got too prosy—” He was distraught. The journey to 泥球 Ní Qiú was a short one, and he might not have another opportunity. The idea of missing his chance to find out more about Miranda was distressing.

“Don’t worry about it none, Ip. The Captain can be really closed off at times, it just drives Inara crazy—he just won’t say what’s on his mind, leaves us all to guess at what’s bothering him. But he’s really such a nice man, a good man, he cares about all us on the crew so much. What was you sayin’ that set him off?”

“I don’t rightly know,” Ip said, gazing about the passenger dorm lounge as if it held the answer. “He was asking me about my work, and I told him that I study terraforming accidents. I was in the middle of that when he walked off. Guess I just went on too long.”

“Captain’s a busy man, Ip. Reckon he just remembered something he had to do.” Kaylee gave him a comforting pat on the shoulder as she stood up to leave the room.

Simon had heard their voices as he worked in the infirmary, though he couldn’t make out the words. He looked up to see Kaylee caressing Neumann. He couldn’t see Kaylee’s face, but the expression on Neumann’s was unmistakable. It was clear as daylight that Neumann had taken a fancy to Kaylee.

* * *

Mal and Inara were lying in his bed together, basking in the afterglow of some vigorous exercise. Inara leaned back against Mal’s naked chest, enjoying the feeling of being enveloped in his arms. The sleeping together part of their relationship was definitely going well. And the talking together part—well, that was improving. Mostly.

“C’mon, Inara. Out with it.”

“Oh, no, Mal—”

“I told you the most embarrassing story of my youth—I just think you should return the favor.”

“I’d like to reciprocate—I just don’t think I could possibly top that swimming hole story.”

“It’s not a contest, Inara. I just want to hear what it was like, when you were growing up.” Mal could hear Simon and Kaylee’s voices, murmuring through the bulkhead. The walls were still too thin, but he guessed he didn’t mind quite so much, now that he was in a position to pay them back in kind for all the…noise.

“Well, all right then. But I’m warning you, there’s a lot of frilly girly stuff.”

“ ’S what I want to hear,” he answered with a grin.

“—just want to know what you mean by flirting with Neumann all the time?” Simon’s voice rang loud and clear through the bulkhead.

“The walls are…thin, aren’t they?” Inara said.

Kaylee’s voice was also raised, and carried clearly. “It don’t mean nothin’ at all, Simon. And I ain’t been flirtin’ with him. Just being ordinary friendly, is all.”

“Been meaning to sound-proof the bulkheads,” Mal said.

“—returning his favors, that’s all I’m talking about,” they heard Simon say angrily.

Kaylee’s voice was indignant. “You think I’m ‘returning his favors,’ is it? How can you think so?”

Mal and Inara looked at each other with concern. The other couple’s discussion was rapidly escalating from a discussion to a fight…to a blow-up.

Simon was shouting. “—just seeing the evidence that’s in front of my face. God, I’ve been so blind!”

“Out!” Kaylee shrieked. “If that’s what you think of me, you just get out of this bunk right now!”

“You’ve been playing me for a fool. And to think I trusted you!” They heard his parting shot, stomping, and slamming, as Simon left Kaylee’s bunk. Mal and Inara looked at each other in stunned silence. They could hear Kaylee burst into a storm of weeping. They regarded each other for a moment, and a look of understanding passed between them.

* * *

Ip Neumann sat in the lounge area near the dining room, working on his paper about 尘球 Chén Qíu. He preferred to work in public areas of the ship, rather than in the solitude of his bunk, because he was not a solitary person. Having other people nearby while he worked was not usually a distraction; it was more of a comfort. He had no objection at all when River entered and sat down near him in the lounge. He acknowledged her arrival and continued his work.

They sat in silence for a minute or two. “It wasn’t just the units,” River said, suddenly.

“What?” Neumann’s concentration was broken.

“The failure to convert the units only accounts for 97 percent of the pH imbalance,” River stated. “The remainder of the problem has to do with the way the designers set up this matrix.” She pointed to the offending object in Ip’s paper. “They failed to accommodate the change in diffusion rate in a high-pressure atmosphere. Here,” she directed Ip’s attention to a particular equation. “They used the wrong Reynolds number here in the Einstein-Stokes equation.”

Neumann considered what she had said. “Let me take a closer look at that.” He started figuring.

River sat, smiling, and waited for him to catch up. He was actually pretty quick at the calculations. Not bad.

After a moment, Neumann looked up at River with some admiration. “You’re on to something,” he said. “Have you studied terraformology?”

“Not before this,” River answered, smiling brightly. “Mathematics,” she added.

“But this is multivariable calculus,” Neumann objected. “And thermodynamics.”

“Elementary mathematics,” River conceded. “Experts sometimes forget the basics.”

“No, I mean….Have you studied multivariable calculus?” Neumann asked, with some surprise.

River rolled her eyes. Of course she had.

“How old are you, River?” he asked.

“Eighteen,” she answered. She thought she knew what he meant. “It was a long time ago. But I still remember it!” she said eagerly. “Top 12.5 percent of my class!”

Neumann looked puzzled, so she clarified, “My class had eight students.”

Neumann was very impressed. She must have been quite young at the time, if it really was “a long time ago” that she passed multivariable calculus at the top of her class. She was apparently some kind of mathematical prodigy. He regarded her with an admiring look. Simon entered the dining room, caught sight of Neumann, and glared. Then Simon saw the look Neumann was directing at his sister. The look he shot at Neumann spoke so clearly of daggers of death that Neumann almost cringed. Simon finished his performance with one more filthy look and stalked out the other way.

“It must be the sex,” River said to Ip Neumann.

“What?!” Where had that come from?

“I thought it was only unfulfilled sexual longing that made them all behave so unreasonably,” River said with logical precision, “but it appears that the consummation of their wishes does not put an end to irrational behavior.”

* * *

Simon and Kaylee’s quarrel soon affected everyone on the ship. Kaylee was too distraught to listen to Serenity’s machinery with her usual attention, and a worrisome grinding sound was heard intermittently from the engine room. Something odd happened to the atmo fixer, and a noxious effluvium with a hint of septic in it pervaded the ship. The bridge seemed to be the focal point for the atmo feed, and those who shared the pilotage of Serenity were afflicted with headaches. Simon dumped over an infirmary drawer in his agitation and broke open a number of vials of foul-smelling medication. Not only did it add to the general foulness of the air, but when he stalked off to look for a broom and dustpan to clean it up, Jayne walked into the infirmary barefoot looking for tape to strap his ankles, and received several nasty cuts on the soles of his feet. Zoe found Kaylee crying in the kitchen while on cook duty, neglecting the pots on the stove. She dismissed Kaylee and took over the meal, to discover only after the food had been served that a nasty burnt taste pervaded it all, making it nearly unpalatable.

By afternoon, Zoe had snapped at Jayne again. Jayne was grumpy because he couldn’t bench press in the cargo bay on account of the finicky grav modifiers being there, and his pent-up energy had been re-directed into coarse expressions toward everybody. Simon was glaring at everyone, jumping down their throats if they asked for so much as a bandaid. Kaylee moped around, looking ready to burst into tears at the least criticism, and Mal didn’t have the heart to dress her down about the noises and mechanical issues. Neumann worked doggedly on the grav modifiers and his papers, trying to keep out of everyone else’s way, but he couldn’t avoid River, who appeared to be flirting with him at every opportunity. About the only people on the boat not quarreling, Mal reflected, was him and Inara, and that also seemed a bit unnatural. It was disconcerting.

At the end of the trying day, all were gathered round the dinner table for the evening meal. Everyone except Ip Neumann was aware that Simon and Kaylee had upset the usual seating pattern by sitting as far away from each other as possible. He spoke to Kaylee, who sat opposite him, with particular friendliness. She seemed to be in a glum mood, and he hoped to cheer her up.

“Kaylee, I appreciate all your help tuning the gravitational modifiers,” Ip said, serving himself from the bowl being handed round. “They’re fussy machines, and not very many people are interested in taking the time to get to know their quirks.”

Kaylee was uncharacteristically uncommunicative. “I just like machines, is all,” she said, without making eye contact.

“Well, thanks for joining me on the job. It sure makes the endless adjustments a lot more fun.”

Jayne took a large bite of his food. “Bleargh!” He let loose with a long string of graphically descriptive Chinese swearing. “Who made this slop?”

No one said a word, but Kaylee looked unhappily conscious.

Mal wasn’t enjoying the food none, either, but thought the swearing just made it all the more distasteful. He intervened. “Jayne, you know our rules—no critique of the cooking. Unless you want cook duty for the next week.” Privately, he was wondering if he’d be able to eat it himself. Jayne was famous for his cast-iron stomach.

“Jayne cook for a whole week, sir?” Zoe responded. “Who are you punishing?”

“Well, maybe I’d best reconsider—”

“The bitter tears of heartbreak have flavored the food,” River pronounced.

“I think this gumbo tastes just fine,” Neumann said. He gallantly picked up a thick and gelatinous spoonful and ate it, almost completely controlling his gag reflex.

“It’s a stir-fry,” said Kaylee in a small voice.

Neumann looked uncomfortable and Inara leapt in to change the topic. “You went to Harcliffe University on Bernadette, didn’t you, Ip? They have a very fine natural sciences program, don’t they?

“Yes,” he answered. “I worked with Professor Rao, the ’Verse’s finest terraformologist, in my opinion.”

Simon clearly felt that sniping season was now open. “Isn’t Rao considered an outlier in the field?” he asked, aggressively.

Neumann didn’t register Simon’s hostility, and simply answered the question. “She has a novel approach to the study of terraforming, to be sure. I think the rest of the field has yet to catch up to her.”

“There are some at Eli University on Osiris who would argue that the field has left her far behind,” Simon countered.

“There have always been those who disagree with her focus on field work, and discount her interest in the observations of eyewitnesses—lay people—non-scientists,” Neumann returned. He had noticed Simon’s hostility, but applied it to what he had been saying rather than taking it personally. It was a rather charming trait. “They think she’s not focused enough on ‘hard science.’ But I think her many successes at figuring out the causes of some of the most intractable terraforming incidents of the past bear witness to the wisdom of this approach. A simple observation by an intelligent eyewitness—not always a scientist—has often given her the key to where to direct her research energies, and let her crack the case. I learned so much from her.” He looked at Simon with genuine friendly interest and asked, “So you studied natural sciences at Eli University? It’s a first-rate university.” Neumann was impressed. “But I thought you were an M.D.?”

“I am an M.D.,” Simon answered acidly. “I studied at Capital City MedAcad on Osiris. I also took some courses at Eli University.”

“Best MedAcad on Osiris,” Jayne chimed in. “Top three percent of his class.” Jayne couldn’t have said why the new doc annoyed him, but he desperately wanted Simon to win the sniping contest between the docs.

Neumann regarded Simon with respect. “You could have had your pick of internships, job positions.”

“I was Assistant Chief of Emergent Interventions at Capital City Hospital and Senior Lecturer on Reconstructive Interventions at the MedAcad for three years before coming to Serenity.”

“At your age?” Neumann was very impressed.

“My brother is very smart,” River interjected, with just a hint of brattiness.

“So, why’d you come out here?” Neumann asked. “Ship’s doctor doesn’t seem like a very challenging position for someone with your credentials.”

“You’d be surprised how much call there is for his expertise,” Inara put in.

Mal shot Inara a look, and she felt him step on her foot under the table. She didn’t understand why he felt the need for caution, but the signal was perfectly clear. She decided to trust Mal’s judgment, and said no more.

“I wanted to—” Simon began, floundering a bit. River interrupted. “He did it for me.” Neumann looked at her. “I wanted to leave the Core. He gave up his position and everything he had to help me.”

Now Simon interrupted River. “This is our home now. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.” The last part he said with such a sarcastic edge in his voice that Kaylee began sniffling.

“Well, I guess I can relate,” Neumann said, cheerfully. The entire crew thought, “No, you can’t!” but Neumann couldn’t hear it, of course. He continued on, unknowingly dropping his bombshell. “I wanted to get away from the Core, too. Leave the Core, see the Border worlds and get right on out to the terraforming sites on the Rim. Have some thrilling adventures investigating mysterious terraforming accident sites. That’s why I left my job at Blue Sun and—”

Everybody looked at River. Their thought, “Two by two, hands of blue,” was nearly palpable. Oddly enough, River was the only one who seemed unconcerned to hear that Neumann had been a Blue Sun employee. She had, in fact, known it from the time he first came aboard, and she was quite happy to hear Neumann’s story.

“When did you leave Blue Sun?” Mal asked sharply. He knew what the answer should be, but wanted to see if Neumann changed his tune. It was a powerful odd coincidence, having a Blue Sun employee pop up on board, when they’d just finished delivering the secrets gathered by means of espionage to Blue Sun’s corporate enemies. And nearly been blown out of the sky doing so. And why was he asking about Miranda?

“About three months ago.”

“What was your position?” Mal fired off the questions rapidly. The man’s story better hold up, or he’d be visiting the airlock.

“Assistant Research Fellow, Terraforming Division.”

“Did you leave voluntarily?” Mal interrogated.

“Yes, I—”

“Why did you leave Blue Sun?” Mal followed up briskly.

“I just wanted to do field work. Blue Sun didn’t allow junior science staff to visit any of their terraforming sites. We worked strictly with in-house data.”

“Didn’t know Blue Sun did any terraforming,” Zoe said, in a low voice.

“They do almost all of the terraforming,” Neumann replied.

“They make the equipment?” Mal asked.

“They make the equipment, they install it, they design the entire terraforming process. But it’s all by proxy. New Worlds Corporation, on 尘球 Chén Qíu, and dozens of others like it, are all divisions of the Blue Sun Conglomerate.”

Man’s story was consistent enough, Mal decided. He’d still treat him with due caution. He decided to play it casual. “So those competitive bids for terraforming contracts are just Blue Sun against itself?”

“Yes, I suppose so,” Neumann replied.

“That just ain’t right. I have to bid against a ’Verse of transport captains just to get a contract and scrape by. Blue Sun bids against itself—been setting its own terms for years, I reckon. No wonder they make a better living.” The fellow wasn’t gonna be on his boat long enough to find out anything important.

* * *


聪明 cōngming [brilliant]

妹妹 mèimei [little sister]

尘球 Chén Qiú [name of a world]

混蛋 húndàn [bastard]

泥球 Ní Qiú [name of a world]

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Saturday, July 9, 2011 4:08 PM


Very cool, I really liked this chapter. Keep up the good work.

Saturday, July 9, 2011 7:04 PM


We got some fun and some excellent crew tension and drama.

Sunday, July 10, 2011 5:55 AM


I liked this very much and it was good to get a clearer idea of exactly who Ip is. I am inclined to go with River's assessment but am not surprised his confession about Blue Sun was so unsettling. I wonder when he will find out that the Captain came from Shadow? And as for him blithely not noticing when he is saying something upsetting or treading on toes, that just made me smile. I know a few folk like that. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, July 10, 2011 11:32 AM


Great chapter

Love Simon's and Kaylee's quarrel, and thank you for flirty Kaylee and jealous Simon, perfectly in character.

And Jayne, with “top 3 percent” quip, hilarious, interesting development with Ip's work.

Inara really doesn't like to talk about herself, does she, I wonder if that's part of Mal's attraction. She's a mystery.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011 10:24 AM


Thank you for the feedback!
This section was great fun to write.


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ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (20)
“Vaccinations?” Jayne asked, with a stupid expression. “Fer chickens?”

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (19)
“Inara, I ain’t willing for you to bribe—” “Who said anything about bribes?” “What other form of persuasion you plannin’ on using? I’m not sure I like this plan.” “Mal, I can be very persuasive,” Inara replied. After a short beat, she added, with a touch of asperity, “Fully clothed.”

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (18)
Extreme measures as more things go wrong

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (17)
In which things begin to go wrong

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (16)
Waiting for the other shoe to drop

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (15)
Serenity enters the Core, Mal and Inara sleep together, and Simon and Ip come up with a plan.

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (14)
In which we find out more about Miranda

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (13)
Simon makes an announcement; Zoe and Inara take Mal to task

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (12)
Mal tells Inara a folktale from Shadow

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (11)
Inara and Zoe have a little palaver