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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
In which we find out why Sir Warwick Harrow wanted to ship a herd of cattle to Beylix
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2575 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
ONE MAN’S TRASH (08)
Follows SHADOW (07). Precedes BANDIAGARA (09).
The series so far:
A LION’S MOUTH (01)
ADVENTURES IN SITTING (02)
SPARKS FLY (03)
BREAK OUT (05)
THE TRIAL (06)
In which we find out why Sir Warwick Harrow wanted to ship a herd of cattle to Beylix
Mouse over Chinese words in text for translations
Rating: All my stories are PG to PG-13 to occasional R. You will not find detailed descriptions of blood, gore, and sex, but you will find situations appropriate for mature readers, innuendo, implication, and (gasp) swear words. This story is PG-13, edging toward R.
Thanks to my sister for beta reading.
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* * *
She was genuinely curious. In fact, she wanted to know the answer for everybody on the boat. “So, you ever thought about it? How many children you want, Ip?”
“Oh, uh, I don’t know, the usual, I guess.” Ip hadn’t really thought about it. Not that he didn’t want children, eventually, some day. It was just that, what with grad school, and his post doc at Blue Sun, and now living an itinerant life, with only temporary employment, he just wasn’t really at a place in his life where thoughts of settling down and having a family entered his mind. “What about you?” he asked to be polite.
“Oh, lots and lots of them,” Kaylee answered promptly. “Three, minimum. Four or five, easy. Six maybe.” She caught Simon’s expression and quickly realized that he was not prepared for the notion of six children. In fact, looking at his face, maybe not prepared for children at all. They hadn’t really reached the point of discussing this, exactly, in their relationship. “But that’s just ’cause I love kids,” she said quickly, covering. “I love all kids. They’re so cute an’ cuddly an’ sweet…”
“—An’ dirty diapers, an’ snotty noses, an’ screechin’ an’ hollerin’ an’ fightin’ over toys,” Jayne interrupted Kaylee’s idyll. “An’ sneakin’ out after their bedtimes an’ skippin’ school an’ raisin’ hell and usin’ the mule without permission and crashin’ it an’ gettin’ knocked up by their no-account 傻瓜 shǎguā boyfriends—”
“My goodness, what kind of childhood did you have, Jayne?” Inara asked with contained amusement.
“The kind with too gorram many sisters,” Jayne grumbled.
“So how many children do you want, then?” Inara asked him.
“Not a one. Ain’t gonna have any,” Jayne said, folding his arms, as if that settled the matter.
“What about you, River?” Kaylee asked with a smile.
“None,” River said, with a glittery smile that encompassed Ip.
“Aw, honey, you shouldn’t say that—” Kaylee began.
“—for now,” River continued. “Later, 2.54.”
“2.54?” Ip inquired.
“The statistical average,” River responded. “The usual.” She grinned across the table at her brother, who was looking a bit appalled—equal parts floored by Kaylee’s earlier statement and by the mere idea of his baby sister having…children. “Simon wants the usual, too.”
Kaylee stared at Simon, who blushed crimson. “River! I…well, yes, two, I think. One boy and one girl. Maybe three. But this is all theoretical, isn’t it? I mean, I’m not thinking of having any children now.”
“I’d say you are,” Jayne said with a leer. “Or at least you’re practicing pretty damn—”
“Jayne,” said Mal in a warning voice, but stopped when he saw that Kaylee wasn’t in the least offended. Besides, it was kinda fun watching the Doc get all uncomfortable under the scrutiny. Simon and Kaylee’s nocturnal exercises were notorious throughout the ship, being both loud and frequent. Everybody knew that if and when the couple decided to have children, they’d be in very good practice. Simon was sputtering, but Kaylee was grinning from ear to ear.
“What about you, Cap’n?” Kaylee asked, all smiles.
He couldn’t help but grin back at her. “Oh, four. Maybe five,” he said without thinking.
“You musta been an only child,” Jayne returned with disgust.
“Yeah,” Mal acknowledged.
“Ain’t you heard what I said about all them sisters?”
“I grew up with four brothers, Jayne,” Kaylee answered, “an’ it was just shiny.”
Wash had two brothers, Zoe thought to herself. Always wanted a girl. Herself, she was an only child, like Mal.
Mal caught the look on Inara’s face. Oh, boy—he hadn’t even been thinking when he opened his mouth. He couldn’t make out quite what she was thinking, but he could tell that the notion of five children wasn’t sittin’ well with her. “’Course I ain’t gonna have no four or five,” Mal amended. “Count myself lucky to have even a one.” He was relieved to see Inara relax ever so slightly.
Funnily enough, it was Inara herself who had got him thinking about children in the first place. It wasn’t since before the war that he’d even considered the notion of having a family of his own. Back then, he was so young that all notions of marriage and family belonged to the distant future. But he realized that after the war, he’d pretty well given up on the notion of having a normal relationship, marriage, family. He was broken, damaged goods, an outlaw, and family life weren’t for the likes of him. But then he’d found himself married to Saffron—or at least he thought he was for a time—and Inara had said, “I wish you hundreds of fat children.” Immediately his mind was filled with the image of himself surrounded by roly-poly little critters, and strangely enough, the notion was pleasing. At first it was vague, non-specific children, fuzzy-haired critters that he chased and wrassled with and taught what he knew. Later on, his dreams about children had become a lot more specific. And he knew who he wanted their mother to be.
“What about you, Zoe?” Mal asked with a smile, in part to draw Inara’s attention away from the hot potato between them. But it was also a deliberate effort to include Zoe in the group. No way she should sit excluded from this discussion.
Kaylee smothered a gasp. How could the Captain be so insensitive? Reminding Zoe of what she could never have, now Wash was—
“One,” Zoe answered promptly, with a brilliant smile that astonished everyone. “Exactly one. Might as well let you all know. Due to arrive in about five months’ time.”
The table erupted with congratulations and good wishes. Zoe basked in smiles. She accepted the exclamations, answered the questions, and looked genuinely happy for one of the first times since Wash’s death. Mal sat there grinning like a fool.
Ip Neumann went to take data readings from the grav anomaly unit situated in the cargo bay. The Captain was hard at work, cleaning up after the cows. Ip had been surprised earlier in the voyage to find that Serenity’s Captain took a turn doing what he would have supposed to be the lowest of low manual labor, shoveling manure. But during the course of the voyage, he had come to understand the situation much better. Jayne did the work because he was the muscle of the crew, and it was his job. Zoe took an occasional turn, but spent more of her time piloting and doing whatever executive functions the first officer performed. (Ip still had only the vaguest notion of what those duties entailed.) River and Kaylee were excused cattle-tending because their jobs on Serenity were already more demanding. Simon and Inara seemed to get a bye on the job—he wasn’t sure if that was a concession to their education, gentle Core-breeding, or simply because it was clear how inept they would be at it. In Inara’s case he wondered if she even owned any suitable clothing. He chuckled to himself, picturing the Companion showing up for cow duty in a watered silk kimono and high heels.
Ip understood that for the Captain, tending the cattle was both nostalgic and therapeutic. Now that he knew that the man had grown up on a ranch on Shadow, he realized that every smooth, rhythmic motion the Captain made as he moved among the beasts brought him a kind of comfort, gently reminding him of the home he had lost. And after the incident on the bridge, Ip understood that the Captain also sought refuge in the physical labor. The man seemed to avoid sleep, and in truth, Ip thought he would, too, if nightmares like the Captain’s awaited him.
Ip preferred to take his readings when the Captain was tending the cattle, because the Captain always cleared a path for him to the experimental unit, a courtesy that he appreciated. The Captain was also interested in his work, and would ask him how the data were shaping up, sometimes offering keen observations of his own. Today was no exception.
“How go the experiments, Dr Ip?” Mal asked, leaning against his shovel.
“Very well, Captain,” Ip replied. It was a little hard to think here in the midst of a barnyard—well, alright, cargo bay-turned-barnyard—with all the mooing cattle in close proximity. Ip found it distracting. The Captain didn’t seem bothered at all. Looked perfectly at home. “The crazy thing is, all that unexpected, uh, ‘excitement’ around Shadow was just the thing for the grav anomaly experiment.” Ip still shuddered inwardly at their narrow escape—chased by a ship they couldn’t see, the Reavers closing in, saved unexpectedly by the Reavers’ collision with the stealth ship. “Especially the sudden burst of speed,” when Kaylee got the fusion drive on line and the ship went to hard burn. “Professor Rao was immensely pleased with the preliminary data.”
“You waved her, then?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Well, I hope you’ll let her know, I ain’t repeating that experiment, no matter how much she likes the data. Not in any mood to get hunted by Reavers again.”
“Captain, there’s something you should know.”
Mal looked at Ip expectantly.
“When we were outside the boat, and spotted the transports, I re-directed some of the mass spectrometers toward the ships.” Mal nodded. “Those spectrometers were designed to analyze the composition of the planet just below the surface layer. They penetrate several feet below the surface—for example through a sand dune, lake, or ash fall—to analyze the mineral content of the soil or rock beneath. So they’re not exactly designed for what I used them for. Still, the spectra I obtained from the ships—after eliminating the artifacts created by the curved metal hulls—”
“Would you cut to the chase, Dr Ip?” Mal interjected, losing his patience somewhat.
“The ships appeared to be carrying mineral ore. Ore with a high content of the stable trans-actinide element linthicum.”
Mal nodded. He immediately worked out the implications. Linthicum was an incredibly valuable substance, as certain isotopes of the element were a critical component of fuel cells. It was also relatively rare, not even found on many planets. “Linthicum reserves were discovered on Shadow about a decade before the war,” he told Ip. “It’s one of the reasons we fought for our independence.”
Mal remembered the controversy quite well—it had been the talk of Shadow throughout his teenage years. Some Alliance corporation had made an offer almost as soon as the reserves were discovered, before the extent of them had been determined. Some folk on Shadow felt that the offer should be accepted—seemed generous to them, and Shadow didn’t need—couldn’t possibly use—all that linthicum for its own purposes. There’d been arguments. At last the Shadow World Council had authorized an independent survey of linthicum resources. The survey had never been completed, but preliminary findings suggested that the reserves were vaster, by far, than the original estimate. Suddenly the corporation’s offer looked like robbery. Some argued that Shadow shouldn’t sign over mineral rights at all, but license limited ore extraction operations. There were others, still, who felt that the extraction process would ruin the planet, ruin the Shadow way of life, and that no price was high enough to compensate for that. The corporation had renewed its offer, with a few more concessions to the people of Shadow and a lot more aggressive representatives, sent to Shadow to bombard the local leadership with carrots and sticks. The Alliance itself had shown an inclination to step in and claim the mineral resources for its own. The argument was still in full flow when the war broke out.
Mal had counted eighty-seven transports before he got distracted—seriously distracted—by the stealth ship and the Reavers. He estimated that there were about three times as many as what he counted. Based on his estimate of the tonnage of the ships he’d seen, he made a quick calculation of the quantity of linthicum ore those ships could carry, and the answer made him whistle. This wasn’t some casual raider. This was a full-scale mining operation, with a rate of production high enough to warrant the presence of a transport fleet that size, and to warrant the maintenance of a stealth guard ship.
“Someone is raping Shadow.”
Serenity landed in a pasture on Beylix, far from any town, far from the public docks, and (most importantly) far from any customs inspectors. The contact was waiting for them. Mal had spoken to the woman on the cortex, and his gut instinct told him there would be no trouble, but his last meeting with buyers of Sir Warwick Harrow’s cattle had ended with Shepherd Book receiving a near-fatal gunshot, and he was taking no chances. Mal lowered the outer ramp, but only opened the personnel hatch, not the bay door, until he had assessed the situation. With Zoe and Jayne watching his back, he walked out to meet the contact.
She was tall and thin, towering over Mal and even Jayne with a statuesque presence. With her deeply dark skin and regal features, she looked like a queen, and it was saying something that next to her, even Zoe looked a little dowdy.
She stood alone in the meadow, and although she had come in a vehicle, she had left it standing outside the gate of the pasture, parked on a dirt track that led between the rows of fencing to the far horizon. Although Beylix had earned itself the moniker “Garbage Dump of the Kalidasa System,” people tended to forget that most of the planet was rural. It was the very sparseness of the population that had led the local government into the business of receiving and storing other worlds’ waste. No people to protest that they didn’t want the dump in their backyard. So the parts of Beylix that weren’t occupied by dumps, landfills, recycling plants, salvage yards and storage facilities for hazardous waste were occupied by open rangeland and farms, as far as the eye could see. Ironically, towns sprang up around the dumps, because that’s where the jobs were.
The woman stood alone, a sign of trust. She also did not appear to be armed. She did have back-up, but they had remained in the vehicle. She spread her arms in welcome as she greeted them in her rich voice. “Welcome to Beylix, Captain Reynolds. I am Juju Kamara.”
Mal stepped forward, hands relaxed but not straying far from his sides. Wouldn’t do to let down his guard just yet. Her back-up people could have long-range weapons. Yet her next words surprised him.
“I am most grateful for your delivery, Captain. Long have I awaited the arrival of these cattle. Sir Warwick bred them specially for me, but he was unable to ship them until he happily thought of contracting your services. May I view the animals?”
Mal led the way, and Juju Kamara strode up the ramp like the Queen of Sheba entering the court of Solomon. She nodded with approval at the giant septic vac and the other accommodations installed for the cattle, who were placidly chewing their cud. Mal and Jayne had done a thorough shoveling and cleaning shortly before landing, and the cargo bay looked and smelled remarkably good, considering how long the cattle had been confined aboard Serenity.
“The cattle have arrived in remarkably good health,” Juju pronounced after assessing the animals with a practiced eye.
Mal accepted the praise with good grace. He was wondering what basis she had for her pronouncement when she said, “Beylix is a difficult world for cattle. You might imagine it ideal, with all this range land, no?”
Mal agreed that the land looked suitable.
“Most breeds of cattle, however, do not thrive on Beylix. The local government has blamed imported bovine diseases, so there are many, many restrictions on imported cattle. They are quarantined for weeks, and even if a herd arrives healthy, by the time they are released from quarantine, they are sickly or dead.”
“That sounds like a remarkable unhealthy quarantine,” Mal commented.
“It is so,” she agreed. “Sir Warwick has bred these animals to my specifications. He is a talented cattle breeder, even though for him it is a hobby that he engages in for his own amusement.”
Mal tried to put himself in the mindset of a person who bred cattle as an amusing hobby, and failed.
“You have asked yourselves, I am sure, why Sir Warwick has sent me a herd, instead of calves or embryos?” she asked regally, including Jayne in her question.
It had never occurred to Jayne to wonder, and he looked it, but Mal replied, “Yes indeed, ma’am, I’ve been puzzling that over ever since we got the job.”
“Sir Warwick has challenged and hardened these animals. Not only have they been bred to be hardy to the Beylix environment, but they have already faced and survived most bovine diseases in the known ’Verse. This is a most remarkable herd.”
“Why didn’t Sir Warwick ship you no bull, then?” Mal asked.
“The bull,” Juju replied with a smile, “already resides here.”
Juju Kamara’s back-up people turned out to be her teenaged son and daughter. She called them over to Serenity to help herd the cattle out of the ship and into the far pasture so they would be at a safe distance when the ship took off.
“You know cattle, Captain,” she stated, as Mal led a heifer down the ramp to the meadow. It wasn’t a question.
“I grew up on a ranch,” he replied. “Having the cattle aboard these past few weeks has let me re-live some fine memories.”
She gave a knowing smile. “On which world did you grow up, Captain?”
“Shadow,” he replied with a far-away look.
She nodded, but made no immediate comment. Eventually she said, “I am from Bandiagara.” Mal knew very little about Bandiagara, a Rim world that was remote enough and insignificant enough that even most other Rim-worlders didn’t pay it much notice. He remembered that, briefly, during the war, Bandiagara had attracted some attention as a source of certain rare minerals useful in manufacturing some kind of war materiel, he couldn’t quite remember what. The war had ended, word had spread that the mineral resources weren’t so significant after all, and the remote world had faded out of the news to obscurity once more. “I came to Beylix to marry my husband. I should like for you to meet him, and my family. Will you, and your crew, join us for the midday meal on Friday, immediately after noon prayers?”
“It would be our pleasure, ma’am, thank you kindly,” Mal answered, knowing that he could not neglect any opportunity of forwarding a business contact. This cattle job had gotten them to Beylix, but they had yet to find another job to take them away from Beylix.
“Eat and sleep, eat and sleep. Little souls, big world,” River said, as she calmly led a cow down the ramp. “They were waiting to be cows, inside. Now they see the sky and they remember what they are.”
“A sage observation, poetically stated,” Juju Kamara remarked, agreeing with the sentiment. “It makes perfect sense. Cattle need to see the open sky and feel the ground beneath them.” She watched as River communed with the animal in the pasture. “Did she grow up on a ranch as well, Captain?”
“No,” he replied. “She’s my pilot.”
“Hiya! Git!” Jayne exclaimed, swatting at the hindquarters of a steer.
“Jayne grew up on an industrial world, ma’am,” Mal said by way of excuse, as Juju Kamara narrowed her eyes in disapproval of Jayne’s antics. “He’s a city boy don’t know much about cattle.”
“When we gonna dump all that 牛屎 niú shǐ, Mal?” Jayne asked loudly as he passed by, unheeding of the presence of their customer. “Reckon Beylix’s as good a place as any to dump 屎 shǐ, don’tcha think? Hiya!”
Jayne trundled off after the animal, oblivious to the matching glares of his Captain and Juju Kamara. Juju turned to the Captain. “Surely you’re not thinking of—”
“Not at all, ma’am,” Mal hastened to cut off that line of conjecture.
“Beylix authorities are very particular about dumping,” Juju reminded him, unnecessarily as it happened. Mal had looked into the matter ahead of time. “Even organics. You would need to file for a permit with the Organic Materials Composting Bureau. You could deal privately with an enriched soil manufacturer, but the market is not good at the moment; they won’t even pay you for the material.”
“Coals to Newcastle. I’d have to pay by the ton to offload it here on Beylix,” Mal returned. “No point in that. Besides, good, well-digested manure like that would be as welcome as good news on some of the newly terraformed worlds, where the soil’s poor. Reckon I’ll keep it right where it is ’til I land on some world as could use the fertilizer.”
With the cattle delivered, it was time to face the music. Mal didn’t have long to wait before Kaylee buttonholed him with her parts list. “Cap’n, we need some parts. We burnt out the Codippily relay and completely fried the Feynman mechanism when we went to hard burn escaping from the Reavers. The extra juice in the system also strained the fusion injectors and the override controller got…well, over-rid.”
Mal had brushed up on Serenity’s mechanical parts considerably since the incident of the blown compression coil catalyzer that had nearly cost them all their lives, and he hated to have to ask for anything in “Captain Dummy” talk anymore. But Kaylee had just rattled off a string of parts and problems long enough that the only thing he got out of it was the bit about the override controller. So he shot her his most expressive Captain Dummy look and asked, “Meaning?”
“Meaning we can’t do another hard burn until the parts are replaced.”
Mal nodded. Not optional repairs. Hard burn had saved their 屁股 pìgu before and would do it again, but only if it weren’t broke. “Gonna cost us some coin to replace those parts,” he said warningly.
Kaylee knew it. He wasn’t gonna like her list. “Cap’n, we also gotta replace the bridge console.”
A red flush stole up Mal’s neck and cheeks, though he tried to make a joke of it. “Yeah, ’cause we never know when some 疯子的 傻瓜 fēngzide shǎguā captain gonna smash up the co-pilot console and then we’ll be left with nothin’.”
“Weren’t your fault, Cap’n—”
“What?” he lashed out. “You sayin’ I didn’t smash it up? ’Course it’s my fault.”
Kaylee bit her lip. Hurt her to see the Captain beatin’ himself up over something he couldn’t do nothin’ about. It weren’t his fault those awful people come and blow up his world, same time as they were blowin’ up his people at Serenity Valley. Weren’t his fault he had nightmares and flashbacks. She held back the tears forming in her eyes. “Cap’n?” she said timidly.
“There’s more, isn’t there?” Mal spoke gently, now. “What else, Kaylee?”
“That atmo feed’s been under strain, Cap’n. Was straining even before we went to 泥球 Ní Qiú, then it got a right workout with all them passengers aboard, and now filtering out the hay dust has done a number on it.”
“Can you fix it up? Make it last a little longer?” Mal asked, knowing already that Kaylee wouldn’t have brought it up if she could fix it with parts they had on hand.
“Cap’n, that’s one thing we don’t want breakin’ down in deep space. It don’t run, we run out of oxygen.”
“Can’t have that happenin’,” Mal said with a shudder. “Right, you go to the salvage yards, see what you can find. We don’t got the money for nothin’ new, but if you spot the parts, try to bargain them down in price. There’s salvage yards a-plenty on Beylix, oughtta be able to find what we need.”
Kaylee was almost afraid to add more to the list, but it was necessary. “One more thing, Cap’n.”
“What is it, 妹妹 mèi mei?” he asked mildly, masking his inward despair at the mounting price tag.
“We still only got two navsats. We never got a replacement for the third unit. An’ one of those navsats you picked up on 尘球 Chén Qiú is a little wonky.”
Mal groaned inwardly. Even at salvage prices, the parts list was gonna run him into the red.
傻瓜 shǎguā [fool]
牛屎 niú shǐ [cow shit]
屎 shǐ [shit]
屁股 pìgu [asses]
疯子的 傻瓜 fēngzide shǎguā [crazy idiot]
泥球 Ní Qiú [name of a world]
妹妹 mèi mei [little sister]
尘球 Chén Qiú [name of a world]
Tuesday, September 27, 2011 7:30 AM
Tuesday, September 27, 2011 8:17 AM
Tuesday, September 27, 2011 9:47 AM
Tuesday, September 27, 2011 12:02 PM
Tuesday, September 27, 2011 1:42 PM
Tuesday, September 27, 2011 1:44 PM
Tuesday, September 27, 2011 2:10 PM
Wednesday, September 28, 2011 2:47 AM
Wednesday, September 28, 2011 4:57 AM
Wednesday, September 28, 2011 8:46 AM
Wednesday, September 28, 2011 11:10 AM
Friday, September 30, 2011 4:43 PM
Thursday, October 6, 2011 3:41 PM
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