ONE MAN’S TRASH (08) Part (03)
Thursday, October 6, 2011

Zoe and Mal encounter some Purplebellies in a bar.



Part (03)

Follows SHADOW (07). Precedes BANDIAGARA (09).


Zoe and Mal encounter some Purplebellies in a bar.

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* * *

Zoe and Mal sat at a table in the dimly lit Freight and Salvage bar. It was still broad daylight outside, but the place was quiet and dingy inside, busy enough but not too busy, a good place for a meet. Mal sat nursing the same drink he’d ordered when they first arrived, making it last, because they were on the job and they certainly didn’t have the coin to waste. Zoe sipped her seltzer water with lemon and scanned the bar for the hundredth time. Monty’s friend was supposed to show up an hour ago, and she didn’t have high hopes anymore.

“Reckon he’s not comin’, sir,” Zoe said, with just a hint of question in her voice.

Mal looked morosely down into his glass and swirled the contents. “Reckon he’s not. Monty seemed confident of his man. Monty’s never let me down.”

“I’m sure Monty’s good, sir,” Zoe replied. “But didn’t he get pinched last time he was on Beylix?”

“You’re right, Zoe,” Mal recollected.

“Could be his contact ain’t no good no more.”

“Reckon you’re right,” Mal said with a sigh. “Still, wouldn’t be any other place today.” He looked at Zoe and raised his glass.

Zoe knew he hadn’t forgotten, that the meet had been set up here on purpose. There were two days of the year that Mal inevitably sought out a bar. One was Unification Day, when he went looking for trouble, deliberately picking the most Alliance-friendly bar he could get to, spoiling for a fight. The other was Serenity Day, not officially celebrated in the Core. It was the day they’d been ordered to lay down arms at the Battle of Serenity Valley. The day their hopes had been defeated. The day their sufferings had not ended, but entered a new, more hopeless phase. The day that Mal had to start watching the men and women around him die, senselessly, uselessly, without being able to do a gorram thing about it, not even fight back. Not an official holiday, it passed unremarked by most of the ’Verse. But for veterans of the battle, the day was a watershed, indelibly marking the separation between Before and After.

“To Serenity. To them as never left.” They clinked glasses. Mal tossed back the remainder of his drink.

“To them as never left,” Zoe echoed, drinking the rest of hers.

They stood up, scraping back their chairs, and headed for the door. As they walked, they passed a table where two men and one woman sat with a number of bottles. The three were wearing clothing in the purplish grey colors of the Alliance. One of the men called out as they approached, “Hey! Browncoat!”

Zoe saw Mal stiffen slightly, as she did herself behind him, but he did not pause in his stride.

“Browncoat!” the man repeated. “You know I’m talking to you!” He made eye contact with Mal. “Both of you,” he added, looking Zoe in the eye, as well.

Mal stopped, his hands free and ready for action. Zoe readied herself to back his move. “You want to talk to me…” he said slowly, “Purplebelly.”

There was a scraping of chairs as people nearby cleared out, sensing a fight about to happen.

“Yeah, I do,” the man replied. “You know what day today is?”

“Surely I do,” Mal replied, and Zoe sensed the rising tide of anger in him.

“Sir…” she began, warningly, but the Alliance man’s attention was caught by her word.

“Oh, surely not—you weren’t an officer.” It was more of an evaluation than a question. Then he added, “A sergeant, weren’t you?”

“We’re all just plain folks, now,” Mal answered. “Where’re you leading this? Do you mind sayin’? ’Cause I got better things to do than stand about yammerin’ with a —”

“—Purplebelly,” the man filled in Mal’s word. “We’re not just plain folks. We’re veterans. We’re all veterans. Of a battle they’ve all but forgotten.” He jerked his head, taking in the other people in the bar. “A battle we won’t ever forget. Come, sit down. Join us for a drink.”

This was an unexpected development, but Mal did not yet let down his guard. “What’re you drinking to?” he asked carefully.

“To those that never left Serenity Valley—both sides.”

Mal sat, and so did Zoe. “That I can do,” Mal said, as glasses were filled and handed round. “To them as never left Serenity.”

They all drank the toast and sat silent for a minute. “Sergeant Haxton,” the man introduced himself, “Used to be Sergeant, anyway. This is Nguyen—” he indicated the woman sitting next to him “—and Sullivan,” indicating the man. “From my platoon.”

“Corporal Alleyne,” Zoe introduced herself by the name she had borne during her soldiering days. She’d changed her name to Wash’s when she married, on purpose to make a clean break, Mal knew. Zoe introduced Mal as well. “Sergeant Reynolds.”

“Had you pegged for a sergeant,” Nguyen said to Mal. “I could tell by how she backed you. Same as how I back Sergeant Haxton here.”

More drinks were poured, and they found that their regiments had been opposite each other in the line. They probably had shot at each other during the battle. Probably killed each other’s friends. 地狱 Dìyù, weren’t no probably about it. They were sittin’ there drinkin’ with them they’d tried to kill and as tried to kill them. Weren’t nothin’ personal about it, though. Both sides, doing their duty. Risking their lives as they expected to do. Waiting for the higher-ups to step up and do their duty. Waiting after the cease-fire, waiting, and waiting, while men and women both sides died of their wounds, waiting for the medships that arrived too late.

“We didn’t have much ourselves, just basic rations,” Sullivan said. “Our medical facilities got shelled all to 拉屎 lāshǐ and re-supply hadn’t landed—got delayed in space transit, they said.”

Nguyen took up the tale. “We could hear the wounded and dying moaning—your wounded, I mean. Ours got taken to the med tents, such as they were. Especially at night, when the sound carried.” She gave a shudder at the memory, which was echoed by everyone at the table.

“Our orders were not to give any aid to any wounded Browncoats we found,” Haxton said, looking Mal in the eye. “Made me feel less than human, not to give a sip of water to a dying man.” He re-filled Mal’s glass, a vain attempt to make up for it, too little, too late, as he well knew. “The whole war we’d been taught that the enemy was wrong, and being wrong made ’em less human. We were good people, comrades, fighting the good fight, and the Browncoats were—less. Always called ’em ‘The Enemy’, or—you know, less flattering things.” They all snorted. Mal and Zoe exchanged a look, recollecting some of the more colorful names they had called the Alliance. “The Enemy. Not people. But you can’t hear, night after night, the moans of the dying, and not figure it out. People died, people suffered, both sides. And for what?”

“Peace and prosperity under the benevolent rule of the Alliance,” said Mal flippantly. “All go home and live a shiny life.” Disgusted snorts from all around the table followed Mal’s pronouncement.

“Never could go home,” Haxton said. “Planet where I’m from was the scene of some heavy fighting, and the mines still haven’t been cleared from the place I used to call home. Now that planet’s not of strategic interest, government’s in no hurry to see the job done. Hands the contract over to some 吃垃圾 chī lājī Blue Sun subdivision, they collect the money and sit around.”

“Don’t that just figure,” Mal commented. “Easy to make a mess of a planet, nobody takes responsibility for cleaning it up.” He paused for a drink, then added, “Never could go home, neither. ’M from Shadow.”

Any other group, that piece of info woulda dropped like a stone and stopped conversation dead. This group, they understood. They just nodded, then Sullivan said, “Moon I come from wasn’t hardly touched by the war—but it didn’t matter.” Sullivan twisted his glass in his fingers. “No jobs to be found. Being a veteran wasn’t worth a damn to employers. Didn’t give any advantage—in fact, the ones who hadn’t fought made out better—were sitting pretty in the jobs we left when we were called up to fight. I haven’t had a job since the war that had anything to do with what I was trained for before. Used to make high-end specialty milled steel products.” He gave a snort. “Now I sort garbage on Beylix.”

“Only people who made out well from the war were the profiteers,” Nguyen stated indignantly, then rattled off the names like it was her personal hit-list. “Vista Sun, New Worlds, Chow Interplanetary, Wing Beaumont, Bartihalon, Sun Microdot, Allmine, Huli Network. Made munitions, rations, military vehicles—”

“All divisions of Blue Sun,” Zoe inserted, sipping her seltzer water.

All?” Mal asked, astonished.

“Been talking to Neumann, sir.”

Haxton looked at Zoe and nodded. “Only jobs to be had in the Border planets since the war, are working in reconstruction of the places laid waste by the war. Workin’ for companies like Ring M, Durai, Doembrown and Sinkall—again, they’re all divisions of Blue Sun.”

“That’s not true, Haxton,” Sullivan cut in. “You can get a job running supplies to the dependent Rim worlds.”

“But who supplies the Rim worlds?” Haxton countered. “Blue Sun again.”

Mal was beginning to see a pattern. “Sometimes you can get a job running supplies,” he inserted. The others looked at him. “I’ve been more fortunate than most,” he said, and Zoe looked at him with surprise. “Got my own ship. Still, it’s hard to find work.”

“Hauling cargo?” Haxton asked.

Mal nodded.

“Decent living?” Sullivan inquired.

“Enough to put food on the table—mostly. Keep the ship from fallin’ apart—mostly.” Mal took another drink. “Right now, not so much. Can’t find a job here on Beylix.”

The others murmured their agreement. Wasn’t easy finding a job, not anywhere.

“Last run was tough,” Mal admitted. “Got chased by Reavers.”

* * *

“…I got a terrific data set,” Ip continued, his excitement apparent to the man on the cortex screen. “I had all kinds of equipment set up on the hull of the boat, and the Captain plotted a course that took us within five thousand miles of Shadow’s surface. The view was stunning.”

“So have you solved the mystery of the terraforming accident on Shadow then?” the man asked, with an amused smile at the young man’s gushing enthusiasm.

“No, certainly not yet,” Ip responded, sobering a little. “It’s a very complicated case. The accident that happened there should not have happened at all. While it’s theoretically possible for a single event like a bomb to trigger a cascade that led to catastrophic failure of terraforming, the likelihood of that event is just…”

“Improbable?” suggested Brother Chan ’eil Càil an so a’ Faicadh.

“Beyond improbable. It’s so unlikely that it’s not even worth considering. I’m sure it was not a factor that the original terraforming engineers of Shadow even worked into their calculations. Especially since Shadow took so readily to terraforming in the first place. And yet this extremely improbable event seems to have happened on Shadow.” Ip paused, and looked saddened.

“What is it?” his friend asked with concern.

“It’s just—well, it was harder than I ever imagined it would be, to see how the return to Shadow affected the Captain.”

“What do you mean?” the man asked, with every appearance of surprise.

“Did you know the Captain is a native of Shadow?”

The Operative knew it perfectly well, but he shook his head.

“Yes, he is, and seeing his destroyed home world up close triggered some traumatic flashbacks. It made me terribly sad to see it.” Ip paused, gathering his thoughts. “He was very brave, plotting that course and sticking to it, knowing how close it would bring him to the world he lost.” He looked his friend directly in the eye and said somberly, “The Captain lost everything he ever had when Shadow was destroyed.”

The Operative nodded sympathetically. Ip Neumann had no idea just how much the Captain had lost. The moment of silence hung between them.

Ip shook off the oppressive mood. “I should tell you, though—the excitement of gathering data on Shadow was completely eclipsed by what happened next.”

“Why? What happened?” Despite all his training, the Operative was unable to maintain a calm demeanor.

“As we approached perigee, we came upon a fleet of transport vessels. Hundreds of them. Then we were chased by a stealth vessel. I’m thinking maybe a guard ship to chase away anybody who got too interested in the transports.”

Brother Chan ’eil Càil looked sharply at Ip. Ip had not seen such a look on his friend’s face before. “Hundreds of transports? What were they doing there?”

“I really don’t know,” Ip responded. “But I suspect something illegal. They were within the embargo zone.”

“Landing? Taking off?”

“I suppose they were. We really didn’t get to look for very long, because that’s when we got chased by Reavers.”

“Good gods!” Stealth trackers, fleets of vessels, Reavers—Malcolm Reynolds seemed to attract this kind of attention like a magnet, the Operative thought, forgetting for a moment his own involvement in the Captain’s last encounter with Reavers and a large fleet.

“But that’s not the biggest surprise.” Ip actually relished the telling. “All those spectrographs and scanners I had on the hull of Serenity yielded some interesting information about the transport fleet.”

The Operative was all ears.

“Those transports were carrying linthicum ore. There’s a huge illegal extraction operation going on, on Shadow.”

The man on the screen considered carefully for a moment. Then he asked, “Do you have hard evidence of that?”

Ip nodded. “Yes, I do. As far as remote-sensing data can be considered hard evidence.”

“Have you considered the implications of this evidence?” Brother Chan ’eil Càil asked carefully.

Ip considered a moment. “I think it’s likely that a crime is being committed on Shadow.”

His friend nodded. “I agree. What steps have you taken to safeguard this evidence?”

Ip hadn’t taken any. “Does it need safeguarding?”

“At the very least, you should make a back-up copy of that data. Store it at a secure, off-ship location.” He paused, as if in thought, then added, “You may have uncovered something here that’s key to building a case against the culprits.”

Ip hadn’t considered that there might be a criminal case brought against the illegal miners. “Oh. You’re right.” He considered a moment. “Where are you now? Still on 尘球 Chén Qiú?”

“Not any longer,” Brother Chan ’eil Càil replied. “You’re waving me from Beylix? I’m four sectors away.”

“Would you keep a copy of the data for me?”

“I could do that,” he answered neutrally. He was careful not to betray any special interest in the subject to Ip Neumann. Then he added, “What would you want me to do with it? I could contact law enforcement—”

“No,” Ip answered quickly. “Just store it. Keep it safe. In case of accidents.” After a little reflection, Ip added, “I think there’s more to this story than we’ve uncovered so far. I agree that this is a significant piece of evidence, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.”

“I believe you’re right,” the Operative answered with conviction. He knew he would have much to do as soon as the data set was in his hands.

Ip nodded. There was something else on his mind. He hesitated. He really shouldn’t divulge the Captain’s private business to an outside party, especially since River had explained the problem to him in confidence. But it seemed to him that his friend might be able to help—he seemed to have connections. After all, he’d been surprisingly forthcoming in working political contacts on Persephone on the Captain’s behalf. Ip made his decision. “Have you ever heard of a credit account being flagged?”

* * *

Jayne sat in the booth in a cozy corner of the Friendly Inn with his new friend snuggled up to his side. Or not-so-new. Turned out they was already acquainted. Well-acquainted in fact, up to and including biblically. And she was willing to treat him. Beylix was a shiny, wonderful world.

He had been astonished when this well-endowed piece of womanhood had thrown herself at him right there on the street, soon as he started window-shopping. But she’d been anything but astonished.

“Jayne Cobb! It’s really you!” she repeated breathlessly, between kisses. “I knew it! It’s karma.” She stepped back just a bit to have a good look at him. “And just as handsome as I remember.” She then noticed a tall, thin stranger stopping nearby and regarding Jayne with an odd look. “This ’un on your crew now, Jayne?”

“Well, he’s, uh—” Jayne began.

“Dr Ip Neumann,” Ip introduced himself. “Jayne has kindly agreed to accompany me into town. And you are—?”

“Janice,” she replied, saving Jayne a world of trouble. “Me and Jayne know each other from way back, on Higgins Moon. Betcha hardly knew me, eh Jayne?” she asked, elbowing him in the ribs, as Jayne squirmed uncomfortably at the truth. “I clean up good, don’t I?” she beamed at Jayne, not in the least noticing his discomfiture. “Last time we saw each other,” she told Ip conspiratorially, “I was covered with mud. Not that the Hero of Canton minded a bit of mud-wrestling.” She made it sound so salacious.

Jayne was puttin’ two and two together and comin’ up with a home run. Janice. Huh. She was that Mudder woman that’d given him a good time—a gorram good time—that night in Canton. “Whatcha doin’ on Beylix, Janice?” he asked.

“Fixin’ to have me a good time with the Hero of Canton,” she answered. “C’mon, handsome. Let me buy you a drink.” And she hauled an unprotesting Jayne off to the Friendly Inn, leaving Ip Neumann standing on the sidewalk.

* * *

They killed the bottle and were well into the next, while Zoe single-handedly killed the seltzer. Nguyen was getting loquacious. “If I’d met Browncoats like you back in the day, I don’t think I could have fired a shot. But still, I can’t reconcile that with the atrocities you all—I don’t mean you two—the Browncoats—”

Mal interrupted. “What atrocities you talkin’ about?”

地狱 Dìyù,” she replied. “I don’t know how to say it. Don’t be mad—I’m not blaming you in particular—but only someone inhuman could have done what was done to our troops at Rovaniemi.”

What was done to them?” Zoe asked, considerably ruffled.

“I don’t even want to say. It’s sick. Look, it probably wasn’t your regulars. You all just seem like normal people to me, what I would expect in any infantry unit. But what was done at Rovaniemi, that was the work of some sick mind.”

“What do you mean?” Mal asked.

Nguyen looked for help from her comrades. “Well, they weren’t just killed. The women were raped—”

“—and the men—” Sullivan inserted.

“—and then they were tortured.”

“Flayed alive.”

“Most of the bodies had parts missing,” Haxton added, in a disgusted voice.

牲畜污秽淫乱! Shēngchù wūhuì yínluàn!” Mal exclaimed. “You saw this?”

“We saw the bodies, afterwards,” Haxton replied. “But we heard of other incidents like that, too. Hard not to howl for the Browncoats’ blood, knowing they had units trained to do that kind of thing to human beings. Please, no offense to you. Not your fault Independent Command had some sick ideas.”

“We heard of the same kind of atrocities,” Zoe stated coldly. “But we were told it was the Alliance that done it. Against us.”

“What?!” “没做 Méi zuò!” “Never!” the three exclaimed.

“It weren’t the Alliance,” Mal asserted. “I never believed them stories, Zoe. That was just the propaganda machine, using them sad incidents to stir up the fight in people. Those attacks were all done by Reavers.”

* * *

Zoe and Mal made their way back to Serenity. Mal was perfectly ambulatory, but his navigation skills were a little tweaked. Zoe steered them steadily homeward.

“’M beginnin’ ta think we spent th’ war fightin’ th’ wrong people,” Mal observed.

“You mean we shouldn’t a’ fought against the 42nd?” Zoe asked, referring to Haxton’s regiment.

“Mean Blue Sun,” he replied. “Everythin’ points ta Blue Sun. They’re everywhere. Come outta the Black, bite ya on th’ 屁股 pìgu.”

* * *





地狱 Dìyù [Hell]

拉屎 lāshǐ [shit]

吃垃圾 chī lājī [garbage-eating]

尘球 Chén Qiú [name of a world]

地狱 Dìyù [Hell]

牲畜污秽淫乱! Shēngchù wūhuì yínluàn! [Filthy fornicators of livestock!]

没做 Méi zuò [No way]

屁股 pìgu [ass]

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I want to acknowledge the work of Guildsister here. Guildsister's story "Blue Sun Job" contains a scene in which Mal and Zoe sit down to drinks with some Alliance soldiers. I borrowed that set up and took it in a different direction.


Thursday, October 6, 2011 5:39 AM


That was nice. SURPRISINGLY nice. And yeah, it just figures that they used Reavers as a source of propaganda about atrocities both sides were doing. >_> In fact, I was thinking of exploring that a little myself.

Now we see where the Operative comes in.

Thursday, October 6, 2011 8:42 AM


I mean, not the writing, your writing is always good, I mean expecting all this bitterness and anger and a fight, and then it becoming something affirming and humanizing instead.

Thursday, October 6, 2011 9:20 AM


No, I get it. :-) The bar scene was the first scene of this story that I wrote. In fact, I wrote it before I even knew which story it belonged in. I just loved Guildsister's premise (Zoe and Mal meet up with some Purplebellies in a bar--and don't have a barfight), and wanted to re-cast it with my own twist. :-)
ZoesMom--I suppose it is. Mainly, though, I was tired of reading fics where the characters imbibe improbable amounts of alcohol and then proceed to behave as if it hasn't affected them at all. ;-)

Thursday, October 6, 2011 11:57 AM


I was particulary taken with the dialogue between Mal, Zoe and the former purplebellies in the bar. Also liked how at the end of it Mal had figured that the Reavers had caused a lot of horrific injuries on both sides which were then blamed on each other. As for Ip that man is too naive for his own, or anyone else's good. Passing on private information to his Operative friend made me go cold. I don't know whether to vent him into the atmo or just staple his lips together until the poor man gets a clue. Great writing, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Thursday, October 6, 2011 1:59 PM


Hmm so Mal going to go to war with Blue Sun now for a little payback? Still waiting on that other shoe to drop.

Friday, October 7, 2011 4:00 AM


AliD: "As for Ip that man is too naive for his own, or anyone else's good. Passing on private information to his Operative friend made me go cold." Oh, good. That's what I was aiming for. Ip's naivete is both his strength and his great weakness. The Operative is an expert at exploiting others' weaknesses for his own ends. Ip has trouble seeing anything but good in people. This can be an asset, but right now it sure doesn't look that way, does it? As usual, your observations are very astute!

Nutluck: I think Mal understands the cost of going to war all too well: he's already paid the price of defeat. This won't stop him from putting the facts together and trying to understand just who it is that's caused such suffering. He may have a very different form of payback in mind. And do keep in mind that 2 ton metal spike-covered shoe--because it's still looming ominously in the offing, ready to drop. Of course things won't go smooth here on Beylix. It's Mal we're talking about, after all ;-)

Friday, October 7, 2011 3:46 PM



Excellent story arc you have here my friend. It runs smooth and flows like a summer stream. Mal and his crew not getting paid yet? I’m sure that will be causing more than a little trouble once certain members of his team find out. I’m looking for that particular issue to become resolved, one way or another, rather quickly.

Jayne meeting up with Janice. I always did like that girl and besides, if I remember correctly she went back upstairs with his jacket…might she be returning it to him on Beylix?

Mal finding himself, along with Zoe, in an Alliance friendly bar during “Serenity Day”! Reflections of the past came to me, “ I didn’t come looking fore a fight! I always seen to find one though.” I was ready for blood & teeth to come flying out during that little bar interlude, but you put a twit on that really had me smiling…..I certainly enjoyed it.

Great work….looking forward to more.


Monday, October 10, 2011 1:49 PM


Withdraws... getting bad... been 4 days...

Monday, October 10, 2011 6:13 PM


Thank you, BPZ, glad you enjoyed this chapter. It sure was fun bringing Janice back into the picture. Just you wait and see what's in store for Jayne on Beylix. And that's the fun of writing a bar scene like that...ya build it up so everyone expects blood and teeth flying out and all that, and then ya sit them down so they can find out they have more in common than not. We're not done with the consequences of that encounter.

Poor Nutluck...hang chapter will be posted tomorrow (or later today, depending on your timezone). I'm drawing it out, because I need the time to work out the revisions on story #9.


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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