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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Everybody wants to talk to the Captain.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1174 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)
Everybody wants to talk to the Captain.
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* * *
Working together, Zoe and Inara managed to get Mal down the ladder into his bunk in one piece, despite his protestations that he didn’t need no help, delivered in a more pronounced Shadow accent than usual. He was snoring before Inara even left the room. Zoe headed off Dr Ip, who was prowling the halls of Serenity with a Where’s-the-Captain? look.
It was a subdued group that sat down to a late dinner that night. Kaylee looked all done in, and was nodding into her plate. Girl had done a hard day’s work, scouring every salvage yard within range for parts, yet unable to buy because the Captain’s funds were still hung up. Simon was concerned for Kaylee and didn’t have much to say otherwise, other than to report to Zoe that his quest for medicines to re-stock Serenity’s infirmary was only partially successful, and again, that he was out of funds. Inara was thoughtful. Zoe herself was uncomfortable, the tight waistband of her pants digging into her abdomen, no matter how upright her posture. She would have unbuttoned them if she could. Jayne hadn’t returned to the ship, and Ip would only say that he’d run into an old friend in town, and the two had headed off to have a drink together. River was muttering numbers and codes to herself, and headed back to the bridge immediately after finishing her meal. Ip alone was full of contained excitement, but he only wanted to speak of it to the Captain. Mal, of course, was sleeping it off.
Jayne rolled aboard Serenity well into the morning. “Her love for me now ain’t hard to explain, the Hero of Canton, the man they call—me!” he sang lustily. Luckily for Jayne, the hangover meds Simon had slipped Mal at breakfast time had already kicked in, and Mal was feeling reasonably spry after his second cup of coffee. Simon and Kaylee relaxed, seeing as the Captain didn’t look like his head was about to explode.
“Had a good night’s sleep I take it?” the Captain commented wryly.
“Damn straight I did!” Jayne replied, his loud voice carrying right up to the cockpit.
Not just Mal, but Zoe and Simon cringed, while Kaylee said, “How about usin’ an indoor voice, Jayne?”
“Who’s the lucky one?” Mal was in the mood to tease Jayne.
“Janice. Remember Janice?” Jayne was remembering Janice in all carnal detail, her healthy, robust form, wrapped around—
“Can’t say as I do, Jayne.”
“From Higgins Moon. Her indentures was up, so she moved to Beylix. Works at Ray’s Hauling. Step up from them mud pits.”
“Smells better, I reckon.”
“Oooh, yeah, smells much better—” Jayne began, with a leer.
“I do not need to hear this,” Mal interjected, regretting that he’d started this hare. Mal really had only the vaguest recollection of the woman Jayne was talking about. Jayne had connected with a Mudder woman, thought he was a hero like all the other Mudders in Jaynestown—oh right, place was actually called Canton. If she still thought he was a hero, reckon Jayne’d had a good time reconnecting.
Jayne went and helped himself to a cup of coffee. Mal caught Zoe’s eye, and began the proceedings. It was unusual to have a crew conference in the morning, especially when they were parked on a planet, but some things needed explaining.
“As you all know, we’re short of funds. Last job paid us well, but the account’s flagged and I can’t get any coin.” Dr Ip made as if to interrupt, but Mal held up his hand. “River’s still workin’ on finding out why the account’s all locked up. Meanwhile, anybody has got any ready money they’re willing to contribute to the ship, I’ll keep an account of it and pay you back when the funds come available.”
Kaylee leaned forward, ready to speak, but Mal wasn’t finished. “We’re goin’ to dinner—the midday meal, her time-zone—at Juju Kamara’s.” Jayne opened his mouth, but Mal ignored him. “All of us. Clean and shaved and nicely dressed. Meal after Friday prayers is the equivalent of a formal Sunday dinner on her home world. We go and play nice. Generate good will and all that. Need a new job, and Ms Kamara may lead us to one. Anyone as can’t generate good will—” he glared at Jayne “—will mind their manners and keep their mouths shut.”
Now it was Simon who began to speak, but Mal still wasn’t finished. “Monty’s contact was no good. Zoe and me waited a couple hours at that bar, but he never showed. Wasn’t quite a waste of time, though. We met up with three Purplebellies fought at Serenity Valley there.”
Simon could no longer keep silent. “You got into a fight? Captain, that really isn’t a—”
“Didn’t get into no fight, Simon,” Mal retorted. “Sat down with ’em and had a drink.”
Simon was flabbergasted, but recovered quickly. “So now you’re best of friends with the Alliance, sitting down to drinks with them?”
“I never had no quarrel with the soldiers themselves,” Mal replied.
Simon couldn’t believe his ears. “Right. You just shot at them.”
To Simon’s astonishment, Mal jumped up from his seat and gave him what Simon privately called Mal’s “back down Jayne” look. Simon wasn’t prepared to be on the receiving end of that look. “You don’t want to go there, boy,” Mal said in a cold voice.
“Don’t talk on something you know nothing about,” Zoe said icily, doubling Mal’s menacing stare.
“Never stopped him before,” Jayne quipped.
It broke the tension.
Mal took a deep breath, and resumed his seat. “Look, Doc, I asked you to listen ’cause I want you to apply that top three percent of yours to the situation at hand. We sat and had a drink and some talk. And mighty interesting talk it was.” He briefly re-capped the conversation. “There’s two things bother me in all this. Number one’s Blue Sun. Everywhere you look, there’s only one party comes out on top.”
“The Alliance?” Way Jayne saw it, Alliance always come out on top.
“No, Jayne. I mean, Alliance beat the Independents down, took over our worlds. But who’s getting the profit from it? Who supplies the Rim worlds? Who controls the shipping? Who rebuilds the worlds torn apart by the war? Who controls the new terraforming sites? Who has the jobs?”
“It’s Blue Sun,” Simon realized.
“Buck Holden said Blue Sun’s everywhere, got a finger in every pie,” Mal continued. “Trying to take over all the independent shipping on Beaumonde. He sounded an awful lot like your sister when he said it, Doc, even to using her very words. Said ‘Blue Sun has all kinds roots and branches—they’re everywhere, you can’t even tell it’s them. It’s the little ones you don’t see that have the teeth.’ He even said, ‘They come out of the black and bite you when you’re least expecting it.’”
Simon was struck by the quote. “That is eerie.”
“And they have. I don’t know for sure why, but I reckon they’re already after us. That stealth ship that tracked us through the Lion’s Mouth. And quite possibly that sabotage job on our nav system when we were carrying Holden’s inside info on Blue Sun. The stealth ship that went after us near Shadow coulda been Blue Sun, or mayhap some other 混蛋 húndàn was raping Shadow. All those times River was tuned in to the problem before we were. I figure she senses a connection we haven’t made yet. I want you to try to find it.”
“I’ll look into it, Captain, first thing,” Simon said, determined to pump Ip Neumann for information about his former employer, as well as to spend some time on the cortex looking up Blue Sun’s connections to war reconstruction projects.
“What’s number two?” Jayne asked into the silence.
“What?” Simon asked.
“What’s the number two thing what’s botherin’ you, Mal?”
“Number two is Reavers,” Mal replied.
Jayne shuddered. “That’d be my number one.”
Mal began to expound. “On Miranda, we found out that the Alliance made the Reavers, with that Pax stuff they put in the atmospheric conditioners.”
Ip Neumann sat bolt upright, all ears. He wasn’t crew, and hadn’t been invited to the crew conference, but he hadn’t been asked to leave the room, either. The Captain had just voluntarily mentioned Miranda. And he said we found. Had they all been to Miranda?
“The Reavers probably been using that planet for a base ever since,” Mal was saying, “first for food, then for fuel. Perfectly good planet with nobody to stop ’em. But that wasn’t the first time they made Reavers.”
“It wasn’t?” Simon asked, astonished.
“Hell no, Doc. We had Reaver raids on Shadow when I was a boy, and that’s long before Miranda was settled, and in a different sector altogether.”
“And I thought you were just feeding Harken a pile of 狗屎 gǒu shǐ about Reavers,” Jayne said. “You seemed to know all about them.”
“The psychology and life-ways of Reavers…” Simon mused. Ip glanced over at him and opened his mouth, but no one was paying attention to him.
Kaylee looked at the Captain with a new realization. “You told Commander Harken that the boy from that derelict would turn Reaver—you knew.”
Mal gave a slight shrug. “Well, I seen it before. And now, it seems, there were Reaver raids throughout the war, that both sides called atrocities—and blamed on the other side. I heard about some of ’em during the war—couldn’t believe anyone was dumb enough to believe the Alliance done it. Boy was I naïve—just ’cause I knew a Reaver raid when I heard about it didn’t mean no one else could recognize it. So, I’m wonderin’, where all those Reavers come from? How many times has some 不道德 混蛋 bùdàodé húndàn given the go-ahead to poison the atmosphere with that 狗屎 gǒu shǐ? How many places have the Reavers been made?”
“My gods, the implications of allowing such immoral experimentation on human beings—not just once—repeatedly—” Simon remembered how sickening he’d found the situation on Miranda. And how, literally, River had been sickened by it. And now Mal had put it together—天啊 tiān ā, that man had some keen insights—
“You think on it, Doc,” Mal said. “Do some research if you can. Because I got a feeling that Blue Sun and Reavers are connected—through your sister.”
As Mal expected, nearly every crew member came up and buttonholed him in the interval between the conference and Friday Dinner. Kaylee reported that most of the needed parts were available at the salvage yards.
“And how much this gonna cost, 妹妹 mèimei?” Mal asked, hating that he had to ask the question, and knowing that he wasn’t gonna like the answer.
“Cap’n, I tried,” Kaylee began, and Mal already felt bad for her. “I tried hard as I could to work the prices down.” She told him an answer that was well beyond the amount of cash available.
“How much if we leave the nav sat out of the picture?” he asked. The answer was still too high. He kept asking, winnowing down the list until they were left with the bare minimum necessary to restore the engine to a condition suitable for another hard burn. And that was letting the atmo feed slide, which was a risky state of affairs. It still cost more than the cash he had on hand.
“I’m sorry, Kaylee,” he said, pulling her in for a hug. “You did your best. We can’t afford it unless some miracle drops money into our laps.”
“Turn trash into treasure,” River said, floating into the dining room to grab a protein bar for breakfast. She had been at work nearly round the clock, and hadn’t joined the rest for the meal or the conference.
“How’s that research comin’, Albatross? Any notion who’s blocked my account?”
“No news is—”
“Good news?” Kaylee finished eagerly.
“Bad news,” Mal inserted, reading River’s expression. “I can tell.”
“I know who it’s not, not who it is,” River answered, and headed back to the bridge before anyone could speak again.
“Kaylee, I think we’re just gonna hafta look a little lower for our engine parts.”
“Cap’n, I already done checked every salvage yard within—”
“Ain’t talkin’ salvage yards no more. After dinner, we’ll go look at the dump. Trash picking.”
“Cap, Janice works at Ray’s Hauling,” Jayne said.
Mal was not interested. “Woman can work wherever she gorram pleases, Jayne. Ain’t no concern a’ mine.”
“Hell, Mal, you got yourself in a bad mood, you can go—”
“Go what?” Mal took a step toward Jayne.
“Fine, Mal. Mebbe it don’t matter ta you, lookin’ a gift horse in the—” wherever it was a gift horse got looked at. Letting the details slide, Jayne pressed on. “Just sayin’, I could ask her ta put in a good word at Ray’s, mebbe there’s a haulin’ job for Serenity.”
Mal did not relish the idea of turning Serenity into a garbage scow, but desperate times called for desperate measures. Maybe he couldn’t afford to look a gift horse in the mouth. “Alright, Jayne. You look into it. Check in with Janice—after dinner,” he added as Jayne made to exit immediately, with a lit up expression on his face.
Everybody seemed to want a private talk with the Captain, so Ip bided his time. He took the opportunity to visit River on the bridge, where she was still working the cortex screen, trying to crack the code on the flag on the Captain’s account.
“Any progress?” he asked her.
“Negative,” River answered.
“That’s a disappointment,” Ip said with a sigh. “I would have thought that some of that information he sent would have been useful—”
“It was,” River said, peevishly. She had been up half the night working on this problem, and was very frustrated that the code had been impossible to crack.
“It was? But why did you just say—”
“Negative progress,” River snapped, as if explaining to an idiot. “The code did not originate within the bank. It is not local law enforcement. It is not federal law enforcement. It did not originate from the Bureau of Taxation and Revenue. It is not military. It is not from the Bureau of Investigations, nor from the Covert Operations Agency—”
“You checked all of those?” Ip was astonished, knowing that to eliminate all of these agencies as the source of the blockage, she had to have hacked into all of their protected databases. How had she cracked the protections on the military and the Bureau of Investigations? And had she really hacked into the Covert Operations Agency?
“Your friend’s information was very helpful,” River stated simply. Her bad mood was beginning to ebb.
“Well, it seems to me you have made progress,” Ip said, his cheerful nature finding the silver lining in the cloud. “You’ve eliminated a lot of possibilities, although I can’t imagine why Covert Operations would be interested in the captain of an obscure transport vessel.”
River knew why they’d been interested, and she was delighted to have independent confirmation of the effectiveness of the Operative’s work in squelching the government’s search for the wayward Tam siblings.
“So, you’ve eliminated all of those sources. What’s left?”
“Parliamentary directive,” River answered, “or a private entity.”
At least Simon’s cloud had a silver lining. “You’re sayin’ you bought up a whole case of this antibiotic?”
“A fire-sale, huh?”
“They practically gave it to me for free,” Simon answered. Nearly, but not quite. “I spent every coin I had, but if no other job offers, there are any number of Rim worlds where we can sell that medicine and the people will thank us.”
“I thought you said the stuff was expired.”
“Well, yes, I—”
“I don’t want to be causin’ nobody harm sellin’ medicine that’s gone bad.”
“Captain, the expiration date is a legislated number. Studies were done, and scientists testified before Parliamentary committees, but in the end, the expiration date is a compromise worked out by politicians representing different interests—pharmaceutical companies, health insurance providers, hospital administrators, physicians and patients’ advocates. Simply put, the quality of the drug is not noticeably affected by the mere passing of the expiration date. Over time, of course, most drugs gradually lose efficacy, but this can be minimized by proper storage. Many of the drugs I use aboard Serenity are officially ‘expired.’ They’re much cheaper.” Simon paused to let that thought sink in. “The antibiotic will still be safe and effective for a while longer. It’s simply illegal to sell it.”
Mal let a smile crack his face as he turned to Simon. The boy had a decent criminal mind. “Well, I don’t see as how that ever stopped us before. Good work, Doc.”
“Sure, why not?” Mal answered sarcastically. “Last run of the experiment only resulted in us gettin’ chased by a stealth ship and by Reavers, what could possibly go wrong with another run?” He gave Ip a stern look, and was rewarded by seeing the young scientist wilt before his eyes, his bubble completely burst. Mal savored the cruel joke for a moment, then relented. “Nah, of course, Ip. The machine can stay.” His smile faded. “Tell your professor I’m very grateful for the income. Dear knows we are in desperate need of it.” Ip had still not recovered from the Captain’s cruel sense of humor, so Mal went on, seriously this time. “Ip, you saved our 屁股 pìgu on Persephone when we needed ready money to outfit the ship for the cattle transport. Now we can’t access the money we rightfully earned for that job, and you’re offering to save our 屁股 pìgu again. I’m right grateful. You’re a good man.”
Ip recovered his balance quickly. “Where are we headed next, Captain? Because I’d like to tell Professor Rao. She told me that the locations were not so important as the route, but still—”
“Destination not so important, eh?” Mal asked. “How you get there is the worthier part.” It pleased him to be able to apply Shepherd Book’s saying to the situation.
Ip smiled. “It seems to me she’d put up with almost any destination, as long as different systems are involved. Eventually she’ll want the unit delivered to the university on Bernadette, but not until after we’ve flown it around the ’Verse for a while.” The Captain still had not answered the question, so he asked again. “So where are we headed next?”
“Don’t rightly know, yet,” Mal answered, bleakly and truthfully. “Still gotta find us a job.”
混蛋 húndàn [bastard]
狗屎 gǒu shǐ [crap]
不道德 混蛋 bùdàodé húndàn [immoral bastard]
天啊 tiān ā [god]
妹妹 mèimei [little sister]
屁股 pìgu [asses]
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