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TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10) Part (07)
Monday, January 30, 2012

Mal and Zoe cool their heels, Simon goes to court, and River and Ip have lunch.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1643    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10)

Part (07)

Follows BANDIAGARA (09). Precedes WHAT BEGINS WITH AN APPLE (11).

The series so far: A LION’S MOUTH (01) ADVENTURES IN SITTING (02) SPARKS FLY (03) EXPECTATIONS (04) BREAK OUT (05) THE TRIAL (06) SHADOW (07) ONE MAN’S TRASH (08) BANDIAGARA (09)

Mal and Zoe cool their heels, Simon goes to court, and River and Ip have lunch.

Surprisingly, there is nothing R rated in this chapter. But the shoe’s beginning to drop.

Previous Part | Next Part

* * *

Mal and Zoe checked over their sidearms in preparation for their meeting with Buck Holden. “I want Serenity buttoned up tight while we’re here at Pedro Docks,” Mal directed Kaylee. “Mrs Li’s son Boqin is providing some extra security, hopefully that’ll prevent any saboteur gettin’ up on top of the boat.” Like last time we parked here on Beaumonde, he omitted saying. Everybody knew what he was thinking. “Don’t let nobody aboard without they have prior approval.”

“What if it’s the police, Cap’n?” Kaylee asked, nervously. Last time on Beaumonde, she’d let a group of four thugs aboard—thugs who were dressed as police officers.

“If it’s police, they gotta show you a proper search warrant afore you let them on. You don’t let nobody on—not police, not the Feds, not nobody—unless they got the proper paperwork. They give you a hard time, you wave me immediately. I know you got a lot on your plate, Kaylee, but we gotta get that navsat installed before we fly.” He turned to Simon, River, and Ip. “I know you all got errands you need to do in town, so you go ahead and do them. And when you get back to the ship, make yourselves known to Kaylee so she don’t get spooked. And if you think you’re bein’ followed by someone—let’s say, a saboteur for instance—don’t lead ’em straight to Serenity. Go somewhere safe—”

“Just what do you mean by ‘safe,’ Captain?” Ip inquired.

“—well, safer, anyways—go to a public place, plenty of people, be conspicuous. Can’t kidnap you or take you down easy in front of witnesses. Anyways, you think you’re bein’ followed, you wave me and Zoe, we’ll come and deal with it—”

“What about me, Mal?” Jayne asked. “’m I comin’ along to Holden’s office with you two?”

“Nope,” Mal answered. Buck Holden had as good as told them they’d be sittin’ around waiting for hours at his office, in order to throw the mole off the scent, and Mal didn’t have any desire to take Jayne along. “I ain’t babysittin’ you, Jayne, nor listening to you complain as how you’ve missed your lunch hour. You’re gonna get Serenity fueled up, and re-stock food and water. You get that finished, you can take a run of the town, do—whatever it is you need to get done—and be back to the ship by evening.”

Simon headed into town to re-stock Serenity’s infirmary—and buy a ring for Kaylee, Mal knew, but he wasn’t about to spoil the surprise. River and Ip were headed over to Reed Labs, and then the university, to check up on some potential tech jobs. Mal locked eyes with Zoe. Ready to head to Holden Brothers? Hopefully see everybody home to roost by evening, having done what they set out to do, and no egg on their face. Oh yeah, one more thing. Mal turned back to Kaylee.

“Kaylee—” he began.

“Cap’n,” she interrupted. “We need ta talk. It’s about—”

“Kaylee,” he continued, “need you to wave the rotten fruit broker.” Kaylee had been trying to corner him for days now. He knew she wanted to buttonhole him for a private talk, and he knew it wasn’t to do with ship repairs or a wish list of spare engine parts, neither. She wanted to talk relationships, but whether it was his or hers she was wanting to talk about, now just wasn’t the time. He was here to do business, and he needed to keep his head clear. Clear of all that personal relationship 屁話 pìhuà. “Tell Pugh to deliver the gorram chickens to Pedro Docks by evening, if he wants ’em to fly on my boat.”

* * *

They’d run the gauntlet of the politely rude receptionist, who pretended to have work to do as soon as they walked in the door, who omitted all the common courtesies like “please” and “sir” and even “hello,” and who took her time locating evidence of Mal’s appointment. After being shown into a waiting room, Mal and Zoe settled down for what promised to be a wait of several hours. But this time they were prepared to cool their heels, and it felt like a rare bit of downtime, some real R and R. Zoe claimed the long sofa, piling extra cushions against the end, leaning back, and elevating her legs. Mal pulled a second chair over and propped up his feet.

“Whatcha readin’, Zoe?” Mal asked, noticing that his first officer had pulled out an old-fashioned book made with real paper.

“Poetry, sir.”

“Poetry, eh?” Mal responded. “Didn’t know you liked poetry, Zoe.” Funny how you could be best friends for well over a decade and still learn somethin’ new.

“It’s one of Wash’s books, sir. I been readin’ ’em,” she replied tersely. She opened her book to a marker near the middle and was soon absorbed in it.

Mal pulled out the electronic tablet he’d borrowed from Simon and inserted the data stick. It offered him a library of choices, and soon he’d made his selection. Hadn’t read this one in years. Since before the War, in fact. First read it when he was nineteen, and re-read parts of it since then, but never revisited it since the War. He was curious as to whether it would still ring true.

Soon he was caught up in the opening chapter. Took him straight to Inara’s world. He imagined the politically-connected hostess Anna Pavlovna was like Inara’s mother, or—no, not her mother, would have to be her House Mistress, doing and arranging, swinging deals under the guise of havin’ a party. Prince Ippolit—Jayne would make a good Ippolit, with his pointless anecdotes. Pierre—Simon or Dr Ip, either one could be the intellectual fish-out-of-water. Natasha—Kaylee had that same spark of life. Prince Anatol—well, didn’t have to think too hard on that one. That 混蛋 húndàn Atherton Wing fit the part, easy. Vera—oh he’d known plenty of Veras, and plenty of Bergs. They were just like everybody else. He’d also met plenty of Anna Mikhailovnas, all maneuvering to get the best they could for them and theirs. Now, who of these men would be Inara’s clients? Probably any one of ’em, from Ellen’s old goat of a father Prince Vasily right down to young Boris, and not excluding the priest, Abbé Morio, neither. Prince Andrei? Nah, the man was acting revolting at the moment, ignoring his pregnant wife and bored with everything and everyone and not cherishing the good things he had in front of him, but as Mal recalled he showed his spark of intelligence not a moment later, and became a much more appealing character. And Inara herself—well, she was as beautiful as Ellen, but much more intelligent, and not so heartless. Not Lisa—she had more depth. Not Natasha—Natasha was too much of an innocent, though she had that same sparkle. Not Princess Marya—too serious, although the soulful caring part was spot on. No, none of these women was Inara. Inara was one-of-a-kind…

“What’re you readin’, sir?” Zoe’s question startled him out of his reverie.

War and Peace,” he answered.

耶稣 Yēsū, you think we’re gonna be waitin’ that long?”

* * *

“—those matreshka dolls you drew,” Ip was saying, as he and River walked along the street toward Reed Labs. Professor Rao had advised Ip that one of her colleagues had special-ordered some custom-made lab equipment, and Ip was working on arranging for Serenity to be the ship that carried the gear to Bernadette.

“Recursively nesting dolls,” River corrected, sharply. “Little ones inside the belly of the mother.”

“They’re called matreshka dolls, in Russian,” Ip said.

“I don’t like Russian,” River stated severely. “She eats them alive.”

“Alright, alright,” Ip said, conciliatingly, though he wondered why she objected to Russian. And he didn’t understand what she meant about the mother eating them alive. Although, certainly the little ones were inside the big one. “I was just going to say, I liked them. You draw very well.”

“Thank you,” said River. “But don’t ever call them—”

Matreshka, Ip filled in, in his mind. But he was wise enough not to say it.

“I know you were thinking it!” River accused.

“You can’t go to jail for what you’re thinking,” Ip replied.

“Wanna bet?” River retorted, in a voice that caused Ip to look at her sharply. She was not bantering. She was deadly serious.

That gave Ip something to ponder.

* * *

“You need to raise it by thirty percent,” Mal said, “in advance.”

“Thirty percent!” Buck Holden exclaimed. “Do you think I’m made of money, Mal?”

Mal maintained his silence. Zoe contributed a steely stare.

“What have you done that deserves such high payment?” Buck demanded.

“Delivered your last cargo,” Mal replied, “and lived.”

Buck was silent a moment. “Look, Mal, I appreciate the risks you took, delivering that last one…”

“And I do, too,” Mal inserted, “which is why you’re gonna be paying me more this time. You’re asking me to risk my ship, my life, the lives of my entire crew. It’s not just a matter of risking gettin’ caught, fined, or put in jail. My ship was sabotaged, disabled, and if we hadn’t had the skills—and very good luck to boot—we’d still be drifting, somewhere in the Black, with no nav, helm, or comm, all froze to death or blown up or set upon by Reavers.”

“You don’t know that the sabotage had anything to do with the job. Hell, Mal, you’ve got enough enemies. Didn’t need my help to make ’em. Could’ve been any one of ’em.”

“Could’ve,” Mal allowed. “But I don’t think it was. You don’t know that the sabotage didn’t have nothin’ to do with the job. The timing was too close to be a coincidence. And the muck-up job was too professional, too well-planned, to be anyone but a well-supported operator with inside information and deep pockets. Which all points to your friends with the teeth that come outta the Black to bite you.”

Buck was silent a moment, digesting this. That was what he’d called Blue Sun’s people, last time. They were negotiating the deal in the bug-free safe zone of his office, but he still was reluctant to mention Blue Sun by name and appreciated Mal’s discretion on that point.

“Now I might be willing to waive part of that pay raise you’re gonna give me,” Mal offered, “if you can help me fence my latest cargo.” Buck sat up straight. Zoe had hinted at something valuable, and illegal, that Serenity was carrying. Now the story was gonna come out. “You recall your parting words to me, last time I visited your fine and shiny office?”

Buck smiled. He’d enjoyed that bit of play-acting. “‘I wouldn’t trust you with a cargo of junkyard scrap on that bucket of bolts you fly’,” he quoted.

“Yeah, well, keep ’em coming, ’cause what you said then gave me an idea. We were on Beylix, just got paid for a job but the funds were locked down—contact didn’t have no clue when to pay credit and when to pay cashy money,” Mal said in an aside, knowing Buck would be flattered—and that he would also get the hint. “Ship in desperate need of repairs, and us turnin’ our pockets inside out tryin’ to come up with enough coin to fuel her and take on food.”

“How’d you get a job on Beylix?” Buck interrupted. “I mean, other than reclaimed metal and plastic, and enriched soil—which I know your ship is not equipped to haul—there’re no significant exports from that world. All they got there is garbage—oh.”

“We visited the dump, took on a cargo hold full of gleanings from the trash heap. My mechanic turned ’em into pumps, and generators, and vehicles as worked. Flew ’em over to Bandiagara—”

“Bandiagara! That underdeveloped far fringe of the Rim! They don’t have two credits to rub together on that whole world. All the trade is owned by 狐狸 Húli Network, which runs it as a charity operation to generate goodwill in the Core.”

“Bandiagara is cash-poor,” Mal allowed, “but rich in resources.”

“They don’t have anything on that world but mineral reserves,” Buck countered, “and the rights to those are owned by Allmine. Got the local government in the palm of their hand. No one else can work there. If it weren’t for 狐狸 Húli Network, the population would starve—”

“They wouldn’t,” Mal interrupted. “I just carried a shipload of the finest produce in the ’Verse from Bandiagara to market on Beaumonde. Ate like kings the whole time we were there. Those folks have got plenty to trade. What they don’t have is a market. Between Allmine and 狐狸 Húli Network—both divisions of Blue Sun, bye-the-bye—the whole planet’s in lock-down, and they don’t got no way to get their goods off planet to the people what need ’em.” He paused, letting Buck take in his words. Holden was a shrewd businessman, he would figure it out. Mal reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a small bag. “I took your advice, Buck. I hauled a load of junkyard scrap to Bandiagara on that bucket of bolts of mine. But one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” He poured the contents of the bag into his hand. “Turned that garbage into a load of timonium.” He selected a large, transparent blue crystal and held it out towards Buck Holden. “Got lots more, just like it.”

* * *

Simon arranged for the medical supplies to be delivered to Serenity, then stopped by a jeweller’s shop to buy a ring for Kaylee. He’d taken the precaution of measuring her ring finger while she slept, so that there would be no question of the ring fitting properly. He knew that, romantic feelings aside, Kaylee needed something that wouldn’t get in the way of her work. She loved things that were fouffy and feminine, but she was also practical. It wouldn’t do if she had to remove her ring every time she needed to work on the engine. He chose an exquisitely worked band with a low-profile setting, and as large a rock as he could afford.

With his pocket considerably lighter, and with the small box tucked underneath his vest, Simon exited the jeweler’s shop and headed to a public access cortex screen for his last item of business off-ship. Ignoring the blaring of advertising jingles and the blinking of brightly-colored animated octopuses hawking snack foods, he proceeded to look up the requirements for legal marriage on the cortex.

He didn’t want to be the father of an out-of-wedlock child. It went against his sense of propriety. He also didn’t want to opt for simple cohabitation—completely aside from the fact that Mal would probably kill him if he did—because it also went against his sense of propriety. He wanted to marry Kaylee properly. There was a great variety of local marriage customs (witness the Captain’s unwitting marriage to Saffron on Triumph), but certain requirements had to be fulfilled for a marriage to be legal.

He had to admit, his first notion had been that Kaylee and he could marry aboard Serenity, with Mal officiating. He’d heard that captains could perform marriages aboard ship. While that seemed like a great idea, it turned out there were problems. For the marriage to be legal, the captain had to be a legally recognized officiant. A notary public, a justice of the peace, a judge, or a minister of religion—Simon laughed out loud imagining Mal meeting any of those qualifications. Mal’s specialty was staying unrecognized by the law. So that idea was scuttled.

Shepherd Book, as an ordained minister, could have performed the marriage. Simon had mourned for Book’s death, but never had he felt his loss in such a practical and selfish way.

He toyed with the idea of having Mal perform the ceremony anyway, and then just declare that they were married under common law. Simon found the idea of not having to obtain a government-issued license very appealing. He had become extremely cautious about doing anything officially registered or government-traceable, ever since he had broken River out of the Academy. His arrest warrant might have been rescinded, but that didn’t mean no one was looking for him—and River—and he didn’t want the registration of his marriage to be the occasion for tipping off some pursuer as to his or River’s whereabouts. Or—now here was a new thought—his wife’s whereabouts.

But it turned out that a common law marriage was not so simple, either. First of all, only about half of the settled worlds had a provision in the law recognizing common-law marriage as valid. The legal requirements varied from world to world, but they all had a few things in common. The participants had to be of legal age and unmarried. (The fact that Saffron was still married to Durran Haymer—and others, most likely—had saved the Captain on Triumph.) They had to declare that they intended to be married to each other, and refer to each other as husband and wife. (Simon really didn’t think that would be a problem for him and Kaylee.) Cohabitation was a requirement. (Simon knew that wasn’t a problem.) They had to have legal residency in the jurisdiction in which the marriage was contracted. And that, Simon found, was the problem.

Kaylee’s native world was Harvest, but her legal residence was Serenity. Simon’s legal status on Osiris had been revoked when he became a fugitive, and he no longer had an official legal residence. Mal had hedged on Serenity’s registration papers and omitted filing Simon and River’s names among the crew. Serenity had been registered on Hera, and Mal had recently renewed the registration on Persephone, but it turned out that merchant ships like Serenity all fell under the jurisdiction of the central government. Aside from the fact that Simon had no desire to involve the Alliance in his personal life, federal statutes made no provision for common-law marriage.

That left marriage by license as the remaining option. Each world had its own rules, and Simon went through them systematically, looking for the magic combination of a world they were likely to visit reasonably soon with requirements that he could actually fulfill.

As Simon paged through marriage license requirements on Persephone, Beylix, Verbena, Paquin, and Beaumonde, he missed the public service advertisement that showed up on the cortex screen directly to his right. “Have you seen me?” read the banner, and a series of children’s pictures cycled across the screen. In most cases, the picture showed the child at the time he or she went missing, followed by an age-progression picture postulating the child’s current appearance. In some cases, the picture was accompanied by a picture of another person and the words: “Last seen with…” If he had looked, he might have seen a picture of River Tam flash across the screen. River Tam at age seventeen, age progressed to nineteen, last seen with Simon Tam.

* * *

Simon’s systematic diligence had paid off. Beaumonde, the very world he stood upon right now, had the right combination of requirements. A marriage license could be obtained by either bride or groom, by appearing in person at any marriage registry office. Beaumonde residency was not required. There was no waiting period and the license was valid for up to six months after issue. Once the license was obtained, you could be married by an officiant of your choosing—and here was the best part: if you were married in a ceremony pertaining to a religion or creed that did not have clergy (Simon could think of several, from the Quakers to the Ethical Humanists), any two adults could oversee the ceremony and attest to the veracity of the marriage. Once the ceremony was complete and the bride, groom, and witnesses had signed the form, it could be sent to the registry office whence it was issued, and the marriage was legally valid.

The only hitch was that the nearest marriage registry office was located within the courthouse of New Dunsmuir. Furthermore, the nearest office not located in a courthouse was not even on this continent. Simon sighed, knowing that he didn’t have any option but to go to the New Dunsmuir Courthouse.

Before he could work himself up into a state of tightly-wound anxiety, Simon directed his steps to the courthouse, and to his credit he paused only a moment to gaze at the imposing portico before biting the bullet and entering the building.

It felt very strange to be voluntarily entering a courthouse—passing through a checkpoint manned by a dozen armed police officers. He removed his pocket pistol and placed it in a checkbox, then submitted to a weapon scan and frisking by a hard-faced policewoman who looked as if arresting someone would just make her day. Although he kept his notice of rescindment on his person whenever he was out and about on a civilized world, Simon had become so accustomed to being a fugitive from the law that it was hard to behave like an innocent man. He was sure that he would be arrested for skulking, at the very least, and he was amazed when he passed through the checkpoint without incident.

He consulted the directory and made his way upstairs to the Marriage Registry Office. There was a crowd of people waiting in the office. Some of them were there obtain licenses or file paperwork; others clearly were waiting for the justice of the peace or judge on duty to perform the ceremony.

“Sir, 我可以帮你吗 wǒ kěyǐ bāng nǐ ma?” the assistant clerk asked him when he reached the head of the line.

“Yes, please,” Simon replied. “I would like to apply for a marriage license.”

The clerk glanced up sharply at his Osiris accent. It was unusual for a Core-worlder to apply for a license at the New Dunsmuir registry office. He handed him a set of electronic papers. “You fill these out, and file them at that counter over there. Once the license is issued, it’s good for six months, and you’re free to marry, in a civil or religious ceremony performed by an authorized person, or here at the registry office. We do not take appointments for registry office marriages, and you would have to wait in line,” he added, indicating a number of couples seated at one end of the room. “The signed license must be returned within six months, or you have to re-apply. The twenty credit fee is payable at time of application.”

Simon thanked the assistant clerk, took the papers, and sat down to look them over. The longer he looked, the worse it got. The amount of personal information he was required to divulge was extraordinary. His name and social control number, of course. His parents’ names and social control numbers. Every address he had ever lived at. Had he ever been convicted of a crime? Had he ever been bound by law? Had he ever been pulled over for speeding, fined for a parking violation, caught jaywalking, spat in public, littered, or taken seconds when not everybody had their firsts? Well, okay, it didn’t actually ask those last questions, but it was intrusive beyond anything he had expected. Gritting his teeth, he filled out the 该死 的 gāisǐde form and submitted it to the licensing registrar along with his fee. Then he sat down to wait for the license to be issued.

After a while, Simon began to get an uneasy feeling and looked up to meet the eye of the assistant clerk. Why was the man staring at him? Or was the man staring at the wall above him?

Simon turned and looked at the wall just above his head. The large cortex screen mounted there for the entertainment of those waiting in the registry office (and the distraction of the clerks) was displaying missing children reports. “Have you seen me?” the words read. His sister’s face gazed out of the screen. “Last seen with…” he read, in large letters. Directly below it was his own name, and Simon found himself staring at his own face. It took all his effort of will not to start violently, and he could not prevent himself from stiffening. He instinctively touched the notice of rescindment in his pocket, as if it were a protective talisman. The warrant for his arrest had been rescinded, but that made no practical difference. He was still the last person seen with a missing child. The fact that River had been nearly of legal age and that he was her brother made no difference. She was a minor when she went “missing,” and he had no legal guardianship of her. Oh, 狗屎 gǒushǐ. Gorram, 他妈的 tāmādē, rutting 狗屎 gǒushǐ. What was he doing in a courthouse, for Buddha’s sake? Walking into a gorram 地狱之火 dìyù zhī huǒ courthouse in broad daylight with his face plastered all over the cortex! He forced himself to wait until the screens shifted to display another set of missing children, then turned to face forward again and meet the gaze of the assistant clerk.

The clerk stared back at him, and looked like he was going to ask him a question, but at that moment the licensing registrar called out, “Simon Tam!” Simon stood up, nodded vaguely to the assistant clerk, who was still staring at him, and walked—forced himself to walk, not run—to the counter and picked up the license. Then, though it took all his effort to appear calm, he walked out the door.

It was all he could do not to panic and bolt from the courthouse, but he forced himself to exit normally, or as normally as he could. Now that he looked, there were cortex screens everywhere, and they all seemed to be displaying missing children pictures. He passed back through the checkpoint and was nearly out the front door when the hard-faced policewoman called after him.

“Sir. Sir!” It was more sharply spoken, and he halted, unsure if he should raise his hands and surrender—but then it struck him that she would hardly be calling him ‘sir’ if she were aiming a gun at him.

“You forgot to reclaim your checked weapon, sir,” she said.

“Oh. Thank you,” he managed to say, and somehow exchanged his claim chit for the pocket pistol. He was thankful for his surgeon’s training—keeping his hand steady in a stressful situation was a skill he had developed on the job. He walked down the steps in front of the building, and headed for a public place, with plenty of people, to try to—what? Be conspicuous. “Can’t kidnap you or take you down easy in front of witnesses.” Was Mal’s advice even relevant? How much more conspicuous could he be than to have his face plastered all over the cortex? Maybe kidnappers wouldn’t come after him in a crowded public place, but the police wouldn’t hesitate to arrest him for child abduction, if they had a warrant. Be inconspicuous. But lurking just made him feel that someone must be lurking behind him. He didn’t know what the 地狱 dìyù to do, so after wandering around for a while, he headed back to Pedro Docks, and Serenity.

* * *

Having secured the transport contract for the custom-made scientific equipment and arranged for the crates to be delivered to Pedro Docks, Ip and River were walking along the busy streets of New Dunsmuir towards the university when River’s stomach gave a loud rumble.

“Would you like 饮茶 yǐnchá?” Ip asked.

“Yes, please!” River responded, and Ip took her arm and guided her into a nearby restaurant.

They were soon settled into a booth and provided with a pot of jasmine-scented green tea. Ip poured River a cup and she tapped her bent index finger on the table in the traditional gesture of thanks.

The dimsum restaurant was a cheerful, busy place, and soon the little dishes of 潮州 粉 果 Cháozhōu fěn guǒ, 包子 bāozi, 凤爪 fèngzhǎo, 糯米鸡 nuòmǐjī, 腐皮卷 fǔ pí juǎn, and 芋角 yùjiǎo began stacking up on their table, as they raided the passing steamcarts of their delicious treats. They finished off with a 豆腐花 dòufuhuā with sweet jasmine syrup that Ip swore reminded him of his mother’s, and leaned back in the booth, replete and contented.

For the first time, the table tent display screen (which had been advertising everything from fruity oaty bars—an absurdity in a restaurant serving much tastier fare—to clothing from Devine Boutiques) attracted more than their peripheral attention. “WANTED” read the label, and pictures of the ’Verse’s Most Wanted cycled across the little screen. Dangerous criminals—violent armed robbers, serial rapists, and mass murderers…except they weren’t. The ’Verse’s Most Wanted seemed to be mainly smugglers and thieves, tariff evaders, jail breakers and fugitives. River recognized one of them: Saffron the liar, the Captain’s false bride. She was wanted for jailbreak and assault on a prison guard. So apparently Saffron had flown the coop and was now free as a bird, somewhere in the ’Verse. River doubted that Saffron had stayed on Bellerophon once she was sprung from Pegasus Prison, and she wondered where the manipulative liar might turn up next.

“Wouldn’t want to meet someone like that in a dark alley,” Ip commented, as a particularly scruffy and dangerous-looking man was shown on the screen.

River looked. The man vaguely resembled Jayne. “Cody Cobb. Wanted for tax evasion,” read the label. “Right,” she replied, “Wouldn’t want to meet him in an alley. He might try to avoid paying us income tax.”

“Oh.” Ip looked a little foolish as he read what the man was wanted for. “This is a bit silly, isn’t it? I wonder why he’s on the Most Wanted list? I guess he must have evaded a lot of income tax.”

The table tent cycled past the Most Wanted list, then moved on to display pictures of missing children. Ip was momentarily distracted as he flagged down a waiter and paid the bill for their meal. River watched as the procession of missing children moved across the screen until she found herself gazing at Simon’s face. “Last seen with Dr Simon Tam,” the banner read, but she wasn’t paying attention to the words. They hadn’t caught him on a good day—must have been post-call, judging by the circles under his eyes. He looked different now. Happier. Healthier. Not quite so tense. And he smiled more. The picture changed, and she found herself studying her own face. They really hadn’t caught her on a good day—but then, at the Academy, none of the days had been good.

She didn’t look like that now. For one thing, she’d taken to combing her hair regularly ever since Ip had come aboard. A second picture joined the first, then took its place. She cocked her head and studied the new picture with a scientific eye. Something about it was not right. “Age progression,” read the caption. They’d missed the mark. Age-Progression-River looked like an Osirian debutante, with her hair done stylishly. She wore the latest fashions, and way too much make-up. River turned her head sideways, to see if Age-Progression-River resembled her any more closely from another angle.

Ip’s attention was attracted by River’s odd head movements. “River, what’s up?” he asked, then followed her eyes to the table tent, just as the picture changed back to seventeen-year-old River Tam, unkempt and fey, captured in her last days at the Academy. The light in the capture seemed to pulsate. River sat transfixed, her head cocked at an angle. Ip transferred his gaze from girl to capture and back again: the capture, where a wild-eyed, crazy-haired, younger River Tam stared back at him from the screen, to the opposite side of the booth where River herself sat, unnaturally still and with her gaze fixed on the screen.

“Miranda,” whispered River.

* * *

*

*

*

glossary

屁話 pìhuà [nonsense]

混蛋 húndàn [asshole]

耶稣 Yēsū [Jesus]

狐狸 Húli [fox]

我可以帮你吗 wǒ kěyǐ bāng nǐ ma [may I help you]

该死 的 gāisǐde [damned]

狗屎 gǒushǐ [crap]

他妈的 tāmādē [f---ing]

地狱之火 dìyù zhī huǒ [hellfire]

地狱 dìyù [hell]

饮茶 yǐnchá [to have tea and dimsum lunch]

潮州 粉 果 Cháozhōu fěn guǒ [chiu-chau fan guo, Chiu-chao style dumplings]

包子 bāozi [steamed stuffed buns]

凤爪 fèngzhǎo [Phoenix claws, a.k.a. chicken feet (cuisine)]

糯米鸡 nuòmǐjī [lo mai gai, lotus leaf rice]

腐皮卷 fǔ pí juǎn [fu pei guen, tofu skin roll]

芋角 yùjiǎo [wu gok, taro dumplings]

豆腐花 dòufuhuā [silky tofu dessert]

Shout-out to BrucePluto (aka zzetta13) and his story “MIA”. His character Cody Cobb makes a cameo appearance here. Thanks, BPZ/ZBP!

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COMMENTS

Monday, January 30, 2012 4:51 AM

BYTEMITE


...There goes the neighborhood.

River! No touching guns, and NO looking at screens. You know better.

Monday, January 30, 2012 6:07 AM

AMDOBELL


Uh oh, a distracted Simon missing the wanted announcement and River going off ship with Ip when being on Serenity would have been safer. Not to mention Mal talking a little too freely about where he had picked up the garbage and what he came away with in Buck's office, the same one that is seemingly bugged. All in all trouble is surely brewing big time. Ali D
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, January 30, 2012 7:40 AM

ZOESMOM


That other shoe is hovering. I definitely feel it!

Monday, January 30, 2012 12:04 PM

NUTLUCK


Well if she was triggered thats not so good for Ip. Or maybe she is just remembering the Reaver chickens they seen on Miranda. :)

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 8:55 AM

EBFIDDLER


Yep, there goes the neighborhood. Simon's got his plate full, Mal's not as cautious as he usually is, River and Ip are out and about without back-up, looking at flashy screens, and...there may, just possibly, be Reaver chickens lurking in the offing. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 9:42 AM

ZZETTA13


Eb WOW!

I thoroughly enjoyed this story…..and yes I am bias about a certain part!!! I can see many things just off the horizon starting to develop, and it will be fun seeing how YOU, and the crew of Serenity deal with them.

I’m getting a bad vibe from what Mal and Zoe may to about to face, and of course that will include the full team of Serenity also. And Doc Simon, such an innocent and heartfelt mission he was on that turned out rather frightening. Hoping that their (his & River’s) faces weren’t that recognizable on those big image screens? But I can’t help but think that the clerk in the courthouse would recognize the name on the marriage request application? Lots of separate adventures going on for every group of the crew!

Cody Cobb……I laughed out loud when I saw what has him pegged as a bad guy. Of course tax evasion is stealing from the government and we all know that the government wants what they want. They, after all, are the only ones allow to steal for the betterment and progression of the universe, right?

One last note, I hope on one sees Jayne and thinks he’s Cody. That would be the first time Jayne would have ever gotten into trouble with the Law Authority, wouldn’t it? LOL

Fantastic story….thanks for the shout-out, ZBP

PS: Sorry I’m late in posting. I just got off working night shift this morning. I printed the story out, and after a few hours of sleep, finished it just now!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 11:58 AM

EBFIDDLER


ZBP, Simon was just lucky that the clerk who was watching the screen wasn't the same clerk who was processing the paperwork. The first clerk didn't have his name, and the second clerk wasn't watching the screen. When the second clerk called his name, the first clerk got confirmation, but by that time Simon was on his way out the door. And he wasn't acting suspicious, so it took the clerk just a few moments longer to connect the dots. Whew! Skin of the teeth. But maybe not entirely without consequences....

So glad you enjoyed the shout-out. I thought you might. :-) As soon as you wrote Janice into MIA, I turned right around and wrote Cody Cobb into this story. Had to wait until now to post it. :-)

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 8:51 PM

PLATONIST


Good cliffhanger ending

Things are certainly becoming unhinged; feel bad for Simon, though, trying to do what's right and getting derailed.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012 7:26 AM

EBFIDDLER


Thanks, Platonist. Won't keep you hanging too long.


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YOUR OPTIONS

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