Friday, May 11, 2012

Ups and downs. Mal wakes up, rockets around, gets caught up and gets the download on Beaumonde.



Part (02)

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Follows TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10). Precedes ENDS WITH A HORSE (12).

The series so far:

Ups and downs. Mal wakes up, rockets around, gets caught up and gets the download on Beaumonde.

* * *

Mal woke up late, groggy and disoriented, and still wearing yesterday’s clothes, including his boots. As he sat up and cleared the fog from his brain, the events of the previous day came sliding back into focus. 天啊 Tiān ā. It was late morning, he hadn’t been called up in the night, he was still alive, and Serenity was clearly flying placidly through the Black. He concluded that the pursuit he had feared hadn’t materialized, so he took a few minutes to peel off the dusty, sweaty clothes, wash, and shave. “Peel off” was a literal term, as he found to his surprise that some blood had congealed and dried around a bullet graze on his left forearm, sticking the fabric to his skin. 哎呀 Āiyā. Hadn’t even noticed it in all of yesterday’s commotion. There’s another gorram shirt needs mending, he thought, as he chucked the shirt into his laundry hamper. And one for the rag bag, he added as he pulled his ruined t-shirt off over his head. He’d torn the bottom half of it off for Zoe’s bandage. He cleaned the wound. It was only a light graze, and weren’t no point puttin’ a weave on it now. He washed and shaved with a dispatch learned in years of campaigning, then put on clean—well, cleaner—clothes. Time to get cracking. He made his way up to the bridge for a status report.

The bridge. 哎呀 Āiyā. He had left Inara on the bridge, stuck her with night watch, left her there for—oh 哎呀 āiyā, musta been twelve hours by now. With Zoe laid up in the infirmary, and River knocked out by Simon’s medication, and him taking his sweet time getting his beauty rest…哎呀 āiyā. He needed to apologize to Inara and relieve the helm. He hastened his step, took the stairs two at a time. He had no right to ask such favors of her, to demand that she cover for his lapses, 哦 天啊 ò tiān ā


River turned away from the controls, looked at him, and smiled.

“Didn’t reckon to see you—” he paused, reconsidered, and finished, “up and about.” He certainly hadn’t expected to see her on bridge duty, and if he’d figured she was up and about at all, he’d have thought she’d be just as incoherent as she’d been on Beaumonde, when Simon had found it necessary to sedate her.

“Thought I’d be having crazy time.”

He opted for direct. “And are you? Having crazy time, that is.”

“Not so much,” she replied.

He smiled. “Not so much. I’m glad to hear it. You sure about that?” he added, glancing toward the controls.

River understood. “I’m perfectly capable of flying this ship, Captain.” River answered his unspoken question as well. “I relieved the watch this morning. You both needed to suspend consciousness and voluntary bodily functions.” River watched him work through the meaning of her words, and added, “She went to her shuttle to sleep.”

He nodded, taking in her report, then addressed the next item of ship’s business. “Not that I’m complaining about it, Albatross, but ain’t this a big turn around? Yesterday, you were quaking like a jelly. Today, you’re…”


“Lucid. Yeah.”

“No more Hands of Blue.”

“You mean we shook them off?” he asked, hopefully.

“Left them in the dust of Beaumonde.”

“Did you check—?” he began.

“No fresh warrants,” River answered, anticipating his question, “for any of us.”

“I never did get the full story there about the Hands of Blue, River. Wanna fill me in?”

She shook her head.

His question had been purely rhetorical. ‘No’ was not an option. “How’s about you start at the beginning.”

In pricipio erat Verbum,” River quoted.

“In the beginning was the Word,” Mal translated, recognizing the biblical quotation perfectly well. One word may be okay for a start, but how’s about some more words, Albatross?

In principio erat ovum. Ovi. Ovo. Ovum. Ovo. Ovum. Ova. Ovorum…

“Albatross…” he warned. He hadn’t come here to listen to strings of syllables. “You gonna get started here?” He waited for an answer, but River declined. “Albatross…just start from the beginning.”

Ad ovo,” she said, in a ghosty voice.

Mal didn’t recognize the words, but he understood the tone of voice and body language clear enough. He’d had experience extracting battle reports from traumatized troops. “How many?” he pressed. “Just them two Blue Hands?”

“Two by two…by two.”

“You mean, what? Four? Two pairs of Blue Hands?”

River nodded.

“Tell me what happened.”

“Two in the halls of the building. Evaded them. They weren’t looking for Ip. His lack of awareness was an asset. Saved him. Looked like he belonged in the university. They didn’t question his presence.”

Mal acknowledged the truth of that with a nod. Of course Ip looked like he belonged in a university. “And you?”


“You hid. And they passed Ip by, because he looked the sort of fella what belonged in that hallway.”

She nodded again.

“Right. But that wasn’t the end of it, was it?”

“Went to the break room. Made a rope ladder of labcoats. Sent Ip down the wall.” She contemplated making a pun about climbing the walls, but it hit too close to home to be amusing. She opted to continue her narrative. “Go somewhere safe. Can’t kidnap you or take you down easy, in front of witnesses.” River’s voice had taken on his accent, and Mal recognized his own advice being quoted back at him. She gave a little shake of the head. “Couldn’t get there in time.”

“They ran you to ground somewheres.”

“The alley behind the geology building. Only one way out. Dark, uninhabited. All in shadow. Two by two, Hands of Blue…two by two…by two…”

“Keep your focus, River. I need you to finish this gorram battle report.”

“Were talking to each other. Neutralize him. Speak the safeword.”

Mal locked eyes with her, and gave a low whistle. “They tried to kill Ip and put you down with that safeword Simon used on you at the Maidenhead.”

She nodded. “Favored weapon. Horizontal rod in a blue-gloved hand. Two spicules extend from either end. Mechanism of operation unknown. Breaks down cutaneous and mucosal membranes. Causes hemorrhage from every orifice.” Mal remained silent, but kept his eyes locked on her, so she elaborated. “Bleeding from eyes and ears and mouth and nose. And fingernails, too.”

“So how come it didn’t work?”

She stared at him.

“Ip’s still alive, and you’re still with us. What happened?”

“Blue Hand got distracted. Craniocervical dislocation fracture.”

Mal’s knowledge of anatomy was not quite so detailed as River’s, but he understood her to mean she broke the guy’s neck. He didn’t doubt her lethality. He’d seen the results. The image of River standing alone—the sole survivor—in a room full of dead Reavers would be forever seared in his brain. He nodded. “But you didn’t take out the second one.”

She shook her head.

“Why not?”

“Safe word. Half-spoken. Confused my brain. Contradictory signals. Caught in the neuronal cross-fire.” She gave a low, maniacal laugh, starting softly and beginning a hysterical rise.

Mal cut her off. He didn’t know quite what she meant by her little speech, but he asked, “Then it was Ip? He took down the other one?” Mal couldn’t quite picture the young scientist having it in him to do that.

“He knew him.”

Mal almost dropped his jaw on the floor. “He knew him?” Knew him. What the 最的地狱 zuì de dìyù?!


“Bill,” Mal repeated blankly. Ip Neumann was on a first-name basis with one of the Hands of Blue? It was more than he could process.

* * *

Mal wanted to kill him. But not before he got the story out of him. So how is it, Ip, that you’re on a first-name basis with one of them gorram Hands of Blue operatives? How did you neglect to mention that? Came back to the ship with River, and just said, “We weren’t followed.” Mal wanted to lay into him, beat him to a pulp. But not before he told him everything he knew about his gorram ‘friend’ Bill. ‘Friend’ Bill the gorram ruttin’ Blue Hand assassin. How did you convince him to let you go? How did you convince him to let River go? How did you convince your ‘friend’ Bill not to follow you and River back to Serenity? He recalled Ip’s words: “He said he could give me two hours. Maybe three.” He was gonna throttle Ip. But not before he found out just how he knew ‘friend’ Bill would keep his word and give him two hours’ head start. Or did you make a deal with him that I don’t know about? He drove his fist into the bulkhead. 你他媽的 天下 所有的 人都 該死 Nǐ tāmādē tiānxià suǒyǒu de rén dōu gāisǐ!

* * *

He stormed off the bridge, breathing fire, ready to give Ip hell the moment he saw him. Mal rocketed around his ship, looking for someone to hit, or at least blow up at. Where the 地狱 dìyù was Ip? Never had Serenity’s halls seemed so deserted. Where the 地狱 dìyù was everyone? It was like they’d all retreated to their corners to lick their wounds.

After barrelling through the upper corridors, Mal barged down the stairs, to find Jayne in the cargo bay, his personal arsenal assembled and laid out before him on a cloth-covered crate. He was cleaning his weapons. Needed to hear what Jayne had to say about the events what transpired on Beaumonde, too, and might as well hear it now. He took a deep breath, and tried to tamp down the fire that burned within.

“Nothin’ untoward, Cap’n,” Jayne replied in response to Mal’s question, as he carefully handled Lux, his favorite assault rifle. Jayne noted that the Captain looked like to explode. Hadn’t seen the man look so dangerous since Ariel, when he’d come within seconds of spacing him. Jayne was careful to keep his response measured. “Didn’t know nothin’ bad was goin’ down ’til Kaylee waved me.”

“Interrupted your play, I reckon,” Mal remarked, in an unnecessarily judgmental way.

“Hell, Mal, no need to get tetchy,” Jayne answered evenly, keeping the just because you need some and didn’t get it to himself. “Sure, I didn’t get my money’s worth. But that don’t matter. I’d rather be here, alive.”

“Coulda slipped. Ship out with someone else.”

Now where’d Mal go come up with a thing like that? Jayne thought. Sure, a year or two ago, that mighta been exactly what he woulda done. When he’d joined Serenity, he always figured if things got bad, he’d slip out and join another ship. But things had changed. “Coulda,” he acknowledged. “Sure would be a helluva lot less dangerous.” Same points he’d made, in case Mal didn’t recollect, when the Cap had brought Moonbrain and her brother back aboard after she went ape-shit in the Maidenhead Bar. “But,” Jayne went on, things have changed. “This boat’s my home.”

Mal was almost touched. Jayne showing such fond feelings for Serenity and her crew? Then Jayne continued, “And I woulda lost Vera. And Lux. And Binky, too. And—”

“You came back ’cause you didn’t want to lose your guns?!”

“Binky’s a knife, Mal, not a gun. My favorite knife. Point is, Mal, I came back soon as I knew somethin’ was up. And I’m glad I did. Those docs needed my help.”

Mal was curious about this, and raised his eyebrows in query.

Jayne hesitated a moment. It was tempting to tell what 猴子的 屁股 hóuzi de pìgu them docs was, and make himself look good at their expense. Mal didn’t have no better opinion of the docs’ skills in the cargo-hauling department than what Jayne did, and he would certainly believe him. But Jayne was seized by the urge to pull together, to protect his crew, as it were. And, now that Mal had stepped down a notch or two from high-alert-damned-dangerous, he didn’t see the point in ramping the man up to cold-and-deadly-explosive again. “Made the work go much faster, havin’ three men on the job,” he said. “Way I figure, sooner we were off that gorram rock, the better. Whaddya figure, Mal, about the Blue Hands and the ambush? Someone on Beaumonde really don’t like you, Mal.”

* * *

Someone on Beaumonde really didn’t like him, of that he had no doubt. And no matter what Buck Holden had suggested, Mal had no doubt at all that the ambush and the sabotage were tied in with his work running secrets for Holden Boys. It was no coincidence. The question was, who was tipping them off? And who, exactly, were ‘they’? How did they know he was on Beaumonde, and how did they know about his visit to Holden Brothers? Holden still suspected he had a mole in his shop. Mal and Zoe had sat for hours cooling their heels in Buck Holden’s waiting room. It was plenty of time for Holden’s mole to alert them (whoever they were). Plenty of time to set up an ambush. The sabotage, on the other hand, had happened back at the fruit market, not at Pedro Docks. Who was the rotten apple back at the South Sirindhorn Farmers’ Market? Pugh, the fruit broker? Pugh’s corrupt Ag Inspector? Marcela Devine or someone in her network of shady business contacts? Mal didn’t have answers to any of those questions.

When he strode into the passenger lounge looking for Ip Neumann, he found Simon in the infirmary, reviewing the readouts from Zoe’s monitors. Zoe was sleeping, so he called Simon out into the lounge, to hear his tale of woe as far as what happened on Beaumonde.

“It’s not a warrant,” Simon told him, “but it might as well be. I’m listed as the last person seen with River Tam, a missing child.”

“That ain’t exactly a surprise,” Mal remarked, “and it don’t make them look overly bright. Seems it took ’em two years to figure out River was missing.” The two men stared at each other for a moment. “But that ain’t the point. The point is, they waited until now to put that bulletin up.”

“If I set foot off the ship, I’ll likely be apprehended for kidnapping,” Simon worried.

Mal dismissed this. “I’m thinkin’ it’s a good sign.”

Good? How do you figure that? Simon’s expression must have telegraphed his thoughts, for Mal responded as if he’d heard them.

“How do I figure that, you wonder?” Mal shifted his weight and scratched the side of his face. “Means they’ve despaired of catching you the conventional way. They already tried that fugitive tack, and it didn’t work.”

“Doesn’t feel like a good sign,” Simon replied, his voice expressing his doubts clearly.

“You told me you made your way back to the ship unmolested.”

“That’s right.”

“You figure anyone recognized you?” Mal asked. “Just where did you see this bulletin—at the medical supplier?”

Simon shook his head.

At the jewelry shop, then, Mal figured. “Hey, how’d your other mission go?” he asked with a little smile.

“The marriage license?” Simon was surprised—and yeah, a little bit touched—that the Captain was sympathetic enough to inquire.

“I meant buyin’ a ring,” Mal returned. “You mean you also went and got a marriage license?” He was, in fact, quite interested. Never thought he’d be lookin’ to the Doc for pointers on how a homeless outlaw might acquire a marriage license. “How’d you do that? They don’t issue ’em at the jewelry shop, that’s for damn sure.”

“I went to the courthouse, after I bought the ring.”

There was a moment of appalled silence. Courthouse?! “You walked into a gorram courthouse in broad daylight, with your name and face displayed on that bulletin?!” Mal exclaimed incredulously. Always knew the Doc had guts, but this was altogether beyond the pale—this was reckless—foolish—白痴的 báichīde放纵 疯狂 的 结 fàngzòng fēngkuáng de jié. Not that Mal was exactly qualified to judge of what was reckless and foolish, or nothin’, but this was tempting fate.

“That’s where I first saw it,” Simon explained coolly, unflinching under the Captain’s penetrating stare. “I certainly wouldn’t have entered the building, had I known.” He paused, his statement finished, but the Captain’s continued stare compelled him to add, “I think the clerk recognized me.”

“Do tell,” Mal said coldly.

“I applied for the license, filled in the paperwork. It was while I was waiting for them to issue the license that the bulletin showed up, on a cortex screen right above my head.”

“So you reckon the clerk got a good look?”

“Yes,” Simon acknowledged.

“He or she take any action?”

“Not so far as I could tell,” Simon replied. “I was careful not to react.”

Mal nodded. He didn’t have much confidence in Simon’s acting skills, but he did believe the boy could keep his cool in a crisis.

“But then the licensing registrar called my name to pick up the license. I left directly after that, but I think hearing my name coupled with the image in such close juxtaposition—the clerk had to have made the connection.”

Mal took it all in with an unreadable expression. Simon wasn’t expecting his next question. “How long do you reckon it was, between the time you were recognized at the courthouse, and the time River and Ip come back to the ship after the Blue Hands nearly got ’em?”

* * *

Mal spent some time sitting with Zoe in the infirmary. She was still sleeping off her concussion, recovering from the chest shot that was stopped by her body armor, but left her bruised. The unborn baby was unhurt, thank goodness. Mal found himself staring at Zoe’s bulging belly, watching the little one inside kick and squirm, all active now that Zoe was resting. He needed some time to think.

Zoe slept on, so they didn’t have any conversation. He coulda used her counsel. Not that they needed to talk, exactly. He just needed to…organize his thoughts…bounce what he’d learned off of her, get her take on it. Didn’t particularly need words. Her reaction would be enough. Zoe kept him grounded.

So he just sat a spell, taking in some of that cool and collected serenity that Zoe inevitably carried with her, and thought about the other crew members.

Didn’t particularly need to talk to Kaylee, at this particular juncture. The salient points had been made back at Pedro Docks.

He descended the side of Serenity, with the disassembled parts of the Qianxia proximity detonator in his hands, to find Kaylee waiting at the foot of the ladder. “All clear,” he said, and watched Kaylee’s features transform, as she took in the significance of the words and the parts in his hands.

“Cap’n, you did it!” She threw herself into his arms. Damn, but he needed a good Kaylee hug, even if the respite from worries was only temporary.

“Hey, li’l Kaylee. No lazin’ around. Blue Hands could be comin’ any minute. Grab your tools and get up there. I’ll bring up the navsat.”

As they worked to install it, Mal asked a few pertinent questions, and otherwise kept focused on the task. Mrs Li’s son and his security team had kept watch, Kaylee told him; no strangers had approached Serenity. Inara had returned mid-morning, and shortly after, Kaylee went topside to install the navsat, and that’s when she discovered the sabotage job and detonator booby trap.

Mal felt a jolt of retrospective anxiety—she could have been killed, and she was also—. Pregnant. Kaylee was pregnant. She could have been killed. Her and the baby. He tried to keep the unavowed knowledge out of his eyes, but couldn’t prevent himself from reaching out a protective arm toward her. He touched her shoulder, gently.

“What’s this about, 哥哥 gēge?” She turned toward him with a warm smile.

“You coulda been killed, Kaylee,” he said. “You—”

“But I weren’t,” she replied, smiling still. “I recognized that detonator, from before.”

And that made him sick, too. ‘Before,’ she said. The last time this happened, they’d been in deep space when they discovered the booby trap. Kaylee and Mal were outside the boat in spacesuits, and Mal’s instincts had kicked in just in time to prevent Kaylee getting blown up.

“You taught me well, Cap’n. 谢谢 Xièxie.” She gave him a kiss on the cheek. “I love my Captain.”

He thoroughly didn’t deserve to be kissed, to be loved, not when he’d failed so miserably in his duties. He hadn’t managed to protect her this time, not at all. But, damn, it still felt good to be touched by the warmth of Kaylee’s sunshine. He turned his attention back to the navsat installation. “Best get this done, Kaylee. We’re losing time.”

And other than that, Kaylee told him, the day had been uneventful—until the others started turning up with their tales of ambush, kidnapping, and murder.

* * *





天啊 Tiān ā [God]

哎呀 Āiyā [Damn]

哦 天啊 ò tiān ā [oh god]

In pricipio erat Verbum [In the beginning was the Word (Latin)]

In principio erat ovum. Ovi. Ovo. Ovum. Ovo. Ovum. Ova. Ovorum… [In the beginning was the egg. Of the egg (genitive case). To the egg (dative case). Egg (accusative case). From the egg (ablative case). Oh, egg! (vocative case). Eggs (nominative plural). Of the eggs (genitive plural)…(second declension, Latin)]

Ad ovo [From the beginning, lit. “from the egg” (Latin)]

最的地狱 zuì de dìyù [bloody hell]

你他媽的 天下 所有的 人都 該死 Nǐ tāmādē tiānxià suǒyǒu de rén dōu gāisǐ [F--k everyone in the universe to death]

地狱 dìyù [hell]

猴子的 屁股 hóuzi de pìgu [monkeys’ asses]

白痴的 báichīde [idiotic]

放纵 疯狂 的 结 fàngzòng fēngkuáng de jié [a knot of self-indulgent lunacy]

哥哥 gēge [older brother]

谢谢 Xièxie [Thanks]

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Friday, May 11, 2012 4:01 AM


*crossing fingers* For now the Chinese characters are present, which is a lot easier on the eye than rafts of question marks. Still working with Haken to straighten out the problem of the missing characters. Also, for the present I am unable to put in forward links without causing the Chinese characters to disappear, so I hope you'll excuse the inconvenience of that.

Friday, May 11, 2012 6:23 AM


It works and looks good. Nice to see Mal catching up with the crew. Though his two toughest discussions are still to come. Speaking of which where is the next chapter? Also why or why is no one guarding the Reaver Chickens, doesn't anyone know what's going to happen? Poor Jayne alone in the cargo hold with them...

Friday, May 11, 2012 6:39 AM


"*crossing fingers* For now the Chinese characters are present, which is a lot easier on the eye than rafts of question marks."


"Never thought he’d be lookin’ to the Doc for pointers on how a homeless outlaw might acquire a marriage license."

Aw. Mal has marriage on the brain even while Inara, um, really doesn't.

"“How long do you reckon it was, between the time you were recognized at the courthouse, and the time River and Ip come back to the ship after the Blue Hands nearly got ’em?” "

Not long at all. Which itself has some scary implications.

Friday, May 11, 2012 2:35 PM


Fabulous. Just love this story but my, I wouldn't want to be in Ip's shoes when the Captain catches up with him. Very shiny, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Monday, May 14, 2012 5:23 PM


Nutluck, Jayne may be alone in the cargo bay with the chickens, but remember...he's heavily armed. Jayne and Vera could probably handle any trouble that might arise. And you're right, some of the toughest discussions are yet to come.
Bytemite, Mal and Inara really aren't on the same page right now. I think if you interviewed each of them separately about the state of things between them, you'd wonder if they were talking about the same relationship.
Ali D, we'll see what happens when the Captain catches up to Ip. And thanks! :-)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 4:51 AM


Yes regular chickens but not Reaver chickens. :)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 8:23 AM


So eb, things have simmered down a bit. Nice to see the Cap’, & Inara getting some well deserved rest. Things seem to be a little serene on Serenity right now, well, until Mal finds Ip that is. Might not be a pretty sight when that happens.

I’m a bit concerned about the “Bill” issue. I’m kinda thinking that the hesitation on his part to take out River & Ip will come back to haunt him. I mean, can a Blue Hand guy really afford to have friends? I’m thinking that these guys have to be the cruelest, coldest folk in the universe, well, aside from Operatives and Parliament!

It’s gonna be very interesting to see what happens next. Z

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 9:14 AM


Oh, ZZ, things are only serene on the surface! Inara is resting and Mal's in a bit of a holding pattern, but there's still plenty of explosive potential, trust me. You are right to be concerned about the "Bill" issue. Mal certainly is, and he's not the only one.
Nutluck -- all I'm going to say right now, is that we WILL find out more about the chickens. Eventually.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012 9:54 AM


I think that there will be a reckoning for Bill. Some of the others on Serenity have an opinion on this matter as well, as we'll find out. Do not cluck with the Reaver chickens.

Thursday, May 17, 2012 12:04 AM


YES! Do not cluck with the RC! Clucking can get you into trouble in sooooooo many ways! … eb!


PS: I cluck in private, that way nobody knows, well, except for folks on the web :-)


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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