BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

EBFIDDLER

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (02)
Monday, February 4, 2013

Searching for malware on the bridge and examining Serenity’s beating heart in the engine room


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2160    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12)

Part (02)

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Follows 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)
TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10)
WHAT BEGINS WITH AN APPLE (11)

Searching for malware on the bridge and examining Serenity’s beating heart in the engine room

* * *

A few hours later, after checking on the situation in his own bunk, Jayne looked in on the bridge to find Zoe, River and Mal still hard at work checking Serenity’s flight computers and electronic systems for signs of sabotage.

“Found anything?”

Mal shook his head, with a thoroughly discontented look on his face.

“Well, that’s good, ain’t it? Y’all been lookin’ on them computers for hours now.”

“Yeah, we been lookin’, and it ain’t a bit good that we ain’t found nothin’,” Mal replied. “We know Saffron was on this bridge at least twice. Once when she come up through the crawl space, when River was here—and that’s all manner of disturbing, in and of itself, ’cause if Saffron had access to the crawl space, then there’s all manner of places on this boat we gotta search afore we can sound the all-clear. River stopped her, that time—”

River gave Jayne an evil grin and pointed her finger, gun-fashion, directly at him.

“—but I know for a fact she was here one other time, unsupervised.”

“How d’ya know that, Cap?” Jayne inquired.

“She got into my bunk, Jayne,” Mal answered. Recollections of discovering Saffron naked in his bed came to mind, and he willed himself not to blush. Apparently without success, since Zoe was giving him one of those looks, and River started tittering uncontrollably.

“Wish she woulda come naked into my bunk, ’stead a your’n,” Jayne said with a smirk.

“No you don’t,” Mal shot back. “Naked had nothin’ to do with it. It was just a cover-up.” Gorrammit, he was turnin’ red anyway.

“A cover-up, sir?” Zoe inquired archly. “Hmm…a naked cover-up. Bears some thinkin’ on.”

“Bares some—” River began.

闭嘴 Bìzuǐ!” Mal retorted, testily. “Y’all are missing the point, here. I don’t think for a minute Saffron was in my bunk ’cause she wanted my.…Point is, she searched my bunk, coulda stole something I ain’t thought of missing yet, coulda planted something I ain’t found yet. And she did it when my hatch was locked.” He let it sink in for a moment. “She came up here to the bridge to override the lock. That means she accessed the main computers, overrode security, and coulda got into just about anything in our flight hardware and software. Kaylee’s gonna come up here, soon as she’s done scouring the engine room, and look for anything suspicious in the hardware line. It’s up to us to find the software sabotage. She coulda planted a virus or a worm, a Trojan horse, some kind of malware…”

“Malware,” echoed Jayne. He turned to Zoe and River. “Is that, like, the Cap’s personal software or something?”

Zoe rolled her eyes. “No, it’s destructive software.”

“From mal. Bad. In the Latin.” River saw Jayne wasn’t getting it, and repeated, “Mal is ‘bad’ in Latin.”

“’Course I’m bad in Latin,” Mal quipped. “Never studied the gorram language. I’m fluent in Chinese and English, of course. Even know a few phrases in—”

“Cap’n,” Kaylee’s voice over the comm interrupted. “I found something that don’t belong here in the engine room. Wanna come have a look?”

* * *

“It’s the only important piece of equipment in the engine room that she could actually reach from the door. ’Cause believe me, Cap’n, I didn’t let her get no farther than the threshold.”

“I’m sure you didn’t, Kaylee,” Mal replied as he inspected the thin strip of electronics that Kaylee had removed from the switchboard near the press regulator. “She musta been prepared ahead of time. She only had a second or two to plant it before you confronted her.”

“She done screwed up my engine too many times already. I worried for my girl every time I couldn’t be here to defend her. That insult-slinging 骚屄 sāobī, that 妓女 在 地獄 jìnǚ zài dìyù…”

“Kaylee, I’m right shocked. You don’t never call people suchlike names, not even when they deserve it.”

“Well, she deserved it, Cap’n, believe you me.” Kaylee was uncompromising.

“Kaylee, I ain’t never seen you like this.” Mal wondered how Kaylee, his sweet sunshine 妹妹 mèimei, had suddenly grown this spine of cold steel. It was an aspect of Kaylee he had not seen before, and he wasn’t entirely sure it was a welcome development. What had Saffron done to her? He himself wouldn’t never dare step between Kaylee and an engine she loved, but he sensed that this was more than just Kaylee defending her ship. “What did that evil snake do to you?”

“Don’t really want to talk about it, Cap’n,” Kaylee answered.

Mal sighed to himself. Kaylee wouldn’t get over it, whatever it was, until she talked it out of her system. He hated to see her suffering and closing herself off with her hurt, unwilling to accept comfort. She was acting…well, like he acted. And it weren’t a real good way to get better of your hurts; he knew that from personal experience. “Well, how’s about we talk about something else, then?” he said, attempting to honor her request. He gave her a kind smile. “Why don’t you tell me ’bout that pretty ring you got on your finger?” Kaylee still hadn’t said anything to the others about her and Simon.

To his surprise, Kaylee burst into tears. “Said I don’t—want—to—talk about it!” she gasped between sobs.

妹妹 Mèimei, now there, 妹妹 mèimei!” He gathered Kaylee in for a hug, and held her, rocking, soothing, patting her back. After a bit, when her sobs had subsided some, he ventured, “I apologize, sweetheart. I didn’t realize I was touchin’ on a sore subject. Thought to be talkin’ on something cheersome.”

“Oh, 哥哥 gēgē!” Kaylee began, but got caught up in tears again and buried her face on his shoulder. Mal could only hold her comfortingly and pat her back gently, as he wondered miserably what could have gone wrong between her and Simon. Mal figured that Simon had proposed, and that Kaylee had accepted. She was wearing the ring, after all. Why was it a subject of misery, instead of joy? Had Simon done it all wrong? Had he made her feel bad, even as he asked her to be his wife? Mal began to get angry. If Simon had done wrong by Kaylee, Mal was gonna… “He hurt you, 妹妹 mèimei?” he asked, in a still, quiet voice.

Kaylee stiffened, sensing the danger in Mal’s quiet tones. “No,” she said, pulling back and looking at his face. “No, nothin’ like that. Don’t go gettin’ no ideas, 哥哥 gēgē.”

“He asked you ta marry him?” Mal asked, and Kaylee nodded, silently, her expression unreadable. “Well, what ’m I s’posed ta think, 妹妹 mèimei, when a man asks you ta marry him, and what I see is all the sunshine gone outta your smile, and the brightest person on my ship walkin’ ’round under a dark cloud? It ain’t right.”

“It’s not Simon, 哥哥 gēgē. It’s…her.”

“Saffron.”

“Yeah.” He waited, and Kaylee finally continued. “She didn’t come in here just to muck up the engine. She mucked me around, too.”

Mal exhaled. “Surely you know better than to believe a thing she says, Kaylee. It ain’t no fault of yours if she made ya feel bad. That evil woman mucked me around as well. Made me look like a fool, made me look like everything I’m not, and done it in front of Inara, too. She specializes in makin’ people feel bad, ya know. It was part of her whole strategy here. Make all of us so upset with ourselves and each other, throw us off the scent, so we wouldn’t see what else she was doin’, the serious muckin’ up of the ship—all what she done to it that we ain’t even discovered yet.”

“Some of what she said, 哥哥 gēgē—” Kaylee hesitated, “some of it’s…true.”

“That woman don’t say nothin’ that ain’t aiming to mislead, manipulate or hurt folk,” Mal countered. “What’d she say to you?”

“She said…she…” Kaylee risked a fearful glance at Mal. It pained him, to see his 妹妹 mèimei looking at him like that. “She knew.”

“Knew what?”

Kaylee couldn’t answer, just looked like to burst into tears.

“What?” he asked. “What’s wrong, Kaylee?”

“She knew I’m pregnant,” Kaylee whispered quickly, and cringed as if she expected him to explode.

It hurt Mal, to see Kaylee look so fearful—and fearful of him. Was he really such a 屁眼儿pìyǎnr? He’d accepted Zoe’s pregnancy without undue fussing, hadn’t he? Did Kaylee expect him to rant and storm and throw her off the boat? Way she was lookin’ at him, she did. Of course, he already knew about Kaylee’s pregnancy—Simon had said as much, weeks ago, when he told him the men’s contraceptives were no good. He didn’t imagine Simon kept secrets from Kaylee, so she had to know that he knew, too. True, she hadn’t told him directly before this, and he hadn’t mentioned the subject to her, but—why the fear? Must be she was afraid he’d throw them out on their ear, first opportunity.

哎呀 Āiyā, he was a 屁眼儿pìyǎnr, no doubt about it. He regretted all the times he’d groused and griped about shipboard relationships, how he’d put up obstacles every time Zoe and Wash had come close to deciding to have children, how he’d repeated over and over again that shipboard relationships complicated things—made it look like he was opposed to family and children and all. He was an idiot. Wash had once told him that his problem was that he projected his own intimacy issues onto everyone else. 天啊 Tiān ā, it was true. Because all that time he’d been working against the things that, deep down inside, he cherished most.

Time to be a 男儿 nán'ér Reynolds, he told himself sternly, not a 屁眼儿pìyǎnr.

“So what’s wrong with that?” he answered, looking Kaylee in the eye. “Prospect of a baby comin’ is a cause for joy, not nothin’ else.”

“Don’t it…complicate things?” Kaylee asked, uncertainly.

“Well, sure, I reckon it does,” Mal answered. “But life’s always complicated, ain’t it? Rather have it complicated by a baby than…well, there’s lots of less pleasant ways for things to get complicated, ain’t there?”

“So you ain’t…mad?”

“Mad? No, Kaylee, I ain’t mad. Any baby of yours is bound to be the sunniest child in the ’Verse.”

Kaylee smiled at him. Then a shadow crossed her face.

“What? What’s wrong, Kaylee? Did she try to hurt your baby?” Mal asked, suddenly much more tense inside.

“No…no, it’s what she said. About Simon.” Kaylee was lookin’ even more like she was about to burst into tears—and then she did. Mal hugged her and patted her back lightly, feeling completely out of his depth. Dealing with hormonally-charged pregnant womenfolk was not his forte. At last her tears subsided enough for her to tell him, “I’m worried he’s only marryin’ me ’cause of the baby comin’.”

“The stuck up 不解风情 bùjiěfēngqíng 混蛋 húndàn!” Mal exclaimed angrily. What kind of man would ask a woman to marry him without tellin’ her he loved her? “He say that, Kaylee?”

“No, no,” Kaylee insisted. “哥哥 Gēgē, it’s not…Simon asked me—it was beautiful, how he done it. And I said yes, and we were all…No, it’s what she said, the next day.”

“Saffron?”

Kaylee nodded. “Simon’s very smart.” Mal cringed inwardly. Last thing he wanted to hear was Kaylee gushing about Simon. But it turned out what Kaylee was saying was much more difficult for him to stomach than mushy praises of her fiancé. “High class and proper, too. He hadn’t left the Core, he coulda married anybody he wanted. Beautiful, rich, educated woman with connections, help him rise in his profession, take his place in high society and all—not some hick from a prairie planet can’t talk sophisticated nor eat with the right fork at a dinner party, what his parents wouldn’t approve of—”

“Kaylee,” Mal interrupted, “I will not hear you talk on yourself this way.” His own opinion was that if Simon’s parents ever met Kaylee, and didn’t approve, they’d be gorram idiots. “If he hadn’t left the Core, yeah, maybe he’d a’ gone and married one of them Core girls you’re talkin’ of. But he did leave the Core. He saved River. He come out here. And he met you.” If there hadn’t been no war, most like I’d be a rancher on Shadow, married to Mindy, with a passel of young ’uns by now. Everything would be different. “Life’s too short for ifs and maybes. It don’t bear thinkin’ on.”

“He only chose me ’cause he ain’t got no choice,” Kaylee whispered. “Just me here at the bottom of the barrel.”

“Bottom of the barrel!” Mal was unable to repress his indignation. Saffron had got to Kaylee, and bad. “That ain’t so,” he countered. “These ain’t your thoughts, Kaylee. This is Saffron planting poison in your mind, tryin’ to wreck the goodness that you have.”

“She said—she said—she—” Kaylee hiccoughed.

“Shh, shh,” Mal soothed, hugging Kaylee again. “Don’t matter what she said, you know in your heart it ain’t true.”

“But it is,” Kaylee protested. “Since Simon asked me, we’ve had great sex—”

I do not need to hear this, thought Mal, his hand suspended in mid-air in the middle of patting her back, but he was wise enough not to speak.

“—but he ain’t hardly talked to me.” Kaylee sniffed again, and Mal sensed another big cry coming on. “He ain’t hardly spoken, and all what he does say comes out all cold and sarcastic-like. It’s true what she said: he just wants my body. He don’t really love me for me. How could he? I’m just a stupid hick covered with engine grease what’s got the right body parts.”

Mal never thought he’d see the day when he would take Simon’s part and tell Kaylee she was wrong, but this was it. He leaned against the edge of the workbench, and pulled Kaylee alongside. Turning toward her, he held her eyes and asked her seriously, “妹妹 Mèimei, Simon ever treat you with anything less than respect?”

She didn’t speak, but she shook her head slightly.

“If he was just lustin’ after your body, he coulda had you any time in the last year and a half—ain’t that so?” Mal was walking a fine line—the truth was sometimes harsh, and the last thing he wanted was for Kaylee to feel bad about herself. “You been makin’ moonpie-eyes at him since he first come aboard, li’l Kaylee. If your body was all he wanted, he coulda had it, and you’da given it to him, wouldn’t ya?” Mal was careful to speak gently. “But he didn’t take it. He didn’t want it that way. He wanted more than just…that.” Mal looked at Kaylee. “He waited until he knew that you wanted more than just that, too.” Standing again, he put his hands on Kaylee’s shoulders, and looked down at her. “He’s an honorable man, and he loves you.”

Kaylee looked at him. Her eyes glistening with tears that she blinked back.

“He’s just bein’ cold and sarcastic-like ’cause that’s what he done to defend himself against Saffron,” Mal told her. “It’s his armor. Worked pretty good, if you ask me. Simon and River, they held up pretty well against Saffron. But we all been spun about. Take us a while to recover from what that evil snake done to us. Take more than a few chicken jokes to get our sense of humor back again.”

Kaylee cracked a tiny smile at that. “Chicken jokes help,” she said quietly. “谢谢 Xièxie, 哥哥 gēgē.”

“When you have someone you love, who loves you too, and you got somethin’ special between you, you shouldn’t let no poisonous thoughts from the likes of Saffron come between you.”

“You’re right, Cap’n,” Kaylee said. “You shouldn’t let poisonous thoughts what come from the likes of that evil, treacherous snake stand between you and your love, should ya, Cap’n?”

Mal looked at her. She wasn’t talkin’ about her and Simon anymore.

“You should see that what you got between you is a pure goodness, that it’s good for both of you. And find your strength in it.” She looked him directly in the eye. “You and Inara made up yet?”

“Well, Kaylee, that’s different, me and Inara, we—”

“And what’s so different about it? Saffron done tried to poison the two of you against each other as well. I seen it.”

“Weren’t Saffron caused our differences. We already weren’t speakin’ to one another, before Saffron even came on this boat. That’s not what we—” He sighed and sat down, folding himself onto the low ledge at the side of the engine room, next to the workbench. Kaylee looked down at him. She’d never seen her Captain, the man she looked up to like an older brother, look quite so 苦悶 kǔmèn and vulnerable.

The defensiveness she’d seen before; the depression, too. He was a man who kept his personal life personal, who guarded his feelings carefully and rarely spoke about them, though it was clear enough to Kaylee that he had a kind and loving heart. He tried to hide it behind a tough-guy exterior and a flippant sense of humor, but Kaylee had enough experience with her brothers, boys, and men to see past the façade. She had known from the minute she met the Cap’n that he was a good man. He rested his elbows on his knees and worried at his hair, as he continued very quietly. “’Sides, Inara don’t really love me anyways. She’s a Companion, and it wasn’t…” So absorbed was he in his painful confession that he completely missed Kaylee’s horrified reaction. “…It was just her using her techniques to make me feel good, just plain old-fashioned Companion wiles—comforting and all that—and I fell for it. Don’t matter that it was never real. Don’t mean a thing.”

“You don’t mean that! Of course it was real!”

“Was it?” He spoke desolately, almost to himself.

“’Course it’s real! Cap’n, she loves you. You know it. I know you two been fightin’, but that’s just…of course she loves you.”

Mal just sat there, staring bleakly at the spinning engine, and shook his head slightly, while Kaylee gaped at him, a horrified expression on her face. She knew the Captain and Inara had been having some serious difficulties, but maybe she hadn’t appreciated how very bad things had gotten. She didn’t understand how things could still be so bad. Hadn’t the two of them just…? “But you talked to her, last night. You worked things out, didn’t you? Made things better, right?” Kaylee’s native optimism had begun to kick in, but Mal continued to peer hopelessly at the slowly turning rotor. “But you just spent the night in Inara’s shuttle!” she blurted.

Mal turned to her open-mouthed. “I—what—not like—didn’t—how do you—?” he sputtered.

“I—sorry, Cap’n. I just assumed you two were makin’ up, seein’ as you—.” She stopped abruptly, as it suddenly occurred to her that maybe she shouldn’t mention the obvious love-bites on his neck. Inara had appeared at breakfast similarly marked. With any other couple, that would point to some serious making-up goin’ on. Naturally she had assumed…

“I…honestly, Kaylee, I don’t know if we were makin’ up so much as just fightin’ in bed instead of fightin’ standing up,” Mal said with a sigh, running his hands through his hair again. His attempt to talk things out with Inara had led to the two of them “resolving” their differences by means of some of the most possessive and furious coupling he had yet experienced. The resolution of their tension had marked him—literally, as he’d noticed the next morning while shaving. Not just the obvious ones Kaylee was so clearly refraining from remarking on, but others hidden by his clothing.

“Possession” was a euphemism for sex. Mal had never much cared for the term, as it implied that a body could own another person—and that was a notion he did not hold with. Not nobody owned nobody else. He preferred other terms, like love-making. But last night—well, couldn’t call it making love if the love was all one-sided, 不是嗎 bùshìma? He still loved Inara, couldn’t help but love her, but on her side—well, it was comfort, he supposed. Kindness. He reckoned she was fond of him, in an irritated sort of way. And in a possessive kind of way, too—since she seemed so jealous of his affections. It didn’t make no sense.

Kaylee looked at him, astonished. He never talked about sex; even hinting at it made him all embarrassed and tongue-tied. It was hard not to laugh—him with his hair stickin’ up all over the place and Inara’s love-marks all over him, denying that Inara loved him—but it would hurt him more if she did. So she just nodded.

“She thought I was cheatin’ on her. That’s why we quarreled. She don’t trust me,” he said, looking up at her. To her immense surprise, Kaylee saw that her Captain—her rock and pillar of strength, the toughest person she knew (well, besides Zoe, of course)—had tears in his eyes. “I love that woman, 妹妹 mèimei. I wanna marry her, live with her…” His voice was choked, just barely above a harsh whisper, and Kaylee had to strain to hear his words above the beating heart of the engine. She wasn’t sure he even meant for her to hear them. “…raise a family with her, grow old with her—”

“You told her any of these things, 哥哥 gēgē?” she asked softly.

He just stared at the slow rotation of Serenity’s beating heart, moving his head slowly from side to side. Just when Kaylee thought that was all the answer he’d make, he whispered, “She damn near broke my heart. It’s hard.”

“She loves you, Cap’n. You know that.”

“Do I?”

“’Course she does,” Kaylee told him. “How can you doubt it?”

The look he gave her was so bleak and hopeless it tore at Kaylee’s heart.

Kaylee wished Shepherd Book were here. Shepherd knew what to say, time like this. “Shepherd Book always said, forgiveness—” Kaylee began.

“Can’t. Can’t just forgive and forget. My heart’s still bruised.”

“Love don’t keep no record of wrongs. It don’t stay angry, it trusts an’ hopes—”

“You quotin’ the bible at me?” he asked sharply.

She didn’t back down. Bible or no, didn’t make no matter. It was still true, and he needed to hear it. “They say forgiveness heals the heart.”

“Well, I think ‘they’ are wrong!” he retorted vehemently. He took a breath. “Sorry, Kaylee. Shouldn’t oughtta be shoutin’ at ya.

“You could apologize to her for—”

“No,” he cut her off. “I’m done with that. I already apologized ’til I was blue in the face, and she wouldn’t have none of it. I apologized even though I ain’t done nothin’ to hurt her this time. I apologized, I trusted her…” when she tells me she ain’t seein’ clients, that her appointments on Beaumonde didn’t have nothin’ to do with…. He kept those thoughts to himself. Fidelity was a painful subject. “It’s her turn,” he finished, and Kaylee could tell by the stubborn set of his jaw that he meant it.

“Look,” he said, rising, “I shouldn’t oughtta been troubling you with my personal 废物 fèiwù. Forget I mentioned it.” He left the engine room, and Kaylee could tell by the set of his shoulders that he carried his stubbornness with him.

* * *

*

*

*

glossary

闭嘴 Bìzuǐ [Shut up]

妹妹 mèimei [little sister]

哥哥 gēgē [older brother]

屁眼儿pìyǎnr [jerk, asshole]

哎呀 Āiyā [Damn]

天啊 Tiān ā [God]

男儿 nán'ér [real man]

不解风情 bùjiěfēngqíng [unromantic, insensitive]

混蛋 húndàn [bastard]

哥哥 Gēgē [Older brother]

妹妹 Mèimei [Little sister]

谢谢 Xièxie [Thanks]

苦悶 kǔmèn [low; depressed; dejected]

不是嗎 bùshìma [weren’t that so]

废物 fèiwù [rubbish]

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COMMENTS

Monday, February 4, 2013 5:13 PM

BYTEMITE


Big brother and little sister is right. Or another father daughter relationship? I'm not sure how often sisters talk to brothers about relationships or vice versa.

They're both very hurt - Saffron is a master of voicing what people are already afraid of and twisting the knife.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 5:03 AM

EBFIDDLER


I don't think of it as father-daughter, much more brother-sister. But definitely an older brother. They're only talking relationships because Kaylee wants to, and her need has drawn Mal in to do so likewise. He wouldn't initiate a talk like that. You're absolutely correct about Saffron. We'll be seeing the after-effects of her little visit for a while.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 5:37 AM

NUTLUCK


Mal agreeing with Simon? Isn't that one of the signs of the Apocalypse?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 5:43 AM

EBFIDDLER


*snickers* Yep, it would seem so, wouldn't it, Nutluck? The two of them are really very similar in a lot of ways, the ways that matter, but their surface differences are enough to guarantee clashes on almost every occasion.

Friday, February 8, 2013 6:13 AM

AMDOBELL


Oh dear. Mal can heal Kaylee's hurt but it seems Mal's goes that much deeper. I agree with you Ebfiddler that Kaylee and Mal are more like sister and older brother, that is how I see them. It is River that is more like a daughter to the Captain. Still don't think they found all of Saffron's nasty little toys though. Ali D
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Friday, February 8, 2013 4:55 PM

EBFIDDLER


Mal's got a deeper hurt, and he doesn't have Kaylee's sunny disposition, to help him bounce back. They haven't found all of Saffron's nasty toys, definitely not! :-)


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