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EBFIDDLER

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (09)
Wednesday, April 17, 2013

High Flight


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2624    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12)

Part (09)

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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)

High Flight

* * *

Jayne’s jacket pockets were loaded down with 鸡屎 jī shǐ. It weren’t pretty, but it was the only way he could get the fouled bedding out of his bunk without gettin’ caught. Felt kinda stupid, wearin’ his jacket aboard ship, ’cause it weren’t in no way cold enough to be totin’ a jacket around, but the thing had lots of pockets, and that meant fewer trips to the septic vac, and that meant less chance of someone catchin’ him in the act.

He walked nonchalantly down the stairs to the cargo bay. Just headin’ to the weight bench for a workout, is what he was doin’. Yep, just headin’ to the—

“Jayne.”

“Wha—hey, Cap,” he said, resisting the automatic urge to shove his hands into his pockets—’cause the pockets were full of—

“Come on over here, give me a hand shifting this crate.”

Why the 地狱 dìyù’d Mal need help shiftin’ those crates now? Tryin’ not to act ass-picious, he sauntered over, slow but not too slow.

“Shake a leg, Jayne. I ain’t got all day. Put your shoulder to it.”

Jayne put his shoulder to one side of the crate, and on Mal’s signal, the two men shoved the heavy object into position. Jayne straightened up. There was no emptying his pockets into the septic vac tank with the Captain standin’ there, so he said, “Well, then, I’ll just be—”

“Ain’t done yet, Jayne. Gotta shift the whole line of crates.”

“What for?”

Mal glared at him. Jayne glared right back. “’Cause I said so, that’s why.” Captain signaled, and they pushed the next crate to its new place. “Whole line’s gotta be shifted,” Mal explained, relenting somewhat now that he had Jayne’s compliance. “Can’t strap ’em down properly over there—straps don’t reach the grommets.”

Now that Jayne looked, he saw the strapping on the whole line of crates was strained to its limit. Mal unhooked the strap of the next crate and made ready to shove. Gorrammit, Jayne thought, whole line needs shiftin’.

* * *

Jayne was never one to complain about physical labor, but the gorram jacket was hot. Sweat was pourin’ offa him in buckets.

“Why don’t you take that gorram thing off?” Mal asked, as Jayne wiped his brow once more. He had removed his own button-down, and was sweatin’ in just his brown t-shirt.

“Uh, ’cause I’m cold, Cap.”

Mal gave him a look like he was insane—and weren’t that rich, comin’ from him—then gave a little shrug, as if to say, ‘whatever suits you, Jayne,’ then set to shovin’ the next crate in line.

* * *

Finally, finally, all the crates was moved to their new places, all the straps was re-strapped and tightened. Now, if only Mal would go away, he could mosey on over to the septic vac tank, and empty the 鸡屎 jī shǐ outta all his gorram pockets.

The Captain picked up his discarded shirt and slung it over his shoulder. Jayne started walkin’ over towards the—nope, don’t even look at the septic vac—the weight bench. Yeah, weight bench. He wiped his forehead again. Sweatin’ like a pig, he was. Gorram jacket.

“Where you goin’, Jayne?”

“Thought I’d lift some,” Jayne answered, pointing towards the weight bench. “Get me a good workout.”

Again with the look like he was insane. “I don’t pay you to run a fitness center,” the Captain said. “Need your help upstairs. Topside airlock needs maintenance. Need you to climb the ladder.”

“Aww, hell, Mal, can’t Zoe—”

“Zoe’s still on crutches, jackass. She can’t go climbing no ladder ’til her knee heals. ’Fraid it’s you, Jayne.” Captain sauntered off and headed up the stairs. Maybe he could just—

“What’re you standin’ there for, Jayne? C’mon, let’s hoof it.”

Oh 狗屎 gǒushǐ, Jayne thought, as the smell of warm 鸡屎 jī shǐ wafted up through the neckline of his jacket. 狗屎 Gǒushǐ, 牛屎 niú shǐ, and 鸡屎 jī shǐ.

* * *

“River, we’re bound for Bernadette,” Mal stated as he entered the bridge.

River merely looked at him and waited for him to complete his thought.

“Bernadette’s in the Core,” Mal continued, as he seated himself in the pilot’s chair and automatically began running down the checklists that every pilot went through at the change of watch.

Thank you, Captain Obvious. River checked the urge to roll her eyes. She knew that all these obvious statements were leading up to the crux of the matter. She just wished he’d get to it without all the tedious preliminaries.

“Core means controlled space flight,” Mal added, looking at River as if he knew just what was going through her mind. “Now, we ain’t hardly done any controlled flight since you started piloting, just a landing here and there. But this is different. Soon as we enter the 白虎 Báihǔ System, everything’s controlled airspace. Can’t go nowhere without a filed flight plan. When we get in the vicinity of Santo, I’ll contact Space Traffic Control and activate our flight plan. From then on, we’ll be flyin’ as directed by the flight controllers, on standard flyways, right through to the approach to Bernadette. We get into the neighborhood of that planet, they’ll hand off to Bernadette Approach, and when we go atmospheric, we have to hand over control of the helm to Shinjuku Tower.”

River nodded, to show that she was still listening, but she’d shifted her gaze to the field of stars laid out before them in the Black sky.

“Bernadette’s atmo is so congested with traffic that independent flyin’ ain’t permitted. Every vehicle is remote-flown by the air traffic controllers.”

“You don’t like that.”

“Damn right I don’t, Albatross. We’re flyin’ right into the Core, to Bernadette of all places. We just come from Beaumonde, where the gorram Blue Hands come after us, and your face and your brother’s re-appeared on the bulletin. Blue Sun Research Division is headquartered on Bernadette.”

“Too much Blue.”

Mal agreed with a nod. “And soon as we get there, I won’t have a dime’s worth of a say about how to fly my own gorram ship. Gotta let some 混蛋 húndàn in a tower 操 cāo my ship however they gorram please.” He deliberately bent his pronunciation of the word “操 cāo” so that it sounded like “肏cào.”

“That makes you uneasy.”

“Well, yeah. I think that’s enough to justify a bit of uneasiness.”

“Dangerous to let them fly. Don’t have to.”

“Yes, we do. It’s regulation. And it’s dangerous to fly independent in Bernadette’s atmo—too much traffic—likelihood of a collision is pretty high. Still don’t like it. Gotta trust the Space Traffic Controller. Don’t like trustin’ people what I can’t look ’em in the eye.”

“What if they don’t—”

“If they don’t fly right? Guess there’s always manual override. Can activate it in an emergency. But that would trigger an investigation from Space Traffic Control. Another headache I don’t need.”

River turned away from the starry view, and fixed her penetrating look on the Captain. “We shouldn’t go.”

“We should. We got legitimate business there.” He met River’s stare with his best captain-y look, held it for a moment, then broke under River’s uncanny scrutiny. “Well, okay, we also got illegitimate business there, too, but we’re solid.” Thank goodness for the legal cover cargo. Papers and everything on it. Wouldn’t do for an independent owner-operated transport ship to fly into a busy company-dominated port city like Shinjuku with an empty hold and a lame story about hoping to pick up a cargo there. Such-like transactions didn’t raise an eyebrow out on the Rim, but would be a red flag to Port Authority in the Core.

“It ain’t no joke, flyin’ into controlled airspace,” Mal continued his captain-y lecture. “The Space Traffic Controllers ain’t the Law, and they don’t necessarily share info with the Law, but the fact is they got an ID on us, the whole time we’re in the 白虎 Báihǔ System.” He absently scanned the ship’s log, approved the course settings, and accepted River’s transfer of the helm to his flight desk.

“Albatross, I’ll let you fly Serenity, but only as a ‘trainee.’ Either me or Zoe gotta be sittin’ up here, to stay within the letter of the law, since we’re licensed pilots and you ain’t. I don’t want to call no unnecessary attention to our ship, so we just go easy and follow the rules.”

“There are lots of rules.”

“More ’n you can shake a stick at, Albatross.”

“Makes it a little more difficult to slip the surly bonds of earth.”

Mal smiled, releasing a little puff of air through his nose in a mild snort. Albatross knew how to make him laugh. “Yeah. I’ve read that poem, too. And I’m here to tell you that the flight regulations in the Core require that you double-check that all them surly bonds been completely and properly slipped before you take to the air.”

“Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth—” River intoned.

Mal grabbed the electronic paper with the current STC “Notices to Space Travelers” printed on it. “Sunward climbs must not exceed maximum climb rate permitted for spacecraft utility class rating,” he declaimed, pretending to quote from the regulations.

“—Of sun-split clouds and done a hundred things
          You have not dreamed of—”

“Oh, no you ain’t, Albatross. Not in front of no Core Space Traffic Controllers you ain’t done them hundred things.”

“—wheeled, and soared, and swung
          High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there—”

“Like that’s a big deal in a VTOL craft. Tell me something special you can do, Albatross.”

“—I’ve chased the shouting wind along—”

“Shoulda checked the weather report. Them shoutin’ winds can do a number on the primary buffer panel, you ain’t careful.”

“—and flung
          My eager craft through footless halls of air.
          Up, up the long delirious, burning blue—”

“Black. It’s called The Black. How long ago was this damn poem written, anyhow?”

“—I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
          Where never lark, nor even eagle flew—”

“You ever fly through a flock a’ birds, Albatross, you gotta check the thrusters for damage. Believe me, I know. I’ve had worse birds than eagles go through my engine.”

River gave him a queer look, as Mal’s face darkened with the memory of Niska’s ‘good right hand’ Crow. Then she continued.

“And while, with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
          The high untrespassed sanctity of space—”

They both took a deep breath, in concert. Flying through space brought a sense of ease and freedom; they both felt it.

“—Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”

“Pilots are advised that opening the airlock in order to touch the face of God may result in sudden decompression,” Mal mock-quoted. “Protective equipment is mandatory for all high-atmospheric and super-atmospheric extra-vehicular activity, including god-touching.”

* * *

When Zoe entered the bridge a short time later on her crutches, she found Mal extending a hand in River’s direction, saying only, “Put out my hand—” before they both snorted with laughter and doubled over their control consoles.

“You wanna share the joke?” she asked with all the severity she could muster. It was hard not to crack a smile herself, the mirth of the two lost souls of Serenity was so infectious.

Mal wiped his streaming eyes and controlled his snorts of laughter, waving at Zoe to give him a moment. “You been seein’ to things?” he began, attempting to fall into business with her. The sides of his mouth still crept upward, and his eyes danced with contained amusement.

“Sir,” she began her report, “I done a hundred things—”

Gales of laughter cut her off before she could get another word in.

* * *

Inara entered the dining room and immediately heard hoots of unrestrained laughter coming from the bridge. She followed the sound and found Zoe and River sitting in the pilots’ chairs, laughing their asses off, while Mal stood doubled over in the gap between them, his eyes streaming with mirth.

“No!” Zoe was laughing so hard her ribs hurt.

“Danced the skies—” River gasped out.

“Gotta wear four-point harness during periods of severe sky-dancing, it’s in the regulations,” Mal choked out, and they all started shrieking with laughter again.

Inara couldn’t help but be drawn in, and smiled widely as the three members of the bridge crew gradually leveled off from the heights of laughter.

“High in the sunlit silence—” River supplied.

“You all know what sunlit silence means,” Zoe offered. As soon as the eyes of all three were on her, she deadpanned, “Engine failure in atmo.”

More whoops of laughter followed. Inara didn’t know what game they were playing, but she couldn’t help but laugh along with them.

“Wash’s favorite line was ‘I’ve chased the shouting wind along and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air’,” Zoe told them, then added in a voice reminiscent of Wash quoting flight regulations, “Pilots flinging eager craft through footless halls of air are reminded that they alone are responsible for maintaining separation from other eager craft.”

They could all just see Wash saying that, and they all laughed and smiled, a little more moderately this time. “That was one of Wash’s favorite poems,” Zoe added. “Had it tacked up over his side of the bed down in the bunk. Not the John Gillespie Magee standard version, but the one with annotations from Space Traffic Control.”

“I don’t know many pilots who can’t quote from it,” Mal responded. “Bet Wash could recite the whole gorram thing.”

“You shoulda seen his shadow puppet version,” Zoe replied.

“I am truly sorry I missed that,” Mal told her, smiling still, but with heartfelt sincerity. “That had to ’ve been a sight to see.” He wiped his eyes again, the remains of humor covering the other emotions. “天啊 Tiān ā, I miss that man.”

Zoe was silent.

“We all do,” Inara agreed.

“He’s still here,” River said. They all looked at her. “He’s here, on the bridge. Wash’s spirit inhabits the bridge. He’ll never leave Serenity.”

“You know,” Mal offered tentatively, into the silence, “when I’m up here alone, late at night, I could swear Wash still…uh…talks to me.” He stopped. The three women were staring at him.

Zoe nodded, and waited. Mal seemed to have lost his momentum and stalled. “Talks to you, sir?” Zoe prompted, at last, somewhat sharply.

“Um…yeah,” Mal replied softly. “Not…actually. But it’s like he’s in my head, tellin’ me things I should oughtta take mind of...just being himself…bein’ Wash. Good sense wrapped in a humorous package.” He hoped he didn’t sound too deranged, telling them he was in the habit of conversing with the shade of departed Wash on the bridge.

“Good sense,” Zoe echoed. “What’s he tellin’ you, sir? Advising you how to avoid ambush?”

Mal’s smile returned. “Zoe, you know he never did have but one point of view on that. That our jobs were all too damned dangerous, even the milk runs.” He walked over to the control panel at the side, reached over Zoe’s head, and flipped the three check switches on the panel. “Nah, he gives me advice about…you know.”

“No, sir, I don’t know.”

“About, uh…well, you know, he’s the only married fella I know.”

“He gives you advice about marriage?” Inara’s voice conveyed her interest.

Mal looked away. Despite his best efforts, a red flush was creeping up his neck.

“What’s he tell you, sir?” Zoe asked.

“It’s really none of your business, Zoe,” he mumbled.

“Just curious, is all,” Zoe pressed.

River looked eagerly at him, all ears. Inara held him in an expectant gaze. Dang it, the women were all gangin’ up on him. “Just tells me not to be such a 顽固 wángù sonofabitch all the time,” he grumbled, and straightened up. “Just got…captain-y things to do,” he claimed, and left the bridge briskly.

The three women stared at each other in the silence left in the wake of the Captain’s departure.

“It’s still his watch,” River observed.

* * *

“Good news, Boromiro. Our target has filed a flight plan with Space Traffic Control.”

“They coming into range?” Boromiro asked, peering over Anatoly’s shoulder at the screen.

“No,” Anatoly replied, his tone indicating clearly that Boromiro had asked a stupid question. “I said, filed a flight plan. Hasn’t activated it yet. According to the filed plan, they’ll pass into the Core System this Sunday, with a scheduled arrival at Bernadette next Thursday.”

Boromiro made a note of the projected arrival day. “I’ll alert the boss. She’ll want to have a team ready—”

“No, 二百五 èrbǎiwǔ, I’ll alert the boss, and if you continue acting as brilliant as you’ve been doing today, I’ll recommend she put you on janitorial services that day when they come in.”

Boromiro peered again at the screen, which showed a scattering of blips, each one representing a ship that they were tracking. “So the agent was successful, then?”

“Well, I guess we’ll find out when the moment of truth comes,” Anatoly shrugged. “She did pretty much guarantee results. ‘I get it done’ was her by-line. It’s why 代號 Dài Hào hired her.”

代號 Dài Hào. What a stupid code name.”

“Yeah, I agree. I mean, a code name that means ‘code name’? Could he make it any more obvious?”

“I dunno. Sometimes people don’t see the most obvious stuff.”

Anatoly directed a scathing look at Boromiro, but Boromiro was oblivious to his unintentional humor. “How’d she do it?” Boromiro continued. “The usual—software update service?”

That was the usual way of activating the latent code. NavWare Services was a daughter company of Blue Sun Corporation. They had the contract from Space Traffic Control to write the official navigational software updates for the government agency. NavWare also offered a service subscription to clients. Regular service calls for nav system maintenance, to update navigational software as required by law, plus troubleshooting and repair services when needed. Many companies that maintained fleets of interplanetary transport opted for the full service contract. It was a win-win situation. The transport companies were guaranteed compliance with Alliance law, and through NavWare Services, Blue Sun had legal access to the flight computers of thousands of potential competitors. What was not so entirely legal was the fact that within the perfectly functional and well-liked navigational software was embedded code that could be activated by certain protocols. Unactivated, the code lay neutral and harmless, and was virtually undetectable. When the code was activated, it enabled spyware functions that could report the location of the rival’s ship to monitors back at Blue Sun (such as Mssrs. Anatoly Tse and Boromiro Janiewicz) as well as giving remote access to the system it was installed on—up to and including command of the remote control flight bot.

“Nah, the agent didn’t act as a software service provider. It seems she had a personal acquaintance with the captain and crew. Friends or lovers or some such.”

“So she sweet-talked them into it.”

Anatoly shrugged. “I dunno. 代號 Dài Hào was telling some cockamamie story about a crate filled with chickens. She was gonna stowaway.”

“Chickens? Like, live chickens? She was gonna stowaway in a chicken coop?”

“Probably just 代號 Dài Hào talking big.”

“Sure. Because, chickens? Seriously. No one in their right mind would want to spend time cooped up in a box with chickens.”

“You got personal experience with this, Boromiro?”

“My aunt used to raise chickens in her backyard.”

“Your aunt actually had a backyard? Here on Bernadette?” Bernadettiens, as a rule, lived in small apartments. Rich Bernadettiens lived in larger apartments. There were public parks, but as a rule, no one but the most extravagantly rich Bernadettiens owned so much as a square foot of unpaved property.

“No, she lived on Santo. But really, chickens? Can you imagine the smell?”

Anatoly had no clue how chickens smelled. Other than cooked chicken, on a plate. Or maybe, cooked chicken-style protein, was more often the case.

Boromiro was still ranting. “How stupid an idea is that?”

“At least 代號 Dài Hào gets his job done. Did you hear the scuttlebutt about Butter?”

Boromiro nodded gravely, inwardly annoyed by Anatoly’s mangling of the man’s name, but smug for once about definitively knowing more than Anatoly about something. The code name was Baatar, which a little cortex search revealed meant “hero” in one of the old languages of Earth-that-was. A much better code name than “code name,” in Boromiro’s opinion, anyway. He had met the man once before he became a full agent, when he still used his own name, Bill Borjigin. Agent Baatar had been involved in a retrieval operation gone bad on Beaumonde. The target had escaped, his partner had been killed, and Bataar was currently on an all-expense-paid trip to New Siberia, on St. Albans. Maybe one-way. Turning back to his console, Boromiro wondered if agents got to choose their own code name, or if they chose it for you. Wouldn’t he love to choose Anatoly’s code name? Ahh, the possibilities were almost endless—Brownnose, Bootlick, Suckup, Kowtow, Toadie, Smithers…

Anatoly continued to speculate, with vulture-like avidity, about the likelihood of a renewed application being accepted for the elite program, now that there was an opening, what with Baatar’s partner’s demise. He continued to pronounce it “Butter,” and Boromiro had to bite his tongue. “Maybe two openings, if Butter’s exile becomes permanent.”

* * *

*

*

*

glossary

鸡屎 jī shǐ [chicken crap]

地狱 dìyù [hell]

鸡屎 jī shǐ [chicken crap]

流氓 liúmáng [jerk, asshole]

狗屎 Gǒushǐ [crap (dog crap)]

牛屎 niú shǐ [crap (cow poop)]

鸡屎 jī shǐ [chicken crap]

白虎 Báihǔ [White Tiger, another name for the White Sun]

混蛋 húndàn [bastard]

操 cāo [control or steer]

肏cào [f--k]

天啊 Tiān ā [God]

顽固 wángù [stubborn]

二百五 èrbǎiwǔ [stupid]

代號 Dài Hào [Code name]

Baatar [hero (Mogolian)]

Author notes: This chapter quotes very extensively from the poem “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee, and makes liberal use of the anonymous “FAA Supplement” that circulates widely among airplane pilots. You can find a version of it here if you’re interested. Also, thanks to Mar Komi for supplying the phrase “good sense wrapped in a humorous package” to describe Wash.

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COMMENTS

Wednesday, April 17, 2013 6:20 PM

NUTLUCK


Well I can attest that Jayne got the first part right about himself
ass-picious
not so sure he is also a picious though.

The part of the River/Mal banter was very funny, as was the end when Mal felt the women all ganged up on him. :)

Thursday, April 18, 2013 3:50 AM

EBFIDDLER


Thanks, Nutluck, glad you enjoyed the humor. :-) Lots of serious foreshadowing hidden amongst the fun!

Thursday, April 18, 2013 12:29 PM

AMDOBELL


Pity Mal didn't pick up on River's advice not to go there when he was explaining about Bernadette. Found the part where the Captain admitted to hearing Wash in his head a nice touch. I still miss him too. As for Jayne carrying the chicken crap in his jacket I am surprised people didn't notice the smell. Ali D :-)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, April 21, 2013 6:29 AM

EBFIDDLER


Oh, they noticed the smell! It would be hard not to! :-P It's just been so much of a constant with Jayne lately, that they chose not to comment on it this time. Thanks, Ali.

Monday, April 22, 2013 5:09 AM

BYTEMITE


Plus they already have fairly low opinions about Jayne's standard of hygiene and self-awareness of same such. It's just something they're used to I guess, and it doesn't bear more than a few comments about obnoxious floozies who in this case happen to be actual lifestock hens.

Still smile reading the section about the annotated Space Traffic Control version of the poem.

Oh Mal, they all think you're crazy. You'll show them, you'll show them all! Ahahaha! (not reassuring)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013 11:05 AM

EBFIDDLER


I've wanted to include a version of "High Flight with FAA Supplement" in my fic for a long time. Mal doesn't realize it's WAY too late for any of the women aboard Serenity to be still thinking that he is completely sane.


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