ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (19)
Wednesday, September 4, 2013

“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.”



Part (19)

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The series so far:

Who’s that knocking at my door?

* * *

They weren’t out of the woods. In a few minutes’ time, the ship would be swarming with Feds.

The door would open, and the Space Traffic Control inspectors would board to investigate the incident. Mal would have to answer to the authorities for all the disruption he had caused to Bernadette’s air and space traffic patterns, and for all the violations of restricted and prohibited airspace. Scheduled passenger services had been held in orbit. Numerous craft had diverted from their courses and flown holding patterns because the out-of-control Firefly was in their way. Space Traffic Control had a number of near collisions to investigate. They’d want a full download of the ship’s log, they’d need to review his papers, they’d be inspecting the ship from stem to stern for mechanical problems and violations, and they would detain him and his crew for questioning and possible criminal charges.

And perhaps that was the least of it. The two military fighter craft that had escorted them to the ground had landed not far off, and instead of Fed Space Traffic inspectors, it might well be Federal troops on the other side of that airlock, ready to storm the ship in full battle gear and escort them all to military prison.

And there were things that made even a military prison look good, he thought darkly, utterly disinclined to see a bright side at this particular juncture. He had no problem conjuring up another scenario, even worse than the others. Saffron had some connection to Blue Sun, if Ip was right about her using a Blue Sun hand signal. If she was a Blue Sun agent, then all that high tech she had on her was Blue Sun gear. She’d been on the bridge and in his quarters, she’d used a code to activate some kind of tracker and this flight bot that’d nearly got them flown—well, where? Felt like the flight bot was just tryin’ to crash ’em, what with the swoops and dives and loops and gorram barrel rolls for 天的 tiān de sake, but maybe it was meant to be flyin’ ’em somewhere in particular, landing them somewhere they didn’t want to go. Shutting down everything had disrupted the bot—saved ’em, he reckoned. Maybe they were meant to be landed at some Blue Sun impound lot, where the Blue Hands could have their way with them.

他妈的 Tāmādē. Blue Hands. If the Blue Hands knew they were settin’ here at Shinjuku Spaceport in the Emergency Berth, what was to stop ’em from boarding the ship here? In which case, there wouldn’t be no escorting to prison. The Blue Hands would put River down with that gorram safeword, use their lethal rod weapons on the rest of ’em, and they’d all be dead.

Shiny. Just gorram shiny.

Mal’s first instinct was to reach for his weapon—but he had left it in his bunk. Personal firearms weren’t looked at kindly in the Core, never mind that they were essential survival gear on the Rim. If it was the Space Traffic Inspectors on the other side of that door, appearing armed would land him in an ocean of hot water, make more trouble than he was already in. If it was Fed troops, appearing armed would likely get them shot at, and no matter that they had the ability to shoot back, it was a fight they couldn’t win, not here, not now. If it was the Blue Hands, it was still a fight they couldn’t win, but damned if he’d let them take River without a struggle. He’d get some dying satisfaction knowing he took out two or three of ’em, before the Blue Hands killed them all with their rods.

Mal grimly weighed the options, assessing the chances. He had a decision to make, and all their lives hung in the balance. So which would it be, behind the door? Safety inspectors, military troops, or the Blue Hands?

* * *

“Federal inspectors will be boarding your ship shortly, Captain.” Tower was still takin’ an interest in him, it seemed. “Open the airlock to admit them, and be prepared to present your paperwork and legal documentation.”

Paperwork. Documentation. Right, they were Feds, what else? Feds were always big on paperwork. He hated paperwork, but compared with military prison or bein’ dead, paperwork had a lot goin’ for it. Began to look right shiny. But he’d do it the other way around anyway—take a moment to gather the gorram papers and tell the others of the plan, and then open the gorram door.

He was well aware that, for someone who aimed to fly under the radar and stay unnoticed, he’d just made about as conspicuous a landing as it was possible to make on a Core World. He had aboard some sort of secret cargo stashed amongst Buck Holden’s crates, several bags of smuggled timonium crystals hidden away in various nooks and crannies, and a large collection of personal contraband—false books, false papers, false Idents, and an improbable number of unregistered firearms. He also had a checkered past that could catch up to him at any time and catch him a galaxy of fun. Not to mention two passengers aboard who might still be wanted by the Feds—he would trust that Notice of Rescindment Simon carried around like a lucky rabbit’s foot only when he saw the Feds abide by it and let them go without hassle. And, the Feds aside, there were the Blue Hands, who surely were after River, and might well be after Simon and even Ip, after that fiasco on Beaumonde. And they wouldn’t give a hoot about no Notice of Rescindment.

“They’re not looking for the timonium,” River offered, unsolicited. Her tone was petulant, annoyed. The Captain had sidelined her, essentially stripping her of her piloting job, just when she felt she could have been especially helpful and effective. She wasn’t ready to let it go, and his attempt at humor—passing it all off as a flight-education lesson—had not left her particularly amused. But the Captain was still in crisis mode.

Mal shot her a look. “Don’t so much as mention that word on this planet, Albatross.”

“She’s right, sir,” Zoe agreed. “They ain’t concerned about such things. We could have signs posted in the cargo bay and they wouldn’t give ’em a second glance. The Space Traffic Control inspectors are gonna look for trouble in the navigation and propulsion systems, see if they can eliminate mechanical failure as a reason, or if the screw up was caused by hu—” One look at the Captain’s face pulled her up short.

Mal gave her such a thunderous look that she couldn’t continue, couldn’t even suggest ‘human error’ as a reason for the pickle they were now in. She could feel waves of guilt and anger radiating off the man, even as he tried to tamp it down and get himself in a fit state of mind to greet the inspectors. “Full set of documents,” he told Zoe. “This ain’t gonna be no one-hour delay.” He turned toward River. “You need to be thinkin’ on a suitable get-up to match your Ident Card, Albatross.” He turned on his heel and stalked off the bridge, unheedful of River’s mutterings of “like a gorram doll.”

* * *

Mal kicked open his hatch and climbed briskly down the ladder. He headed straight to his desk and made a quick selection of papers to present for Space Traffic Control inspection. Was there anything else he could do?

There was no choice but to let the Feds inspect his ship. The only upside was, if Tower was to be believed, these Feds were Space Traffic Control inspectors, not the Law. He still had all that timonium hidden in his bunk, and elsewhere throughout the ship. There was no time to remove it or hide it elsewhere. Unhappy as he was to have the Feds crawling all over his ship, he knew he had to act like he had no particular worries about his cargo. Keep their inspection focused on the bridge and engine room, or on him personally, and not looking for the smuggling holds or searching crew quarters.

Mal cast an eye on his sidearm, snug in its holster, slung over the back of the chair. He hadn’t planned on wearing it at all on Bernadette. That was just asking for trouble, on a Core planet. But if it weren’t just the Space Traffic Inspectors on the other side of that airlock door, but Fed troops—or Blue Hands—then maybe—. His hand twitched towards the holster.

No. Showing up armed for Space Traffic Control would be a mistake. A big mistake. Tower said it was the inspectors. Had to trust ’em. Hated having to trust the Feds, but was there really any alternative? Had to get River and Simon off the ship and safe away before the Blue Hands showed. Making sure nothing was out of place in his bunk, Mal grabbed the leather dossier containing the ship’s papers, climbed the ladder, and headed toward the dining room, where the rest of the crew was now assembled. “Y’all want to grab whatever you’ll need for a few days’ stay on scenic Bernadette,” he told them. “In a few minutes’ time, this boat’s gonna be crawling with Feds.”

“What about Simon? What about River?” Kaylee asked in concern.

“Ain’t no Federal warrants on ’em,” Mal responded. “The Missing Children Bulletin don’t have no warrant associated with it, and mayhap it was just for Beaumonde.”

“But Mal, you got a boatload of timon—”

住口 Zhùkǒu, Jayne,” Zoe ordered brusquely, with such a glare that Jayne backed away from her with his hands raised, protesting that he didn’t mean no harm, but Mal addressed his concern.

“Ain’t no time to hide nothin’ what ain’t already hid. These inspectors are Space Traffic Control. Not the Law. Not the military. Not the Blue Hands.” A collective shudder passed through most of the assembled crew, and Mal could only hope he was right about the Blue Hands. “These Feds ain’t lookin’ for contraband. They’re gonna go over the ship’s logs, nav system, and mechanical systems in nitty gritty detail, howsomever.”

“Sir, what about Holden’s cargo?”

“It’s perfectly legal,” Mal replied, brandishing the manifest. When Zoe raised her eyebrows, he added, “As for anything else, even I don’t know where it’s hid, or even if it’s really there.

“Jayne, Kaylee,” he continued, “I’m afraid y’all are crew, and gotta submit to questioning from the inspectors. The rest of you, soon’s you establish your identities as passengers with the Feds, you disperse. Zoe or I will try to contact you, soon’s we know what’s goin’ on with the ship.”

* * *

“Ip, Simon, you’re passengers, of course. River, too.”

Simon couldn’t believe it. What was the Captain thinking? This was insanity. When visiting the Core, the plan was supposed to be that he and River stayed on the ship. Adventures in Sitting, remember? He and River did not go out together. If it were absolutely necessary to go out, he might go out alone, or with another crewmember. River stayed on the ship, out of sight. They had gotten too casual about it, and just look what had happened on Beaumonde. Two pairs of Blue Hands tracked River down at Dunsmuir University. She barely escaped! In fact, it would be safer if everyone stayed on the ship, but naturally Mal’s “business” ventures meant that he and Zoe and Jayne were frequently out and about, and Kaylee had to go out to refuel, get supplies, and buy spare parts—but anyone who went out was to avoid all contact with Federal officials. (Of course the very nature of Mal’s “business” frequently led him to violate this rule, but that was not Simon’s concern at the moment.) These anxieties brought out Simon’s sarcastic vein. “So we’re just supposed to present ourselves to the Feds. ‘Hi, I’m Dr Simon Tam, former fugitive; this is my sister River Tam. You may be looking to arrest us.’”

“’Course not, Doc. This boat’s got four passengers, four crew. You and your sis are traveling along with Dr Ip. He’s got a perfectly legitimate reason to be aboard here with his science experiments and whatnot, and you’re…uh…”

Mal seemed to be floundering. So much for having a well-conceived, thoughtful, sensible plan. But Ip seemed to be working in tandem with the Captain on this one, and it was he who supplied the answer. “A visiting scholar.” Simon stared at him a moment, and Ip explained, “You really are. To Harcliffe University, of course. Weren’t you intending to visit the University Library, Simon? I already arranged an invitation for you from Dr Rao.”

Right. In the hullabaloo of the moment, Simon had forgotten. He’d wanted access to Harcliffe University’s library and archives in order to do some research, and Ip had suggested the “visiting scholar” idea as a way to provide it. Still, this was hardly the moment to be pursuing this library research thing. That plan really needed some refinement before it could even be—

Mal nodded at Ip and turned back to him. “Simon, you got your Ident Card in order?”

Mal meant his false Ident Card, Simon knew. He nodded, fingering the card that rested in his pocket.

“River’s with you, Doc.”

No. Yes. No. He wanted to watch over River, keep her safe, of course he did. But they shouldn’t go about the streets of Bernadette together; even with false Ident Cards, it was simply asking for trouble. And what about Kaylee? Was he just supposed to abandon his fiancée to her fate? Leave her—and his unborn child—to the Feds? He should stay. But River also needed protection. He should go with her. He should stay with Kaylee. He should— “Wait. I thought you said—”

“Change of plans.”

“But you said I shouldn’t be seen with her on a Core world. You said—”

“I ain’t in the mood to argue the point, Doc. Ship’s gonna be crawling with Feds in a few minutes’ time. They’re gonna detain me and the crew and ask us all manner of uncomfortable questions. You really want your sister to be in on that?”

“No, of course not, but—”

“But I’ll wager they’ll let the passengers go about their business, after no more ’n a perfunctory Ident check. Best you and your sis go with Ip.”

River chose this moment to make her grand entrance. She had donned a pair of glasses to go with her practical outfit of sturdy, serviceable Core clothes, and she’d pulled her hair into a tight bun on the nape of her neck. (“Dress me up like a gorram doll,” Simon couldn’t help thinking.) “I’m Dr Neumann’s research assistant,” she announced. She looked like she hadn’t stepped out of the lab for a fashion update in several years, and in fact matched Ip’s look pretty exactly.

Simon had to admit that the disguise was effective—especially the hairstyle. She didn’t look at all like the picture on her warrant, nor the pictures on the Missing Children Bulletin he’d seen on Beaumonde. She looked at least five years older. Maybe it was the fact that she was wearing shoes. Still, he objected, “It’s just not safe for River and me to appear together on a Core world.”

Mal would have none of it. “Relax, Doc. You’re a visiting scholar just like we talked about, Ip’s visiting his science friends at the university, and River’s his research assistant. Feds won’t give you but a glance afore they send you on your way. Ip, you don’t mind takin’ ’em with you?”

Ip nodded, River seemed eager to play along with the farce, and Mal took his acquiescence to this half-baked scheme for granted, as if the mere fact that the Captain had so decided were logical persuasion enough. It was a habit of his that annoyed Simon to no end, but there was no use arguing now. Mal had already turned toward the woman who stood by his side, and Simon stepped back to Kaylee to give her hand a reassuring squeeze, and to watch the drama that would surely ensue as the older couple tried to work out their part in the improvised plan in front of the rest of the crew.

“Inara, I don’t mean to be pushing you out, but no doubt you got places you can go to stay clear of this mess, ’til we sort it out—”

“Mal, I can help you. I should stay.”

Mal placed his hands on her arms. “Inara, I don’t want you gettin’ tangled in this mess. They’re gonna cite me for every kind of flying violation there is; I could lose my license. Good chance they’ll arrest me, put me in jail.”

Simon agreed with that assessment. 天啊 Tiān ā, this was going to go worse than he thought. Why did they ever come to the Core? Whatever had possessed the Captain to accept a cargo delivery to Bernadette? The thought of himself and River, stranded on Bernadette, with no ship, no means of fleeing, pursued by Blue Hands— “Kaylee—” he whispered urgently.

Kaylee responded with a silent clasp of the hand, but her attention was on Inara, who naturally did not meekly accept the Captain’s attempt to push her away. The Companion’s rebuttal was more reasonable and measured than Simon had expected, however. “All the more reason I should stick around.” Mal gave her a meaningful look, but she continued, “Mal, you know that having a Companion aboard gives you more respectability. So use it. There is no reason for you to play the role of outlaw smuggler thief. You have legitimate cargo, respectable passengers, and there is no reason in the worlds why you should be detained for any longer than it takes for them to determine what kind of malfunction caused this mishap.”

Huh. Inara had a point, Simon thought. Kaylee agreed with her, he could tell.

“That’s a more hopeful outlook than I’m accustomed to, Inara.”

That was also true. Nothing about Mal’s past dealings with the Alliance led Simon to believe he’d get cooperative or even fair treatment from them. Arbitrary harassment was more likely, even expected; and it wasn’t uncommon for the Captain to face outright discrimination or even deliberately malicious mistreatment—especially if the Feds included a few war veterans with a grudge against Browncoats. Mal clearly expected the worst, and he looked into Inara’s eyes with gloomy conviction.

“I can help persuade the officials that there is no need for a protracted investigation.”

“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.” She gave him a sweet smile. “Respectability, remember?”

Mal sighed and ran a hand through his hair. There was a loud knock on the airlock door. “Guess I don’t have a choice. Seein’ as they’re here.” He gave her a quick kiss, and said low, “If I’m detained for more ’n a couple hours, follow after Ip. We’ll rendezvous later, after this blows over.”

She stepped back, cradling his face. “And when will that be?”

“Sooner ’d be better than later,” Mal said grimly, and went to answer the Feds’ summons.

* * *





天的 tiān de [heavens]

他妈的 Tāmādē [Shit]

住口 Zhùkǒu [Shut your mouth]

天啊 Tiān ā [God]

A/N: At long last, another chapter of this tale. There will be one more chapter in Ends with a Horse, then the tale will continue in a new, as yet untitled, story.

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013 11:11 AM


While we just had a harrowing landing, somehow this chapter still feels like we're in the thick of it.

Sweet moment with Inara, and loved the interaction between Mal, Simon, River and Ip, exactly how River and Simon would act, and Ip fit in there well. Also Jayne's boneheaded continuing to mention the timonium - he'll wise up when the Feds get there though, Jayne's good at staring down Feds under questioning.

Thursday, September 5, 2013 1:52 AM


Thanks so much! Loved this chapter cant wait for more!

Thursday, September 5, 2013 1:21 PM


I hope they haven't gone from the gorram frying pan into the fire, ebfiddler. Great to see another chapter from you, will be eagerly waiting for the next one! *Xie Xie ni*, Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Thursday, September 5, 2013 2:33 PM


Hey your back.... so where's the next part? I just refreshed the page and I don't see it... wait where it is?

Friday, September 6, 2013 8:23 AM


Oh hey, this ^ "Guest" is me, ebfiddler. For some reason, it didn't register me as me. Huh.


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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