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EBFIDDLER

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (20)
Wednesday, September 11, 2013

“Vaccinations?” Jayne asked, with a stupid expression. “Fer chickens?”


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3335    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12)

Part (20)

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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)

Busted

* * *

It was only when he opened up for the Feds that he realized that the emergency berth he’d been directed to land at was located within an impound lot. At the time of landing, he’d just been relieved that he’d brought the ship down in one piece, and he hadn’t been paying the least bit of attention to that detail. Now he saw that Serenity was isolated from all other spacecraft. The berth was surrounded by the physical barrier of a high chainlink fence topped with coils of razor wire, as well as the kind of atmospheric distortion that indicated to the experienced eye the presence of a Georgian protocol perimeter barrier. Beyond the barrier, the two Norn-class armored fighter craft that had escorted them had set down, and the Feds inside them had disembarked and taken up positions outside the perimeter. He didn’t doubt Serenity had been landlocked the instant she touched down.

But the Feds who were boarding his ship weren’t quite so hostile-looking. The inspection team from Space Traffic Control consisted of a couple of inspectors and a small security team, headed up by a chief Fed. They all carried weapons but kept them holstered. The head Fed took in the eight people in the cargo bay at a glance and zeroed in on Mal immediately. “Are you the master of this vessel?”

“I am.”

“License and ship’s registration, please.”

Mal handed over the papers, and stood silent while the Fed quickly scanned through the documentation.

“We will retain these documents for the time being, Captain Reynolds. Please name your crew.”

Mal named his first mate, mechanic, and crewman, while the Fed glanced at their Ident cards.

“And the others?”

“Passengers, sir.”

“Are there any other persons aboard this vessel?”

“No, sir.”

“You’ll understand that we need to verify your statement, Captain Reynolds.” The head Fed nodded to his assistant, who immediately headed back through the cargo bay with two of the security guards. “I’m going to ask you and your crew to step inside the Space Traffic Control station, as we’ll need to take a statement from each of you. Passengers, will you please queue up and present your Ident Cards?”

The Fed examined Ip’s card first. “How long have you been away from Bernadette?” he asked, then followed up with, “Have you visited a farm or ranch on another world?” and “Have you anything to declare?” Ip answered in the negative. “Bienvenu, Dr Neumann.”

Merci beaucoup, it’s good to be back to my 故乡 gùxiāng,” Ip responded in kind, establishing rapport immediately with his open expression and smile.

衣锦还乡 Yìjǐnhuánxiāng?” the Fed asked lightly.

“Well, it’s better than 无功而返 wúgōng'érfǎn ,” Ip joked, laughing.

Simon was next. “What brings you to Bernadette, Dr Tang?”

“Research. At Harcliffe University.”

“Ah, my cousin went to Harcliffe! Best university in the ’Verse! Of course, you have to be a genius to be admitted. Are you by any chance an alumnus?”

“No,” Simon answered, looking at him rather coldly.

“Ah, you’re from Osiris, I see—um, Senior Lecturer at Eli University. I see. Oh.” The inspector’s bonhomie diminished rapidly as he realized he’d committed the faux pas of praising Harcliffe University to an Eli University alumnus. The two elite universities were rivals. “How long do you plan to stay on Bernadette?” he asked formally.

Simon recognized that, yet again, he had failed to make a good first impression, indeed failed to generate any good will at all. He always managed to alienate people. Ip, meanwhile, was chatting enthusiastically with one of the security guards, having clearly established complete and instantaneous simpatico with her. (“Ah! Tickets to le Revue des Modes?” he was saying. “That’s such fun. Lucky you. Amusez-vous bien, Inspector!”) Meanwhile, Simon’s inspector was waiting for his answer. “Well, that depends on you, I believe.” He attempted to smile with bonhomie like Ip, but it probably came out as more of an anxious grimace.

“How so, Dr Tang?”

“Because I’m intending to travel to my next destination on this vessel,” Simon answered, the rictal grin still plastered on his face.

There was a welcome relief of tension when the Fed returned his weak attempt at pleasantry. “Well, then, you’ll just have to wait and see, won’t you?” the Fed smiled back blandly, giving nothing away.

River had been observing the proceedings with calm detachment, although a slight frown creased her forehead as she watched Ip gossip with the shapely blonde guard. “And you, young lady—or should I address you as ‘doctor’ as well?”

“Not yet,” River answered. “I’m Dr Neumann’s research assistant.”

“Summer Gow,” the Fed read, “from Ariel. Too bad about the Strikers, eh?”

River looked at him like he was from another planet. Or another galaxy.

“The ’Verse Cup, Summer,” Ip prompted. He had been paying attention, despite his volubility with the blonde. “Ariel lost in the semifinals.”

River rolled her eyes. “I don’t follow football.”

“Clearly not,” Ip snorted. “I have a hard time getting her to take an interest in anything other than mathematics.”

“Looks it. Too bad for you,” the Fed said to Ip confidentially. “She doesn’t get out much, does she?”

“I can hear you,” River said testily.

“Well, Miss Gow, your papers seem to be in order. Enjoy your stay on Bernadette. I recommend shopping at Ginza.” He seemed determined to get River more tuned in to popular culture. “The boutiques carry a wide array of the most fashionable—”

“Hate shopping malls.”

“Ginza has good restaurants as well, and theatres.”

“Ballet?” River asked, interested at last.

“Aha! I knew we could find something to interest you outside the lab.” The Fed waved her through. “Ma’am,” he said respectfully, as he turned to Inara.

At that moment, one of the Fed security guards returned to the cargo bay and reported. “Found some livestock, sir.”

The Head Fed shuffled through Mal’s papers. “I don’t see permits for livestock transport among your paperwork here, Captain.”

“Livestock?” Mal was puzzled. Sure, the cattle he’d smuggled to Beylix were unlicensed livestock, and the chickens he’d been forced to take to Hektor (along with Saffron in her surprise package) were unlicensed livestock as well, but they were long gone. Not only had they scrubbed the records, they had thoroughly scrubbed the cargo bay.

杀鸡吓猴 Shājīxiàhóu,” River announced as she headed down the ramp with Ip and Simon. Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un capitaine pour encourager les autres.” Luckily, her remarks were unheeded by the Feds, as the second Fed crewman appeared at that moment, carrying a chicken under each arm.

“Livestock.”

Everything rapidly fell into place for Mal. Jayne’s busted expression simply confirmed his surmise. “Those chickens ain’t livestock,” Mal explained hastily. “They’re pets.”

“Your pets?”

“No, sir. My crewman’s pets. He’s quite fond a’ them.” He turned toward Jayne, briefly but effectively delivering the full force of The Look on him. “Ain’t you, Jayne?”

Jayne nodded, 呆若木鸡 dāiruòmùjī.

The Fed turned to Jayne to verify the story. “If they’re your pets, what are their names?”

They weren’t no gorram pets, they were Jayne’s personal source of fresh eggs. But Jayne knew what the Captain’s glare meant, and he played along. Luckily the question was easy to answer, ’cause as it so happened, they did have names. “This one’s the General—General Tso. This here’s Kung Pao.”

“Kung Pao Chicken and General Tso Chicken,” the Fed repeated skeptically. “And you’re telling me they’re pets?”

“Man’s got a twisted sense of humor,” Mal agreed. “But trust me, they’re his pets. He keeps them in his bunk. Even sleeps with ’em.”

The Fed raised his eyebrows skeptically, scanning the cargo bay for a chicken coop or other evidence of animal husbandry. However, the body language of all the crew spoke to the contrary.

Kaylee wrinkled her nose. “Had to put up with the gorram chicken smell in the crew corridor.”

“Noise, all gorram day,” Zoe complained.

“Okay, so they’re your pets,” the Fed agreed. “Can you produce evidence that their vaccinations are current?”

“Vaccinations?” Jayne asked, with a stupid expression. “Fer chickens?”

“All domestic pets on Bernadette are required to comply with the vaccine schedule for their species, as recommended by the Bernadette Department of Veterinary Medicine.”

“O-kay,” Jayne said doubtfully, “but these chickens didn’t fight in no war.”

“There’s always a humorist in every crew,” the Fed remarked to Mal.

“Yeah, he’s a real cut-up.”

Turning back toward Jayne, the Fed recited the regulations in a monotone. “Your pet birds will be placed under observation in quarantine for seven days, to ensure that they are free of avian diseases. At the end of that period, you may retrieve them and keep them with you for the duration of your stay on Bernadette, provided that you observe posted leash laws and curb your pets.”

Having delivered the regulation message, the Fed turned his attention back to Inara, leaving Jayne muttering in bewilderment, “Curb the chickens? What the—?”

“Ma’am. You are a Registered Companion?” he asked with all the politeness due to a lady of quality.

“Yes.”

“Is there any way I can be of assistance?” he asked, deferentially.

“I would like to know how long this investigation is likely to take.”

So would I, Mal thought, but he kept silent, since Inara seemed to be gettin’ the red carpet treatment from the Feds.

“At least a week, ma’am. Possibly quite a lot longer.”

A week! Longer! Mal’s eyebrows shot up, and he just about shot through the roof as well. A whole gorram week! How ’m I s’posed to— He opened his mouth, but Inara gave him the slightest look, and he shut it again.

“Why is that, sir?” she asked politely. “I don’t believe we were intending to stop so long on this planet.”

“I’m sorry for the inconvenience. But you understand that it’s necessary to investigate this incident thoroughly, to rule out mechanical failure, and determine if human error was the cause.”

“I’m sure you’ll be as efficient as you can.”

“We certainly will be, ma’am. We understand you may have appointments you need to keep, and will do our best not to cause you undue delay.”

“Inara,” Mal broke in, unable to keep silent, “ain’t no call for you to delay on our account. You should go ahead, do your business as planned, no need to wait on—”

“Mal. I’m not leaving you.” She turned back to the Fed. “Is there a place I can wait, until you’re finished with your business with the Captain?”

“Inara, ain’t no reason for you to—”

“We’ll be done with the interviews for today, in a few hours,” the Fed informed her, and again Mal’s eyebrows rose. The Feds were giving Inara more information than he ever got, without her hardly trying. “Inspector Doucet will show you to the pilot’s lounge, where you can wait comfortably.” He turned back to Mal. “Captain Reynolds, if you and your crew will follow me.” He gestured politely enough, but it was clear that the invitation could not be declined. “We will need a statement from each of you, and request that you each answer our questions. Meanwhile, Inspector Kwak and her team will begin to gather evidence from your ship.”

He led the way down the ramp to the Space Traffic Control building. Mal, Zoe, Kaylee, and Jayne followed. Inara stayed by Mal’s side. As they crossed the tarmac of the emergency berth, Doucet and the other Fed security guards closed in behind them. But to Mal’s surprise, the military escort kept its distance. The armed Federal troops from the Norn fighter craft stayed on the other side of the security perimeter, and did not follow them into the Space Traffic Control building.

* * *

“I will interview each of you individually,” the Head Fed informed Mal as they entered the lobby of the STC building. Inara’s ice-breaking had made the man more voluble, and Mal wasn’t about to put a stop to this voluntary flow of enlightenment. “It’s likely to take a few hours, and by that time it will be late, so if you’d like to make your hotel reservations before we begin, the pilots’ lounge has a cortex link—right over there.”

Mal was flummoxed, just thrown for a loop. Number one, they weren’t hauling his 屁股 pìgu off to jail, and it looked like the interview they promised weren’t going to involve handcuffs or violence. Mal had no illusions though—it wasn’t going to be a nice comfortable chat. But number two—what was this about a hotel? “Can’t we stay aboard ship?”

“I’m afraid you cannot. Regulations require that the crew vacate the ship so that the inspectors can do their work without interference.”

Mal was unable to keep his thoughts from straying onto his face. Not that he weren’t grateful they weren’t bein’ hauled off to jail, but…it was simply that he’d never had to deal with not being allowed to stay aboard his own ship—except when he was thrown in jail. Even after Miranda, when Serenity was beat all to hell and undergoing repair at the Fed Base on Persephone, they’d all slept aboard as soon as they were released from the hospital.

“I realize it’s an inconvenience…” the Inspector began.

Inconvenience! These Bernadette folks had a real talent for understatement. Yeah, allowing the Feds to crawl all over his ship, and him not allowed aboard, what with all the timonium concealed in his bunk, not to mention whatever secret thing was concealed in Buck Holden’s cargo—that was ‘inconvenient.’ And yet he had to show no sign of agitation, or it would arouse suspicion, and it would be even worse.

“There’s a list of hotels on the cortex, Captain. I’ll give you a few minutes to arrange lodgings for yourself and your crew before we begin.” So saying, he showed Mal to the table with the cortex link on it, and left them to their own devices.

Okay, Mal thought, just take the list, sit down, and make a gorram hotel reservation. How hard can it be?

* * *

Harder than it looked. Weren’t no lack of hotels in Shinjuku. Problem was, weren’t no affordable hotels in Shinjuku, neither. Or maybe on the whole gorram planet. Everything was Core, urban, and shiny, with prices to match. Mal hadn’t budgeted for a week’s lodgings and meals at Core rates for the whole crew. Buck Holden had given him an advance, but it would be rapidly melted away even at the most flea-bag of Shinjuku hotels. He looked for cheaper lodgings in the outskirts, before he realized that this part of Bernadette was so urbanized there were no outskirts. Gorram ruttin’ hell…

Even a single night’s lodging for the crew was beyond his means, let alone the week or more that the inspectors said they’d need for the investigation. His credit account was still locked up—had been ever since Beylix—he had just a small amount of cash on hand, and there was no way, no ruttin’ way, he could afford this. Well, not unless he paid for it in timonium crystals, and that was not never an option. Sighing he sat down and began waving the hotels, looking for vacancies, starting with the cheapest one on the list.

* * *

Ip found himself standing on the curb just outside the Space Traffic Control Building with Simon and River, each of them holding a small overnight bag. He had waved his parents to let them know he’d just arrived on Bernadette, and left a message for his aunt. His finger hovered over his portable cortex device, with the intention of summoning a taxi, but he didn’t really know where they were going. It was still early afternoon—perhaps a restaurant first, for lunch. Then maybe the University, to introduce Simon to Dr Rao. And then to his parents’ apartment. They would be home from work early, he knew, and would be glad to meet the people who had been his companions for the last few months and become his good friends, but…River and Simon still did not have a place to stay. He could stay with his parents, of course. But he wasn’t lying when he had told the Captain that Bernadette apartments were small. There simply wasn’t space at his parents’ apartment for guests, no matter how willing they might be to host his friends. An idea occurred to him.

“Just a moment,” he told them. He turned and hurried back inside the building, and River and Simon followed.

* * *

Ip found Serenity’s crew in the pilot’s lounge of the Space Traffic control building. Zoe and Kaylee were settled into some comfortable-looking armchairs, with their feet up—Ip had never seen Serenity’s first mate put her feet up before—while Inara made a game attempt at cheerful small talk. Jayne was examining a vending machine and scowling at the food choices offered therein, while the Captain worked the cortex screen at a table to one side.

“Captain,” he began.

“Still here, Ip? Thought you woulda been off to visit your folks by now. Weren’t you planning to take Si—Dr Tang and…uh, Summer to…see the sights?” The Captain gave him a thin stretching of the lips, an attempt at a smile, Ip knew. It didn’t ease the worry lines off his face.

“I’m going to visit my parents, sure. In fact, I’ll be staying with them—here’s their address—” he handed Mal a card “—because my apartment—”

“You keep an apartment on this world?”

“Yes. Of course. But I can’t stay there. It’s sublet.” Ip hesitated, unsure of how best to phrase his offer. “I was going to say, if you need a place to stay, I can arrange it.”

“Ip, I can’t ask that of you,” Mal said. He knew from what Ip himself had said, that Bernadettiens as a rule had very small apartments. No room for guests. They entertained at restaurants, not in their homes. He couldn’t imagine imposing on Ip’s family for hospitality at a time like this.

“Captain, it would be my pleasure to host you. All of you. Not in my parents’ apartment—I’m going to stay with them, and take their only spare bed. But my aunt has—”

“Told you I don’t want to impose, Ip. Please don’t try to farm us out on all your relatives.”

“Captain, that’s not what I meant. My aunt works in real estate. She’s the senior partner of Shinjuku Property Management. I already waved her to ask if she has any suitable properties currently under her management.”

“Suitable properties?” Mal echoed, somewhat stupefied.

“Yes. Not currently leased. I’m thinking furnished, building with a private doorman instead of municipal security cameras, room enough for the whole crew—uh, passengers too. I’m expecting—” There was a chime of an incoming wave on Ip’s portable cortex device “—ah, here’s her wave now. 对不起 Duìbuqǐ. Just a moment.” Ip turned away to have a semi-private conversation with his aunt. He spoke in rapid, Bernadettien-accented Chinese, with a number of expressions in some other language—was it French? Hell if Mal could tell. Mal couldn’t have followed the conversation even if he had been inclined to eavesdrop. Which he wasn’t. Really.

“Oh, don’t make such a tzimmis, Aunt Waltraud,” Ip protested loudly, before modulating his voice for indoor conversation. Mal continued his disheartening search for cheap lodgings. The Crewman’s Home looked cheap enough, but it was also located in a Blackout Zone, which Mal guessed wouldn’t go over too well with the Fed Inspectors. Smith’s Motel looked cheap—a bit too cheap. In any case, they only rented rooms by the hour. No way he would take Kaylee—Inara—anyone to a place like that. Well, Jayne. Jayne might find his own way to place like that, without needin’ no help from Mal. “Furnished rooms—concierge—” Ip’s loud voice carried across the room “—spa access—sécurité—fitness center—entrée privée—hot tub—therapy pool—”

Ip turned back to Mal. “She’s asking how many rooms should be doubles.”

Kaylee and Simon. Inara and him? Hell, yeah. “Two.”

七人 Qī rén. Two doubles. Three singles,” Ip told his aunt, and was off again in a rapid-fire exchange. Phrases flew off Ip’s tongue. He seemed to be disagreeing with something his aunt said. Mal hated to see Ip getting into a spat with any of his relatives on account of him and his crew, and he was working on attracting Ip’s attention long enough to interrupt and tell him please not to take the trouble, when Ip said, “谢谢 Xièxie, Aunt Waltraud. Zay gesunt,” and cut the wave.

He turned back to Mal. “So it’s settled. Sumida District 3-25-9, The Imperial Chrysanthemum, Penthouse Suite,” Ip told him. Mal was staring, speechless. “Did you get that, or do you want me to write it down?”

“Uh…it’s settled?” Mal was having trouble catching up.

Ip was already scrawling the address on an electronic card. “Yes. It’s the best she could do on such short notice, but I think you’ll like it. It’s a penthouse suite—that’s the only kind of apartment large enough to accommodate all seven of you—and the building has a pool, spa, and fitness center that you’ll have access to while you’re staying there, so pack accordingly.” He handed the card to Mal. “The building super will be expecting you, and the keycards will be left with the concierge, under your name, Captain. Sorry I can’t stick around to guide you myself, but any taxi can take you to the building. I’ll see the Ta—Doctor Tang and Miss Gow to the building after dinner. See you soon. Tomorrow. Saturday. Whatever.” Ip ushered the Tams out the door before Mal could open his mouth to protest.

He was still trying to wrap his head around this unexpected development when the Head Fed returned. “Have you arranged lodgings, Captain? My team will escort your crew aboard to collect their personal gear, if you’re ready. I’ll need to know where you’re staying, so we can contact you as necessary.”

And keep an eye on us, Mal thought. He looked down at the slip in his hand and read it aloud. “Sumida District 3-25-9, The Imperial Chrysanthemum, Penthouse Suite.”

The inspector’s eyebrows shot up, and his features re-adjusted to include more respect than Mal had yet seen from him. “I expect we’ll be finished for today within four hours, sir,” he told Mal, deferentially.

Mal wondered at the “sir” and the Fed’s sudden change in attitude. What kind of place had Ip arranged for them?

“Now, Captain, if you’ll please step this way, sir. It’s time to begin.”

* * *

*

*

*

glossary

Bienvenu [Welcome home (French)]

Merci beaucoup [Thanks very much (French)]

故乡 gùxiāng [home, native place]

衣锦还乡 Yìjǐnhuánxiāng [Coming back to one's hometown in silken robes (idiom); returning in glory]

无功而返 wúgōng'érfǎn [returning without any achievement (idiom); going home with one's tail between one's legs]

Amusez-vous bien [Have a good time (French)]

杀鸡吓猴 Shājīxiàhóu [lit. kill the chicken to scare the monkey (idiom); to punish an individual as an example to others / pour encourager les autres]

Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un capitaine pour encourager les autres. [In this country, it is considered good to shoot a captain from time to time, in order to encourage the others. (French)]

呆若木鸡 dāiruòmùjī [“dumb as a wooden chicken” (idiomatic expression for “dumbstruck”)]

屁股 pìgu [ass]

对不起 Duìbuqǐ [Excuse me]

tzimmis [fuss (Yiddish)]

concierge [doorman (French)]

sécurité [security (French)]

entrée privée [private entrance (French)]

七人 Qī rén [Seven people]

谢谢 Xièxie [Thanks]

Zay gesunt [Be well (Yiddish)]

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COMMENTS

Thursday, September 12, 2013 1:35 AM

BYTEMITE


Nicely done Ip! But something tells me Mal is going to be uncomfortable and antsy no matter what happens or how nice their sleeping arrangements are.

Haha, Jayne's busted. Yay for chickens though, I bet Kaylee and River might take to them and I suspect the chickens would be much happier not having to be locked in Jayne's room with their own waste all the time.

Thursday, September 12, 2013 2:10 AM

BUCKSHOTPILOT


Cant wait for more! I'm hooked!

Thursday, September 12, 2013 7:27 PM

AMDOBELL


I just loved Ip coming up trumps with impressive accommodation for Mal and the others and just in the nick of time but oh, I did laugh. After Jayne having to say the chickens were his pets you then had Inspector Kwak board the ship. Maybe it should have been ducks. Can't wait for the next part, Ebfiddler! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Friday, September 13, 2013 1:36 AM

NUTLUCK


Poor Mal still not understanding the appearance of high society and money changes how he gets treated.

Friday, September 13, 2013 4:05 PM

EBFIDDLER


Bytemite, Mal knows he's not out of the woods, and no matter that he's going to be staying at a luxury apartment rather than a jail cell, he knows he's going to get grilled by the Feds, at the very least. He will continue to be anxious. As for the chickens, it's about time they saw something other than the inside of that box in Jayne's bunk!
Buckshot--Thanks! And there is more...just have to keep writing!
Ali, Yes indeedy, Inspector Kwak comes aboard as soon as the chickens vacate. Maybe ducks are next? ;-)
Nutluck--Yup.


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