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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
One last loose end to tie up...and beat into a bloody pulp.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2301 RATING: 8 SERIES: FIREFLY
Following Part 7
All hell basically broke loose in Part 7. Cariveau showed some very Mal-like tendencies, and it turned out that Mal was right about his first suspect in the stabbing incidents of Ellis Rhodes and Inara. Mal and Adair finally got to have a few words that cleared the air between them and it seems like things are going pretty smooth. Which means it's all just about to go to hell all over again.
All Firefly characters are the property of someone else. The crew and passengers of the Zirondelle, and all original characters, are copyrighted by yours truly. This is not in any way, means or intention meant to infringe on anybody.
MIGHTY BIG THANK YOU goes to WindDancer and MalsDoxy for the usual damn fine betas.
The MIGHTY BIG APOLOGY still stands for anyone who can read and speak French, Cajun or Chinese. The translations as I understand them are included. For the French and French-Canadians out there please keep in mind if it isn't spelled right enough to be French, chances are pretty good it's Cajun.
Glossary - Cajun and French/and mostly Cajun
Peeshwank - little person
Maudit - Goddamn
Merci, panda - Thank you, my friend - In America, "Thanks, Man," and the Aussie spin would be "Thanks Mate."
Glossary - Chinese:
Zai fakuang naozi - You are crazy in the head (I think - made that one up my own self)
Chùsheng xai-jiao de xiang huo - Animal fucking bastard
Shìde wô hâo - Yes, I'm fine
Yíge - A word
Yíge wèntí - Is there a problem
lièzhì pōfù - inferior bitch
lièzhì yúchûn húndàn - inferior ignorant asshole
Shen jing bing yaoguài - Lunatic monster
Heartbroken - Part 8
Mal was downright close to feeling at ease. For the first time in what seemed like a good long while, everything in the 'verse was on an even keel and headed in a pretty good direction. He even found comfort in the notion that Adair was happy. She had found herself a fine man in Rene Cariveau who was every bit as devoted to her as she was to him, possibly more so. The current situation with the Garzons seemed as under control as it could be, given the circumstances. In a nutshell, all was well.
Never mind that there was still that funny notion--the kind that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end--causing him to wonder just how long the peace might last.
Trying his best not to think about it, Mal turned his gaze down from the stars to look at Adair. "Don't reckon I'll get to dance at your wedding."
Adair looked at him like he'd lost his mind. "Zai fakuang naozi. You honestly think Rene would let me put it off any longer after waiting all this time?"
Mal chuckled. "I guess it's a good thing there's a Shepherd on board, huh?"
"That's what I told him." Adair's smiled teasingly. "I'll admit you were never overtly religious, but I didn't expect you to have your own confessor handy. Bet he's earning his keep."
Mal tucked his hands under his arms, more than a bit uncomfortable with the turn their conversation was taking. "Actually, I hardly speak to the man, except at dinner or as he feels I need an earful."
Adair's brows drew together with the slightest frown of concern. "It's not like I thought you had him on board so you wouldn't have to set down for Sunday services."
Mal had taken to staring at the floor again, trying to work out a judicious way to tell her he didn't bother wasting his time anymore, talking to an omniscient that didn't care to listen. Not to mention, he found it a bit annoying that he felt he had to explain himself at all. He took a deep breath instead, and turned his eyes toward the bridge entryway. "I will be gorramed if that chef of yours is not the finest I have come across. You might have to keep an eye on him, make sure I don't hire him out from under you."
He looked at her, and saw clear comprehension in her eyes. She still knew him well enough to understand that his evasion of her comment meant he had no intention of having The Faith conversation with anyone, much less her. He was trying not to dwell on why that seemed so disappointing when Serenity's proximity alarm began sounding. Adair's piloting instincts had her turning to address the system, taking her all-knowing gaze with her. Sending a silent word of thanks outward to his ship, he got up to take a look for himself. "That would be the Valkyrior Asteroid Belt?"
Adair said something snippy in Chinese that amounted to, "Give the captain a cupie doll, he got it in one," as she switched on the sensors and took a look at Serenity's nav comm. "Wash told me the trajectory's set so we'll pass above it. I'll just need to angle us back down a bit, so we don't overshoot our destination. We'll be over in about an hour or so and past it in under two."
Leaning back from both systems, she drew one foot up into the pilot's chair. "Nothing like taking the slow boat to Beaumonde."
She didn't turn around. Mal knew it was her way of reminding him that he'd cut their conversation short. There was no way he was going to justify it, but he couldn't come up with a new topic to resolve it either.
"Roux isn't contracted to Zirondelle," Adair said, saving him from the effort. "The Archon had a public eatery in place in Sayabec for the rig workers so Roux's more used to feeding masses, not small crews. You could try making him an offer, though. He seems to like you."
Mal had heard more engaging reports from the procurement officer of his platoon during the war on the significant lack of toilet paper. She could have been telling him the astral stats on the Valkyrior belt for all the genuine emotion she put into her voice. "Adair--"
"Zoe told me you don't talk about what went on during the war." Turning around, Adair put her foot back down and looked into his eyes. When she spoke again, her voice was softened and warmer by degrees. "We saw combat a few times when we were delivering supplies to the outlying units, but we were always on the fringe. We defended ourselves when we had to, and I know Rene's had to kill to make sure we got off the ground. That time we lost Ellis was the worst."
She shook her head slowly, her eyes turning so sad that it actually made Mal ache to see it. "We never saw the inside of war. Not like you did, or like Ellis either. But I can see it's changed you, and I'm sorry."
Now that was a first. In all the conversations he'd had with anyone about his part in the war, not one had bothered to offer a shred of sympathy. Mostly, folks were snide and hurtful, and often gleefully pointed out the fact he had been on the losing side of an impossible war. Being on the defensive was easier, and Mal found he didn't know what to say to the empathy she offered. He was trying to come up with something reasonably poetical when the proximity alarm went off again and made her turn away.
"Does it do that?" she asked. "Repeat proximity detection?"
Mal found himself at a loss. "Well...honestly?"
"Wait." Leaning closer to the sensor console, she stared at it for nearly half a minute. "There's something else out there."
Scowling with concern, Mal asked, "Can you see it?"
"It's on the fringe," Adair said. "But maybe..."
He watched her reach out to hit three switches and then turn to the sensor console. Her slim fingers lightly turned a control that would tweak their reception, while her eyes stayed glued to the screen. She was fairly adept at long-range sensor sweeps, Mal realized. Having been a blockade-runner's pilot for so many years, she was quicker about it than Wash.
"Lāshî...Mal, that's an Alliance proximity tag."
Mal felt his heartbeat kick into overdrive. "Alliance? You sure about that?"
"No mistaking Alliance tags, even from this distance," she replied. "Probably the Iskendurun. She's been skulking around these parts for about six years now."
Mal was impressed. "Now I see how it is you folks were never caught."
"I like to know who's flying in my sky. Just wish I had Zirondelle's sensor boost. Maybe..." Hopping up from Wash's chair, she darted over to the operations console and touched a few things over there too.
Not having had a chance to see her work before, Mal thought Bernardo had indeed gotten himself a true treasure. One he didn't likely deserve, considering Cariveau's picture of the father he had virtually no respect for.
"Yeah. That's it. I can pull up our database." Entirely focused on the console, Adair's hands flew across the controls as she checked a few other things, and finally stood still, staring at one of the screens. Mal crept up behind her, just about in the dark now as he had ever been when it came to shipboard technology. When he came to stand next to her, he saw that she was scowling severely.
"Huh," she said. "Now that is odd."
Adair pointed to the readings. "According to this, the Valkrior belt is the outer perimeter of Iskendurun's territory. I remember that now, because we made that change about six months ago. And at this time of the year, she's already well away from here, on her way to Beaumonde."
Now she was speaking another language other than the three she already had. Pilot speak was its own dialect, so far as Mal was concerned. "You care to translate that to captain dummy talk?"
She gave him a long-suffering look. "You know as well as I do, Alliance cruisers don't just fly around willy nilly. They're usually in wide synchronous orbit, dong ma?"
"So Iskendurun's territory is here." Reaching out, she gestured to the blue line on the inner track of the asteroid belt on the map displayed on the screen in front of them. "Well inside the belt, so they don't get pelted too badly when they pass by. Thing is, there's three comets in the system, and they take turns smacking into this section of the belt at different times of the year. The last one was Auguste's; it swung through about a week ago. That means Iskendurun's already been here and gone at least two weeks ago, just to make sure they missed it."
"Okay, so Iskendurun's out, and if that's so..." Mal trailed off, staring at the sensor screen now on display on this side, clearly showing an Alliance signal. Suddenly he understood. "Gorram interceptor."
Adair nodded. "Sent out deliberately. They're looking for us."
"Depends on speed. Give me five minutes, and I can tell you. What I don't get is why." Turning to march back to the pilot's chair, she sat down and started watching the monitors. "Alliance isn't overly-motivated as a rule. They don't go out of their way to check up on folks."
"You had a beacon going."
"We didn't have enough power to spare for a decent beacon," she replied, and shook her head gravely at the memory. "I started it up anyway so Rene could tell the passengers honestly that we were sending out a call. Seeing as how we were out in the middle of no and where though, I never expected to actually get anyone."
At that she angled her gaze up at him. "Good thing for us you're not much for flying the beaten path."
Mal decided to take that as a compliment. "Got any ideas how come they're coming after you now?"
She shook her head. "Nope. The record we did have during the war has been eradicated. Bernardo paid just about everything he had in reserve for the gorram pardon too. There's no profit for anyone to bring us in anymore." At that she raised an eyebrow. "So what kind of trouble are you in these days?"
Mal had to think about it, and ended up scowling in dismay. "Sad to say, there isn't much of anything I've done lately that might be considered questionable." He thought about Simon and River, but decided to keep that bit of trouble to himself. That funny notion was still there too, nagging at the back of his mind, and demanding fuller attention. It had him reflecting on the first hour after they had come across the Zirondelle. When he caught himself staring at Serenity's nav comm at the same time, he realized what it had to be. Moving closer to her, he lowered his voice to just above a whisper. "You know much of anything about that Jian Wang fella you picked up?"
Adair frowned, but didn't take her eyes off the monitors. "Jian?" she asked. Taking her cue from him, she lowered her voice to a conspiratorial tone as well. "No. He's a planetfall diver, isn't he?"
"Claims to be. I never checked his story."
"Neither did we." She took a look at the nav comm again as she whispered an inquiry. "Didn't you hassle him about something after you took him out of Inara's shuttle?"
"Who told you that?"
She breathed a long-suffering sigh. "Mal, half the Sayabec saw you haul him down to the dormitories. They've been having a grand old time gossiping about it since it happened."
"Yeah, well, I had good reason. He tried to attack me with a knife right on Zirondelle as I was coming over that first time. Not too good at it either, come to think of it. If he's some manner of spook, he must have skipped some of the training. "
"Wait." Staring into space, Adair seemed to be recalling something. When she did, she turned to Mal again. "Now I remember. He'd already off-loaded his gear when we got to Pont Breaux station. He was going to find a connecting flight to Beaumonde, something that would get him there faster--pretty disgusted that we were going so far out of the way. Then when we were boarding the Sayabec folk, he brought it all back on. I asked him about it, and he said something about how all flights were cancelled because of the martial law decree, which is true except for the ships that had docked after the decree. Could be we were the only ones going to Beaumonde, but I doubt it. There were three thousand people in Sayabec, and we weren't the only civilian ship getting them off."
"He told me his mother was General Serena Wang," Mal said. He could tell by Adair's expression that she didn't need him to elaborate. "Spun quite the tale about how he left with you so as to avoid getting pinched by the Alliance."
Adair's expression darkened. "Mal, he did get pinched. Rene told me that he saw Jian escorted back to the docks by a squad of Alliance thumpers."
Mal frowned. "When we met up with you, they seemed pretty sociable. I took him for Cariveau's first officer."
She didn't look particularly happy about it either. "They spent time together after we picked him up from Persephone. Now I'm thinking Jian told you the same tale he told Rene--assassinated browncoat general's baby boy?"
Mal nodded. "That'd be the gist of it. Sonuvabitch."
"Chùsheng xai-jiao de xiang huo," Adair muttered in agreement. She was shaking her head. "That interceptor's closing in fast, Mal. It'll be on us before we make it over the belt."
"Time for some creative measures--you gonna be okay here?"
"Shìde wô hâo--give Jian one below the belt for me."
Already headed for the door, Mal stopped and turned back to her. He would have asked what made her think he'd so much as lay a hand on the man, but the perceptive gleam in her eye made the question blatantly irrelevant.
* * *
"It was out on Theotokos, I believe. I stopped in at the mid-week services at the local parish. Seems the prior Sunday had coincided with the last day of hunting season, so the pastor asked kindly who had bagged a deer. Now you can imagine his surprise when no one raised a hand, since most of the menfolk there had used the season-end as justification to abstain from Sunday services. So he says to them, 'Well now that is peculiar. Last Sunday many of you were missing because of hunting season. I had the whole congregation pray for your deer.' Hearing that, one of the hunters groaned, and said, 'Well, it worked. They're all safe'."
It was a simple bit of humor that the rig workers were appreciating a little too well, for the most part on account of the excess imbibing of some deceptively clear libation they simply called "moonshine." Book had declined politely, claiming his collar prohibited it. It was the reaction of the first fella to take a drink that had motivated the small lie. Seeing the magnitude of his grimace upon swallowing, and how he thumped the deck with one foot at least ten times, effectively belied the man's claim as to how "smooth" it was. Book suspected it would serve as an excellent substitute for engine fuel if the need called for it.
Looking across the neutron stove, he saw that young fella, Jian Wang, who helped with the meal earlier. He was taking some part in the drinking, but had yet to get his own cup refilled. Catching his eye as he joined in the laughter, albeit less boisterously., Book nodded a silent greeting. Jian raised his cup in return, and was nodding back when the captain of the Zirondelle walked up to stand three feet behind him. Book noted that Mal's contemporary was in a decidedly foul humor and couldn't help thinking, Lord help us, what now?
"Jian. Yíge." Cariveau's voice was cold, his words clipped.
Turning to look up, Jian seemed to take particular interest in the matched set of guns that Captain Cariveau was wearing. Book thought that since the business with Ellis and Inara seemed to have been resolved, the continued brandishing of firearms seemed somewhat erroneous. Given Cariveau's expression, however, as well as the equally dark glower Mal displayed from a short distance back, Book suspected the combined ships' troubles weren't quite finished.
Standing slowly, Jian glanced past Cariveau's shoulder and saw Mal standing back with his thumbs tucked into the front of his own gunbelt. "Yíge wèntí, Captain?"
"That would depend upon you," Cariveau replied. Then without warning he reached out to grab Jian by the lapels of his coat, lifted him bodily off the deck, and carried him to the nearest bulkhead. Slamming him into it, Cariveau held him suspended there, several inches off the deck.
Book stayed right where he was, watching the people around him, and extremely interested in the contrast between this scene and the last one of it's like only a few hours before. Now that it was one of their own taking issue with some ne'er do well, the people of Sayabec held back, choosing not to intervene. Jayne moved up from where he had been playing catch with the boys. A look from Mal stopped him short, and he stood behind Book to watch the goings on.
"I am told there is an Alliance interceptor on its way here, Jian," Cariveau said, his voice heavily coated in sardonic joviality. He had raised his voice so everyone in the cargo bay could hear. "I don't suppose you would know anything about that?"
Having had the breath nearly knocked out of him, Jian took a minute to pull some air back again before speaking. "Interceptor?"
Cariveau thumped him solidly against the bulkhead again. "Pay attention, Jian. There is a time issue here. I cannot afford to repeat myself, dong ma?"
Jian coughed. "I didn't call 'em."
With a bitter laugh, Cariveau's fists tightened and he pushed his knuckles sharply into Jian's chest. "Do I look as though I am in the mood for more lies from you, chûnrén?"
"It's not a lie. I didn't call 'em--didn't have to." Jian grunted and one hand came up to circle Cariveau's wrist. He couldn't budge it. "They knew your flight plan already. Knew where you were going."
"Who is 'they'?"
"I don't know. Two fellas in black suits, blue gloves." Jian grunted again, the pain clearly evident on his face. "They're not after you."
"Who're they after?" Mal asked.
Book stood up, his heart pounding as ideas racing through his mind on how they could hide Simon and his sister before the interceptor arrived. The space suits could work again, or perhaps a hidden space on board Zirondelle?
"Armand," Jian said. "Armand Garzon--or whatever he's called now. They showed me a picture, how he looks now. Said if I saw him, to see to it Zirondelle didn't get to Beaumonde before they found us."
"So you fried the nav com," Cariveau surmised. He shook his head disapprovingly. Then rather than simply letting Jian go, he hauled him off the bulkhead again and tossed him to the floor, at the feet of the gathered Sayabec refugees. "What did they promise you, Jian? Money? Just how much are the lives of my people worth to you?"
"Amnesty!" Jian cried out. Shifting over from his stomach, he glared up at Cariveau. "I can't go anywhere without getting tagged, and I'm sure as hell not going to change my name just because the lièzhì pōfù who birthed me was some Independent traitor. They'd fix my credentials so no Feds would hassle me for anything, ever."
"You are the lièzhì yúchûn húndàn, Wang, if you think the Feds would ever hold to a weak-ass bargain like that," Mal said.
Cariveau nodded in agreement. "They come for one man, but they will kill us all to get him."
Jian was shaking his head, ever defiant as he got to his feet. "No. They only want Armand."
Mal moved before Cariveau did. "Too bad you didn't inherit any of your momma's smarts," he said, and then he delivered a sharp lower cut, just above Jian's groin. Jian dropped to all fours on the deck, gasping in pain.
"Peeshwank," Cariveau said, snarling fiercely. Then he spit, hitting the side of Jian's head. As Cariveau stepped past, others came in to do the same, causing Jian to curl up into a ball and cover himself with his coat. Some added a severe kick to his side for good measure.
Cariveau and Mal moved to where Book and Jayne were standing.
"When they're done with him, lock him up somewhere," Mal said to Jayne. "Don't have to bother being gentle with him either."
"Can I dump a bucket of water on him first?" Jayne asked, watching with some distaste as the Sayabec people continued spitting copiously on Jian.
Mal looked over his shoulder, grimaced and replied, "Go ahead. Grab some gloves from the doc too." He looked Book square in the eye. "He doesn't need you advocating for him either, Shepherd."
Book gave Mal a grim look. "I had no intention to, Captain. Question is what are you planning next? That interceptor's still on its way."
"I got a notion on that," Mal said. He turned his gaze to Cariveau. "I got a feeling you ain't gonna like it though."
Cariveau met his gaze. "I have a distinct feeling I am going to hate it."
* * *
"Attention Dragonfly class freighter Zirondelle. Hold position and prepare to be boarded."
Mal was standing on the Zirondelle's bridge when the interceptor arrived. Watching the vicious-looking little vessel draw uncomfortably close, he nodded to the pilot's chair.
Adair switched on the transmitter. She had Jordain on her lap and the boy was watching the ship every bit as closely as Mal. With a little shudder, he snuggled closer to his mother and turned his face into her shoulder.
"This is Zirondelle responding," Mal said. "Message received and understood. Y'all come on ahead, we're ready to receive."
He cut his hand across his throat, and Adair cut the transmitter. "Now, let's just hope everything's in place, and my luck's running a little shinier than usual."
Adair gave him a little smile and her son a little hug. "Break a leg."
Mal returned that smile as he headed out. The long hallway from the bridge was lined on either side with people, adults and children, talking quietly among themselves. Someone stretched out a hand and he shook it before starting down the stairs to the main corridor. Jayne stood on the stairs leading to the passage back to Zirondelle's cargo area and engine room, keeping a close watch on the Sayabec refugees, jammed in all three passageways. There were more down in the common areas below as well. Mal didn't much care for the picture of twenty-three families trying to exist in a space that wasn't even well suited for cattle.
"Feds just pulled up," Mal said. "They’ll be on board in a couple minutes. Pass the word."
"I still say we shoulda all hid in the asteroid belt," Jayne said irritably, mindfully keeping his voice down. "Seems every time we turn around, we got Feds checking under our skirts."
"They already had us on their scope," Mal reminded him. "They were expecting to find something and they would have gone through the belt till they did. Pass the word and quit belly achin."
Mal felt the nasty scowl Jayne sent at his back as he turned to head down the hall to the airlock. Some of the Sayabec who were settled there nodded to him as he went by, as if instilling confidence. Mal nodded back, trying not to think about how the entire scene was entirely too similar to the moments before all hell broke loose at Serenity Valley.
At the airlock, Mal took the hand comm from the back of his belt and switched it on. "Adair, how's it coming?"
"They're getting a seal," she said, just as he heard the hiss and thump from the other side of the airlock that confirmed it. "And...they're boarding."
Mal had to set the hand comm back on his belt before opening his side. He held his free hand up as the door swung open and a squad of Alliance thumpers swarmed in to take positions in the hallway. One of them stopped right in front little Genevieve, who was standing in the middle of the corridor. Defiant as always, she simply folded her arms and glared up at him. Mal wouldn't have been a bit surprised if the girl had hauled off and gave that thumper a good swift kick. Luckily, her mother stepped in and pulled the girl back before she could do the fella a harm.
A strapping and painfully young officer followed after a good amount of time that would assure the area was secure. He stopped inside, gave the Sayabec refugees a demeaning sneer and turned to Mal.
"Would you be Captain Rene Cariveau?"
"No sir. Name's McSwain," Mal replied. It wasn't too hard to make like he was a nervous crew member worried about a heavy amount firepower being bandied about among civilians. The hard part was twisting a reasonable facsimile of an Acadian drawl around his words. "Remy McSwain, first officer."
The officer frowned. "Ah. Well, I would like to have a word or two with your captain, if I may."
"Well, I'm afraid that ain't possible, sir, seeing as how he's gorram close to meeting his maker about now."
For his part, the officer, a lieutenant by his insignia, didn’t bat an eye. Folding his arms behind his back, he started forward, his cold gaze scanning the civilian faces around him. "Is that so?"
"Yessir. Had us a fella on board that seemed a little too friendly with our kitchen cutlery." Mal followed, figuring the officer was looking for Jian. "Attacked two of our folk before he got the captain. Odd thing too, seeing as how they used to be friends and all. Grew up together and everything. Now me, I was all for shooting the peeshwank but the captain had to go getting all sentimental." Mal made a note to ask Cariveau what that word meant. It had a satisfying sound to it. "Once Garzon cut him though, that was it so far as I was concerned. Shen jing bing yaoguài. Didn't get none of the kids--sure as hell not for lack of trying, though. "
"Mr. McSwain, I have information that you have a fugitive on board," the lieutenant said loudly. He stopped and turned to meet Mal's gaze. The dark look he gave indicated Mal's jabbering had done the trick. The lieutenant was annoyed and ready to do whatever he had to in order to complete this detail.
Mal returned an elaborate shrug. "I got twenty-three families on board, sir, eighty-some folk counting the crew. We didn't take a roster, but I figure all of 'em's spoken for in one fashion or another. Can't say for sure one of these folk ain't the fella you're looking for, though. We boarded in a bit of a rush on Point Breaux. Could be we got us a stowaway, but as you can see, we had to pack in like sardines here. Somebody would've noticed a stranger long before now."
"Actually I believe the one you just mentioned is the one I'm concerned with."
Mal frowned at that, playing dumb. "You mean Captain Cariveau? Well, no sir! I gotta beg to differ on that point--our pardon's bought and paid for. I got the paper right here."
He took it out of the patched tweed vest he had borrowed to look more respectable and Acadian, and started to take it out of the envelope.
"Not Cariveau, Mr. McSwain. I am referring to the other one, with the affection for your kitchen cutlery."
Mal blinked and made a show of divine comprehension following a prolonged moment spent staring blankly at the lieutenant. "Oh! Right, well, that might be a bit of a problem too, see, since he's already met his maker. Saw to that my own self. We had an altercation." Mal held up his left hand, bound wrist to fingertips in gauze. Simon had even been able to add a long bloodstain across the palm for appearances.
"I had to speak to him by hand, if you get my meaning." Mal held up his right hand, his thumb and forefinger poised in the shape of a gun, and winked significantly at the lieutenant.
The lieutenant gave both hands each a long look and then made direct eye contact. "May I see the body?"
Mal grimaced. "Oh, sorry, can't provide that either, see, 'cause as soon as he quit kicking, we spaced him. No way to keep him, well, fresh. Not without contaminating the cargo or our food stores anyhow. Wouldn't be right to keep him in with all these folks neither, what with the children and all. Dong ma?"
"Yes. Of course." The lieutenant stopped just before he reached his last man. The stiff straightening of his shoulders indicated he was ready to get down to business, even before he looked over his shoulder at Mal. "You won't mind if we take a look for ourselves."
Mal thought it was unnecessary of him to ask since he had already given the nod to send six of the ten thumpers off in different directions on reconnaissance.
"No," Mal said belatedly, watching them disappear. "Help yourself."
It took less than ten minutes to conduct the search. Mal had been through the entire ship himself and was surprised at how different the configuration was. Dragonfly class ships were indeed a breed apart from the Firefly class, in that it had the same amount of personnel space, but none of the expansive free cargo space. Rather than one large cargo bay, the six massive freight containers were attached along the long axis of the ship, between the bridge and the engine room. Remembering the starkness of that hallway when they searched it earlier, Mal felt perfectly justified in harboring a tiny bit of satisfaction at the frustration he spotted on the Alliance thumpers' faces as they returned. One of them whispered in the lieutenant's ear, causing him to scowl severely.
The thumper snapped to, then turned smartly and led the way. The lieutenant followed, careening down the spiral stairs to the common area. Mal followed along behind, but kept a safe distance. As expected, the thumper led his lieutenant directly to the infirmary. Since he could see into it from the steps, Mal hung back to watch the little drama unfold.
Cariveau was stripped to the waist, his entire abdomen wrapped in gauze, and he was hooked up to as much of the medical tech as they could get away with without doing any true harm. Siobhan stood over him, doing something important with an intravenous line. She gave the lieutenant a dark glower as he came in, and snapped off answers to his smartly stated questions. When the lieutenant tried to take a look under the bandages, she grabbed his wrist and shoved it away. The next words out of her mouth were mostly French Cajun and likely not very pristine. They stood glaring at each other for a full ten seconds before the lieutenant turned on his heel and left. The thumper followed along behind.
Indulging in a bit of fiendish glee on the inside, outwardly, Mal tried to look concerned. "Troubles?"
"Nothing to concern yourself with, McSwain," the lieutenant said, and a bit snidely at that. He was still rubbing his wrist where Siobhan had grabbed him. "Sergeant, back to the ship."
"Sir! Yes SIR!" The thumper with three stripes on his shoulders snapped to and waved his squad back the way they had come.
"Sorry to waste your time." Without further eye contact, the lieutenant climbed the steps two at a time. Mal trailed along behind as the unit filed back to the interceptor.
"Not at all!" Mal called after them. "Always happy to be of service to the Alliance!"
When the last Fed had gone through, Mal swung the airlock door closed. Behind him, he felt the Sayabec refugees shift enthusiastically and lifted his hand to hold them still. He listened until he heard the thump and hiss again that indicated the interceptor had peeled away. Then he took the hand comm. "Adair?"
"They're separated," she reported. "And...turning. They're headed back the way they came."
Mal grinned. "That's good news." Turning to the Sayabec folk, he nodded. "We're clear."
The cheer started from where he stood and sailed off until he could hear the echoes coming back to him from other parts of the ship. Good thing sound didn't travel in space or the interceptor would have done the fastest Ivan anyone had ever seen.
"Now that was one helluva performance," Jayne said derisively.
"Yes-sah, I can safely say I ain't never seen nothing like it my own self." Rising slowly, still favoring his wound, Ellis stood up from his huddle-down spot with Genevieve's family. He quickly holstered the gun he had hidden under his blanket, just in case, and beamed at Mal.
Still grinning, Mal could easily read the sarcasm on both men. "Accent was that bad?"
Jayne's eyes rolled as Ellis shook his head utter despondence. "Maudit, Reynolds--you ever try to pass yourself off as Acadian to an Acadian, they're gonna slap your mouth for abusing the privilege, dong ma?"
Mal laughed. "I'll take that as a warning." He stepped up to the spiral staircase leading down to the common area and raised his voice. "All right! We'll give the Feds a little time to get themselves gone before Serenity comes back and we'll be getting underway!"
As the cheering continued, Mal turned to exchange nods with Ellis, then with Jayne, both of whom would see to it everyone knew. Then he headed down the stairs to the infirmary again, where he found Cariveau sitting up, miraculously "healed."
"Well, there's a sorry sight," Mal said.
Cariveau returned a sardonic smile. "I would say it went exactly as planned. Would it offend if I were to add a heart-felt hallelujah for good measure?"
Mal chucked. "I suppose I won't take it personal if you do. Wasn't any skill involved, though, just sheer unmitigated luck. That lieutenant was so fresh out of officer's training, I could smell the starch in his uniform. Could be this was his first dispatch."
"Then thank Providence for small favors," Cariveau replied. His gaze drifted past Mal's shoulder and his eyes lit up. Mal could tell who was about to come through the door before a word was spoken.
"Wash says they are continuing their return vector to the Iskendurun," Adair said. "They seem to be in something of a rush."
"Huh! Isn't that odd?" Mal said, feigning a perplexed scowl.
Adair grinned and stood at his right to watch as Siobhan began cutting the thick layer of gauze she had so meticulously wrapped around Cariveau's middle
"We'll have to wait until they're out of Zirondelle's range before Serenity can come back," Adair said. She looked up at Mal apologetically. "Our sensor range is broader than yours. Sorry."
"Well, if I know Kaylee, she and Garzon have already had a conversation about upgrades and some such," Mal said. "Then once we're synched up proper again, I figure it's time we had a wedding."
"You are offering to host?" Cariveau asked. Siobhan finished the cutting and took the bandage away to reveal the Acadian's perfectly healthy and well-defined stomach. Once off the table, he slipped into a deep green button-down shirt, but lifted an arm before he had the buttons done. Adair stepped under that arm, folding herself into him. The motion was as perfectly natural as breathing.
"I figure we could all do with a good party," Mal replied, hoping he sounded appropriately enthusiastic.
Cariveau looked down to meet Adair's eyes. "You don't mind, getting married on Serenity?"
She smiled. "I can't think of a better place." Shifting herself up on tiptoe, she offered her lips for a kiss and Cariveau was quick to oblige. The kiss deepened easily and Adair made a sound that Mal was all too familiar with.
"You two know I'm still here, right?" Mal asked. "And you're not exactly invisible."
Cariveau was smiling before he ended the kiss. Then he looked Mal in the eye and after a moment's contemplation, he put out his hand. "Merci, padna."
Smiling slowly, Mal took that hand with a firm, friendly grip. "Pleasure doing business." Then he breathed a sigh. "Well now. Maybe we can relax awhile."
Cariveau's grip tightened and Mal looked up to see trepidation in his eyes, as well as Adair's. Staring back at them both, Mal had to ask, "What?"
Part 9 will end proper with the wedding... and one last little twist.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004 1:58 PM
Thursday, November 11, 2004 11:06 PM
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