BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

GUILDSISTER

Blue Sun Job, Part 35: The Worthier Part
Sunday, January 2, 2005

Book's more nefarious, Mal's less crazy, and Zoe is dangerously pissed.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 4379    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY


Blue Sun Job, Part 35: The Worthier Part

Disclaimer: The part about the Paragon and passenger restrictions is from the script of the first episode--not my words


Blue Sun Job
Sequel to the
Truthsome series (link is to part 1)
Part 1: Plans and Schemes
Part 2: Into the Lion’s Den
Part 3: Going Smooth
Part 4: Return to the Core
Part 5: Life That Was
Part 6: More Life That Was
Part 7: ...and Robberies That Were
Part 8: Zoe’s Tale
Part 9: More of Zoe’s Tale
Part 10: Going In
Part 11: Home Again...
Part 12: Waiting
Part 13: Bushwhacked Revisited
Part 14: Two By Two
Part 15: Give the Devil His Due
Part 16: The Edge
Part 17: Going Through the Motions
Part 18: Never Leave
Part 19: The Bottom


Part 20: Countdown
Part 21: PS1467
Part 22: X1823
Part 23: Fallout
Part 24: The Wrong Side of Normal
Part 25: In Trouble
Part 26: Interactions
Part 27: Caught
Part 28: A Preacher, A Whore, and a Thief…
Part 29: …And the Thief Said…
Part 30: All Kinds of Wrong
Part 31: The Heart of the Matter
Part 32: Revelations
Part 33: Light and Shadow
Part 34: Of Many Books



Chinese:

No critical dialog using actual Chinese characters, just exclamatory expressions

他妈的 = ta ma duh = f*ck (used for all variations)
狗屎 = go-se = crap


Blue Sun Job, Part 35: The Worthier Part
靑日 Job: The Worthier Part

“You like to tell me what really happened?”

“I surely would. And maybe someday I will.”

“I waited a long while for this, Preacher,” Mal said, his eyes never straying from Book. “And with more’n a little notion I was playing a chancy game with the wait.”

“Yes,” Book said softly, “and I appreciate it more than you can know.” He smiled slowly and thoughtfully. Mal saw him look off into the distance, seeing through time. “I found more than I was looking for the day I walked aboard your ship. Took me a while to realize that, though.”

Mal nodded. “I hear that,” he said. He’d only been looking for a boat to take him and Zoe out beyond the long arm of the Alliance. A faceless, nameless crew would do. Didn’t much mind the whos of the matter, long as they aimed to stay free like him and Zoe. Instead he ended up with a ship full of troublesome folk who’d turned into some kind of family on him, including one more than passingly odd preacher with designs on being some kind of warrior knight crusader out of Earth-That-Was history. Mal’d thought the ‘Knights Templar’ were some kind of Core-world sports team… Not so much, it turned out. Instead, they were an ancient, powerful--and a mite secretive--religious order of knights. And there was something about money… Lots of money…

“Tell your tale, Shepherd,” Mal said, low but firm. “Start from the beginning.”

His rich eyes peered into Mal. Book chuckled. “Which beginning?”

* * *

Shepherd Book made his way through the tangled Eavesdown Docks, tugging his few possessions along behind him. The chaos and noise bemused and amused him. How long since he’d walked in such a place? And how little had changed. How little ever changed.

“You going on a trip, grandpa? Need safe passage? We're cheap. We’re cheap, we’re clean. The Brutus, best ship in the 'verse. What’s your des, grandpa. Come on… We’re hitting the outer rings--”

Yes. He remembered this, too. Glancing up at the hulking ship, Book quelled his distaste. A cruise line, but decidedly not a luxury one. Disreputable. But slimy disreputable. Sleazy. Not what he was looking for.

“I never married,” he informed the obnoxious barker, just to actually make him think for a moment.

“What?”

“I’m not a grandpa.” Hmmm… he was of that age, now, wasn’t he? Sixty-odd years in the ‘verse. Odd years, indeed. Strange path this life had taken him. Not at all what he’d expected. Nor what he’d strove toward once upon a time, before the Word spoke to him a new truth of a different path. Don’t know the path of the wind. Can never know what’s over the next horizon. Where had the time gone? Where had he gone? And what was he now?

He passed a fancy ship next--the Paragon. Ah, yes… they can dress ‘em up pretty but a Gurtlser engine's always going to be twitchy. Why half those swanky folks bidding on the last berths would be losing their lunches before that ship broke atmo.

“…three berths left, junior suites. We are not interested in Asian or Catholic passengers, thank you. We will be bidding for the last three berths…” the Paragon’s barker called.

And they deserved the barfing, Book thought, surprising himself with the uncharitable thought. Not even a day out of the Abbey… tsk, tsk.

The next ship barely made him slow down. It was small--particularly small and ratty--compared to the ships around it. But then a sweet smile and swirl of color caught his eye and the voice of an instant friend informed him, “You’re gonna come with us.”

Book paused then, glancing up at the name on the side of the ship. Serenity. Oh, the perfect irony of it. Years spent in the Southdown Abbey seeking serenity, and the very day he walked out the gates, he found it waiting for him.

He examined the ship again, more closely. Sometimes God’s message is entirely clear. The Firefly practically had ‘rebel outlaw’ emblazoned on her bow. And the name… Not the slightest hint of doubt in Book’s mind that the master of this ship was a Browncoat with a boatload of bitterness he hadn’t left behind. Hadn’t even tried. Might just be the one. Might just be. Book decided he had to meet this mystery who dared be so defiantly open about his past--maybe not so past--allegiances. This little ship might just be the one to give the Shepherd called ‘Book’ the tour of the ‘verse he sought.

Serenity. Disreputable… yes, indeedy. But sleazy…?

“So how come you don't care where you’re going?” the charming young lady--Kaylee--asked him. No ship with this gal onboard could be considered ‘sleazy’. Just wasn’t possible. Her inner light positively shone. So who and what was the resentful Browncoat outlaw who had such a one as this standing at the door to welcome a weary traveler in?

“‘Cause how you get there is the worthier part.”

* * *

Mal shook his head. “So you picked Serenity on account of me? Fergawdsake why? You hadn’t even met me at the point you came on board. And I don’t recall a whole lot of warm fuzzies passin’ between us when you did.”

Leaning back, Book stroked at his moustache as he considered his answer. “It’s hard to say, Captain. I set myself out to walk in the world to learn, not to preach--though you frequently tempt me in that regard. Your ship was so clearly disreputable--” Book gave Mal a bemused grin. “Don’t look offended. I needed to see the shape of the ‘verse as it truly was. Not the glittery propaganda of Unification. Not the shiny view from the top. I needed to see from the bottom. From ‘beneath the radar’.”

Shifting in the fancy carved chair, Mal scanned around the ornate library. The preacher hadn’t quite called ‘em ‘bottom-feeders’, now had he? Not that there wasn’t a ring of truth to that notion. So, Book aimed to see the seamier side of the ‘verse. Well, Mal’d given him a damned good show of that, no denying.

Mal rubbed his eyes. The smoothers were keeping the crazies contained, but they were also making him a touch disjointed; hard to hold focus. Maybe there was something to that time thing the preacher had talked on. Now, when he was telling his tale about finding Serenity, it was real damned easy to see it all again--like he was still standing there. Vivid as could be. All past, though. It’d’a scared the hell out of him if he saw the future that clear. No wonder River got so gorram upset sometimes, being unstuck in time, seeing bad things comin’ and not knowing where they were coming from. All the horrific things the future could hold… who’d want to have to know what was there, lying in wait to snare you.

“Seeing the future…” Mal muttered, “…useless if you can’t do nothing about it. Worse than useless… Knowin’ what kind of bad is gonna be comin’ up and can’t do nothing but wait for it…”

“We don’t know if that’s the way it is for River,” Book said smoothly. Mal shook himself back to the present. Preacher’d managed to keep up with him when he jumped tracks there for a moment. “Or if she sees possible futures, or an absolute future.”

“If we could see the path ahead, how many of us would want to make the journey?” Mal comment quietly. Better to be a little lost.

Then trying--however unsuccessfully--to make his little diversion seem part of the original conversation, Mal added, “So, ‘pears you had a path in mind when you came aboard my ship. With us givin’ you a guided tour of the lowdown and dirty side of life. How’d that work out for you?”

Book chuckled with a bemused sound. “It almost didn’t from the very first day. Inara was the hitch in the plan.”

“‘Cause she’s a whore?”

Cocking an eyebrow at him, Book gave Mal a disapproving scowl. “Well, I do confess I’d been out of the company of women and--ahem--carnal matters, for quite some time, and that did throw me for a bit of a loop. But, no. That admittedly poorly concealed reaction I had to Inara upon your oh-so-gracious introduction was because she’s a Companion, and that spells social status--Alliance, Unification-supporting, Core-world social status, and connections. Respectable. And legal. Thought I might have the wrong ship after all, until it became clear she was the only legal thing on your boat.” His expression darkened. “Still… it was all… more than I bargained for, and not what I expected…”

* * *

Everything he once was told Book that the Fed--Dobson--had to be disposed of. Was. Was. That’s not the person I am anymore. Can I only be a good man, a good Christian, within the confines of the Abbey walls? He’d beaten Dobson senseless on old training and instinct, and it frightened him. Can I avoid temptation only where no temptation exists? Can I be good only where there is only good?

Eyes closed a moment, a silent prayer to give him strength to choose the nobler path…

“Lawman, it’s Shepherd Book.” He slid the door open. “I believe you’re in more danger than…”

Shock. Blank. Dark. Excruciating pain and the odd lingering thought that you can’t judge a book by its cover… ‘Cause he hadn’t heard that one before…

“I’m not playing anymore. Anyone makes so much as a…” Bang!

And that was that. The captain hadn’t even broken stride. Saw what had to be done and did it in an instant. Right. Wrong. Murder. Execution. Cold, hard necessity with no time to pray, lament or brood over it. Do it. Dump the body. And move on. Did the captain give the life he took even another moment’s thought?

* * *

“Despite all my bold resolve when I left the Abbey gates, I almost broke that night,” Book said a tad wistfully. “Two days and my little trek through the ‘verse was already just about more than I could take.”

Here was the hard part for the man, Mal thought, watching him carefully as he listened. “You ain’t a coward,” Mal said softly. “You hung tough and stayed on to help out Kaylee when the Reavers were on us. You think on leavin’ after that? And why didn’t you? You stay ‘cause of River? Had her marked?”

“Take her. Keep her safe.” Coincidence he ended up on the same ship as Simon and River? Or the divine hand of Providence guiding his way? Or--and he pondered on this thought many a time in the days following--had Simon’s path been directed toward Book’s keeping? When Simon said he’d been contacted by some sort of underground, Book’s suspicions had flickered. There’d been the faintest of rumors about experiments. Secret projects. Had Book and Simon both been subtly directed toward the same place? Toward Serenity? If so, by whom? He didn’t know. But he knew in an instant that River was important and he had to learn how.

“No. And yes. I saw a glimmer in Simon and River of where this path I’d started on might lead. If only I were strong enough to follow it. No, Mal… again, it was you. Shooting Dobson like you did.”

“And what that said about me?”

Book’s smile at Mal was sad. “What it said about me.”

* * *

“You should really have the young doctor look at this.”

The gentle touch of a sympathetic woman… how long had it been? He didn’t deserve her kindness. “It’s not so bad.” He deserved the pain. The punishment. The retribution. Two days out of the Abbey and he’d failed. Not just failed, but failed spectacularly. Years--how many he couldn’t even count--years he’d spent becoming a new man, and now…

“Well, I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

“I didn’t say that,” he said, looking up at her. Inara’s eyes registered her understanding. This young woman understood those who were lost, Book realized. Maybe that’s why she understood the captain she claimed not to understand.

“Is this what life is, out here?” Had it always been this way? Had he forgotten? Or had the creeping darkness spread, held at bay by too few?

“Sometimes,” she said.

He needed to confess. “I've been out of the abbey two days. I've beaten a lawman senseless. I've fallen in with criminals... I watched the captain shoot the man I swore to protect.” He paused, the pain of the true sin of it almost more than he could bear. “And I'm not even sure if I think he was wrong.”

Shaking, Book managed to get out, “I believe I just…” He couldn’t quite say the words inside him out loud. I’m not strong enough. I’m not good enough. I’m not Godly enough. Instead he finished, “I think I’m on the wrong ship.”

The Companion heard what he said, and, he suspected, heard what he hadn’t said. “Maybe,” Inara murmured. “Or maybe you're exactly where you ought to be.”

* * *

Book gave a long slow sigh. “No one ever promised me the road would be easy. But I never expected it would be so hard.”

“Ain’t that the plain truth,” Mal whispered. He waited a moment for Shepherd Book to come to grips with the words he’d confessed to Mal. Then, changing his tone, said, “So… the ‘verse didn’t shape up to be the holier-than-thou sweetness-n-light sort of deal you’d come shopping for,” Mal said. He let his expression turn cold and deadly as he stared at the preacher. “So, how long were you using me and mine for your little spying mission for your secret society?”

Meeting his eyes unblinkingly, Mal watched Book smile slowly and coolly at him. “From the very start.”

* * *

Zoe didn’t like it. Zoe didn’t like it at all.

She checked the loads in the small revolver she’d found--not worth enough for the Feds to swipe. The captain had disappeared hours ago. Book was missing. Now Kaylee told her Simon had been fetched away by one of those eerie monk types.

And now Wash was pissed because she’d gone off and left their warm nest to hunt for Mal. Sometimes men were just… Ah!

River reappeared as Zoe started down the ramp, babbling some of her more ominous nonsense. Something about too many corpses for the space. Not enough room underground. Had to cut their ears off to make them fit. Zoe gave the girl a studied glance. Something about that sounded uncomfortably familiar.

Tucking the pistol out of sight inside her vest, Zoe warily surveyed the grounds. All bright and pretty and safe-looking. Looks can be deceiving. Where had she heard that before? Sanctuary full of Shepherds… harmless as a kitten. With an EM field shielding them from orbital scans. And Lord knew what else. Now… Where would Mal go to get himself into trouble…?

* * *

“More of a scout, than a spy, Captain,” Book said. “I told you, we had these brothers joining us after the war, from both sides, and from all ranks, levels, and positions. Some took years to tell their tales--some still haven’t. But bit by bit a few of us began putting together a picture of the way things were shaping up outside our quiet enclaves and realized we were gathering the resources to do something about it.”

Book took a deep breath before plunging on. “There’s sin of action--of doing bad things. But there’s also sin of omission--of sitting back and doing nothing; of letting evil prevail. A group of us came to the conclusion that’s what we were doing. We were hiding in our abbeys and sanctuaries while the darkness spread.” He looked up and met Mal’s eyes unflinchingly. “We decided to step out and fight the good fight.”

Mal snorted softly, surprising Book with his reaction. “Fight the ‘good’ fight by signing up with a criminal?”

“Yes, well… you may have your… issues with right and wrong, but you were still doing more than I was,” Book said. “But first we needed information, sources, connections.”

Shaking his head, Mal said, “Wait a minute. I had the notion you had the whole big, ol’ ancient deal going on here with your secret symbols and sneaky web spread out every damned place. Now you’re making it sound like it’s just a handful of half-scared preachers with no notion of what the hell they were really up against.”

Book shrugged. “We’re somewhere in between. The ‘web’ exists, but the literal hard recruitment and call to action doesn’t. Yet. There are eleven of us who are in on the core of the organization. We can pull together a potential hundreds, maybe thousands, in short order.”

“Well,” Mal said lightly, putting his hands flat on the table, he started to stand. “Then I guess you do have enough guns to go around in that shiny little arsenal of yours to equip your army. You see, I was puzzling over how you planned to conquer the ‘verse with just a bunch of Shepherds, those light arms downstairs, and--apparently--my ratty little, unarmed, disreputable ship. But I see you got it all worked out, so I’ll just be on my…”

“Oh, sit down, Captain.” Book ordered.

Mal sat, irked no end that Book had done that to him yet again.

“We don’t have an army…” Book began.

“That is plainly evident,” Mal inserted. “The Independents had an army. I was part of it. We had guns and ships and artillery and bombs and it wasn’t enough. We had more guts and will power and… faith than all your knight-preachers put together. And it still wasn’t enough. We thought… I thought God was fightin’ on our side. But He weren’t. What makes you think you can do any different with so very much less?”

A grin spread across the Shepherd’s face. “Because we are going to do different.”

* * *

“Son of a 他妈的 bitch,” Simon whispered, then glanced at the brother assisting him. “Sorry, Shepherd,” he said. “I’m just… These results…” Simon gestured toward the scope. “Tell me if you see what I’m seeing?”

The brother bent over the scope, peering and making adjustments, as Simon talked out his findings. “It’s a catalytic reaction,” Simon said. The textbook definition flitted through his mind as he considered the ramifications of the test results. …a substance, usually used in small amounts relative to the reactants, that modifies and increases the rate of a reaction without being consumed in the process. “Son of a 他妈的 bitch,” he muttered again, earning another chastising look from the brother. He didn’t bother to apologize again. He’d earned every bit of chastisement there was to earn.

“It’s not simply a catalyst, though.” Simon spoke his rapidly whipping thoughts aloud, trying to force them into some kind of familiar order. “It changes, adapts, modifies, as new substances are introduced. Evolves, almost,” he said, shaking his head. “More like a virus in its change and adaptability than a fixed chemical compound, but not a living substance.” Pausing, he rubbed his head. “I recall an article--years back--in one of the research journals. Very speculative. Very theoretical. Theoretical to the point of incomprehensibility. But, as I recall, it suggested such a substance could be possible. Possible. Not developed--” he gestured to samples they’d derived “--to this point.”

Straightening up from the scope, the brother nodded solemnly at Simon. Did the man have a vow of silence, Simon wondered. Apparently not, for the first time the brother spoke, his voice carrying decidedly Core-world intonations. “That article was bait,” the brother said, “to draw in those with potential knowledge and aptitude for that branch of research.”

Simon huffed softly. “Like a certain school catering to brilliant youth,” he inserted.

The brother nodded again, then broke eye-contact. He fingered the sample vials distractedly. “We, uh… have a few documents here… research studies we acquired… You might be interested in reading.” Then he met Simon’s eyes again. “If you don’t have qualms about reading stolen material that the Alliance would kill you just for seeing.”

Simon laughed.

* * *

This was an unsettling scene, Zoe thought. Young trees with the first hint of autumn coloring their leaves. The shadowed ground beneath them carpeted with twigs and golden leaves. Mal had been here. She could tell. Gorramit. This place screamed of memories best left to rest undisturbed.

“Zoe, darlin’, why are you still arguing this? We’re gonna get hitched and that’s just the way of it.”

“Don’t you go orderin’ me around like I’m some hired hand. I don’t answer to you. And why? Do you love me so much, huh? Tell me you love me so much you want to be with me forever. You ‘pect me to stay here on this ranch? I don’t figure you flying off ‘round the ‘verse with me for the rest of forever. We’ve had some fun romps but that ain’t cause to go throwing your life away just ‘cause you feel guilty.”

Mal gave a frustrated sigh. “You are the most purely confounding female critter I have ever met. Listen… There’s more to being married than… well, what we was doin’. And I don’t feel guilty. Well, okay, I do, but that’s not the point. Getting hitched to someone ain’t about the fun and games and the laughing and the… the rompin’. It’s about being true to another soul, loyal to ‘em in the no-matter-what even if you don’t happen to particular even like ‘em at the time.”

“Like at this very time?” Zoe stared at Mal a long time. “You still ain’t said you love me. So why you wanna do this?”

He stumbled for the words a moment, then looked away. “’Cause it’s the right thing to do.”

Closing her eyes, Zoe gritted her teeth. This place… so like that little glade on Shadow where she and Mal had hashed out the future-that-never-was between them. She’d been right. But so had he.

With a deep fortifying breath, Zoe opened her eyes again, shoving aside the memories to focus on the here-and-now. He’d been here. She squatted down, examining the ground, the crushed leaves, bent twigs. More tracks… barefoot. River. Picking up the gun-shaped stick, Zoe stared at it for a long time.

Maybe it didn’t mean what she thought.

* * *

“Okay,” Mal said. He stood, pacing the library. How much else was hidden in here? “So, whatcha do got is a serious intel organization. Lots of brainpower. Lots of knowledge. Lots of connections. Solid and secure communication paths.” He made a small gesture toward Book. “And a sweet cover with the religiosity and respectability.”

“Yes,” Book said. “Few people look past the collar to the person underneath.”

“And pretty much a foothold--infiltration--everywhere you got a church or an abbey,” Mal continued. He shook his head slowly. “Yeah, I could lasso you in a passel of Independents I knew back in the day that’d join the fight just for the pure hell of it, neverminding we’d get our asses kicked. Again. That still don’t translate into an army that will win you a war with the Alliance.” He scoffed and studied Book. “Had my fill of lost causes, preacher.”

Book chuckled. “Whatever else that drug is doing, it’s not making you tell the truth anymore.” He peered at Mal, his eyes twinkling. “You live for lost causes.”

Giving Book a lopsided half-grin, Mal said quietly, “No. I don’t. It’s just happenstance that’s the only kind of cause I got left.”

“Then it’s time to take up one that isn’t lost,” Book told him, staring at him intensely.

“Yeah, but what you told me here isn’t…” Mal began. A knock on one of the oak doors interrupted him.

The door opened with a creak. Simon peered in. In his hand he held a syringe filled with clear liquid. Mal repressed a shudder. More rutting drugs.

“Captain?” Simon called softly as he pushed the door open wider, entering the library followed by the brother who’d been helping him in the lab. “I, uh… I think we might have a formula that should neutralize the drug in your system.”

Smelling a lot of ‘if’, is that what Jayne always said? “You’re not showering me with confidence here, doctor,” Mal said warily. “I don’t aspire to be your guinea pig. You got your sis for that.”

Simon blushed a satisfying shade at that comment. “Umm… Okay. I deserved that. Umm…”

“Spit it out, son,” Mal ordered. Truth to tell, he’d let Simon stick just about anything in him at this point if there was even a slight chance it would put a stop to the crazies.

“I think the problems you’ve been having are my fault,” Simon blurted.

“What do you mean?” Book asked.

“Captain, do you have the, uh, sleeping pills I gave you?” Simon blushed again. Mal stared. Not that he didn’t enjoy making the doctor embarrassed and uncomfortable on occasion, but this just didn’t seem like one of those occasions.

“Yeah.” He pulled out the bottle and tossed it to Simon. “And I know they’re not sleeping pills. They’re smoothers. Anti-psychotics, like you give River.” Mal didn’t stop the sharp edge from creeping into his tone.

Simon turned almost as red as the mahogany table, Mal noted. But why? True enough he ought not to have foisted such a thing off on the captain without telling him, but he had that whole cocky arrogance doctor thing going for him, so why the blushing?

Staring at the bottle, Simon said, “It seems these reacted badly with the original drug given you. They acted as a catalyst to change and enhance the effects of the original drug--strengthening and changing the effect.” He looked contrite as he met Mal’s eyes. “I thought they’d help. They just made it worse.”

Mal shook his head. “Uh uh. No. I mean… ah, hell. They’re the only thing keeping me from going completely off the beam right here and now.”

Simon sat down and laid the syringe on the table. He sighed heavily. “So many things were happening to you--chemically--that it’s difficult for me to sort out from blood samples, and such, exactly what caused what. For one thing, a lot of it took place before I even entered the picture. This counter-agent, supposed to be inert unless activated by the truth drug--which could more accurately be described as behavior modifier--which was of a somewhat different formulation, it appears, than the counter-agent was designed for. All of which was further complicated by Commander Harken apparently taking it upon himself to stir sedatives and stimulants into the mix.”

Shaking his head, Simon regarded Mal tiredly. Hmph. Doc was tired just trying to sort it all out? Mal was the one who’d been on the receiving end of the whole gorram mess.

“All of this,” Simon went on, “combined and interacted, then was whammied by more sedatives which put you out for better than twelve hours.”

“And left me with a killer headache and some left over twitchies,” Mal said.

“Yes,” Simon said. “But it was fading, I think, until I brilliantly handed you these.” He held up the pill bottle and sighed. “Which triggered a whole new set of problems.”

“I slept well,” Mal said with a shrug. Let’s see, on the balance, which was better… sanity, or getting to sleep with Inara…?

Nodding, Simon said, “Yes, but from what you’ve told me, it was after that the flashbacks started, growing steadily in intensity and frequency.”

Mal squeezed his eyes closed for a moment, seeing the images again just off the fringe of the control the smoothers gave him. Opening his eyes, he gripped the back of the chair tightly, ignoring the ghosts glimmering at the edges of his vision. “Great. So, what, then?”

Simon held up the syringe. “This. It’s a variant on the original counter-agent drug.” Mal glanced at Book, who nodded. Simon added, “It’s worked to neutralize what’s in your system in the test samples we ran.”

“So you do need a guinea pig to field test it,” Mal said slowly. “And there’s exactly one candidate.” Oh, goody.

* * *

Once Zoe stopped tracking Mal and evaluated the grounds critically, it didn’t take her long to arrive at the outlying building. Yes, tracks indicated several people had gone into it recently. Into the basement. The windowless basement. She surveyed the structure cautiously.

The building itself bore a red brick exterior with granite trim much like the rest of the Sanctuary’s buildings. But the overall shape… This place was--or had been--something else. Something that niggled at the darkest corners of memory. Just the sort of place Mal would go to get into trouble without proper backup.

Zoe stopped a small gasp from escaping her. That was it. Little town on a nothing world, but one of the nastiest raids they were ever on. She shuddered and chopped the recollection off with a cold force of will as she began to plan her approach.

Locks not locked. Doors not guarded. The lab showed signs of recent activity. Zoe glanced over the papers. Simon’s writing. Incomprehensible notations. Silently through a door. A corridor. Another turn. Ahead, a whisper of voices. Sounds.

A library. Empty. But chairs pushed out. On the table, a pill bottle. And an empty syringe. A door at the far end stood open. The deep tones of Book. The clipped enunciation of Simon. Where was Mal?

Then she heard vivid cussing and a smile twitched at her lips. There he was. Edging through the doorway, she took in the scene before letting any of them see her.

It was a small kitchenette. Stove, counters, small table, a few chairs. Zoe eased a long knife out of the butcher block on the counter by the door. One of the preacher-types stood nearest, facing away from her. Simon and Shepherd Book stood close together near a door open to a small bathroom. Stepping into the kitchen, Zoe loudly cocked the pistol.

They all turned.

“Back away from the captain,” she ordered, leveling the pistol on Book.

“Zoe,” Book said, even as he eased away from the doorway, “everything’s fine. The captain’s fine.”

“I can see that,” Zoe said evenly. Mal was on his knees puking into the toilet. “Back away,” she repeated.

The shepherd-fellow she didn’t know edged toward the doorway to the library. Zoe flipped the knife in her left hand over into throwing position. “I can take all three of you out before you could get two feet,” she told them icily. The brother froze and raised his hands.

“Really, Zoe,” Simon said, his hands twitching nervously up. “Mal’s fine. He’s just having a little reaction to the medication I gave him.”

Zoe reached the bathroom doorway, glancing away from her prisoners just long enough to check out the interior. She stood at an angle, so she could cover the three, and yet still see Mal, out of the corner of her eye, on the floor beside her.

“Sir?” She queried during an interlude in the retching.

He rocked back on his heels, grabbing for a towel to wipe his mouth. “Uck… Yeah, Zoe… Stand down. It’s all right.”

Low, she asked, “What the hell is going on here?”

She waited patiently, eyes and gun never straying from Book, Simon, and the brother, while Mal returned to another bout of retching.

“Can’t you tell?” Mal asked when he’d recovered enough to talk. “Simon’s working his doctoring magic on me. Curing me of being crazy.”

“Yes, sir. Seems to be going really well,” Zoe said. “And the preacher?”

Mal reached the sink, on his knees, and started some water running. “Figures to conquer the ‘verse. Wants us to help,” he said.

“Of course, sir. We’ll get right on that,” Zoe said coolly.

The water stopped. Mal sank back to the floor, leaning against the doorframe, his head resting against Zoe’s leg. “Really, Zoe. I’m all right. Put the gun down.”

“Yes, sir.” Hell, no.

* * *

Mal groaned. Why the 他妈的 was Wash never around when Zoe was big with the disobeying his orders? He tried to get up but couldn’t manage it. He felt like six different kinds of 狗屎.

“Ah, hell… go ahead and shoot ‘em, then, if you’re so set on it,” Mal muttered. The alarmed squawk from Simon was a thing Mal would cherish for many a day to come. Almost made up for this misery. Yup, Zoe’d repeated that little conversation to Mal.

“You three,” Zoe ordered, “turn around. Face that counter and stay still.” Mal wished he could see Simon’s face.

Zoe slid down to squat beside Mal. Setting the knife down on the floor, she reached over to feel his forehead. “You’re hot,” she whispered.

“Stuff made me sick,” Mal whispered back. “As is plainly evident.” He sighed slowly. “But I think I ain’t crazy anymore.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” Zoe whispered sternly, adding, “Jackass.”

“What?”

“Getting yourself into situations like this without backup?” Zoe whispered angrily.

Petulantly, Mal muttered, “Didn’t think I needed armed backup to chitchat with a preacher.”

“And yet…” Zoe glanced over at him, her eyes playing over him with concern. Somehow it made him feel better. “What’s going on?”

In a low murmur, Mal recounted the events, including the fear he was going well and truly crazy. “So Simon did his tests and came up with this cure which led to me puking my guts out and you threatening to shoot two preachers and a doctor.” He paused and blinked. “That sounds like the set-up line to a joke,” Mal added.

Zoe scowled at him. “Can’t think of any punchline except to call you a jackass again.” She studied Book’s back, then glanced again at Mal. “What did you get out of Book? And what’s this about conquering the ‘verse?”

Mal wiped at his forehead and tried to decide if he needed to puke again. His equilibrium was still shot to hell. Didn’t think he could get to his feet yet, but if he held still it wasn’t too bad. Leaning against Zoe helped.

“Okay,” Mal whispered, “so Book’s telling me how he’s been using us all this time to scout out the ‘verse for this preacher’s Knights Templar underground secret society thing he’s got going on, and…” He stopped as Zoe turned to stare at him, mouth open, eyes wide. “What is it?”

She seemed to be having trouble speaking her piece. “Knights Templar?” she whispered. Mal nodded. Loudly, Zoe asked, “Treasure? Is there treasure?”



Part 36: One Down

COMMENTS

Monday, January 3, 2005 1:15 AM

AMDOBELL


Absolutely adored this as I have been doing the entire series. Gorrammit, just wished you could write a whole lot faster! And is it just me or did Zoe going all Jayne at the end? "Treasure? Is there treasure?" Oh yeah, can't wait for more. You have all the characters spot-on and it is something to cherish. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, January 3, 2005 3:08 AM

POTEMKINVILLAGER


Damn straight there's a treasure: it's this story.

So very brave of you, Guildsister, preparing the BDMs to take on the 'verse.

Gush.

Monday, January 3, 2005 6:42 AM

SOULOFSERENITY


Ooh, I think this story is about to rev back up into high gear! I love where you're taking all this, and I can;t wait to see exactly what kind of plan Book has up his sleeve.

- Soul -

Monday, January 3, 2005 6:51 AM

ARTSHIPS


Especially liked Book's realizaiotn that he was replacing serenity with Serenity.

And please take Ali's advice - Write faster! Your stories - the little ones on top of the big one - are just so shiny.

Tuesday, January 4, 2005 1:47 AM

CAPNERIC


Well, gorram it, never been too interested in fanfic before I discover these two books on the site, I've now had no sleep and been late to work and my wife's pissed off at me 'cause I read this all night long.

It's almost as bad as viewing the DVD and reaching the end except I have the consolation of knowing there'll be more.

Thanks!

Wednesday, January 5, 2005 2:25 AM

CASTIRONJACK


As much as everyone would like you to write faster, I can afford to wait, especially for stuff like this.

Keep it like simmering homemade stew, not like Ramen in the microwave...

'Nother great installment...

Keep flyin'

Wednesday, January 5, 2005 7:25 AM

GUILDSISTER


Thanks for all the shiny comments, folks! And for stringing along with me on this not-so-little-anymore writing excursion. I actually write pretty fast--I just don't have a lot of time to spend on it. Darned life-stuff getting in the way. ;-) Of course, chapters about teenagers screwing around do write quicker than the recent heavy-themed ones...

Wednesday, January 5, 2005 9:14 AM

KISPEXI2


Brilliant, as usual. Very nice tweaking of the original episode to suit your story. Am left feeling a little iffy about Book ... but still very much intrigued by him.

Adorable flashback to young Mal and Zoe - and more than a little poignant again. And the irony of Zoe being unconvinced he really wanted to spend all eternity with her. Nice.

Sweet take on Inara too. Nice to see her portrayed so sympathetically.

But what I liked best about this chapter was the Mal/Simon interaction. Very funny. Very believable.

As was the idea Zoe would shoot two preachers and a doctor.

Great stuff. Well worth the wait!


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