From the Inside
Monday, February 7, 2005

This is the first part of a multi-part series. It's just the openning of the door so it's a short one. Zoe and Mal on the job, reflecting on what's important, and as always, a bit of peril.


The disclaimer is that Firefly and all of its original pertaining characters, bits, and bobs belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy and no self respecting fan would ever try and claim otherwise.

“Come in! Come in, please.” Mal and Zoë exchanged a look as they followed the man into the large office. Zoë’s brows were drawn together and her mouth was tightened at the corners. Mal was wearing a pleasant smile. Each one had known the other long enough to understand that neither of them was pleased with the situation. Zoë had been unhappy from the moment Mal had told her he’d decided to take the job. She’d been with the Captain too long to make the mistake of thinking he was stupid or crazy. She knew he had a special mix of the two, but it was a stupid-crazy that had kept them flying this long, so... The plans that he’d made over the years had put money in their pockets and fuel in Serenity. She just wished that when Mal was making some of his captainy decisions he would try to figure in how to get a job done without shooting or stabbing or brushes with Feds or being outgunned or anything else that resulted in them getting the short end of the stick. In fact, she’d brought up that very point earlier that morning over a mug of what passed for the local brew on Harmony. “So you don’t like my plans, is that what you’re saying?” Mal had said, as they sat drinking in the dirty bar that could have been on any number of rim planets. He was talking a little fast the way he always did when he was feeling tetchy. “Not at all, Sir,” Zoë replied Zoë was an amazing woman. Mal had always thought so. And while he sat there drinking some warm almost-beer he could see the gears in her head cranking out exactly what she should say to make him see her way of things and have him feel good about it all at the same time. She called him “Sir.” She didn’t make too much eye contact to make him feel threatened, but just enough to keep him from going on the defensive. It didn’t make him angry, knowing all of this, but he did hate the smug way she’d smile at him after she’d put him where she wanted. He took another drink and decided to try and hold off her inevitable victory as long as he could. “I’ve had plenty of good plans,” he asserted. “Of course you have, Sir.” Zoë took a long drink and sat in silence. That seemed to be it, all that she intended to say. Mal knew it couldn’t be that easy. Hell, nothing had ever been that easy with a hard-headed woman like her. But he thought, just this once, maybe she would let him win without an argument. He waited until he was confident that nothing else was forthcoming and then allowed himself to smile. “But you know…” Zoë began. Mal winced. He turned to look at her and he hated himself for doing it. It was bad enough to know that she was winning. Bad enough to know that she had that motherly, wifely, I-know-something-you-don’t-but-I’m-not-gonna-tell-you-cause-I-want-you-to-figure-it-out-on-your-own smile on her face. Why? Why did he have to look? He could feel her happy eyes burning through the back of his head. But he looked because he had to; because he always did. “…I don’t think I’d mind you telling me about one of the great plans you’ve had that’ve gone according to plan.” Zoë was smiling smugly. She really did enjoy the special moments that she and Mal could share. “You know, just for old time’s sake.” “This one,” Mal declared immediately, not willing to let this one go. “This was a good one. We got in, all the right palms had been greased ahead of time, all the right doors were unlocked, and we got out with our cargo all in one piece and not a body bleeding because of it. Easy peasy and all according to plan.” “All according to plan?” Zoë asked, ever so gently prodding the Captain. “Yes all, gorramit,” Mal replied, a touch fiery. “What? What is it? Go ahead and fill me in on what you think went wrong.” Zoë sighed. “Well, we’re still here, for starters. We were supposed to land, be topside for no more than an hour to drop the cargo and get paid and then be gone again. Now, we’ve been sitting in this niu shi pub for 2 hours waiting for our contact to get his ducks in a row.” “Believe me,” Mal said putting his hands up in non-threatening agreement, “I’m not thrilled with this either. Makes me nervous, a man telling me I need to wait with stolen goods sitting in my hold for him to find time to pick them up.” “It smells a mite fishy,” Zoë supplied ominously. “That’s true, but you have to take into consideration the folk we’re dealing with. Most of these men aren’t the type you’d want to see come callin’ for your little sister. You have to expect the dealing to be a little bumpy.” Mal smiled. “That’s what guns are for.” “But they have guns too, Mal,” Zoë said with a bit of a laugh in her voice. “And, Zoë,” Mal said grandly and took another drink, “that’s what you’re for.” It had only been a few minutes later when a shifty little man had sidled up to the bar and given them the message that their contact was ready to proceed with his purchase. They’d gotten on the horses the man had brought for them and ridden just outside of town to the front of a fine looking manor house of a sprawling rice plantation. At the door, they were greeted by the master himself. ~~~ Which brought them to the present. Mal and Zoë were seated in two cushy leather chairs opposite a rich looking dark wooden desk. The room was filled floor to ceiling with books. Neither of the two crew members had seen so many outside of a library on one of the planets nearer the core. Certainly they’d never seen anything like it this far out on the rim. Zoë wondered exactly how many books there were and Mal wondered how much they’d be worth. The master of the house was seating himself across from them behind the desk when he noticed them looking around. “It is quite impressive, I know,” he said, seemingly quite pleased with himself. “It’s taken me a lifetime to collect all of them. They are my treasure and my children, each one unique and more rare than the last.” Mal took stock of the man. He was tall and lanky, wiry some might call him. It looked as if every muscle in his body was stretched very long and tight, which gave his face a tense and gaunt look. His eyes were sunken in his deep eye sockets and his skin appeared pallid as if he had been shut up in a dark room somewhere his whole life. Looking at all of the books, Mal didn’t think that assumption was too far from the mark. He was very richly dressed and he wore his thinning graying hair cropped short. He rested his elbows on his desk and tented his fingers in front of his face. “So, I hope that your wait this morning was not too unpleasant for you.” His voice was slow and deep and all of his words seemed precisely measured. “I do offer you my humblest apologies for the inconvenience, but circumstances beyond my control demanded my full attention.” The man grinned, displaying startlingly white teeth. “I’m certain you understand.” Mal gave the man a reassuring smile. “Certainly, I do. I’ve had the same happen to me a time or two.” “Of course,” the man said. “Now, about our agreement, do you have the items I requested?” Mal reached to his side and lifted the large dark box he and Zoë had carried in with them. “Right here they are,” he said, setting the box on the desk. The man’s grin grew and split his face in two so that Mal could see almost every one of his glistening teeth. The man reached out his lanky arms eagerly and pulled the box to him. He undid the latch and threw the lid back. “Oh yes, yes!” he laughed with delight as he pulled several books out of the box. “These are precisely the ones I asked for. My God, aren’t they splendid? Have you any idea how rare these are?” he asked of no one in particular. “Well, judging from the number of doors with big locks on ‘em and guards we had to sneak past, I’d guess they’re mighty rare at that,” Mal answered. The man laughed. “Right you are, Captain Reynolds.” He continued to pull books out of the box and inspect each one with a look of pure bliss on his face, occasionally making little gasps of appreciation. Mal was getting a case of the creepy uncomfortables, the same feeling he got when he accidentally walked in on Zoë and Wash during one of their particularly tender moments. He cleared his throat several times before the man finally wrestled his attention back to the two people sitting in his office. “I don’t mean to seem pushy, you understand, but I was wondering if we could address the issue of payment at this juncture?” Mal asked in his most professional voice. “Ah, yes. Oh, I am sorry. I just get so very excited about new acquisitions, you know.” The man reached forward and rang a golden bell, which was sitting on his desk. Moments later, a young girl entered the room carrying a silver tray with three mugs of ale and a purse on it. Her bare feet made whispering sounds on the rug as she strode toward them. The dress that she wore had a high stiff collar and a skirt that was slit high on the sides so that she could walk freely and it left her arms exposed. As she set the tray down on the desk Mal noticed some bruising around her wrist and then his attention was drawn to what he saw on her forearms. At first glance, he had thought they were strange symmetrical scars, but it only took a fraction of a second to realize what they were. He sensed Zoë stiffen beside him and knew that she’d seen the brands too. The almighty Alliance had declared slavery to be illegal, but the slave trade was alive and well out on the rim of the verse. It sickened Mal and Zoë. They were criminals, thieves. They stole from some folks and sold to others and broke plenty of laws in the process to make their way, but they had never trafficked in slavery. The reason they’d started in the first place, the reason Mal had bought a boat and Zoë had come along was that they both had a deep and abiding hunger for freedom. It was the same reason they’d fought in the war. It was the thing they’d watched their friends die for. It wasn’t just freedom from the Alliance they were looking for in the far flung reaches of the black, it was freedom from another man’s commands, freedom to find their own destinies. Slavery was something that neither of them could stomach nor ever grow accustomed to. When Mal looked up from the brands the girl was looking him in the eyes. She had seen him looking and knew that he recognized what they meant. But she didn’t cast her eyes down in shame or subservience. She simply turned away to leave. As she took her first step toward the door, her master reached out and caught her wrist causing her to turn and face him. “Just a moment, Terra,” the man said in a schoolmaster’s reprimanding voice. “Where exactly do you think you are going, my dear?” Mal’s jaw was clenched and he was staring hard at the scene before him. Beside him, Zoë sat, hands in her lap and as cold as ice. “Terra, how many times have I told you how to properly deliver a tray?” The man looked at Mal and Zoë imploringly as if asking them to witness what he had to put up with. “Really, I should think you would have it by now.” The girl was staring the man directly in the eye. Her long, blonde hair was pulled back so Mal could see her face set and unmoving. “If I did not have guests, I might be more lax, but when there are business associates present, I must have things perfect. So, pick up the tray and deliver it again, correctly this time.” The man released her wrist and looked to Mal and Zoë again, smiling. The girl did not move but continued to stare at the man. “Terra,” the man said, a note of sternness in his tone now, “pick up the tray and deliver it again.” Still the girl didn’t move but stared the man in the eye. The man sighed. “Obviously, she cannot comprehend what I am asking of her.” The man reached down to his side so fast the two crew members could barely follow the movement, drew back a knobby old cane and struck the side of the girl’s knee with it. She fell on her knees with a sharp intake of breath, but didn’t cry out in pain. She continued to look the man in the eye with the same defiance as before, but tears were now visible trailing down her cheeks. The smile had only left the man’s face for a moment, but it had returned now in its sparkling glory. “You see,” he explained to all of them, “the proper way to deliver a tray to your master is to kneel as you present it to show the proper respect. Sadly, as you can see, Terra is a very slow learner.” He reached out the same hand he had struck her with and fondly stroked the top of her head. “You may leave us now, Terra, until I ring for you again,” he said and dismissed her. The girl stood, with some difficulty Zoë noticed and limped from the room. She resisted the urge to draw her gun and put a bullet through the qing wa cao de liu mang’s teeth. There was nothing that she could do for the girl that wouldn’t get her and the Captain, not to mention the poor girl, good and rightly dead. She thanked her lucky stars that Mal had managed to keep his undoubtedly itchy hands away from his gun as well. What Zoë had seen had upset her, more than she was expecting. Her heart was racing and she could feel little beads of sweat collecting along her hairline. She made a conscious effort to settle herself down. Going to pieces wouldn’t do anyone any good either. “My apologies for the unpleasantness. True what they say about finding good help, what?” The man laughed and Mal was staring so hard at his face that he thought maybe he could get it to explode with just a little more concentration. “Well,” the man said reaching for one of the mugs of ale and breaking the silence left when Zoë and Mal didn’t share in his joke, “before you go, would to care to have a drink with me? Our local brew is very good.” Mal pasted a grin on his face and swallowed the burning lump of anger that was in his throat. “No,” he said, “I think we’ve had as much of a taste of this place as we can take. We’ll just take our payment and take our leave.” Mal stood up, grabbed the purse and turned to walk out. Zoë stood as well. Immediately, her sweat started up again, in earnest and the room started to move by itself, jumping and swirling. She tried to get a handle on which way was up as she felt herself starting to fall. She stuck out a hand to grab her chair but she missed and fell to the floor as the world went black. Mal heard her fall and spun around. He dropped to her side and tried to lift her up, but her eyes had rolled back in her head and she was starting to twitch in a way that Mal didn’t like at all. “Call a doctor,” Mal called to the man who was still seated behind his desk. “Get some help here or help me get her back to our ship.” Mal was calling Zoë’s name trying to bring her back around. He knew she couldn’t take the horse ride back to the ship, so they’d need to find a cart. “Oh no. Oh, dearie me,” the man said, a look of concern on his face. Mal let loose a long string of cursing, which he ended by screaming at the man, “Bi zui and do something useful!” The man finally stood from his desk, very calmly and took a few steps until he was standing over Mal and the convulsing prostrate form of Zoë. “You see, Captain Reynolds,” he said in his slow measured way, “the truth of the matter is that I’ve seen this before. “Good,” Mal said. “Then you can fix her yourself.” The man shook his head. “No, no, I can’t. Well, that’s not entirely true, but there are difficulties…” Mal stood, grabbed the man by the front of his robes, and drew his gun from its holster all in one movement. He shoved the barrel in the man’s face. “Stop spluttering and tell me what is wrong with her.” Very calmly the man told the Captain what was ailing Zoë. “It simply seems, Captain Reynolds, that some people react badly to our local drinks, particularly when they are poisoned as hers was at the pub this morning where I instructed you to wait for my messenger.” A smile spread across the man’s face and Mal was once again presented with his shining white teeth. Mal shook with rage. He had never wanted to end a man so much as he did this man right now, but he could hear Zoë’s ragged breathing on the ground at his feet and he knew that if he put a hole in this man, he might as well put one in her too.

niu shi = cow shit qing wa cao de liu mang = frog-humping son of a bitch bi zui = shut up


Monday, February 7, 2005 8:27 PM


qing wa cao de liu mang = frog-humping son of a bitch
This swearing s just wonderful.

My god... book worm evil man just wont know what will hit him... it will probably be Mal's bullet.

^^ Yay, waiting for more.

Tuesday, February 8, 2005 12:21 AM


Loved this to bits. The interplay between Mal and Zoe was so delicious and right on target. Terrific characterisations. I am amazed though that Mal didn't end that *tamade hundan* the moment he struck the girl. The only odd thing was the bar being called a pub. Can't wait to see what happens next, this is just so utterly shiny! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Tuesday, February 8, 2005 7:21 AM


Well they say start as you mean to go on so I'm thinking this is going to be a hectic ride.

Very interested to see where you're planning on taking this :-)

Tuesday, February 8, 2005 11:52 AM


Man...that guy better watch out. Once Mal can get help for Zoe, that guys gonna get an ass whoopin'!

Wednesday, February 9, 2005 11:11 AM


Good start with this! I'm thinking that there's more going on here than Mal realises. Great job. More!

- Soul

Thursday, February 10, 2005 9:10 AM


I echo the praise, and second the calls for more.


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From the Inside: 2
Zoe's dying and Mal has to figure out how to make that not so without using his gun.

From the Inside
This is the first part of a multi-part series. It's just the openning of the door so it's a short one. Zoe and Mal on the job, reflecting on what's important, and as always, a bit of peril.