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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Mal takes a job that nobody wants . . .
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 944 RATING: 8 SERIES: FIREFLY
The bar was deserted, save for the dead body and looked disused. The crew clustered round the prone form, showing various degrees of interest. Kaylee and Inara stood well back huddled together, looking spooked. Zoë and Hat hung over the body curiously and Mal and Simon hunkered down next to it.
“Well,” Mal leaned over and poked the body, “appears to be a stiff. Any further thoughts, Doc? Coprsification well advanced or whatever?”
Simon knelt by the body, lifting up a hand, checking for vital signs. “Well, he’s certainly dead. Not long though, I’d guess . . .“
“What, a coupla days?” queried Mal.
Simon looked up at Mal seriously. “More like a couple of hours!”
“Reavers?” Zoë’s voice was business-like with an edge of fear.
Mal shook his head. “Nope this ain’t their work. This was done by regla’r folks shootin’ at each other.” He fingered a neat bullet wound to the left-hand side of the skull. There were two more bloodier wounds to the chest.
“’Sides”, pointed out Hat, looking critically at the dead man, “there ain’t no desecration and such, Reavers tend to really live it up with a corpse, have some fun, if you take my meanin’.”
“I do” said Mal, catching her eye and holding it for a spell, “though I wouldn’t name it “fun” as such.” He turned to the others. “But we’ve got no call to get nervous. We’ve all seen what Reavers do to a body and Hat’s right, this ain’t got the look of it.”
“Well, what’s . . ” began Zoë, when a noise from behind the long central bar of the saloon had them all whipping round, Zoë and Mal cocking their guns in anticipation.
“Can I get you folks a drink?” asked an old man wryly, shuffling out from behind the bar. “You all looks like you could use one, after your close encounter with Curly, there!” He laughed,a gurgling noise which turned halfway into a cough. He was dressed in the worst type of settler garb, making up for the thinness of garments and skins by a peculiar layering, with the result that he looked like nothing less that a heap of rags and dead animals with a head sticking out.
Mal, continuing to cover the man with his gun as he wandered forward, said, “Yeah, he’s a welcome sight and no mistake. Care to enlighten us on the situation hereabouts, Old timer?”
“Well, that fella there’s Curly Turner, one o’ the many nephews of ol’ Jim Turner what has a ranch up at Willow Creek. Prob’ly a come inta town to pick up some feed or the like, but I’m reckonin’ he won’t be headin’ back any time soon.” He sniggered, poking the corpse with his foot and then strolled back to the bar, stuck his arm over the counter and came up with a bottle of whiskey. He yanked at the top with his teeth, spat out the cork and took a stiff gulp. Then, as they watched, he continued to gulp down the liquor as though it was water.
“Hey, hey, HEY!” Hat’s soft remonstrance turned into a shout. She went over to the man and put a hand on his arm, “whoa! Go easy there, that ain’t no milk you’re guzzlin’!” She gently lifted the bottle from his fingers and reached for a cleanish glass. Then, gesturing to the others with her head, she led the old man to a table, set one of the many fallen chairs upright and sat him down. The others gathered round.
The old man nodded at Mal and Zoë. “Care to quit pointing them tom fool things at me?” He gestured to their guns, “its that kinda caper what got us into this mess in the first place!”
Mal shrugged and laid his gun flat on the table, lifting his hand up carefully and waiving it in the air. “Look, no fire arms. Now, just what ‘mess’ are we talkin’ on?”
“Its by way of bein’ a feud,” explained the old man, turning his glass of golden liquor round in his hands and gazing into its depths. “Old man Turner up at Willow Creek and Missus Leong at the Lazy ‘L’ have been goin’ at it like cat and dog, for, oh, months n’more now, ever since Jim Turner shot the old lady’s favourite horse, Charlie. My, but that was some damn fine horseflesh, could run like the wind and stealthy too, more ‘n a little like a jaguar or such . . .” he sighed lost in a horse reverie.
Mal coughed, “you were sayin’ as how there’s a feud?” he prompted.
“Hm?” the old man pulled himself back from contemplating the beauty of a good horse. “Well, Missus Leong, she loved that horse, way more’n any of her good –for-nothing brood, I might add. And that was the start of it, half a year back. Since then the two families have been takin’ pot shots at each other with this gorram town in between. Everyone’s took sides and its been pretty much a blood bath ever since. Ain’t hardly no one left now, ‘scept old’uns like me and the younger folk. Lots’a orphans and such now too. Ain’t even got the manpower to get the harvest in proper. That’s why you’d a seen it all standing on the stalk, leavin’ it ta rot. Them as are left are holed up in either ranch and don’t much venture out. It’s a sad state’a affairs, but there it is!”
“It’s a tale of woe, right enough,” agreed Mal, “but I ain’t sure as we can help much ‘sept by clearing out a here fast before the shootin’ starts again! Kaylee, its lookin’ like we may have ta find a new venue for yer do, this place ain’t look so neighbourly no more.”
“Um, Captain,” Book spoke from his position leaning against the bar, listening to the story, “I wonder if we might maybe be of some use here? Well, myself and Inara that is . .”
“ME?” Inara sounded rather perturbed.
“Well, Shepherd, what d’you have in mind?” asked Mal.
“Perhaps, as people of peace, Inara and I might be able to assist in mediating this little disagreement?”
“Ain’t hardly ‘little’” put in Hat, sharply.
Book turned to her and, speaking mostly to her, continued to put his case. “There ain’t many as would shoot at either a preacher or a companion without giving them a spell to say their piece first. Perhaps Inara and I could visit with the folk on each ranch, see if we could put an end to the killing. They must surely want an end by now?”
The old man quavered. “D’you really think ya could? I reckon most of ‘em is ready and willin’ to stop by now but just can’t find the way. Neither side can get near each other, not without a bullet in their guts!”
Harriet looked at Mal but spoke to Book, “I guess it’s true that neither of ya are likely targets, it’d be the humanitarian thing to do, I s’pose.”
Mal nodded at her and turned to Book. “Well, Preacher, if you and ‘Nara are willin’”, he shrugged, “I ain’t got call to stop you tryin’. Might be more’n a bit dangerous though, I’m thinking.” He turned to Inara, “You sure you wanna do this?”
Inara shrugged far more gracefully than Mal. “The Shepherd’s right,” she informed them. “Companion’s have often been used over the years as go-betweens and negotiators because of our particular status and discretion. I’d be willing to give it a try.”
“Right, then” said Mal, “You two come back to Serenity and grab anything you need. I’m reckoning by the look of Curly that here ain’t the safest place to be for longer’n strictly necessary. Mr er . . . “
He looked at the Old man, who responded, “Goldy, they call me, on account o’ having’ come here lookin’ for that very thing. Di’n’t find none tho.”
“Mr Goldy here,” Mal went on, “can no doubt point you two in the direction of the warring parties. But walk soft both o’ you. Can’t afford to lose either one!”
The crew had left the town someway behind and were nearing Serenity, when they saw the figure of Wash hurrying towards them gesticulating wildly.
“Mal,” he yelled, as soon as he was near enough for them to hear, “a wave’s come in from Badger, reckons he’s got some work for us, but he needs it done urgent.”
“I hope ‘Nara and the Shepherd are gonna be all right!” Said Harriet, fretting. “I ain’t so sure as we should’a just left ‘em behind like that!” She pealed potatoes distractedly, chopped each one in half and fed them into a large stew pot bubbling on the hob.
“Quit, mothering!” said Mal, “they’re both grown ups, a darn sight more grown up than me, apparently!” he shot her a look and she smiled softly. He gripped her shoulder as he came to stand beside her and massaged it gently, “I’m sure they’ll be just fine. We’ll see Badger, get the cargo and then go back and check on them if Tolmec is on the way to the drop spot, which its as like to be as not, seeing as it ain’t more’n 3 hours from Persephone . . . What the hell is this, any how?” He was staring into the pot, using a wooden spoon to poke about in its depths.
Harriet slapped at his hand and he withdrew it swiftly. “Its traditional Irish stew; my mum’s old recipe. Its mighty tasty, but it don’t become so ‘til you’ve let it set for a spell in the oven – preferably at a really low temperature over night and it says here,” she pretended to read from her home made recipe book, “’can be totally ruined if senior officers of any rank are allowed to peck at it’, so get your hands off!”
Mal laughed, “This senior officer better go an see as Wash knows where to fly this gorram ship anyhow. I’m real lookin’ forward to tasting that concoction in a bit though!”
“Who says you’re gettin’ any of it?” queried Harriet to his rear as he ran up the steps. She could hear his chuckle echo down the corridor as he headed for the bridge.
“Kaylee?” Mal stuck his head round the engine room door, but the room was deserted. Serenity would be landing at Eavesdown Docks within the next few minutes and Mal needed to find her. He cursed and yelled “Kayleee!” at the top of his lungs. Barrelling back along the corridor, he stopped still and quiet at the head of the steps down into the galley. Harriet was bent over one of the units doing something complicated with what looked like strings of protein. She was speaking to someone out of sight, clearly curled up in the lounge area to one side.
“I reckon as how you should stop the pussy-footin’ around caper, that you been doin’” she was saying to whomever it was, “ain’t nobody got their fall by dancin’ round each other!”
“Oh! I get ya!” laughed a voice, distinctly Kaylee’s to Mal’s grim satisfaction, “an’ you’d know Hat, seein’ as how you never dance around anyone, do ya?” Kaylee’s voice positively dripped sarcasm.
Hat snorted and turned round to grin mischievously at the unseen Kaylee. “Ain’t got the slightest notion who yer referin’ to, young lady, but if’n you mean me an’ our beloved lead’ . . .” Mal coughed and Hat stopped talking instantaneously, swivelling back round to the look at her cooking and trying to pretend she hadn’t just turned crimson.
Kaylee laughed until Mal said, “Kaylee, don’t pay you to put yer feet up and talk to the hired help!” a glare at Hat who, still looking at her culinary creating, stuck out her tongue where Mal couldn’t see and rolled her eyes. “I pay you to keep Serenity afloat! I was gonna see if you wanted to ‘company us to see Badger. Thought as we could stop off at the spares yard on the way back, see if they’ve got that extender couplin’ you was naggin’ me about, but if you’re too much of a lady, too busy gossipin’ for that, then . . .” He shrugged and made to leave.
Kaylee was on him in a second. “Oh Cap, I’d love to. Can I really? I ain’t never really met Badger, ‘cept that one time and I was more’n a little distracted then, what with the shimmer wine and my shiny dress and all!”
“Well,” Mal smiled, “be down in the bay in 3 minutes or we’ll go without you! . . . and you,” he leant across to Harriet, as he strolled out, “I’d give up the dancin’ and stick to the cookin’, if I were you! There’s a darn sight more return in it!” He raised an eyebrow suggestively and Hat smiled softly at his retreating back.
The cargo nets covering Badger’s ‘office’ provided some shade, but it was still pretty hot and stuffy as Mal, Zoë, Jayne and Kaylee stood in the centre of the room. They had not been asked to sit down. Mal, glancing around, also noticed that there seemed to be a certain amount more firepower encircling them than was usual.
“Captain Reynolds!” Badger greeted him tersely and then leant back in his chair, propping his feet on the desk before him.
“Badger”, Mal nodded, “got word you maybe had a job for us. But, heard tell, you need it done quick. Well, here I am.”
“Certainly do, Captain!” Badger stood up and wandered round his desk to face Mal, “got a client what’s got some livestock needs to get off world damn quick. The feds are showing way too much of an interest in his business affairs, if you get my drift, needs to make this particular cargo vanish pronto.”
“That we can do, dependin’” said Mal, “on what livestock we’re talking. Last time we moved cattle I swore to myself and my crew as how we’d never transport steer again unless we was real hard strapped. Took more’n a week to get my cargo bay clean again! This here cargo better be a mite smaller’n that or housetrained if we’re gonna take the deal.”
“Its your lucky day, Sergeant Reynolds!” Badger smiled a frankly disturbing smile. “This partic’lar cargo is smaller than cows and what’s more, they’re housetrained!”
“And they’d be?” Mal was looking a mite wary.
“’Undred of ‘em, indentured servants to a man, should fit nicely in Seren’ty’s hold.”
“You’re askin’ me to carry slaves?” Mal voice was gruff and deadly.
“Ain’t gonna be a problem for ya, Cap’n, is it?” Badger asked innocently.
“You’re gorram right, it’s a problem”, growled Mal, folding his arms, “ain’t gonna do it, Badger! You’d best be findin’ yerself some other stooge. Serenity don’t carry slaves!”
“That’s a gorram shame,” sighed Badger, shaking his head “’cos I ain’t got no one else I can get to do it as quick as needs be and my client needs it doin’ – now! I weren’t askin’, I were tellin’. So you better get Serenity prepped for her virgin debut as a slaver or I might go lookin’ about me for some kinda hincentive.”
“More money?” asked Jayne, hopefully.
“Nah, not that kinda hincentive.” Grinned Badger, “Lads.” He nodded to a couple of his hired guns and flicked a hand. Hands gripped the shoulders of both Kaylee, who squealed nervously, and Zoë, who swore and struggled venomously till Mal, noticing the vast array of weaponry hung about the slightly jumpy men restraining them and realising they were outnumbered, said “Zoë, *bizwe*!” Zoë stopped struggling immediately and a serious, communicative look passed between them.
Badger relaxed against the side of his desk. “So, Cap’n Reynolds, you do the job nice and easy, do as you’re told, you come back ‘ere, not only will you get a pretty payment for yer troubles but yer’ll get ya women folk back, none the worse. ‘Course, you cross me in any way, yer’ll get a whole heap o’troubles and their mutilated corpses. Do I make meself clear?” Kaylee squeaked again until Zoë shushed her with a look.
Mal nodded and rubbed his temple distractedly. “Wash and the Doc are really gonna kill me!” he muttered.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005 11:57 AM
Tuesday, March 15, 2005 12:36 PM
Tuesday, March 15, 2005 11:10 PM
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