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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
There's a dead Shepherd on the floor, a bunch of angry live ones, and Mal, Zoe, and Simon in their midst.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 3134 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Blue Sun Job, Part 37: Plan B
Mal ruttin’ well knew all them Shepherds weren’t traipsing around unarmed. No fellas with that much hardware stashed in the cellar, and more’n a few secrets they was intent on keeping, relied solely on the dubious protection of the Almighty. In his mind he marked the most likely to be packin’ and watched ‘em extra close.
He backed up a bit to get himself free for action while Zoe tried to cover near a dozen of ‘em all at once. Oddest durned thing was, Mal had a twitch of a notion he could count on Simon during the fight. Not that he could count on the boy for much, but Mal was still fair certain which side of the impending tussle Doc’d be on, killin’ of a Shepherd taking place in front of his face or not. Now, where stood Book?
Actually he still sat, lookin’ for all the ‘verse like that 他妈的 Shepherd had just spilled his tea, and not his brains, all over the fancy carpet. “Hold, Brothers,” Book commanded. He spoke quietly yet with a brooks-no-argument firmness. The Shepherds poised for action immediately eased off. Mal had the notion Book weren’t the head honcho of this conclave, and no reason to think different now, but he still held a good and solid sway over the others. Number two man, maybe.
Book stood, moving with deliberate slowness, Mal noted. For a preacher he sure did know how to handle violent situations. Had to ask about that some time. Always did seem to know whether to pick a spot of violence of his own, bluffing threats, or soothing Preachery-ness. For hisownself, Mal always did seem to pick the one that most pissed the other fella off all the more. Kinda like executing the Number 12 Shepherd.
“They have my vow of safety here,” Book told the other Shepherds. “I’ve given my word they’re free to leave if, when, and how they choose.” The immediateness of the situation instantly dissolved, the other Shepherds settling back into their seats, no longer threatening to Mal and Zoe. Gorramit! This whole dealing with folks what had that ‘sense of honor’ thing goin’ on definitely had its perks.
Book turned to Mal with a wry expression. “I would, however, appreciate an explanation about why you decided to murder Brother Sand. A vengeance killing isn’t exactly your style.”
I got a style? “Weren’t ‘murder’,” Mal said flatly. He turned and shared a long look with Zoe. Much said, no words. She uncocked the pistol and in unison they sat. Zoe set the pistol down on the polished wood and leaned back in her chair. To the untrained eye (which at this table Mal suspected meant only Simon) Zoe appeared relaxed. Mal knew better. She remained on full alert. Mal reached out with one finger and slid the pistol toward Shepherd Book. Words could only say so much. Doin’ was the real, powerful way to speak.
Leaning back in his own seat, Mal played his eyes over the gathering. They were all fixed square on him. “That ain’t no Shepherd,” Mal repeated. “Maybe we shouldn’t’a oughta shot him. Be more fittin’ if he went out and hung himself, but I weren’t betting on him being obliging that way.” He gave the remaining eleven a good solid look in the eye, each in turn. “You boys got yourself a weed in your lily patch.”
Book frowned. “You’re saying he was a spy?”
Mal nodded. “Sure as 狗屎. Fed spy right smack dab in the middle of your not-so-secret-anymore society.” He leaned toward Book to emphasize his point. “Alliance got a pin in you boys, no denyin’.”
“How do you know?” Book asked. Mal took note of the fact that Book wasn’t particularly doubting Mal’s assessment, only asking for more information. Somehow that bit of outright trust almost gave Mal a twitch of the warm fuzzies. You know… almost.
Zoe answered for Mal. “His timeline was wrong. There’s one we took a personal interest in keeping track of.” She gestured to the corpse still sprawled where it landed. “And that one was top of the list. Then he up and vanished. We always figured someone else got to him, or he reckoned he had some serious Browncoat enemies on the loose and decided to vanish.”
“Either way,” Mal went on, “He flat-out lied right here and now.” He glanced around at the others. “You fella use some of your fancy gadgetry and connections to check,” he ordered.
Book gave a nod to the Shepherd Mal had tagged as being the fella most in charge—maybe base commander hereabouts. Sure enough, that one directed several of the others to remove the body and search the dead Shepherd’s stuff.
Letting out a slow breath, Mal shared another long look with Zoe, then an equally communicative look with Book. Hell’s bell, Mal thought, for a shiny couple of minutes there it appeared they might just have a way and means to hook the ‘verse by the tail. Allies who had money, means, respectability, and—best of all—weren’t out strictly for themselves; who wouldn’t betray them for a shiny credit, or just for the sheer spiteful hell of it. And, he had to admit, a chance to smack back at the Alliance in a serious way. Of course it all went right straight into the crapper. Mal knew God didn’t much like him, but sometimes it seemed like the whole rest of the ‘verse was in cahoots, too.
Sometimes Mal just felt purely put-upon.
It amazed Simon how calm he could be in this situation. Practicing trauma medicine surely accounted for part of it. The other part, no doubt, came down to the bizarre unreality of… well, his life. Before he stepped onboard Serenity Simon Tam hadn’t dreamed people such as Captain Malcolm Reynolds existed outside of schlock drama plays and cheap novels. He might have to read more of those cheap novels, he considered. They clearly had more than a grain of truth to them. One that absurdly came to mind had been called “Space Pirates and the Reavers of the Belt.” Damn! Simon thought. He could write that very story now. That book probably wasn’t unrealistic pulp fiction at all—it was a documentary. Or propaganda?
Then it occurred to him that such subtle infiltrations into the root culture of the Core planets might, in fact, be by intent. Could they be deliberate actions to impart information to those thoroughly under the Alliance’s control? Undergrounds. Secret societies. There were more things afloat in the ‘verse than were dreamed of in the Alliance’s designs. The Independents had been crushed—he glanced at the captain—but not obliterated.
It was also very much not lost on Simon that he’d also just witnessed a precise demonstration of the very thing he’d asked Zoe about when he was new on the ship. “…if he tells you to kill me?” “I kill you.” He’d known all along that was not an idle claim on Zoe’s part, but to see it in action…
Simon gulped and controlled himself. All of this did reinforce the idea he had to continue to equivocate where the captain was concerned. He hadn’t exactly lied to them his first day on the ship, but he also hadn’t exactly told them everything. And the things he hadn’t told Mal…
Glancing around, Simon wanted to curse the fates vigorously for this shiny opportunity Mal and Zoe had just lost to them all. He’d seen the equipment these Shepherds had, the drugs and medical supplies, had scanned over some of the materials and research at their disposal, and spoken to a Shepherd who had been—before he was a Shepherd—an Alliance research scientist in an area akin to that which had been inflicted on River. So much might have been accomplished here, with them! That is, had not Mal told Zoe to shoot one of the Shepherds.
”That ain’t a Shepherd. Another echo. Somehow Simon could not bring himself to fully doubt Mal was right. The man may be a fool in a lot of ways, but in the area of survival he had keen insights. In that case, Mal hadn’t lost them the opportunity. It was already lost and he’d saved them from stepping into a trap.
Simon had started to think of Serenity and her crew as something more than an expedient. The ship had become something he almost dared think of as ‘home’. And this tangled mismatch of a crew had become colleagues, companions, confidants, and even in hints of moments—dare he say it? No. As he looked at the captain Simon knew it was best if he pulled back. At best, Simon was crew. The ship’s doctor. It wasn’t a terrible thing to be on a ship captained by Malcolm Reynolds (In the broad general sense, Simon qualified to himself. Day to day it could be more than trying). Mal came back for crew. He protected his crew. But crews came and went. Hired and fired. Simon was crew. Not family.
“So, what was your notion?” Mal asked Book abruptly once things had settled down and the corpse had been removed. “What exactly was it you wanted from us? Seems to me we don’t exactly fit into this little crusader scenario of yours here no how, no way.”
Book had had an entire carefully prepared pitch he’d planned to use. There was going to be history, philosophy, appeals to honor and duty, and even a hit of nobility in it. The bloodstain on the carpet somehow made all that seem foolishly excessive. The captain was a quick, blunt man who didn’t care for prevarication—or more bluntly put, he didn’t take 狗屎. Well enough, then.
“Guerrilla warfare,” Book told him bluntly. No lead-in. No subtlety. “The sort of hit-and-run raids you do on some of your ‘jobs’, but on occasion we’d ask you to do ones targeted to our ends. I know you have familiarity with that sort of thing both during the war and since. Also smuggling. And theft.”
Mal nodded assent. “Sure. That makes sense. You boys wanted someone to do the dirty work, the sinful work so you all could keep the blood off your saintly hands.”
“A harsh assessment,” Book said, then admitted, “but you’re not wrong.” He leaned forward toward Mal and Zoe, folding his hands together on the tabletop. “Many of us left behind lives we very much don’t want to revisit.” Book saw the bright question mark light in Mal’s eyes and gave a quick don’t-even-think-I’m-going-to-tell-you smile in answer. “Think of it as the alcoholic who dares not take a single drink for fear of the excess it leads to.” He sighed. “Coming onboard your ship gave me a fair taste of exactly what that’s like.”
With a sincere, though slightly wicked, grin, Mal said, “I reckon I know what you mean there, Preacher. You weren’t on my boat but a day when you’d punched out a lawman and threw in with criminals. Aided and abetted.”
Book didn’t smile in return. Very seriously, he said, “Yes. And that troubled me deeply. More than you know.”
“Sorry, Preacher,” Mal said softly. “Didn’t meant to go diggin’ into old hurts.” Book saw Mal flick a meaningful glance at Zoe. “Been more than enough of that going around lately.”
And more to come, son, Book thought sadly. All he’d learned of Mal, Zoe, and their past had yet to come to full boil, with them, or with Zoe’s husband. Maybe it could be stalled off for a time, but inevitably, their history together would impact their present, and their future.
“It’s all right,” Book said. “It was a thing I had to come to terms with.” He studied them very seriously. “Just as you two have to come to terms with all the things we’ve been discussing these past few days.”
Neither gave the slightest indication they had any notion what he was talking about. It was this control and ability to compartmentalize, Book realized, that was both their greatest strength together, and one of their most fundamental weaknesses.
Pointedly shifting subjects back, Mal said, “Don’t see how us few on our puny, unarmed ship could make a speck’o dust’s worth of difference pulling off a few raids on your account.” He shook his head. “Pin pricks. Even what we did there at Blue Sun’s treasury… Big damned score for us. To them, not even a decimal point disturbed in their accounting books. Naught but a pin prick.”
“Enough pin pricks, in the right places, will bring down an elephant,” Book told him.
Mal leaned back in his chair and worked that over thoughtfully. “I ain’t never seen an elephant,” he said, “but I surmise your meaning. I did once see our Angels take out an Alliance cruiser. Prettiest damned sight in the ‘verse when the core of that thing finally cut loose.
“Well,” Mal went on after a moment obviously reflecting on the long past, and ultimately futile, Independent victory, “Assuming we had decided to play your little game, what would have been in it for us?”
Book smiled broadly. Trust the captain to shove all that pesky nobility aside and get down to the bottom line. “Money,” Book said.
That tweaked Mal’s interest. “I did recall mention of a treasure. Knights temple treasure…”
“Templar,” Book amended. “And it’s not literal. It’s not a pile of gold hidden somewhere.”
“That is a pure and sorrowful disappointment,” Mal cut in.
“But,” Book put in forcefully, “Think about the treasure you have onboard right now. The Blue Sun platinum. And think how you got it. Resources. That’s the real treasure. Information. Research. Intelligence. Data. You managed the Blue Sun job by having the information that let you get into there and out again.”
“We got caught,” Mal said flatly.
“Not for the Blue Sun job,” Book countered. “But even at that, you getting caught? Where are you now?”
“Down a gorram rabbit hole,” Mal muttered, looking around the Sanctuary’s underground chamber. “Scary crazy rabbits.”
Book ignored his comment. “Where you’re not,” Book emphasized, “is in an Alliance prison. Resources got you out and clear. The ability to tap into the Cortex, and Alliance records, military and legal. One wave from me and not even a record of your conviction was left. Some—many—of those resources were mine.”
Mal sighed. “No denying you saved our sorry behinds,” he said with a hint of sadness. “And I am grateful for that. Ah, hell… You know well enough I got no problem makin’ some mischief for the Alliance when and how I’m able. So that part’s shiny. And having intel what might get us into some fine scores would also be a jim dandy thing. Ain’t no discounting the pluses of having friends what could shelter us who ain’t always looking to put their hand in our pockets, nor slit our throats, too. But Preacher,” he leaned forward and Book saw his face go utterly sincere and serious, “We lost that gorram war and it cost us dear. There ain’t no more Independents government or… Well, there ain’t no more Independents nothing left. We couldn’t win against the Alliance when we had worlds, and ships, and factories, and armies. Now all we got left to us is a handful of malcontents like myownself and we’re too gorram busy trying to stay under the radar and outta the clink to do much of anything the Feds would take note of. I ain’t lookin’ to fight that war again. If we couldn’t win before, we got less than zero chance now.”
Book waited a moment to reorder his thoughts to deal with this very accurate assessment and objection. It was, in a way, heartening to know that Captain Reynolds, with his entrenched fondness for tilting at windmills, did so with the basic realism that’s what it really was.
“Mal,” Book said quietly, purposely using his name in a familiar way. “Our plan isn’t to take down the Alliance at all.”
“Then what the gorram…?”
Cutting him off with a wave of his hand, Book said, “You’re right. There are no Independents as any sort of cohesive force anymore. Eliminating the Alliance would leave a vacuum and likely worse would fill the void. The Alliance isn’t evil.”
“Now that I take issue with,” Mal said fiercely.
“The intent isn’t evil,” Book revised himself quickly. “But elements within the Alliance are. Evil. Deeply so. And that’s our aim, to root out the evil portions.”
Mal appeared to be considering all of it. He finally shrugged. “Fine. I guess that ain’t too terrible an aim, all things weighed in earnest. And seeing as your timeline looks to be roughly eternity, I reckon I might have considered signing on. You know, assuming there was a clear profit in sight and no notions of us embracing the religiosity or such.” Book had to grin. “’Course that’s before everything went to hell in a handbasket,” Mal added, glancing at the bloodstain. “Can’t say I think much of your holy intel to let an Alliance mole lurk right in your midst.”
“If he was,” one of the brothers put in harshly. No love lost between Mal and the other Shepherds so far, Book noted glumly.
“He was,” a voice from the door countered sharply. Three of those sent to investigate Brother Sand came back down into the chamber. Book noted a firmness and resolution in their steps he suspected concealed outright, unChristianly murderous fury.
“We got into his private files,” a brother said. “He was working for the Alliance all along, sending in reports. Blast!”
Mal smirked in an I-told-you-so way. “Hope you boys thought to put evacuation plans on your agenda. ‘Cause this place ain’t safe no more.”
“We did, and will,” the brother said, sounding irritated with Mal. He glanced around at the other Shepherds. “But we have some time. His next report doesn’t appear to be due for another week.”
Book saw Mal perk up. “He weren’t reporting constantly? Good. Look like he send in anything on us?”
The Shepherd shook his head. “You’re in the write-up, but it wasn’t sent.”
“Damned good,” Mal said.
“But,” the Shepherd went on, “Your last visit here—to leave off the doctor and his sister—was noted and transmitted.”
Book saw Simon flinch. “Were our I.D.s included?” Simon asked.
“Doesn’t look like he knew exactly who you were, nor that you are wanted by the Feds,” the Shepherd said. “Fortunately he had to be extremely circumspect in his activities and that inhibited his ability to investigate. All he appears to have reported was a man and his young sister were dropped off by a ship named Serenity. No other details.”
“That’s a relief,” Simon said.
Book saw Mal roll his eyes. “Ain’t but a temporary reprieve, Doctor” Mal said. “It’s another chunk of data for the Feds to add up, all spelling an unpleasant ending for us. Throw in another missing Fed agent tied to our boat…” He trailed off, rubbing his eyes. “We gotta run harder and faster than before.” His face was grim. Zoe’s too. “Nothing never goes our way for more’n a span of a heartbeat,” Mal said, low.
Reaching toward him, Book laid a hand on Mal’s arm. “Mal, agree to join us. We can help. I can help. Those information sources… I can connect you with the best in the ‘verse.”
He looked puzzled. “In case it ain’t caught your notice, Preacher, your little nefarious club here is done for.”
Book laughed richly and deeply. Mal scowled at him. “Oh, Captain… this is a setback, without a doubt. But surely you should expect more of me by now.” He grinned at the captain. “Mal, there’s always a Plan B.”
Monday, October 17, 2005 8:46 AM
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