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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Mal and Inara play dress up, and everyone stretches their legs back on Salisbury.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2872 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
The Treasure of Lei Fong Wu
Chapter Thirty Six
Serenity departed Tsang Chow station six days after it arrived, fully fueled and provisioned. The House of Lei came aboard again, along with the eleven soldiers who had arrived with them – plus five more hand-picked by the General – along with Colonel Campbell.
Despite the extra people, things were a little more comfortable now. The General had plenty of supplies loaded, temporary cots installed, and added some other amenities that made the trip bearable. The men quickly turned to and organized themselves with accustomed efficiency, joined, of course, by Johnny, whose Princely status had not kept his uncles from insisting that he remain a recruit private for all practical considerations. The army camp was back, and better than before.
One of the items on the deck was a factory sealed crate containing several kilos of high-grade transnuclear derivatives: a commodity that always had a market. It was where Mal had sank his mastodon-penis profits. Kaylee had likewise invested in some ansible-quality derivative, which she boldly labeled, along with a pretty sign that told Jayne, explicitly, not to eat it.
Wash and Zoe were arguing – not an uncommon occurrence on Serenity, but almost always uncomfortable. While they had technically “made up” there were still issues that forced them to retire to their bunk upon occasion – and not for the usual reasons. Jayne paid Kaylee five thousand for his gluttony, with a promise of two more soon. She was mollified, but continued to use his indiscretion to her advantage.
It had been decided that a return to Lincoln City might not be the smartest move, considering the way they had left it; it was Mal’s experience that local constables were unlikely to welcome back a ship that had left most recently in a hail of bullets. The General waved ahead and had an alternate landing site prepared, with plenty of fuel and supplies pre-positioned. After that, the itinerary went from Salisbury to Hamlet to Athens, where they would meet up with Mr. Universe and his simulated fiancé.
In the meantime, there was plenty of time to kill.
The soldiers continued training, much to the delight of the ladies on board, and this time they were able to bring more elaborate training materials (though Lt. Ho insisted that running around with a log on their shoulder was excellent training – Kaylee tended to agree). Book and Master Lei continued their games of go, Jayne started a continuous poker game (and was disgusted when the soldiers steadfastly refused to gamble – under orders from the General), River wandered around aimlessly or spent time in her spacesuit, staring into the Black, Simon looked for a way to cure River’s issues, and Kaylee took things apart and put them back together. The General tried to probe the Map, but his ancestor was quite unhelpful about anything of substance, and would be until the name of the person who had betrayed the Tyrant was delivered to him.
Others found different ways to entertain themselves.
“Again!” Inara insisted.
“Do we have to?” Mal whined. “I’ve done it four times already! You tryin’ to kill me?”
“Get it up,” she ordered.
“It is up!”
“Higher!” she demanded.
“Is that better?”
“Marginally. Are you ready?”
“This outfit is . . . well, it’s kinda discomforting, if you know what I mean. Lookin’ silly’s just gravy.”
“You aren’t wearing it for comfort,” she noted, flatly. “You are trying to learn something, remember? You want to learn, you have to wear appropriate clothing.”
“Well, it’s really the headgear that’s bothering me. I hate not being able to breathe.”
“You can breathe fine,” she contradicted. “And now you’re stalling. Let’s do it again, and this time try not to rush it so much. Maybe your performance will be better.”
“My arm just gets tired,” he grumbled.
“If you want to touch me, you had better overcome that. Because you never will if you’re weak.”
“I ain’t weak!” Mal protested. “But my legs ache, my knees are about t’give out, my arm’s tired, I can’t breathe, an’—”
Inara rolled her eyes. “So much for the big macho warrior stud archetype.”
“Hey! I can do this! But you got to give me at least ten minutes between rounds! Your keen senses may not have told you I ain’t eighteen anymore, but you could probably hear my knees sayin’ somethin’ along those lines by now!”
“Not my problem . . . old man. Now get it up . . . higher . . . watch the tip . . . keep it near my face . . . there. Now hold it there. You hear me? You hold! Ready?”
Mal groaned. The ‘old man’ comment stung. He was in pretty good shape, after all – had to be, in this business, but he had thought a time or two of late that his best physical years were behind him. And this . . . this was one of the very symbols of male strength and virility.
He had worried it would be a horrible mistake to ask her, but when he saw the packages she’d picked up on Salisbury in her shuttle, he was intrigued. He’d always been curious . . . but also disdainful: he’d never seen this as a particularly manly pursuit. Somewhat sissified, to be truthful. He secretly worried that she would see his interest as a sign of weakness, and tease him about it – but she had acted nothing but professionally during their lessons. She did have the equipment, he had reasoned, and she did know what she was doing. With a month of lonely Black to look forward to, anything that counted as diversion was welcome – no matter how unmanly.
Besides, he had to admit that in a perverse sort of way, it was fun.
Some strenuous huffing and puffing later, Inara looked at him, disappointed. “Less than two minutes. Honestly! Is that the best you can do?”
“Big baby. Maybe you’ll remember to keep your arm out of the way next time.”
Mal heaved a breath and raised the foil. “Okay, let’s try it one last time . . . then I’m crashin’.”
“Agreed. You old folks need your rest,” she grinned, pulling the fencer’s mask over her face and taking her guard – with textbook perfect form.
Mal, on the other hand, looked like a large misshapen mannequin that some drunk had used to approximate what proper guard form should be like. His blade was held too low, the point too high and never steady, and his back, neck, and shoulders were as stiff as a board. But he had learned. This time it took Inara two and a half minutes to bat away the point of his foil and tag him in the stomach. The sword chirped happily with the point.
“Same time tomorrow?” he asked as he pulled the sweaty mask off of his face.
“Certainly, Captain,” she said, nodding.
“Hope you ain’t getting’ discouraged,” he said, blatantly fishing for a compliment. He wasn’t used to being second rate in any martial field – however civilized.
Inara shook her head, her sweaty cascade of hair springing back into perfection. How did she do that? “In only a week, I’ve taken you from an utter ignoramus about the ways of the blade and turned you into a pathetic example of a half-trained fumbling novice. Progress.”
“You said I had potential,” he accused.
“You do. I’ve never seen anyone with more to learn than you.”
“Maybe this was a bad idea,” he muttered.
“Maybe we should quit having this same conversation every time we do this.”
“I just don’t really see the use . . .”
“Yes, how often does one get into a swordfight?” she asked mockingly. “It almost never happens!”
“It doesn’t!” Mal protested. “Like, maybe that one time, but that’s it! Decent people don’t wave three feet o’steel at each other. Impolite. We use our fists, or shoot them or drop something heavy on them. Somethin’ just too damn civilized ‘bout these,” he said, lifting his foil in a salute. Inara raised her eyebrows, almost smiled, and returned it. “Swords ain’t been proper weapons since gunpowder.”
“Wrong, Mal,” she said, stripping off her gear. “Gunpowder and swords have co-existed for centuries. All the great cultures have dueling codes, mythologies, traditions and lore surrounding swords.”
“Can’t say I see much use in ‘em nowadays, ‘less it’s to make rich wussiboys feel superior.”
“You aren’t thinking then,” Inara disagreed. “Which doesn’t surprise me. Swords are very useful, even in combat situations. They are both offensive and defensive weapons. You saw Colonel Campbell drilling his men in using those short swords they carry?”
“I confess I wasn’t payin’ as close attention as you and the other womenfolk were.”
“There’s a reason for that. Them practicing, I mean,” she said, blushing. “Firearms are strictly offensive – save for maybe as a club, or a rifle with a bayonet. Didn’t you say you used a machete in trench warfare in the war?”
“Yeah,” Mal grudgingly admitted. “Couple of times. Knives, too. I ain’t got a problem with sharp pointy things in general, it’s these silly things in particular. Rich man’s toy.”
“You just don’t like them because you aren’t naturally good at them,” she countered. “Swordwork – especially classic Western fencing – relies on reflexes, speed, and agility. Finesse, in other words, something of which you seem to have a diminished supply.”
“I got a sufficiency,” he said, defensively.
“Still, your strengths are your size, your weight, your strength. It makes you a formidable brawler, a capable soldier . . . but they are all weaknesses when it comes to fencing. You make a big target. You hit hard but without any control. You react blindly, not thoughtfully, and you are slow, slow, slow. Right now any thirteen-year old novice in my House could take you apart like a Christmas present with a sword.”
“Now, Inara, don’t go sparin’ my feelin’s,” he chided. “How do you really feel?”
“I’m serious, Mal! Fencing is about balance, and yours is rudimentary at best. It’s about acting reflexively, not reacting. It’s about subtlety,” she continued, staring him in the eye. She held his attention. “It’s about making the smallest of movements and enjoying the pleasure of seeing your blade respond. The ecstasy of having ultimate control. The joy of keeping your muscles firm, not hard.” She noted his interest and her eyes smiled. “This is a good thing, Mal. Honestly, it’s why I got the equipment in the first place. That stupid duel on Persephone, you got lucky. Really lucky. By all rights Atherton should have butchered you. As it was, you came home with more holes than you were comfortable with. And all because you let your pride and stupid frontier sensibilities keep you from studying one of the most ancient of martial arts.”
“When am I ever gonna fight with a sword again?” he asked, rolling his eyes. “That was a fluke, a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Can’t conjure it ever happenin’ twice. Couldn’t possibly happen again,” he insisted.
“Mal, while I can’t really see most of your . . . associates drawing sabers instead of shotguns, your job takes you to some unusual places, and some circles where knowledge of swordplay could be a survival skill. Someday you may well find yourself at swordpoint, your life in mortal danger. And since you obviously dress like a low-class roughneck, it’s unlikely that those more aristocratic types will suspect you know which end of a sword to hold. And right now, they’d be more than half right.”
“I’m tryin’,” he muttered. He was about to pack away his foil when Inara put a hand on his shoulder.
“Not until it’s clean and oiled,” she reminded him. “It’s just a practice sword, I know, but it’s a good habit to get into.”
“Fine,” he grumbled, straightening.
“Mal, think of it this way: no one has to know you’ve studied. It’s another edge, one that might surprise someone someday. It will help your other reflexes, help your over-all physical condition. It will work muscle groups you never thought you had. You are taking strides to counter a natural weakness. That’s admirable.”
“Yeah,” Mal dismissed, “but will it bring the eye of the ladies?”
“It’s been known to,” she admitted. “Plenty of great historical romances revolve around a swordfight. And in your case, I don’t think a lady could resist watching. You can’t buy comedy that good anymore.” With that she walked away, bag slung over her shoulder, hips twitching fetchingly from side to side under her red silk gown. Mal watched for a moment until she left his eyesight.
“Guess I’ll just . . . go polish my sword,” he sighed.
The journey back to Salisbury was blissfully uneventful. Twenty-six days after setting out, Wash made a neat darkside re-entry halfway around the globe from Lincoln City, punching through the Enclouding and into the Bottom, to a tiny little water-logged settlement called Bristow, where the Yellow Sash Tong had a smuggling outpost.
Bristow had absolutely nothing going for it. The nineteen families who had found their way here had done so because of luck (good or bad, the opinion varied with the weather) and had stayed here because there was decent land that their grandchildren may find, someday, sunny enough to farm. In the meantime they mined a small outcrop for silver, harvested local herbs that were in demand on the Heights, and hunted and fished a little. They were putting together a waterwheel to take advantage of a convenient local river’s rise. Eventually they would sell power to the whole valley . . . assuming people settled here who were likely to need it. Twice a month a Company flyer would come in, take on silver ore and hides, leave some supplies, and move on. No one lingered in Bristow.
That’s what made it perfect for the General’s operation.
He had a safe-house built here in the warehouse that was holding much of the equipment for the waterwheel. In exchange for a generous fee, the locals kept the rare stranger from looking inside and allowed the Tong to come and go as it pleased.
Serenity nestled down only fifty feet from the rough wooden warehouse, and in minutes after the landing the soldiers started unloading empty H3 cells and loading up on supplies. They had planned to be here for about twelve hours – just barely enough time to stretch their legs, sniff the air, and take a proper shower (the Bottom had no lack of water).
Mal oversaw the loading of the supplies, nodding agreeably at the crates and boxes coming aboard. Every now and then he’s motion for one to stop, open it, and send it on. He wasn’t so trusting of his new friends that he was likely to let just anything come on board his ship. That’s what made him stop the line when a familiar-looking crate came through.
“What’s this?” he asked, tapping on the crate labeled “Russet Potatoes” in Chinese. It didn’t look like a potato crate. He popped the lid and looked down.
Five A-56 Heavy Assault Rifles stared back at him. He looked up at Colonel Campbell, who was checking in the equipment.
“You notice a lack of arms on this ship?” he asked, lightly. “Every man o’ yours has a Dragon and a 9mm pistol already. Why this?”
“Just a precaution, Captain,” Campbell assured. “We are stepping into the unknown, here, at the capricious whim of a man long dead. We might find ourselves fighting polar bears on Ariel or assaulting some bizarre mystical cult on Goshen. My people are too lightly armed for my comfort. We have sixteen men: one medic, and three infantry squads of five. These will arm the center team. The recon team will have brand new Stingray assault carbines.”
“What about the third squad?”
“Demolitions and heavy weapons,” Campbell supplied. “We have two rocket launchers, two light infantry support machine guns, two mortars and a 15 megawatt laser.”
“Y’all go huntin’ loaded for bear, don’tcha?” Mal grinned.
“It seemed the wisest course of action. When you don’t know what to expect, expect everything. That’s the best way to ensure that nothing happens.”
Mal shook his head. “You sure you’re an officer? ‘Cause that’s more horse-sense than I ever heard out of an officer’s mouth. Sound more like a sergeant.”
“The intelligence service tends to select those with a broader perspective,” Campbell explained with his tight smile.
“Coulda used some more Intel guys like you in the Independents, then.”
“No doubt. But don’t let the extra ordanance alarm you, Captain. It will be kept under lock and key until needed. You may even keep the key, if you so desire.”
Mal shook his head. “Nah. There’s already enough guns on board. If y’all wanted to take my command, you’ve had plenty of chances to do it. Me an’ mine, we could put up a fight, but I ain’t predictin’ a victorious outcome. ‘Sides, you couldn’t keep her in the air without Kaylee, an’ she wouldn’t help out anyone she didn’t feel comfortable with. Like to blow up the boat out o’spite.”
“Perhaps. And then there are the booby-traps you inevitably have rigged to prevent such an occurance.”
“Yeah,” Mal said evenly. “Ship’s full of ‘em.”
“But you have little to fear from us, Captain. The General has many boats finer than Serenity – though I am impressed at what your little ship can do. Perhaps we should have resurrected the design during the war.”
“Nah,” Mal laughed. “Requires too much in terms of baling twine and chewing gum to keep ‘em flyin’. We go through enough duct tape alone in a month . . .”
He was interrupted by Simon coming through the foggy nighttime gloom. The doctor looked very out of place – he wore what Mal called his ‘third best doctorin’ clothes’, a woolen waistcoat over a blindingly white Osirin cotton shirt, enveloped by a stylishly primitive cable-knitted sweater. All of that would have been fine and expected – but he had also strapped the holster of that 9mm he preferred to his waist. He looked confused, but confident – Mal knew it was the cocky stride of someone who had little experience with arms wearing them openly for the first time.
“Decide to come out and play, Doc?” Mal asked.
“The General said that there were some medical supplies here,” he explained. “I wanted to root through them, see what we needed most.”
“You expectin’ to be ambushed by a belligerent bottle of aspirin?” Mal asked, nodding towards the pistol. It took Simon a moment to realize what he was talking about.
“Oh, the gun!” he said finally. “Well, as this is an official clandestine smuggler’s rendezvous, I thought it appropriate. Doesn’t pay to underdress for this sort of affair.”
“The society pages will be all aflutter,” Mal mocked.
“A wise choice, Doctor,” Campbell noted with a raised eyebrow.
“Really?” Simon asked, genuinely surprised. “Are you expecting trouble?” he continued in a low and artificially nonchalant voice.
“No, of course not,” Campbell said. “We’d know the instant that someone approached – one of the advantages of hiding out in the middle of no-where is being able to see company before they get close to you. No, I just meant that it is often prudent to bear arms when it seems most unlikely that you will need them. A situation can often get . . . hairy without them.”
“But this shouldn’t be bloody, right?” Simon inquired earnestly. “You aren’t expecting anything to jump out at us – nothing dangerous, I mean.”
Silently Mal kicked open the crate of rifles – five big, mean, and nasty things, thirty-two inches of expertly designed and cleverly constructed death and destruction packed in cosmoline. Simon looked into the crate, noted the implications, and absently put his hand on his holster.
“Just how hairy are you expecting this to get?” Simon asked, mouth agape.
“Hairy as you maiden aunt’s upper lip,” Mal intoned.
“I suppose . . . I should see to more bandages, then. Sutures, too. And maybe some extra hemosup,” he said in a daze, as he wandered off.
“That was cruelly done,” the Colonel said, shaking his head. “The boy will likely have nightmares now.”
“The boy’s out on the Rim, now,” Mal said with a sigh. “Out among outlaws and rebels and Reavers, with the Feds hiring ruthless bounty hunters with humpin’ frigates to chase him down. He needs to be scared. Very scared. A lot more scared than he’s being now – if he an’ that sister of his are gonna survive the year.”
“Still,” observed Campbell with a smile, “you enjoyed that.”
“Yeah,” Mal chuckled wickedly. “Yeah, I kinda did.”
The crew congregated under a willow tree just off of the pathway between the ship and the warehouse. It was misty and rained intermittently, a cool, seeping rain that infused the air with a pervasive dampness.
Jayne smoked a cigar, the smoke of which stubbornly hung in the damp air and refused to move on. Wash and Zoe leaned up against the trunk of the tree, entwined as much for comfort against the damp as for love. Kaylee sported a wide conical straw hat and spent a lot of time just inhaling the lush aromas of rotting vegetation, so different than the dry, stale air full of the odor of lubricants she was so used to. Book had donned a rubber poncho and was likewise smoking, although he had the sense of courtesy to do it at the edges of the tree, where a breeze could carry it off.
“How long has she been standing there?” he asked, nodding at River. The younger Tam had picked a spot in the open, and had outstretched her arms, mouth open, like a baby bird gazing into the naked face of the rainstorm.
“Since the hatch opened,” Kaylee said. “Ai Ya, if you’re gonna smoke, at least smoke somethin’ worthwhile,” she said, wrinkling her nose. To emphasize, she pulled a hempflower cigarette out of her ear. “How long ‘till we leave the world?”
“Go ahead, child, at least a few hours,” Book nodded. “Enjoy yourself.”
“I will,” she said feverently, taking a light from the Shepherd and inhaling the sweet smoke deep into her lungs. “Don’t feel right doin’ this on Serenity, usually. Never know when she’s gonna act up. Like to keep my wits.”
“You do a fine job, Kaylee,” Book assured. “In fact, you’re probably the best chief engineer I’ve ever met.”
“Wow, Shepherd, that’s high praise,” Kaylee said with a smile. “Assumin’ you’ve met more’n a handful, that is.”
“Oh, much more,” he said, smiling. He turned back to River. “She seems to like the rain.”
“Fits her personality,” Kaylee decided.
“Yeah, no matter where you try t’hide, it makes you soggy and droopy,” Jayne said around his cigar.
“No, I was gonna say it was kinda pervadin’ an’ surprisin’ at the same time. Never know when a raindrop’s gonna hit you,” she explained, “but you know its out there all the time. The constant sound of ‘em in the background, like a static hiss. Nothin’ like the dustball I grew up on – prairie as far as the eye could see and it rains every other Sunday, sometimes. I like this world. This part of this world, I guess.”
“I think it’s fair to say that the novelty of constant rain might wear off right quick,” Book said, peering up into the gray gloom that was the sky here.
“I like this world just ‘cause for once I ain’t gotta do all the heavy liftin’,” Jayne said, nodding at the ant-like line of Imperial soldiers that were loading supplies. “Warms my heart.”
“Warms your lazy ass,” Zoe corrected.
“Where you think I keep it?” Jayne shot back.
“I forgot – you’re the Ass Master, now,” Wash said, then broke into a fit of giggles.
“Hey! That’s a . . . a religious thing!” he protested. “It has to do with my P’u. Shepherd’ll set you straight,” he said, sagely.
“Perhaps later,” Book said, stifling a grin.
“I wonder if we’re ever gonna find this treasure?” Kaylee asked idly between tokes.
“Damn straight we will!” Jayne assured. “Cap’n wouldn’t spend all this time workin’ on somethin’ he wasn’t sure about. I’m already thinkin’ ‘bout what I’ll do with my cut.”
“Pay me back, to start,” Kaylee muttered.
“Don’t you think that’s counting chickens from a basket of eggs?” Book asked.
“Gotta dream o’ somethin’,” Jayne said.
“That does beg the question,” Wash pointed out. “What would you do if you had a gazillion credits? I mean, if you didn’t have to worry about money, at all, ever.”
“I’d become a gentleman of leisure,” Jayne said, nodding. “Yeah. Fancy clothes, fast flyer, big-ass house, ship of my own, hot an’ cold runnin’ whores . . .”
“Ah, the idle rich,” Wash said contemplatively.
“He’s got the idle part down,” noted Zoe.
“I’d buy me my own ship, too,” Kaylee said. “Firefly, just like our girl. Or maybe buy her from Cap. Y’know, if he retires.”
“You’d have an easier time buying one of his testicles,” Zoe pointed out. “That boat just ain’t his life an’ livelihood – it’s his gorram soul, now.”
“Well, a piece of her, then,” conceded Kaylee. “An’ then I’d trick her out pretty. New thrusters, new coils, new fittings, get everything painted right neat, maybe a pale yellow, or a green, always liked green . . .”
“What would y’all do?” Book asked Wash and Zoe. The couple looked at each other.
“Babies,” said Zoe firmly.
“Well, it’d be on the list,” added Wash. “Probably start with a decent place to live—”
“Hey! Serenity’s decent!” insisted Kaylee. “’Specially if she had some beads in that kitchen door, make it look right homey, and some Wellington 350 preburners, chromed out . . .”
“—I was speaking of a place that didn’t leak,” corrected Wash. “Y’know, where every breath of life wasn’t dependent upon the good behavior of ten thousand pieces of machinery? Maybe a ranch . . . or a shop. I could always teach,” he conceded.
“You, teach?” Jayne asked incredulously. “What? Paleontology?”
“He’d be a fine teacher!” Zoe said defensively. “He could teach flying and I’d have babies.”
“. . . an’ a new navsat control system, the Becker model, the one with prefixing, an’ new avionics all round, just start from scratch, an’ maybe put carpet in the lounge, a nice earth-toned berber, real soft . . .”
“Babies?” Book asked, eyebrows raised. “I thought y’all had decided to postpone that subject?”
“I’d like to see the sorry mudball you’d have to end up on to be considered a good teacher!” Jayne guffawed.
“It’s appeared on the agenda, again, when the subject of immense wealth was raised.”
“. . . an’ I’d like to replace the landin’ struts with somethin’ wider, give us more stability on shifty ground, an’ maybe decorate the other shuttle, like Inara’s only something in greens, like jade an’ emerald, oh! And a new comm. system, somethin’ not so staticky, an’ . . .”
“I could teach an ape to fly, gunjockey!” Wash shot back. “And be a respected member of my community.”
“Any progress?” Book inquired.
“I’d be plenty respectable,” Jayne said with a sneer. “You got cash, people respect that.”
“Some,” admitted Zoe. “Mostly speculation, of course.”
“. . . a new protein sequencer, surely would, somethin’ made after I was for a change, hell, just re-do the whole kitchen, an’ re-do the lighting everywhere, make it less dim, an’ . . .”
“Well good luck,” Book said, smiling. “Children are a blessing.”
“I think Zoe and I would do quite fine, someplace like . . . Boros, say. Beaumonde, maybe, has some potential in a couple of years. Or Persephone. I like Persephone.”
“Hey! That’s where we picked up the Shepherd! I like Persephone too! Pretty dresses,” Kaylee said, distracted from her mental renovation for only a moment. “I’d tint the viewports some, too, maybe with that fake-stained-glass stuff, that’d be pretty – and we gotta get some titanium extenders to help with reentry, somethin’ shiny like Strats or Multifields . . . which would I get? Strats or Multifields?” she asked herself, exhaling.
“Thanks,” Zoe said. “We enjoy practicing,” she said with a knowing look. It made Book a little uncomfortable, but only a little. He’d walked the world long before he took up the collar.
“Speakin’ of which,” Wash said, slappin’ her thigh playfully, “Unless I mis-heard, we got a couple of hours on this squishy paradise of fog and gloom. Care to take a romantic stroll and come back in an hour sopping wet and covered with hard-to-explain mudstains?”
“The Strats look shinier, but the Multis handle better in thicker atmo. But the Strats have that extra support, keep ‘em steady in sheer. But the Multis are cheaper by a third. But the Strats just look a lot shinier . . .”
“Husband, that sounds magnificent,” Zoe said, slapping his thigh in return.
“Y’all are gonna make me puke,” Jayne said disgustingly.
“But the Multis got the spin control surfaces, an’ the Strats just got those pointy things that don’t really work, not really . . .”
“You try to follow and spy on us, I’ll shoot you in the leg,” Wash said as he put his arm around Zoe’s waist and escorted her into the gloom.
“You can’t shoot that well!” Jayne accused.
“That’s right,” agreed Wash. “You want me to aim for your knee and miss? No tellin’ what I’d actually hit.”
“The Multis got the better surfaces, but they make the ship look all blocky – Strat’s’d be shininess itself! And we could buy a new mule, somethin’ in a hover, maybe, and add some bikes, an’ . . .”
“Yeah, y’all just enjoy your marital prerogative, then,” Jayne said sullenly. “Try an’ be considerately quiet, too, ‘cause some of us got too much Yang in ‘em right now, and some of us ain’t got a piece in our back pocket, you know what I mean.”
“I s’spect they do, son,” Book said with a sigh. “Look, River’s dancing!”
“She’s pretty,” Kaylee noted. “Graceful.”
“Are her tits getting’ bigger or is it just my ‘magination?”
“Jayne, I hardly think—” started Book.
“That’s pretty crude, penis-breath,” Kaylee shot back through slitted eyes.
“Hey! Watch that!”
“I’ll quit sayin’ it when you’ve paid me back.”
“Gan ni ba, bo ba!”
“Children!” Book said reprovingly.
“Don’t take me wrong – I’d never get near the little knife-wielding psychopathic cho yahde. But I can ‘preciate a woman’s baby bags purely for aesthetics without thinkin’ o’ beddin’ her.”
“Now that’s an enlightened attitude,” Book said, rolling his eyes.
“Hey, I like tits. Don’t care all that much who they’re strapped on.”
“You might want to hold that next though before it reaches your mouth, son,” Book warned. “Captain’s coming.”
Sure enough, in a moment Mal’s familiar browncoat loomed in the fog.
“Was wonderin’ where everyone got to,” he muttered.
“Just enjoyin’ the wonders o’ nature, Cap,” Jayne said sardonically.
“Good. Get your fill, ‘cause in about two hours the General has arranged for a local woman to feed us, then we fuel up and leave the world. But no drink: keep your wits about you. Campbell just loaded more ordinance on board than I saw my first year in the War. He ain’t bein’ threatenin’, or nothin’, but I’d just as soon be wary.”
“I’ll keep my eye on ‘em,” Jayne assured.
“Shepherd, I’d appreciate it if you kept your subtle ear to the pulse of the little Empire, here, let us know if the wind changes.”
“My pleasure, Captain.”
“Kaylee, it occurred to me that a few booby-traps to keep anyone else from flyin’ away with our girl might not be amiss.”
“Use your twisted imagination,” he instructed. “Serenity’s hard enough to fly as it is – think o’ three or four things that you could make go wrong in a hurry if you had to. Just in case things go awry.”
“That’s a pretty gorram smart idea, Cap,” said Jayne said admirably. Mal nodded sagely.
“That’s why they call me Captain. Finish your smolderin’, then get to it: we gotta make Hamlet in three days, Athens four days after that, and that’ll be pushin’ it. To be truthsome, I begin to tire of this treasure hunt: if we don’t start seein’ more treasure an’ less hunt fair soon, I might be forced to reconsider our commitment.”
River chose that moment to take out her harmonica and begin playing a spritely tune as she danced barefooted in the mud. Everyone spared a glance for her, then went about their business. “Where’s the Washburnes?” he asked. “Gotta question for the Missus.”
“They’re . . . having a marital discussion,” Book said. “Taking advantage of the night air.”
“Well . . . it’ll keep. At least they’ll be rested. I’m gonna go see if I can beg some extra 12 gauge rounds off o’ the General while we’re here. Hate to run low,” he muttered as he left.
River hit a particularly vivid sounding riff, the nuances of which were lost in the rain. Kaylee examined her through slitted eyes.
“Yep,” she said after several moments of thoughtful silence. “Gotta go with the Strats.”
Sunday, November 13, 2005 9:52 PM
Monday, November 14, 2005 12:51 AM
Monday, November 14, 2005 1:22 AM
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Monday, November 14, 2005 7:30 AM
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