Crop Circles -- Seven
Thursday, November 17, 2005

Mal learns more than he really wants.


Chinese translation: Ching-wah tsao duh liou mahng, frog riding bastard.

* * * * * * * *

Mal and Flaherty were riding on a buckboard in, as far as Mal could tell, the middle of nowhere. Behind them sat River, invited by Flaherty. Next to River, of course, sat Simon--her constant shadow. Mal was not pleased with the whole arrangement, but Flaherty had assured him the two would not get in the way.

“Not much worried about them gettin’ in the way,” Mal had muttered.

For well over an hour, Flaherty played the tour guide, rambling on about who lived where and whose land they were passing. Mal waited patiently, knowing that some folk just couldn’t be rushed, no matter how much one would like to rush them.

As night settled over the landscape, Flaherty stopped the buckboard in front of a mine entrance. River leapt from the wagon like a bird taking flight with Simon following more slowly. The buckboard had not agreed with Simon’s backside.

“This is my family’s mine, Captain Reynolds.” Flaherty unhitched the horses and put them into a small paddock. “Ours is one of about 26 family-owned mines currently being worked. It varies from year to year, depending on what we’re after.”

Flaherty led Mal, River, and Simon into the mine and gestured for them to sit on a power cart that sat on metal rails embedded in the floor of the tunnel. Seeing Mal’s skepticism over their mode of transport, Flaherty grinned. “Come on, Captain. We have a ways to go still. Surely you don’t want to stay on the buckboard for this trip.”

Not sure it would be any better than the buckboard, Mal settled onto the cart. Once all were seated and strapped in, Flaherty sent the cart through the tunnel at a rate of speed Mal found uncomfortable. Sensing his discomfort, Flaherty smiled and yelled over the rushing air, “Don’t worry. There’s no one else in the tunnels this time of day. We won’t run into anyone.”

“It’s interesting that you have a power cart in this tunnel, Mr. Flaherty.” They had already left the entrance far behind and, except for the headlight, it was dark in the tunnel. Mal wished he could see Flaherty’s face. “I thought out here on the rim you had a hard time gettin’ stuff like this.” Behind him, River squealed in delight.

“You’re right about that, Captain. I’ll get to that in a bit.” Flaherty slowed the cart for a sharp turn into a side tunnel and then accelerated again. Mal realized he had no idea how many unseen tunnels they’d passed, nor how far they’d gone in the darkness. “Most of the ore is appropriated by the Alliance,” Flaherty continued. “However, once we meet the quota, whatever else we pull out of the ground we get to keep and sell as we see fit. We run things like a cooperative, with each family contributing to the settlement as a whole. That lets us all have a few things we otherwise wouldn’t: running water, electricity, carts.”

“Glad you’re all happy,” Mal replied. He was getting impatient and the ride was making his stomach feel unsettled. He felt the cart start up a slight incline.

Flaherty made a couple of adjustments with the cart’s power source. “It all started with the original survey. Something was overlooked.”

“That can’t happen.”

“Normally, you’re right, Captain. However, the crew on this survey was more interested in settling down than most. They’d surveyed planet after moon after planet. It was hard, dull work and it took years out of their lives. They wanted something more.”

Flaherty slowed the cart for another turn and continued braking to a walking pace. “You see, Captain. This is a practically lifeless moon. The terraforming crew did the barest minimum, knowing there wasn’t much here anyway. While there are ore deposits, the survey showed they weren’t enough for a large, Alliance-run company to be interested in. The Alliance gave it a low priority, and the survey crew retired and returned here to start their lives again.” Flaherty stopped the cart. “Here we are.”

River was off the cart before anyone could stop here. “This is why I invited her. I thought she might like this.” Mal wasn’t sure he liked the sound of Flaherty’s voice. River disappeared around a bend that was illuminated by the cart’s light, Simon close on her heels. Mal heard a squeal and Simon’s “River!” and broke into a run only to crash into Simon when he rounded the corner. Flaherty walked up behind them, the dirt crunching under his feet, and switched on a hand light. The beam revealed row after row of plants. Big ones. And above them, the open sky.

Mal turned to Flaherty for an explanation. “You see, Captain. What wasn’t reported on the survey was that this moon has water. Lots of it. It’s all locked up in natural aquifers about two to six hundred feet below the surface. When my great-great-grandfather found that water, he knew he could make a better life than what was in store for him otherwise.”

“What is that?” Simon breathed.

“That, son, is corn.” Flaherty turned off the light and walked away from them, entering the vast cornfield.

Stunned, Mal followed Flaherty. He could hear River running through the corn and Simon walking behind him. It was dark in the corn. Mal looked up, thinking there should be enough light from the night sky to be able to see Flaherty.

“No stars,” Mal muttered.

“That’s right, Captain.” Flaherty’s voice began to fade as he walked further into the corn. Mal and Simon were forced to follow. “We can’t have anyone finding this by accident, so we have the craters camouflaged, hiding the bottom.”

“Craters?” Simon asked. “As in, multiple?”

“Yes, son.” Flaherty stopped, waiting for Mal and Simon to catch up. “We’re currently farmin’ six craters.”

Mal was getting more and more unhappy. Why would Flaherty show him something like this, something so obviously outside the settlers’ contract with the Alliance? He’d agreed to move cargo. He’d not agreed to knowin' what it was.

“Why're you showin’ this to us? Could be you’re openin’ yourself to all sorts of trouble, don’t you think?” Mal tried his best to keep any concern from his voice.

“Yes, we’ve thought of that. But you see, not only were you recommended as bein’ reliable, and probably too honest for your own good, but I don’t need to worry about you givin’ me any trouble.” Flaherty’s voice had taken on an edge that Mal had not heard before.

“Who did recommend me?” Mal began to think he’d only just now met the real Flaherty, and he wasn’t too sure he liked the man he was talking to.

“He knew you’d ask, but didn’t give me permission to give you his name. He did allow as to how I could give you a hint, if you want one.” Flaherty turned and, carefully pushing his way through the row of corn next to him, headed in the direction of River’s voice, which was singing softly in the night.

“A hint would be nice,” Mal said through clenched teeth as he followed Flaherty through the corn. This gorram cat and mouse game is gettin’ on my nerves, he thought.

Flaherty chuckled and said, “Moooo.”

Taken aback, Mal stopped short, causing Simon to run into him. “Warrick Harrow.”

“Right on the first guess, Captain.” Flaherty pushed through one more row of corn, finding River sitting on the ground weaving corn leaves into little balls.

“Mind expandin’ on that second comment? The one about not needin’ to worry about me causin’ you any trouble?” Mal thought he already knew what Flaherty was talking about, but he wanted to hear it from the man himself.

Flaherty shifted from one foot to the other before he answered. Even in the darkness beneath the corn, Mal could tell he was looking at River. “Harrow recommended you for transport, but just his recommendation wasn’t enough. I took passage on Serenity and, much to my surprise, I found myself in the company of known fugitives. For three weeks I enjoyed their company, tryin’ to determine how I could best turn this knowledge to my advantage.” Flaherty looked back up at Mal. “You really should at least have her die her hair, Captain.”

“Ching-wah tsao duh liou mahng!” Simon snapped.

“Come doctor. Such language.” Flaherty reached down and took one of River’s woven balls out of her hands. “I know I can trust you explicitly, Captain. You won’t tell anyone about me or what we’re doin’ here, because if you do I’ll make sure they know about the Tams bein’ on your ship.”


Thursday, November 17, 2005 10:58 PM


Love the story, hate Flaherty. I can't believe an honourable man like Lord Harrow would have anything to do with such a man. And the hasty ride on the cart through the mine made me a mite queasy too. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, November 18, 2005 4:39 AM


hmmm... flaherty has a lot of faces, he does...

Thursday, November 4, 2010 10:37 AM


It's always the most harmless looking ones.....


You must log in to post comments.



Crop Circles -- Nine
Wash and Zoe's evening.

Crop Circles -- Eight
Jayne's fun.

Crop Circles -- Seven
Mal learns more than he really wants.

The Narrow Path
Inspired from a line in Objects In Space.

Crop Circles -- Six
Wash and Zoe's envelope revealed.

Crop Circles -- Five
Shepherd's Walk

Crop Circles -- Four
Jayne in, where else, a bar.

Crop Circles -- Three
Jobs and envelopes

Crop Circles -- Two
Changing schedules...again.

Crop Circles - One
Sometimes there are honest jobs. Well, almost.