The Fish Job, Chapter 2
Sunday, January 15, 2006

The crew leaves New Melbourne in a hurry


Chapter 1.

* * * * *

Mal and Jayne jogged around a crate being pushed onto a forklift and climbed the ramp into Serenity’s hold. Zoe was standing just past the airlock, keeping track of the cargo being loaded.

“Zoe, how are we with the goods?” Mal asked.

“Two more crates to go, Cap’n. They’ll be on in five.”

Mal motioned her away from the dock workers with a tilt of his head. “We gotta make good with the leavin’. Quick.”

“Why am I not surprised.”

“Everyone on board?”

“Last I checked.”

“Where’s Wash?”

“Probably the kitchen.”

Mal keyed the intercom. “Wash, get to the bridge and warm her up again. We’re liftin’ off in ten.”

“Lifting off? Now?”

“That’s right. Leavin’ atmo.” Mal switched off the comm before Wash could reply. “Jayne, you get a head count. I’ll talk to Inara.”

“What’s going on, Captain?” Simon asked from the weight bench on the far side of the hold.

“Little run-in. Nothing to worry about.” Mal started up the stairs to Inara’s shuttle.

* * *

Simon turned to help Book stow the weight set. “Never a dull moment,” he said with a shrug.

“I am surprised,” Book replied. “He would have had to look hard to find Alliance trouble out here.”

“It’s a special talent our captain appears to have been born with.”

“Jayne, what happened?” Book asked as Jayne passed by.

“Dunno. Job got set up fine, and we was headin’ over to meet Serenity, then Mal’s just gone. I went lookin’ for him, and there he was in some empty gun shop sayin’ we gotta go quick.”

“No Alliance?”

“Not that I saw. I gotta get a headcount. Y’all know where Kaylee and River are?”

Simon looked toward Book, who answered, “Somewhere up top, doing girl things I suppose.”

Jayne made a low growling noise in his throat. “This I gotta see.” He headed up the stairs.

Book shook his head, then turned to Simon. “I’ll be interested to hear what situation our captain has worked himself into this time.”

“I’m sure it will be entertaining,” Simon replied.

“Don’t know about that.” Book couldn’t contain a grin. “Could be he just wants to delay certain things were planned to happen on this stop.”

“What do you mean?”

“If you have to ask, son, you’re not payin’ much attention.”

* * *

Inara had given up on the port’s shipping list some time ago, and was sitting at her desk with her chin in her hands. She sighed. At least they’d be in port for a few days to rest up after their adventure with Jubal Early. Ships moved through here frequently, maybe she’d find something heading into the Core tomorrow or the next day.

She couldn’t help taking a long look around her shuttle. Funny how what started as such a dark and dirty space had become home. She recalled the first time she toured it, Mal’s defensiveness about his ship, his girl. Inara had been drawn to the firefly from first sight, but the more time she spent on this ship, the more she understood why Mal had acted as he had that first day.

No one at the Academy would believe she spent nearly a year here, on this tiny ship making its meandering and chaotic way through the nether regions of the ‘verse. Not an easy year, but not such a bad one either. This thought surprised her. Not such a bad one? What exactly had been so good about it?

She started from her reverie as Mal shoved the hatch open. “You hitch a ride yet?” he asked.

“Please come in,” she replied dryly.

“Don’t get tetchy, it’s just about my shuttle again anyway. You got a plan yet?”

“I have found… several leads. Nothing solid.”

“Get solidified, schedule’s changed. We’re in the air in nine minutes.”

“For off-world?”

“That’s right.”

“But you said we’d be here for at least a few days.”

“And I’m sayin’ now that plans have changed.”

“Tzao-gao!” Inara pushed herself to her feet. “I have a life of my own happening. You can’t just order me around on a whim-”

“Fine. Then you take what you can carry and start livin’ your own life out on the docks right now. Or, you quit harpin’ at me and get comfy for a few more days. I got exactly no time to be arguin’ over this.” Mal turned on his heel and left. * * *

“Tian xiaode, what happened to you?” Jayne stared at the girl as she stepped off the ladder up from Kaylee’s bunk.

“Don’t she look pretty?” Kaylee asked brightly as she followed River up.

“What’d you do? Beat her up?”

“No! It’s makeup. Makes her pretty.”

“Gorram, like the girl needs to be any scarier.” Rivers eyes narrowed, normally an unsettling enough sight, but now it took on whole new levels of disturbing.

“Jayne, be nice. Tell her she looks pretty.”

“I’ll tell you this, River. You’re supposed to be this big genius, right? Well, you ought’a know enough to not be lettin’ Kaylee draw on your face. Ow!” He yowled as Kaylee punched his arm.

“Don’t listen to him. He’s just not used to high quality womenfolk,” Kaylee told River.

“Kinda hard to get used to ‘em when there ain’t none around. Ow!” Jayne backed away from Kaylee, rubbing his arm. “Fine.” Jayne’s voice took on a petulant edge. “I hope you’re all done with yer shoppin’, cause we’re headed out’a the world.”

“Now? But we ain’t got to go walkin’ at all!”

“And it’s a good thing. You let River out like that, sure as hell gonna cause us trouble.”

River tilted her head and fixed her unnerving stare on Jayne. “Trouble goes where it’s taken,” she told him. “With us wherever we go.”

“Ya, how convenient that we got you on board,” Jayne said.

“You carry your own, don’t need me for that.” Mal’s voice carried down the stairs from the bridge and River’s eyes slid eerily in their dark, smudged background toward the sound. “Some more than others.”

“Lil Kaylee, why don’t you put a sparkly scarf on her head and set her up tellin’ fortunes in a freak show. Better use of her than lettin’ her wander around the ship creepin’ me out.” Jayne started up the steps. “Get her brother set up on the side as a’ accident of nature,” he said over his shoulder.

* * *

Jayne counted Wash as number 8 head. “Inara’s on?” he asked the captain. Mal nodded. “Then we’re full up.”

“All right.” Mal turned to Wash. “Let’s go. Kuai if you could.”

Jayne headed back to the kitchen to get going on one of Ricky’s Sea Delights as Wash piloted the ship over the city. Mal stayed by, half expecting a wave from some security joe.

Zoe joined them a few minutes later. “We expectin’ company?”

“Nah, shouldn’t be any problems,” Mal replied tersely.

“You’re seemin’ a might tense for a man with no problems.” Mal just gave her a glance. “So you wanna tell me what kind of problem we’re not expectin’?”

“Not particularly.”

After a few minutes Wash clicked over to the auto pilot. “Another successful dash out of imminent nonexistent danger,” he declared. “So where are we going?”

“Oeneus. Take a direct route, there shouldn’t be any Alliance patrols out here. But keep an eye on the scan; Ricky said they may be movin’ into the neighborhood.”

“The mighty Alliance stands tall and protects us from the scary black market fish.”

“Oddly enough, that ain’t far from the truth of it.”

* * *

Mal picked a hunk of rehydrated fish out of his bowl with his chopsticks. Ricky had a good thing here, he thought. It was a welcome change to eat something with a texture differing from paste and flavored with actual food.

He looked around the table; everyone but Inara was there enjoying the meal. Probably hoping to catch the details of the new job and the latest tale of Alliance woe, although they seemed to have picked up on his mood. No one had asked him anything, not yet anyway. But they wouldn’t leave him be for long. “Next stop is Oeneus, to drop the goods,” he announced.

“Oeneus?” Book said. “Haven’t been there since way back. Wasn’t such a nice place then; the terraforming was slow to take. I hear it’s much improved of late.”

Zoe nodded. “Uh-huh. Becoming a ‘garden’ world if you believe the talk.”

“Garden world? Sounds nice.” Wash said.

“The change has drawn a load of new settlers,” Zoe continued, “though maybe the world ‘settler’ don’t rightly fit no more. Ten years back there weren’t more than ten, maybe twenty settlements on the whole world, now there’re cities on every continent. They got their own local government, transportation system, all the trappings of a modern world.”

“Is there a lot of Alliance?” Simon asked.

Zoe shook her head. “No permanent garrison or station. Don’t see cruisers too often neither. Place is out of the way of shipping lanes, and never had much the Alliance is interested in.”

“Guess there ain’t been no rich people to protect, and Alliance’s got plenty a’ poor people to bully other places,” Jayne said through a mouthful of rice.

“Inara was tellin’ me she checked it out on the cortex,” Kaylee said. “She has a client in the main city, says it’s real nice there. Cultured. Fancy restaurants and shops and stuff.”

“It’s become a haven for wealthy folk who want to get away from the core worlds,” Zoe said. “Expats and tourists.”

“So, does ‘cultured’ means there’s green parks where a man can have a romantic picnic with his wife and not get arrested for vagrancy?” Wash asked.

“One way to find out,” Zoe answered him with a smile.

“Don’t get too comfy,” Mal told them. “If the rich folks and tourists have found it, the Alliance can’t be far behind. Most likely we won’t be stayin’ long.”

“Can’t we for just a little bit, Cap’n?” Kaylee asked. “Engine could use some tinkering while we’s sittin’ still, and I’d sure like to get out and take in the sights.”

“We’ll see how it goes.”

Kaylee shrugged and looked down at her bowl as she continued. “Cause I ain’t never seen a fish market, and I thought we was gonna get to go out on New Melbourne – ”

“I thought you would too,” Mal interrupted her in a quiet voice. “I’m sorry you missed out, Kaylee.”

“Well, you can’t help it. Trouble just always seems to find us.”

“What exactly was the trouble?” Simon asked. “Jayne said something about a gun shop?”

“You went gun shopping, sir?” Zoe asked.

Mal finished the last of his rice, and took his time about swallowing it down. He’d known they’d get around to asking about this sooner or later, but he hadn’t settled his mind as to what exactly to tell them. As he considered his options, River started mumbling softly, “Comes to get you, fast and quiet. Don’t move, it’ll find you.” Mal cut his eyes at her. Kaylee had added a fair amount of lipstick to her human canvas, which had partially rubbed off as the girl ate. She was truly a sight. A sight to be avoided. “Whizzzz… bang,” she finished with a sidelong look at Mal.

“Wasn’t a big deal,” he finally replied to Simon. “Just seemed best to avoid any possible… complications.”

“Alliance loving drunks provide a punching bag again?” Simon asked with a nod toward the bruised knuckles on Mal’s right hand.

Mal pulled his hand back and lowered it under the edge of the table, out of general view. “Somethin’ like that.”

“That’s an interesting take on it,” Inara said from the doorway. “I just saw on the cortex that an 18 year old worker at a gun shop got assaulted by a man whose description was oddly familiar.” She gave Mal a hard look. “Kid had a broken cheekbone and a concussion. Apparently the attacker wasn’t there to steal anything. Just walked into the empty store, beat him unconscious, and left.”

All eyes turned to Mal.

“Is that what happened, Captain?” Book asked gravely.

Mal looked back down at his hand, flexing the bruised fingers. “What happened is my business, not any of yours.”

“I’d say it’s my business,” Inara replied, approaching the table. “Your temper tantrums affect my life if you haven’t noticed. In fact, I’d say it’s the business of your entire crew. Don’t they have enough to worry about without you doing your best to bring the law down on them. Attacking an innocent kid, Mal?”

Mal gave her no answer but an angry look.

“Why did you attack him, Captain?” Book asked again.

“Great. You’re gonna assume I attacked him without cause, like I just… went in there and… busted him up for no reason.”

“I am offering you the chance to explain for yourself,” Book replied.

“It’s my boat, I don’t need to explain myself to no one.” Mal clenched his jaw, looking away from all the questioning eyes. But then he swore and reached into his shirt pocket. He pulled out a small silver cylinder the size of his thumb and set it on the table in front of Zoe. They shared a look, and Mal pushed back his chair and stood up. He slid the chair back under the table and leaned on the back of it for a few seconds. “What you heard was the truth, Inara. That kid didn’t do a damn thing.” He looked like he might say more, but then shook his head and left for the bridge.

No one spoke for a bit. Finally Zoe picked up the silver cylinder.

“What is that, Zoe?” Kaylee asked.

“Seeker. Quiet, fast, and not too selective about who it hits. Supposed to be illegal, against the Alliance Peacetime Accords. Like land- and space- mines, bioweapons, torture, that kind’a thing.” Zoe used her thumbnail to pry the end off the case. “Was supposed to be illegal in the war too, but that didn’t stop the Alliance from using ‘em on us. And I guess it don’t stop the good folks of New Melbourne from makin’ ‘em available to anyone with enough coin. Must be why they didn’t report anything missin’ from the shop. Probably didn’t show the security vid to the law either. They ain’t supposed to be sellin’ these.” Zoe broke off a brittle tab inside the cylinder. “This one’s disabled now, but I’ll space it just in case.” She pushed her chair back and headed to the airlock in the cargo bay.

* * *

Book found Mal seated in the pilot’s chair, staring out into the black.

“I am not in the mood for a heart to heart, Shepherd.” Mal said without turning around.

Book stood behind the chair, also looking out at the night. “You wish to continue on this path?” he asked.

“Got goods to deliver.”

“I’m not talking about the ship’s course. I’m talking about you.”

“I ain’t on any gorram path.”

“Just because you don’t see it don’t mean it’s not there.”

Mal spun the chair slowly around to look at the Shepherd. “And where is this windy lane supposed to be takin’ me?”

“Violence ain’t done by those who love doin’ it so much as those who’ve had it done on themselves.”

“I am even less in the mood for preachin’.” Mal stood and made to leave the bridge. Book caught him by the arm.

“Captain, I know it wasn’t your intention to hurt that boy.”

Mal returned Book’s stare. “You don’t know a gorram thing about what I intend.”

“There’s a lot of people in this verse who’ve been through hard times, you’re not the only one. It’s up to you what kind of man you let it make you into.”

“That’s very poetical, save it for the pulpit. Now I suggest you take your hand off me.” Book held Mal’s look for a long moment, then released his arm. “Are you gonna follow me to my bunk too, or can I get a little peace there?”

Book waited till Mal had left before he replied. “Somehow, I doubt you will.”

* * *

Zoe was waiting at the entrance to his bunk.

“You get rid of it?” he asked.

“Disabled and spaced.”

He started to step past her to climb down the ladder, but she stood in his way.

“You wanna tell me about it?” she asked.

Mal turned away impatiently, but he couldn’t brush Zoe off like he had Book.

“You remember that little girl that lost her leg? The one at Du-Khang?”


“I do too.”

“What happened to her wasn’t that kid’s fault.”

“I know.” Mal couldn’t look her in the eye.

“You have to let it go, sir.”


Zoe raised a hand toward his arm, then dropped it and stepped back. “Get some sleep,” she said, and turned back to the dining room.

* * * * *

tzao-gao: damn it tian xiaode: in the name of all that’s sacred kuai: quick

* * * * *

Chapter 3.


Sunday, January 15, 2006 12:08 PM


Thanks for all the comments on Chapter 1! I'm just warm and fuzzy all over. :)

Someone help me out - how do you put links between the chapters? Just html format?

Sunday, January 15, 2006 12:50 PM


Yep, just regular HTML.

Wonderful work. *Longs for some Jayne/Kaylee interaction* but I'll take a gen fic all the way.

I'm loving this. Bring it on.

Sunday, January 15, 2006 1:09 PM


Continued great work!

I look forward to more.

Sunday, January 15, 2006 1:13 PM


Yay, new part!

Your take on Inara makes me very happy. Focusing on her own life, not just Mal and Serenity, and human enough to let her temper get the best of her.

Mal's confrontations with Book and Zoe were very insightful and did a great job in summing up Mal's... issues. All that balled up rage looking for somene to blame. That can't end well.

As with the last part, spot-on character voices and a perfect pace to the action.

Very much looking forward to the next part, especially how you'll spin out Inara's part, although everyone's a treat to read in this story. :)

Sunday, January 15, 2006 1:32 PM


Absolutely loved this and I agree with the Preacher that Mal won't get any peace in his bunk either. All those ghosts of the past just eating him up. Everyone was beautifully drawn and I can't wait to see where you are taking us next! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, January 15, 2006 10:32 PM


ok i like what you do with inara as well but i kinda want to know... will she go? in your story does she have a thing even a tiny one for mal? if not i as well would continue reading just as a gen fic but you know i had to ask.

Monday, January 16, 2006 3:23 AM


Great second chapter. Loved the description of River's makeup job.

Monday, January 16, 2006 6:19 AM


RinnyJ - sorry, not much Jayne/Kaylee.

OldSoul - keep reading and fear not!

Friday, January 27, 2006 7:52 PM


I'm definitely wanting more, wanting to know what's driving Mal--you're building up the suspense nicely!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006 2:08 AM


“I am surprised,” Book replied. “He would have had to look hard to find Alliance trouble out here.”
“It’s a special talent our captain appears to have been born with.”

BWAHAHAHA so freakin' true.

Jayne's reaction to Kaylee's makeup job on River was wonderful.

“The mighty Alliance stands tall and protects us from the scary black market fish.”

Great Wash line.

Poor tortured Mal, beating up that kid, but I think it was justified, as those things sound nasty the way you describe them.

Saturday, February 17, 2007 11:53 PM


Very good start - sorry I'm so slow reading this. I like Mal's conversation with Book - it rang very true and was quite insightful. Me likes insightful.

Monday, June 18, 2012 7:20 PM


“You’re seemin’ a might tense for a man with no problems.” Mal just gave her a glance. “So you wanna tell me what kind of problem we’re not expectin’?” -- just love the Mal and Zoe dialog, and this line is classic Zoe. Book is just excellent in this chapter, right from the first scene with Simon (“If you have to ask, son, you’re not payin’ much attention.”) to his one-on-one with Mal on the bridge. You've done an excellent job depicting Mal's repressed anger and attempts to avoid dealing with it (dare I say PTSD?). Enjoyed the asperity of the scene between Mal and Inara. Also, the tasty Seafood Snacks raise the question: why oh why do they always eat that molded protein stuff instead of real food? The answer, as you've hinted, is more complicated and darker than one might at first suspect.


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Back Stories Book 3, Chapter 25
Zoë nodded. “I’ll bet there’s a little committee of suits back there trying to figure out how best to lie.”&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

“Or how to tell some horrible truth,” Inara replied softly.&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

“Or how to make the most effective use of medical waste incendiaries to get rid of our bodies,” Wash chimed in.

Back Stories III, Chapter 24
Mal returns to a few familiar places.

Back Stories III: Chapter 23
The BDH’s find themselves enmeshed in too damned many OCs. But hey, they’re necessary. Plottiness and all.

Back Stories III, Chapter 22
Inara tells the story of why she left the Core. Well, half of it anyway.

Back Stories III, Chapter 21
The battle with the Reavers continues, and Mal makes a choice. All decisions have consequences.

Back Stories III, Chapter 20
Finally a little Mal POV, but it doesn't last long.

Back Stories III, Chapter 19
The trials and tribulations of an older, wiser River Tam.

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 18
The aftermath of an unexpected encounter. Except—not all of the crew are accounted for…

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 17
A lovely day in the mountains: friendly locals and fresh air under a clear blue sky. What could possibly go wrong?

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 16.
Zoë tells of her soiree with terrorists on Oeneus.