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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
One Alliance base opens and there goes the neighborhood
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2199 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Back to Chapter 2.
* * * * *
“Qingwa cao de liumang!” Wash swore. The scanner screen showed an Alliance freighter hovering over Oeneus near Atalanta station. Further out, a cruiser kept watch while lines of blocky shuttles ran supplies from the freighter down to the planet’s surface. Mal and Zoe studied the screen over Wash’s shoulder.
“What is it?” Inara asked. She stood just inside the hatch, still holding the tea she’d just finished brewing when Wash had called Mal and Zoe to the bridge.
“Gorram hundan are settin’ up a base here,” Mal said. “And who wants to lay odds that Big Ricky knew about this when he hired us? I guarantee they’ve been here longer than two days.” Just what Mal needed, another complication. The whole crew had been walking soft around him since they left New Melbourne. Book and Inara had hardly spoken to him.
“Why would he send a shipment of his own goods right into this?” Wash asked Mal.
“Maybe to test out the situation, see if the Feds are searchin’ inbound ships and whether they’re lettin’ his chow hit the market. Not like we got any friends to give him payback if we get humped.”
“To heck with it then!” Wash said. “It only took two days to get here from New Melbourne, let’s go back and return the goods. And let Jayne take the cost of the fuel out of Ricky’s hide.”
“Most like the Feds have been trackin’ us for some time,” Zoe said. “They see us turn tail now, they’ll be after us and sure as gui they’ll do a search.”
“We’ll be hailed soon,” Wash said. “They’ll want to know where we’re headed.”
“We’re gonna get searched in any case,” Mal said. “I ain’t worried ‘bout the cargo, but it won’t work so good hangin’ Simon and River out the window this time. That station’s got too much traffic, someone’s bound to see ‘em.” He put a hand over his mouth while he thought, then turned to the system chart on the control board. “I recall there bein’ an outlying moon,” Mal scanned the screen, “poorly terraformed, not so many people. There!” He pointed it out. “Good, it’s on this side, don’t have to pass by the Feds to get to it. We can tell ‘em we need to stop there, to fix our docking equipment or somethin’.”
Mal turned back to Zoe. “Get the doc and his sister together. We’ll leave them on this moon while we do our business.”
“I have a better idea,” Inara said.
“I’m sure you do.” Mal replied without looking at her. He continued to Zoe. “You’ll stay with them. And do something clever so no one will recognize them. But please, don’t let Kaylee handle the makeup.”
“There’s no more than a hundred people in a single colony on that moon.” Inara interrupted. “Do you think they won’t notice three strangers getting dropped off?” Mal humphed in annoyance but had no answer for her. “And how do you plan on explaining why you need to stop there again on the way out? Why don’t you just save time and send a wave to that cruiser – 'Outlaw Crook Dropping Secret Stuff Here'.”
“Inara, I sure as hell can’t take them near that station. Don’t know if you’re paying’ attention, but this ship is gonna get searched. I have to do something with them, and I got no other option.”
“Try this one: as I am soon to be departing for the Core and leaving your ship bereft of a precious Ambassador, we have another Companion in training. Clearly, myself and my Novice need a hired man to do our laundry and such.” Mal gave her a blank look. “Mal, send them in my shuttle with me. I’ve already arranged to see a client. He’s high in the local government. I’ll be going straight planetside with his specific permission, and the Alliance won’t bother me.”
“No way. You have any idea what would happen if you got caught with these two in your shuttle?”
“I won’t get caught.”
“And if your boyfriend of the week wants to try the new Companion?”
“Novices are never available for ‘trying’.”
“And he won’t talk about her to any of his government buddies, or recognize her if he sees her ‘wanted’ picture posted in the new Alliance outpost?”
“You have no respect for my talent with makeup and costuming.”
“It’s not a bad idea, sir,” Zoe said.
Mal turned to Zoe. “No,” he said. “It’s too dangerous.” He looked back to Inara. “I won’t have you turnin’ criminal your last few days here.”
“It’s a little late for that. You do recall the event with the Lassiter?”
“This ain’t some cute little heist. The Alliance don’t just slap your hand and sit you in a cell for a few years if they catch you harborin’ fugitives like those two.”
“For several months I’ve been on this ship with them, and I’ve taken the same risk as you. They are my friends and I will do all I can to help them. Besides, if they get caught on Serenity it won’t go much better for me than if they get caught in my shuttle.”
Zoe backed up Inara again. “Sir, she’s got a point.” Mal gave her an annoyed look.
“Captain, they’re hailing us,” Wash called from the pilot chair. “What should I tell them?”
“Zaogao!” Mal turned away from Inara and Zoe to study the planet now visible up ahead, and approaching fast. “Fine. Tell them we have a delivery to make on the station and… an independent contractor and her crew with an appointment planetside. Then you take us in slow as you can without, you know, lookin’ like you’re tryin’ to go slow.”
“And if they ask what we’re carrying?” Wash asked.
“Tell the truth. Ain’t nothing illegal about easy-rehydrate seafood delights.”
Wash got chatty with the com and Mal nodded for Inara and Zoe to follow him off the bridge. Mal spoke over his shoulder as they passed through the corridor toward the kitchen.
“Inara, you get to your shuttle and set up your travel plans. I want you, River, and Simon out of here before we get anywhere near that station, and I want it all done by the book, special permissions or not. Jayne,” Mal found Jayne polishing his knife at the table. “We got a complication in plans.”
“Wouldn’t know what to do with myself if we didn’t,” Jayne replied.
“You find Kaylee and y’all help Zoe get the Tam’s stuff out of their rooms. Stow it all in an empty room, make it look like it’s been there some time. Like it got left a while back.”
“They movin’ out? This is the kind of complication I like.” Jayne tucked his knife into the leather sheath on his belt.
“We’ve got maybe half an hour to get this done people, so get to movin’.”
* * *
Simon and River each carried a small bag onto Inara’s shuttle. Everything else they owned had been stacked in Simon’s room in old dented crates. They didn’t have enough personal belongings to attract much attention, except for Simon’s med bag, which he also brought with him.
Inara launched the shuttle from Serenity as soon as the Tams were aboard. She set a leisurely course to the city of Meleager, located directly below the geosynchronous station. Then she went back into the main room of the shuttle.
“River, it will be like a game,” Simon was explaining. “Pretend you’re a doll. A very pretty doll, but a doll that doesn’t talk.”
“None at all. You can’t let them know that you’re a real girl.”
Inara joined them with a box of makeup. “Hopefully you’ll be able to stay somewhere private. I wish I could leave you on the shuttle, but Chairmen Yeng wants to have his appointment here.”
“We could watch,” River suggested.
“No, we could not!” Simon said.
Inara laughed and began applying eyeliner. River expertly looked up, then down. “I think it best you take your brother somewhere a bit more comfortable, sweetie.”
“You’re right. It might be overwhelming. It has been a while for him.”
“River!” Simon snapped.
Inara laughed again. “It must be tough having a teenaged mind reader for a little sister,” she said to comfort him.
“River,” he said pointedly, “maybe we should start the not talking part right now, as practice.” River made a face, then held still for the mascara.
“I don’t need practice,” River replied smugly as she tried not to blink. “I understand. I’m undercover. I’m putting on a doll. And I get to look out from her eyes and watch people. They won’t even know I’m in there.”
“Are you okay with that?” Inara asked.
“It could be fun. They’ll want to have sex with me, won’t they?”
Simon’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open, but Inara laughed. “Yes, they will. But that’s not allowed. No one will touch you.”
“I am old enough, you know.” River lifted her chin at Simon defiantly.
“Whether you are or not, now is definitely not the time,” Inara replied, hoping to spare Simon this conversation. “We’ll need a name for you.”
“I want something pretty. Pretty name for a doll. A doll who can’t be kissed. Daphne.”
“You are the Novice Daphne. Now no talking while I do your lips.”
An inspection team was waiting outside the airlock as soon as Serenity docked; a man with a digital clipboard in the lead. He didn’t look like an Alliance heavy, just a local recruit stuck with the job of shoving Alliance law up the nose of every ship that stopped in.
“Captain. Welcome to Atalanta station.” The man didn’t look welcoming as much as bored. “I am Agent Phillips. Ship’s paperwork?” Mal was ready with a brown folder.
“Very good,” Phillips said after scanning the ship’s registry form. “What’s the purpose of your visit?”
“Business. We’ve got some foodstuffs to deliver.”
“Can I see the papers on the cargo?”
“We’ve never needed papers to deliver here before,” Mal improvised.
“There was no law here before. Now there is.”
“I see that. We were given no papers.”
“We understand most people out here are not aware of all the laws. This first time I’ll let you by with a warning, as long as your cargo isn’t contraband.”
“Awful nice of ya. And you’ll see we got nothing contraband.”
“Uh-huh. We will need to inspect the cargo so we can estimate the tariff.”
“Alliance law charges a tariff for all goods shipped between worlds. Surely you are accustomed to paying tariffs, being captain of a cargo ship?”
Agent Phillips replied with a doubtful grunt and made some marks on his clipboard. “Where is the cargo?”
“Right over here,” Mal pointed to the crates behind him.
“Team one, check the crates,” Phillips called over his shoulder. “Team two, search the ship.”
“Search my ship?” Mal did his best to look insulted.
“A lot of smuggling goes on hereabouts. The Alliance treats everyone fair, which means every ship gets searched, even one owned by such a fine upstanding man as yourself.” The words rolled off the agent’s lips with the ease of frequent use. “Is this your whole crew?” He nodded toward Zoe, Jayne, Kaylee and Book standing behind the captain.
“I got a pilot who’s finishing up on the bridge. I also have a Companion and her staff. They’ve gone to meet her client already, as we reported to station control.”
“A Registered Companion?” The man looked at Mal with a new respect.
“So... when’s she returning?”
“Not until we’re all done and headin’ out. She’s a busy woman.”
The man swallowed a disappointed look, then turned to the cargo.
The shuttle landed in the center of a lush roof garden. Inara stepped through the hatch to be greeted by a slightly pudgy yet thoroughly dashing man. River followed after her, watching through her thick veil as the man addressed Inara with reverence and more than a little obvious anticipation. River closed her eyes; she could almost see a dark red color flowing out of him in waves, and clouding around Inara’s graceful form.
Inara explained the situation to her client, the honorable Arthur Yeng, Chairmen of Oeneus’s Committee for Agricultural Development. He obligingly had his house mistress guide the Novice Companion and her servant to a sunny sitting room, freeing the shuttle for his appointment.
Three men were seated at a table across the room when River and Simon entered. The men remained, quietly discussing business, but River felt the dark red color drifting in light wisps through the room, this time gathering around her own body. Even if she hadn’t been able to pick up on the heat wafting out of their minds, she would have seen their looks.
It’s all about misdirection, Inara had said as she hastily pinned up the hem of a dark blue silk gown, and opened the side seam for a slit that reached above mid thigh. They will never remember your face if we give them something else to look at. River was learning the truth of this. She sipped her tea with her kohl rimmed eyes lowered modestly behind her veil, but her lips curled when she felt her skirt fall to the side, revealing most of her leg. She was aware of the turn of her ankle, foot stretched and beveled to lengthen the line of her leg all the way to the floor. The background chatter of thoughts turned a darker shade of red.
“That’s a pretty color, but it looks better on Inara,” River said to no one in particular. Simon looked at her in confusion but didn’t respond. He sat on a hard wooden chair beside the plush sofa where River reclined comfortably. He was close enough to be of service, but too far to be mistaken for anything but a serving man. River enjoyed the arrangement. Simon wore a wide brimmed conical hat that hid the top half of his face, but it was quite unnecessary. No one was looking at him.
“How are you doing?” he whispered. He studied the three men across the room suspiciously, as if he thought they looked over too often.
“It’s so easy,” she whispered. She glanced down through her veil at her own bosom. Her slim dancer’s build didn’t lend itself to cleavage, but it did make for a graceful curve from her hips over her rib cage to her open shoulders. She arched her back slightly.
…would that be a full handful?… she heard the thought waft through the air and had to put a hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh.
“They’re like … puppies,” she said.
“Who?” Simon asked.
“Puppies who want a new chew toy.” She tilted her head at a new string of images that formed in her mind. “Poor puppies. Never happy with the toys they have. Need something new to chew on…”
“Um, are you hungry?”
“…something young and fresh.” Her eyes were distant.
“River?” Simon touched her arm and she focused on him.
“I’m not hungry. I’m having fun!”
* * *
“Yuben de tariff,” Mal muttered as he waited for the lift to arrive.
“Better not be comin’ out of my cut,” Jayne growled.
Zoe gave Jayne a dark look. “Anything we have to pay, we all pay, just like always,” she said.
“Maybe someone ought’a be doin’ a little research on our jobs before we take them.” Jayne arched a brow at Mal. “So as we can avoid getting’ into this kinda crap.”
“Calm down, now,” Mal said. The conversation paused as a group of people unloaded from the lift and he, Zoe and Jayne got on. Then Mal did something he hadn’t done in quite a while: he resorted to optimism. There’d been too many problems lately and he needed something to work out smooth, if only to get the crew off his back. “Probably just another reason Ricky hired us, to find out if tariffs are enforced. I’m sure he’ll be reasonable about it.”
“Ya, cause reasonable is somethin’ we see a lot of,” Jayne replied.
They arrived at the dining and entertainment level of the station, separating as they left the lift. Mal led the way to an eatery toward the center of the station, a fairly nondescript place, dirty and dark, but not so low brow as to invite trouble. A bar stretched along one side, black tables were scattered on the other. Mal chose one in the middle of the joint, back against the wall furthest from the bar. Zoe followed him in, sitting at the bar toward the back, near the kitchen. Jayne stayed just outside the wide entryway to the concourse.
Mal ordered a drink to sip, but it wasn’t a long wait before Ricky’s contact showed up. A polished man of Indian descent joined him at the table. The man had a thin black mustache and wore a loose fitting brown robe over cream colored trousers and leather sandals. A cloth skull cap covered his short black hair. He sat down and set his elbows on the table, threading his fingers together and openly studying Mal.
“Welcome, Captain Reynolds. Ricky sends his regards,” he said with a sharp, clipped accent.
“He could send a few apologies to go along with those. Who the hell are you?”
“You may call me Kamath. Did you have any trouble with the Alliance?”
“Actually, Kamath?” Mal repeated the name and the man nodded, “We had a little toss and tariff that would’a been nice to know about in advance.”
“Ricky thought you might not take the job if you knew too much about the situation here on Oeneus. I’m sure you understand.”
“My understandin’ ain’t what it used to be. How long have the Feds been here?”
“Three weeks, but they build fast. The new base is nearly complete. Now they are unloading supplies and personnel and beginning to make their presence felt, as you experienced. Tell me, how was the search?”
Mal decided to play nice. “Not the fussiest Alliance search I’ve seen. Pretty shoddy, actually. The guy running it wasn’t trained in the Core, just some local grunt. Wasn’t hooked up to high level Alliance intel neither, or he’d of asked us a few more questions after he got our ship’s registry.”
“And the tariff?”
“Glad you asked. I brought along the bill,” Mal spread a sheet on the table. “I believe some reimbursement is in order.”
“Of course.” The man checked the paper then discretely counted some bills out of his pocket and added them to an envelope, which he held while he spoke into a comm unit in Hindi. There was a pause as he listened to the response, then he handed the envelope to Mal.
“It is good,” he said. “The cargo is all there and nearly finished unloading already. This has been informative, Captain Reynolds. I will send a most positive report to Ricky, as well as others in the local shipping business.” Kamath watched as Mal counted the bills in the envelope. “As Ricky requested, I offer you his apologies for any discomfort you may have experienced, and I have included bonus pay for your hardship.”
Mal closed the envelope with a low whistle; the man wasn’t lying about the bonus. “That’s very reasonable of you,” he said with poorly concealed surprise. Then he remembered himself and frowned. “And why don’t you let Ricky know I’ll need a little more information in advance if we’re to do business together in the future.”
“Of course,” Kamath replied. “In fact, I can give you advanced information about your next job right now.”
Mal tucked the fat envelope into his pocket of his coat. Funny how getting a bonus affected one’s attitude. Maybe it was a result of his experiment in positive thinking; maybe he ought’a try it more often. “I’m listenin’,” he said with a nod.
“We have some other things we need to move. The same route. You’d have Ricky’s goods in your cargo hold, and mine somewhere more discrete.”
“And your goods are...?”
“Something the Alliance does not approve of. But something the locals need.”
“Why you offerin’ me this now?”
“We needed to see how you’d get through the new security. It also helps that they’ve seen you once. The next time you arrive with cargo, they’ll already know you.”
“And it’d be easier to get your hush-hush through.”
“Yes. You would get the same pay for Ricky’s goods, and twice as much again for my cargo.”
Mal whistled again. “That is quite an offer.”
“Good.” Kamath sat forward. “You should leave as soon as possible. We need to move the cargo before the Alliance gets more permanently established.”
“Hold up a sec, Kamath buddy. I didn’t say I’d take it.”
Kamath settled back in his chair again. “You have a problem?” he asked with an artfully raised eyebrow.
“It sounds like a good thing, but I don’t like jumping on it without knowin’ some details. I’ve tried that before, didn’t like how it went. What’s the cargo?”
“It is the duty of a good smuggler to not ask such questions.”
“I ain’t a good smuggler, I’m an outstanding smuggler. What’s the cargo?”
The man gave Mal an appraising look, then shook his head slightly. “Best of luck of you in the future Captain Reynolds. It is a shame we won’t be working together again.”
Mal bit his tongue to stop from keeping the man from leaving. That was a lot of money he’d just passed by. But he couldn’t let himself take a job from people who’d already set him up once. Besides, how stupid would it be to go through the Alliance checkpoint again with the Tams around?
He ran a hand over the envelope in his coat pocket. Best to leave everything as it was. After all, it hadn’t worked out too bad. With this much cash, they could go planetside to upgrade a few things on the ship and let Kaylee have her free time. He allowed himself another moment of cheery optimism.
It didn’t last long. Jayne’s voice sounded from the receiver tucked in his ear. “We got company.” A squadron of Alliance guards stepped into the entrance of the bar and an authoritative voice called out, “Alliance business. Everyone stay where you are.” The man’s eyes quickly settled on Mal. He nodded to the guards and they moved toward Mal’s table.
Mal took a quick look around the room, then glanced up at the ceiling; the place was lit by two large overhead lights. “Awful bright in here,” he said softly. Two shots rang out, one from the bar, one from the entryway behind the guards. The sudden darkness was full of the tinkling of shattered glass and the scuffle of people scattering.
Qingwa cao de liumang: frog-humping sonofab****
yuben de: stupid
On to Chapter 4.
Monday, January 16, 2006 7:38 AM
Monday, January 16, 2006 7:57 AM
Monday, January 16, 2006 8:25 AM
Monday, January 16, 2006 9:45 AM
Monday, January 16, 2006 10:19 AM
Monday, January 16, 2006 4:25 PM
Tuesday, January 17, 2006 1:50 AM
Tuesday, January 17, 2006 6:58 AM
Monday, January 30, 2006 7:59 PM
Wednesday, July 12, 2006 2:37 AM
Sunday, February 18, 2007 12:01 AM
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