The Fish Job: Chapter 4
Tuesday, January 17, 2006

River gets a beau and Mal gets some exercise


Chapter 1.

Back to Chapter 3.

* * * * *

“When will Inara be done?” River whined as she finished her snack of tea sandwiches and delicate pastries. She’d tried to slip some to Simon, but he’d shaken his head in alarm. You don’t share with servants, he had hissed at her under his breath, earning an eye roll from River.

“She said she wouldn’t finish until late,” Simon replied.

“Bored now.” The table of three men had left, and the house servant was too well behaved to be entertaining.

“Pardon me, Miss Daphne.” A man in a well tailored suit was standing next to River. He looked to be in his mid forties and a bit of a dandy, sporting an even tan, a well trimmed beard, and the solid build of a man with a personal trainer. “I am a friend and associate of Chairman Yeng; I will be staying at his house this week. I was informed of your situation, and I am determined that one as lovely as yourself should not pass hours of boredom in our fair city.”

River glanced at Simon, then bowed her head and reached a hand under her veil to hold her mouth closed. The man continued, “My name is Trevor Marone. I am Prefect of the third ward. I offer my services as a guide.” A thick shock of gray-golden hair spilled over his forehead as he bowed.

River looked at Simon again, who took the hint and stood up. “Hello. Sir. I thank you… kindly. But we are to remain here until our… mistress… has finished her… services.”

Marone glanced at Simon. “Nonsense!” he said, then turned back to River. “Chairman Yeng assured me that he would keep the Companion engaged until tomorrow morning at least. He was concerned about your well-being, wishing no report of a lack of courtesy to stain his reputation with the Guild. Especially as the future of the Guild is so very bright.” He aimed a charming smile at River. “It would be my honor to act as your host.”

Simon gathered his thoughts on how to courteously refuse the offer, but River spoke first, in a perfectly executed shy wobbling voice.

“That is kind of you. I was recruited from a world on the rim, and such a city as this is new to me. I thank you for allowing me the chance to explore it.” She smiled up at him, her eyes sparkling through the black and gold veil.

“I really think it best we stay here, um, ma’am,” Simon said. “Inara ordered us…”

“Relax, lad,” the Prefect said. “You aren’t in the military. There’s no harm in a little sight-seeing.”

* * *

Mal could see the Alliance guards entering the bar, their dark shapes backlit by the glow of the concourse lights through the broad entryway. He found Zoe in the dark and pressed the money filled envelope into her hand. “You and Jayne get to the ship,” he ordered. Without waiting for an answer, he pushed his way back toward the kitchen.

A door opened from the kitchen to a blank corridor. He chose a direction at random and moved quick, jumping over the occasional crate. Just around the second corner he found what he was looking for: a service lift. Mal pressed the call button, made sure he was alone, and talked softly into the transponder on the front of his coat.

“Zoe, Jayne, you hear me?”

“Ya Mal, I hear ya,” Jayne replied.

“Nice shootin’. What’s goin’ on out there?”

“They got some lights up, and they’re checkin’ everyone. I’m out already, waitin’ for Zoe. You think they’re lookin’ for you?”

“I did get that feelin’.”

“Go figure. OK, Zoe’s out.”

“Hey Cap’n,” she joined the chat. “They’ll be busy here for a few more minutes. No one’s headed toward the back door yet.”

The lift arrived. “I’m gettin’ on a service lift now. Gonna lose reception, maybe for good. Get to the ship. I’ll be along.”

The elevator didn’t have many options: only down to the dormitory levels where the station workers lived. Mal punched the button for the uppermost dorm level.

As soon as he stepped off the lift, Mal found a deserted corridor and took out the ship’s comm.

“Wash? Wash, you there?”

“Yeah Mal.”

“We got trouble. Zoe and Jayne are headed back, I’m goin’ the long way round. Get Serenity warmed up to go as soon as we all get on board. Wave Inara, and have someone scope out the dock. I got a hunch they’re lookin’ for me in particular.”

“A hunch? Is this your highly honed instincts or plain common sense?”

“Save it. I need to know if I’ll have greeters waitin’ for me when I get up there. I’ll call again when I’m closer.”

On a hunch, Mal threw the receiver from his ear and the transponder from his coat down a trash chute. The Feds had come after him in the bar, not at his ship, and they hadn’t gone after Zoe and Jayne. Best he get rid of the evidence that he’d been working with someone close by.

It took him a good five minutes to find an emergency stairway and jimmy the door. Fifty four levels up to the landing docks. He started climbing.

* * *

Wash switched off the comm and turned to Book. “You got all that?”

Book nodded in response, then he shook his head. “Here we go again.” He and Wash had been gathering up straps and nets in the empty cargo bay.

“As long as he doesn’t pull my wife into it this time,” Wash said. Book took a measuring look at the pilot. The events on Niska’s skyplex had had a complicated effect on the relationship between Mal, Zoe and Wash. Wash had found a new respect for the captain, and an increased tolerance for the faith Zoe placed in Mal. On the other hand, Wash knew full well that it should have been Zoe in his place in Niska’s house of fun. Nowadays Wash got especially jumpy every time Zoe was off the ship on a job.

“The captain’s skill for getting out of tight situations is matched only by his talent for getting into them. They’ll be okay.” Book told the pilot.

“They better. Can you finish up here?”

“Sure, you go get her ready.”

Wash climbed the back stairs two at a time and yelled down the corridor to the engine room. “Kaylee, she ready to go?”

“What? But I’m changin’ out the thermocouples!”

“No, you’re no-ot.”

“Oh!” Kaylee whined. “Again? What’d he do this time?”

“Didn’t say.”

“Goushi! Give me ten minutes to patch her back together.”

“May not have that. They’re gonna show up any minute, running with all the demons of Alliance Hell behind them. Either that or a bunch of toddlers missing their lollipops.” Wash turned toward the bridge.

“We can’t keep doin’ this!” Kaylee yelled after him, over a couple loud metallic clangs. “I gotta fix her up sometime!”

Wash shook his head, and a constant stream of bad words kept him company as he strode through the dining room. He was sick of things blowing up like this.

* * *

River had her arm hooked through Prefect Marone’s. “It’s so good!” she said with an innocent giggle. “What is it called again?”

“Caramel. It’s mixed with peanuts and chocolate,” the Prefect replied. River could feel Simon biting back an exasperated sigh. She had loved chocolate turtles since she was three, but no one except her brother would have guessed it from the way she had chattered about every treat in the display case, then settled on her choice apparently at random.

“I’ve had chocolate, and peanuts, but never as good as this, and never with... caramel?”

“Correct. I’m glad you like it.” The Prefect smiled down on her briefly, then pointed out a statue covered fountain across the square.

Simon, who was laden with several colorful bags including the one filled with chocolates, followed like a pack animal a few steps behind River and her beau. She felt her brother’s irritation turn to suspicion and fear every time the Prefect looked down at her, but River could see that the man wasn’t interested in seeing her face. Simon was thinking (with relief, in which was odd reaction for a protective older brother) that Marone must be more interested in her body, but River knew he wasn’t. She knew what the man was interested in, and she liked him for it.

The Prefect led River to the fountain, gesturing up to the figures that adorned it. “These are the Bacchantes, the wild women of Bacchus,” he told River. “See the grapes they’re holding up? They make wine, then they drink it and dance through the woods and hills.”

“Dance, I love to dance!” River said, one finger under her veil picking caramel out of her teeth.

“I bet you do. I bet you’re very good at it.” The Prefect looked at River fondly, his eyes tinged with something like sadness.

Late afternoon sunlight sparkled in the water that sprayed over the bronze women, their arms opened and legs kicked up in ecstatic joy. River circled under them, her own limbs aching to take on their frozen poses and move them forward in time and space. But dolls don’t do that. She knew Simon was mad at her already for not being a proper doll, so she forced her arms to hang heavily at her sides and her feet to step calmly in her borrowed heels.

She stopped at the fountain’s gold plaque and read it aloud. “Oh, sweet upon the mountain, the dancing and the singing, the maddening rushing flight. Oh, sweet to sink to earth outworn when the wild goat has been hunted and caught.” She closed her eyes and added the last line, which wasn’t included on the plaque: “Oh, the joy of the blood and the red, raw flesh.”

The Prefect looked at her with sharper eyes. “You’ve read Homer?”

Simon stepped forward, “Our mistress has been teaching Daphne the classics…”

The Prefect waved an annoyed hand at Simon. River snapped her eyes open, cast a guilty glance at Simon, then pointed across the square. “What’s in that shop?” She started off without waiting for an answer.

* * *

Book finished sealing up the cargo bay, leaving the hatch open for the fleeing crew members to duck through. He closed his eyes and muttered a prayer, trying to diffuse the ire that gathered at the back of his mind. It wasn’t that the captain was a bad man, but he was stubborn and unwilling to listen to anyone. This was a difficult life, making one’s way out here in the black. Even with Book’s varied background he had been surprised to find out how difficult things were for this band of stragglers. A man couldn’t face this world with no voice in his head but his own. He needed to accept aid from somewhere, and it needn’t be on high. The captain didn’t seem able to recognize the power of the people he had around him. The pigheaded man had to go about things his own way, no matter what.

Book internal prayer-turned-rant was interrupted when Zoe and Jayne stepped through the airlock hatch.

“Any word from the Captain?” Zoe asked.

“He said he was coming the long way, whatever that means, and he’d call back when he got closer. Wash is getting the ship ready to go. What happened?”

“Alliance goons came sniffin’ for trouble,” Jayne said.

“They were after you?” Book asked.

“After Mal anyway, they let us go,” Zoe explained.

“Mayhap word reached this world about his misadventures on New Melbourne.”

“Could be,” Zoe said. “But we worry about that later. Right now we get everyone back to the ship and get out. This job’s done.”

* * *

A few more bags were hooked over Simon’s arm and his face was beginning to redden. He wasn’t sure what angered him more: River’s flirtatious lack of caution or the ease with which she treated her big brother like a servant.

“What do you like to do, besides dance?” the Prefect asked her. Simon tried to think threatening thoughts, hoping she’d pick up on them.

“I like to think about space.”


“All the empty black, so much of it. But in places it’s full of beautiful things. Stars, ion clouds, nebulas.”

“When was your first time in space?”

Simon held his breath. He and River had both been traveling between Core worlds on the Tam’s luxury yacht since before they could speak.

“I’ve never really been in space. The vacuum would kill me. Eyes pop out, blood boil, not pretty. Can we go in here?”

She led them into a flower store, and walked slowly past the exotic blooms which covered one wall. “Which can I get for you?” the Prefect asked. River stopped in front of an oval bloom with petals that appeared to be lined in blue fur. “This one?” he asked. She nodded inattentively, but that was enough for him; he went to find the shopkeeper.

River stood still, her gaze fixed. After a moment, Simon took a closer look at her. Her eyes weren’t focused on the flower.

“What is it?” he asked in a whisper.

“We have to get back,” she replied just as quietly. Even through the veil and all the makeup, he could see her face had gone pale.

Suddenly she turned and followed the Prefect, catching him by the elbow. “I must apologize. I have… a sudden headache. I need to go home.” Her voice was shaky, and not acting this time. Prefect Marone was all concern at her distress; with almost comical agitation he ran out of the shop to call for his private transport.

“What’s wrong?” Simon asked her softly.

“They’ll force the doors open, knock down the walls,” she said as she absent-mindedly stroked the petal of a dark red rose. “The monsters will come out.”

“There’s no monsters, mei-mei.”

“You know how to hide from them is all. Can’t hide if there’s no walls.”

“Which walls?”

River turned to him. She kept her voice down but her eyes were sparkling with tears. “Wires. No knives. Just wires that burn.”

“River -” Simon had to stop as the Prefect returned.

“My dear, our transport is here.” He offered his arm to River and Simon had to fall back into his silent role.

* * *

Mal paused at the doorway to the docking level to catch his breath. He pulled out the comm.


Zoe answered. “Captain, Jayne and I are back. We didn’t see any welcoming party, but they could be under cover. Where are you?“

Still slightly out of breath, Mal responded, “Emergency stairway on your level.” he cracked the door and peeked out. “Across from platform 26, that’s not far. I’ll be there in a few.” Mal put the comm in his coat pocket and quietly slipped through the door. He turned to his right, following ascending platform numbers. As he walked through the sparse crowd he glanced around for anyone who moved with him, stares that lingered a little too long. Nothing.

He didn’t know what hit him. He never remembered anything hitting him at all.

* * * * *

goushi: crap mei-mei: little sister

* * * * *

On to Chapter 5.


Tuesday, January 17, 2006 4:20 AM


Shame on me for not commenting sooner. Your story is excellent and improves with each chapter. The writing is lean and compelling, you blend the story lines to great effect, the characters are well drawn, and it's very exciting!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006 4:51 AM


Another chapter! Yay! And such a good one. I'm dying to know what's going to happen next. Love River's impression of a Companion-in-training, and Simon's of a servant.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006 5:58 AM


I'm really enjoying this! :D Great writing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006 6:27 AM



Tuesday, January 17, 2006 7:06 AM


Oh man. Good stuff!

I love River testing her sexuality. and Simon, hee!

And of course, whatever bad it is chasing after Mal.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006 7:48 AM


Hi anonymous person! I'm on the east coast. What time zone is this web page? I swear I posted ch 4 just before 9EST this morning. Would that would put FFF in Alaska???

I'm trying to do a chapter a day, although I may double up a few days because I'm traveling over the weekend and Ch 7 isn't the best cliff hanger. I'm gonna leave y'all on a BDcliff on Friday!

Have I mentioned I'm eeeeevil?

Thanks for all the comments! It's making me feel less sheepish about the amount of time I've spent on this!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006 9:34 AM


Oh wow, terrific writing, very shiny story with all the tension steadily mounting. I love how River knows something terrible is wrong/about to be unleashed and I am all kinds of worried about the Captain. Very shiny, *xien xie ni*, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Tuesday, January 17, 2006 5:20 PM


Great Story.

Keep up the good work. Can't wait until the next part comes out. :D

Wednesday, July 12, 2006 2:50 AM


He wasn’t sure what angered him more: River’s flirtatious lack of caution or the ease with which she treated her big brother like a servant.

LOL @ Simon being treated like a manservant.

Yay for the cliffhanger, well done there.


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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.