The Fish Job: Chapter 5
Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A little good news, and a lot of bad


Chapter 1.

Back to Chapter 4.

* * * * *

A spider had burrowed into the back of his head. Its fat body sat at the top of his spine, and its long spiny legs pushed through the inside of his skull. The spider glowed white.

With a painful effort, Mal pushed this image away. It wasn’t helping. He tried to think more cheerful thoughts, but for a while nothing came to him. Oh ya, he remembered, we got paid. We got well paid. But after that, things hadn’t gone so good. The events on the station came back to him with an odd clarity: take out the lights, find the service lift, climb the stairs back up to the docks, head for the platform. Then it just… ended. Someone got to him, had to be the Alliance.

Gradually he became aware of a faint background noise. A buzzing. A ship’s engine? If it was, it was a small engine, too high pitched to be a cruiser. A transport maybe? Only one way to find out: he decided to try waking up. Not that it was likely to make the situation any better. But hell, optimism had worked once today, maybe he ought’a try it again. Could be he was still on the station, or planetside, so the crew would have a chance to get him out. If he’d been shipped to that cruiser he was humped. Not a cheery idea, he thought. Better avoid that one. Here goes.

Blinding white light jabbed into his head and woke up the spider. He closed his eyes again and waited for it to stop its fussing. After a bit he peeked out through squinted eyes. Gorram light. He held up a hand to block it. Hands not bound, that’s something.

“Oh, sorry about that,” a familiar voice said. The light turned off and Simon leaned over Mal. “How do you feel?”

“Ask the spider,” Mal said very slowly.

“Um …”

“It’s OK, doc. Just got a headache.”

“I’m not surprised. You’ve got a concussion where they hit you.”

“Hit me?”

“You got lucky, sir.” Zoe’s voice floated to him.

“Ain’t no such thing. Zoe?”

“Over here.”

Mal turned toward her, but this involved rolling over the back of his head, which was just a bad idea. After things settled again, he asked, “Who hit me?”

“Jayne and I came to meet you, saw two guys draggin’ you off. They have headaches at least as bad as yours right now.”

“Good. What’s with the buzzin’?”

“Buzzing, sir?”

“This should help,” Simon said from Mal’s side. Mal felt a sting in his arm, and a few seconds later the ache in his skull subsided. Things came better into focus, and he saw Simon putting away a bottle.

“Thanks, Doc.” He carefully looked over to Zoe. “Two guys?”

She shrugged. “They weren’t very good.”


“Might have been. Not in uniform, but real clean cut.”

“Funny there was only two of ’em.”

“They must not‘ve known who they’re after, or they’d have sent a whole squadron.”

“Snuck up behind me. Very quiet.”

“They got behind you? I take it back, sir. They must have been top agents. The best.”

“Nice of ya to say it.” Mal smiled and let his eyes close. The painkiller was working it’s way further into him.

“You did get lucky.”

“Ain’t no such thing as luck.”

“You’re here.”

“Guess I am. Rest of the crew?”

“Yep. We met up with Inara and hightailed it.”

Mal opened his eyes to give her a questioning look.“We bein’ followed?”

“Oddly, no, we’re not.”

He frowned. “They let us leave?”

“They did.”

“Zoe, somethin’ smelly ‘bout that job.”

“I smelled it too, sir.”

“And I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout the fish.” Mal’s eyes drifted shut again.

“That’s a different kind of stink.”

“Let’s talk ‘bout it later.”

“Sure Cap’n. Sleep well.”

* * *

Mal sat alone at the table, sipping tea and nibbling a rice cake. It was early morning on the ship’s clock, but his sleep schedule had been messed up by all the unconscious time. They were already more than a day out of Oeneus, and this was the first time he’d been able to hold down any solid food. He still felt weird in the head; everything had a dreamlike edge to it. At least the worst of the ache was gone and he was able to think a little. He forced himself to focus on the fish job. Something wasn’t right and surely it’d be back around to bite him in the ass if he didn’t figure it out.

He could tell by the dark looks he got from a few of the crew, namely Book and Inara, that they thought this new trouble was the result of his little temper tantrum with the kid on New Melbourne. Mal didn’t agree. The Feds had come after him in the bar instead of meeting him at the ship, and they hadn’t known that Zoe and Jayne were with him. So the Feds must of ID’d him as a target after they’d all gotten off the lift and split up. Must have ID’d him in the bar. They had to be after him because he’d been talking to the Kamath guy, that’s the only thing that made sense. But why did they show up in the bar after the guy left?

Then there was the issue of the two fellas who’d given him the achey head. Most likely they had been Feds out of uniform, trying to blend in so they could jump him. But why only two guys? And why such a sloppy job?

Alliance was just moving in to a remote world, Mal figured, and it was clear they weren’t fully staffed. The guy that led the search of the ship certainly wasn’t up to the usual Alliance snuff. But still - they knocked him out then let themselves get jumped? That last part didn’t sit right. Feds couldn’t be that stupid, could they?

So maybe those two guys weren’t Feds. It wouldn’t be the first time in his career that he had two separate groups of people out to ruin his day. But who else would be after him out here?

Mal set the questions aside as Inara came in.

“Good morning Captain.”

“Mornin’ Inara.”

“How is your head?”

“Feelin’ a little too full at present.”

“That must be uncomfortable for you.”

“Hmm.” Mal’s eyes narrowed as he tried to figure out if that was an insult. Gui, at least she was talking to him. He smiled, this optimism thing was starting to take hold. “Did I pull you away from an important client back there?”

“Actually, yes, you did.”

“I hope there weren’t no broken hearts.”

“Not on my account. I believe River did all the heart breaking this time around.”

“Did she, uh…”

“Never even took her veil off, but she’s very good with body language. She would make an excellent Companion.”

“That’s all I need.”

“It wasn’t a suggestion.” Inara sat at the table. She took a breath and continued awkwardly. “Actually, it’s funny you should ask. My client took my early departure quite well.”


“Because I should be seeing him fairly often in the future.”

“How’s that?”

“I made a contact, and I’ve found a good… situation. On Patton. It’s not far from Oeneus. It’s a good offer and it saves me the trouble of finding transport all the way in to the Core.”

Mal stopped the question on the tip of his tongue: situation as in permanent client? He set down his cup and rubbed his neck. Did he really have to deal with this right now?

“I’ll see what I can do about gettin’ you there.”

“Thank you.”

“We can’t go straight in. There’s a lot of Alliance on Patton.”

“I understand. There’s no need to hurry. The situation will wait for me.”

Again Mal resisted the urge to ask the situation’s name. “Have you told everyone yet?”

“Not about this particular offer. They know I plan on leaving eventually.”

They sat for an uncomfortable moment, until a groggy looking Zoe stumbled in.

“Morning Captain.”

“Morning Zoe. You’re up early.”

“Looks like I ain’t the only one.”

“Nothing like a cracked skull to muck up your sleep schedule.” Mal said with more cheer than he felt. “What’s a matter with you? You look a wreck.”

“Just feelin’ a mite icky this morning.” Zoe brought a fragrant cup of mint tea to the table.

“You get straight to the doc, I don’t want no sickness spreadin’ around my boat.”

“Actually Captain. I’ve seen him already. I’m not sick.” Zoe rested her chin in her hands.

Inara gasped. “Really?” Zoe looked up and the women exchanged smiles. “Oh, Zoe, that’s wonderful!”

“What? What? A little help here?” His headache was coming back.

“Mal, she’s pregnant.”

The headache hit full stride.

* * *

“I promised Wash we’d all talk about this together,” Zoe stalled.

“Get him out of bed then!” Mal ordered.

“That’s all right Captain,” Wash said from the doorway. “I’m up. Zoe, you told him?”

“Actually, I didn’t.”

“I guessed,” Inara confessed with a smile. “She’s got that glow.”

“The ‘I just spent the last half hour vomiting’ glow?” Zoe asked.

Wash smiled. “It does give you away, honey.”

“So… y’all are pregnant?” Mal asked.

“Technically, it’s just Zoe,” Wash commented from the kitchen.

“As in… baby?”

“That’s generally what happens,” Inara said with a small smirk.

“Come on, sir,” Zoe said. “You must have known we’ve been thinking on it for some time.”

“Well, ya, but… pregnant? Now?”

“Careful Mal, you’re gonna reopen that crack in your head,” Wash said, then he kissed his glowingly pregnant wife and sat down next to her.

“How long has it been?” Inara asked.

“Almost two months,” Zoe said. “We wanted to give it a little time to make sure before we told anyone.”

“Two months,” Mal repeated.

“Ya, that’s two of nine,” Wash displayed the appropriate number of fingers. “Seven to go. Then – hey! Baby! Diapers, spit up, no sleep…” Wash’s face lit up in a joyful smile at the thought of his future hardships.

Mal ignored Wash as it sunk in. He turned to Zoe. “Why the hell did you go on the job?”

“It was supposed to be an easy grab-the-dough-and-go. Wasn’t even illegal cargo.”

“But with the Alliance all over the place?”

“It worked out fine.”

“Barely.” Mal found himself starting in on a lecture. “Zoe, you need to put some thought into this -”

“We have thought on it,” Zoe interrupted, then she and Wash shared a long silent look which Mal couldn’t decipher at all. He wasn’t used to that. Wash and Zoe had their private moments, no doubt about that, but Mal always knew what was on Zoe’s mind. Suddenly he understood how the unspoken conversations he and Zoe had on a near daily basis might bother her husband.

“It won’t help anything to wait,” Wash said in a low voice.

Zoe nodded. She took a moment to gather her thoughts, then looked at Mal. “Captain. We didn’t want to say anything until your head was all better.”

“My head will get by just fine. You say what you need.”

“It’s just all the stuff that’s been happening the past months. And this last job, should have been a cake walk.” Zoe looked to Wash for support. He answered by clutching her hand. “Babies ain’t born easy in my family –”

“You’re leavin’,” Mal guessed.

“It’s just until the baby is born. A quiet and peaceful place, with good med facilities. Lay up a bit.” Zoe sounded like she was still trying to convince herself. “Mal, I think this is the way it has to go.”

Mal put his head down. Then he pushed his chair back and walked to the kitchen. He forgot to take his mug with him to provide an excuse, so he ended up just staring at the tea pot.

“You’re right,” Mal said finally, looking up at Zoe and forcing a smile. “You take all the time you want.” Zoe turned to Wash for a hug and kiss.

Mal watched them celebrate, his face expressionless again. Then he returned to his chair. “You two got enough money?” he asked softly.

“We’ve been setting some aside, just in case.” Wash replied. “We’ll be okay.”

“You put any thought into where you’re goin’?”

“Barnard’s world,” Wash said. “I got a cousin there. It’s got good med facilities, but not much Alliance presence. Good climate too. Nice place for my woman to get some rest, and we’re less than a day from it.”

“Inara,” Mal said, “Barnard would be a good place for you to find a charter back to Patton. There’s a refueling station in orbit that gets a lot of traffic.”

Wash and Zoe looked to Inara in surprise.

“Oh – yes, it would be a good place,” Inara answered Mal.

“Inara, you’re leaving now?” Wash asked. Zoe swore under her breath.

Mal stood up. “Yup, our companion has got herself a proper sit-u-ation. Wash, if you’d set our course. I got some work to do.” Mal set his mug in the kitchen and left.

* * *

A sense of unreality descended on Mal as he walked down the corridor toward the engine room. He stopped where the corridor split off toward the cargo bay, holding the bulkhead as his sense of balance did a long slow circle. Wasn’t like he’d never hit his head before, but this one definitely got a tender spot. Of course, the news that he had three people leaving his ship tomorrow didn’t help any.

As he waited for up to become up again, Mal noticed two pairs of feet stretched out on the deck just inside the doorway of the engine room. He smiled. It pleased him to see Kaylee finding some company. The girl deserved all the affection she could get.

“No, you can’t be serious!” he heard her say in a teasing tone.

“Really,” Simon replied. “We had a few weeks between terms, and anyone who could get enough people to sign up for a class could teach it. And that was one of the classes.”

“But… an artichoke? Who cares how ya eat it?”

“Manners are very important to a top surgeon. One has to be funded, which means wining and dining very important people.”

“Again I ask... an artichoke?”

“That was just the title. The gimmick to the class. It actually covered many aspects of proper manners for Core high society.”

“Like eatin’ a’ artichoke in polite company?”

“Yes,” he admitted with a laugh. “That was covered.”

“Now I gotta be on the outlook for one so as I can watch you eat it like a gentleman.”

Simon laughed, and Mal heard a soft kiss. This had now gone beyond what he had any business eavesdropping on, but it was so pleasing to hear Kaylee being happy.

“Get two of them. I’ll teach you how to cope with an artichoke too,” Simon said.


“You never know when you might find yourself at a vital hospital fundraiser, served a very troubling appetizer while discussing the necessities of trauma surgery with a parliament member’s top assistant.”

“I would do you proud, Simon Tam.”

Mal smiled again. He hadn’t realized Kaylee and Simon had gotten so close.

“I know you would, Kaylee.”

“You think me and you’ll ever get settled in the Core? Really?”

“I know we will. Someday.”

Mal’s smile faded.

“But what about River?”

A long silence followed Kaylee’s question. “I’m doing all I can,” Simon said finally. “I’m not sure how far I can take her. I need to find somewhere safe for her.”

“You’ve done so much,” Kaylee said. “You got to live your own life too, sometime.”

“I do miss Osiris. It was good there. If I could just take you back with me, it’d be perfect.”

“Don’t tell the captain, but I would like to see what it’s like in the Core. I know everyone says bad stuff about the Alliance, but I’d like to see for myself, ya know? And be settled somewhere, not runnin’ around all the time gettin’ chased by just about everybody.”

“It is best to judge things for yourself, and you can’t do that if you don’t experience all the options. Being a common criminal on the rim is not the only way to live life.”

Mal turned away before he could hear any more; he made it to top of the stairway and sat down. Kaylee and Simon, a happy high class couple in the Core? Of course Simon belonged there, but Kaylee? Mal sighed. The girl deserved more comfort and stability than she could get on this ship. That was the hard truth. Simon could give it to her. He’d have to give up on his sister, though, and Mal couldn’t accept that the doctor would really do that. No way the Allance would take Dr. Tam back, in any case.

Mal started to rise, but sat down heavily at a jolt of pain in his head. Damned concussion. He held a hand over his forehead until his vision began to clear.

As the ache subsided, he felt a wave of rage rush up in him. Simon had taken more than his share of risk and loss to rescue and protect his little sister, could that boy mean to abandon her? And Kaylee, talking about the Alliance like that? Like she wanted to be part of it? Mal wanted to go back in there and give them both a sharp slap or two. He actually stood up and took a step toward the engine room before he stopped himself. Idiot! the word rang out in his mind. Was he really thinking of doing violence on his own crew?

Those two were just talkin’ fanciful. Wasn’t fair for him to be judging them based on something he wasn’t meant to have heard. He forced himself to turn back toward the cargo bay.

* * *

Mal sat with his feet dangling over the edge of the catwalk. His arms were hooked over the lower bars of the railing, his eyes focused somewhere beyond the walls of the bay.

“Am I interrupting?”

Mal pulled his attention back to the here and now. “Not at all, Shepherd.”

“You look as if you’re carrying a heavy load, son.”

“I got nothin’ on my back.”

“That so?” Book settled down next to Mal.

“It is.”

“I hear tell Zoe and Wash have formed some plans of late.”

“They have at that.” They sat silently for a moment before Mal continued. “It’s a good thing for them.”

“Yes. There is joy in new life.”

“Bouncing bundles of it.”

“You don’t seem joyful.”

Mal hesitated before answering. “I am happy for them Shepherd.”


“You ever get the feelin’ that stuff ain’t right?”

“How do you mean?”

“Like… like everything got shook up, and ain’t what it used to be?”

“Can’t say as I have.” Book studied the Mal. “Captain, it’s not surprising you feel off. You can’t be happy to lose Zoe and Wash. And Inara as well.”

“Guess I’ll get by.”

“Living is about more than getting by.”

“Is for some.”

“Could be for you. That’s something you have control of.”

“How you figure that?”

“Mal, you need to think about the life you’re creating on this ship. Of course people won’t want to stay with you if you let things go to hell the way you have.”

Mal looked at Book in surprise. “Pardon me?”

“Taking jobs with folk you have no idea about. Letting your rage rule you. Playing the tyrant. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Captain, that you have some special people on this ship. But they’re not stupid. You have to earn their trust, and you haven’t done so well with that.”

“What exactly are you tellin’ me Shepherd?”

“I’m telling you to get your house in order, and don’t be waiting for someone else to do it for you. Out here in the black you’re all you got. There’s no one for you to be leanin’ on.”

“How about all those special people on my crew?”

“Maybe you haven’t noticed, but there’s not so many as there used to be. As I said, they aren’t stupid. They know a sinking ship when they see one, and they won’t let you drag them down.”

Mal opened his mouth to reply, but couldn’t think of a thing to say. He looked down into the cargo bay, thinking on the bitter truth in the preacher’s words. He heard Book stand up. Mal turned to watch him leave, wanting to say something, to explain that things weren’t really so bad. He’d even been optimistic lately, for chrissake. Mal’s gaze passed the hatch to Inara’s shuttle, then returned there to linger.

Out here in the black you’re all you got.

Mal didn’t want to believe that.

* * * * *

gui: hell

* * * * *

On to Chapter 6


Wednesday, January 18, 2006 5:00 AM


Wow, thanks for the quick update. This is good stuff, well-written and increasingly layered. Poor Mal - I hate that unsettled feeling. You're doing a great job with him. Looking forward to more.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006 5:18 AM


Poor Mal, all he has is his ship and his crew. You have to make everything OK this is absolutely heart-wrenching.
(But Also I think this an amazing story!)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006 5:54 AM


Hmmm...interesting. I have a suspicion about the crew, though....

Wednesday, January 18, 2006 6:28 AM


That's a quick update! :D

Something about this had me very convinced that Mal was hallucinating up until Book's last word and Mal's quiet contemplation.

Simon talking about leaving River was what triggered it, really, because.... no way.

So, I'm half-waiting if this will turn out the case and Mal's not even on Serenity or some such.

Either way, a wonderful look at Mal and his fears, very reminiscent of "Out of Gas", sad and touching and very true.

Great love and impatience for the next part. :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006 8:21 AM


I really wanted to weep for Mal especially as he had been feeling so gorram optimistic but I am mighty suspicious. That crack on the back of the head and the spidery feeling, I think they have inserted something though what the *diyu* it is I have no idea only that it is a bad bad thing. As for the crew leaving I could see it happening that way but Book is wrong to blame it on the Captain. Folks on that ship are in no way slow to come forward and tell the Captain when he's wrong about something, especially Zoe. No. I feel as if Book and even Inara are a little off or maybe it's that rutting crack on the head? Can't wait for more, this is super shiny! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, January 18, 2006 9:09 AM


There is more to Mal than just tyrany and anger. You did a good job fishing that out. Same with Inara.

And I agree with the rest, Sumtin' ain't right...

More please!!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006 9:22 AM


Another great installment! I love your writing, it really creates a sense of atmosphere!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006 9:43 AM


And where, precisely, is Mr. Cobb?

Something's not right. Hallucination, simulation, something. Not right.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006 12:25 PM



I love Book's talk with Mal. Saying what needed to be said. That's Book.

*misses him*

This is such a great series, and I'm so in love with it. And that's saying something.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006 1:18 PM


Another Great Chapter.

I hope the next Chapter will be out tomorrow :D

Keep it up. ;)

Thursday, February 9, 2006 6:01 AM


It seemed obvious to me that the characters were not acting right. I figured 'dream sequence' at the get-go. However, you kept it just real enough that I started doubting my initial suspiciouns. You wove a great tale of how Mal might have felt and what his fears were. I was throughly hooked.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006 3:04 AM


The ease of their escape concerns me as well, and I just know things are going to get much worse (something to do with that 'spider' in Mal's head).

“Mal, she’s pregnant.”

Great developments, and the suspense of how it's going to end for everyone is good too.


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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.