The Fish Job: Chapter 8
Friday, January 20, 2006

The remaining crew finds a new job and Mal finds an old problem


Chapter 1.

Back to Chapter 7.

* * * * *

Mal sat alone on the bridge, watching the landscape pass below Serenity as she followed the course he’d set toward Morristown. The leave-taking had been mercifully short: a passel of Wash’s family to carry off the baggage, then three handshakes and Mal was out a preacher, a pilot, and whatever the hell Zoe could be called. He had just shaken hands with Zoe, like she was some business partner. What could he do? How else could he say goodbye to Zoe?

It was a relief to have a plan, something to focus on. Keep flying, get money to buy fuel and food. Keep the Tams away from the feds. Keep Kaylee here. Mal shook his head as he realized it was even important to keep Jayne. He had no one else left.

He was grateful that Wash had found him a local contact. All these domestic troubles had gotten his mind off the mess he’d got caught up in on Oeneus. Until he figured out what exactly had happened there, it was best to keep his distance from that part of the sky. Best to stay away from New Melbourne, too. Likely there were folk there who were wantin’ to have some words with him.

A voice broke the silence. “Don’t worry, she’ll never really leave you.”

He turned the chair away from the windows. “River, don’t sneak up like that.”

“She’s got it all worked out, how to get you. Does your head still hurt?”

“Don’t you know?”

River studied his face with unsettling intensity. “I do.” She reached out to touch his cheek but he tipped his head away from her. She dropped her hand. “I’ll tell them to hurry. I’m sorry I can’t help more.”

“I don’t need your help, crazy girl.”

River gave him a sad look, then her eyes unfocused. She started humming an indistinct tune and turned to wonder off the bridge, her left hand trailing along the bulkhead. Mal smiled bitterly. His ship now had a backstabbing mercenary, a moody doctor, and a teenager with a few light bulbs out. He’d have to start spending more time in the engine room.

* * *

As he approached Morristown on foot, Mal narrowed his eyes to scan the landscape. The town was huddled in a shallow dusty valley, and roasted in sunlight that seemed much brighter than it had at Wash’s ranch. Stark brown buildings were separated by the white glow of dust scraped up by the shifting wind. A few dark figures trundled down the wooden sidewalk, then disappeared into a black doorway. Mal shaded his eyes with his hand, trying to see the signposts outside the buildings. This kept up, he thought, he’d have to get himself some eyeshades.

“Don’t know why we couldn’t a’ stayed,” Jayne said with more than a little bit of a whine.

“Cause I said no,” Mal replied, hoping to make the point stick this time.

“It was exactly what we needed, Mal. Lie low, save some cash. Get some real food. And did you see all those women? Who’d a’ thought Wash’s relations would look like that?”

Jayne and Mal had left Serenity where she rested just outside of town. The place was too small to have a proper landing field, but it did boast several saloons and a few shops that had lured Kaylee off the ship already. There was no way she’d let herself get stuck on board this time around, but Mal had ordered Simon and River to stay safely tucked away. If there was a single town on Barnard’s World where the Tams shouldn’t be seen, this was it. The Alliance kept a small outpost just down the valley, their one footprint on an otherwise happy little world.

“Jayne, I am the captain. I decide what’s needed. And we need to work.”

“I’m just sayin’, it wouldn’t hurt for ya to think a little more about crew morale. While you still got a crew.”

They stepped up on one of the covered wooden walkways that lined the street, and Mal blinked his eyes in relief at the shade. “Is this what it’d be like, having a child on board?” he asked himself, since talking to Jayne did no good.

“If you kept your crew in good spirits, things’d go better.”

“I don’t know why Zoe and Wash are worried, if Jayne Cobb can get by on my ship…”

“Sexual frustration impairs a man’s abilities. Oh, I guess you know all about that.” Jayne chuckled.

“Should’a left your frustrated ass on the ship.”

“Should’a left my frustrated ass out at the ranch so it could get un-frustrated.”

“Jayne, you got any idea what a peckin’ order is?”


“Well, my ship’s got a peckin’ order and I am the head… pecker. Now there’s the place up ahead. You go on in and get a seat with a good view of things. And don’t screw it up.”

Jayne went in first, taking a stool around the bend in the bar where he could see the whole place. Mal followed a few seconds later. He ordered a drink and dropped the right name for the bartender, then he chose a table on the other side of the room from Jayne, sitting with his back to the wall.

Late afternoon sunlight poured through the windows set high in the front wall of the bar; thick dust floated in the slanting beams. Out of habit, Mal let his gaze wonder casually over the clientele. It was hard to make them all out. The place was all indistinct dark shapes and creamy white sunbeams. No color, just shades of brownish-gray and cream. He rubbed his eyes.

“…gorram trash. Don’t even know when they’ve lost a war…” The words floated past him. Mal sipped his drink and told himself to mind his own business. “…gotta be slinking around stinking our town up.”

Mal followed the voice back to a trio of dark shapes sitting a few tables away. He studied them in the dusty light; he could guess their story just by looking at them. Local kids who grew up reading Alliance comic books, dreaming of touring the ‘verse in a shiny cruiser. Most like they developed a cocky attitude because their folks pushed papers at the Alliance outpost, and they got away with everything they did on account of having connections with the Feds. A pile of empty glasses filled their table. Arrogant cods, Mal thought. Barely settled into manhood and lookin’ for trouble.

They noticed his lengthy stare. “Maybe that one’s needin’ a reminder a’what it means to be the loser,” one of the kids said in a slighty louder voice.

“You’d be the expert,” Mal mumbled to himself.

“What was that?”

Oh hell. “Not a thing. Y’all just enjoy your victory toast there.” Mal raised his cup to them.

One of the kids gave Mal a long look. Blond, full grown and obviously the leader of the pack on account of his charming manner and impeccable taste in headgear: a cap worthy of the best Alliance thug. Gray fabric and a plasticy black rim. The kid was taking in Mal’s outfit as well. “Nice coat,” he told Mal with a sneer.

“Thanks. It’s not for sale.”

“Damn. We’re low on toilet paper at home. I really need something to wipe my piyan with.” The kids laughed and slapped hands. Mal sipped his drink and looked over to Jayne. A few dumb kids, not worth blowing a job for. Gorram, he thought, is this not the day I wanna be dealin’ with this. His head still ached. He brushed a hand over the back of his neck.

A glass slammed down on his table. “Mind if we join you?” The blond kid stood over Mal, face shadowed by the bright sunlight falling on him from behind. The kid pulled out the chair next to Mal and settled into it without waiting for an answer. “You see, we got this bet goin’.” He looked to his two buddies for supporting grins. “We bet that you’re not from around here.”

“Well, I’m glad that’s obvious.” Mal replied with a bright smile. “Sure hate to blend in.” He noticed Jayne, sniffing trouble, sidling down the bar.

The blond kid leaned toward Mal. “So maybe you don’t know that garbage ain’t so welcome in this town.”

“Maybe you ought’a post a sign. Seems a lot of folk don’t know when they ain’t welcome.” Mal was still leaning back in his chair, seeming at ease. He raised his glass to finish off his drink, but the kid slapped it out of his hand.

“I don’t think you’re gettin’ it.”

Mal looked at his empty hand, then down at the shattered glass on the floor. And it ain’t even U-day. “What I’m gettin’,” Mal replied, “is a little tired of things not goin’ smooth. Now if you boys will do me a favor and take a long walk, I won’t even insist on you gettin’ me a refill.”

The kid didn’t properly appreciate the deadly stare aimed his way. “Sure, browncoat. Why don’t you just come along with us and we’ll have a little chat outside?”

“Why wait?”

Mal hooked his toe around the leg of the blond’s chair and yanked it forward, spilling him backwards. A quick right hook took care of one of the buddies, and Jayne handled the other. The blond kid came up spittin’ mad and swung a fat fist at Mal’s face. Mal caught it and twisted the kid’s wrist around, forcing him to turn into an arm lock. Mal twisted a little harder than he intended: he felt a bone in the forearm snap and the kid went down with a howl of pain.

“Damn,” Mal swore. Stupid kid. Living out in this dead end place, he ain’t likely to be med-vaced somewhere for a proper bone fix. Probably have a bum arm the rest of his life. Right arm too. Mal shook his head. Why was he thinking about this? Got more important things to deal with. Jayne had a pair of guns out, just in case anyone else in the place had a problem with coat colors. Good that one of them was keeping their wits – but scary that it was Jayne.

Mal looked down, and he didn’t know how he hadn’t seen it before. It was the same kid from the gun shop in New Melbourne. Same exact one who’d tried to sell him a seeker. Mal had broken his face not even a week ago. And now broke his arm too.

“Mal – I suggest we move along.” Mal looked back up at Jayne. “And I mean soon.” The local folk were staying put, but clearly weren’t happy with the situation. Mal looked down again – it was still the same face, and now there was blood dripping from the kid’s mouth, and a bruise forming on his cheek. Just like the kid in the gun shop.

“Ya, good idea.” Mal replied to Jayne. He headed for the door with Jayne backing out behind him. Mal stepped into the white light and squinted a look around the near empty street. He wiped a hand over his mouth; the hand was shaking. How could it be the same gorram kid? Put this under things to be dealt with later, he told himself firmly.

“Wanna stop in next door and beat up on some more kids?” Jayne asked, still pointing a gun through the doorway, “or you wanna hang out here till his friends come lookin’ for payback?”

“Back to the ship,” Mal said. “To hell with the job.” He took off along the wooden walkway at a fast walk, Jayne following behind.

“Where is Kaylee?” Mal asked himself, hoping she’d be back on Serenity already. Turned out she wasn’t; she was sitting on the edge of the walkway a few doors down. He didn’t see her in the bright light until he nearly ran her over.

“Hey Cap’n, I saw you go by before. I have to show ya - look what I got!” She started pulling open a bag.

“No time Kaylee. We gotta go.”

“Again?” she whined. Mal grabbed her arm and tugged her along.

“Local color, always makin’ my life complicated,” he muttered. He looked behind him. A few locals were standing outside the bar looking after him, but Jayne was nowhere to be seen. “Great, now where’s Jayne got to?” Too damn much to deal with. Mal winced at a sharp pain in the back of his head. Way too much.

“You all right Cap?” Kaylee asked. Mal scanned the sidewalk across the street. No Jayne anywhere.

“He can do for himself,” he decided. He turned back Kaylee. “I gotta get you back to the ship.”

He grabbed her wrist in his left hand, pulled out his gun in his right and held it low as he continued down the raised wooden walkway. As they stepped down at the corner, a big body flew at him from the side. Mal let go of Kaylee and twisted out of his attacker’s reach. The guy stumbled to the ground, then found himself looking up the barrel of Mal’s gun. He was blond and looked vaguely familiar.

“Gonna murder me?” The man said. “You messed up my little brother, that ain’t enough?”

* * *

“Hold there, we’ve got the electrode placed. Start at the lowest setting.”

* * *

A searing pain went through Mal’s head. He tried to keep the gun pointed straight but his vision blurred, and ‘Older Brother’ tackled him, knocking the gun out of his hand. Mal shook his head and tried unsuccessfully to pull his arms free. He barely managed to roll to his side to avoid getting completely pinned down.

The pain receded and his head began to clear. The thug was expecting him to try to pull away, so instead Mal twisted back into the arms locked around his shoulders. This got him inside the grip enough to free an elbow, which he drove into the man’s gut. The arms loosened and Mal climbed to his feet.

He found himself facing an arc of four men, obviously buddies of Older Brother who was still lying in the dust coughing. Mal saw the goon to his left go down – reaching for Mal’s dropped gun. Instead of going for the guy, Mal slid onto his left knee and used his right foot to kick the gun under the wooden walkway. This put him in an excellent position to make use of his elbow again, shifting the momentum of his slide to strike a crushing blow to the man’s crotch. Wouldn’t have to worry about this one anymore.

Mal got up and turned around just in time to see a fist coming at his face. He dodged to avoid the punch, but this took him off balance and he stumbled back against the walkway, catching himself against the corner of the building.

He had a moment to consider the situation as the three remaining men stepped around Racked Man to close in on him. Mal wasn’t worried about being able to take these guys down; they were a little older but not much brighter than that poor kid with the broken arm and broken face. Truth of the matter was, his hands were itchin’ to make fists. He’d had too many weighty issues on his mind and could benefit from a little fisticuff therapy.

Violence ain’t done by those who love doin’ it so much as those who’ve had it done on themselves. Gorram preacher. Mal dropped his hands and backed along the wall of the building. He’d brought this on himself by reacting to the jibes of an ignorant fool who didn’t know any better than to mess with a hardened soldier. And he’d left that fool maimed, possibly for life. It panged his conscience. Gui, if he had a bit more time to consider things, he might be inclined to question the effect his conscience was having on his sanity. Mal swore, unsure of himself in a fight for the first time he could recall since before the war.

“Captain!” It was Kaylee. Older Brother was up, and he had her in an armlock.

The thug grinned at Mal. “Browncoat trash. You mess with my brother, I’m gonna mess up your little lady.” He grabbed her chin and yanked her head to the side so he could rub his grimy cheek on her neck, and finished by flicking his tongue along her jaw. “Tasty!” Kaylee cried out in disgust and twisted, getting an arm wrapped tight around her neck for her trouble.

Any doubts Mal might have had, that he had no place in this fight, were gone. He may be a mean and crazy old man, but anyone who threatened Kaylee was worse. He’d be damned ten times over before he let her get hurt.

Mal made it three steps toward the man holding Kaylee when he was tackled from behind. He twisted to his side in the dust and tried to kick his legs free. Then he saw boots running at him, a pointy toe aimed at his head. Mal ducked back as he grabbed the boot and wrenched it upward. This tilted the would-be kicker enough to make him flop onto his back, and the boot came off in Mal’s hand.

“What the - ” Mal started, then he shrugged, grabbed the boot by the back of the ankle and beat his tackler on the head with the solid wooden heel. The third man grabbed the back of the neck of Mal’s coat, most likely with the intention of pulling Mal’s head back and landing a punch, but all he got was a pointy boot toe to the eye that sent him flying. His nickname was likely to be Patch in the future. A few more whacks to Tackler Man and Mal was able to roll free. Bootless Man was the only one up at this point, but when he saw that he had no buddies to help him, and he was facing the prospect of getting beat with his own boot, he held his hands up and backed off.

Mal threw the boot away and flung himself down next to the walkway, reaching underneath to pull out his gun. As he got up he pointed it in turn at Racked Man, Tackler Man, Patch (who was no condition to notice), and Bootless Man, as warnings for them to stay the hell out of the rest of this business. Then he broke into a sprint after Older Brother and Kaylee.

He saw them heading into the doorway about twenty feet ahead of him. He took aim at the hundan, but never got the shot off. A powerful blast caught him in the side. He knew that feeling – a sonic rifle, the favored ‘non-damaging’ weapon used by the Alliance for crowd control and the like. It knocked Mal down and stunned him. He couldn’t grip his gun right.

“Malcolm Reynolds, you are bound by law!”

He rolled to his side and saw Alliance troops coming at him. Mal struggled to his knees, but the sonic weapon hit him again. Then the soldiers were on him, holding him down and yanking his gun out of his hand. “You gotta help her!” he told them. “There!” Mal tried to point to the building Kaylee and Older Brother were just entering, but the soldiers caught his arms and pinned them behind him.

“He’s gonna hurt her!” They weren’t listening, didn’t care. Cuffs fastened over his wrists, then he was pulled to his feet. Mal managed to land a hard kick which earned him a fist to his side. They held him up by his arms as he doubled over, coughing, then they began dragging him toward a shuttle just settling out of the sky. Mal twisted to look back to the dark doorway where Kaylee and her captor had disappeared.

“Kaylee,” he gasped, trying one more time to struggle. The butt of a rifle connected to his temple.

* * *

“We’re reading a strong response, we’ve got him.”

“Extraordinary reaction – this won’t take long.”

“Has he said anything useful?”

“Not a talker, unfortunately.”

“Doesn’t matter. We’ll get good intel when we debrief him. Pray continue.”

* * * * *

piyan: butt gui: hell hundan: bastard

* * * * *

On to Chapter 9.


Friday, January 20, 2006 3:30 AM


Chapter 9 this afternoon.

And I’m tellin’ you now: buckle up kiddies.

Friday, January 20, 2006 4:43 AM


This is Freaking Incredible Mal!!
*I bow to your superior greatness and seniority

Friday, January 20, 2006 5:02 AM


I am out of words. Know that you have me held hostage, and the rest of my little world can tumble down around my ears, long as I've got more of your story to read.

Friday, January 20, 2006 5:31 AM


anonymous #1 - either way, you have to share your scenario when it's safe to do it - I wanna know!

Friday, January 20, 2006 6:05 AM


Too bad Mal can't stop and think about what's happening to him. Doubly too bad River can't be just a wee bit more specific. And I should have mentioned earlier - Loved the Kaylee/River makeup thing.

Friday, January 20, 2006 9:03 AM


Ooooo! Wow! More is already up! Woo!

Friday, January 20, 2006 9:27 AM


Oh, good gorram, this is so brilliant and painfully good. My heart goes out to Mal and I am on the verge of panic as to whether any of his friends can get to him before the gorram Alliance completely his painful descent into insanity. Even worse, I am dreading why they are doing this to him and what they expect to gain. Chilling, kudos for a terrific story. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, January 20, 2006 12:01 PM



I have theories re both of those issues (Mal thinking and River being clear) - besides the whole 'that would ruin the plot' thing.

It's not explicitly stated in the story (meaning the story so far posted as well as the story to come - the whole thing is pretty much written already) but when it's all posted I could justify myself a bit. If you're really interested...


Saturday, January 21, 2006 3:07 AM


Don't have time to write much, must read chapter 9. But ouch? Poor Mal, hope its all resolved soon.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006 8:13 PM


Ok, this could have come straight from JOss:

“Jayne, you got any idea what a peckin’ order is?”


“Well, my ship’s got a peckin’ order and I am the head… pecker."

Great moment!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006 4:39 AM


*Jayne had a pair of guns out, just in case anyone else in the place had a problem with coat colors. Good that one of them was keeping their wits – but scary that it was Jayne.*
I loved this description.

Alright, time for the crew to come to the rescue. Gotta get Mal out of whatever he has gotten into.


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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.