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Extra Cargo -- Chapter 8: Shadow Lands
Wednesday, February 8, 2006

The crew leaves Boros. This is the continuation of the [u]Extra Cargo[/u] series. Starting at the beginning is always a good idea Chapter 1-4, Chapter 5, and Chapter 6. If you have been reading along, I revised Chapter 7 to eliminate some consistancy issues.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1463    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

Chapter 8 – Supply Run

Qin aide wo de ma. Who’da thunk that leaving Serenity to go pick up cargo would be considered a peaceful break? Mal mused as he and Zoe left Serenity to go to the address Lou Hiao wong had given them. So far the day had been horrible, it couldn’t get any worse then it already was. Caroline had woken him up in the middle of the night with nightmares about the Alliance taking her away. Then there had been the breakfast fight over the grey niu shi; which had ended up with Caroline in tears. She was still sitting at the table with a bowl of very cold porridge. Inara had returned late; and was sleeping so Mal was left to try and brush Caroline’s hair. That whole hairbrush and comb thing was really complicated. It had been yet another big mistake; Kaylee finished the job while giving him mean looks. He didn’t mean to pull the little one’s hair and make her cry.

He walked out of the galley, came across River in the passage. She promptly melted down and started having a “spell.” When Caroline heard River screaming she sprinted towards her. And as soon as she saw that Simon was loading a syringe; she wigged out and attacked Simon. It was the infirmary all over again, took the better part of an hour to get everyone calmed down. Mal was trying to grab hold of Caroline and calm her down. Simon was trying to calm River down, give her a soother, and rebound from an attack from a vicious little Caroline kitten – complete with claws. Thank goodness for the Shepard, he stepped in and helped with River while Kaylee and Mal calmed Caroline. The day couldn’t get much worse. Well, it could rain. Or it could snow. It was the summer season on Boros, and that meant three months of dry hot sun and no rain. At least Kaylee wasn’t mad at him anymore.

Out of everyone leaving Mal and Zoë were the last. Inara agreed to watch a drugged River and Caroline. Wash and Kaylee were on their way to the junkyard. Jayne was on his way to fill the ammunition stores. Shepard Book was off to the Abbey, and Simon was off to replenish his suturing and stitching supplies that Caroline and River had used up in the makin’ of their spider web.

It was the first time Mal could remember that he was happy to leave Serenity. Zoë was driving the mule which left Mal time to think. Time to think about Caroline, River, the job, while musing through all of this he happened upon a solution to the grey glop problem. Thank you Dr. Spock! Maybe this job would go off without a hitch. Be nice, real nice. There were enough complications at the moment didn’t need no more.

“Sir. We’re here.”

“Huh.”

“Earth-that-was to Captain Reynolds. The warehouse. Lou Hiao wong’s cargo. Pick up.”

“Oh, yeah. Medical supplies. I was thinking.”

Zoë narrowed one eye. “Been doing that a lot lately.”

Mal looked over the dusty warehouse where they were supposed to pick up their cargo. “Well, lets get to it.” Mal hopped out of the mule and walked over to the door. It was painted with a large drunk looking clown head. There was dusty faded sign hung over it that read ‘Wong’s Entertainment supplies for all purposes.’ Zoë got in front of him and sharply rapped on the door. “Place looks right old.” Mal commented on the rusting exterior of the structure. The sign was held on by one screw and mostly rested on the top of the door frame giving it a cock-eyed look.

They heard shuffling inside, and then a rusty voice announced “Coming, I’m coming.” It seemed like an eternity before the door opened. A very tall old man stood before them. So tall it seemed that if he stood up straight he could touch the sky. “My name is Yuri, Yuri Petrovichski. May I help you?” He asked in heavily accented English; his voice sounded as if it was never used and he was out of practice in talking.

“I’m Captain Mal Reynolds, and this is my first mate; we are here to pick up cargo to be transported to Pythagoras.”

“Yes, I remember now. Mr. Lou said something about someone coming to get boxes. Follow me.” His demeanor made it feel like they were intruding. Yuri turned and walked slowly back in the dimly lit warehouse. Everything was covered in a layer of dust and grime. It looked like nothing had moved in or out of the building since the planet had been terraformed. Yuri gestured towards a smallish stack of crates in one of the bays, the only thing in the whole place with no dust. “I’ll open the main door so that you can pull in your mule.”

Mal nodded, the trio all trudged back to the front of the warehouse. Zoë was looking around at everything and everywhere. When they reached the front of the warehouse Yuri pushed a button and a large garage style door silently moved up its tracks letting in brilliant sunshine. Yuri remained in the shadows shielding his eyes as if he was allergic to light. Although given how bright the sun was shining and the lack of clouds Mal could understand his reaction.

It was eerily quiet in the back of the warehouse where Mal and Zoë were loading crates onto the mule. Yuri had left and gone to wherever he had been before they showed up. The only thing they could hear other then themselves was a muted mechanical hum. They quickly loaded the six small cartons marked medical supplies; and three large crates marked medical equipment. Zoë piloted the mule back outside while Mal went to find Yuri. Like a wraith he appeared when Mal reached the front of the warehouse. “You all done?”

“Yes, Sir. We’ve loaded everything up and will be out of your way.”

“Good, good.” Yuri ushered Mal out of the warehouse and closed the door. Mal could hear a series of clicks behind him as walked toward the mule. It was as if he couldn’t wait to be rid of them.

“Ready Zoë? That went smoothly; let’s get the diyu out of here.”

“Little too smoothly if you ask me Sir.” Zoë replied as she started the mule towards Serenity. “Place didn’t seem quite right.”

“It’s not fair” Caroline thought to herself as she watched the cargo bay teem with activity. “Everyone else gets to go and do fun things. I gotta do lessons, boring lessons. Can’t even go outside by myself; what am I? A baby.”

Kaylee and Wash were getting ready to go to the junkyard; they were preparing a list and checking it twice. Jayne had been the first one off the ship that morning. Shepard Book was taking his time finishing his morning rituals as he called it. Simon had drug River off the ship to stock up on some medical necessities; something about gunshot wounds. Mal and Zoe had left to get the cargo; that left Inara. She was supposed to be babysitting Caroline.

“I don’t need no hun dan babysitter. Ain’t fair.” Caroline thought.

No one seemed to notice her; they were all busy with getting ready for the mission. ‘Nara was doing pretty lady stuff in her shuttle and probably wouldn’t come out for ages. Ma used to do that before she went out for the night; paint her face and other big girl things. Caroline slipped out of the cargo bay and headed to the crew berthing to get her old dirty clothes. Kaylee said she should keep them as play clothes. She’d patched em up good too.

Caroline walked off Serenity dressed like a street urchin; once she rounded the corner out of site of everyone she knelt down and rolled in the dust. Remembering the words that Two Snouts told her – no one ever sees a daio bu ti mian little bastard. Hilliard had been her first trip off of Persephone, and it wasn’t that much different. “How different can Boros be? I bet everywhere looks like ‘Sephone?” Caroline muttered as he kept going down the street. The people looked the same; dusty, and busy. No one payin’ no attention to anything going on round them..

Caroline slipped around corners and in and out of alleys looking for some good marks. She thought the Captain would be happy if he didn’t have to worry about IDs. He could see how good she was at getting things. Purple bellies, there had to be hun dan purple bellies around here somewhere. Finally on the main street Caroline found what she was looking for, the perfect mark, an Alliance patrol that was talking loudly about what they were going to do when they were off. They never knew what hit them; if they had been wearing bells none of them would have gone off! Two Snouts once told her ‘bout a school someplace off-planet where taught pick pocketing using suits with bells all over them..

Caroline ducked into an alley and looked at what she’d gotten. Two wallets, dropping the wallets into a trash receptacle she counted the credits not too many and tucked everything into one of her many interior pockets. Ma had sewn them into the shirt and pants so she’d have lots of places to put stuff. Places where no one could steal anything or find her stuff.

Caroline was almost skipping with delight; she only needed a few more. She headed back out; reached the main street and started looking again. She walked through the streets looking at the people and trying to find someone that looked like Zoë, Kaylee, or River. She spotted a woman not to far ahead who was herding a bunch of children, who didn’t look none to happy about being herded like sheep. Three down. Caroline cruised up and down the streets for another hour netting another four ID cards, some more credits, and a lot of family captures. Two Snouts said it was always a good thing to take the captures too; better to create a new person. Something like that. One more wallet, then she’d head back to Serenity; it was almost lunch time.

Caroline was sitting on the sidewalk leaning up against a trash receptacle watching people go by and picking out her next mark. Just sitting and watching, when she saw him – the perfect mark, he looked kind of like the Cap’n all swai-like wearing tight black pants; but, his had a dark purple stripe. She stood up and started towards the fancy pants when she was lifted up by her jacket.

Caroline started struggling and fighting to get loose. “Let go of me. Leggo!”

“Tzao gao! What in the hell are you doing here Mini-Mal?” Jayne gave her a shake and growled in her ear.

“Jayne, leggo of me.”

“Not till you tell me what in the diyu you’re doin’ here? Cap’n ain’t gonna be happy you not bein’ where you supposed ta be.”

“Ain’ never been ta Boro’s.”

“Uh huh. And…”

Caroline started shuffling her feet in the dusty road. “Not fair, that everyone else gets to go places. I don’t.”

Jayne shrugged. “Cap’s d’cision. Ain’t gettin’ in the middle of you and him. Let’s get back.”

“Ya’ ain’ goin’ to tell ‘im are you?”

“Ain’ up to me.” Jayne gave her a gentle shove in the general direction of Serenity, and they walked in silence for a couple of blocks. “What were you doin’ snoopin’ round downtown.”

“Helpin’. I got IDs. Just like I used ta for Two-Snouts. He said I his bestest ID getter. Better then the big boys. Gotten’ almost nuf for everyone. Jest needed one more. For the Cap’n.” She scowled up at Jayne. “Almost had it too.”

“Rrmm.” Jayne growled in lack of anything better to say. Saved him some coin; just needed to get one ID, instead of a bunch. They reached Serenity before anything else was said.

“Ya ain’t gonna tell are you?” Caroline plaintively asked again. She really didn’t want to get in trouble.

“Rrmm.” Jayne growled again he didn’t want to get stuck in the middle. “Ain’t me you gonna have to ‘splain yourself to; it’s ‘Nara.” He grunted pointing with a chin toss as the Companion who was waiting on the skirt of Serenity’s cargo bay.

“Bao bei, where have you been? I’ve been looking all over for you.” Inara had a worried look on her face. “I was just about to call Mal.”

“I wanted to see Boros. Ain’t been here ‘fore.” Mumbled Caroline scuffing the ground with her toe.

“Oh honey, if you wanted to see it I would have taken you. It’s not safe for a little girl to go out here all alone.”

“Ain’t much different then ‘sephone.”

“True, I suppose; but, you don’t know your way around here. Let us go get you cleaned up for lunch then.”

“I ain’t no little baby; and it ain’t fair for everyone to be always treatin’ me like one.”

“No, bao bei you aren’t; but, to be given the respect you want you have to earn it.” Inara put her hand on Caroline’s shoulder and guided her towards Shuttle 1. “Everyone on board Serenity has worked for the respect which the Captain gives them. It didn’t just happen overnight.”

Mal and Zoë pulled into Serenity’s cargo bay. Mal looked around and sighed, it was good to be back. He hoped that everything, and everyone, had calmed down. “Jayne.”

“Yeah, Cap.” Jayne looked up from sharpening his knife on the ladderwell in the cargo bay.

“Come help us unload these crates.”

“That’s it? All we’re takin’ to Boros?”

“Yep.”

“That’s a lot a money for jest nine boxes.”

Mal grunted an assent and the trio quickly finished unloading and temporarily stowing the boxes. Zoë went to clean the dust off of her; Jayne went back to putting an edge on his knife, and Mal went to find Caroline. She’d finished her lunch and was in the dining room laboriously writing on the bottom of a picture. “What-cha workin’ on little one?”

“Story. The Shepard helped me with the words.”

Mal sat down and looked at the drawing of something it could be an octopus, a robot, something. “Tell me ‘bout it; I like it.”

“It’s Serenity. And that’s you, ba’.” Caroline started pointing at a bunch of stick figures in front of the octopus. “That’s Zoë and Wash, they’re holdin’ hands; that’s Kaylee, River, an Simon. And this is me.”

“That’s right nice. Hang it up in here?” She called him dad! Mal’s heart lit up like Kaylee’s lights.

“Ho-ok. That sounds shiny.”

“What all you do this mornin’ little one?”

“I helped. You, helped you.”

“Huh?”

Caroline showed him the seven Ident cards, the captures, and the Caretaker’s Guild membership. She told him everything. It all came out in a flood of words: Sneaking off Serenity, rolling in the dust, sneaking around the alleys, the Alliance patrol, Two Snouts ‘words of wisdom,’ Jayne findin’ her, and Inara’s discussion about respect.

Listening, Mal just ran his fingers through his hair and mentally paced the dining area. “Qin aide wo de ma. Hwoon dahn.” He thought to himself, “Dr. Spock doesn’t cover this! Qing wa cao de liu mang. What to do? What would my mama do? Kick my ass is what she would have done. What would the Shepard do?”

“Patience.” Mal spoke out loud.

“Huh? Ba’ what’re you talkin’ bout.”

“Nothin’ little one. Tryin’ to figure out what to do.”

“I helped didn’t I?” Caroline asked looking up at him with her big blue-grey eyes.

“Yeah. Bbut, I told you not to leave Serenity by yourself. An’ I don’t want you thievin.”

“Ain’t that what you do – thievin’?“

Mal spoke very carefully trying to not misstep. “Kind of, not really, we just try to live outside the arms of the Alliance. Just do what we gotta to survive.”

“What ‘bout when you stole the medicine on Ariel? Like Jayne told me ‘bout?”

Mal thought to himself – Hwoon dahn, Jayne; you had to tell her ‘bout that stuff. What should he say? Yes, it’s thieving. No, it ain’t; cause it’s from the Alliance. Now out loud: “It’s thievin’. I ain’t proud of it; that’s why I don’t want you stealing stuff. Don’t want the ‘Liance to have a reason to bind you by law.”

“Huh. So I’m not in trouble?” Caroline asked feeling very hopeful.

“I didn’t say that.

“But, but everyone else gets to do stuff. You treat me like a baby. I ain’t no baby.”

“Nope, you aren’t a baby. When you learn to act grown up you’ll get treated like a grown-up.” He turned a stern eye towards Caroline when it looked like she was going to protest. “You’re going ta wash the mule. Save Kaylee the trouble.”

“It ain’t fair.”

“Aren’t going to be no discussion ‘bout it either. And no dessert tonight neither.” Mal scooped Caroline up in his arms and hugged her “I love you, and don’t want you hurt little one. Ok?” She nodded ok. “Do something like this again, and I will whup you. Dong ma?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Now go on and get to cleaning. You know where the cleanin’ stuff is.” Mal watched her leave the dining room, put his head in his hands and thought: Tzao gao, this parenting stuff is hard. Dr. Spock didn’t cover everything. No entry under pick pocketing in the index, or one for thievin’.

Ba’ – Father Bao bei -- Precious/treasure Daio bu ti mian -- Dirty, shameful Diyu – hell Dong ma? – Understand? Hun dan -- Stupid Hwoon dahn - Son of a bitch Niu shi -- Cow dung Qin aide wo de ma – Dear mother of God Qing wa cao de liu mang - Frog humping son of a bitch Swai – Handsome Tzao gao- Damn it

COMMENTS

Thursday, February 9, 2006 3:22 AM

AMDOBELL


Lovely. I had to smile at Mal trying so hard to be a good father to Caroline and it was nice to see Jayne being portrayed as a big brother/uncle figure without him letting the girl run wild and getting into even more trouble. Love how everyone loves the child and am feeling a mite apprehensive about what might be in those gorram boxes. Have to say my instincts side with Zoe on this one. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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