Truthsome, Part I: Shadows
Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Part I: Shadows and blood lead to truth. Part I tells the story of a smuggling deal gone bad.


Truthsome, Part I: Shadows

Serenity chased the terminator around New Horizons for an orbit before grounding just ahead of sunset local time. With no real port available, the ship settled onto a flat valley out of sight of the settlement nestled in the hills a few klicks away.

"Looking good, looking good" Wash said as he flicked three switches overhead. Serenity purred into silence as her engines powered down. "No sign of any Alliance patrol ships--or any other ships, for that matter--on that whole orbit. Lookin' like we're all alone out here in the woods."

"Good," Mal said, scanning the low-lying hills through the cockpit windows. Scrubby trees already showed as black silhouettes in the growing twilight. No movement caught his eye. All appeared peaceful and still. He looked away from the treeline. "Zoe?" She halted her own study of the terrain, nodded briefly, then leaned to kiss her husband.

"Be careful," Wash called after them as they started out of the control room. Mal flicked a glance at Zoe; the message was clearly aimed solely at her.

"We will," he answered without expression.

"Always are," Mal added with a faint grin as he and Zoe strode down the passageway. River lounged in the doorway to the common area, staring at them wide-eyed. As sometimes was the case, she appeared not to really be seeing them.

"Careful, careful, careful," she chanted, moving up and down against the bulkhead in movements halfway between sensuous and innocently childlike. "Brown and red," she intoned, fixated by Mal's clothes. “Brown and red.” He watched as her stare turned inward. "Brown and purple. Purple and red. And blue." River suddenly became entranced by the blue corridor wall. She caressed the wall, then angrily pounded her hand against it. "Blue, blue, blue..." she cried, slamming her hand into the wall.

"Easy there, child," Mal said, catching her hand so she didn't bruise it.

River whimpered and twisted in his grip, her eyes locking onto his. "Beware the blue," she whispered, pulling away.

"Why don't you get yourself on back there where the wall's aren't so peskily blue." He gestured toward the common room.

Suddenly complacent, River declared one more "Blue!" then danced away from them. Mal and Zoe eyed her without comment as they turned down the corridor to the stairway. An oddity weren't so odd when you saw it every day, Mal reflected.

"No, you aren't, sir," Zoe said, as they started down the stairs into the cargo bay. He looked a question at her. "You're not careful."

"I'm still alive, ain't I?" Mal retorted.

"Through no fault of your own, sir. And what River said sure sounded like a warning."

Mal rolled his eyes. "How the gorram hell can you tell? Girl's 'bout like having a watchdog what barks at his own shadow."

Zoe shrugged. "Don't mean the dog's shadow don't have no danger hiding in it."

River's madness was contagious, Mal thought as he stared at Zoe. Hell, they all had to be starkers one way or another, live like they was living. Always running. Always looking over their shoulders. Never able to trust a being save those on this boat. And--he glanced down at Jayne working at his weights--sometimes not even those. His eye drifted over to the preacher. The man's manner drew trust to him like flies to honey, but oh, those secrets... Those secrets always kept Mal working at that uncomfortable tickle of doubt.

"Cap'n!" Kaylee's chipper voice never did fail to perk up a soul, Mal thought fondly. Gal was a pure slice of sunshine in the Black, and no mistakin' it. "All set here, Cap'n," she said, closing the case on their cache of smuggled goods. It was a bit more than amusing that the whole of Serenity, with her cavernous cargo bay, was gone to a such a bitty load. Pay was pay, though, and it would be nice to have an easy run for once

Easy or no, Mal and Zoe both paused to check their weapons. "Set?" She nodded and picked up the case.

Jayne called, "Sure you don't need me to cover you?"

Mal shook his head. "Nah. We've dealt with Jacobs before. He's a stand-up fella. And this here is a pretty friendly town to our sort."

"What? Smugglers? Crooks?"

"Independents," Zoe said, pulling her brown duster over her guns.

With Zoe carrying the case, they started down the ramp into the growing darkness. "This way," Mal said, leading them off to a barely visible path through the woods. They strode easily, almost casually, yet in perfect sync with each other, checking for cover, or points of ambush, so naturally and without conscious thought that the routine of watching for potential danger was more soothing than stressful for them. As a team, on patrol or in action, they were in their element. They were partners.

They walked in silence for a good klick before Zoe spoke.

"Still... I wish she hadn't said 'purple.'"

Mal snorted. "Now you're a gorram mind reader. I was contemplatin’ on that very thing."

Chuckling, Zoe said, "She probably was talking about her paintings. What with all those colors she named."

"Yeah," Mal agreed, wishing he believed it. "Paints. That's what it was."

They came out of the woods to the gentle slope overlooking the settlement. Halting in the shadows, they studied the quiet town. It was a typical town for a border moon. Bare wood buildings, none over two stories tall, with lantern light showing through a few windows, and powered lights in a few of the nicer houses. Stores clustered around a central square. A scattering of lights lit some street corners but far too few to really cut the darkness. A little technology would go a long ways here, Mal considered as he scrutinized the town. He nudged Zoe and pointed.

"That building. The warehouse there on the edge. That's where we make the drop" Zoe pulled out her duoscope and peered at the structure; then shifted to the nearby streets and buildings.

"Looks quiet," she said in a calm, bland tone that no one in the 'verse save Mal could have read for what it really was.

"Yes, indeedy," he agreed using the same tone. "Quiet as can be. Downright peaceable."

Lowering the scope, Zoe turned to Mal. "Think it's a trap?"

Sighing, Mal shook his head. "Don't see how it could be. Got no Alliance here abouts. Town was more than a tad Independent-friendly, Jacobs included. Mosta the folks ain't like to rat anyone to the Feds." He shrugged, not having convinced even himself much less Zoe. That twitch of unease kept begging to be scratched. He scanned the still, dark town again. "Right. So you stay back and cover me. I'll go in alone, make the deal. If it is a trap and I get pinched... well, I'll be countin' on you for a good old-fashioned jail break."

"Yes, sir," Zoe said, digging out her earwig. Mal hesitated before putting his in his ear, bouncing it in his hand. Wearing it could spook the client. Instead he dropped it in his front shirt pocket.

"Hear me?"

"Clear," she answered.

Their eyes met and held.

"All right, then," Mal said. He picked up the case and started down the slope toward the town.


Deep shadows were cast by the few lights in the center of the warehouse. Stacks of crates made for dozens of hiding places. Walking slowly in, Mal felt the crawlies between his shoulder blades that bespoke of being in someone's sites. Still and all, nothing appeared amiss. The warehouse was quiet. Easing his way cautiously in, Mal peered across the open space in the center to the shadows by the far door. A figure emerged. Right size and shape to be Jacobs. Mal took another step in toward the light.


"You got the goods?" The voice sounded a bit muffled, but near enough to what Mal recollected Jacobs sounded like.

"You got the money?" Mal countered.

The two men approached the center of the warehouse. Mal stopped, setting the case down. His right hand hung easy, near his gun. Jacobs' face remained in shadow a moment more, then he stepped forward into the light.

"Oh, gorramit!" Mal hissed as the shiny star on the man's chest caught the light. His hand went to his gun in a swift, instinctive move.

Mal froze.

Behind him and to the sides came the unmistakable sound of guns cocking--lots of them. Mal counted six, pinpointing them by the sounds. They could take him out before his barrel cleared leather. Mal calculated the situation in an instant--River couldn't have done the math quicker.

Easing his hand off the grip of his gun, Mal took care not to make even a hint of a sudden move.

"Sheriff," Mal said aloud, for the benefit of listening Zoe. He trusted her not to burst in shooting.... well, for the most part. Hopefully. Didn't want a whole bunch of dead townsfolk. Or a dead captain. There were a whole helluva lot of guns trained on him. "No need for shooting," he added, also more for Zoe's ear than the sheriff's. "I give up." He raised his hands.

"Got us a smuggler," the sheriff said, approaching Mal. Taking measure of the man, Mal knew he was looking at a trained fighter, not just a local chump who got hisself elected sheriff on account of being the only man about who could knock a can off a fence. The sheriff never once broke eye contact with Mal as he came toward him; never once looked away, not even for a flick of a glance as his men came out of the shadows. This sheriff knew, as Mal did, that it was in a man's eyes you'd first see he was going for his gun.

"No smuggling, sheriff. Just an honest business deal between folks." At least Mal thought he sounded convincing. The rest didn't seem impressed. Two men were close up behind him now, flanking him. Out of the corner of his eye, Mal could see their guns never wavered a hair. Well trained. As one pulled Mal's gun out of its holster, he wondered idly if he and these fellows had been in any campaigns together back in the war.

"What have we here?" The new voice from the doorway behind the sheriff caused everyone to twitch. The clatter of boots and equipment, a sound he knew far too well from the darkest shadows of his memories, chilled Mal's blood even more than the sudden sight of so many purple uniforms flooding into the warehouse.

"Go-se. Zoe, get the ship outta here," Mal whispered urgently. Then louder, in case she hadn't heard, "Feds."

Part II: Blood (follow link)

or return to Blue Sun Job, Part 16


Wednesday, March 17, 2004 12:43 AM


That was great! Particularly liked the way you made Mal's unease a physical thing. The way you wrote it passed that feeling on to me. Good job.

Saturday, March 20, 2004 11:40 AM


Wow, can't believe I missed this one before, great to read part two now...LOL

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 4:13 AM


Interesting so far, but I question a certain use of vocabulary. From the context, I get the impression that you used starkers to mean stark raving mad (also the name of the character played by Paul Goddard on Farscape). However, just about every other instance I've heard the term starkers used, it meant stark naked.

Thursday, July 15, 2004 11:24 AM


Adore the story so far. Why doesn't anyone ever listen to River? She may be crazy, but *diyu* in this cockeyed 'verse she's smarter than the rest all put together. Not that I don't love them all to bits, you know I do! Very shiny, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, April 23, 2006 3:38 AM


I just found this site, and I really like your style of writing. I just wanted you to know that I plan to find everything that you have written and read it.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011 10:16 PM


This is some encredibly shiny writing!!! :D off to eagerly read chapter two!!


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Return of the "Blue Sun Job"! First of the last four chapters of this story.

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Blue Sun Job, Part 34: Of Many Books...
Book's nefarious. Mal's crazy. And Simon is bewildered.

Blue Sun Job, Part 33: Light and Shadow
Mal has just had his big tell-all session with Book concerning his and Zoe's history. Now landed at the Shepherd's Sanctuary, they have to deal with the fallout and with Book's mysterious past and plans.

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