Easy Tickets: Chapter 7
Monday, June 5, 2006

The niú shĭ finally hits the fan.


See Chapter 1 and my blog for disclaimers and such.

Except I have to say thanks to VERA2529 and LEEH for the beta help!

Mandarin translations: put your mouse over the pinyan to get the definitions, or see the list at the end.

* * *

Ginger had picked her spot well. She had a good view of the whole thing, of Will disappearing through the hatch on top of the Firefly, of Ray and Hank stepping up to the base of the ramp, and of that idiot boy standing next to the ship’s entrance with a pistol in his hand, looking like he thought he was the gorram cavalry.

But she focused her attention on the Browncoat, back in the shadows of the bay, picking something up from the deck. The crosshairs of her sniper rifle centered on his forehead when he looked over his shoulder, glancing at the two men entering his ship. Bèn de hún dàn didn’t look bothered a bit, just turned his back and finished whatever he was doing.

Will’s right, she thought. Too easy.

Just the way she liked it.

* * *

Mal paused for barely a second to look at the two figures on the ramp, then he went about his business. If they were out to shoot him, they’d have done it already. He turned his back on them to set the wrench he’d just picked up in Kaylee’s toolbox, and took his time about closing and latching the lid. He stood up, wiped his hands together to clear them of dust, then finally turned to face his visitors.

The two men were black silhouettes against the bright glare of the desert behind them. The one on Mal’s right was tall and lanky, the other shorter and thicker, with wild hair making his head look big and round underneath his hat. Mal couldn’t see them well enough to make out any details, but he could tell that their guns weren’t drawn. Not yet.

“Somethin’ I can help you two gents with?” Mal asked in a neutral voice. He didn’t let his eyes shift upward, but he was aware of River and Simon on the catwalk. The men couldn’t see the Tams from the bottom of the ramp, and mercifully River had fallen silent.

“Mayhap you can,” the tall figure called out in a deep monotone. “I need your ship.”

“Seems lots of folks hereabout do, but I’m afraid she’s all booked up.” Mal still didn’t look up, but he could see River standing and pulling Simon along the catwalk toward the hatch.

“No call to be hasty,” the tall man replied. His voice was slow and even, void of threat. “It’s good manners to hear the details of a job `fore you turn it down.” The men took a few steps up the ramp, and Mal’s eyes were adjusting to the bright light behind them; he could make out a few things now. The tall man had his coat tucked back on his right side, and his hand hovered near a heavy old six-shooter on his hip. Otherwise, he looked quite comfortable, walking onto someone else’s ship like he had a right to.

Mal let a strong hint of I don’t think I like you into his voice. “On my boat, I do the decidin’ about what goes in the book of nice.”

“Easy, stranger,” the tall figure called out. “We ain’t here for trouble.”

“You ain’t here by invite either.” Don’t look up, Mal told himself. River and Simon had reached the stairs that led up to the hatch.

“Just `cause we ain’t invited, don’t mean we can’t do business. Name’s Ray.” He raised his left hand to tip his hat, then nodded to his side. “This here’s Hank.”

Mal glanced at Hank. The men were now far enough into the ship for the light through the high windows to catch them, and Mal could see Hank’s eyes, glaring out between thick brows and a wild beard, fixed on Mal with an intensity that was just a little too bright. Then Mal’s gaze traveled lower, and the gun he saw on Hank’s hip made his mouth dry up.

I’m in deep niú shĭ, Mal thought, and he changed his tactic.

* * *

Book shook his head slightly as he entered the dining room. He’d grown quite fond of River, and in the past month he’d gotten used to experiencing her as an intelligent and amusing, though eerily precocious, teenager. It was troubling to see her losing control of herself again. Troubling in a nonspecific way; he wasn’t entirely sure whether to be frightened for her or of her.

I can shoot, she’d said. All I need is a target and a gun worthy of me. Yes, they were all well aware that she could shoot. It’d be nice if she didn’t feel the need to remind them.

Dust of dead trees and bones, she’d also said. Book nodded to himself as he opened the cooler in the pantry. There was all of that on this world, and not much else. It was an unsettling place, and she wasn’t the only one picking it up. The Captain felt it, and Book did too. This feel of Niflheim had changed since he’d been here six years back; it’d become something like a wild dog that might snap at you over nothing. He’d be relieved to leave it behind.

He took out the last of the grilled bear meat, and carried the platter to the table. He’d just set it down when he heard a small indistinct sound behind him.

He straightened and turned to find a man dressed in black standing in the hatchway from the bridge, a large modern pistol that didn’t match his dusty cowboy outfit held steady and aimed at Book’s chest. The man’s face was shadowed by a black hat that sat low on his forehead, but Book saw enough of his eyes to understand that the man meant business. His challenging look made Book go icy inside.

He bit back the feeling, smiled and held his hands out to his sides. “Welcome, lái bīn. You’ve arrived just in time for lunch.” Book nodded at the platter. “How do you feel about bear?”

The man ignored the question. “How many on board?”

Book lifted his brows in confusion. “How many bears?” he asked lightly.

“Don’t get smart with me, old man. I have business to do and I don’t like delays. How many on board?”

Book stayed cool, pausing to think, and his eyes caught the sunlight in the hall behind the man. The open hatch – he came down through it. If he knew it was open, he’s been watching the ship.

“Most of the crew is out for a drive,” Book said.

The man didn’t blink – as if he knew that already. “Leaving how many?”

“There’s myself…”


Simon and River never went outside. “… the Captain.”

“That’s it?”

“It is.”

The man nodded, accepting his answer. “Put your hands up, all the way,” he said, “and turn around.”

“This isn’t necessary, son,” Book said.

Lăo hàn, I know my father well, and you aren’t him. What isn’t necessary is the hole I’ll put in you if you don’t turn around. Right now.”

It was Book’s turn to nod acceptance. The man looked like nothing would please him more than to make use of his gun. Book turned and waited, and wasn’t surprised to feel a hard blow to the back of his head, followed by darkness.

* * *

Mal’s face relaxed into a smile. “It’s uh… real nice to meet you, Ray, Hank.” He spoke slowly, but his mind was racing. River and Simon had stepped through the hatch and were hustling up the stairs behind it. They’d need about fifteen seconds to reach the Shepherd, call it a minute to get into Jayne’s bunk for firearms, and a half minute to get back out here. Mal needed to stall.

“Now, what exactly you needin’ a ship for?” he asked.

“Well,” Ray replied in his own slow drawl, “that is a mite complicated.” He glanced up around the catwalks as he stepped into the bay, then back at Mal.

“Try me out,” Mal offered. “I’m real good at complicated. Got years of experience.”

“I got an errand to run,” the man said. “Some real valuable cargo to pick up.”

The two men were fully in the bay now. Ray dropped his head and cut his eyes toward Hank, not trying especially hard to hide the signal that passed between them. They started spreading apart, Hank to Mal’s left, Ray to his right. The longer Mal waited, the harder it’d be to hit them both.

Mal nodded, keeping his face easy and his voice light. “This is a cargo transport. I can see how you’d be interested in her for that.”

“I’ll want to do some travelin’,” Ray said. “Got a long trip in mind.”

“Could be negotiated.”

“Could it?”

“I’m a reasonable man. Ask anyone that knows me.” Mal flashed his most honest smile.

Ray’s face twisted; he looked like he wanted to grin in return, but his dried-up skin would crack to pieces if he did. “All right, try this on for reasonable. What I need is full run of your ship, for as long as I like.”

Mal exhaled heavily. “Well, now, that is a lot to ask.”

“I ain’t askin’, cause I don’t mean to be payin’.” Ray’s eyes narrowed.

Here we go, Mal thought. He glanced to his right. The hovercraft’s roof, which Kaylee had pinned against the stairway, wasn’t real solid, but it would provide some cover. He took a few slow steps back, so he’d have an open lane to get behind it and the stairs.

“Uh-huh,” he said aloud. “That is a temptin’ offer. Except I got a better one. How ’bout you go out the way you came.” His voice finally turned serious. “By which I mean, still breathin’.” Mal’s eyes were fixed on Ray but his attention was all on the brooding Hank and the hand clenching near that shiny gun. Those morons upstairs better be gettin’ a move on…

Ray sighed and shook his head. “This don’t have to go bad for you and yours.” He managed a small smirk as he tried out a name. “Smith.”

Smith? Āi yā – that’s what I told the guy in town… Will…

Mal realized he’d made his second mistake of the day, and it was as bad as his first. He wasn’t the only one stalling here. Ray had looked up at the catwalks once, and that was it. He wasn’t concerned about anyone getting the drop on him from above, and he had at least one partner who hadn’t walked in the front door with him.

The gorram hatch, they’re comin’ in the hatch.

Mal drew his gun and fired as he dove to his right.

* * *

“No, Simon, it’s not safe! Wēi dài!” River said in a fierce whisper as she followed Simon up the stairs from the cargo bay.

“We have to get to Book,” Simon whispered back, pulling River around the corner. “We can help the Captain.”

“They’re twisted!” River insisted, her voice rising a little. “Bad! Really bad – coming down from the top just like the other bad one did!”

“Shhh – I know they’re bad. That’s why we have to help, all right?” Simon kept one hand on her wrist, pulling her along behind him. He reached the hatch to the dining room and saw the Shepherd down on the floor with his arms around the bolted down leg of the table, hands bound at the wrist. He wasn’t moving, and there was blood on the back of his neck.

“Book!” Simon called aloud. He ignored River’s whispered warnings as his instincts as a healer took over; he released her wrist and ran to Book’s side. A nasty bump was already rising on the back of the preacher’s head. Simon grabbed a towel from the counter to staunch the bleeding, then turned back toward the hatch he’d just come through. River hadn’t followed him.

Simon never heard the man coming out of the galley; his doctor’s senses weren’t trained to listen for soft footsteps. But he turned around at the last second, and had just enough time to rue his lack of caution before the butt of a gun connected to the side of his head.

* * *

The only shot Mal got off before he hit the deck buried itself between Hank’s eyes, knocking the man on his back with his fancy gun clenched in his hand.

Mal landed on his right shoulder and rolled behind the stairway and the metal sheet. A few shots pierced the battered steel, then the rest glanced off it. Ray kept shooting at the part of the sheet near the center of the bay, not realizing that Mal had kept rolling to the far end. Mal had the advantage for a few seconds, at least.

He stretched out on his side and caught a glimpse of Ray through a gap in the bottom of the hovercraft’s roof. Mal started to take aim, but before he could line Ray up a bullet hit off the deck just a foot from his head. It hadn’t come from Ray.

Mal looked toward the ramp – there was a new shadow there, a small figure moving forward hesitantly. Another bullet pinged off the deck as Mal swung his gun around. He squeezed off a quick shot and the shadowy figure went down.

When Mal checked the gap in the steel sheet again, Ray was gone. Mal had to choke down a curse; he’d lost his advantage. Ray had heard his shot and knew where he was, but now Mal didn’t know a gorram thing.

A hush fell over the cargo bay as the echoes of the gunfire faded. Mal opened his mouth to silence his heavy breathing and glanced up to check the catwalks. There was no one up there yet, but most like it was only a matter of time. He had no option but to finish Ray off as quick as he could, then he could go hunting up top. He carefully rose to his knees, trying to catch any sound of movement over the rush of blood in his ears.

He heard one soft scrape of boot against metal on the far side of the bay, and that was enough. Mal bent his left leg in front of him, planting his foot and coiling himself to dive to the right and take his chances at getting a clean shot off, but just then a loud voice boomed out from high up and behind him.

“Look what I found!”

Mal spun onto his back to aim at the voice; it was Will, the urban cowboy all done up in black, and he was holding his pistol to Simon’s head. The doctor looked dazed and blood dripped down the side of his face. They were almost directly above Mal; there was no way he’d get a bullet through the metal grating of the catwalk.

This time Mal did swear out loud, then he rolled back to his knees. He closed his eyes and dropped his head into his left hand; every muscle in his body was screaming at him to move, to take these men down, but he was humped and he knew it.

“Could’a moved a bit faster Will,” he heard Ray reply. “Hank’s dead.”

“I found an unexpected guest here; I had to take the time to make sure he was the only one.”

“The old man?” Ray asked.

“Down and out.”

Ray directed his voice at Mal. “You still mean to make a stand of this, Smith?”

Mal dropped his hand from his face; it was shaking from adrenaline and the effort of restraint. He held his gun up first, letting it hang upside down from a thumb looped through the trigger guard. Slowly he stood up, still breathing heavily.

“Come on out where I can see ya,” Ray said, his aim steady on Mal.

Mal stepped around the stairway. He dropped his gun to the deck before he could be told to do it; he did hate being ordered around. Especially on his own ship.

“You got anybody else on board?” Ray asked.

“Not a soul,” Mal replied steadily.

Ray motioned for Mal to move away from the gun. Mal did, and he heard Simon being manhandled down the stairs beside him.

“Hey, Will,” Mal called out. “How are ya?”

“I’m doing all right,” Will replied.

“Price of hirin’ my ship just came down.”

Will’s laugh was high pitched and loose. “I bet it did.”

When he reached the bottom of the stairs, Will pushed Simon to the deck. Simon landed awkwardly on his side; his hands were bound behind his back. Mal watched as Will holstered his pistol and hung his hat on the corner of the bullet-riddled hovercraft roof. Then he picked up Mal’s gun, looking at it like it was a big dead cockroach.

“You actually hit anything with this?” Will asked.

Mal grinned and tipped his head toward the prone figure across the bay. “How ‘bout you ask your friend Hank there.”

Will walked to Mal, careful to stand to the side so Ray still had him covered.

Yú bèn de Browncoat, still talking smart,” Will said with an amazed shake of his head. “You fools never do seem to get it.”

Mal saw the blow coming, but couldn’t do much about it, not with a gun on him and Simon laying on the deck all trussed up and bleeding. Will struck him backhand across the face. The force of it surprised Mal; he was knocked to his hands and knees, his vision blurred. He held a hand up to the right side of his face, which was feeling oddly numb, and realized that he’d just gotten pistol-whipped with his own gorram gun.

“Mal!” Simon called out, sounding far away.

Stunned, Mal pulled his hand away from his face. His eyes came partly into focus on a drizzle of blood coming out of his mouth to pool in his palm.

“Ow,” he said roughly, but he found himself smiling as he tried to look up at Will. “Thought the war was over.”

“Yeah, it is. You lost. Again.” Will replied. A hard kick caught Mal’s side, knocking him onto his back.

“Stop it!” Simon was yelling. “There’s no need for that!”

“Shut up,” Ray snapped at Simon, but he caught Will’s arm and pulled him back before he could land another kick. “I got no time for this. Just tie him up.”

Mal was too addled to struggle when Will tied his wrists together, thankfully in front of his body. Behind is hard on the shoulders, he thought distantly, and you can’t scratch your dāng. He chuckled a little at the thought.

Then he was being dragged across the deck and propped against a railing. As cords tightened around his body and arms, he began to suspect that this shouldn’t be so funny. Could be, it wasn’t really funny at all.

Then he remembered River – Will had said nothing about her.

If you’re hearin’ me girl, stay hid where you are. Don’t be doin’ nothin’ stupid. Ain’t play time out here.

* * *

River twisted a hand in her hair, trying to pull out the pain that throbbed in her head. Pain from Book, pain from Simon, pain from Mal. Too much hitting.

“Not moving. Staying hid. No playing,” she whispered.

She was folded into a back corner of the engine room, high off the deck. One leg stuck out stiffly to brace herself against the bulkhead; the rest of her body was curled into a ball behind a diagonal support.

As painful as it was, she tried her best to stay with the people she knew. The minds of the others, the strangers, made a ruckus in her head that was worse than what her crew was feeling.

“Bad. Fēng. Hurts,” she said quietly, both hands in her hair now. “Please don’t show me, don’t want to know.”

She couldn’t shut it off, couldn’t get free. But Simon had given her a shot, back when she was on the catwalk, clutching the railing so he couldn’t take her outside. It only she been able to sort it out then, to make them all stay in and keep the ship safe…

No energy to waste on being sorry. She had to hold together, wait. The medicine from the shot would quiet the noise. She could feel it already, just a little. Not nearly enough yet. The bad people were still trying to swallow her up, make her disappear.

She pulled her left hand out of her hair and punched the steel beam, and the pain pulled her away from those dark minds. She hit the beam again and again. Hard enough to hurt, not enough to damage – she’d need her hands.

Because, despite what the Captain was telling her, she knew that once she got control she’d be doing more than staying hidden. She wasn’t about to let anyone treat her family like that.

* * *


bèn de hún dàn: stupid bastard niú shĭ: cow shit lái bīn: visitor lăo hàn: old man āi yā: damn wēi dài: grave danger yú bèn de: stupid dāng: crotch fēng: insane

* * *

On to Chapter 8.


Monday, June 5, 2006 2:14 AM


I made y'all wait all weekend, but I got in super early this morning, so no waiting today! At least, not for folks leaving to the west of me.

Just so you know – my theory is to post every MWF. 3 chapters a week gives me time to finish later stuff before we get there. (I really should have started posting a few weeks later than I did, but I couldn’t wait!)

So that means, Chpt 8 on Wednesday, 9 on Friday!

Monday, June 5, 2006 5:28 AM


THis was just great! I have a feeling River is gonna take these guys out! I truly pity them! Great Action! Loved the book of nice line and Mal being a smartass even when he's ar barrel's end!Can't wait for Wed.!!!

Monday, June 5, 2006 5:28 AM


Ok, is it wrong of me to be all excited by trussed up and bleeding Simon? Won't it be so nice to have Kaylee take care of her poor, injured doctor . . . Hee!

The action was great! All of the dialogue was perfect and I could definitely hear it coming out of everyone's mouths!

River at the end - damn! Can't wait until she springs into action!

Great chapter! Will be waiting impatiently for more!

Monday, June 5, 2006 8:16 AM


Hi, Hank! Bye, Hank! *g*

Guess this guy's not going anywhere anymore...

Very good part! My favorite was Book's calm and efficient assessment of the situation, snark and careful at once. So utterly dead on, both his character and the show's way of just putting his mysterious experience out there without much commentary. I loved that!

Similarly, Mal's tightly controlled response, calculating and stalling and able to be wrong and make mistakes, anyway, no matter how valiantly he tries.
And Simon! *sigh* He's such a hero, inside, always wanting to fix people and prevent pointless injury. Him pleading for Mal made me soooo happy, because.. yep, that's Simon!

Now I can't wait to see just exactly what River will come up with. A wonderful sense of confusion there, stuck between meds and unwelcome input and just the entire horrible situation...

Only sad thing: I missed everyone else. Bizarrely enough. You had each character in every part, so far, and having half of them gone really left a whole in the landscape, hehe.

Looking forward to Wednesday!

Monday, June 5, 2006 10:15 AM


How in the world is Mal supposed to scratch his crotch now? Is that really the first thing a guy would think of? Don't answer that.

Monday, June 5, 2006 10:56 AM


Dang it, mal4prez....I wanna see the next part now!


You've done it again, m4p, and I really wanna see how River punishes these hundans for trying to steal Serenity!

And in a roundabout way, would be a concern but an immediate one for most;)


Monday, June 5, 2006 12:00 PM


This was excellent, but damn annoying that Hank got the drop on Book right from the off, though he did pay for it. Pity the other two lowlifes got the upper hand though right now I wouldn't want to be in their shoes when River gets her head straight. Superb drama, can't wait for more! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Tuesday, June 6, 2006 4:50 AM


Your writing just keeps getting better and better. This was the best part so far. Will is so evil! I'm glad I only have to wait one more day for the next chapter.

Loved your action sequences and the voices are perfect. I really like that River is there to help out. Hank getting one right between the eyes - yeah! Will deserves a bad end, too. :-D

Looking forward to tomorrow!

Tuesday, June 6, 2006 1:11 PM


Well, looks like Hank found his purpose. I kind of miss him, though. He had an interesting... perpective. I'm curious to see if his gun comes into play.

I love Mal's "Thought the war was over" snark to Will. He knew damn well he'd pay for it, but if that's not Mal, I don't know what is.

I'm really enjoying this, and I like the posting pace - I only had a chance to read the first section Monday, but got to look forward to savoring the rest today, and starting a new one tomorrow. (I hope my comments on the last chapter didn't come off as a complaint - I was just speaking to the suspense you'd built!)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006 9:53 AM


*gasp* River's going to go all... well River on them. (some how it's not nearly as poetic as when you say "i'm going to go all river on him")

Thursday, July 13, 2006 8:01 AM


“That is a temptin’ offer. Except I got a better one. How ’bout you go out the way you came.” His voice finally turned serious. “By which I mean, still breathin’.”
-Great Mal line.

She wasn’t about to let anyone treat her family like that.
-You have no idea how happy this line makes me.


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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.