Easy Tickets: Chapter 16
Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Zoë, Wash, and Jayne look for a way to get to the hijacked Serenity.


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.

* * *

Edward Verdande II had been at his father’s side all through the family’s difficult rise to wealth and power. He understood the foundation of the position handed to him, and he loved the planet Niflheim as his father had before him. The terraforming process, though long and difficult, continued to completion.

As Edward II passed middle age, housing units for the mining crews were constructed on the planet’s surface, and the first settlers were brought in. By the time he passed away a few decades later, Niflheim had begun to develop its own civilization. It was no longer completely dependent on goods brought out from the Core, or from the neighboring fertile planet of New Borjomi.

Edward III had been born after his grandfather’s cartel was established, and he grew up in the Core, accostumed to wealth and privilege. He believed himself to be a giant among men, and found the mutterings of his father and grandfather regarding the responsibility of the powerful embarrassing and absurd. But he agreed whole-heartedly with their plans of making the planet independent. He hoped that Neiflheim would someday have population and wealth sufficient to earn its own seat in Parliament. He had no doubt as to who would occupy that seat.

The third head of the Verdande cartel was a shrewd businessman, and he would need to be. The mineral rights which were the basis of the Verdande’s wealth and power were due to expire, according to law, one hundred and twenty five years after the date they had been purchased by Edward I. The rings would then be open for development by other parties. This was due to happen in the sixteenth year after Edward III took over the Verdande cartel. He was determined that the glory of his family’s business wouldn’t fade, but he needed something to keep him ahead of the other cartels who would be buying their way into the market.

The Verdande empire had always relied on the standard method of extraplanetary mining: scans were run on target bodies with maximum diameters of twenty to fifty meters, and spectral methods identified those with rich crystal content. Mining crews towed these bodies out of the rings and into orbital pre-processing centers, where the crystal material was separated from the rock as much as possible. The scrap was released into the inner rings; the extracted crystals were packed into freighters for shipment to labs located on industrial moons in the Core. Corporations independent of the Verdande empire charged a hefty fee for the complex processing required to ready the crystals for use in optical computer systems.

In the decade before the Verdande mineral rigths expired, engineers for the Verdande cartel, backed by almost bottomless funding from Edward III, developed a new system for mining lithium dubniate, one which secured the cartel’s position at the top of the market.

* * *

Xiaojun’s directions led Zoë, Jayne, and Wash to a walled-in compound on the outskirts of the crumbling city of Alsvidh. The trip took much longer by hovercraft than it had by ship; by the time they arrived, it was getting near sunrise.

There was a single entrance to the compound: a brightly lit gate guarded by a lone sentry in a booth. Wash parked the hovercraft at the edge of the circle of light, then he and Zoë climbed out. Wash waited while Zoë checked her weapons and gave Jayne instructions. Nothing complicated – just stay awake and guard the mule.

“Can’t Wash babysit?” Jayne whined. “I already had my turn, and it’s borin’ as hell.”

“It’s your baby,” Wash replied, patting the side of the hovercraft. Then he grinned and continued in a half-lecturing tone, “Jayne, you have to accept the responsibility for your actions. You got her, now you have to take care of her. Besides, you two need to spend time together to form that lifelong bond. Get to know her, cuddle her a bit – I hear breast feeding helps.”

Jayne glowered at Wash, but they were interrupted by Zoë.“For you, dear,” she said, holding out a small handgun. Wash took it and held it up for a closer look.

“We’re going into unknown territory and I get one little tiny pistol?” he asked his wife.

Jayne grinned. “Little man gets a little gun to go with his little – ”

“Jayne,” Zoë snapped, “you better be takin’ this seriously. If we can’t get help from this Bucky guy, this mule may be all we have.” She looked the thing over with cold appraisal. “Mayhap we can barter it for something more useful.”

“You don’t barter my mule away!” Jayne said, reaching his arms out to caress the back of the seat he was sprawled on.

“Whatever,” Zoë replied, then she nodded to Wash. “Come on. Time’s a’wastin’.”

“You and Vera have a nice evening with the little one,” Wash called back to Jayne merrily.

Zoë shushed Wash as they approached the security booth next to the gate. Inside the booth, a single dim reading light shone on a tattered paperback held in a grubby hand, and a dull glow was thrown upward to illuminate an oily, red face. Zoë stepped up to a grating in the window of the booth.

“I heard there’s a fellow name a’ Bucky livin’ in here,” she said. “We need to have a word with him.”

“That’s nice,” the man replied without looking up from his book.

“Hey,” Zoë said, raising her voice. “It’s real important.”

“You’ll have to explain to me why I care,” he replied, still focused on his reading.

Zoë put a hand up to the glass and tapped it lightly with her thumb. There wouldn’t be any bullets getting through that, which left one way to get to the man’s caring side.

She dug into the money bag that Kaylee had left with her, picked out a coin and slapped it against the window. The man looked up at the sound of metal against glass, then twisted the reading light to shine on the coin nested in her palm. He leaned forward to look at it closely, then shone the light on Zoë, and on Wash behind her.

“I’ll need one of those for each a’you,” he said.

Zoë’s eyes narrowed, but she took her hand away from the glass and added another coin to it, holding them up for him to see.

“Fine, put `em in here.” A little drawer pushed out under the window. Zoë dropped in her coins and stepped back, looking to the gate. When it didn’t open, she glared at the guard.

“I’ll need two more if ya wanna take those firearms with ya.” When Zoë didn’t move, he added, “I’m breakin’ the rules here. Could cost me my job.”

“You can have one more and feel real good `bout it,” Zoë replied as she dug into the purse and dropped another coin in the drawer.

“So then, how `bout one for – ”

Fèi rén, don’t push it,” Zoë snapped, holding up her carbine. “You’re hidin’ behind a mighty fine window, but I wouldn’t mind seein’ how big a dent I can put in your little shack.”

“She’s very good at denting,” Wash added.

There was a slight pause, then the drawer pulled in and the gate slid open.

* * *

Just inside the cartel compound, Zoë and Wash passed a crumpled jungle gym and a set of uneven swings. They stood out against the graying sky like a pile of broken bones; it looked more like a graveyard than a playground. Wash thought about children living in this grim place, and he shivered. He’d seen such housing compounds before, even stayed in them plenty of times back when he piloted for transport companies. Usually there was some greenery to hide the cracking walls and peeling paint, but there was nothing to soften the bleakness here.

There were several housing units, all roughly a dozen stories, arranged in a neat but stifling grid. A few early risers hurried along the dusty sidewalks, preparing for whatever business the new day brought. They didn’t seem surprised to see armed strangers wandering through, nor did they seem happy about it. Folks just stepped aside when they saw Zoë and Wash coming.

Near the center of the compound, a short line of people were waiting quietly for their turn at a counter in the ground floor of one of the high-rises. Wash paused to look at the list of prices on the wall; the place seemed to be what passed as a grocery store. Most of the items were crossed out, and the prices had been written over several times. Wash made a grunt of disgust.

“Honey,” Zoë prompted softly, noticing how everyone in line was watching them.

“But do you see?” He raised a hand at the board. “That’s robbery, and you can barely live on that gōu shī anyhow – ”

“I know, dear. It’s not our business. Let’s just find our man.”

* * *

No one in the line would talk to them, but, after waiting their turn, they bought a protein pack for much more than the price of it and got the worker to admit he knew of a Bucky. They bought another protein pack and got directions. By then, it was near full light. Wash handed their purchases to a woman in line and they went on their way.

There weren’t any maps of the compound; despite the neat layout, it took some time to find the door with the right number on it. Zoë was glowering when they finally got there. The many delays had worked on her already short fuse, and Wash could feel her frustration like heat coming off a really big ember. She was ready to take it out on the first convenient target, and Wash just hoped it wouldn’t be him.

They finally found the right door, and Zoë knocked. It took two more hard knocks before it was answered by a man in a tattered robe. He was tall and out of shape, the robe hanging off his weak shoulders and tied over a sagging belly. His light brown hair hung in thin wisps over his forehead and ears, and dirty stubble littered his worn face.

“You Bucky?” Zoë asked.

He looked at her skeptically. “Who’s askin’?”

Zoë didn’t answer, just stepped forward. She didn’t have to push him; he backed away. Wash followed, pausing to close the door behind him. The man continued to stumble back, and when Zoë stepped into the light of the shabby living room his eyes locked onto the carbine in her hand.

“Hey, lady, you can’t just be comin’ in here and threatenin’ me – ”

“I ain’t threatened you yet,” Zoë said. “You’ll know it when I do.”

“I ain’t just some miner! I keep things runnin’ – if I go missin’ they’ll be lookin’ to see what happened.”

Wash caught up and stepped in front of Zoë, doing what he could to diffuse things. “Sweetie, it’s okay. Mister… um, Bucky is it?”

The man straightened, putting on a rather brave show, considering that two armed stangers had just barged into his home. “That’s right, I am.”

“Well, Bucky. You’ll have to excuse my wife…” Wash gave Zoë a would-you-relax look, and the glare she returned said don’t-butt-in-or-we’ll-be-talking-about-this-later. Wash took a deep breath and decided that later would have to take care of itself. He looked back to Bucky, who was staring at Zoë like he wasn’t sure what to make of Wash’s use of the word “wife.”

Wash laughed awkwardly and rubbed his hands together. “Zoë here is actually cuddly as a podokesaurus, especially to people who she’s asking for help.” He looked at Zoë as he stressed the last word, then back to Bucky. “She’s just a little… uh… stressed. Because who wouldn’t be after the day we’ve had? Am I right, Zoë?”

She tilted her head to the side as she gave him a dark look, but then she let out her breath and put her carbine away.

Wash looked around the room, taking in the shabby furniture. “How about we all sit down and have a friendly chat, all right?”

His suggestion was grudgingly accepted. Bucky went to a bulging old armchair and Wash took one side of a green two-seater sofa. Zoë seemed to think it wouldn’t be daunting enough to squeeze onto the other half of the sofa, so she leaned stiffly on the arm of it.

“You know a man name a’ Ray?” she asked without preamble.

Bucky looked startled at the name. He took a few seconds to recover before he replied. “Whatever he’s got himself into, I ain’t had nothin’ to do with it.”

“So you know him?”

He made a disgusted face. “Used to.”

“And now?”

“Ain’t seen him in years.” He was looking at Zoë with obvious distrust; her mention of Ray wasn’t sitting well with him.

“Well, it appears that he and a few of his cronies stole our ship,” Zoë said. “They’re threatenin’ the lives of our crew.”

Bucky grunted and looked back and forth between Zoë and Wash. “You the folks came down the other day, been walking `round town with some browncoat, lookin’ for ship parts?”

Wash met Zoë’s eye, then they both looked at Bucky.

“Small place, we don’t get private ships visitin’ too often,” he explained. “Word gets `round. So what’re you doin’ coming to me? I’m a mechanic, but I don’t know nothin’ about deep space transports – ”

Zoë interrupted impatiently. “A woman named Xiaojun sent us after you. She said you’d help us out, if we told you about Ray and Jase. Now I don’t know your connection to these folks and I don’t much care. But I got coin and I can get foodstuffs if that’s what you’re after.”

Zoë was pushing her deal, and didn’t notice until she was done that the man had turned pasty white. He was staring at her with his mouth half open.

“Jase?” he asked.

“That’s the one set us up,” Zoë replied. “A Chinese kid. You know him, too?”

Bucky didn’t reply. He looked away from them and wiped his hand over his face, looking like he’d seen a ghost.

“I think we can take that as a yes,” Wash said to Zoë.

Bucky looked up at Wash. “You … how do you know?”

“We talked to one of them over the comm; they made it clear they needed our ship working and would kill – ”

“No,” he cut Wash off impatiently, “about Jase. How do you know `bout him?”

“He talked to our mechanic. Yesterday morning, right here in town. He sent us out to the countryside to meet Xiaojun – and that’s where these people got to our ship.”

Bucky stared at Wash, but his look slowly turned inward. “A Chinese kid, named Jase,” he mumbled, half to himself, “with Ray.”

Wash glanced at Zoë, confused at the man’s response. “Ye-ah,” he said. “Should I write this down? Draw a diagram maybe? A flow chart?”

Bucky stood up and walked to the far wall. He pushed open heavy curtains to let in the morning light; the window looked out on another wall a few meters away, but Bucky stared out like it was a whole grand view.

Hún qiú,” he said softly to himself. “Bastard told me he was dead.” Wash heard Zoë taking a breath to speak, but he laid a hand on her arm and shook his head. They waited quietly until Bucky turned back to them. “You know anything `bout his mother?”

“Sorry,” Zoë answered. “We didn’t catch the full family history. Now why don’t you explain some of this?”

Bucky didn’t answer, just stared out the window at the blank wall. “Stupid hùnzhàng’s got him doin’ crime,” he said quietly.

“If this kid means somethin’ to you,” Zoë said, “you might wanna get a move on. We got good reason to think he got shot when they took the ship.”

Bucky turned back to her sharply. “Shot? Is he all right?”

“Don’t rightly know,” Zoë answered. “All we know is what we got from tracks they left in the dirt. We think he was alive when the ship took off, but that was yesterday afternoon.”

“Where are they now?”

“In orbit,” Wash answered. “The ship had a mechanical problem that slowed them down, but they’ll have fixed it by now, so we need to move fast.”

The man was getting past whatever had shocked him. He put a hand to his jaw, scratching his stubble and looking at the two of them closely. “Xiaojun told you about me?” he asked.

“She did,” Wash answered.

Bucky looked back and forth between them. His look settled on Wash, who he seemed to view as the likelier of the two to give a square answer.

“Who exactly are you people?”

“I’m Hoban Washburn. I go by Wash. This is my wife, Zoë.”

Bucky’s face had recovered its color. In fact, he was looking a little flush now, like some anger had been stirred up.

“Hell,” he muttered, “if you’re just messin’ with me, I guess it don’t matter. Ain’t got much to lose.”

With that, he went into a side room. They could hear drawers opening, clothes rustling. Bucky came back into the room a minute later, wearing tough khaki trousers and buttoning a dark brown flannel shirt over a white tee.

“I work on the transport ship that moves miners to and from the rings,” he said. “I do maintenance work. Can’t fly it, though. Can one a’ you can figure out the controls?”

“I think we’ll manage,” Zoë said with a look at Wash.

“Good. My I.D.’ll get us into the docks,” he said as he pulled on a pair of heavy boots. “There’s a few guards might raise a fuss about you two once we get in, but I’m thinkin’ the lady here won’t have a problem getting `em to back down. Just don’t hurt anyone, okay? They’re friends of mine.”

Zoë nodded.

“What about Jayne and the mule?” Wash asked her.

“The mule can take care of itself.” She turned to Bucky. “We got a man outside the compound to pick up.”

He nodded, then pulled open the front door and they followed him out into the hallway.

* * *

Stealing the transport was even easier than Bucky had made it sound; the security folks backed off without argument. There weren’t even any lockdown proceedures to overcome before they could lift off. Within fifteen minutes of leaving Bucky’s apartment, they were in the air.

“People are pretty desperate to get off world,” Bucky explained to Wash over the whine of the engine, “so the company only uses transports that won’t get far. Anyone stupid enough to steal this thing gets stuck in orbit, and cartel security eats `em up. Not many try anymore.”

There was just room for Bucky to squeeze into the cockpit behind the pilot’s seat. He watched Wash work the controls, and guided him to the compound’s entrance so they could pick up Jayne. Zoë was back in the main hold, looking though the compartments to see if there was anything that would help get to Serenity.

“What took you so gorram long?” Jayne asked Zoë when she stepped out of the transport.

“It was a fine night of wining and dining and dancing under the stars,” Wash answered. “We could hardly tear ourselves away. Hope the kid wasn’t too much of a problem.”

Jayne wasn't bothered by the jibe; his lip curled in a satisfied sneer. “Had a few locals sniffin’ around. I just showed ‘em this.” He pulled his favorite large knife out of his belt and gave it a look of love. He seemed to want to continue with the full story of his daring defense of the mule, but Zoë didn’t let him.

“Time to move on,” she snapped, “Let’s go.”

She nodded over her shoulder, motioning for Jayne to get on the transport. He stepped away from the mule, but suddenly stopped and turned to stare at it, then looked back at Zoë with an expression of confused desperation.

“We can’t leave it here,” he said. “It’s gonna get stole!”

“Can’t help that, Jayne.”

“But, it’s…” he turned back again, and his voice held a note of real grief. “It’s my mule. We was bonding.”

Zoë sighed. “Jayne, I’d be happy to leave you here with it, but I’m like to need your gun to get Serenity back.”

They both turned when a voice spoke behind them.

“Hang on - give me a sec,” Bucky called. It was more like thirty seconds, but then the back end of the transport swung up, making an entrance big enough to drive the mule into. Bucky walked out the wide opening.

“We gotta have a way to move machinery around,” he explained, then he smiled. “Don’t even need to put the ramp out to get that thing in.”

“Hell, I call that downright convenient,” Jayne replied. “You that Bucky guy?”

“I am.”

Jayne looked him up and down, then nodded something like approval. Then he turned to Zoë.

“So then, how we gettin’ on Serenity?”

“Workin’ on it,” Zoë replied.

* * *

Wash turned off the comm as he flew out of Alsvidh’s airspace. There was no point in listening to the threats and demands of the local traffic control, as he had no intention of obeying them anyway. Once he got clear of the city, he set a course that would get them into low orbit, then went back to the main hold of the transport to see if Zoë had made any progress with the plan. Or, more specifically, if there was a plan at all.

Wash had some ideas – he knew the blindest angle to use on the approach to Serenity, and he should be able to get them close, as long as the bad guys didn’t run an active scan. Hopefully, they’d be too busy to worry about keeping a keen lookout. With Mal onboard and River running around loose, that was entirely possible.

The real problem was how to get onto the ship. There was the top side hatch, the one Jubal Early had used. Coud be no one had locked it down, as had been Mal’s habit ever since the bounty hunter made his visit. It’d be worth a try. But getting aboard Serenity was Zoë’s problem, one that Wash had every reason to believe she’d solve. His wife had a way of getting to whatever place she wanted to go.

He worked his away around the mule; they’d had to fold up all the seating in the transport to fit the bulky hovercraft in. Zoë and Jayne were going through compartments in the aft bulkhead, Bucky sitting by watching. Zoë pulled out an old spacesuit out of a largish compartment just as Wash got to her.

“That’s what I need,” she said with a half smile, and started gathering together little parts that went with the suit. The thing appeared to be a bow to some barely enforced safety regulation – it was old and battered and looked like it hadn’t been used in an age or two.

“Is that the only one?” Wash asked in a worried voice, glancing hopefully into the open cabinets.

“It’s the only one,” Zoë replied, and looked at him with a dark glint in her eye. “Guess it’ll be little ole me against three bad guys.”

“Great plan,” Jayne said with a roll of his eyes. “And what do we do after you get yourself caught or killed?”

“You’d rather go then?” Zoë asked, holding out the suit.

“Hell, I could take out three men in my gorram sleep,” Jayne boasted, but he shifted uncomfortably and didn’t actually offer to go in her place. Wash noticed how his eyes lingered on the ratty space suit.

“Actually, I was referring to the condition of the suit,” Wash clarified. “That one’s looking a little… um… death-trappy.”

“It’s what we got,” Zoë said, “and it’s what I’ll use.”

“But, honey – ”

A beeping from the cockpit called Wash away. “Come up with something else,” he said as he squeezed back around the mule. “I’d prefer not to be married to space debris. At least send Jayne instead – he’d make much better debris.”

Instead of snapping at Wash, Jayne just shrugged and backed away from Zoë, clearly not wanting in on the spacewalk.

Once back in the cockpit, Wash checked the display. They’d reached orbit, and it was time to go on the hunt. The little transport was meant for limited use – traveling known routes from the surface to mining platforms. There weren’t many advanced capabilities on her, such as tracking and active scans. But basic traffic control required a display of pulse beacon signals nearby. Wash would just have to circle the planet until he found Serenity, assuming the hijackers hadn’t gotten whatever it was they wanted and left the system already.

Wash set out on a path that meandered over the rings, since the majority of traffic clustered there. He had to stay in the cockpit during the search, to monitor every blip that showed on the ship’s screen.

It took only half an hour to find her. Serenity was perched over the outer rings, looking like she was resting on the edge of the disc. He approached her from much higher up, then turned the shuttle to point down at her from directly above and called Zoë to the bridge.

“Anyone tryin’ to talk to us?” Zoë asked over his shoulder.

Wash checked the comm. “Nothing. Must not have noticed us.”

Zoë leaned over the back of his seat to see out the cockpit window. “Are they movin’?”

“Hold on.” Wash had no viewer to help, just his old-fashioned eyesight, so he nudged them closer. “I sure hope they don’t see us coming,” he mumbled, knowing that they were now a very large blip on the helm controls, there for anyone to see.

“The attitude jets are firing,” Wash said. “They’re maneuvering. Being very careful about it, though. Just small adjustments.”

“What’s goin’ on?” Jayne asked. He and Bucky were squeezed in the door behind Zoë, trying to see out the window.

Neither of the Washburns answered, just waited as they crept toward the ship. They were soon close enough to see through the windows over the dining room. There was someone Wash didn’t recognize standing next to the table. He adjusted their position so he could see better – it was a woman. After a few seconds, Kaylee and Book crawled out from under the table. The preacher accepted a hand from Kaylee, and leaned on her heavily as they left the room, the strange woman behind them.

“Can we fly `round back?” Zoë asked, “Stay out’a view? This is too risky.”

Wash nodded and took them behind the Firefly’s tail and partly below her. Then he carefully moved underneath the ship. She was so close to the rings that he’d be in danger of catching a few rocks to the craft’s belly if he got any lower, but he inched forward until he saw what Serenity was doing.

A small cylindrical craft – craft wasn’t right, it was more like some kind of machinery – was sticking halfway out of the firefly’s cargo hold. An attitude jet fired, and Wash cringed when the machine banged into the port side of the airlock. But it also worked its way a little further into the ship’s hold.

“That’s kind’a kinky, huh?” Jayne asked.

Bèn shă guā,” Bucky muttered.

“I’m just sayin’ – ” Jayne complained, but Bucky interrupted him.

“I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout you.”

Zoë looked over her shouder at Bucky. “What is it?”

“Verdande harvesting unit. That right there is the big bucks of the Verdande cartel. Whole reason they still own this gorram planet.”

“How’s that?” Wash asked.

“I don’t know nothing technical about the minin’ business. But the cartel I work for is the Skuld’s, and they can’t use those things. Can’t even go near `em. Some law about rights, who owns what.”

“What’s it do?” Jayne asked, still watching in fascination as the object disppeared into Serenity’s hold.

“I’m tellin’ ya, I don’t know squat about minin’. But I know that if Ray is tryin’ to make off with one of these, he sure as hell ain’t got any smarter over the years. Verdande’s’ll be after him like he stole their first born.”

“So how `bout we get to him first,” Zoë said. “We got us an open door, let’s make use of it. Wash, get us close.”

Wash turned to look at her. “Are you thinking of putting that suit on?”

“More than thinkin’,” Zoë replied, and she turned to go into the hold.

Wash glanced at the controls, then he slid out of the seat and past Bucky and Jayne.“That’s really not a good idea,” he called after Zoë.

“You got another?” She started to squeeze her way around the mule, Wash following behind her.

“Can we just talk about this?” he asked.

“Nothin’ to talk about.”

“Actually, there is one pretty big thing.”

Zoë reached the aft bulkhead. “I’m ain’t fightin’ about this.”

“Oh yes, I think you are!” Wash said. “Getting yourself dead is not going to help anyone.”

“Don’t have much time, dear.” Zoë picked up the suit from the floor.

Wash caught up to her and pulled the suit out of her hands. “This thing is ancient! I won’t have you going into hard vacuum – ”

She grabbed it back. “What you will or won’t have ain’t at issue here. This could be the only chance we get. If what Bucky says is true, they’ll disappear quick once they get that thing on board.” Zoë was pulling open the suit as she talked, and she began stepping into it.

“I understand that, but this is not the way to help!” Wash looked into the locker, grabbed the tank of compressed oxygen. The fullness indicator was shattered. “You don’t how much oxygen is in here! And these!” He grabbed at the attitude control jets on the back of the suit. “Zoë – this one’s all clogged up! What if you miss, go floating off into the rings? I won’t be able to help you!”

Zoë replied coolly. “I guess you better get us as close as you can so I don’t miss.” She pulled the suit up around her waist and pushed her arms into the sleeves.

Wash folded his arms in front of him and glared at her. “No.”

She froze. “What did you say?”

“I said – hell, no.”

“Wash, this is not the time to be playin’ husband.”

“I don’t ‘play’ husband; I am husband. This is idiotic, and I won’t let you do it.”

Zoë stepped close to him, drawing up to her full height to look down at him, and Wash felt a lot like a grunt in basic training, with a hard-assed lieutenant dressing him down for insubordination.

“You ain’t got a choice in the matter,” Zoë said. “I outrank you. I made a decision, and I am givin’ you an order. Get back in that cockpit and move us close as you can to that open door.”

Wash didn’t back down. “Zoë, dear, you can gēn hóu zi bĭ díu shĭ.”

He saw something very scary crackle in his wife’s eyes, but more immediately scary was the shock that went through the hull of the transport as something collided with her underside.

“Can y’all have words later?” Jayne asked from the hatch to the cockpit where he’d been spectating. “Kinda be nice to have someone flyin’ this thing right now.”

Huài le,” Wash muttered. He took one more look at Zoë, saw that scary thing still in her eyes, then he turned away and ran back to the cockpit.

The transport had drifted too close to the rings, and was surrounded by small chunks of rock. Two more hit before Wash moved them to a safer place, which wasn’t easy considering how narrow the gap between Serenity and the rings was. He had every intention of resuming the argument as soon as he had them safely situated, but then Zoë called out:

“I’m suited up. Airlock takes sixty seconds to cycle. How close I am to Serenity when I step out is up to you.” Wash heard a hatch slam and knew she’d just shut herself into the airlock.

* * *

Wash wasn’t a man to get angry. Sure, he got grumpy and moody. He’d complain or swap harsh words when he thought something asinine was going on. He’d resort to dirty tricks like rewiring shuttle controls so he could have his way. But mind-numbing explosive rage was a new thing to him.

For a few seconds that felt much longer, Wash was unable to do anything, just sit still with his hands on the controls, unable to process the choice his wife had just left him with.

“Jayne,” he said distantly, “get back in there and stop her.”

“How d’you suppose I do that?”

Wash turned to look up at the merc. “Manually shut down the cycle!”

“No way. I ain’t getting in the middle of this.” Jayne folded his arms stubbornly. “You ain’t gettin’ me anywhere near that airlock.”

Wash gripped the controls, noticing how his hands shook, and his eyes swept the panel for some kind of override. His gaze caught on the traffic display – there was a third blip on the screen, another ship approaching from above Serenity. It was close - Wash squinted at the signature displayed next to the blip, and he swore.

There were a few more hard knocks as he recklessly powered the transport backwards, pulling them out behind the firefly. Then he rotated the craft so he could see the approaching third party.

“I’ll just go shut down the airlock,” Jayne said helpfully.

“Who is it?” Bucky asked.

Wash realized his mouth was hanging open. It took him a few seconds to turn his brain on and reply: “The Alliance.”

* * *


fèi rén: useless person gōu shī: crap hún qiú: no-good bastard hùnzhàng: son of a bitch bèn shă guā: stupid idiot gēn hóu zi bĭ díu shĭ: engage in a feces hurling contest with a monkey huài le: shit on my head

* * *

On to Chapter 17.


Wednesday, July 5, 2006 5:59 AM


Oh-oh. This plan just keeps getting better and better. Nice that you added the marital fight, even nicer is that I don't know who's side of the argument I'm on.

Right now, I'm just hoping that Jayne's mule doesn't get stolen. Kaylee loves that thing.

Also... way to respond to your audience! We've been begging you to get the preacher out from under the table.

Glad you're back from your break. Looking forward to the next chapter.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006 6:12 AM


OMG! Wash's comments about Jayne and the mule were hysterical!

I really liked this chapter. Good to see the Preacher is out from under the table now, though I wonder since no one was paying attention to him, why he wasn't able to get himself free.

Anyway, looking forward to some thrilling heroics. Why do I get the feeling another one of our BDH's are going to get hurt?

Wednesday, July 5, 2006 7:15 AM


Wow, getting Bucky to help wasn't the gorram hard part, but this rescue plan keeps getting more and more complicated and now the rutting Alliance have appeared. Uh oh, I sure hope our crew make it out of this in one piece. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, July 5, 2006 7:30 PM


“It’s my mule. We was bonding.”

Thursday, July 6, 2006 4:51 PM


Oh...I am so with Wash right now, in that Zoe's taking one hell of an unsightly risk with that ancient pressure suit. Might have been the only option (until the cavalry came), but the plan's something she would shoot down cuz it was Mal proposing it!

And should we be worried that the Alliane is on scene? Cuz I am presuming we should be;)


Thursday, July 6, 2006 8:08 PM


I'm loving the Wash and Zoe conflict (Wash gets the best Chinese), and Jayne's grief at the thought of leaving his mule after they'd bonded. (I wonder if he breastfed her? - it does help with that sort of thing...)

I liked Bucky calling Ray an idiot and Jayne assuming he was talking about him - cuz he's so used to it. It's also nice to get a clearer idea of what Ray/Aunt Beyla's plan is re: the Verdande harvesting unit.

Now I'm just looking forward to seeing Serenity's perspective on the now two extra blips showing up on the console. I can't help but wonder if the Alliance ship is interested in the stolen transport, the stolen harvesting unit, or something else entirely!

Friday, July 14, 2006 7:28 AM


“It’s your baby,” Wash replied, patting the side of the hovercraft. Then he grinned and continued in a half-lecturing tone, “Jayne, you have to accept the responsibility for your actions. You got her, now you have to take care of her. Besides, you two need to spend time together to form that lifelong bond. Get to know her, cuddle her a bit – I hear breast feeding helps.”
-BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA you write Wash so gorram well, wonderful stuff !!

I can see that maybe Bucky has some ass-kicking of his own to do, or if I am really lucky, some guttin'.

Every time I read one of your wonderful Wash lines it makes me more regretful that I decided to make my long running fic post-BDM. *sigh* I miss Wash.

“The Alliance.”
-ick, ruttin' hwoon dans seem to show up at the least convienent times.


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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.