BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - SUSPENSE

JEBBYPAL

Those Left Behind: Ch9
Monday, June 28, 2004

Moonshine


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2602    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Chapter 9: Moonshine Bi zui – shut up

Zoe looked up from her work at the kitchen table when Mal entered the room. In the process of conducting an inventory of all the weapons available as well as ammo, the entire armory that she shared with Mal was spread over the table. Zoe started to worry when her friend didn't bother to glance at the table, but instead went to lean against the coolers while staring up at the ceiling and the stars.

"Just what do you think little River is really capable of?" he asked her.

Zoe remained silent as she considered the reasons for his question. Surely Mal wasn't thinking they should have River along on the mission…eerie aim and abilities notwithstanding, there was no way to know that the child wouldn't freeze if confronted by her former tormentors.

"Hard to say sir. She knows about weapons, how to use 'em. Has a good head for tactics as well as being able to understand her enemies. Other than that, I can't begin to fathom what a Reader could truly do. I mean there were stories in the books I had as a kid, but I haven't seen that River can do any of those things," Zoe answered finally.

Mal continued to look at the stars throughout her reply. "What's on your mind Sir?"

"A dream…or nightmare, not rightly sure."

Zoe knew the types of nightmares he normally had, she shared more than a few. Mal wasn't the type to talk about them though…sometimes sharing that burden even with her just added to the misery rather than relieving it. And if the reunion with Sug had brought up different dreams, Mal wouldn't be thinking on River. "Maybe if you tell me what you're thinking, we can figure that out?" Zoe suggested.

Mal finally looked at her and she began to wish that he hadn't. The man appeared like he'd just seen a ghost, but a ghost wouldn't scare Mal. She knew he held the memories of their dead close enough that he walked with ghosts all the time. No, this was different.

"What if I told you that I think we might have some unexpected help when we hit that place?"

"I'd want to know who was crazy enough to help and why. Unexpected help doesn't necessarily mean they're allies," she told him.

"I just don't know if I understand how to signal them."

"Them?"

Mal shook his head. Best to not burden Zoe with his dream or vision. It wouldn't be a good thing if the person watching his back thought he was cracking up. "Nothing, it's probably stress. I'm gonna check to see that everything's good on Monty's end."

Zoe stared at his back as he retreated to the bridge. Shaking her head, she silently hoped that her Captain wasn't ignoring his danger signal again. Although it was vague at times, it had saved both of their lives more than once.

--

Mal was glad to see that the bridge was empty. Cecil was busy teaching Wash the ins and outs of piloting the Expeditor, so the ship was operating on autopilot while both pilots kept tabs on the radar readings just in case.

Mal briefly considered the risks of what he was about to do before turning on the cortex. Within a short time, Inara's face appeared on the screen.

"Mal, what are you doing? You..you know I asked not to be disturbed during my business," Inara quickly stated.

Mal nodded. "I'm sorry about that. I needed to know if our mutual acquaintance was fine with the arrangements or if we'd need to pick you up early," he explained. He couldn't come out and ask Inara if River had gotten a visitation from her friends as well, but maybe the Companion could use her reading abilities to understand what he needed.

"Everything is fine Mal. The rendezvous date we've previously arranged will be fine," Inara stated. She was surprised that Mal was concerned about their reception on Athens; she'd told him that the House Priestess had no problem with sheltering River.

"Okay then," Mal replied. Before he could act on it, his intention of ending the call was interrupted by the appearance of River behind Inara.

"Ai ren, no, I asked you to stay over there," Inara worriedly told the teen as she stood to block the cortex camera's view of River.

River remained behind Inara, but spoke loudly enough that Mal could hear. "Now you understand, they exist everywhere and won't leave till the story ends. They share the enemy but once the blue dragon is defeated, allies might not be friends."

Mal struggled to understand River's meaning; only a couple of days since the girl left and already her babble seemed to be incomprehensible symbols rather than a code he readily understood.

"What sign or gesture are they looking for from their allies?" Mal asked. Inara glanced back at the cortex screen with a befuddled expression, clearly puzzled that Mal was continuing the conversation and risking exposure if any federal agents were monitoring cortex traffic.

"Sue spoke plainly. If you need additional help from an unexpected ally, kill one of THEM and the others will come to the knight's aid. Once the genie is unleashed, it won't want to return to the bottle though…it will be a fulfillment of THEIR plans," River stated with her eyes slightly out of focus.

"But who are THEY? How will I know if I need to?" Mal asked desperately. The conversation had gone on too long, but he was loath to give up without this piece of information.

"Hands of Blue, two by two," River chanted as she darted out of Inara's grasp. "Blue bleeds red, but the damage will be done. A common enemy gone leaves forces divided." She gave the captain a brief nervous smile before ending the cortex call.

***

"Hey there Lil' Kaylee. Got everything ready for Santos?" Mal asked as Kaylee and Cecil exited the Expeditor airlock.

"Put in the damaged cooling unit just like you asked. Gotta say though, first time I've ever broke a ship on purpose!" Kaylee answered. "It sure don't feel right."

"Promise, soon as the dock inspectors get through with us, you and Cecil can put her to rights," Mal assured her. "We're landing in twenty minutes, so why don't ya make sure Zoe and Simon are ready."

Kaylee nodded and started to head for the passenger dorms before turning with a cheerful smile. "Oh, that reminds me, Wash said he wanted to talk to ya," she said as she continued to walk backwards.

"Pay attention to where you're going 'for you fall girl! Simon can't fix you up and I know you don't want Sug to start sawing on ya," Mal warned her.

Cecil snickered. "Sug any happier yet?"

Mal shook his head as he started to walk towards the bridge with the taller man following. "No and I'd take it as a kindness if you'd switch her ammo with some blanks before this is all over."

"Uhuh, I learned a long time ago not to get between her and a target. Sorry Cap, but you're on your own!" Cecil replied with a mocking tone.

Mal sighed as Cecil left to talk to the Preacher about something. No one had been showing him any sympathy since he came up with a foolproof plan for landing at Santos' docks without drawing attention to the large number of former Browncoats that were now on board.

"Wash, what's up? Kaylee said ya needed to talk."

"Mal, she's my wife!" Wash protested as he turned away from the ship's controls.

"Not again! Look, I told Sug ten times already but I can't…"

Wash interrupted him before he could finish. "This isn't about that. How come Kaylee can't dress up and Zoe can play engineer?"

Mal raised his eyebrows at the suggestion. Kaylee was a lot of things, but suited to the role Zoe would be playing wasn't one of them. "Cause, if they ask what's wrong with the other ship, we've gotta have someone that can explain it…and show 'em if they get to tetchy about it."

"I can fix things. I could show them."

"You're the pilot Wash, not the mechanic. No offence, but I wouldn't let you near Serenity's engines and I'm pretty sure Sug feels the same way. Now would you mind watching where ya drive my boat?" Mal asked as he pointed towards the viewing windows.

"But Mal," Wash whined.

"No buts. It's too late to change the plans and everyone's already geared up." Mal turned his back on his disgruntled pilot and left the cockpit. If one more person complained about their job, he swore to himself that they could ride outside the ship for the landing.

"But it's MY dress. Nobody else is supposed to see her in it," Wash whined quietly. "Especially not Jayne and Sug," he added silently to himself.

--

Mal managed to stay out of everyone else's way until after the ship had landed. No need in listening to more complaints and demands. Not like he exactly relished the part he was to play himself. Still, more'n a few of the people on board would draw eyes under ordinary circumstances. Now with an extra six mercenaries not counting Sug and Cecil, any Alliance dock inspector that laid eyes on them would want to tear the entire vessel apart looking for contraband unless their eyes were directed elsewhere.

"Everyone and thing in place?" Mal asked as he descended from the catwalk.

Shepherd Book nodded from where he stood next to a clearly unhappy Sug. "All accounted for and ready Captain."

"Good. The feds wave yet?"

Wash nodded from where he was sulking next to Kaylee. Good, let her deal with his attitude Mal thought. "They'll be here in five or so."

"Kay then, everyone remember their lines," Mal ordered as he opened the cargo bay doors.

Several minutes later, three men in Alliance uniforms appeared. Two carried weapons and had the bearing normally associated with the mentally challenged soldiers that generally made a career of enforcing the Alliance's suffocating laws. The third looked like the typical accountant: short, thin with a pinched face and glasses that just screamed at the world how much he loved numbers and databases. "Captain Zeter?" he called.

Mal stepped forward with what he hoped passed for a servile smile. "That would be me sir. What can we do for ya folks?"

The soldiers looked bored with the entire procedure, but the pencil pusher's expression became very suspicious as he surveyed the people assembled in the cargo bay. "I'm Inspector Nicos," the small guy answered. "You told the controllers that you'd assisted another ship in space and therefore had more people than shown on your papers. Care to explain?"

Mal nodded meekly. "Well, see we came on the ship drifting. Being in the Core, we doubted there was much chance for ambush so we offered to help. Turns out their engine's busted and we didn't have any compatible parts so we offered to tow them to your fine moon here."

"I see," Nicos said suspicion clearly on his face. "And exactly what was wrong with the ship."

Mal shrugged his shoulders. "No clue myself, but my engineer can explain it all to you."

Kaylee stepped forward. "See their turbine turner overheated cause the coolant line wasn't pumping. Engine was a little different than I'm used ta, but pretty sure all it needs is a new cooling unit."

"Hmm…you wouldn't mind if I examined the engine myself would you Zeter?" the inspector asked.

"Shiny as far as I'm concerned, though you may want to ask the ship's captain first."

"And that would be?"

"Me," Cecil said. The dock inspector turned and slowly kept looking up and up as Cecil had stepped so that he was directly behind the smaller man.

Nicos coughed as he stepped back. "Yes, well, lead the way. Andrews, check their ident cards and registry while I'm gone."

One of the Alliance officers stepped forward. "You heard 'em, line up and have your cards ready."

Twenty minutes later, everyone's ident cards had been swiped without any commotion. Nicos returned a short time later with Cecil. While he stepped a short distance away to confer with his companions, Mal took the opportunity to talk to Cecil.

"Problems?"

Cecil shook his head. "Nope. Didn’t even ask to search anything after he saw the mess in the engine room."

"Score one for Kaylee's space monkeys," Mal joked.

"Captain, I'm sorry, but we will need to conduct a search of your vessel. Considering the number of passengers you have as well as your planet of origin, we need to be sure there is no contraband on board," Nicos explained.

Mal nodded. "To be expected. Don't like taking passengers from the Rim, causes all kinds of hassles at the docks. But money's money and some of them border folk get right tetchy when you refuse 'em passage."

"Yes, well, you could always confine your business to the Core after all," Nicos suggested as he signaled the other officers to conduct the search.

Mal shrugged. "Yeah, but the going rate is a lot higher given the lack of traffic they see. So long as they keep their noses clean and don't bring their trouble with 'em, I've got no problem taking money from those dirty Browncoats."

Nicos nodded in sympathy. "They do make it hard for one to feel sorry for them. What about your crew? I notice more than a few of them are from the Rim worlds themselves," Nicos asked. The man obviously wanted more information, but felt above lowering himself to talk to any of the other individuals on board. Which was just fine with Mal.

Mal leaned against the cargo bay door controls and ran his hand through his hair. "They're a handful alright, but I get to pay 'em a lot less than Core trained that's for sure." Mal gestured slightly with his elbow towards Jayne. "Take him for example. Classic merc through and through, but pay him a pittance considering I know a few planets that have a reward out for him. Man actually stole money from Canton's magistrate if you can believe it."

"And you don't worry about bringing an outlaw with you to the Core?"

"Nah, anything goes wrong, I know it's him and turn him over for the reward money. Hell, if something don't go wrong and he matches any descriptions, I'd turn him over anyway for the extra cash," Mal joked. "Now her, she's been more'n handful," Mal shared as he gestured towards Kaylee.

Nicos gave Mal a lecherous smile as he nodded. "Course, helps that she's more than a fair hand at fixing the engine too," Mal continued

"I bet," Nicos leered.

"Unfortunately ain't gettin' quite the use out of her I planned. Had to ask her father to get her to join the crew, and he was worried about his baby girl. So ended up w/ him as a gorram passenger," Mal explained with a touch of bitterness as he gestured to Simon standing behind Kaylee.

Mal had figured it was too risky to stow the fugitive in a hidden compartment, so instead they were hiding the boy in plain sight. Inara had purchased stage makeup as well as hair coloring at one of their last planetfalls before they started the journey to the Core. Now Simon was dressed in some of Book's tailored clothing with fake wrinkles and liver spots applied liberally to any skin that showed. Additionally, Kaylee and Jayne had taken great pleasure in helping him to bleach large portions of his hair white. Book's clothing was still a tad large so Simon was wearing several pieces as if he had problems keeping warm. The doctor would not pass for less than sixty-five if a day.

"And her, surely you don't have any other use for her?" Nicos asked with distaste as he pointed at Sug.

"Our medic? Nah, woman's too ugly and her husband would take offence," Mal replied as he waved in Shepherd Book's direction.

"She's married?"

"Well, all I can assume is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder there," Mal answered. "That or the preacher decided to marry her for penance."

"Then there's the pilot. Man just ain't right. But then again, I'd be happier if more of my crew didn't mind being paid in knockoffs of Earth-That-Was toys. Man still thinks the plastic dinos I gave him as a bonus are true antiques."

"You are a ruthless businessman Zeter," Nicos complimented him.

"Wait, I almost forgot, you're missing the best part," Mal said with enthusiasm. "You and your men deserve a bit of a treat for having to deal with all these Rimmers. Inara, the dock inspector needs to check your papers," Mal called over the comm.

"Be right there," a sultry feminine voice echoed back over the speakers.

"Decided to rent out my shuttle one day; best decision I ever made," Mal explained. "This companion took the lease. Real sick kid, gets her kicks out of entertaining the unwashed nobility on the Rim."

At that moment, Zoe stepped out of Inara's shuttle dressed in a tight fitting, low cut, royal purple dress with gold trim along the bottom and the edges of the leg slit which opened enough to see her upper thigh as she descended the catwalk. All three of the feds paused to gape at the spectacle. Mal shot a dark glare at Wash when he heard the pilot give a whimper of complaint. None of the officers would be much interested in looking in too many crates as long as she was on deck.

"Inspector, allow me to introduce Inara Serra, Companion," Mal stated.

"Well, Captain, I can see that you run a tight ship here. I think that everything is in order," Nicos stammered as he fumbled with Zoe's ident card.

"Actually sir, we found some contraband," one of the soldiers stated.

"Huh?" Mal asked with surprise.

"Let's see it," Nicos ordered as he followed the man to one of the hidey holes. In front of the loose panel, a crate containing ten bottles of liquid sat. The soldier offered another which was opened. Nicos sniffed it. "Moonshine Captain. Care to explain?"

Mal started to turn red. "Jayne!" he yelled.

"What?" Jayne asked as he approached the circle around the contraband whiskey nervously.

"What is this?" Mal asked pointing at the crate.

"Well, uhh, one of the fellas from Zephyr paid me a bit to stow it when I loaded his luggage," Jayne answered.

"Where is it?" Mal asked with his anger visible.

"Where's what?"

"The money you lummox!"

Jayne fumbled in his pocket before handing over a small bag of coin. "Here 'tis. Sorry sir, won't never happen again."

"That's right, cause you're staying here. Get the gorram hell off my boat!" Mal ordered as he drew his weapon.

"Now Captain, surely this isn't necessary. We can take him into custody," Nicos stammered.

"One thing I've learned from dealing with these no-good Browncoats is you can't let them pull something over on you. He'll be a lot more miserable trying to eke out a living on this moon than he will be sitting in your jail cell Inspector." Turning to Jayne, he gestured with his gun towards the door. "Now get!"

"But my stuff," Jayne protested.

"Will help me pay the fine you've caused. Now get before I have to pay for a funeral too." With that threat, Jayne finally stumbled off the boat.

Holstering his gun, Mal turned to Nicos. "Sorry about that sir, but had to make an example. The rest will think twice before they try something like this. I don't suppose you really have to report this," Mal asked.

"Regulations are law Captain. We'll need to conduct a more thorough search of your ship and,"

"Look, Inspector, I wasn't making no profit off of this. How 'bout you boys just take this crate and this ill-gotten money, and we call it even? No sense in making your day harder. Besides, if I was into smuggling, I wouldn't exactly be making runs to Santos to haul trash out to the Rim now would I?"

Nicos nodded as he reached for the cash. "I suppose. No reason you'd risk running into a patrol from Zephyr to here either."

Mal smiled. "Exactly. I shoulda thrown that ape off my boat a while ago, but he was cheap. Anything else ya need from us today?"

"No, I think that about covers it. Have a nice stay on Santos," the dock inspector said. "You two, get that crate. We've got other ships to check."

--

Mal sighed as he shut the cargo doors. For once everything had gone smooth. "OWW!" he yelped as he jumped away from Zoe. "What the hell was that for?"

"Wash told me what you said," she said deadpanned.

"Well I don't know what he was referring to, but I was playing a character too," Mal defended himself.

"Yeah, but you didn't have to enjoy it so much," Kaylee called out with a pout.

Mal's eyes got wide. "You think I enjoyed handing money off to that purple bellied accountant? And booze?"

"You was mean to Jayne," Kaylee continued.

"And very derogatory to my wife," Book added.

"I was playing a part!"

Sug added her own good natured-slug to Zoe's abuse. "Can't help it if we all thought it was such a good fit," she joked.

Mal rubbed his arm painfully as he sought to put distance between himself and his crew. "Look, just tell me when Jayne shows up with Monty. And Zoe?"

"Yes sir?" Zoe answered from where she was trying to deal with her husband.

"Change out of that dress. It's a tad unsettling."

"Come on honey, you heard the man. Let's get you out of it," Wash said as he pushed Zoe forward.

--

Later that evening Jayne wandered in with Monty and his crew. With the addition of the portly Browncoat's party, the total of those involved came to twenty two. Very small for an invasion force, but hopefully the intel from the underground informant Sal would prove true. If not, this would go down as the most humped mission Mal had ever led. Probably be the last too, Zoe thought.

She looked around to ensure that all the stragglers from both crews were present. Mal had put off sharing the entire plan with the group until now. Said there was no since in arguing over it for three days anyway. She agreed with him. Give soldiers too long to doubt a plan, they'd start second guessing themselves and the leader. She hoped he'd run it past Sug though. That woman had never been one to follow orders even in the war.

Once the cargo bay was closed and everyone was as comfy as was possible in the now somewhat tight confines of the cargo bay, Zoe joined Mal in the center where he'd managed to erect a rough sketch of the facilities as well as the airspace around it. Simply by looking at the drawing, on could tell it was a military facility. The "Academy" was located on the minimally terraformed outer satellite of Londinium. A man could breathe the air, but he wouldn't want to for very long. The light side of the moon hovered at a temperature around minus two degrees Celsius. Fortunately, there would be no need for the attackers to be outside unless something went really wrong.

There were only two docks directly connected to the facility which presented some problems. The Expeditor would carry a minimal complement and seek to cause mischief in the air while the two shuttles would dock and disgorge the attack forces. It would be a cramped ride from Santos to their target, but much more so on the return trip. The plan at this point was that the Expeditor would dock after the first shuttle left the area to pick up the remaining fighters, whether that would happen or not was anyone's guess.

Zoe stopped her mental check of the plan when she heard Mal finish up his brief introduction of the mission and how they would get there. She glanced around nervously; this would be the sticking point she thought to herself. He'd told her the teams he'd picked and she knew of very few people in the audience who would be happy with his choices.

"Okay then, that's the basics people," Mal declared. "Now, I've got the assignments determined already and I want you all to know that they are not open for debate, dong ma? These groups are based on the intelligence and what has to be done; the pieces can't be mixed and matched."

Zoe saw Sug's eyebrows rise at his statement. She knew the female mercenary would have a hard time accepting that. The woman hadn't done well for the one battle she'd been under Mal's command during the war. Hopefully she would accept it now.

"Okay then, first things first. Jon, Ping, you'll stay on Serenity with Kaylee and Shepherd Book just in case something happens that they need a few guns."

"Captain, I really…" Book began to say.

"Bi zui preacher. This ain't open for discussion. I know you want to help, but we won't have the luxury of aiming at kneecaps once we're in the thick of it. Every man you spare out of mercy is another one we have to worry about shooting us in the back or calling for reinforcements," Mal answered coldly. "'Sides, you're a fair hand at piloting and reading star charts. Wash has already set the course in for our final contact point, but it's possible that you all may need to be fluid in how you get there. That happens, I'm counting on you to keep my ship safe. I'll be mighty upset if there are in dings in her when I get back."

"Now, since the Expeditor will be in the air most of the time, it will only have one defender. Rusk, you get to ride the roller coaster with Wash. I assure you from experience, it won't be a dull one," Mal explained.

"Now then, the shuttles will be crowded for certain during the arrival, so everyone remember to be courteous. Tempers flare, the defenders of each shuttle have my permission to airlock the offending party into vacuum," Mal said with a hint of a smile. "Zoe will be piloting our shuttle while Monty will pilot his. Two people will stay behind to defend each shuttle. Nole, Howie, you two will watch my shuttle while Tommy and Katia will babysit Monty's."

"Okay, we'll have four teams. Three of those will be responsible for the individual wings of the facility while the fourth will concentrate on fouling up the computer systems. Cecil of course will be in charge of that with me and Zoe providing cover," Mal detailed as he gestured towards the large hacker.

"That ain't what we discussed Reynolds," Sug protested as she rose to stand beside her brother.

"Well, things changed Sug. Can't be helped. You knew nothing was set in stone when we talked earlier."

"Well things are changing again. I wouldn't trust you to protect my puppy, let alone my brother!"

Cecil put a hand on Sug's shoulder. "It'll be fine sis, he got through Hera I’m sure he can get through a computer room without getting killed."

"Stay out of this C," Sug ordered as she shook off his hand.

"Gorrammit Sug. I'm pleased as hell to have your help, but I ain't gonna stand for you questioning my orders. Now Cecil will be with me and Zoe, you don't like it then I will throw you in a hidey hole for the duration. Dong ma?" Mal asked.

Sug just smirked at him. "You don't have the balls Reynolds."

"He don't necessarily need them Sug. I'll make sure you sit out all by myself if you can't go along with the plan," Zoe interjected firmly with calm assurance.

"I still don't like it," Sug protested.

"You don't have to, you just have to follow the plan Sug," Zoe replied. Sug shot a final glare at Mal before taking her seat again. Hopefully they'd heard the last from her about it.

Mal gave the entire room a firm gaze. "I remind ya all: this is my boat, my command." When everyone remained silent except for some nervous shuffling on the part of Sug's crew, he continued. "Now then, Simon will be going in as well to provide medical attention to any of the kids that needs it. Each team will be equipped with a medpack containing mild tranquilizers should any of them be too upset. You'll also get a sedative in case they're too uncooperative, but I'd recommend against using it unless absolutely necessary. Any as are unconscious are just dead weight back to the ships."

"Sug, you and Jayne will be with Simon. Try to make sure he gets through with his head and fingers, doc's not much good without 'em. Monty, you're leading Cahit and Yangfan. Finally, Rahman, Mason, and Yaeger will make up the last team," Mal listed.

"Now people, the plan is to get in, get the kids, and get out as quick as possible. You see someone fully dressed that ain't with our team, take them out quickly. Don't bother with restraining or incapacitating, just take them out. We can't risk anything else. Cecil will do what he can to muck up their communications and deal with the locks. Radio if you need reinforcements or help. Speed is crucial cause Wash can only distract any air support they have for so long," Mal explained. "Any questions?"

Mal nodded finally. "Good, we leave in five hours. Everyone get to your rides in the mean time."

***

TBC in Chapter 10: Action

COMMENTS

Tuesday, June 29, 2004 6:12 AM

GUILDSISTER


Loved the encounter with the dock inspector!

Tuesday, June 29, 2004 8:31 AM

AMDOBELL


Loved this Jebbypal and really can't wait for the next part as you crank up the drama. Love how Mal rattled through the plan and Zoe backing him up when Sug looked to get ugly. I just hope Sug doesn't go and mess the whole thing up. Very shiny, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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