BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE

HERMITSREST

Hun Dan - Part One
Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Mal hires a munitions expert for a job on Persephone. My first fanfic featuring post BDM characters and a few of my own. Having feedback is like charging my battery, please comment. Part 1 of 2.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1992    RATING: 8    SERIES: FIREFLY

“I can’t see how it helps us to do this job with Reynolds,” grumbled Bane, as she brought in her clean clothes and started to fold them on her bunk. Her cousin, Maloranty, who was sitting at the bunk room table playing Patience, was getting a little annoyed at being disturbed. As the oldest of the cousins, he disliked being the one people always off loaded on – like he was their father or something – a bit of piece and quiet was not too much to ask. Looks like he wasn’t gonna get it though.

“It’s not for us to question, we’re here to support our Captain’s new enterprise,” he responded carefully, knowing that while he didn’t entirely agree, he wasn’t about to question the Captain, relative or no relative. They were all related on this boat, the Rosalyn Pye, all except Stan who was lying over in his bunk, asleep – the man could sleep through an earthquake. He turned over another card, but couldn’t block out Bane’s chatter. She was in the mood to talk and was taking full advantage, even if he didn’t want to listen.

“His enterprise with a ship full of freaks. You’ve heard the stories, it’s all over the Cortex, as well as the gossip in every bar from here to Regina.” If Bane had been facing her cousin she would have seen him flick the long plait of hair off his shoulder, a sure sign that he was getting annoyed.

“Peace,” growled Maloranty. He had enough of his cousin’s bitching and put down the rest of the pack of cards. “I’m off to talk to Lee Shoo. You can carry on your moanin’ to Stan, he’s a great listener.” Bane turned to watch him leave the room, instantly sorry that she had upset him. It may well not be her place to question the Captain, especially since he was her brother, but she didn’t like to keep her voice and opinions inside, not anymore.

Serenity may be a boat load of freaks, but being cooped up with family had its drawbacks as well. She had never met any of Serenity’s crew, but she knew that their Captain had fought on the same side as them during the war. Those of her family who had been old enough, including most of the people on the Rosalyn, had also been on the side of the Independents during the war. The ship was now their cave, remnants of family who had survived, when all those they knew and loved, had died.

Before the War there had been a fleet of Pye ships – Pye Eatings – they were called and they had been known throughout the ‘Verse. Good fresh cooked eatings and food supplies for newly terraformed planets. Ships run by families where the love of food was passed down through generations. The intricate relationships of the Pye genealogies would have taken decades to work out, but if your name was Pye, then it usually meant you were related and in the food business. The Alliance had tried to muscle in and insist that the Pye fleet submit part of their proceeds to them. Because Pye Eatings were mobile, they weren’t tied to the usual land locked permits. They always stayed less than a week on any planet, thus avoiding the various planetary taxes and other Alliance paperwork - just long enough to do business with the locals and move on to the next planet.

Then the War came the Pyes scattered, all joining up with the Independents, with their ships too. A fleet of at least twenty give ships gave the Independents an edge in the Black, though it hadn’t lasted long. Bane had fought too, but it had been a different kind of fight – munitions and spying. Munitions had been another sideline of their branch of family; Bane and her mother had run a small cruiser in and out of Alliance territory and the Core. Their cover had been still been in specialist eatings, or any job where they could target Alliance depots. Bane had learned her munitions trade from her Ma. They had mostly worked independently, under aliases, targeting Alliance weapons facilities, but they also worked the occasional job from the Independent Command. Very successfully, until they were caught.

“Bane!” the com jerked her from her reminiscing. She pressed the button on the wall to answer.

“Yep?”

“Need to talk to you about the job. Can you come up here?” Bane folded the last item of clothing, placed them all in her little cupboard and pulled on her boots. She looked over to Stan who was still fast asleep, the only non family member, but trusted as much as one. At the sound of the com he had just turned over and was now just showing a long hairy leg which hung over the edge of his bunk and into hers. He was unlucky, being over six foot meant that all the bunks were too small for him. As his bunk touched hers there was no way she was sleeping with her head the same end as his huge feet. One of the disadvantages of the Rosalyn was that the engines, cannery and cargo space took up most of the ship. The living quarters were very small, apart from the Captain’s quarters, and the rest of them had to share. Being the only female on the ship, it was gorram smelly sometimes bunking with five other men. Fortunately the room was large and the showers were separate.

~

“I need you to play nice with the others, Sis. Can you do that?” said Tony. He was very different from his sister by being almost fastidiously neat. Even now, the t-shirt and long shorts were clean and neatly belted at the waist. His only quirk was that on the ship he was always barefoot. During the five years he had served in the infantry, he had combinations of trench foot, gangrene and lost a few toes due to infection. Now the War was over, he had no inclination to ever wear anything more substantial than flip flops. On arriving in his quarters, Tony could tell his sister was in one of her belligerent moods, she tended to get cabin fever more than the rest of them, but knowing her history, it was understandable.

“Sure I won’t be speechless with awe in the face of such a legend?” Bane said, and then regretted her words when her brother’s nostrils flared in annoyance. He knew Sergeant Reynolds, and their unit had fought briefly alongside his, early in the War. Reynolds had also been at Serenity Valley on Hera where their father and Maloranty’s had died along with Angel’s brother and sisters. She contritely murmured an apology and wondered why she was in a funny mood today – edgy even.

“I need you to rig up a silent trick, maximum boom. Dong ma?” said Tony. He missed the permanently laid back attitude she had, but the war had changed all of them. Nowadays he could barely get her to sit in one place for more than twenty minutes.

“Boom I can do, it’s the silent part that’s hard to achieve. Can you be a bit more specific?” Tony shook his head.

“No, only that it needs to create a hole four foot by three. I bumped into Reynolds on Bellerophon some time back an’ I kinda embroidered your abilities.” She couldn’t recall seeing Tony with someone then, but they had been extra busy with the Eatings on that planet.

“Was our brandy involved?” she said sarcastically. Tony didn’t look her in the eye, but chuckled in confirmation.

“May’ve been. Suffice to say, I hadda wave and we are meetin’ on Haven. I’ve told Lee Shoo to change course. We should be there in about sixteen hours.”

“Not much time for me to get something ready. He give you any detail on what the job is?” There was a little too much vagueness for her liking.

“Nothing ‘cept it’s Alliance goods your takin’ and well below radar.”

“Great, that’s something I need, another price on my head.” Bane’s alias had a list as long as her leg for crimes against the Alliance during the war. Although the warrant was out of date, there was still a lot of money to be made by someone who managed to find out who she really was. Tony had the grace to look a little guilty. Unlike most of those who fought in the war, Bane had not been registered as serving and therefore had not been discharged and pardoned like the rest of them. He propped himself on the edge of his desk and confessed.

“We really need the platinum, we’ve been running on empty for the last month.”

“Gorram it, Tony, why don’t you share these things? Why not just go to Liann Jiun or Ita and do some trading? They’ve had lots of new settlers, an’ it’s been a few months since we were last there.” Tony shook his head, having already thought of that one.

“We haven’t enough to get us to the outer Rim – we had to come back to load up, remember.”

“But we make more by going to the Rim worlds. No need to start us bein’ noticed again by the Alliance. They know that all us Pyes fought against them. I don’t mind doin’ the odd munitions job for family – it keeps me in practise – but I’m sure as hell not comfortable with working with strangers.”

“Sorry Bane, but this job will keep us in more than noodles ‘til next year. Means we can get enough supplies to stay put for a while and have a little holiday.” Bane could see the conversation was at an end so she left his room. It was clear Reynolds hadn’t told Tony the full plan – only what he needed from him. A cautious man then, she mused. Bane went to the smallest cargo hold storing the uncut metal used for making the cans. She tapped into the keypad which looked like it was part of the canning machine, and lifted off the unlocked side panels. It revealed the munitions store – her workshop. She stepped in, blew a kiss at her Ma’s capture propped on the desk, and started work.

~ * ~

“It’s gonna be a mite confusin’ having two Mals in the same vicinity,” said Stan with a conspiratorial grin at Tony.

“Shouldn’t be too hard,” replied Tony with a grin. “I hear Reynolds has short hair, whereas our Mal has a lovely long shiny pigtail like a girl.” Maloranty, in the midst of a mouthful of hot soup, picked up and threw a bread roll at his Captain. Ragen laughed so hard he lost some of his mouthful of rice. Angel, another cousin, fortunately not eating, but tinkering with one of his engine parts, was laughing as well. Maloranty was very proud of his long hair. He might be edging up to forty, but there was not one sliver of grey in it and he intended to show that off as much as possible. The crew galley on the Rosalyn was too small for them all to eat together, but as it was next door to the main bunk room, they had a large table there to eat and play cards on. Bane was playing cards with Tony and Stan and losing badly. Only Lee Shoo was missing, it still being his turn at the wheel. Stan was the main pilot, but in the free of the Black they all took a turn.

“Plenty of women on his boat too, some might say it makes them vulnerable,” said Ragen, who liked the stability of living with his cousins.

“He’s done alright so far by all accounts,” said Tony, scratching his nose. Bane cursed silently and threw in her cards – that was his tell for a good hand and she had nothing. She got up to refill her cup with more cider from the galley.

“Lost their pilot in that ke wu de Alliance and Reaver fire fight near Miranda though,” put in Stan, raising the betting. He knew Tony’s tell as well and was willing to run against it. They occasionally played for money, especially when planet-side, but mostly it was all just chips, chalking up the scores on the bunk room wall. Stan was in the lead by more than a considerable amount of games. They wiped the wall clean when there was a change of crew, but there hadn’t been one since Bane came on board three years ago, so they were nearly running out of room for all his wins.

“That ain’t exactly an incentive for us to work with them,” Bane called in from the galley. She couldn’t resist saying and received a glare from her brother.

“Have you finished the tricks yet?” he asked, a little annoyed. “We’re touchin’ down tomorrow.” Tony looked hard at Stan and back at his cards, then raised his bet again.

“Will have it done by then, boss.” Bane did her best to be respectful of her brother’s position when the others were around. He was their Captain and responsible for all their lives, and it wasn’t proper for her to question him in front of the others - well other than the odd jab or two - but that, she considered, was sister’s privilege. They all relied on each other, not just to keep the eatings going, but to maintain the sense of family and belonging they all had lost in the War.

The War had literally scattered and shot the Pye Fleet to pieces. Now they had just the one, the Rosalyn Pye, named by Tony after their parents, Rosa and Lyndon. The remnants of the great Pye Eatings dynasties now served aboard her, collected together for safety, survival and assurance that they could still live in this post-Civil War ‘Verse, when they had lost almost everything else. Most of the Pyes had joined the Infantry Regiments, although there had been a few pilots among them. Maloranty had been the eldest of six children – now all dead but him. Tony and Bane had lost their elder and younger brothers, as well as their parents. Angel had been near the youngest in a family of eight, now all gone. Lee Shoo was the youngest of four fortunately all still living. Ragen was the odd one out. He had been an only child.

A fair few of the Pyes had settled planetside after the war, mostly on Haven, Whittier and Persephone, and one family on Boros. Lee Shoo’s family was their main source of contact on Persephone as they owned a big warehouse and provisions store, which meant that all their business dealings were kept in a very tight circle. Stan was the only non-Pye, but he had come highly recommended, and been with them for over five years. This was one of the reasons that Bane was uncomfortable about working with Reynolds – they were taking a risk dealing outside of the family. Not that the Pyes always did things clean and fluffy; her trade was testament to that.

Their rendezvous at Haven held bitter sweet memories. Few had survived after the Alliance attack just before the Miranda incident. Ragen’s uncle and aunt had been killed, but their son and his family had been away on Persephone, so they had come back and helped build up the place again. The Rosalyn had also stayed there for a bit to help set the family up with planting crops again, probably one of the reasons why Tony was so out of pocket. Bane hoped to catch up with them while they were here, although they did live some way out of the settlement.

It didn’t sit entirely well knowing that Reynolds and the Serenity had been the reason the Alliance had attacked the place. If it came up in conversation she would surely have a few choice words to say, but no sense kicking the boat until the platinum came in. The ship gave a familiar rock which indicated that they were about to break atmo. Bane went to the metal store to pack up the tricks and her tools, having finished the tricks during the night. When creating a new device, especially a bespoke one, she never bothered to sleep until it was done as she would only end up dreaming wires and timers. But a little meditation never went amiss when coming up against a particular type of problem.

“All done?” said Tony, popping his head inside the workshop. If she had told him a thousand times not to come up quiet like when she was working, but to make plenty of noise. No sense them all going to God or Buddha before their time. She wouldn’t berate him about it this time though, he had enough on his plate.

Shi. All ready to cater for the starving thousands and whatever hun dan we’re going to rob.”

~ * ~

The cargo bay doors were lowered and their food smells started attracting the natives of Haven. Protein food was banned on their boat, as the Pye family had perfected the art of drying and storing meat, and other foods, so that it lasted the maximum time. They even had their own canning facility, which they hired out, and sold other essential and cheap provisions for colonists. They’d all had to live on protein during the War, and it was a Pye oath that none of the food served out of their ship was reconstituted. Tony, who rarely cooked now, went off to wherever the Captains normally hung out, presumably to find out if Serenity had landed yet, or how far away it was, or to hook up with their cousin. They had all long ago stopped trying to determine how they were related to each other, so it was just easier to call everyone a cousin, even though they might be second, third or fourth cousins once or twice removed. The point was they were all family and the Pyes all helped each other if they could.

By nightfall the crew were all exhausted and not a little sweaty. The weather on Haven was hot and dry. The first day on each planet was always the hardest, not least of all because of the fact that it was classed as night on the ship when they broke atmo, but fresh early morning when they landed. Maloranty, during a brief lull at his noodle counter, had been the one who pointed out another ship flying over them a couple of hours earlier. It had been a Transport class Firefly, so more than likely it was the Serenity. The Rosalyn was Merchant class Seagull, and twice the size of a Firefly. Bane was just returning from the store with more dried meat, when she spied her brother walking in to the large bay with a man she presumed was Reynolds and his crew. They scattered, attracted by the different smells and delights on offer. A large muscular man sauntered up to her counter.

“Man, that don’t smell nothing like zao gao protein.” He took a deep sniff and stood up again.

“I should ruttin’ think not. Only the real thing in a Pye Eating,” replied Bane genially. She wiped out one of the pans and waited for him to decide what he wanted.

“Do me the works,” he said, slamming down his credit. Bane shouted over to Mal for stir fried noodles to accompany the dishes. As she shouted his name, the other Mal spun round searching for who had called to him. That must be Captain Reynolds. Bane couldn’t help but giggle when she realised.

“Could get a mite confusing dealing with two Mals,” she said to the man in front of her, repeating Stan’s words of the previous night. “You ain’t one too are you?”

“Na. I’m Jayne. Jayne Cobb, at your service, in whatever way you desire,” he grinned with a leer, but it was playful, rather than insulting.

“Careful, Mr Cobb, it don’t do to mess with the person who messes with your food,” joked Bane, waving the knife in her hand.

“Darlin’ you can mess with me or my food anyway you want.” Bane laughed, but forbore to continue this line of banter as they had only just met.

“Well, I can offer you stir fry beef in fruity sauce, dry-baked herb chicken, lamb mince surprise...”

“I’ll take it all, I’m starvin’.”

Shi, Mr Cobb.” Bane nodded and started to prepare then cook. She approached her cooking craft the same way as making explosive devices – controlled, methodical and with imagination. She imagined Jayne Cobb would appreciate a bit more kick to his food than the average person, so she put a few extra pinches of dried harissa mix into the lamb. He seemed fascinated watching her cook the three meats on the different grills in front of her. The fourth grill was split into smaller flames and used to make the sauces. Angel handed her over the noodles passed along from Mal’s counter, all having queues of people at their counters. Regan, who managed the provisions store was the only one who was having a quiet time. The cargo bay was still packed with people, but for some reason Mr Cobb had scared away all her other customers and they loitered well behind him nervously. She spooned the meats into dishes and placed them on his tray. “There you go. After that, you might want to try our Exmoor Pye, not too sweet, but it does have its own kick.” Jayne’s focus had gone from woman to food and, smacking his lips, he took his tray away and sat down with his fellow crew members.

“Thought he was gonna start lickin’ the stoves,” shouted Angel above the noise. Bane laughed while she watched Cobb take his first mouthful of the lamb. Blowing things up was one thing, but catering to someone’s exact tastes gave her a lot of pleasure. His face took on the ecstatic pleasure of one in heaven and, satisfied she had got it right, she turned to her next customer. It was hot work standing in front of four stoves all day, but it was enjoyable all the same, not least for all the conversations she had. During the War it had been their main means of gaining important snippets of security information in order to plant the explosives without getting caught.

“I’m thinking that Jayne might decide to jump ship the way he’s ravin’ on about that food.” It was Captain Reynolds. He crossed his arms and inspected Bane’s counter.

“He’ll need to cook before my brother would even consider it. Can’t have someone who ain’t useful.”

“He’s useful, but not in the kitchen.”

“What can I serve you, Cap’n?” She could tell that Reynolds didn’t go in for Cobb’s kind of banter. She watched him sniff the various dishes.

“Well, I tried a bit of that lamb you gave Jayne and it just about knocked my head off.”

“The food or Jayne?” enquired Bane innocently. Reynolds gave a short laugh.

“Well I won’t be doing either again, but it’s been a while since I’ve had me a nice bit of lamb.”

“I can tone it down for you, Cap’n.” She already had it in her head how he would best like his lamb, hint of mint, heavy on the dried apricots and plenty of sauce. Her hands worked fast to make the combinations and she did not turn her head, as she shouted again to Maloranty to pass some raisin rice.

“Your brother tells me that you’re the one who has skills other than cooking.” Bane looked up at him guardedly.

“Isn’t that why you arranged to meet us – because of my skills?”

“Could’ve used them a mite sooner, I thinkin’,” said Mal. Bane shrugged noncommittally, but had something she wanted to ask him.

“Tell me something, Cap’n. Most of us what fought in the War can wrangle together explosives for most purposes. Why do you need me?” She picked up a bowl and started to dish up.

“You’re right, but you’ve prob’ly answered your own query there. This job ain’t a big bang, but more subtle-like.”

“I hope it’s not your usual kind of subtle,” she couldn’t resist saying, but the Captain seemed to take it in good grace and smiled. “There you go, Cap’n,” she handed him the dishes, watching him walk over and sit down with his crew. He hadn’t been as she expected. The myth was most certainly considerably larger than the man, and she wasn’t disappointed that the myth had been wrong.

* * * * * * * *

“Gorram it, Tony, I ain’t ruttin’ going.” Bane shouted at her brother and paced around his quarters.

“This job pays like all of us was in on it, but your skills is the only one what’s needed an’ Reynolds has specifically requested jus’ you.” Tony had been surprised when Mal had said – about an hour ago – that he only wanted Bane along, but that the pay-off would still be the same. “So you lot stay here havin’ a nice holiday while I have to sail off to who knows where with Reynolds and do this job alone.”

“You didn’t mind the last time,” he countered, referring to her lucrative escapade about a year ago.

“That was different – they was family.”

“Well, the family’s getting smaller by the year an’ we need to keep this boat in the air. None of us wants to settle planet-side like the others, so this is us,” he spread his hands indicating the space around them. “An’ we have to live.” Besides, he thought privately, it might do her some good, she was getting awful grouchy these days ever since that shu ma nyaow had broken their engagement. Bane already knew she was going, the work was too profitable for them to pass up, even if she was the one doing all the work.

Lao bao jun,” she grumbled good naturedly. “I’m taking decent food with me though. I ain’t eatin’ any ta ma de protein bars.”

“I’m sure Cap’n Reynolds won’t mind that. Jus’ don’t forget the explosives.”

“When does he want to leave?” Bane was already composing lists of things to take in her head.

“Before dawn,” he said quietly, expecting and receiving more of his sister’s outpouring of Chinese curses. What with creating the tricks and working all day at the Eatings, Bane had been awake for more than two days now. “I know, I know,” he said, placating. “But they have a small window for this job an’ are already running late.”

“Well he best be prepared for me to be cantankerous.”

“Must be used to it, having so many women on board.” Tony feigned, ducking his sister’s hand swipe with a grin and then grew serious for a moment. “Just make sure you come back in one piece, xiao mei mei.”

~ * ~

“Welcome, Bane,” said the young bubbly woman, who introduced herself as Kaylee. “It’s so shiny to have someone new on board to talk to.” Bane was carrying in two heavy bags into Serenity’s main cargo area. Everything was a lot smaller than the Rosalyn. She was introduced to Zoe, the second in command. Bane could tell immediately she had served Infantry as well and it was not just the tan coloured pants that gave her away.

“Yeh,” agreed Jayne, coming in from the makeshift gym area. “Maybe I won’t be the only gorram person not gettin’ any fer a change.”

“Jayne!” chorused Zoe and Kaylee together, as Bane laughed. Jayne shrugged his shoulders as if he had done nothing wrong.

“Where do I stow my wrappings, an’ where do I stow the things that go bang?” Zoe held out her hand for the explosives and Kaylee beckoned her to the guest quarters. Jayne, who always got curious about new passengers, specially females ones, followed them with a smirk on his face.

“Have my bunk if you want,” he muttered, half serious.

“Shiny,” replied Bane. “You’ll be sleeping elsewhere then.” Kaylee sniggered. Bane shook hands with the ship’s doctor as they passed the Med Bay. He was introduced as Simon, who could not look more Core-bred if he had tried.

“Simon’s sister, River, is our pilot, so she’s getting’ ready fer us to leave,” explained Kaylee. Bane nodded, everyone this side of the ‘Verse knew about Serenity’s change of pilot and the circumstances of Wash’s death.

“I bought some eatings with me,” she indicated her bulging bag. “But I gotta sleep first – it’s been a long day.”

“Will you marry me?” asked Jayne, causing everyone to laugh, including himself. Bane could tell she would have to watch her step with Jayne and not take the banter too far – she wouldn’t be here for long. The crew of Serenity turned out to be entirely friendly for the most part. Apparently the resident Companion, Inara Serra, was currently doing business on Persephone. Bane was relieved. The Companion would remind her too much about some of the things she did during the War in order to gather information, and the less she was reminded about that and what had happened after the War, the better. She was shown a guest bunk, much to Jayne’s disappointment, which was small but neat and clean.

“My own room? This is luxury,” she could not help exclaiming.

“You mean you have to share on your ship?” Kaylee wondered, a little too enthusiastically for Simon’s liking, who tried to seem like he was not interested by smoothing an imaginary crease on his waistcoat.

“Well, yeh, with my five cousins – but they’re family. Warts, smelly feet an’ all.” Bane didn’t consider it unusual. When they had their family cruiser before the war, she shared the sleeping quarters with all four of her brothers.

“Let’s leave our guest in peace, shall we,” came the Captain’s voice over the com. “Some of you have to help us take off.” The edge to his voice made Kaylee jump and rush away. The others left, all except Jayne who propped his large frame against the door. He wanted to test the waters further. The newcomer was all kinds of interesting, and quick too.

“That’s a mighty pretty knife you’ve got there,” he said pointing to the one she had buckled at her hip. “Got me a nice big one as well.” Bane laughed, it had been a long time since she had this kind of conversation and she was out of practice. Sometimes travelling with your relatives did have a down side.

“Might not want to put my skills to the test, Mr Cobb. I’m used to cutting up meat in very thin slices.” Jayne flinched comically and turned to go. She heard him chuckling and he shouted a ‘call me Jayne’ back at her from down the corridor. Bane dumped her jacket and bag on the floor and lay on the bed. She gave a few deep sighs and promptly fell asleep.

The ship was very quiet when she woke. She took a blissfully hot shower and changed clothes. She hadn’t received the full tour when arriving, but she didn’t think it would be that hard to find the galley in order to drop off the food she’d brought with her. Come to think of it, she was a bit hungry. The clock in her room showed about 0430hrs, so she presumed everyone must be asleep. The galley was easy to find, prettily decorated, and there was a small seating area off to the side. It was much larger than their galley and it was obvious it was the centre of the ship, much like the bunk room on the Rosalyn.

“Jayne’s having yuckie dreams ‘bout you,” the voice made her jump up from behind the counter. When she saw who it was she bent back down and closed the cupboard.

“That’s a comforting thought. You must be River. I’m pleased to meet you.” Bane held out her hand, but River didn’t take it.

“You cook good food,” was River’s reply. Bane noticed that she was barefoot as well. May be she and her brother were on to something.

“Thanks. It’s a family thing.”

“My family is Simon,” she said. Bane felt like she was being studied, but River wasn’t looking at her directly.

“Looks like this whole ship is your family. Would you like some food now? I haven’t eaten myself.” River didn’t answer, but gave a small smile in response. Bane noisily ferreted her way around the galley trying to find the various utensils. She had brought her knives with her – no self respecting cook ever went anywhere without their knives. As she cooked she tried to gauge what kind of food River would like and how to cook it.

“You want to know how I like my food?” River starred at her, puzzled. Bane blinked, she had heard of readers but had never met one. It explained a lot about the famous Reynolds luck.

“Well, yes. It is what I like to try an’ do for everyone.”

“Tell me what I like,” she challenged with a grin. Bane looked at her face and then scanned her body. If River was a reader, then she knew every thought that was going through her head, so she might as well speak them out loud.

“You were at the Eatings but didn’t come to my counter, so there is a possibility you don’t like meat. Yes, I conjure you’re a vegetarian. You like fresh food the most, I’m guessing especially tomatoes and peaches – but not together.” River’s mouth had opened.

“You’re a reader too!” she stated, and gave Bane a brilliant smile. Bane warmed to her, as she reminded her of the gangling young adult she had been once.

“I wouldn’t say that, but I do know how to cook an’ make things go boom.” River had now rested her elbows on the counter in front of her and they continued to chat. Bane cooked a dish which she thought River would like. Unfortunately, she had bought no fresh ingredients, but she had some tins with her. They sat at the table eating and were making conversation in between mouthfuls.

“Why aren’t you married?” she asked, making another spectacularly quick change of subject. A moment ago they had been discussing the merits of rice over pasta. Bane couldn’t prevent the thoughts running through her head and she could see that River knew. They were both silent, River realising that she had crossed the line in reading Bane’s mind, but not having enough social skills to apologise. Bane stood and picked up their empty plates. River spoke quietly, in apology. “They’re not all like that, you know, and you have many other things to do before you follow the traditions of your ancestors.” Bane felt the tears prick her eyes, it wasn’t something she wanted to wade through, especially with someone as young as River.

“I see you’ve met our little albatross,” came the Captain’s voice, an instant before he walked in the room from his quarters. Bane started and quickly wiped her eyes roughly with her hand. She turned around and bent her head to do the dishes.

Shi, Cap’n. You have a most interesting and talented crew.” She cleared her throat and looked around. “Can I make you something too?”

“I didn’t hire you to cook, so don’t feel as you have to - even if Jayne makes you all kinds of offers. I’ll sort myself out.” He finished buttoning up his shirt and ran his hand through his hair. Bane wiped her wet hands on a cloth.

“In that case, are you going to fill me in on what exactly you did hire me to do?” Bane now noticed that River had withdrawn from the room without a sound. Reynolds gestured for her to sit down while he made strong coffee – his breakfast. As it turned out he was making one for her as well, although she was too polite to say that she loathed the stuff.

“We’re heading back to Persephone. The job is in the Takoma district, one of the richest parts of the planet. I’d be lyin’ if’n I said this was going to be easy. Short of it is, there’s a warehouse on one of the estates that needs emptyin’, nice and quiet like. The owners, security and all amounts of hell will still be in residence.” He handed her the cup which she used to warm her hands.

“Shiny. Carry on.” She blew softly into the mug of coffee, trying not to smell it too much because it might make her gag. Reynolds was leaning against the counter, preferring to drink his coffee when it was scalding hot.

“A drainage pipe’s been unsealed, an’ will take us onto the land without detection, but the openin’ of the warehouse–“

“Needs a real nice quiet boom,” Bane finished.

“Exactly,” agreed Mal. “Can you do it?” Bane nodded reassuringly and then tilted her head as a new thought came to her.

“Carryin’ a warehouse full of stuff marks us out for attention though. How we gonna get it out?”

“Had me some transports made up that will fit in the pipes. Once we’re out of the place we can load it up.” Bane put the mug down on the table, his plan sounded mighty simple. Too simple.

“That might take a while. S’alright if we don’t get disturbed,” she said.

“You just work on your bit, leave the planning to me.” Reynolds stood up and headed to the cockpit with his coffee.

“No problem, Cap’n,” Bane was already cooking up a few more gadgets in her head, in case the simple turned into the complicated. As soon as he was gone she got up and poured the coffee down the sink with a grimace.

“And Bane...” She jumped again – man sure did like creeping around his ship.

“You ain’t the only one who can tell what another’s like and dislikes are - next time ask for tea.” Bane grinned ruefully and bowed her head to the Captain in acknowledgement of his perception.

* * * * * * * * *

The Persephone landing that evening was a little rough due to one bitch of a storm. They landed at the docks to establish their presence there, and to pass around the word of how long they were in town. Zoe and Bane were dressed in fine clothes – borrowed from Inara’s trunk – and they caught a transport to the Takoma district. Bane wore a long gown which concealed some tricks and her tools, Zoe had a whole armoury under hers. They had papers for them to be museum workers on their way to a dig site on the far side, and opposite direction to where they needed to be, of Takoma. It was a pleasant trip once the rain had stopped.

It was a public transport so neither of them spoke much. At one point Bane had a business man sitting next to her wanting to talk. When he started to politely make conversation, it took her back to the jobs she did during the War, and she started to engage with him. She gave little details explaining where they were going, and in return managed to extract every minute detail from him down to his shoe size and mother’s maiden name. She realised that she hadn’t lost her touch after so long. They left the transport at the Lo Shi hotel and Bane gave the businessman the brush off without him even considering he had been. The two women stood outside the hotel with their bags.

“That was a neat trick back there,” said Zoe, looking across the road.

“I wasn’t sure whether I still had the skills,” Bane was rather pleased with herself, and couldn’t help but smile. “Used to have to get information from Alliance officers in order to gain access to the depots.” Zoe turned and leaned in to Bane, her face deadly serious.

“You want to practise your skills, that’s fine – Captain may even want to make use of ‘em when he finds out – but you ever jeopardise a job of ours like that again, I’ll shoot you myself. Dong ma?” Bane’s mouth had opened in shock. Zoe didn’t move, and was waiting for an answer.

Shi,” responded Bane quietly and then, uncharacteristically, she apologised. She knew she would never have apologised or admitted she was wrong to her brother. Zoe said nothing else, but she did nod in acceptance. Fortunately, Reynolds and Jayne, who couldn’t really pass for Core-bred and honest travellers, came out via a hired personal transport, sporting matching uniforms, no less. Bane had to try really hard not to laugh at Jayne’s attempt to be gentleman-like (for appearance sake only), helping her and Zoe into the transport. She had to admit that they both looked equally as dashing all dressed up in collars and tight pants.

About half an hour later, they reached the remote area where the tunnel access started. The tense silence on the transport had now eased into a professional calm. Zoe was working on the security to the tunnel entrance, Jayne and the Captain were putting together the transports and Bane was unpacking her tricks. Zoe went up to Mal.

“Figure we got about thirty seconds to get in through this access gate. It’s goin’ to be smelly work. You sure this is the best way in, Cap’n?” Reynolds wrinkled his nose, he had already got a whiff of what usually went through that tunnel.

“I wouldn’t be makin’ this our first choice if it wasn’t,” he answered. Zoe nodded and returned to the access grate to continue what she was doing. Bane stripped off her gown, underneath which she had put on shorts and long-sleeved top. Although it was summer here, there was a cold wind, due to the aftermath of the storm. She buckled on her specially made tool belt which held some tricks, wires and other things that she might need.

“We all getting’ nekkid?” encouraged Jayne enthusiastically, looking from Bane across to Zoe. Zoe hadn’t worn anything special. She was wearing her usual tan pants, knee length boots and leather waistcoat under her gown, along with her short-barrelled Mare’s Leg which was like an extra limb.

“Still gotta look shiny and clean when we finish this,” explained Mal, pulling off his shirt so he was stripped to the waist. Jayne now did the same, although he was sporting a threadbare and sweat stained vest rather than bare flesh. When they were all ready to enter the tunnel, Zoe flipped the switch and a minute buzzing was heard.

“Now,” she whispered, although there was no one around to hear them. Mal went first, followed by Zoe then Bane. Jayne followed up the rear, closing the grate behind him with few seconds to spare. The tunnel was large enough for them to sit on the low-lying transports, but Jayne and Mal had to duck their heads a little. The smell took some getting used to. Jayne threw up and vowed to himself that he wouldn’t eat before a job again – at least not one that involved shit-stained tunnels. They started up the engines of their transports. They were noisy and there was a chance of them being heard, but it was just one of the many risks they were taking. They drove through the mud and effluent for what seemed about an hour, until Mal gave the signal to power down. He switched off his torch.

“We push from here,” he said. “The next grate is the main gate of the estate and we need to be real quiet.” They pushed the transports for a further half mile until they came to the first access grate. They were in pitch dark and attempting to be extremely quiet. After passing the grate Mal switched his torch back on and so did the others. The transports were easy to push as they were free of cargo, but Bane figured it would be a harder trip back. She was sweating and out of breath by the time they stopped again further down the tunnel. She turned around and swung her torch on Jayne when she heard him sniggering.

“What are you laughing at?” she hissed angrily.

“I got me the most almighty prettiest view from here,” whispered Jayne, and Bane realised that he had been staring at her ass the whole time. She wouldn’t have thought twice about it with family, but maybe shorts weren’t the best idea in this company.

Bi zui,” said Reynolds. Zoe crawled over her transport and jumped onto Mal’s, pointing her device at the access hatch. She crouched back down and spoke to them all.

“It’s clear, but we only have time to take two of us up through the hole. Bane an’ me will need to set up the dummy hatch before bein’ able to let you two up.” Bane got up onto Mal’s transport with Zoe.

“We’ll push the transports further up so we’re facing right when we need to drop the goods.” Bane boosted Zoe up through the grate and Reynolds did the same with Bane. As Zoe closed the grate again they heard Mal whisper “Zhu yi.” The earth around the grate was wet and muddy from the recent rain. Bane got one of the tricks out of her belt, made a few quick adjustments and set it down on the ground by the existing grate. They could hear the men below moving the transports. Bane stripped the wires and wound one end through some of the spokes of the dummy grate, and then gently and delicately twisted the wire around the active grate. They gave each other a significant glance as Zoe flicked the switch on her device. The green light came on and the air rushed out of both of their lungs at once. Zoe lifted the now inactive grate upright and called down to Mal and Jayne.

“Shiny, Captain. Ready to go.” Reynolds stuck his head up through the hole and took Zoe’s hand. Jayne followed quickly behind him. Once all above ground their only light was the moon and although the storm had stopped, it was still very cloudy. They could see the main estate to the south all lit up and fancy and the warehouse was only about twenty yards from where they were standing. They were already wet, smelly and dirty from the tunnel, and being above ground just after a heavy storm did not improve the landscape any. They all ran low and quiet to the warehouse and couldn’t see any guards. Reynolds told them to stay put while he and Zoe scouted around the building.

“Cap’n says no guns on this one,” said Bane rummaging in her pack, but seeing Jayne reach to check his holster.

“Spoils most of the fun,” muttered Jayne, slapping his knife holster instead. Bane dug out what she had been looking for and passed it to Jayne.

“Use this if someone comes. You switch it on there…” she showed him “…and you have about three seconds to throw it, if you don’t want to set the timer.”

“I thought we’re s’pos to be quiet. A grenade won’t do no good an’ will attract ourselves a load more company.” He turned the device around to try and get a better view with the moon light.

“It’s a short range EMP grenade an’ makes no noise at all,” she explained. “Throw it and it’ll knock out all weapons and comms in a fifteen foot area for about five minutes. They’ll still be able to fight hand to hand, but not call for help.”

“Cool,” said Jayne, pleased with his new toy. Zoe and Reynolds arrived back and she handed them each one as well with instructions.

“The goods are in the south corner there,” pointed Zoe. If the moon hadn’t been out from behind the clouds she could have been pointing anywhere and they wouldn’t have been able to see. Bane walked there with the Captain, leaving Zoe and Jayne to watch their backs. Bane felt the walls of the warehouse as they walked to the south corner. It was metal plating, just what she had planned for. Once at the spot she turned and looked at the estate. The south corner of the warehouse was in full vision of the estate.

Tzao gao,” whispered Bane.

“What is it?” said Mal, hand automatically going to his gun holster. He looked around as a precaution before turning back to Bane.

“Quiet I can do, but this device lights things up a bit. We’ll be a mite visible to anyone watching from the estate.” Mal echoed her curses. “Depends how big I make the hole o’ course,” she added. Mal settled a bit.

“Well, I ain’t sure about the length, but height and width can’t be more’n the size of that tunnel or grate we just sweated through, or I’m gonna be real annoyed.” Bane noticed that Reynolds often spoke flippantly, but there was always a definite threat underneath that could be carried out. Bane placed the wires around one of the panels of the warehouse about the size of the tunnel. She stuck it with a specially made putty, another of her recipes.

“You guys will need to stand in front of this and try and block some of the light, if you stand far enough in front then you will cover more. ‘You’ll also be a way closer to being seen by anyone looking in this direction.” Bane stood up and turned to him. “I need a boost to fix the top half.” Mal cleared his throat, squatted slightly and held his hands clasped in front of him so Bane could put her foot in them. He pushed up allowing Bane to grab the ledge and hook on a restraint. The metal was still slippery from the storm. She hung by her waist and then swivelled upside down, stilling herself with her feet. Mal was a little taken aback.

“You once part of a circus or somethin’?” he said to the back of her head. Bane chuckled, feeling the rush of blood to her head. There were a lot of things this night that were bringing back memories of past times.

“Had to put tricks in some awful tight places sometimes,” she explained. “Helps to be nimble about it.”

“Yeh, just don’t tell Jayne, or you’ll have yourself a stalker.” Bane tried to laugh but upside down it came out as a snort. She was finished though and twirled herself upright, unhooked and dropping silently to the ground.

“Ready, Cap’n,” she said, tidying up her tools, which were now a little muddy. “You and the others’ll need to be about twenty yards away and stand close together.”

“Shiny,” he replied, and went off around the warehouse to find Jayne and Zoe. Bane let the light-headedness from hanging upside down settle before putting together the detonators. The blast would blow into the warehouse so she could be close, just not looking at it. She cursed when she realised she had forgotten to tell the others about not looking at the light. It would temporarily blind anyone who too close and looking at it. She bolted after Mal and then kept running around the building when she didn’t see him. She was coming around the second corner when she heard someone else’s voice and she skidded to a halt.

“...Ruttin’ radio ain’t working, Clyde, an’ we gotta call this in.” Bane froze. She peered around the north corner to see Jayne, Zoe and Mal with their hands raised opposite two security guards with bright torches. Bane felt in the mud for a stone. She found one, aimed, and threw it at the guard holding the gun. It hit him on the side of the head and all hell broke loose. Mal and Zoe went for the guard nearest them. Jayne and now Bane ran to catch the other one, who had already started to race away. Bane was already running and caught up with him, but had no way of stopping him except to lunge at him, so she did. They both went down with a huge puff of air from their lungs. By the time the guard recovered enough to struggle free from her grip, Jayne had caught up and after a swift blow to the head he was out cold. Jayne dragged the guard back to the edge of the warehouse to sit beside his unconscious friend.

Bane picked herself up off the ground. She had scraped her legs, arms and chin on the rocky ground. Along with all the mud, it must have made a very pretty picture and she was glad of the darkness. The others had made sure the guards were tightly bound and Jayne had stamped on the radios and acquired the weapons. Mal knew it was time to get going, someone would come looking for these two soon. He was glad that Jayne had been playing with Bane’s trick at the time the guards had come upon them – but had thrown it too far away, so it only knocked out the com and not the weapons.

“Let’s get this job done,” said Mal, who then turned to Bane in the dark. “Glad you came along when you did.”

“I came to tell you not to look at the light when the device goes off, otherwise someone’ll have to hold your hand to get you home.” They walked around the warehouse again and she watched the three of them head out towards the estate. She flashed the torch once, to signal them to stop and when they bunched together she could no longer see the building. Bane moved away from the immediate area, shielded her eyes and pressed the detonator. The flash of light was strong, but brief and the noise was minimal, like a distant roll of thunder. The noisy bit came from the metal hole falling inwards into the warehouse. Bane went through the hole and switched on the torch again showing a cavern of a warehouse that wasn’t very full. It was full of farming implements and other miscellanea, until she shined her torch on some crates that stood out like pink fluff on a rabbit.

Ri shao gou shi bing!” she exclaimed. The others had come in behind her.

“Move fast, people, we gotta get this stuff in the tunnel,” ordered the Captain. Whatever was in the crates it was marked up to the eyeballs with Alliance military tags. Anyone not in Alliance uniform seen carrying it around would be bound-by-law in seconds. The crates were heavy, but not impossible to carry between two, and they could fit about three on each transport. The easiest thing was to take them out of the warehouse and dump them by the access grate. Once that was done it was some kind of difficult to get them down the grate and onto the transports, Bane and Zoe passing the boxes down to Mal and Jayne.

It seemed to take hours and still they weren’t disturbed. They had fortunately tied the guards up well out of sight from where they were at the moment, so they would hopefully take a while to figure out how they had got away. Bane untapped the dummy grate and dropped herself down the hole, with Zoe close behind her. It was about an hour shy of dawn and they needed to get moving. Mal was already up front pushing his transport away. Bane found it much heavier going and longed for them to pass the next grate so they could start up the engines. She was surprised that all their heavy breathing wasn’t heard above ground, but they finally got past the second grate far enough to start the engines.

The sky had turned much lighter by the time they reached the end. They unloaded and reloaded mechanically and without talking. Time was running out fast. They were now able to see what state they were all in. When they were done loading and Jayne was dismantling the transports, Zoe turned to Bane and started laughing.

“What is it?” Bane asked, she looked at her hands and they were covered in mud, as well as her legs. Mal had stopped as well.

“Reckon we outta drop you off at Jaynestown?” said Zoe. Jayne looked up then and started laughing too.

“Yep,” said Jayne. “Full of mudders. You’d fit right in.” Bane had no reflective surface to look at herself and confirm their jibes. The others were dirty too, apart from Zoe, who only seemed to have muddy boots.

“We’ll need to clean up if we’re passing through the Core areas.” Bane uncorked a water canteen and poured it over her face and rubbed her hands. She felt some stinging and figured that she had cut herself too, but it seemed fairly superficial. There was no point cleaning the rest of herself as it would be hidden by the gown. She passed the bottle to Jayne. They washed and changed and got back into the transport.

“Din’t your mother ever teach you to wash behind your ears, Jayne?” said Zoe, pinching at Jayne’s grubby ear.

“Na, she was too busy telling me off for fightin’.” He rubbed the mud off and started up the transport. The Captain was extremely tense and quiet, too afraid that something was going to go wrong as it had so many times. The fact that it hadn’t was worse. They drove through past the hotel and through the district and towards the docks. Mal commed the ship to get them to open the cargo bay so they could drive straight in. Bane was very relieved, things having gone very smoothly with no hiccups, having no idea that Captain Reynold’s plans had a habit of ending kind of messed up. The silence broke as the cargo bay door closed behind them.

“Reckon we’ve got ourselves a good luck charm, Cap’n,” said Jayne moving round to unload the crates.

“Why should a well-executed plan go awry?” said Bane, stepping down from the transport, shedding her gown. She looked to see Zoe trying her best to smother a smile. Reynolds gave her a glare and cleared his throat self consciously.

“I’ll admit things don’t always run this smooth. But we’re not out of the woods yet. Let’s get this stuff unloaded. Kaylee,” who had closed the bay door behind them. “Return the transport once we’ve unloaded.”

“Whatcha been doin’? You guys fair stink,” Kaylee wrinkled her nose for full effect.

“Just earnin’ our crust, girl. You best give this thing a clean, we don’t want to let on where we’ve been and how far.” Kaylee knew the Captain did not just mean cleaning the outside, but also the distance counter.

“We went to the Lo Shi hotel and then make it up from there,” said Zoe.

COMMENTS

Wednesday, March 14, 2007 4:29 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Hmmm...mighty interesting tale you've crafted here, hermitsrest. Definitely can't wait to see the second half;D

Gotta say though...until the BDHs entered the tale, the formating seemed off and I don't know why. Just something about how you set up introducing the Pyes and their living arrangements just seemed to make things more difficult:(

BEB


POST YOUR COMMENTS

You must log in to post comments.

YOUR OPTIONS

OTHER FANFICS BY AUTHOR

Yo-Saf-Bridge-Mac
Serenity hands off one of their contacts to Monty and encounter some trouble along the way from an old adversary – guess who!. No.4 of Series 2 but pretty much a standalone, featuring post BDM characters and a few of my own creation. Having feedback is like charging my battery, please comment.

Sleeper
Children will be curious, but they have secrets of their own. No.3 of Series 2, featuring post BDM characters and a few of my own creation. Feedback would be much appreciated.

Killing Time
The Operative gets an assignment that she’s not particularly fond of because it brings her into contact with her past. A ficlet to follow Killing Spree. Feedback would be much appreciated.

Pandora's Box - Part Three
Zoe has been doing some interfering and for one of the crew it could mean an end to their relationship. No.2 of Series 2, featuring post BDM characters and a few of my own creation. Please, please comment as much as possible - I need to know if I've done good, done bad or done just plain ugly. Part 2 of 3.

Pandora's Box - Part Two
River’s got her job back but the flying is short lived – instead she has to contend with Jayne’s brother. No.2 of Series 2, featuring post BDM characters and a few of my own creation. Please, please comment as much as possible - I need to know if I've done good, done bad or done just plain ugly. Part 2 of 3.

Pandora's Box - Part One
It’s business as usual for Malcolm Reynolds & Serenity but one of the crew sets off alone to deliver a message. No.2 of Series 2, featuring post BDM characters and a few of my own creation. Please, please comment as much as possible - I need to know if I've done good, done bad or done just plain ugly. Part 1 of 3.

Killing Spree
The Operative, formerly known as Abigail Penney, gets another assignment. A ficlet to follow First Kill. Read and be chilled. Feedback would be much appreciated.

Homecoming - Part Two
It is three years and four months since River Tam left the crew of Serenity and she has decided to return home. 1st fanfic of the second series, featuring post BDM characters and a few of my own creation. Having feedback is like charging my battery, please comment. Part 2 of 2.

Homecoming -Part One
It’s three years and four months since River Tam left her brother and the crew of Serenity. 1st fanfic of the second series, featuring post BDM characters and a few of my own creation. Having feedback is like charging my battery, please comment. Part 1 of 2.

First Kill
A ficlet to keep you going between the end of Series 1 and the beginning of Series 2. An Operative’s first hit. Read and be chilled. Feedback would be much appreciated.