BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - MYSTERY

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The Guns of Yamenmiao (Pt. 2)
Monday, April 28, 2008

The Old That Is Strong - Book 1, part 2. Back on Serenity, Kaylee runs into an old friend. Meanwhile, Mal learns some disturbing details about the job his former C.O. has for him.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2948    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Beta-thanks to PhyreLight, once again. See prologue for disclaimer and other blurbs (and hover your cursor over the Chinese phrases to view the translation).

Four out of five doctors agree that feedback is a quintessential supplement to the heart and soul....

Prologue Part 1

前进

For as much as she loved her travels and her work, there were times when nothing appealed to Kaylee more than some sunshine and fresh air - particularly if they heralded a fresh bushel of strawberries. Alas that there seemed to be no fruit farms within spitting distance of Serenity's landing point: but contentment greeted her anyway in the ceaseless shower of sunlight. It felt to her like the first day of a new life as she tossed her goggles aside on her way down the ramp from the airlock, refreshingly cleaned and clothed in her patched green coveralls. She sucked in a deep breath, pacing slowly about, stretching her legs out from their erstwhile cramped quarters in the port fuel tank and filling her lungs with the fresh, fume-free air: she'd have to see if she could rope Simon into a short walk around the block. The morning light on her face felt nearly as warm and satisfying as their awakening in Canton.

"What, no rainbowey parasol?"

Kaylee almost jumped - not so much from the abruptness of the voice as its familiarity. The sight of the tall man approaching Serenity, in all his black-eyed, foghorn-voiced friendliness, came totally unexpected: yet in the same moment, Kaylee almost forgot about both Simon and her own motive for wanting to stay with the ship. This encounter had entered her mind the instant she discovered that Serenity was landing on Roma. Nevertheless, she felt her jaw slacken and lungs inflate with surprised glee at the sight of the lopsided grin in the weather-darkened face, the grease-stained clothes and fingers she hadn't seen since before her arrival on Serenity.

"Hey, you!" she squealed, descending like a girl in a dream to the bottom of the ramp. "Hao jiu bu jian! I sure the hell didn't think to run into you down here!"

"Knowin' full well this's where I'm from," the man grinned as he shared an enthusiastic hug with Kaylee, ignoring the lingering smell of fuel. "Or didja forget that little ride on the Guonian light-rail?"

Kaylee's preferred response was devoid of tact, so she stepped back from the embrace and nonchalantly inserted hands to pockets. Tall and rough-and-tumble though he was, some other men had taken a place in her life, and now in Robert Berakis she saw some kind of undeniable likeness to them – Mal and Simon especially. Truth to tell, she thus felt it just as well that his visit to her homeworld had not lasted any longer than it did. And yet, now that their paths had crossed again....

"Yeah, you always were the elephant," she burbled. "Doubt I'll ever forget that myself." Her eyes shifted and her smile turned apologetic. "I mean....I been thinkin' these last couple o' years you just as soon would, but..."

"Well, I won't deny tryin'," Robert shrugged. "But then, you're a hard gal to forget. Didn't figure on rememberin' you quite this soon, though. What touched you down in this neck o' the woods?"

Pride now erased all trace of apology from Kaylee's still-smudged face. "My baby," she beamed, swinging a thumb over her shoulder at Serenity.

"Hm," Robert said, appraising the ship as if looking to make a bid on it. "Firefly, eh?"

"Yeah, she's fiery, but she ain't flyin' far," Kaylee said dolefully. "She was suckin' fumes when we landed. Everyone's just hopin' to scare up enough coin to fill the tanks. I'm just bangin' round a bit, y'know, try'n keep our pi qi huai de captain smilin'."

"Smacks to me of a noble cause," Robert considered. "You been with this boat long?"

"'Bout two years," Kaylee said. "First of many, I'll clue ya. She speaks to me, y'know? My captain says you won't never get nowhere with this boat you don't love her all unconditional, like."

"Yeah, I know how that goes. You and I both know how it is with machines we love. Don't matter how many nuts and bolts and wires they carry, it's just...it's the damnedest thing, it's like there's a person inside of 'em."

"Amen to that. Person inside Serenity here, though, she's awful hungry. Won't never get off the ground again unless we feed her. But, you know what they say about how it happens when you least expect..." Immediately she ground to a halt. This, she knew, was not a conversation he was keen to have within minutes of reuniting. Instead she broke a smile that made the late-morning sun look like a dirty chunk of coal. "How about you, you still into the heavy haulin'?"

"Still?" Robert chortled. "I'm gonna die haulin' heavy, you know that. Fact of the matter is, I just dragged an ore train back here from Augusta. Ain't got much else I'm lookin' to do for the next couple days..." The shift of his feet negated his attempt to sound casual.

"Just a shipload of catchin' up," Kaylee grinned. "Gimme a couple of minutes, willya? I got somethin' special to whip up while you get ready to dish!"

She had the grin of a three-year-old playing a piano for the first time, magnetising his gaze as she backed up the ramp into Serenity. A grin like hers could have disarmed Jayne no matter how laden he was with his hardware. Struck cold without a reply, Robert hesitated: his recollection of Kaylee was eternal, if not entirely pleasant. But for all that there was to remember, it would do him well to forget, if only for the next couple of hours. A grin of his own gave away his choice as he followed Kaylee up into the cargo bay.

前进

Mal had never been to Corsetto's base of operations before, but nonetheless he knew of its transient nature – Corsetto never seemed to use the same venue twice. To Mal especially, it was a strange strategy at first glance: his former commander ran a very quiet, yet profitable transportation and construction business, but how did his nomadic methods allow him to build a client base? Whatever the technicalities, Mal fully understood the motivation – akin to his own for sailing Serenity: stay out of the Alliance's reach, by whatever means possible. He could, at least, reckon that a different location for every meeting gave Corsetto leave to conduct it on his own terms, and prevent any unpleasant surprises.

Mal made a mental note that he'd have to try a similar tack with future clientele as Corsetto led the way into a large book shop on the other side of the street, about a block away from the plaza. Corsetto was evidently no stranger to the coffee shop that occupied one corner of the store, for he drew some recognition from employees and patrons alike: this must be, Mal discerned, one of his few meetings with a contractor he trusted enough to confer with at a past locale. Book, however, seemed strangely preoccupied with the rest of the store as the café corner came underfoot.

"Captain," he said calmly, noting with amusement that both Mal and Corsetto turned to face him. "If it's all the same to you, there's some recreational reading I'd rather like to get done."

"Suit yourself," Mal said. "Don't buy me anything too special."

Smiling thinly, Book nodded to Corsetto, whose eyebrows reached for his fading hairline as he watched the shepherd amble off toward the history section. "Still love to know what the story is with that guy," he commented when Book was out of earshot.

"You and me both," Mal said. Chortling, Corsetto made a prompt beeline for a four-seat table in the back of the shop, itself half buried behind bookcases and décor – more than likely to ease his worries about spying eyes.

"Zoe still got your back?" he asked as he led the way to the corner.

"Always with the iron grip, she does," Mal affirmed. "Broken-down ship and all."

Corsetto let out a loud but satisfied sigh as he plopped himself down in the corner chair. "So you're still blattin' around in that old Firefly, are ya?" he surmised, half-grinning.

"Wish I was," Mal said. "'Cept she's in kind of a bad way right now. We had a run-in with some other unsavoury types a couple weeks back, got ourselves disabled and a mite hungrier than I'd like."

"And you figured I was your man, huh?"

"Just happened to be passin' by when the time came to hit the dirt," Mal said casually. "But now that you mention it, if you've at least got a notion where paying work's like to turn up...."

"Start countin' your blessings I found you when I did." Again Corsetto had crossed the very thin line between jocularity and serious business. "I got better than a notion. Might be I've got some of that paying work if you feel up to it."

"I got no feelings when it comes to a job. If it gets me back out of the world, count me in."

"Ain't gonna venture a guess whether the rest of us got a say in it," Jayne rumbled.

"Best you don't. Wouldn't want you crispin' your brain stem." Mal folded his arms on top of the table, giving Corsetto his full attention. "Don't know about Jayne here, but I'm listenin'."

"Well, like I said, good thing I found you before that dai de wai xing ren fen tu back there in the casino. The guy's as mobbed up as Parliament's power-happy. His name's Josiah Carabella, makes out like he's the humanitarian of the millennium. Even some of the folk who live outside this city don't know it, but he takes upwards of ten times as much as he gives."

"I'm gonna take a leap here and guess he's the reason you make like lightning," Mal said.

"Let me make you feel special, Mal, this is the first time I've hit the same spot twice. He's been tryin' to get at me ever since he made landfall here. Dirty bastard doesn't give a good gorram what gets between him and a boatload of cash. Right now that'd be the side of a mountain."

"What is he, diggin' for gold?" Jayne asked.

"Near enough. What he is diggin' for, some might think it's worth even more."

"Oh, now I'm listenin'." Grinning, Jayne hunkered forward across the table and stared hard but eagerly at the older man.

Corsetto briefly appraised him with a dubious eye before proceeding with the yarn. "Well, no doubt you guys have seen the way folk live hereabouts. First I landed here, I was quick to find out just how old-school they kick it. There's a reason this spaceport's the only one in the world."

"Did have our own wonderings about that," Mal said matter-of-factly. "But it makes a kind of sense now that I seen it up close – less likely to catch a Fed eye."

"There's more to it even than that. People live and work around here like nobody's lived for more'n half a millennium. Every planet we ever seen is only as Earthlike as its folk can make it, but these folk make a whole new depth of it. They take pages from Earth history here that you'd never guess they could still read."

"Hmm." Mal smiled thinly, showing a spark of interest that could very well light up the entire casino hotel. "Later on you'll have to tell me just how that keeps the Alliance's toes out of the dirt."

"I been here since the end of the war and I still can't make heads or tails of it," Corsetto said with a wry smile. "But even folk who do come to find that answer, they won't make it far without enough money and material to start something. Thirty-odd years ago, some of 'em already wanted to start something."

"Wouldn't be something we got ourselves involved in, would it?"

"Well, this wasn't the only starting point, that's for dead sure. And neither was Shadow for that matter. So some smart-ass took a page from one of the World Wars on Earth that was, and he cast a lineup of nine of the biggest warhead launchers the human race ever laid eyes on."

Mal was momentarily speechless. He had spent the war so engrossed in fighting the Alliance that he had never heard tell of such awesome mega-weapons, let alone the effects of their fire. At that, he found himself wondering how the war had even been lost with launchers of that caliber on their side.

"Never heard a breath about those," he remarked when his shock had subsided.

"Probably 'cause they never made it to the front," Corsetto said morosely.

"What happened?"

"Well, first of all let me tell you what they were for. The First World War got fought in the early twentieth century. Ground combat was a bitch on both sides, but sea power got a chance to take its pulse and not just at sea. Both sides built cannons designed for battleships, mounted 'em up on railroad flatcars and sent 'em on their merry to blast the hell out of the other guy. They got pretty damned good at flittin' around behind the lines and keepin' the other guy guessing at where all that scrap metal was coming from."

"And this smart-ass conjured the same thing might come in useful against the Alliance," Mal said. "Lemme guess, air support changed things."

"It did once," Corsetto nodded, "but that was six hundred years ago. Them as designed these guns hoped the Feds would've forgotten all about 'em by now and wouldn't know what out of hell was hitting them. The thing with a railroad gun is that it can stop, let one, then by the time you trace its fire it's already on the move. Make a hell of a headache for your enemy tryin' to figure out just how many of 'em are out there."

"Gotta get to the front line first, though, don't it?" Jayne pointed out.

"Yeah, that helps," Corsetto said, hiding his sarcasm. "That's where they ran into trouble with these. The guns were loaded onto a hotshot freight train headed for a transload yard in Pecola, where each one would get mounted on a heavy-duty flatcar, shuffled into its own train and then shipped out to some key planets. But that's the last time they were ever seen up close. The train never got to Pecola and everybody's split on whether it even left Janus City."

"Bet you're gonna tell me what all this has to do with Don Whatsisface," Mal said, deadpan.

"Carabella's hired a handful of miners and parked 'em up on Yamenmiao Pass. It's the route that rail line takes across the Napoli Mountains. Wasn't no one could figure out what the hell they were diggin' for until Carabella claimed that the train was carrying some of his old man's property. Doubts run pretty high on that one, but come hell or high water, he's gonna keep them guys hackin' the ground till they hit steel."

"Well, if the train never left the yard, what's he think he's gonna find?" Jayne frowned.

"Just about anyone you could ask is either dead or mobbed up," Corsetto said, tossing up his hands briefly. "Some o' those railroad guys still swear on their pipe wrenches that the train loaded up, left Janus City and disappeared without so much as a smoke signal. Their bosses did right well to make sure the rest of the 'verse thought elseways."

"So what makes Carabella think there's anything to find?" Mal sought.

"Well, that's the big mystery." Corsetto leaned across the table and stared Mal seriously in the eye. "One I want you to solve, Mal. Anyone else'll tell you there never was a train, but Carabella wouldn't be blowin' that much money on the dig if he didn't have a damn good reason."

Silence hung heavy and clouded over the corner as Mal's eyebrows straightened: his expression was as surprised as it was suddenly hopeful. Granted, he could go without dealing with his second ruthless criminal in as many weeks, but now it was immaterial. A job was presented to him, one that could get Serenity not only off the ground, but all the way to the edge of the galaxy and back if the mood struck him. Notwithstanding, there was one last cloud that had to be cleared from his sky first.

"All right, Ray, I'll bite," he said quietly. "Why me?"

"You're it, Mal," Corsetto said simply. "In more ways than one. I done called on just about all my regulars, and even if they got the time and the skill, they ain't got a mind to run afoul of Carabella."

"And you think I got that mind because...?"

"Even after Serenity Valley, you gotta ask me that? There's a reason you're alive today, and it's the same reason you've stayed out of the Feds' reach this long. You know what the hell you're doin', whatever that is."

"Ain't just the Feds' reach I'm worried on," Mal said, suddenly on guard. "Don't much care to spoil your appetite tellin' you what I went through a couple weeks ago, but that's an act I ain't keen to repeat."

"Look," Corsetto's voice was low but intense. "Time's short. Who the hell knows when or where Carabella's gonna find what he's lookin' for. And when he does, who do you think gets a hold of those guns? You're worried on foulin' him and his kind, there's gonna be a lot more people worried on it if he gets the guns before we do. I gotta have you on this, Mal. You need the work and we need to get those guns someplace safe, so whatever you think's a fair price, you name it. Time's even shorter for that lady-friend of yours than it is for us."

Mal caught his breath, almost involuntarily.

He tried not to let his alarm show: it was an offer he could barely refuse to begin with, but once reminded of the risk to Inara he would rather be back in Niska's torture chamber than refuse this job he so sorely needed. He let his breath out, slowly, silently, exchanging with Corsetto a gaze so intense that it impelled Jayne back slightly from his edge of the table.

"You guys aren't, like, about to spontaneously combust or nothin'," he said, dead serious except for the slight half-grin dinting his cheek.

"Not unless it lights our way," Mal said tonelessly. "Which we can't, 'less you got a starting point in mind." This to Corsetto, whose stare cooled somewhat as he silently acknowledged Mal's acceptance.

"There's a granite quarry about four and a half miles below the top of the pass," he said. "Carabella seems to think that's the only place he'll find anything. If I were you, I'd go up there tonight and spy on his boys, then see if you can figure out where to go from there."

"All right," Mal said slowly. "I'll talk it over with my crew. But even if we could get out of this world right now, we ain't gonna do it without finding that train and finding it first."

"Might be I can distract that er zi biao zi from you buzzin' around," Corsetto said. "No promises, though. If he gets wise to it, no tellin' what kinda backup I can give you."

"Well, I ain't the only one who's still walkin' and talkin' for a reason. Still gotta work on the how, but I got the what and where. Be enough to get it done."

"All right." Corsetto took a deep breath, casting his eyes to the tabletop. "Well, all I got left is good luck, then. Let's just hope the two of us have enough left to get what we're after before Carabella does."

His hand undulated across the table. Mal gripped it firmly, and they shook, despite the sudden wash of apprehension that he tried not to show to Corsetto or Jayne. Almost no doubt lingered with him that he was dangerously close to a retread of his last train job, in which case he'd better do his damnedest to see this one through: but even if he didn't, he had already seen his entire crew band together to rescue him from the repercussions. If they could beat the Skyplex odds, Mal didn't know where to find odds that they couldn't beat, nor did he want to look. He had what he was after.

No matter the end result, the ball was squarely in Mal's court to hold up his end of the bargain, whatever resources it took to recover the train. The Skyplex rescue aside, Mal couldn't possibly allow himself to think that his crew was untouchable - the instant he started doing so, all nine of them would set out on a job and only seven would come back. Experience during and after the war had shown him that he must expect anything, for good or ill, and that he must live by that sentiment on this whirlwind adventure that was hurling him into unknown skies.

Continue to Part 3....

COMMENTS

Monday, April 28, 2008 2:54 PM

ANGELLEMARCS


Robert is an interesting character as so is this Corsetto. I'm looking forward to part three

Saturday, May 3, 2008 9:50 AM

YINYANG


Like Angellemarcs said. I'm very curious about Robert in particular.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008 2:28 AM

AMDOBELL


I don't like Robert, there is something about him that disturbs me and the mention that the way him and Kaylee parted last time wasn't as shiny as it could have been does not necessarily bode well. Plus there were three folks hanging around and he is just one, does that mean the other two are with him and hanging around in the background until he can distract Kaylee enough to creep on board? I'm betting Kaylee just lets Robert amble on board and doesn't even lock the ship up behind them. Feel better about Ray though not the job he is putting in Mal's lap. Would have expected Mal to insist on some money, fuel or somesuch up front so that he could get his boat in order while they make their first start on trying to see what is going on up the mountain. Ali D
You can't take the sky from me


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The Old That Is Strong - Book 1, Epilogue. Kaylee and Serenity are once again flying. Mal and Inara are once again at odds.

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The Old That Is Strong - Book 1, Part 16. The crew reaches the end of the line, only to find out that the confrontations - and the mystery of the ghost train - are by no means finished.

The Guns of Yamenmiao (Pt. 15)
The Old That Is Strong - Book 1, Part 15. The stakes are no less than Inara's life when Mal commences the last fiery showdown.

The Guns of Yamenmiao (Pt. 14)
The Old That Is Strong - Book 1, Part 14. Mal has a trainload of destruction behind him and a passel of violent criminals ahead, holding Inara hostage. With no backup, how can he emerge victorious without destroying himself and his crew?

The Guns of Yamenmiao (Pt. 13)
The Old That Is Strong - Book 1, Part 13. Mal's cover is altogether blown, and he must figure out how to keep the mission from going south - but he has only one dangerous way to get the word out.

The Guns of Yamenmiao (Pt. 12)
The Old That Is Strong - Book 1, Part 12. Tensions mount on the Yamenmiao expedition, coming to a head when Mal enters exactly the dire strait he feared the worst.

The Guns of Yamenmiao (Pt. 11)
The Old That Is Strong - Book 1, Part 11. The crew finds that their venture to recover the train is not without its unspoken fear of grievous injuries or death - but River finds herself concerned by something altogether different.

The Guns of Yamenmiao (Pt. 10)
The Old That Is Strong - Book 1, Part 10. The train has been found, the plan has been made, and Mal and the crew are all set to head out and put it into action - before an unexpected hitch forces them to act far faster than hoped.