BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - MYSTERY

STEAMER

The Guns of Yamenmiao (Pt. 3)
Monday, May 5, 2008

The Old That Is Strong - Book 1, Part 3. Mal has a mission, but he also has competition - and a strange clue when he encounters the competition.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2704    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

As ever, beta-thanks to PhyreLight; blurbs and disclaimer in the prologue. Chinese phrases in this post should be familiar (both of them).

Feedback is my cricklecrack!!!

Prologue Part 1 Part 2

前进

Wash had observed, and he had cogitated, and he had even dabbled in a little bit of considering. In his near monastic meditation he had concluded - though it remained to be seen whether the conclusion was safe - that his impromptu date with Zoe was not facing the imminent threat of ruin in their current surroundings. The tavern they had happened upon was by no means the type Mal might patronise looking for a "quiet drink" on Unification Day, relieving Wash of the inclination to stay on his toes. Zoe had excused herself a few moments ago: for what, Wash hadn't the foggiest, but at length he realised that he was still bracing himself for unwanted attention from one source or another.

In awaiting the return of his beloved he embarked on studying his surroundings, and Zoe's notion about the old-fashioned way of life here rang truer yet. The walls of the tavern were not so decorated with holographic captures of prairie life as with old representations of the small frontier towns of Earth that was. In one nearby picture a street corner was shown, and beneath it nestled the frame label: VIRGINIA CITY, NEVADA, CA. 1880. On the opposite wall, a painstakingly hand-drawn broad view of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in its infancy hung just below the ceiling, and beneath it was nailed a wood carving of a wagon train crossing the plains. Yet Wash's attention kept drifting back to a large colour photograph hanging directly above the bottle rack behind the bar. Most of the colour had faded, but the still-legible caption described Dabaliang, China, 1989. Immortalised here were two immense steam locomotives commencing an all-out attack on a mountain pass, with a long string of fat tank cars in their wake.

It was an oddity, Wash thought, if not a full-blown mystery: these people lived in almost the same archaism as any other fringe world, yet somehow they had prospered while minimising Alliance interference. They were proud of it to a fault, and justifiably so. From the tavern's decorations he could glean that they had taken a page or three from the historical accounts of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but he could almost give up a weekend on the beach with Zoe to find out how that enabled them to shrug the Alliance off without a gulp.

He emptied his glass, plopped it down on the bar, and dug his radio out of the pocket of his blue-and-white aloha shirt. Brow furrowing, he held it in front of his face for some seconds as if willing it to light off. He felt like he'd been waiting since the exodus for Mal to call in, but there had been no contact now for almost three hours. Sighing for want of any cognition, Wash returned radio to pocket, catching Zoe's approach in his peripheral vision.

"Still no word from the captain?" Zoe asked, leaning on the table beside him.

"So far, so blank," Wash answered. "Don't think it's wise, though, separating any further. You know I've had to fend off the attentions of at least three or four bar floozies looking to buy me another round while you were out?"

"Well, then," Zoe said, staring daggers into Wash's eyes. "Best we move on soon. Can't have you flying while intoxicated, now can we?"

"Well, dearheart, there's much better in this 'verse to get drunk on," Wash assured her with a dapper smile.

The thought of a return smile had just entered Zoe's mind when it was subsequently forced out by a sound that had become inordinately familiar aboard Serenity of late. These days, the sound - that of Simon's voice calling River's name - could be heard with enough frequency to shatter every wine glass in the tavern. Looking past Wash, Zoe observed Simon hastening from the front door behind River, whose pace was as impetuous as it was rapid.

"C'mon," she said quickly, grabbing Wash and Zoe's hands. "We've got to get out of here quick. The ringing, it's getting faster. Faster and closer." Her eyes darted upward, rushing from nowhere to nowhere along the ceiling.

"Ringing, what ringing?" Wash was baffled out of his mind, which never even questioned how River had found them. Of Zoe he inquired, "You haven't heard any church gongs for the last little while, have you?"

"It's too fast!" River insisted. "The faster the ringing gets, the closer they come and the sooner they'll find you. As soon as they find you they'll shake you to pieces. No losing them once they make contact, not till they've torn you apart completely."

"Okay, okay," Wash said, holding up his free hand in what was probably a futile attempt to placate her. "Before we all start hearing the tintinnabulation that so musically wells, why don't we try and come to some agreement on what exactly you're talking about."

"I don't like the sound of it, whatever it is," Zoe said grimly. "And I ain't picked up on Ray yet. Let's see if we can't track down the captain."

As they exited the tavern, with River in hurried lead, Simon glanced obliquely at Wash. "I'm sorry about the interruption," he ventured, trying to sideline his worries about River. "I hope you weren't…."

"Don't worry about it," Wash dismissed. "I can think of plenty worse ways to piss Zoe off, and they don't involve inaudible jingle-bells."

前进

Ringing unheard, Mal's contacts were already conveying him and his cronies, sans Corsetto, back along the main street toward Serenity. He instantly recognised the expression on Jayne's face - a look of complete cluelessness, resulting from a futile attempt to be thoughtful. Enlightenment and word-spreading aside, Mal was also growing to recognise what was on Book's mind just by reading him. Even at that, what Mal found most disquieting was what lay between the lines: the shepherd had been quiet and contemplative ever since rejoining Mal and Jayne in the bookstore.

"All right, Mal," Jayne grunted. "Now that it's a done deal, you got enough picks and shovels handy? 'Cause I got a thinkin' that it's gonna take all of us an' then some to dig up this train if it's even there."

"Don't much matter to me what it takes," Mal said firmly. "We got a job, we're gonna see it through, and we're gonna get our collective pi gu back in the air. Ray had a point, slime like Carabella don't blow their high dough like this for nothin'. So until we fall over proof elseways, I'm gonna treat myself to thinking the train's there to be found."

"I think digging for the truth is going to become a secondary concern, and soon," Book advised.

"I hate it when you get all ominous-like on us," Jayne grumbled.

"Not overfond of it my own self," Mal said. "You care to enlighten us on this one, Preacher?"

"Might have use for that recreational reading," Book explained. "I came across one volume on Roma's greatest outlaws, and it's small wonder that it was a star display in the history section. One of the last chapters was about a local mob kingpin named Marion Carabella, apparently quite the extortionist in these parts."

"Now how's a guy get any respect as a criminal with a name like Marion?" Jayne wondered rhetorically.

"Same way a guy gets any respect as a mercenary with a name like Jayne," Mal said, receiving an incendiary glare in exchange for his deadpan delivery. "Reputation's the heart of the matter, my friend. This guy have any family ties we should know about?"

"Well, the book doesn't bear any mention of his children, but curiously enough, he died around the same time the train supposedly vanished," Book answered. "And the circumstances of his death weren't outlined. It was widely held but never proved that a federal officer killed him shortly before a heist and then orchestrated a cover-up."

"All them big-ass words still don't relieve us from fixin' how to dig this train out of thin air," Jayne growled.

"Gotta find it first, then we can worry about the exhumation." Mal caught himself too late, aiming a sideways stare Book's way. "That ain't too much of a problem notion for you, is it, Preacher?"

"Strikes me unlikely that the crew of the train received a proper burial," Book said matter-of-factly. "It wouldn't hurt to at least say a few words for them."

"Well, I'll leave that part to you," Mal said. "And while you're at it, why don'tcha ask for something more to hand than picks and shovels. I could stand to get this done right quick with less of the unwanted help from Carabella's camp."

"I been formulatin' a thought here might make you say hmm," Jayne spoke up. "How's about we let him do all the hard work and then swipe it out from under 'im?"

"Hmm," Mal said with a voice drenched in mockery. "Yeah, I'm thinkin' not so much. Carabella's a mobster, and I ain't revisitin' the consequences of stealing from the gorram mob, dong ma?"

"Captain!"

Mal broke off, shooting a glance toward the other side of the street, somewhat gratified that whoever it was had called him by his title instead of his name. As it turned out, the call, appropriately enough, was from Zoe: she and Wash – having deposited Simon and River safely back on the ship - were making haste across the street to join them.

"Zoe!" Mal answered, the beginnings of a smile playing on his face. "I got some good news and I got some on-the-fence news. What do you want to – "

He noticed the shocked widening of Zoe's eyes a split second before her piercing holler bit at his ears.

"Cap'n, heads up!" she yelled, going into a fighting crouch.

Mal didn't need to be convinced by the sight of her hand going for her mare's-leg holster. He whirled around, his own hand going for his pistol just in time to see the three evil-looking and ugly-smelling thugs accosting him and his companions from behind. One was armed with a very large stainless-steel club, one with a shotgun: the short one in the middle, his face half hidden by stubble and grime, was whipping a pair of silver-plated six-shooters out of opposite holsters on his belt.

"Ta ma de!" Mal snarled. The one closest to him, brandishing the club, was backswinging it already. Mal was a microsecond too late to shoot him before he brought the club down upon Mal's forearm, sending the pistol tumbling from his hand, and immediately going into another low-arcing backswing. Mal responded with a wordless but ferocious roar - though it was not so much from pain as from fury at being caught at a disadvantage.

Jayne had the pleasure of dealing with the shotgun bearer – and for him, a pleasure it was, once he recognised the man's tactic. He also was backswinging the large weapon, making to knock Jayne down first and then blast him before he could roll out of the way. Thanks to Zoe's warning, Jayne was quicker on the draw – striking out with his left hand to throw off his enemy's swing, he snapped his hunting knife from its sheath and swung it from the stretch in a low, flashing arc. The faithful blade made an end of both the attack and the attacker as he rammed it deep into into the gunner's abdomen.

Mal also took advantage of the clubber's attempt to increase the force of the swing. He launched himself forward with a strategic rightward feint to put the clubber between him and the other gunman, grabbing for the club, yanking it upward and gripping it at either end: then he drove forward, depriving the clubber of balance and hurling him backward against the gunman. The sharp cracks of the two pistols going off gave rise to the screams of several bystanders, the last of whom were galvanised into scuttling for cover as Mal spun around. He looked wildly around for his pistol - it was not where he'd expected it, having been kicked out of the way by the clubber as Mal shoved him backward off his feet. Scrambling to one side, Mal ducked, peripherally seeing Zoe trying to maneuver for position to get in a shot. Wash was dancing about at a safe distance, trying to keep clear of any potential lines of fire, but Book had taken a page from Zoe and was looking for his chance to jump back into the fray.

Mal stooped for his pistol, grabbing frantically for the stock and spinning around again to deal with what remained of the threat. Jayne already had a hold of the shotgun and was drawing a bead on the clubber, but Mal had no chance to spectate – the second gunman had abandoned one of his pistols in favour of throwing himself straight from the ground against Mal's legs, knocking him flat on his back before scrambling onto him with his second pistol still at the ready. Somewhere in the background, the screams of the onlookers echoed the thunder of the shotgun as Jayne ended the clubber's clubbing career.

"Don't go lookin' for Lickey Banker!" the gunman snarled. Mal hadn't the split second he needed even to dwell on the warning. He jerked his arm upward, reversing grip on his gun from stock to barrel, and gathered his strength to swing it against the gunman's head. Time was almost out – his attacker still had weapon in hand and was bringing it to bear on Mal's temple.

All at once, a booming roar rang deafeningly in Mal's right ear: but he barely had cause to flinch. For it was not the high-pitched crack of the small-caliber pistol in his assailant's hand, but the familiar report of Zoe's trusted mare's leg. The gunman's face went blank, his grasp went suddenly limp: he lost all awareness, comprehension and sensation as a gush of crimson began to form behind his lips. Mal, grimacing, dropped his own weapon and shoved the filthy, stinking body off to one side before the gunman's blood could start pouring from one face onto the other.

He heaved himself to his feet, nodding his thanks to Zoe, who unthinkingly lowered her smoking carbine and reattached it to her thigh. "Seems today's our day for lucky meetings," he commented.

"Had a notion you might need the backup, sir." Zoe's cool smile was no doubt raising the nerve of the first bystanders to notice that the engagement was over.

Surveying the fresh corpses, Wash shook his head. "Well, now we know what the River-child was on about," he remarked.

"Oh, yeah?" Jayne grunted skeptically. "So how d'ya suppose she knew?"

"No worry of ours," Mal cut in. "But these clowns are. Somethin' tells me we're – "

"You guys are in for it, that's what you are!" The exclamation came from one of the few bystanders brave enough to resume his feet, approaching Mal and company with shell-shocked fear in his expression. He vaguely reminded Jayne of Meadows, the young Canton mudder who had taken a shotgun blast for him.

"And you sussed this out how?" Mal demanded more than asked.

"These are some of Josiah Carabella's guys," the bystander said. "Ain't a one of us got a problem with you takin' 'em down, friend. But unless you got anything better to do than live, you better get gone while the gettin's good!"

Continue to Part 4....

COMMENTS

Monday, May 5, 2008 4:54 AM

ANGELLEMARCS


As always, really good. I liked Wash's thoughts at the beginning and you make your action seem flawlessly smooth. Nice one! Can't wait for more.

Monday, May 5, 2008 5:13 AM

YINYANG


That was very nice, especially River's lines. Now I'm just worried about Inara and Kaylee.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008 12:32 PM

STEAMER


Thank ya both!! :D Yinyang, special thanks for your remark about River's lines - I'll find some encouragement there for what's to come.

Angellemarcs - back when I was writing Star Wars fanfic, I got a lot of praise about the action scenes from my readers. Both of them.

Yeah....thanks a mil to both of you for commenting....as you're the only ones who have so far, here or anywhere else....glad to know somebody stuck with it.

Saturday, May 10, 2008 2:13 AM

KATESFRIEND


Lots of action in this fic. I haven't read your work before but you certainly pack in the characters and events. Very interesting word choices, especially in your descriptions of places. I liked how very true your characters stayed to the series. I'll be reading more soon!

Monday, May 19, 2008 4:35 AM

2X2


Great action scene, lots of excitment! Now I'm wonderin' why exactly these guys thought Mal would be lookin' for Lickey Banker, and who that is, and if they were acting on orders from Carabello or on their own... curiouser and curiouser.

I like Mal's no nonsense manner, how he's to the task and the rest can wait till later. Feels very much like him.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008 3:15 AM

AMDOBELL


When trouble comes calling it never rains but pours. I was a mite amused how one of the would be ambushers tells them *not* to go looking for Lickey Banker. Huh? How dumb and stupid is that? You don't go giving that sort of information to someone if you DON'T want them to do anything with it but then I suppose it was a plot device to give Mal and co a clue where to look next to find out what is going on. I am not sure if the welcome committee's first intent was just to rough up Mal and co or to kill them anyway as they went in brandishing clubs first. So glad they got foiled and good that River was able to give Zoe and Wash a timely warning. I also liked very much that one of the bystanders warned Mal who had sent them and the danger they were now in. Seems like that Carabella has spies everywhere. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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