The Guns of Yamenmiao (Pt. 7)
Monday, June 2, 2008

The Old That Is Strong - Book 1, Part 7. River takes a more active and far more discomforting role in the search, while Mal reflects on the advice of an old acquaintance.


Some reader responses to start us off....

Katesfriend, thank you very very very much. Between the suspense, the tension and the mystic River, the party's just gettin' started. ;)

PhyreLight, aw, hell, I'm a fan of all seven (so far). ;) Always thanks for beta-ing!

darbymonster, hey, good to see ya again! And go you - I was wondering if somebody would recognise that Shakespeare quote! Sorry to hear you've had trouble with the Real-Life Reavers, but it's my hope that you have some fandom grenades to help deal with 'em.

yinyang....ehh....let's say 'one-time' love of trains. ;) They've gotten to be a real pain in the pi-gu to work on lately. So here I am drawing on the days worth remembering. Thank you for stopping back in!

Angellemarcs, well, I'll just have to try and work in something uniquely Ange-friendly, won't I? ;)

Woonsocket, they always say to write what you know, and here it really helps. I know Firefly and I know trains, and it's really good and helpful to know they work well together in this fic. Thanksamuch, good to see you on board! :D

Jane0904, aye, who's coming indeed. We shall soon see. I try to be descriptive without being too verbose, so knowing how you see it....well, if I ain't doing something smart, maybe I'm doing something right. ;) Thanks a great heap.

mal4prez, here I remember a favourite quote from Star Trek III: "The more they overtake the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain." Thus the basic technology, which I find works a great deal better than the more modern junk we all have to work with. Thank you, thank you, and thank you. (Gotta find me a fandom grenade to throw at the Real-Life Reavers, then I'll drop you another E-mail.)

And an extra thank-you to everyone who commented on Mal's memories of Shadow. It's a sad state of affairs that we never got to see what really happened there and how it affected Mal's character because the show was so damn short-lived. I've already had some ideas about further reflections on Mal's home - possibly bring on another character from that world....or permaybehaps one we've met already?

And now, on with the show!

Part 6


Baffled and alarmed by River's premonition, Wash followed her gaze – nothing meeting his widening eye but a dark portal at the foot of the slope. It looked entirely and for all like the low mouth of a tunnel, into which the quarry siding dove directly, vanishing into a shade of nowhere. "Who?" he said, snapping his own head in Mal's direction. "Okay, tell me I didn't just cart us into another tale from the crypt!"

"Wash...." A sidelong stare from Mal rendered him nearly jitterless. Shifting his stare a tick upward, Mal refocused, searching the mountainside until he lit upon the portal. It was perhaps a thousand feet away, and the track was, to the best of his assessment, intact all the way from the main line to the tunnel.

"Where's that go?" he said to Robert, jerking his head tunnelward.

"That's the dead end," Robert said. "They looked in there, but there weren't no trace of the Banker inside. I think they just used it to hold empty cars when the quarry was still runnin'."

"So much for that notion." Mal sat upright, eyes slowly roaming along the side of the mountain before them.

"Hello, square one, our old friend, you've got us at one more dead end," Wash sighed, picking up a rock that had found its way under his hand. He tossed it idly toward the track, listening to its clinking impact against the near rail – Mal was a second too late to stop him, afraid as he was that the stone would alert the miners to their presence. For it was only upon the stone's landing that Mal realised the noise from within the quarry had altogether ceased.

The last bucketful of rock had fallen, and the machinery had been shut down: in the gathering dusk, the only sound that remained was the voices of the miners, muted and indiscernible as they echoed from the bottom of the quarry. Mal caught his breath, spinning around and venturing over the edge for a split second, just long enough to see the miners boarding the lift. They were still unaware of the intruders' presence, but one upward glance would bring worse than death and destruction upon more than Serenity.

"Wang ba dan de biao zi!" Mal hissed. "Get in the trees, c'mon, go go go go!" He leaped upright, grabbing River by the wrist and hauling her at a gallop across the quarry siding and back to the tree line. Wash and Robert were in a dead heat by the time the lift's machinery kicked in – but Wash had the edge, driven by total and appalling recall of the last time he and Mal had been caught by a ganglord. All four hit the tree line at a full sprint, but the increasing darkness almost obscured the shadowy forest floor. Mal's breath came in heavy, ragged gasps as he rounded a very large trunk and scanned the woods ahead for the shuttle.

"No!" River protested. She struck out with her free hand, grabbing Mal's arm, trying to drag him to a halt. "No, wait, they'll see us coming!"

Mal was half-turning, mouth opening to remonstrate her when all at once his foot caught in a patch of tangled shrubbery. With a loud grunt of surprise he broke his grip on River and sprawled, striking wildly upward to protect the back of his head from impact – although in the end it was his ribs that came into harsh contact with a long and very hard object on the ground. Gasping through the sudden stabbing pain, he heaved himself upward off the object, shaking his head rapidly.

"Whoa, Shang di de chi!" Robert exclaimed. "Y'all right, boss?"

"Shhhh!" Mal held up one hand to silence him before clasping it around his side, feeling tenderly for injuries as he nodded. "Yeah, I've took harder falls into trenches before. Just get under cover." He waved his three companions to obey the order and returned hand to ground, the better to right himself – until, to his tactile surprise, his hand came into contact with cold, grainy metal.

He looked down at the ground, unable to identify the metal in the gathering darkness but almost certain it had been there to greet his ribs a moment ago. Its identity, however, was of lesser consequence than the voices of the miners, audible again as the whir of the lift machinery halted and the miners disembarked. Mal quickly pushed himself upright and scrambled for the cover of the large tree he had circumvented a minute before, backing against it, loosely grasping the stock of his pistol as he listened for any sign that they had been discovered. The few snatches of conversation that reached his ears gave him no such hint: all he could hear was that another day's work was done and the miners were still no closer to finding the train. He could, in fact, hear at least one of them fearing for their safety if they had nothing to show Carabella in the next few days.

Mal felt the miner's pain, but at least they would have the excuse of being given the wrong place to dig – if only Mal and company could prove that that was the case. He waited, trying to contain his breathing, and at the same time trying to think whether he should gag River and prevent her from giving them away. Fortunately she seemed to recognise that silence was golden. When at last the voices faded away, Mal took one last great breath, expelling it in a sigh of relief as he turned to face her.

"Now if that wasn't a tad too close for comfort," Wash said, still rife with his usual jocularity.

"I'd say just a little more'n a tad," Mal said. "Um, River? Next time you feel like having a crazy time, you think maybe you can wait till we're not running for our lives?"

"Sorry," River said with a shy smile. "They were watching and I tried to warn them." Her smile faded and she looked away to the mountainside, her expressive eyes shifting upward. "Didn't want them to see us before they were ready."

"I'm really not liking the sound of this," Wash said tersely. "I don't wanna have to abscond with that shuttle."

"You do and I'll make sure Zoe's ready and waiting when you get back to the boat," Mal answered shortly. He crawled forward, groping about for his lantern, hoping at the same time to come back into contact with the metal object he'd felt earlier. In fact he came into contact with the object before the lantern – grasping it with one hand, he continued groping with the other until presently it closed around the lantern's head.

Robert cursed himself under his breath for not thinking to activate his own as the white glow of Mal's beam chopped through the dark. All attention, however, now rested on the captain's discovery. He pointed the lantern straight at it, standing upright, clearing all lines of sight for all hands to identify it as a rail.

"This'd be that other old dead-end spur of yours," he said to Robert.

"That it would. I always thought it split off from the main line, but looks like it came off the quarry siding." Robert had turned on his own lantern and was aiming it at the other rail, both of which were equally rust-covered and separated by thickening underbrush. The railheads, sure enough, pointed a bit more sharply toward the quarry siding than the main line but the crossties were almost gone, rotted away to mulch.

"Any idea what's at the other end?" Mal asked.

"Ain't no one I know ever gone that far. Back in the day, some superstitious old rascal tried to convince some of his buddies that Smokey Joe and his fireman was still out here tryin' to get the Banker over the pass."

"And in some cases he succeeded," Wash surmised.

Robert shrugged carelessly. "Enough that no one's been to the end of this spur in God knows how long."

"Well," Mal said thoughtfully, aiming his lantern off into the woods. "Just for go-se and giggles, why don't we see where it goes?"

Wash raised a protesting hand. "Oh, wait now, Mal, what say we take a vote on – "

"End is dead and far from home when hunters fall beneath the stone." The tremor in River's voice was almost indistinguishable as she took a few mechanical steps along the remains of the spur. Mal glanced at her briefly out the corner of his eye, reminded of the crew's stroll through Janus City earlier that day. Jayne had mocked Book's impromptu poetry then and Mal found himself wondering if River could have been eavesdropping. But then his recollections jarred him to a more recent moment, a moment in the shuttle, when River had uttered a prose sentence not too different from what she had just -

"Wait a tick," Mal said softly. "You said something in the shuttle just now, you remember? You were talkin' stony then - "

"They don't know what dead men feel when sun's eclipsed by stones of steel!" River's breath was caught, her voice tense and nervous: Mal might well have donned a pair of blue gloves and whirled into an unwelcome advance.

"Stones of...." Mal broke off, eyes widening as he stared toward the low mountain peak ahead. Slack-jawed, he dropped his gaze back to the rusted rails and their brush-covered path to nowhere.

"C'mon," he said, focusing his lantern on the rail at his feet. He marched away down the track, hitting as long a stride as the vegetation would permit. Sighing apprehensively, Robert was first to follow, River a moment behind. Deprived altogether of light, Wash opened his mouth in a failed attempt to protest – his throat closed up on him and he made not a sound as he launched himself off behind them.

"Boss, the switch got tore up long before the train got lost," Robert objected. "Just 'cause that little nut case is spoutin' freakish poetry all of a sudden – "

"Doesn't mean she's got the answer," Mal interrupted. "And nobody's gonna, till we get to the end of this track."

"Still don't know what you're expectin' to find back there."

"Maybe nothing, maybe a big fat clue. No way we'll know till we see it for our own selves. Like your old man used to tell me – you want to find someone, use your eyes."

Any further debate was obviously pointless. Shaking his head, Robert looked behind him. Wash was matching Mal's every step, as if trying to avoid hidden land mines, but River was unnervingly close. Her expression had not changed since her last bout of morbid poetry.

They walked purposefully west, Wash breathing heavily, trying to ignore the edges of the lantern beams as they gyrated back and forth in his companions' hands. His peripheral vision could conjure up just about anything if distraction fell upon him. The thick blanket of blackness that the surrounding forest laid upon them was not working wonders for his composure, not with the story of the train to nowhere foremost on his mind. He stuck fast behind Mal, thankful that River wasn't further touching on the macabre.

But no more ghoulishness could be quite so daunting as the great jumbled wall of rock that loomed before the lantern beams after several minutes. Pulse flattening, Mal stopped several feet short of the wall and studied it in the darting lights as the foursome gathered around it. In spite of the mountain's low hump of elevation the wall rose sharply up beyond view: here the track ended, and for all practical purposes their search followed suit.

"Oh, great, another dead end," Wash said, tossing up his hands. "Can we maybe mosey on back before this phantom train appears out of nowhere and squashes us all?"

"No ghosts hereabouts, Wash." Mal stared up at the rumpled mountainside overhead for a few seconds before he dropped his gaze back to the rails and what seemed to be their end. Nothing was apparent to the naked, untrained eye, but Mal had been on more than a few planets where a deceptively staunch rock wall turned out to be a facade hiding heavy Alliance artillery. Advancing slowly, cautiously, he stooped to what appeared to be the end of the line, scrutinising the railhead. He didn't rule out dreaming as he reached forth, lifted a chunk from the fallen jumble of rock and studied it under his light.

The rock was reddish-tinted but by no means dusty. As Mal looked contemplatively away from it, his gaze fell across the spot from whence he had plucked it: he had exposed a rail joint, its inner bar cracked and half hidden by the fall of stones. Lungs deflating in awe, he stood upright, shouldering against the weight of a massive epiphany that had suddenly descended upon him.

"Stones of steel," he repeated flatly. "There's an ore mine in there."

"An ore mine?" Wash echoed in disbelieving tones.

"Am I right?" Mal asked, turning to Robert.

"I dunno," Robert shrugged. "If there is, it got used up a good long while afore my time."

"But these tracks don't end here," Mal pressed on. "I'd bet a barrel o' won-ton soup there's a train sittin' on 'em on the other side of this wall."

Robert tossed up his hands, almost helplessly. "Even if they poke clear through the mountain, I still don't see how the train could've got in there in the first place. I mean, this is the second dead end we've run into already."

"That it is," Mal nodded assent. "The second dead end in the same mountain. Somethin' else your old man used to say was a trail never ends, it just gets blocked awhile. That tunnel out by the quarry? Whatcha care to bet it wasn't a dead end till after the Lickey Banker went through it?"

Silence descended. River was still gazing aimlessly up the side of the mountain with unintelligible muttering, but Wash and Robert both stared fixedly at Mal, their tongues held still as it dawned on them that he was perfectly right. If this rotted spur continued beneath the rockslide into the mountain, it was entirely possible that the quarry siding also extended beyond the end of the tunnel.

"Sure'n it woulda made the cover-up that much easier," Robert said, nodding slowly.

"Okay, so why would the tunnel wait to cave in till after the train was inside?" Wash asked.

"Methinks we'll find out when we get in there, which, by the by, is our next order of business." Taking River by the arm – though not nearly as harsh as before – Mal reversed course, leading her back down the spur toward the quarry. "Wash, secure the shuttle and get us some extra batteries. We walk from here."

Continue to Part 8....

Let the feedback begin! ;)


Monday, June 2, 2008 3:47 AM


"Hello, square one, our old friend, you've got us at one more dead end,"

Loved this line.

Great action, suspense, tension, ummmm...what am I forgetting?

Oh, I know....the 10....great next chapter.

I have a small place in my heart for trains.... ;)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 10:04 AM


Glad to see the pieces falling into place. Your Wash voice is great and a nice offset to mystic River. Glad Mal is listening to her so well. Sorry you've been waiting for feedback. Logging on got to be quite a challenge last week!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008 12:25 PM


Love Mal turning detective here to find what even Robert missed. Excellent story! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me


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Solar Winds and Silver Skies
"You're going to shoot a Mountie? They'll hunt you to the ends of the 'verse!"

Where They Don't Follow (Prologue)
The Old That Is Strong - Book 2, Prologue. Roughly six months after 'The Guns of Yamenmiao', Inara says her final farewells before Serenity returns to Roma on a new job. This time, Mal's treasure quest must run the gamut of a not-quite-right scientist, a nameless, ruthless privateer, and a deeper penetration of the Alliance than Mal has ever attempted before.

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

The Guns of Yamenmiao (Pt. 16)
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.