BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE

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The Guns of Yamenmiao (Pt. 10)
Monday, June 23, 2008

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.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3274    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

WELL!!!!! CSTS was ruttin' AWESOME - we had a terrific time, our fan film came off great, and we had, I think, over 500 participants! So, exhausted and elated though I am, I just can't bear to leave anyone hanging. ;) So here's some responses!

Angellemarcs, awww - that's sweet of you to say. And whaddya know, it's Monday - which means MOAR!!!! Omnomnomnom.

PhyreLight, is that perchance a commentary on how the posts read when you get them? ;) Hee hee. Thank you, as always.

Jane0904, thank you, VERY much. I think a bit of description is vital in a fic like this and it's very pleasing to know it works. Here's hopin' you're okay with the exit strategy. :D

Katesfriend, boy, am I glad you're continuing to read and enjoy this. Nope, I didn't include River just to prattle about the train....she had a key role to play in all this....hee hee. How sad would we have been if she hadn't gotten to play it? ;) And how, indeed, are they going to get out of this mess in all its eventualities? Still workin' it through.

AMDOBELL, heya!!!! Welcome aboard!! :D Great to see you along for the ride! Thank you, thank you - I really was hopeful that River works well in this part and I'm pleased that you think so.

Oh-KAY! Let's get on with the venture, shall we? (Yes, I'm still highly bibbledy about CSTS. ;))

Part 9

前进

The sky was still clear and black as pitch at Janus City's midnight hour: Roma had no moons, leaving naught but starshine to define the outlines of the ships moored in the spaceport. None were discernible until the shuttle, with Wash's night navigational talents under unusual duress, came in low over the main thoroughfare. Then two by two the ships loomed, themselves phantomlike, from the darkness on either side of the shuttle: Wash might almost have missed Serenity, half hidden behind a bulk freighter on the east side of the thoroughfare, were it not for the homing beacon strobe-flashing on his control panel. After the witness they had just borne, the little Firefly, most of its interior darkened to conserve power, looked ghostly and forbidding in the middle of the night.

Mal steeled himself for Simon's close-range tirade as he opened the door to the cargo-bay catwalk – he fully expected the irate doctor to be standing right at the door when it slid aside, and there indeed he was. He was bracing himself in the doorway, and if looks could kill – even Simon's – Mal, Wash and Robert would have collapsed in a lifeless heap on the spot.

"Get out of my way," Simon snarled. He started to push his way into the shuttle, but predictably, the harsh hand Mal clamped on his shoulder brought him to a halt.

"Need I remind you, Doc, you don't have a way on my boat," Mal said, smiling dangerously. "Now that sister o' yours, unpredictable becomes her. But on a job unpredictable as this, it ain't hardly a scratch in the paint to have her along." With that, he removed hand from shoulder and allowed Simon to push past, making a beeline for a deadpan River standing near the rear of the shuttle.

"River, don't you ever go running off like that again," Simon said sharply. "Do you have any idea how worried I was about you? Never again!" He augmented his eye-to-eye glare with a hand clasped to the side of her face, but to his disquiet the face was in no way apologetic.

"Simon...." In fact, River was evidently just lucid enough to be annoyed by his paternal fussing. "Someone had to be with him. Someone who knows."

"Well, just change your clothes and then go to your room," Simon said sternly. "We need to have a talk."

"Not so fast, Doctor," Mal called over his shoulder as he departed the shuttle. "She's still got a key part to play in this. So do you, if you know what's good for you." He continued onto the catwalk spanning the middle of the cargo bay: halfway across stood Zoe and Corsetto, casually chatting near the stairs to the main deck. Zoe wore a relaxed smile as they turned to greet the four travellers, but Corsetto's manner had an edge that reminded Mal of a certain sword he'd buried in a certain hotel-room pillar.

"How'd you make out?" Corsetto asked without preamble.

"We're in business," Mal nodded. "The train's buried in an ore mine near the quarry. Fully intact. Near as we can tell, no one's laid eyes on it till tonight."

"If I get you a fuel truck within the hour, can you get the guns outta there?"

"Well, I ain't gonna argue with the fuel-truck part," Mal said with a gleam in his eye. "Far as movin' the guns, I can do you one better." He stepped to one side, gesturing at Robert. "Ray, like you to meet Robert Berakis, our ace in the hole. Got himself a family history of train haulage."

"Mr. Corsetto," Robert said as he and Corsetto shook hands. "Glad to meet you. Those unit cement trains o' yours were my job last summer."

"Good to have you along, kid. You thought those cement trains were hot stuff, you're liable to burn yourself on this run."

"Long as it ain't literal." Robert was genial but serious and Mal was gratified to see the ice already breaking between his two guests, a much more welcome sight than Wash and Zoe hugging in public.

"All right, well, let's...." Corsetto turned, stopping dead in his tracks as his widening eye fell upon Wash and Zoe just breaking their embrace. They remained arm in arm – Zoe, smiling knowingly, was cool and collected as ever, and Wash was as usual aglow by her mere presence.

"What the hell is this?" Corsetto asked, indicating Wash.

"It's called a husband, sir." Zoe's smile hadn't flagged. Wash, grinning widely, waved in greeting.

"Oh, yeah, somebody wanna tell me when this happened?" Corsetto said with the beginnings of a grin.

"It's also called a long story," Mal broke in. "Might be you'll get to hear it after the job's done. What say we get upstairs and talk it over."

"Hell, I say let's get about it," Corsetto said, shaking his crew-cut head. "Can't wait to hear about this!"

***

Within five minutes the rest of the crew had assembled in the dining area – even River. Still wearing the jumpsuit she had filched from Kaylee, she was sitting at the foot of the table, oblivious to all else as she played with a small collection of matchsticks. She was bent intently over them, snapping some of them in half, arranging them in some unfathomable number of different patterns, but no matter what the formation she always laid them out in two parallel lines. The rest of the crew regarded her peripherally, relieved that she wasn't engaged in potentially violent behaviour but staying prepared in case she tried to strike any of the matchsticks and subsequently ignite the rest of the room.

Corsetto, standing across the table from Mal, spared each of the crew a brief glance before beginning. "All right, Mal, this here's your show. Where's it gotta start?"

"Tunnel's gonna be the first hurdle," Mal said. "When the first ammo car exploded, the shock wave caved the entrance. Not only buried the train but gave the railroad the perfect cover-up."

"Any ideas how we can break through?" Zoe asked.

"I vote we shy away from the explosives," Wash said. "Wouldn't really do us to bring the rest of the mountain down around our ears."

"Perhaps burn through with incendiary charges?" Book suggested.

"No good," Mal shook his head. "Anything hot enough to burn through the rock will melt the rails as well. But Carabella's lackeys are usin' heavy-duty rock crushers to search the quarry. We lift one of 'em out with the shuttle, put it to work in the tunnel and it shouldn't take long to bust through to the mine."

"Then it's your turn," Corsetto said to Robert. "Long as you're up to it and long as you can get an engine outta the yard without raisin' eyebrows."

"Well, don't much care for hoodwinkin'," Robert said dubiously, "but I'll think of somethin'. My engine still oughta be under steam from yesterday, won't take long to heat her up again." He hadn't the chance to relate the rest of his concerns before Mal stood up straight and his stare nearly singed Jayne, who was leaning against the stove across the room with a Blue Sun cola bottle and a pack of protein scramble at his elbow.

"Now we get this done in a timely enough fashion, shouldn't be any call for more shootin'," Mal said hintingly. "Just the same, bring Vera and a couple of pistols if you can spare 'em, which I got no doubt of. You and I'll ride along on the engine. Just don't get shootin' in the wrong direction, it comes to that."

"So tell me somethin' I don't know," Jayne said sarcastically, shrugging.

Wash's cagey answer came equipped with a sidelong glance. "You just spilled a big glob of tomato sauce on your shirt," he said.

"But there shouldn't oughta be call for shootin', right, Cap'n?" Kaylee said hopefully as Jayne hastened to scrub the stain out of his shirt. "I mean, if we'll be on the move before they know it...." She let the thought hang, unsure of how to complete it.

"No more'n bein' prepared," Mal answered. "No tellin' when Carabella's lackeys are back to work in the morning. The guys we saw weren't armed, but we gotta open fire, we do it away from the train. More'n a dozen gone to glory already 'cause one of 'em sent a bullet the wrong way." He was still glaring a hint at Jayne, who looked up from his scrubbing, seeing that the better portion of the eyes in the dining area were fixed right on him.

"What?" he grunted, holding out a plaintive hand.

The quiet pause lasted just long enough for the unobtrusive bleep of the wave alert to come to attention, wafting back from the bridge. Wash was first to react, tenderly grasping Zoe's arm before excusing himself, arising from the table and heading forward to answer.

"Soon as he gets back, Zoe, you two prep the shuttle," Mal ordered. "Rustle up some heavy-duty cable for to lift one of those crushers, and bring a couple of good big tarps, too. Couple of those gun cars got their ends blowed open by the explosion. We can't seal 'em, we'll need to wrap 'em up before we move."

"That was by no means the only damage done," Book spoke calmly. "If I may, Captain, it wouldn't go amiss to say a few words over the dead."

"Neither would a little closure for their survivors," Simon added. "I get the impression that the railroad has stonewalled too many of them for too long."

"You two suggestin' what I think you're suggestin'?" Mal said, making no bones about his mild annoyance at the suggestion of last rites.

"Word of this move will spread sooner than later," Book said. "Better that we see the dead to their final rest now, than risk one of their survivors joining them."

"I like the man's thinkin', Mal," Corsetto said dryly. "And once we do dental records on Carabella Senior, we can debunk whatever B.S. his punk kid is whippin' up about his goods."

"You gonna look to that?"

"I'll head for Pecola and raise the lawmen soon as we're done here. Then, long as you got everything else covered, I'll wait up for you there. Far as the yard crew's concerned, I'm waitin' on an extra cement train."

"That what I'm supposed to tell the dispatcher when I leave here light-engine?" Robert said skeptically.

"No, tell him you're gonna run helper on a heavyweight southbound. I'll drop a bug in somebody's ear about extra tonnage. Chances are we'll have the train in safe and sound by the time they figure out somethin's sly. You gonna be the only one on the line at this hour?"

"Yeah, the JP-twenty-three train left the yard about a half hour ago. Yamenmiao is a pretty bad spot for radio signals, so won't no one be comin' the other way till they get into Pecola. If I can get dibs on the track behind 'em, I'll have it to myself once they're by Red Rock Junction."

"Well, what if somethin' goes wrong before they get that far?" Kaylee asked. "Like, s'pose they go into emergency and get stuck for an hour – we don't wanna hit them before we hit the siding, do we?"

"They'll call clear past a certain point before they go into the dead zone," Robert explained. "I'll just get an order to run at restricted speed from there to Pecola so's I don't rear-end 'em. Then once we get into clear air, long as they're a good ways ahead of us, I can cancel that order and haul ass the rest of the way."

"Okay, then," Mal said. He glanced toward the forward door of the dining area as Wash returned from the bridge – his expression considerably more perturbed than when he'd gone to answer the wave. He quietly called Zoe and beckoned with his head toward the front hall, but Mal decided against a pause in the briefing as Zoe rose and joined Wash up forward. Depending on the next couple of minutes, they wouldn't be missing too much else.

"That covers everything I got," Mal went on. "Any questions?" He glanced around, waiting for a raised hand, a quiet protest, but the only motion in the dining area was River playing with her matchsticks – none of which were lit. In fact she was now fiddling with a small tube of rubber cement, gluing the sticks together end-to-end and probably epoxying them to the tabletop.

"There's only one other thing worries me, boss," Robert spoke up. "That quarry siding's in pretty tough shape. The Banker sure didn't spill off of it, but it's been thirty years. Chances're pretty good for puttin' the whole train on the ground."

Mal's mouth was just opening to advise Robert that he'd better find his way clear to it when he suddenly found the answer, almost incomprehensibly, being delivered for him. River was still focused intently on her stick-play, but her voice, though small and monotonous, seemed deafening in the constrained silence of the dining area.

"QJ-class two-ten-two heavy freight hauler, maximum wheelbase flexibility seven inches. Tractive effort sixty-three thousand, five hundred pounds with three point five factor of adhesion. Given train length of one thousand, six hundred and fifty feet with three thousand trailing tons, maximum speed of eight point three miles per hour should be optimal to expedite movement while minimising infrastructural stress."

Every puzzled eye in the dining area had long since converged on her. Robert was especially nonplussed, wondering where in the black she came off so expertly describing his locomotive and its hauling power. On the tabletop, she had arranged the matchsticks in two parallel lines as always – one segment was straight as an arrow, several inches long. She had assembled another segment that curved at two points before forming a loop that connected in two places to the straight segment, creating a remarkable, if crude, facsimile of Red Rock Junction.

River paused and glanced up at Jayne, who was leaning against the cookstove, staring at her as if her fingers had suddenly sprouted a hundred tentacles. She responded with lifted eyebrow and condescending stare, the expression of a nine-year-old showing up a box-minded teacher. "And I can tie my boots," she finished snarkily.

Amusement was lost on the others – especially Corsetto, who shifted his quizzical stare to Mal, gesturing just as quizzically at the weird little girl. "Gonna chew my other ear off with her story some time?"

"Maybe once I figure out how it ends," Mal said absently. He looked up as Zoe and Wash repaired through the front door of the dining area: Wash looked more concerned than ever, but Mal knew the perilous look in Zoe's eye too well to pay it no mind. He didn't need to – their impetuous pace was all he needed to know that something was seriously wrong.

"Sir, we got trouble," Zoe said tersely. "Carabella may be onto us."

"What?!" The exclamation burst from Mal, Corsetto and Robert simultaneously.

"Son of a bitch!" Corsetto spat.

"How the hell could he catch on?" Mal demanded.

"That wave was from Inara," Wash said, gesturing toward the bridge. "Carabella told her about the train and she told him she'd put in a good word for us."

"She didn't know we had a prospect already," Simon said. "How could she have?"

"Well, from the sound of it," Zoe interjected, "she told Carabella we were lookin' to get in with Ray and he got pretty bent out of shape at that part."

"Did you tell her we'd already got something?" Mal said to Wash.

"Yeah," Wash said. "That's when she told me about the train search and wanted to warn us. I guess Carabella said we were in for some trouble if we took the job from Mr. Corsetto here."

"Zhe shi zang hun-dan," Corsetto growled. "I don't think he knows about the guns, but he knows I'm bird-doggin' him and he'd like the whole world to think I'm the crook."

"It's fei hua, sir, we know it as well as you do," Zoe asserted.

"Well, it ain't here or there," Corsetto said, turning a fiery stare upon Mal. "There's any chance he's wise, we gotta move on this thing like now."

"All right, you two go get that shuttle prepped," Mal ordered crisply of Wash and Zoe. "The gantry cable oughta do you. Jayne, get your pieces together. Rest of you grab whatever you need and head for the shuttle. You got ten minutes and we're in the air, people!"

"Captain, I'm not sure River and I should – " Simon started, but the sudden, dagger-like glare from Mal cut him short even before the harsh ring of command in the captain's voice.

"Don't argue with me," Mal snapped. "I ain't leavin' you two by yourselves down here. You go with the preacher and make yourself useful. Rob, we'll drop you at the engine terminal afore we head back to the mine, then we'll meet you up there soon as you can make it."

"Me and who else?" Robert objected, tossing up his hands. "I can't run and fire by my lonesome, boss."

"I'll run with ya," Kaylee piped up.

Without so much as a blink, Mal turned around. His gaze widened at Kaylee, seemingly unaffected by both the distressing news and the newfound urgency of the job. She glanced from Mal to Robert and back to Mal, her eyes shining with eagerness.

"Think you can handle this?" Mal said.

"I'm the only one of us been around those things before, Cap'n. If Rob helps me along some, I can get him over the pass no problem."

"The less people know about this the better," Corsetto added. "Let's keep the club as select as we can, huh?"

"Rob, whaddya say?" Mal said, turning around again.

"Well, I'll….I'll show her as many of the ropes as I can," Robert said hesitantly, somewhat taken aback by Kaylee's surprise volunteer. "But Kaylee, there's a lot more to it than just suckin' on fuel oil like you owns all of San Antonio, y'know."

"I'm all aware o' that," Kaylee smiled. "Might be the Eighty-Seven's a machine like no other, but she's still a machine. Even if she don't talk to me like Serenity does, you can translate, can'tcha?"

Robert half-grinned, glancing at Mal, his impression with Kaylee apparent. To her it was a silent sign of encouragement, letting her know he was more than ripe to help her, to put the past away and let her back in on some of his world. "She's got it where it counts, boss. I say we're good to roll."

"Okay then." Smiling, Mal clapped his hands with a sweeping gaze about the rest of the dining area. "All right, ladies and menfolk, we got a train to catch. Let's get at it afore we miss it!"

***

No more than a minute's pause in his cabin and Mal was fully stocked on ammunition, listening with half an ear to the muffled clunking and clacking of Jayne ransacking his arsenal on the other side of the crew dorm. The man was almost nowhere without Vera these days, although Mal could guess that he was having a bear of a time figuring which of his handguns he hadn't used in a while. Mal put the guesswork from his mind – there were more important things needing to occupy it. He hauled himself back up to the forward hall and marched purposefully down the stairs to the cargo bay, where Wash was just exiting the shuttle as Zoe, operating the overhead gantry, conveyed a length of cable to the shuttle entrance.

Corsetto had already left the ship to head for the other end of the line: Robert and Kaylee were meanwhile on their way down the aft stairs to the catwalk, making a rapid beeline for the shuttle. A loaded bag of coin, and Serenity in flight, were amongst the very few things Mal liked better than seeing his crew rise to the occasion, any occasion. His approval at the sight of all hands setting out to get the job done, however, was offset when his sights came to rest on Kaylee. This was the only time he'd felt truly concerned on her besides the compression-coil incident: the two of them were at an inaudible distance, but Robert was speaking to her and she was clearly bubbling over with elation. Whatever had gone on between those two, no matter how far in the past, was but another cause for Mal's reservations, as he wished Kaylee wasn't the only one with enough mechanical inclination to fire a locomotive. What if this little venture rekindled whatever dormant warmth lay behind them - what if she found herself at greater ease here than on board Serenity?

On occasion she had told him to have faith but faith was his F-bomb. Mal knew as well as the next old soldier that the wind, in its arbitrary blowings, could take Kaylee with it in whatever direction: silently he prepared himself for the worst as the three of them converged on the shuttle.

"Sure this'll do it, sir?" Zoe asked, breaking through Mal's ruminations. She had reached out to the gantry and was holding a length of cable in view for Mal to approve or condemn.

"You can always double it up," Mal answered. "Fact, I'd rather you did. The shorter the better, so the crusher don't backswing and smash us in the ass." He paced briefly back along the catwalk, leaning over the railing. "Jayne, you done yet?" he hollered up the stairs.

"Need a sec," Jayne's heavy voice drifted back from the front hall. "Just don't leave without me or nothin'."

"Don't much matter to me, long as I got your guns at hand," Mal riposted. He turned back for the shuttle as Wash helped Zoe unfasten the cable from the gantry and bundle it inside. A pang of concern about Kaylee hit him again, talking of leaving without people. When Mal came upon them, Robert was saying something about cloudy water gauges, but Kaylee was beaming like a shot of sunshine – the more he indoctrinated her the more her excitement blossomed.

"Well, Kaylee?" Mal said, smiling faintly. "Look like you can get us flyin'?"

If she picked up the subtlety of the question, he couldn't tell – she was still grinning ear to ear. "No sweat, Cap'n. Think I got it halfway knocked already."

"Well, just don't try'n knock it to the hot place," Mal advised as he headed into the shuttle. "Hate to lose you, Kaylee." His jocularity well covered his deep-running qualms, which this time were not lost on her.

"Be all right, Kay," Robert said, patting her on the arm. "Just keep your water up, that's…." He paused, as if searching for the right words. "Not really half the battle – more like nine-tenths, I'd say."

"Not to fret, Rob. I won't let 'er blow on ya. Just wish we could get that old KF fired up again – I'm kinda partial to those initials." Giggling, Kaylee nudged him playfully with her elbow and hopped over the doorsill into the shuttle as Jayne, cradling Vera against his bristling shoulder straps, thudded his way down the stairs to the catwalk and hastened across to the door.

In spite of the job and the completion thereof, Mal detested the thought of leaving Serenity unattended. No matter how hard he tried to drive through his own skull the notion that this was his only ticket back into the air, he had never seen his ship look so forlorn, so lonesome as it did when Wash lifted the #2 shuttle free of the port wing. But damn it all, there was no other way: and even if the job was brought to conclusion and Serenity made spaceworthy again, it would only remain as such so long as Mal had the right pair of hands around to repair it. And who was to say whether Kaylee would be with them when they left the world?

One thing at a time, Reynolds, he grated on himself. Job now, Kaylee after it was done - or, powers forbid, her replacement. Again he steeled himself and tried to put the thought out of his head long enough to plan for what lay ahead of him.

前进

"Wash, how's the fuel?" Mal asked as Jayne squeezed out of the shuttle, taking cover in a small thicket at the edge of the railroad yard.

"Good for another four or five hours' flying time," Wash replied from the cockpit.

"All right." Pausing just inside the door, Mal turned toward the back of the shuttle, where River, Simon and Book were seated on the narrow benches fastened to the wall: it was River he eyed, somewhat skeptically but seeing in her just enough cogence to give him just enough confidence.

"River," he said quietly, "think you can get clear to not bein' crazy long enough to show your brother and the preacher how it lays?"

"Hunters' souls are never lost along a river that can't be crossed," River answered, smiling.

"That's what I thought. Zoe, don't let her out of your sight." Mal issued the order sternly, ducking out of the shuttle.

"Never figured on it, sir," Zoe replied laconically as the door slid shut. Wash was already lifting the shuttle back into the dark, star-stippled sky by the time Mal dropped to his hands and knees, crawling up next to Jayne beneath the low overhang of a bush, staring toward the brightly lit engine terminal. He nestled between two of the bush's roots and kept an eye out for the recognition signal, a flashing of headlights he and Robert had agreed upon after leaving Serenity.

In the meantime, Robert and Kaylee – recently deposited by the shuttle on the other side of a knoll overlooking the engine house – had quietly and clandestinely made their way to the structure's rear. It was, Robert thought with a degree of amusement, ironically the first and probably only time he'd actually had to sneak into the engine house via the back door, for the simple goal of getting Kaylee inside unnoticed. Quickly and quietly he led her through the unattended break room in the back corner of the engine house, pausing at the room's front door, peeking out just far enough to see the great black hulk of steel sitting in the nearest stall.

"There's my girl," he grinned, nodding toward the huge black tender. Kaylee peered around him, breaking a slight smile as she discerned the "Qian Jin" characters and the number 7087 stencilled on the back. It was the first time she had seen the engine since Guonian and she had given it barely a fingertip's brush then, considering what she was about to do. Between the engine and the east wall, only one hostler could be seen milling about this end of the building. No doubt there were others working at the west end, but the dozen or so locomotives simmering inside the engine house – not to mention the haze of oil smoke hovering around them – would obscure the view.

"Should be okay once I get his attention," Robert muttered.

"Should I wait for...." Kaylee was hesitant to make her move without some direction, but before she could ask him for a pointer he had already straightened his stance and marched out of the break room.

"JO-JO!" he roared at the top of his voice. It drowned out practically every other noise in the engine house, none of which warranted such a bellow, but the hostler seemed scarcely heedful as he turned away from his workbench.

"What?" he demanded. "Whaddyou want?"

"I want my ruttin' locomotive, that's what," Robert answered, heading toward the gangway between the engine's cab and tender.

"What, now?" the hostler said, turning to face him, his back to the break-room door.

"Yeah, now. Gotta go run a rescue. JP-twenty-three busted a main rod on the way up the hill," Robert explained, peripherally noting Kaylee as she slipped out of the break room. "There's a helper comin' up from Pecola but meantime I gotta go give 'em a push."

He tried not to look straight at Kaylee but to keep her in his peripheral vision as she dashed from the break room toward the back of the tender. Hunkering against it, she looked quickly around to ensure that she was unobserved and then scampered up the ladder on the left side of the tender's rear, prostrating on top of the water tank. She ventured no more than one eye over the right side of the tank to watch the increasingly bantersome exchange between the two railroad men.

"Well, your oil and water's topped off, boiler's close to full," the hostler advised. "She's sittin' on about a hundred and thirty pounds right now. I didn't drain the air reservoirs yet."

"'Nuff to get her goin'. I'll meet Seth out by the crew room."

"And I'm what, sittin' around lookin' handsome till you get back here?"

"Well, you got the sittin' around part right, but I don't know about the lookin' handsome," Robert said with a sarcastic grin. Kaylee had to cover her mouth to keep from giggling audibly as Robert jumped onto the gangway ladder, hauled himself up into the engine's cab and, in a single step honed by only a few years of practise, swung around the rear bulkhead and up into the engineer's seat. Kaylee wriggled her way back to the middle of the tender deck, lying as flat as possible to avoid detection, not even looking up to watch Robert go through his usual motions as he prepared to move.

The hostler had barely removed the wheel chocks when Robert released the brakes with a loud rush of air, tugged gently at the throttle and briefly tooted the whistle to warn of the movement, gently guiding the engine out of its stall toward Mal and Jayne's hiding place.

Jayne propped himself up on one hand, peering over a thickly foliated branch, seeing little besides the floodlights casting an amber glow through the haze around the engine terminal. The occasional toot of a whistle or roar of a lifting safety valve left the two watchers without much of a clue how soon before they would be on the move. Jayne grimaced, bent his elbow and then rested on it, his free hand plucking restlessly at Vera, drawing Mal's uneasy eye.

"Careful, Jayne, you could hurt somebody with that," he said dryly.

"Kinda the point, ain't it?" Jayne said sarcastically.

"Not unless we run into someone needs hurtin'." Mal ventured out of the bush, his right eye half-squinting as he saw a dim light off to one side of the engine terminal, its aspect changing slightly as it moved closer. Then it blinked out and was replaced by a much brighter light just beneath it: a second later the lower light blinked out, the upper light returned at full brightness and then dimmed.

"Here they come," Mal said. He rose from his half-lying position to a crouch, Jayne following suit, cradling Vera in his lap. Presently the soft puff of the exhaust ceased, then the immense engine loomed nearly on top of them as it rounded a slight curve near their hiding place, brakes emitting a high-pitched squeak as Robert reduced speed. He leaned out the right side of the cab, keeping a close eye on Mal and Jayne as the former gathered himself to spring onto the gangway ladder.

Holding his breath, Mal waited until the rearmost drive wheel was past him and then reached for the grab irons, launching himself onto the ladder in a clean and quick motion. Jayne's embarkment was considerably less smooth – hurrying alongside the moving engine, he waited almost too long for Mal to pull himself up the ladder before flinging his big gun into the gangway and going for the grab irons. As he boosted himself with his left foot, his right foot almost comically slipped on the bottom step of the ladder, resulting in a loudly agitated grunt and both feet dragging briefly on the ground before he was able to lift his left one onto the bottom step. With that, he ignored Mal's proffered hand and dragged himself up into the gangway, sucking in and exhaling a heavy and relieved breath.

"Nice landing, Jayne," Kaylee grinned. She was sitting in the fireman's seat – mounted so high on the left side of the cab that her feet barely touched the deck – and her right hand was resting comfortably on one of a confusing amalgam of valves protruding from the boiler backhead.

"Nice digs," Jayne said, nodding at the mind-boggling mess of valves, gauges and piping in front of Kaylee. Even though most of them were labelled, predominantly in Chinese, the terminology meant nothing to him whatsoever. "Which one o' them knobs you gotta turn the wrong way to blow us all sky high?"

"Oh, Jayne," Kaylee said, waving her hand playfully. "This here's kiddie play." Her grin froze and then faded as she leaned over to look at the large steam gauge mounted above the firebox door. "Hey, Rob, she's only about a hundred and fifty. That gonna be enough?"

"That's plenty to run her light," Robert answered. "Just keep three pounds on the oil valve and twenty-five on the atomiser till we're out of the yard. Then all's you gotta do is turn up the atomiser bit by bit so's you raise the pressure nice 'n' easy as we get over the road. Long as you get her up to two hundred and twenty-five by the time we tie onto the train, you got her aced."

"Speaking of acin' things, we good to go?" Mal asked.

"Good as gold, boss. Got the track to ourselves for about forty miles, then we're good for eight miles behind JP-twenty-three, so we'll be an hour or so to the mine. Should time it pretty good, hey?" Robert said hopefully as he tugged the throttle up a notch.

"Long as there's no kinda welcoming committee up there," Mal muttered. He looked over at Kaylee, who was carefully eyeing the numerous pressure gauges in front of her as she increased the atomiser valve slightly. The heat inside the firebox was probably the better part of 2,000 degrees right now, yet it was bone-chilling compared to the heat on Mal and company if Carabella was wise to their movements: Kaylee and her immediate future were the least of his worries right now. The final and most important phase of the job was in progress, but the enemy was at the gates.

Continue to Part 11....

Due to gearing up for CSTS, I lost a little bit of steam on this - may or may not have a post ready for next week. But let's keep hope and keep flyin' and keep reviewing! ;)

COMMENTS

Monday, June 23, 2008 3:58 AM

PHYRELIGHT


"PhyreLight, is that perchance a commentary on how the posts read when you get them?"

Oh, please! You know I think this fic is still flippin' awesome even before I take my little pen to it! ;)

Monday, June 23, 2008 4:34 AM

ANGELLEMARCS


Wonderful as always!!

Liked Kaylee going with the big boys....she has a great backbone when she wants to.

As always can't wait for the next installment. :)

Monday, June 23, 2008 11:15 AM

AMDOBELL


I am all kinds of anxious that there might be an *unwelcome* welcoming committee waiting for them. Was all kinds of amused at Mal thinking he might lose Kaylee to a steam engine. Not a chance. Other workings might draw her eye but her true love is Serenity. Plus if she left she would be leaving Simon behind as well! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me!

Sunday, June 29, 2008 9:49 PM

JANE0904


Amdobell is right - Kaylee would never leave Serenity. She might consider having a brief affair with a steam train, but that would only be for the sex. For a long term relationship it has to be a Firefly.

As for the rest, excellent descriptions and good tension.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008 2:22 PM

KATESFRIEND


Loved River's technical expertise on the solution, but really enjoyed Mal's response to her hunter/river analogy. Wonderful detail here and love the irony of Inara getting them a job with the bad guy. Oh, yeah, loved you in CSTS too!

Saturday, July 5, 2008 7:58 PM

YINYANG


"'So tell me somethin' I don't know,' Jayne said sarcastically, shrugging.

"Wash's cagey answer came equipped with a sidelong glance. 'You just spilled a big glob of tomato sauce on your shirt,' he said."

I love Wash. And, Jayne scrubbing away at his shirt a is pretty fun visual.



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