BREAK OUT (05) Part (04)
Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The plan does not go smooth.


BREAK OUT (05) Part (04)

Follows EXPECTATIONS (04). Precedes THE TRIAL (06).


The plan does not go smooth.

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* * *

River suddenly turned and focused on Zoe. “Captain’s hit,” she stated, adding after a very small pause, “He doesn’t look better in red.”

Zoe raced off into the dark mud, again.

* * *

Mal lay on the ground, stunned. Stifling a groan, he rolled over onto his belly. He was not dead. Blood was pouring out of his head, though. He crawled on his belly along the ground to the shelter of a nearby wall, and leant his body against it.

Zoe’s voice crackled through Mal’s earwig. “Captain! Do you read?”

Mal tried to reply, but all he could manage was a soft moan that sounded pathetic even to himself.

* * *

Zoe became quite alarmed when she heard Mal’s moan. River’s voice spoke in her ear. “He can hear you. Can’t answer. Keep going.” Zoe ran, mostly sticking to cover, but to tell the truth she was far more concerned with speed than stealth. “Turn left,” River’s voice guided. “Down the alley.”

* * *

Mal knew he couldn’t stay there, but it was awfully hard to move. The sheriff’s officers were around the corner, shouting, shining their lights into the rainy night. The shifting of the lights settled from random flashes into something more systematic, and he knew they were working a search pattern. Sooner or later they would find him.

He tried to consider his options, but it was hard to think. Seemed to him the options ranged from bad to…really bad. He heard River’s voice in his head. In his ear? Oh, right, in the comm. “Gotta move, Captain. Hands and knees. Keep your head down.” He obeyed, rolling with effort onto his hands and knees. He began to crawl. “Other way,” River snapped. Okay, least he knew it was real. He reversed direction. “Just gotta get to the dumpster in the alley.” He spotted the dumpster. It seemed very far. He was gonna pass out. “Can’t pass out. Gotta keep going. Help is on the way.” He put everything he had into crawling toward the goal.

Lights and shouts played out behind him as the officers’ search led them closer. Mal crawled past the edge of the dumpster as several officers burst around the corner to the spot where he had leant against the wall.

“Here’s blood!” one of them said. “Bring some more lights, we’ll see if we can find a trail.”

Mal propped himself in a sitting position against the back of the dumpster, breathing hard. He closed his eyes. “Got him good,” a voice said. “There’s a big pool of blood here. He can’t be far.”

* * *

“Captain’s by the trash.”

With River’s voice guiding her, Zoe pounded up the alley. She spotted Mal lying by the dumpster.

* * *

River wouldn’t let him rest. “Gotta stand up, Captain.” When he didn’t move, she pestered him relentlessly. “Stand up. When you can’t crawl, you walk. And when you can’t walk, you run. And when you run, you get someone to carry you.” With a supreme effort, Mal pulled himself up using the handles built into the side of the dumpster. Zoe was suddenly with him. She draped his arm over her shoulder, put her own arm around his chest, and they trundled off in a lopsided way, like people running a three-legged race. His legs seemed to be working, he didn’t know how; it certainly wasn’t his brain telling them where to go. He seemed to be floating along, though Zoe, heavily supporting his weight, would have told a different tale. The sheriff’s officers had followed the trail of blood to the dumpster, and one of them, detecting their movement, shot blindly into the alley, calling for back-up.

Zoe felt a bullet graze her leg. She ignored it and kept moving. Mal had a head wound that seemed to be bleeding all over, but there wasn’t time to stop and field-dress it. As long as his legs kept working. She doubted she could carry him all the way to the ship, at least not with any kind of speed. To her surprise he spoke. “It’s not as bad as it looks, Zoe.”

“That so, sir? ’Cause you look like hell warmed over for breakfast.”

“Just a graze,” he muttered.

“Shut up and keep runnin’, sir.”

* * *

Jayne’s group arrived on Serenity, and the cargo bay was a seething mass of muddy humanity. Simon was busy cleansing and bandaging minor injuries. Kaylee brought more towels. Inara carried a tray with more hot drinks. Some of the early arrivals were settling down, sitting on or leaning against the cargo crates, but many of the new arrivals were meandering about looking a little bit stunned. Everybody was wet and muddy.

River suddenly announced, “Gotta fly.” She ran up the stairs for the bridge.

Less than a minute later, Zoe sprinted up the ramp, half-dragging Mal, whose feet seemed to be working, but who looked like hell. Blood ran all over his head, face, and the front and back of his body. Zoe was bloodied, too, but it looked to be mostly Mal’s blood. Anywhere he was not covered with blood, he was covered with mud.

Zoe shouted, “Go! Jayne!” and Jayne jumped to shut the airlock. River lifted the ship off the ground before the doors had completely closed. Simon caught sight of Mal and immediately bumped him up to the top of the triage list. He ran to help Zoe. Inara dropped her tray, which was fortunately empty, and ran to Mal’s side.

“Mal! Mal! Mal!”

Mal appeared to have passed out, but Zoe was still supporting him. Zoe, Simon, and Inara carried Mal directly to the infirmary.

* * *

Leaving Jayne and Kaylee to handle the crowd in the cargo bay, Zoe and Inara assisted Simon in the infirmary. Rapidly assessing Mal’s injuries, Simon set up an IV, cleansed his face and head, and began preparing sutures.

“It’s not as bad as it looks,” Simon announced.

Zoe was relieved. “Good. ’Cause he looks half-dead.”

“Looks like he got hit by a wooden splinter,” Simon detailed, “and shards of glass. No skull fracture—I don’t think the bullet actually hit him. Scalp wounds bleed a lot.”

“Does he need a transfusion?” Inara asked.

“Not likely,” Simon replied. “It’s a good thing, because he’s O positive. None of our crew has a compatible blood type. Only Wash had—” he stopped himself. Wash had been the universal donor, because of his O negative blood type—that, and the fact that he stayed out of harm’s way on most jobs. Many a time had Wash donated blood when Mal, Zoe, or Jayne came back injured.

At that moment, Ip Neumann came by the open door of the infirmary, on the way down from the galley with a tray full of hot mugs of soup. “My God, what happened to the Captain?”

“Scalp wound,” Simon replied. “Spectacular bleeding—the scalp is extraordinarily well-supplied with blood vessels. A concussion from the impact of the splinter. Nausea. And more blood loss than usual, on account of running here without stopping to field-dress the wound.” Simon considered a moment, then observed, “He’s going to have one hell of a headache. He’ll be very ornery.”

“How will we know when he’s recovered, then?” Zoe asked, drily.

* * *

Simon finished suturing Mal’s injury, then cleaned and bandaged Zoe’s leg. She returned to take charge in the cargo bay, and Simon spoke to Inara. “I’ve given him something to knock him out.”

“To lessen the pain?” she asked.

“Well, yes. But mostly to keep him from jumping up and trying to do captain-y things.”

Inara gestured towards the cargo bay. “You know he won’t rest when he thinks it’s his responsibility to—”

“It’s his responsibility to recover from the concussion,” Simon said authoritatively. “I know how resistant he is to the notion of bed rest.”

Inara sat by Mal’s bedside, keeping watch. How many times had she kept vigil over Mal as he lay injured, since she first came to Serenity? She looked at him with a roil of emotions playing across her features. Tenderness. She loved this man, this impossible, headstrong, noble-hearted 傻瓜 shǎguā who angered her to no end when he called her whore. Worry. She looked at the bandages that wrapped his head, envisioning again the railroad tracks of sutures that they covered. They ran from the edge of his face near his hairline right across the top of his head. There was nothing he wouldn’t take on, reasonable or not. One of these days, he would take on too much, and get himself killed. Anger. How could he do this to her? Didn’t he ever pause to think about how his actions affected her, affected everyone aboard his ship? She wanted to hit him for being so reckless. It was so like him, to do something like this. He’d made her angrier than she could remember, refusing the only favor she’d ever asked of him, when he had no idea of its importance to her. Calling her a liar, when she wasn’t. She’d only withheld information, and she’d done it for his sake, to spare him. He was one to talk—the man who wouldn’t open the book of his life without someone using a crowbar, who wouldn’t share his past, who kept whole years of his life secret from her—. And just when she was so angry with him she could swear she wanted nothing to do with him ever again, he went off and did something like this, something so noble and good, that she felt she loved him more than ever before. She picked up his hand, and caressed it as he slept.

* * *

Someone was holding his wrist. He fluttered his eyelids, returning to consciousness, and opened them to find Shepherd Book standing over him, checking his pulse and saying a prayer.

“Shepherd—” Mal said weakly.

Book saw that Mal was awake, and dropped his wrist. “You’re back, Captain.”

“I go someplace?” His head was pounding.

“That’s up to you,” Book replied.

“Ohhh, right now I don’t feel like going anywhere at all. Can you turn the lights down?”

Book did so, and it was quiet for a beat.

There was something about the Shepherd, Mal remembered. Ah, yes, that was it. “Could say the same for you, you know,” Mal said.

Book regarded him with a questioning look.

You’re back,” Mal clarified.

Book made a non-committal sound. “Hmm.” All was quiet again. Then Book fixed him with a penetrating look, and spoke. “So, Captain—smuggling, thieving, transportation of illegal cargo—and now you’ve added slave trading?”

“Is that what it looks like?” Mal asked, more than a mite disconcerted.

Book answered with a look.

“Well, it’s not,” Mal said defiantly. “Just giving these folks a ride to freedom, is all.”

“ ‘If you can’t do something smart, do something right’,” Book quoted.

哎呀 Āiyā, was the preacher really quoting himself? Mal thought. “You’ve said that before.”

“Yes,” Book said. Again the two sat silent for a spell.

“You going all cryptic on me, Shepherd?” Mal asked, unable to stand the silence. “Are you saying this ain’t a smart move?”

Book waited again in silence. Well, what? Mal looked at the preacher. Man was worse than the grand inquisitor, with his meaningful silences. “Look, Shepherd,” Mal began, defensively. “I got it figured out. We may have ‘stole’ these people from 泥球 Ní Qiú, but there ain’t no way they can claim ’em as stolen property. They’d have to admit they were keepin’ ’em as slaves. We land ’em on Persephone, I’ve made contact with the Society to Abolish Human Trafficking there. They’ll see to their needs, help them get back on their feet. I’m taking a hit providing for their food aboard Serenity, but the last couple of jobs have been good to us, and we can get work on Persephone.”

“So,” Book replied, “Badger will be impressed by your nobility in freeing the slaves of 泥球 Ní Qiú, and give you a job, then?”

“Well, no, he won’t, point of fact. But Badger ain’t my only contact on Persephone.”

“Then you’ll get a job from Atherton Wing. You made him acknowledge that you were a great man.”

“All right, Shepherd, quit tweaking me.”

“What kind of reception do you expect on Persephone?” Book asked.

“I ain’t expecting no kind of reception at all.”

Book raised his eyebrows in reply. Really?

“I ain’t worrying on some theoretical reception, preacher,” Mal retorted, in response to Book’s silence. “What I’m worrying on is Blue Sun.”

“Changing the subject, are we?”

“It’s my boat,” Mal said, petulantly.

Book acknowledged the fact. “So what worries you about Blue Sun?”

“I’m not rightly sure,” Mal replied. “I just feel like they’re too…well, too much everywhere. This boat was sabotaged while we were carrying Holden Brothers’ secret information about Blue Sun. And out by the Lion’s Mouth, we were chased by a stealth ship.”

“An Alliance stealth ship?” Book queried.

“It weren’t the Alliance. Feds didn’t even see it. And River started in with her ‘two by two, Hands of Blue,’ creepifying talk at the same time. Who else but Blue Sun would have the kind of money it takes to buy a stealth ship?”

“Who indeed?” Book replied. “Now why would Blue Sun be interested in a small-time smuggler like yourself?”

“That’s just the question I’ve been asking myself.”

“Can’t you think of a reason?” Book insisted. Mal pondered. “What are some of your more serious breaches of the peace, Captain?” Book asked, and then listed them. “Thieving, armed robbery, assault, shootings, killings even—yet you’ve been bound by law for what?”

“Smuggling, tariff dodging, transportation of illegal cargo,” Mal recited his rap sheet. “Never convicted, though.”

“Have you ever wondered why the law hasn’t come down on you for armed robbery? Assault? Killings?”

“Didn’t have no evidence against me, I reckon.”

“Didn’t have evidence? Or weren’t looking for it?” Book paused to let the thought sink in. “Why would the government put so much law enforcement effort into catching tariff dodgers—and not bother with armed robbery?”


“In whose interest is it to enforce tariff and anti-smuggling laws?” Book asked. Again he paused for a long beat. “Didn’t you say Blue Sun was angling for a trade monopoly on Beaumonde?”

“I didn’t say it, Shepherd, Buck Holden did—how did you know that, Shepherd? But it’s hard to take it as a serious threat—you know, a company that’s known for selling t-shirts and fruity oaty bars.”

“You already know the danger that lurks in fruity oaty bars,” Book said ominously.

“I do,” Mal said, with a bit of a shudder.

“But here on the outer Rim,” Book continued, “Blue Sun’s business is not mainly soda pop and fruity oaty bars, is it?”

“You’re right,” Mal answered. “They’re doing the terraforming—equipment, operations—”

“And workers?” Book added significantly.

“Sonofabitch. Blue Sun is behind slave trafficking.”

“You have no evidence of that,” Book cautioned.

“Makes sense, though. It’s their ‘way,’ ain’t it, Shepherd? Control the process from start to finish. Another gorram monopoly.”

“So whose interests have you just crossed? With your,” he coughed meaningfully, “slave rescue.”

“Blue Sun,” said Mal, staring.

“Do you think they’re prepared to let a small-time smuggler and petty thief get away with it? One who has already shaken the system down to its foundations with a broadwave about Miranda?”

哦, 神圣的地狱 啊 Ò, shénshèng de dìyù ā . They don’t know that. Nobody knows we broadwaved it.”

“Nobody?” Book returned, with a look that challenged Mal’s assertion.

“Well, the Operative,” Mal admitted. “But he won’t tell them—he’s too busy trying to keep outta the way of the Parliament hisownself.”

“Were there no other people who saw you, your crew, or your ship in association with the Miranda broadwave?”

“The Alliance soldiers,” Mal said, as the realization hit him. “The whole gorram fleet.”

“And not a one of them would talk? With the inducements that a well-funded corporation could provide?”

他妈的 操的 王八蛋 Tāmādē cào de wángbādàn.”

* * *

Mal’s drug-induced sleep was a restless sleep. Inara watched as he twitched in agitation on the infirmary bed. He muttered incomprehensibly. She tried to soothe him, giving him sips of water and tending him through the night.

* * *

Kaylee came to relieve her in the early hours of the morning, and Inara made her way back to her shuttle. The cargo bay was full. Most of the cargo crates had their lids propped open, and inside slept the escaped slaves of 泥球 Ní Qiú. As she neared her shuttle, Zoe appeared, and she realized the first officer had been waiting for her.

“Inara, mind if I come in with you? I need to talk with you.”

Inara led the way in. Once inside, she asked, “Would you like some tea?”

“No, thank you,” Zoe replied. “Inara, I’ll speak plainly. I need your help.”

“My help? What can I do?”

“In managing the Captain,” Zoe continued. “You’re the only one he’ll listen to.”

“Zoe, I don’t think Mal has ever listened to me.”

“Oh, yes, he has,” Zoe stated with certainty. “Inara, he has been guided by your influence ever since you stepped on this boat, and it’s only more so since the two of your took your relationship to the next level four weeks ago.”

“Zoe, what?...I’ve never said…has Mal?...” She and Mal had never announced their relationship to the crew.

“Do you think I can’t tell? I’ve known the man for more than fourteen years, Inara. He’s my best friend. In some ways, I know him more thoroughly than I ever knew Wash. When you stepped aboard this vessel more than two years ago, you kindled something in him—something I hadn’t seen since early on in the War, before things started going way south. Part of him that had been dead since Serenity Valley started to come back to life.”

Inara was at a loss for words. “Oh,” she said, stupidly.

“When you two finally slept together, the night we left Beaumonde—”

“You knew?” Did Zoe have their union pinned down to the exact minute?

“Inara, there isn’t much that goes on, here on this boat, without me knowin’ it,” Zoe stated with absolute confidence. “When you two finally slept together, you opened up a part of him that’s been closed off for years. I’ve heard him laugh with you—in a way I’ve not heard him laugh for a decade. So, yes, I think you do have great influence with the Captain, and that’s why I’m asking for your help.”

“But Zoe, surely you have more influence with Mal than I—”

“Oh, I’ve been following—and questioning—his orders for years.” Zoe was clear on that. Others might think she blindly followed Mal’s lead, but she—and Mal—understood that it was far more complicated than that. “And I will surely let him know what’s on my mind, as soon as he’s got his head on straight again. But I’ll need your help to work this.”

“Work what?” Inara asked.

“Help me steer him towards less dangerous work. I thought he was on the right track, with legal cargo, Holden’s shipments—then he takes it into his head to liberate slaves on a planet that’s practically owned by Blue Sun—puts himself, and all of us, in harm’s way. And look at him. Had to carry him back to the ship, blood pouring outta his head. And 尘球 Chén Qíu weren’t much better. Nearly got shot in the belly.”


“No, me,” Zoe returned. “I don’t mind that he’s got these crazy, noble notions of doin’ the right thing—I’m glad to see he’s still got it in him, ’cause I had thought that part of him also died at Serenity Valley. But putting us in harm’s way when there’s a way around it—particularly after— ” She stopped, unable to talk about Miranda, and Wash. She bottled up her emotions, and continued in a tight voice, “He’s gotten more reckless recently. You can stop it.”

“Zoe, I know you think I have…influence. But I’ve never felt…less in control. All my professional life, I’ve known how to influence people, make them feel—what they’re supposed to feel. But I can’t predict Mal’s reactions.” She’d spent years studying how to read people, how to influence people, how to lead people in a desired direction. Her skills rarely failed her—except with Mal. Techniques that had other men—her clients—behaving predictably and following the rules—on Mal, they backfired. Mal was a loose cannon. And just as dangerous. “I tried, a few days ago, to ask him to do something for me—I failed miserably, we quarreled, we—”

“Oh, no,” Zoe groaned. “He screwed up.”


“I knew it. 该死 Gāisǐ . Not a lick of common sense.” Zoe turned to leave the shuttle. As she exited, she had an afterthought, and added, “You know, you were right, Inara.”

“About Mal?”

“About me,” Zoe returned, leaving Inara puzzled.

* * *

Knowing that Mal would want a full status report first thing he was fully conscious, Zoe checked with Simon and made sure she was in the infirmary when he woke. She filled him in. “…a total of thirty-two passengers.”

“That’s eight more ’n we planned on,” Mal said, running the calculations for expenditure of stores at five times the normal rate. “How ’re supplies holding up?”

“Water’s tight,” Zoe answered. “People were so muddy when they arrived, I authorized water use for bathing for each of them, and that cost us. And their clothes were so filthy, I authorized water use for laundry. Of course, most of the wash water can be reclaimed, but it’s a big strain on the water reclamation system, having all these people aboard.”

“Food stores?” Mal inquired.

“Neumann’s a wonder.”

Mal raised his eyebrows in surprise, and winced at the strain in his stitches. “Neumann?”

“Turns out he’s a skilled cook,” Zoe replied. “Can turn out a tasty meal for forty outta minimal ingredients. He stepped right up, volunteered to take cook duty ’til we reach Persephone. Of course, what cooks best for a crowd is soups and stews—and again, it’s the water stores that’s taking a beating.”

“Life support system?” Mal knew Kaylee had been worried about the atmo system even before they landed on 泥球 Ní Qiú. How would it perform under the extra burden?

“It’s a little strained, with all these people aboard. Kaylee’s been babying the atmo feed, and she says it’ll do, for now.”

Mal nodded. “Fuel?”

“The extra weight is an issue, but now we’ve reached speed, we should be fine. We’re only five days out from Persephone.”

“I been out for two days?”

“Simon insisted. Only way to keep you from compounding the injury from the concussion.”

混球 的 医生 Húnqiú de yīshēng,” Mal muttered to himself. “Still got one hellluva headache. Listen, Zoe—” he began, rising from the infirmary bed.

“Sir, I’d like to speak.”

Mal gave her his full attention. Zoe never interrupted him for trivialities.

“Sir, I’m giving you notice—” she began.

This was one of Mal’s worst fears. “What?—Zoe, you’re not—” he said in a panic.

“—notice that I want to be relieved of duty on jobs that involve a likelihood of violence, particularly gunplay,” Zoe finished.

Mal was relieved. Not that. “What, Zoe?” he asked, reasonably. “You never had a problem with violence before. You’re ’specially good at it, as I recollect.” He smiled at his recollections of some of the finer instances. It was a smile that anyone but Zoe would have found a bit creepy. “Is it ’cause of my idiot diversion on 泥球 Ní Qiú? I’m sorry I put you through that, Zoe. Shouldn’t ’a had to rescue me. Things just didn’t go according to plan. ’Course I shoulda known that the incendiaries wouldn’t work with all that rain. Never seen a planet with so much rain. I—”

“Sir, I ain’t sayin’ I won’t help,” Zoe cut in, bringing him back to the point. “I’ll mind the ship, I’ll back you for negotiations, just not the kind involving shooting. Nor other mortal peril.”

“Oh, Zoe, I’m sorry, I shoulda thought—I ain’t been thinkin’—” Mal knew no apology was adequate for what Zoe had been through.

“That’s clear. Sir,” Zoe said, drily.

Mal felt the waves of guilt washing over him. “It’s my fault that you ain’t got—that Wash—oh, Zoe, sorry, sorry—I’m—”

“No, sir. What happened to Wash wasn’t your fault.”

“Yes, it was,” Mal insisted. “If I hadn’t taken us to Miranda, brought the Reavers down on us…”

“Then we’d all be dead,” Zoe stated with certainty. “Operative would’ve seen to that. You did what you had to, sir.”

“I risked the lives of everybody on this boat. Wash had to pay the price for my decision. Book, too. I as good as killed ’em both.”

“Wash was a grown man, Mal,” Zoe said, with a rare use of his name. “He made his own decisions. He chose to follow you. So did I.”

“Zoe, don’t you go tryin’ to un-guilt me,” Mal said, miserably. “Those things came about as a result of decisions I made. It’s my responsibility.”

“You’d agree then, that it’s your responsibility—for the sake of Wash—and Book—and the others who gave their lives—to look after the welfare of the survivors?”

Mal looked up at her. “Yes, it surely is. Zoe, what’re you meaning?”

“I’m pregnant, sir. Going on fourteen weeks.”

Mal’s jaw dropped. “Of course. I shoulda put it together—I was seeing the signs—on 尘球 Chén Qiú, when you couldn’t eat—when Jayne upset you—when—” The enormity of what he’d put her through suddenly hit him. “You nearly took a bullet in the belly, at Nilsen’s scrapyard, on account of my hare-brained slave rescue attempt there. You did take a bullet in the leg on 泥球 Ní Qiú. I’ve been risking your life, and the life of your baby. Zoe, I’ve been reckless. I ain’t fit to lead.”

“You’re fit to lead, sir, but only because you realize you aren’t.” She paused. “It’s them that think they’re fit that’s most dangerous. Just keep away from the riskier jobs, sir. I’ll back you.”

* * *

With the focus of all activity in the cargo bay, Simon had Serenity’s dining room to himself. He had enlisted the aid of the entire crew to pull it off. Zoe had come up with a tablecloth, Inara had provided him with an elegant china place setting and of course candles, and River had presented him with two beautifully constructed artificial flowers in a vase. Jayne had willingly helped him clean the dining room and galley ahead of time, and Mal had given him the idea in the first place. To his great surprise, Neumann had helped, too, advising him how to stretch the short rations into something worth eating, and giving him a packet of herbs that he’d brought on board in his personal luggage. Simon was confident he’d done everything he could. He heard her step in the hallway, and nervously re-checked all the preparations.

Kaylee entered the dining room, and Simon showed her to her seat. He hurried into the galley and brought out a covered plate, which he set before her with a flourish.

The view as he removed the lid was somewhat anticlimactic. An extremely small portion of reddish molded protein sat in the center of the plate. But the charm was in the details. He had shaped it like a heart, and neat off-white lettering on top spelled out “I love you.”

“It’s just packaged food, but with a little rosemary, a little marjoram—” Simon babbled, nervously.

Kaylee regarded the plate in silence for a moment. Then she turned to him with shining eyes. “It’s perfect,” she whispered.

Simon felt he would melt into the floor with the look she gave him. Then she smiled, and the room lit up. “Care to join me?”

“But…but there’s only one place setting!” he blathered.

“Is that a problem?” Kaylee asked, indicating her lap.

They finished the rest of the meal with Kaylee nestled against Simon’s chest, taking turns feeding each other miniscule bites from the same delicate fork.

* * *

The chow line was set up in the cargo bay. Ip Neumann had prepared a large pot of soup, and Mal stood behind it, serving it out to the 泥球 Ní Qiú refugees. Every bowl, cup, and mug that Serenity possessed had been pressed into service, and each person held their chosen vessel out to Mal, who filled it with soup and chatted with each and every person as they passed through the line. Inara observed the scene from the catwalk, near her shuttle.

“Mr and Mrs Chow, good to see you,” Mal greeted a middle-aged couple as he ladled out the soup. They had been kidnapped on their way home from work on Whitefall, six years previously. They had four children, aged six through thirteen at the time, who had been left to fend for themselves. Every one of the 泥球 Ní Qiú slaves had a story to tell, and Mal made a point of getting to know them. These people had been captured, cowed, herded, and corralled, their freedom and their individuality stripped from them. Treating them like people, whole and actual, was an important step for them on their way to reclaiming their humanity.

“Vijay!” he greeted a young man in his mid-twenties. The fellow had worked at a stud farm on Three Hills, dreaming about tending the horses at the big-time races. A horse trade gone bad had been his downfall, and he had his freedom taken in lieu of payment. “So, who do you reckon will win the Pinewoods Derby?” Mal asked. “They still hold that race on Three Hills, don’t they? Been a long time since I was there.”

A woman with fading bruises on her face held out her soup bowl. “You’re lookin’ better, Miss Sadowski. Space flight agrees with you.” The woman had been good-looking, and there was no doubt about the purpose for which she’d been sold into slavery. The hard manual labor of terraforming had been her punishment when she refused to cooperate with her captors’ original purpose.

After the passengers had been served, the crew came through the line. “Good soup, Dr. Ip,” Mal said with a smile. “They’re lovin’ it. How’d you know miso soup’s my favorite?” The new doc moved off, and Mal looked up to meet Jayne’s stare. Man was tryin’ to intimidate him into…what? More soup? Mal stared him down. “Just one serving, Jayne. Gotta stretch this pot to feed the rest.” To Zoe, Mal spoke quietly, “Gotta keep up your strength,” as he ladled a little extra into her bowl.

Inara did not pass through the line. Mal looked up to catwalk and saw the hem of her dress flutter as she disappeared into her shuttle. He’d had almost no contact with Inara since their fight on the bridge. He regretted their estrangement, but he didn’t know how to end it.

“There’s not enough left for you.”

River’s voice startled him out of his momentary absence. He gave her a tired smile. “Doesn’t matter, Albatross. I don’t have no appetite anyhow.” He poured the remaining soup into his mug. It filled it about one quarter full.

River watched as the Captain moved through the crowded cargo bay, nursing his quarter mug of soup, pretending he had plenty, talking to people. To all appearances, he was on dinner break, casually shooting the breeze, but River knew that he was on duty, circulating, assessing morale, contributing to the good cheer, and lessening the hardship of short rations. It was the kind of thing he had done regularly during the War, and he was damn good at it. It was one of the reasons that made men and women willing to follow him through hell.

* * *



傻瓜 shǎguā [idiot]

哎呀 Āiyā [Damn]

泥球 Ní Qiú

哦, 神圣的地狱 啊 Ò, shénshèng de dìyù ā [Oh holy hell]

他妈的 操的 王八蛋 Tāmādē cào de wángbādàn [Mother humping son of a bitch]

该死 Gāisǐ [Damn it]

混球 的 医生 Húnqiú de yīshēng [Asshole doctor]

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011 7:20 AM


Very good chapter, i am fond of your stories but I think this is your best chapter to date. So write more of them. :)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 9:56 AM


Loved your Zoe telling Mal. But oh, Zoe, couldn't you have listened thirty more seconds to the important thing Mal wouldn't let Inara do?

Great as ever.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 10:12 AM


Also, VERY cute Simon and Kaylee reconciliation.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 3:20 PM


Well you just joined a group of less than a dozen fanfic writers. I went back and reread your whole series from the start.

So where's the next part?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011 12:47 PM


Brilliant! Loved everything and Zoe was wrong, it wasn't Inara that could convince Mal to take less dangerous jobs but her ownself and the baby in waiting. I could so imagine the seen in the cargo bay with the soup being meted out and stretched rations. Not sure it is safe for them to go to Persephone though, what with ghost-Book's conversation in Mal's head. Can't wait to see what happens next! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Wednesday, July 20, 2011 12:47 PM


Sorry, I meant scene not seen! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Friday, July 22, 2011 9:25 AM


Thank you very much for the feedback! I'm glad you enjoyed this story.

There will be more...but :-( not for a little while. I have a bunch of revisions to work on the next part, and my internet access will be very limited for the next few weeks. Thanks again for taking the time to read these stories, and see you again before too long.

Sunday, July 24, 2011 7:23 AM


Lovely work, I'm glad it was Zoe who brought it to Mal's attention that he can be reckless at times. And for the sake of her unborn baby, I’m glad he agreed.

You do an exceptional job at illustrating Mal’s two sides; the Captain and the person, and how difficult it is for Mal to maintain an intimate relationship with Inara, his personal side, the one which is broken, vulnerable and hurting. Unfortunately, for them, it’s the side she needs to be there for her with her condition, which she chooses to hide for his sake.

Don’t be away too long;)

Friday, July 29, 2011 1:14 PM


Ok waited enough. it has been like 10 days... to long... need more story now...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011 5:36 AM


Patience, Nutluck. I wasn't kidding about limited internet access. The revisions on the next part are coming along and perhaps I'll be able to post the next one when I next sign in...about a week perhaps.
Very flattered that you're waiting with bated breath for the next part of the story. :-)


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ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (20)
“Vaccinations?” Jayne asked, with a stupid expression. “Fer chickens?”

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (19)
“Inara, I ain’t willing for you to bribe—” “Who said anything about bribes?” “What other form of persuasion you plannin’ on using? I’m not sure I like this plan.” “Mal, I can be very persuasive,” Inara replied. After a short beat, she added, with a touch of asperity, “Fully clothed.”

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (18)
Extreme measures as more things go wrong

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (17)
In which things begin to go wrong

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (16)
Waiting for the other shoe to drop

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (15)
Serenity enters the Core, Mal and Inara sleep together, and Simon and Ip come up with a plan.

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (14)
In which we find out more about Miranda

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (13)
Simon makes an announcement; Zoe and Inara take Mal to task

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (12)
Mal tells Inara a folktale from Shadow

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (11)
Inara and Zoe have a little palaver