BANDIAGARA (09) Part (02)
Sunday, October 30, 2011

Mal tries to make amends, River and Ip crunch numbers, and Jayne tries to detect croutons.



Part (02) Follows ONE MAN’S TRASH (08). Precedes TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10).


Mal tries to make amends, River and Ip crunch numbers, and Jayne tries to detect croutons.

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* * *

Mal found Simon in the infirmary, as he expected. “Hey, Doc, have you got an hour to spare?”

Simon looked up in disgruntled puzzlement. The Captain, of course, had the right to interrupt his researches and request his services at any time. But an hour? Nobody was sick or injured, that Simon had heard about. The Captain, naturally, could use a thorough course of therapy to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder, but he doubted Mal had come to him for that. It was the same old story. The Captain wouldn’t be concerned about PTSD until the nightmares got worse or he had a flashback at an inopportune moment. Then it would be difficult or impractical to begin the therapy. “Certainly,” Simon said, with as much ready compliance as he could muster. He was still angry about the cold-water shower. “What can I do for you?”

“Well, I reckon it’s time for my inoculation again,” Mal answered, rolling up his sleeve.

Simon went to the cabinet and removed the vial with the injectable men’s contraceptive. There was only one more dose left in this vial, but they still had two more vials from this lot. As he filled the hypo gun, out of curiosity, he checked the expiration date. He’d just purchased a crate of (barely) expired antibiotic, and in explaining to Mal how the medication didn’t actually suddenly spoil on the expiration date, it had him thinking about checking Serenity’s other medical stock. Yes, the medicine didn’t suddenly go bad the instant the clock ticked over, but it did gradually deteriorate. And the date he saw on the contraceptive vial nearly made him swear aloud, it was so long past. Perhaps he should have purchased some new stock on Beylix, but then he wouldn’t have had enough money for the antibiotic. Or for sutures. Or for sterile saline. Or for—. There simply wasn’t enough money to keep the infirmary fully stocked with unexpired medical supplies. It was a balancing act. And men’s injectable contraceptive just hadn’t been in high demand, before.

Wash had been the only user of it. Jayne didn’t like needles, and always took the pills. And the other men of Serenity had been celibate—whether by choice, as in the case of Book, or involuntarily. But now that the Captain’s—and his own—luck had changed, Simon needed to put the contraceptive higher on the priority list for purchases. He’d get it at the next opportunity.

Simon gave the inoculation, and Mal rolled his sleeve back down. “You said you needed an hour. Is there something else?” Simon inquired.

“Yes, Doc, there is. Follow me.”

Puzzled, Simon reached for his medical bag, but Mal said over his shoulder, “No need for that,” and strode off, Simon trailing behind him.

Mal led the way to Shuttle Two. He shut the hatch behind them and gestured for Simon to have a seat in front of the pilot’s console. Mal took the other seat.

“First of all, Simon, I owe you an apology.”

At last! The Captain would finally admit what a 流氓 liúmáng he’d been, leaving Simon to take an ice-cold shower after a long day’s work in the hot sun at that filthy dump. Shuttle Two still held a hint of the landfill stench, and Simon involuntarily recalled all the unpleasant details of the icy bath.

“Back on Beylix, I left you and Kaylee high and dry without a means of returning to the ship. Didn’t even understand for some time afterwards that I’d put you in a fix. It was a poor job on my part, and I’m sorry for it.”

Simon was stunned. He was angry about the incident at the dump—but all his anger had been directed at Kaylee. She’d taunted him about not being able to operate a vehicle, driving him to use coarse language that he shouldn’t have let pass his lips—least of all towards her. Now they weren’t speaking to each other. And here was the Captain taking the blame for it. “Captain, really, Kaylee and I lost our tempers, we—”

“Simon, I hadn’t put you two in an impossible situation, you wouldn’ta had nothin’ to lose your tempers over. I’m supposed to keep track of things like that. That’s my job, and I done it poorly.” He was done with the apology. “Now, I want to make amends,” Mal said, turning to the console. “This here’s the initiator. Before you fly, you always flip the three check switches. If all’s well, those lights—” he indicated a band of colored lights across the top of the console “—light up. That means your nav, propulsion, and helm systems are online.”

Mal continued in the same vein for another minute or two, moving his hands across various switches and dials. Then he shut down the console, turned to Simon and said, “Okay, now you try it.”

“What?” Simon said, startled.

“Your turn.”

“You want me to—fly this thing?”

“That’s the notion, Doc. Don’t want you never stuck like you were at the dump. Someone’s life could depend on you knowin’ how to operate the shuttle, and I ain’t takin’ that chance again. Now you ready to try it?”

Simon now recognized that, whether he wanted it or not, the Captain was giving him flying lessons, so he applied himself to the task. Soon he had mastered the pre-flight check and moved on to the start-up sequence. By the end of the hour, Simon had flown several circuits around Serenity. It was…actually kind of fun. When he pretended the window was just a vid screen, that is. As soon as he remembered that he was staring out into the Black, the reality of infinite darkness struck him, then his hands tensed on the yoke and his knuckles turned white.

“Easy there, Simon. Light touch does it. Now hit that switch—the orange one—no, it toggles up—gorrammit, Doc—” Mal reached over and flipped the switch himself, transferring control back to his console, and brought the shuttle in to dock with the ship. “Right, good work, Simon. We’ll find another opportunity before long. By the time we reach Bandiagara I want you fluent in basic space flight. If we get the chance planetside, I’ll teach you how to take off from ground, and we’ll try some atmospheric flight. We’ll save ground landing, docking in full gravity, and breaking atmo for later.” Lesson over, Mal stood up. As he left the shuttle, he called back to Simon, “Might want to take notes, Simon, on what we just done. Unless your Top Three Percent there’s got a photographic memory.”

* * *

Kaylee awoke late in the morning feeling ravenous. The others had already eaten breakfast, which was just as well: she was not in a mood to see Simon just now. After helping herself, she went to commune with her machines. Sometimes an engine was just a better listener than a person.

Someone—most likely the Captain and Jayne—had already dealt with the junkyard gleanings in the cargo hold. The piles of parts were netted securely into place, so they wouldn’t shift in flight. Kaylee headed directly to the engine room.

To her surprise, someone was already there. She found the Captain standing over a line-up of parts, holding a socket wrench in his hand, and with a puzzled expression on his face.

“Cap’n!” she exclaimed. “What’re you—”

“Hey, li’l Kaylee,” he said, turning toward her with a smile. “You look well-rested. Feelin’ a mite better?”

“Just shiny, Cap’n. Ready to get to work.” She eyed the engine parts—it was the set of fusion injectors he’d found at the dump—and the wrench he held in his hand. “Here Cap’n,” she said, handing him the next size socket for the wrench, “this one’ll fit better.”

She moved about her engine room, pulling out her diagnostic equipment—no point installing the fusion injectors if they didn’t work—and some cleaning materials. She set the Captain to work burnishing the contacts of the override controller she’d found in the refuse bin, while she took the radion-accelerator core offline in order to remove the damaged Codippily relay.

“You know, that’s one thing I’ve always loved about the Trace Compression Block engine,” she remarked conversationally, as she worked. “What makes it so much better than the Capissen 38. The Capissen may have six Gurtslers, but you can’t isolate the systems. You have to recycle secondary exhaust through a bypass just so’s it don’t enter the atmo feed. What 天才 tiāncái thought up that lame design? But with the Trace, the life support ain’t tied in directly with the propulsion system. You can take the core offline while you’re in flight, and it’s easy to isolate the different systems so’s you can work on them one at a time. Weren’t for that, we’d be spending a lot more time on the ground.”

Mal chuckled. Kaylee looked at him. “Not fair to laugh if’n you won’t share the joke.”

“Just rememberin’, 妹妹 mèimei. Bester used to have us grounded for the best part of a week every time we hit dirt, so’s he could service the engine,” Mal recounted, referring to Serenity’s one-time mechanic. “Told me he couldn’t fix the thrusters without shuttin’ down life-support and everything.” Bester had brought Kaylee aboard for an assignation in the engine room, only to find himself out of a job when Kaylee fixed the engine and Mal hired her on the spot to replace him.

“He told you that?” She shook her head. “He was just figurin’ a way to keep her on the ground longer so’s he could pick up girls.”

“Every planet, he had another girl, or three,” Mal said, his distaste for Bester’s very casual attitude toward women evident in his voice. “Can’t entirely disapprove it, though, since it brought you to Serenity.” He blushed, recollecting his embarrassment at interrupting them in flagrante delicto. “Don’t know why I’m bringin’ up that 傻瓜 shǎgūa. You got yourself a better man now.” He handed Kaylee the burnished override controller, then the socket wrench.

“Oh, I don’t know ’bout that, Cap’n. Simon and me ain’t exactly on speakin’ terms right now.”

“And that’s my fault, 妹妹 mèimei. I weren’t thinkin’ back there, took off with the one vehicle you could drive, and the only other pilot could fly the shuttle, left you two there, tellin’ ya ‘Fly it back to Serenity.’ Oughtta get kicked in the backside for that.”

“I heard ya got a cold shower.”

“And you got a hot bath.” Mal handed her the first fusion injector. “It’s justice. I deserved it. But don’t you go takin’ it out on Simon.”

“Oh, you shoulda heard him.” She put on a whiny Core-bred accent. “‘I can’t fly, I can’t drive, we hired a driver for the menial chores.’ Made me sick, all them fancy Core folks can’t do nothin’ for themselves. And then, ‘Where’s the start button? Where’s the operators’ manual? How do you turn this thing on?’ He was swearin’—”

“You got the Doc swearin’?”

“Oh, he sure was. ‘Gorrammit, Kaylee! I’m a ruttin’ doctor! What the 地狱 dìyù—’”

“In English and Chinese. I’m impressed,” Mal stated. The diagnostic on the second fusion injector checked out, and he handed it down to her. “You been a good influence on him, Kaylee.”

She finished tightening the fitting, then gave him a look. “You serious?”

“Sure am. Noticed it at Juju Kamara’s. He’s beginning to lose the Core taint.”

“Whaddya mean, 哥哥 gēgē?”

“Well, he wouldn’t exactly pass for a Rim-worlder,” Mal said, testing the third fusion injector, “but he ain’t all stiff and proper neither. I don’t reckon he’d fit in back on that fancy rock he come from no more.” He handed the part to Kaylee. “No, his folks mighta neglected his education, so he don’t know the basics like how to drive and how to handle animals, but he didn’t waste his time. Got a good head on his shoulders and he can learn. You should give him another chance.”

* * *

Serenity had been a hive of activity ever since they lifted off from Beylix. That very night, Mal and Jayne secured the cargo of junkyard parts with netting to keep it from shifting around during take-off. The next morning, Jayne and Zoe started cleaning and sorting. Most of the pieces were corroded and dirty, and some were downright filthy. Kaylee stopped in on her way to the engine room.

“Let’s put the spaceship parts at the passenger lounge end of the bay. Small electronics next to Ip’s blinky machine, but don’t block his access. Vehicle parts by the airlock. Household machines like sewing machines and refrigeration units under the port side catwalk. If’n ya don’t recognize it, pile it in the middle an’ I’ll come figure it out when I get done with the repairs to Serenity.” Kaylee then disappeared into the engine room, where she and the Captain were working on repairs.

As soon as Kaylee left the cargo bay, Simon ventured out of the infirmary and lent a hand with the sorting. He’d been working with Kaylee in the engine room for long enough that he now had an idea what many of the pieces of junk were, and he had selected a number of them from the dump himself, so his help was more productive than one might expect of a Core-educated surgeon.

Ip came into the bay to read the data from his grav anomaly machine, and as soon as he was done, he stayed, taking over the task of sorting through the small electronics. When Zoe relieved River at the helm, River came and joined Ip at his task.

Mal was everywhere. He was on the bridge, in the engine room helping Kaylee, in the cargo bay, cleaning, sorting, stowing. He even took Simon aside for some special task, and the two of them disappeared for a time.

The only one not up to her ears in work was Inara. The first day she took over cooking meals and doing dishes, leaving the others free to return to their tasks. Still, she was at loose ends most of the day. It felt wrong to be standing idle while the others were working so hard, but she couldn’t even begin to guess at what most of the items in the cargo bay were. She took it on faith that the cargo was worth transporting. Mal certainly believed that it would turn out to be treasure for Serenity. To her it just looked like a pile of trash.

* * *

Ip was crunching numbers in Serenity’s dining room. It was the data from the Shadow fly-by, and he was taking the raw data from the particle detector and processing it into something that he could compare with data from other sources. As usual, he enjoyed doing his work in the public areas of the ship, rather than holing up in the privacy of his bunk. He never seemed bothered by the fact that everybody who passed through the dining room interrupted him and asked questions. Even Jayne.

“What’s that machine you got settin’ in the middle of the table for?” Jayne asked, as he served himself a snack.

Ip was surprised that Jayne was curious enough to ask, but then again, the piece of equipment sat right in front of Jayne’s customary seat at the table, so it was hard for him to ignore. “It’s a particle detector,” Ip answered.

“What does it do?”

“Detects particles.” Ip still remembered the incident of his ruined shoes. It was payback time.

Well, duh, Jayne’s expression read, I know that. But he asked, “Particles of what?”

“Charged particles. Neutral particles. Atomic particles.” Jayne didn’t look like he recognized what Ip was talking about, so he elaborated. “You know, ions, protons, electrons.” Jayne was still looking blank, so Ip added, “Wontons. Croutons.”

Jayne smirked. “That why you got it on the dining table here? You detect any croutons, you let me know. I like ’em.” He got up and carried the rest of his snack off towards the cargo bay.

* * *

Ip’s next visitor was River.

He glanced up from a series of involved calculations to find himself looking into her intense, brown-eyed stare. “Gah! River, you startled me,” he exclaimed, trying to recover his calm. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

River smiled playfully, keeping her giggles to herself. She’d carefully snuck up on him, taking advantage of his preoccupation. “Jayne told me you were following a trail of breadcrumbs,” she said. This wasn’t an exact quote. “Doc ’Noyman has a machine up there in the dining room what detects croutons,” is what Jayne had actually said. “Seems stupid to me. Just better off followin’ yer nose.”

Ip smiled back. “Trail of breadcrumbs is a good description. Except the trail is not very complete.”

“It’s hard to follow a trail of breadcrumbs,” River observed. “Breadcrumbs get eaten by birds.”

An image of River as a bird filled Ip’s mind. River, hopping gracefully across a deserted landscape, picking breadcrumbs out of the ashes. Albatross, thought Ip. That’s what the Captain calls her. Albatrosses were graceful in flight, but awkward on the ground.

“It’s not a very appropriate image,” River said, as if she had plucked his thoughts out of his head. “May I crunch with you?” she asked, sitting down close beside Ip.

“Crunch?” Ip replied in confusion. “With me?”

“Numbers,” River responded, pulling the chair closer.

Crunch numbers. Ip smiled. “Sure. I’m downloading the time-of-flight data from the particle detector. I have an algorithm set up to analyze the time-of-flight and the flight paths…”

* * *

“You’re really good,” Ip said, with admiration.

River’s eyes widened. She smiled.

“At numbers,” Ip added, paying her back for playing with him earlier. “Are you sure you’re not actually a PhD terraformologist or perhaps a mathematics professor in disguise?”

“Disguised as a girl,” River said.

Ip smiled. “It’s a good disguise.” He looked at her in admiration, seeing not only her bright mind, but, as she had just pointed out, the girl—or really, the woman in her. She was not a child.

“Can’t see the weapon. Only see the girl.”

Ip was disconcerted by this puzzling statement. What weapon? Oh. She meant she was carrying a concealed firearm. Okay. He really didn’t see the need, aboard Serenity, in deep space, but he had noticed that the Captain often went about the ship wearing his gun in a holster, and not only when they were planetside. Apparently River did, too. He briefly wondered where she concealed it. He had heard of women carrying guns underneath their skirts, strapped to their thighs. An image of what a weapon would look like, strapped to River’s thigh, flashed in his mind, to be rapidly suppressed as inappropriate. Re-engaging his train of thought, he wondered why so many of the crew of Serenity felt the need to be armed, and it also bothered him that a man with PTSD, known to be prone to violent flashbacks, walked the halls of the ship armed with a deadly weapon. Why did the doctor not persuade the Captain to lock up his gun in a safe place when it wasn’t needed?

“Doesn’t feel safe,” River interrupted his thoughts. “Never feels safe.”

Who was she talking about? Ip wondered. Him? Herself? The Captain? He shook off the thought, and returned to the safer subject of mathematics. “You really never went to a university?”

“My education was interrupted.”

Ah, right. He remembered her saying that she had left the Core—impulsively, he supposed—and that Simon had accompanied her, throwing up his high-trajectory career at Capital City Hospital on Osiris. “Why did you leave school?”

She did not look at him.

“River, I know you’re bright. I can’t imagine it had anything to do with academics.”

“Unsuitable,” she mumbled.

“What was unsuitable?” Ip puzzled a moment. “The academic program at your school didn’t suit you?”

She nodded, unable to speak, still not looking at him.

“You could have transferred. To another school. 鬼 Guǐ, you could have transferred directly to a university. Never mind finishing high school. Harcliffe would kill for a student as bright as you. You could have skipped over undergraduate requirements and gone on directly to graduate-level classes.”

She was shaking her head sadly, as she regarded him with tears in her eyes. Ip recognized that the subject of schooling was distressing to her.

“Not so interested in formal educational programs anymore?” he inquired sympathetically.

“Tried it. Wasn’t any fun,” she replied in a small voice.

“You could apply to a university now. With your intelligence, the doors of the best are open to you.”

“Can’t pay.” She was still shaking her head. Ip really was relentless. He didn’t get it, that there was no way River Tam could go to a university like a regular person. Simon would have been annoyed with him, but River, despite everything, was amused. And pleased, too. Because it meant that Ip still saw her as a person with the potential to lead a normal life. It was a view that no one else, no one, held.

“For a student like you, the admissions officers would bend over backwards to find funding.”

River contemplated the picture of university admissions officers engaged in backbends. Then she considered them doing headstands, and finally, cartwheels. Amusement showed on her face.

“What’s so funny?” Ip asked. “They would, you know. You’d be an extraordinary student.”

“Gymnastics. Backbends. Headstands. Cartwheels.”

Ip thought a moment, then joined her in a smile. “It is an amusing picture. Even if they didn’t wear their business suits and neckties.” After another moment of snickering, he said, “But I’m perfectly serious, you know. Funds wouldn’t be an issue, for a student like you.”

“It’s not about the money.”

Ip was thinking about his own university experience. It had been the best time of his life. In high school—despite having gone to an academically-oriented high school filled with intelligent teenagers—he’d still been a bit of a fish-out-of-water. Too academic to fit in with the popular crowd. Too gregarious really to fit in with the nerdy crowd. But at Harcliffe University—a top-flight Core university—most of the students had been just as academically talented as he was. His gregariousness—or perhaps he should just call it for what it was, social cluelessness—was an asset. (He knew he often rubbed people the wrong way, but he really didn’t know what to do about it or even if he could do anything about it, so he just went on being himself.) He wasn’t socially inhibited, and it had made him very popular with the professors. He was never shy about going to office hours and asking tons of questions in class, and professors noticed him.

“Are you worried you wouldn’t fit in?” he asked.

River knew she would never fit in, but it didn’t worry her at all. “Can't leave Serenity. Don’t want to leave Serenity.”

* * *





流氓 liúmáng [jerk]

天才 tiāncái [genius]

妹妹 mèimei [little sister]

傻瓜 shǎgūa [idiot]

地狱 dìyù [hell]

哥哥 gēgē [older brother]

鬼 Guǐ [Hell (lit. ‘ghost’)]

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Sunday, October 30, 2011 4:40 AM


“Can't leave Serenity. Don’t want to leave Serenity.”

Really who would every want to leave Serenity?

Great chapter!

Sunday, October 30, 2011 7:25 AM


Hee, Simon piloting. Something tells me he's going to need that knowledge sometime in the near future. Provided he can keep himself calm long enough to not crash.

Also, now that I've said it, I think someone needs to intentionally say that within Simon's earshot. Because making doctors panic even more about safety and space travel is pure entertainment.

But it's good Mal is trying to make up for his lapse.

Something tells me that the expired birth control is going to be more of a problem for Simon and Kaylee...

And aw, Ip, that might be the first time you said something right. Though using Jayne's half understanding to trick him into looking like a bigger fool to the rest of the crew when he tries to explain what a particle detector does was pretty clever.

Sunday, October 30, 2011 2:55 PM


Flight school?

Flight, Take Off & Landing……Simon receive flight instruction, Kaylee lands with both feet on the ground with a better understanding that it wasn’t her fault arguing with Simon, and River takes off with flights of fancy about school education.

Really nice work ebfiddler, enjoyed the story.


Sunday, October 30, 2011 5:21 PM


No one leaves Serenity. They check in but they don't check out. Like Hotel California or a roach motel. :)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011 9:06 AM


Thanks for commenting, all. Bytemite, you're on to a few things here. I won't say any more! BPZ, very poetical--glad you liked all the flight in this one. And who would want to leave Serenity?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011 9:44 PM


So where's the next one? It feels like it has been months since this one was posted.

Thursday, November 3, 2011 6:28 AM


I'll put it up tomorrow, Nutluck. Gotta spin these out because story #10 is in the throes of serious revision right now...need the time to get that one in order. Or...I could put this one up quickly and make you all wait months before I'm ready to post another story. As always, very flattered that you're so eager for the next post!


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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