TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10) Part (08)
Saturday, February 4, 2012

The goushi hits the fan…



Part (08)



The gǒushǐ hits the fan…

This section R rated for strong language and violence.

Previous Part | Next Part

* * *

Buck gazed dumbstruck at the flat facets of the rock crystal in Mal’s hand. A really rich timonium ore containing a few parts per million could go for upwards of one hundred platinum per metric ton, in the raw, depending on the quality. The price increased as the refining process concentrated the elemental mineral. The crystalline form of the mineral was even more valuable than the most highly refined ore. Of course, he’d never held a timonium crystal in his hand before—he’d only seen them on the Cortex, or in a museum display case. He reached out to touch the crystal, and as his fingertips made the initial contact with it, he felt that unmistakable (and legendary) microsecond of electrical conduction that gave timonium its nickname, “electric garnet.” He nearly dropped the crystal, and his startled exclamation invoked every deity he could think of on such short notice. “耶稣 我的天 圣佛 Yēsū wǒ de tiān shèng Fó Vishnu 大地女神 dìqiú nǚshén Alhamdulillah ar-Rahman!” he exclaimed, directing a look of awe at Mal.

“No one’s ever called me that before,” Mal said drily.

“You have got a pair, that’s for damn sure. Go in right under Blue Sun’s nose and beard the lion.” Buck mulled it over in his mind. It was unbelievable. He knew what kind of things Mal was capable of, had seen ’em in the past. It was why he’d called on him to get involved in the Blue Sun operation in the first place. But making off with a boatload of crystalline timonium—pure enough that its superconducting qualities were evident at the touch of a finger—that had to take the cake.

“I can’t deal with these, Mal. But I got a contact that can.” He scribbled some Chinese characters on an electronic card and handed it to Mal. “Commit that to memory,” he advised, “and destroy the card.”

* * *

“Miranda?” Ip asked River.

“Miranda—ask her,” River responded with a fey smile, as she teetered at the edge.

Ip took River by the arm and propelled her out of the restaurant.

“I thought Simon said your warrants were rescinded!” Ip hissed in her ear. “I thought you weren’t a fugitive anymore!”

“I’m not,” River answered sharply. “I checked.”

“You checked?” Ip echoed.

Is there an echo in here? River thought, but refrained from saying. She kept her eye-roll to herself as well. Sometimes Ip was just as maddening as Simon. “Yes. There is no active warrant for Simon or me. I looked in the Federal warrant database.”

“You can access the Federal warrant database—?” Ip began, then realized that he’d actually seen River do it. She’d hacked into Federal law enforcement systems when they were building a case in support of the Captain when he’d been arrested on false slave-trafficking charges on Persephone. And then she’d done it again on Beylix when she investigated the source of the flag on the Captain’s credit account.

“Someone still wants to find us.” River was steadied by Ip’s reaction. Not because he was calm—he most certainly wasn’t—but because he refused to let her wander down the fey path, and kept asking very practical, if anxiety-heightened, questions.

“The Feds? Or someone else? River,” Ip said seriously, “listen, I’m not going to get mad—you can tell me the truth. But I think I have a right to know if I’m walking the streets of Beaumonde in broad daylight with a wanted criminal.”

“I’m not wanted,” River answered definitively, then reconsidered as the fey path beckoned. Up a crazy River by the old mill run, a crazy, crazy River in the noonday sun…she was losing the thread…blue skies up above, everyone’s in love…“I’m not wanted?” she asked Ip, in a distressed voice, her eyes filling with tears as she gazed at him.

“No, no, River, I’m asking you a very practical question.” Ip turned to face her, holding her elbows with both his hands. “Are we going to be set upon by officers of the law, ready to arrest you for a fugitive and me for abetting you?”

“What kind of question is that?” River shot back. “Do you think I can predict the future?”

“River, I—”

“But the answer is no. Officers of the law may only act upon a warrant, and there is no active warrant for Simon or me.”

“You’re sure?”

River opened her mouth, ready to lecture him about the impossibility of absolute certainty, ready to quote Heisenberg and give him a more accurate estimate of the probability of the predicted outcome, when he continued, “But what about that missing children picture on the tabletop—?”

Someone still wants to find Simon and me,” River said. “Someone not the Feds.”

Ip nodded, taking it in. “Now what did you mean about Miranda?”

* * *

“I can’t believe that obnoxious pig said that to you,” Mal said to Zoe, brushing the dust off the sleeves of his coat as they walked back to Serenity from Holden’s office.

“Didn’t surprise me, sir,” Zoe replied. “It’s the first thing that comes outta the mouth of a certain kind of man, they see a pregnant woman without a wedding ring on.”

“He had no reason to say that kinda thing,” Mal insisted. “Foul-mouthed 狗屎的 他妈的 狗娘养的 gǒushǐde tāmādē gǒuniángyǎngde—”

“Foul-mouthed?” Zoe said wryly. Mal shut his mouth abruptly. “I expected it. Holden told him he couldn’t throw me in the dirt, on account of me bein’ pregnant an’ all, so he had to throw the dirt on some other way.”

“I still can’t believe it. Just boggles the mind. What kinda 青蛙的 乱伦 王八蛋 qīngwā de luànlún wángbādàn treats a pregnant woman that way?” He realized he was swearing again, and shut his mouth.

“Well, the words didn’t hurt me none, sir,” Zoe said. “What about you?”

“What about me what?”

“He just talked at me. You, he threw into the dirt. You ain’t hurt or nothin’?”

Mal gave Zoe a glare, realized she was tweaking him, and answered, “Hell no, Zoe. It’s just a show. Buck don’t want to seem to be favoring us, and I’m just playin’ along.” He subconsciously rubbed the spots on his hip and his left elbow as he spoke; there were gonna be bruises there come morning. “So why don’t you?”

“Why don’t I what?”

“Wear a ring. I seem to recall Wash always wore a wedding ring.”

“He did,” Zoe confirmed. “Mine—well, didn’t want nothin’ interfering with my draw.”

Coulda worn it on your left hand, Mal thought, but didn’t say.

“So I decided to wear it in my heart,” Zoe continued. She tugged on the leather necklace she regularly wore, had worn for years, almost as long as Mal had known her. She pulled up a portion that was always concealed beneath her clothing, revealing a sparkling golden circle looped through the leather. Her wedding ring. “Still do. He’ll always be next to my heart.”

Mal couldn’t speak. Zoe carefully tucked the ring back beneath her body armor. They walked in silence, through the streets of New Dunsmuir, headed for Pedro Docks.

* * *

It was a bright, sunshiny day, and the campus of Dunsmuir University was bustling with activity, with students and professors moving across the quad on their way to lectures. Some were taking advantage of the fine weather to study outdoors under the shade of the large Paulownia trees, but Ip couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that had settled on him since the restaurant incident. Why did he feel like they were being followed?

He was anxious to conclude their business and return to Serenity. He greeted Professor Guzman, an acquaintance who had been a post-doc while he was still a grad student at Harcliffe University on Bernadette, and introduced River as his research assistant. While River settled in and read scientific journals at Professor Guzman’s office in the Geology building, Ip discussed the experiment with the professor. Ip knew that River was also listening, which was just what he wanted, because he intended for her to conduct much of the experiment herself, under his supervision of course. Professor Guzman was prosy—Ip remembered well how tedious the grad students’ journal club had been whenever she gave the presentations—but her research plan was solid, and he was glad for the income the work would provide, as well as the chance to co-author a paper that would, with Guzman’s help, almost certainly be published. He concluded his arrangements with her, trying to disguise how anxious he was to get out of there. At last, having arranged for the crate—it was not a large one, but it was too heavy to hand-carry—to be sent to the docks, he and River left the professor’s office. Ip was about to turn left down the central hall towards the main staircase to the front entrance when River suddenly—and with shocking force—pulled him to the right and into a low side corridor that led to the labs.

Ssshh! He wasn’t sure exactly how she silenced him, since she didn’t appear to have made a sound. One moment they were racing down the corridor, with River tugging him along by the hand and glancing nervously over her shoulder, and the next moment, she had disappeared. He had looked away only for a second, following her gaze down the corridor behind them, and when he looked back she was nowhere that he could see.

Don’t look down, don’t look down. Why that thought popped into his head, he couldn’t say, but of course he looked down. What he saw when he looked down was…the floor. It was entirely unremarkable, so he looked back up, to see two men in unremarkable black suits striding purposefully along the corridor. They must have been engaged in lab experiments, for they both wore protective blue gloves on their hands. “Gentlemen,” Ip said, nodding a greeting as they passed. The pair nodded shortly, without any warmth, and continued down the hallway as if on a mission. That was when it struck Ip that their appearance was in fact odd. Who wore a business suit while conducting lab experiments? At the very least, a typical scientist would throw on a lab coat to protect their good clothes, and most scientists didn’t dress up in the first place. And the pair did not seem to belong in this corridor, for instead of turning into one of the labs, they stopped outside first one door, then another, as they came to them, pausing at each one and seeming to consider whether or not this was the right lab to enter.

It was on the tip of his tongue to ask them if they needed help finding their way, when the thought struck him, Let them figure it out for themselves. He wasn’t much interested in helping these unsympathetic strangers. He was much more interested in finding River and getting back to Serenity. Something held him back from calling out River’s name while the strangers were still in the corridor. He waited until they had reached the end of it and passed through the door to the staircase.

“River?” he ventured cautiously, looking both ways along the corridor. She was nowhere to be seen. “Riv—gah!” he exclaimed as she suddenly dropped down from the ceiling, where, now that he looked up, he could see that she must have been bracing herself up there amongst the exposed piping. She must be stronger than she looked, and a talented gymnast to boot, to hold a position like that for more than a few seconds. “What was that all about?” he asked, quietly.

“Hens do not laugh and I don’t like Russian!” River replied. Ip wanted to ask what in the worlds she meant, but he didn’t have time. She grabbed his hand and tugged him along, not to the stairs at the end of corridor where the suits had gone, not back to the main hall either, but into a room containing lockers, with a couple of padded benches affixed to the floor. He recognized it as a kind of changing room and lounge, where people who were monitoring all-night experiments could stop to catch a nap.

He was about to ask what they were doing there when he heard, or rather felt, Ssshh! again. River froze in her tracks, so he did, too, almost not daring to breathe. Maybe paranoia was infectious, he thought, feeling more and more like a character in a pulp spy novel.

“Not infectious,” River answered, though he didn’t believe he had voiced that thought aloud. “Paranoia is a symptom, not a disease. The causality is—”

“River,” Ip interrupted, and his voice was about an octave higher than usual. “What are we doing? What is going on?”

“Hens cackle. She eats her children! 提取 的计划 Tíqǔ de jìhuà,” she muttered, as she began pulling labcoats and scrubs off the hooks in the room. She knotted the sleeves and legs together, and as he watched open-mouthed, she tied one end of the makeshift rope to the leg of one of the benches. Giving the clothes-rope a sharp tug to test its strength, she opened the frosted window of the room, tossed the rope out, then gestured with her eyes, indicating unambiguously that he was to climb out the window and down the rope. He looked through the opening. It opened into a narrow shaft of an alley that cut most of the way through the massive geology building. The distant end of the alley opened onto Broadway Boulevard, the busiest street around the campus of Dunsmuir University. “Go somewhere safe,” the Captain’s voice echoed in his head, “a public place. Can’t kidnap you or take you down easy in front of witnesses.” Ip understood that the busy street represented safety, but he couldn’t understand the anxiety, the almost palpable fear, that was building in him. Gotta reach the street. Without questioning why he was doing so, Ip swung himself over the sill and climbed backwards down the wall of the building, three floors down, hanging onto the rope. No sooner had he reached the alley below than River descended, dropping the last ten feet and landing with the grace of a dancer—a fighter—a dancer.

A fighter, he decided, observing that her body was tensed to spring, and noting with alarm that she had a knife in her hand. Following her moves, imitating them without knowing exactly why he was doing so, Ip made his way down the dim alleyway in River’s wake. Despite the fact that it was still broad daylight, the alley was in shadow, and now Ip began to feel that he had stepped onto the set of a B-grade film noir. Everything had an unreal quality, as if it were a dream.

Not a dream, River said. Nightmare. Sshh! Don’t speak!

Suddenly she shoved him hard against the side of a dumpster. Don’t like Russian, don’t like Russian, don’t like Russian, she repeated, more and more frantically. Two by two, Hands of Blue, two by two…. Her voice rose in pitch, even as the volume diminished to a whisper. Ip became aware of the voices of some men on the other side of the dumpster, between him and River and the distant safety of the open street.

“…with a man, late twenties, tall, Asian features,” one of the voices was saying.

“Neutralize him,” the other replied. “I’ll speak the safeword.”

Not listening! Not listening! Not listening… River’s panic was palpable.

The first man stepped past the dumpster. He was dressed in a neutral black suit, like the other pair Ip had seen in the corridor, with blue gloves on his hands. He held a long rod in his hand—Ip had no idea what it was, but his gut wrenched with the instinctive knowledge that it was something terrible. He looked into the face of his assassin.

* * *

Mal remembered the day Zoe married Wash. It was a brief, simple ceremony at a justice of the peace office on a Rim moon. They’d gone there after making a drop. Zoe had removed her gunbelt for the occasion but made no other concessions. It was before Jayne joined the crew, and Kaylee had yet to replace Bester as mechanic. Bester was off chasing girls, so Mal and the clerk had been the only witnesses to the ceremony. What mixed feelings he’d had that day, as his best friend formalized her relationship with another man. The three of them had gone to a bar afterwards to celebrate, but after a few rounds, Zoe and Wash had felt the need to celebrate their marriage privately and Mal was left drinking alone. He’d probably put a damper on the whole occasion with his dark mood.

Wasn’t gonna be that way, for him. He wanted his whole family there, his crew, when he married. He wanted Zoe standing by his side, as his best man—woman, he corrected. Wanted to feel her presence, her support, her approval, as he said his vows to the woman he loved and placed the ring on her finger.

“I’m gonna wear mine on the left hand,” Mal blurted, out of the blue.

“Your what?” Zoe queried.

“Wedding ring,” Mal said.

“You gettin’ married soon, sir?” Zoe asked archly.

牛屎 Niú shǐ. What was he thinking? He heaved a sigh. “Zoe, I know we don’t talk personal, but…”

What, sir? she asked with her look.

“I need your advice, as a, you know, I figure you’d have a better idea, you’re a woman-person, after all, and maybe you can tell me, you understand, you know, relationships and all, and I don’t—”

“You have anything like a point, sir?”

“I had a fight with Inara.”

“I’m aware, sir.” The whole gorram ship was aware. Have to be dead not to be aware, and Zoe for one was convinced that Wash had probably heard it, too, it was such a knock-down drag-out crockery-hurling shouting match.

“Thing was, it was over nothin’.”

“Didn’t sound like nothin’.”

“Over nothin’ I could figure out, anyhow. I went to see her, not expecting nothin’ in particular, and she starts hittin’ me, and screaming, and all what-all, and none of it made no sense to me.”

“You sure you didn’t just screw up again, sir?”

“I probably did, Zoe. But I got no clue. I thought everything was goin’ well—hell, you remember, I was even whistling for 天的 tiān de sake—and next thing she’s goin’ at it hammer and tongs, and not for any reason I can figure out why.”

“You sure you didn’t call her ‘whore’?”

“Don’t know that word no more,” Mal said primly. “I’m sure.”

“Did you apologize?”

“Yeah, I did. Didn’t have no idea what for, but I told her I was sorry for it, whatever I done.”

“And she—?”

“And she called me a two-timing 妓女的儿子 jìnǚ de érzi and started throwin’ things at me.” He shook his head. “I just don’t understand.”

“Seems pretty clear to me. She thinks you’re two-timing her.”

“I get that, Zoe. I just don’t get where she coulda got that idea.”

“Well, clearly she don’t know you well as I do, sir, if she really thinks that. But the real question is, what set her off?”

“That’s where I’m stumped, Zoe. You seen me doin’ anything stupid recently?” Zoe resisted the urge to roll her eyes, and just gave him a look. He gave her a thin, wan smile. “Stupider than usual, I mean.”

“Not as I’ve seen. Musta been something you said to her privately.”

He racked his brain. “Only real serious conversation we had recently was, she came to me on the bridge and asked about our next landfall. She wanted to set up appointments—”

“She ain’t seein’ clients?!” Zoe exclaimed, indignantly.

“She assured me these appointments are not clients, Zoe, but she won’t tell me what they are. It’s like a test. Y’know—do I trust her? Last time she asked me the same thing, I blew up, called her bad names, she slapped me and we didn’t speak to each other for weeks. This time I thought I passed the test. I trusted her. But I guess she don’t trust me.”

They walked along for a bit, deep in thought, then Zoe spoke. “I’m thinking, Mal, this has more to do with Inara’s profession than you’re willing to admit. How long has it been since she worked?”

“I don’t know exactly, Zoe—actually, I try not to think on it.”

“Well, that there’s the problem.”

“I don’t want to blame her, it’s best when I don’t think on it.”

“You can’t ignore it, sir. It won’t go away. She’s a professional woman, well-respected in her line of work, got a good business operation goin’—’til recently anyway—and now she’s supposed to give it all up, to be with you. Would make me a mite tetchy, were I in her shoes.”

“I never asked her to give up her business—”

“I’m sure you didn’t. But you expect it.”

He huffed and fumed a little. “Alright. Yeah. I do expect it. What else am I gonna do? I can’t pretend to be happy if she wants to run off and bed some other man, even if she gets paid handsomely for it, even if she has ‘talents’ and ‘skills’—”

He was getting pretty worked up. Zoe interrupted. “Wash wasn’t too happy about my choice of profession, either, Mal.”

“That is completely different! It’s not like you were betraying him by doing your job.”

“No, see. It’s not all that different. There was no way in 地狱 dìyù I was gonna give up my job just to please a man, even a man I loved as much as him. If he couldn’t love me for who I was, up to and including the kind of work I did, well, maybe I didn’t want to be with him.”

“You got married.”

“Yes, sir, I did. That was after Wash and I talked it out. He felt like I was betraying him—too stubborn to consider his wishes and needs, putting my job first. I knew if I gave up my job to try to become the woman he thought he wanted—well, then I was betraying myself.”

Mal said nothing, but she could tell he was taking it all in.

“So we compromised. I acknowledged that it was his love for me that was making him act like such a 流氓 liúmáng, and I agreed to wear body armor whenever I went out on a job.”

Mal remembered. Zoe had suddenly insisted on the body armor, for every meet, every drop. So it was a compromise? Zoe being careful, and Wash not fussing overmuch that she might be killed on the job. But how could he possibly compromise with respect to Inara’s job? She was either faithful to him or she was not. And that meant she either took clients or she didn’t. Wouldn’t help if she agreed to take only half the clients. He turned to Zoe. “What kind of compromise—?” he began, when suddenly shots rang out.

He and Zoe dove for cover. Bullets pinged off the metal bin he crouched behind, and lodged in the wooden crate behind him, just over his head. His ears had already given him an approximate location for the shooter, and he returned fire, quickly crawling to better cover as a hail of bullets from several sources converged on his previous location. He risked a quick glance round the edge of the building. The shooter, or one of them, rather, knelt behind some cement steps that led up to someone’s front porch. The man was aiming his rifle at the spot where Zoe lay—Zoe lay!—behind a wooden crate. His side was exposed to Mal’s new position. Mal took aim without delay and dropped him. As the man fell, three other people—two men, one woman—shifted from their covers and began a retreat. Mal fired most of the rest of his clip, winging one of the men. All three got away as fast as they could get.

He ran over to Zoe. She lay awkwardly on the ground, with her knee twisted at a strange angle. That looked bad. She had some blood on her forehead, but it looked to be a gash, not a bullet hole. Good. But she was unconscious, and that was bad. He quickly checked her over, but he couldn’t see an entry wound. Good. She was breathing and her pulse was strong. More good. Her clothing was shredded over the center of her chest. Bullet or splinter, probably knocked her down. Bad. But the body armor beneath was intact. Damn good. He tried to check on the baby, but he didn’t have any idea how to do so—his war experience hadn’t taught him a thing about being a field medic to a fetus. He reached into his coat pocket and grabbed a packet of Ready-Clot gauze—a standard field dressing he’d learned to carry always during the war—ripped it open and placed it on Zoe’s forehead. Quickly he tore a strip off his t-shirt and wound it around the gash on her head, tying it off with an efficient knot. It was clear Zoe wasn’t gonna make it anywhere under her own power. After checking cautiously first for more shooters, Mal hoisted Zoe up into a carry hold, and made his way back towards Serenity, as quickly and carefully as he could. He didn’t notice that Buck Holden’s electronic card had dropped out of his pocket onto the ground.

* * *





耶稣 我的天 圣佛 Yēsū wǒ de tiān shèng Fó [Jesus god in heaven holy Buddha]

大地女神 dìqiú nǚshén [Mother Earth Goddess]

狗屎的 他妈的 狗娘养的 gǒushǐde tāmādē gǒuniángyǎngde [dog shitty damn son-of-a-bitch]

青蛙的 乱伦 王八蛋 qīngwā de luànlún wángbādàn [frog-fornicating son of a bitch]

提取 的计划 Tíqǔ de jìhuà [Extraction plan]

牛屎 Niú shǐ [Shit]

天的 tiān de [heavens]

妓女的儿子 jìnǚ de érzi [son of a whore]

地狱 dìyù [hell]

流氓 liúmáng [jerk]

Previous Part | Next Part


Saturday, February 4, 2012 9:02 AM


@ Description: Boy, you aren't kidding.

You have me kinda worried about Ip, and Zoe, but also Zoe's baby. And jeez, the baby, you have us caring about characters you haven't even written yet.

Saturday, February 4, 2012 2:59 PM


Holy Smokes eb!
Quite a bit of excitement going on in this chapter. River and Ip almost get caught, then actually do get corralled by some folk. Not Good! River has always been able to get out of tight situations, hope she can here (with Ip too, that is).

Now Zoe!!? Who are these knuckleheads shooting at our innocent crew members? Much more action will ensue, I’m sure of it. Hope Zoe is Ok, now you have me worried about the baby also….!

Great chapter as always…ZBP

Sunday, February 5, 2012 12:04 AM


This could be bad for IP and River. I wonder who is shooting at Mal and Zoe it is such a long possible list...

Sunday, February 5, 2012 9:15 AM


Oh no, hope Zoe and the baby are okay, an unexpected twist, your action scenes are suspenseful and exciting, especially the one with River and Ip.

Post more.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012 5:43 AM


Thanks for your comments, everyone. It's certainly a cliffhanger! More action in the next chapter, coming soon.

Friday, February 10, 2012 6:52 AM


Uh oh, I hope the baby is okay. I can't help feeling that the people shooting at Mal and Zoe have some connection to the timonium. As for Ip and River...lots of fingers crossed at this end! Great writing as ever. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


You must log in to post comments.



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