BANDIAGARA (09) Part (09) (Re-post)
Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Children's games have more serious implications



Part (09)

(Re-post) Gorrammit! While checking out a problem that arose with the links in these stories, I managed to delete this chapter from the Blue Sun Room. This is a re-post.

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

The series so far:

Children’s games have more serious implications.

Previous Part | Next Part

* * *

It was time, Mal decided, or well past time, that he had a talk with River about…aw, hell, this was gonna be awkward. Girl was a genius, and for probably as long as she could remember she’d been years ahead of her cohorts in intellectual matters. Mal could just imagine what little girl River had been like—playing with other little kids in her neighborhood, probably put them all off talkin’ about the physics of dust motility and the fallacious arguments of the 23rd century philosophers or some such. Since then she had lived through horrors that most adults never had to deal with, and she was not yet out of her teens. The girl had grown up fast.

It was the growing up fast bit that had Mal worried. He’d made River pilot of Serenity, given her adult responsibilities. She handled it well (so long as she was not having one of her crazy times), but when he recollected what he’d been doing when he was eighteen, it had him near a panic.

So when he saw River and Ip dancing together in the firelight at the feast, alarm bells began ringing in his head. Then he saw them kissing, and the bells escalated up to a decibel level that was impossible to ignore. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Ip Neumann. The young man was intelligent and good-natured; he seemed to be kind. It was just that…he didn’t trust him. River had an older brother, one who worried about her and cared for her and gave up his whole life in the Core to rescue her, and just about smothered her with his over-protectiveness. In Simon’s mind, River was still his 小妹妹 xǐao mèimei, and he hadn’t come to terms with the notion that she was growing up. Mal wasn’t River’s brother, nor was he her father, but he felt responsible nonetheless for protecting her and making sure she didn’t get hurt. Especially considering the kind of examples she was surrounded by on Serenity. Her brother and Kaylee—doin’ it all hours, all over the ship, with enough noise that everybody aboard knew more details than was decent. Jayne—well, Jayne’s mouth was and always had been full of words unfittin’ for young ears, and his talk alone was enough to color the air blue. Zoe—she weren’t doin’ nothin’ indecent, but regular association with a five-month-pregnant lady was bound to turn a young person’s thoughts a certain direction. Him and Inara—well, he didn’t reckon he was settin’ the best example himself, them not being married.

He made up his mind to take the next opportunity to have a private talk with River.

* * *

River joined the crowd of children settled under the acacia trees outside the schoolhouse on the outskirts of the village. A wooden board with a dozen pits carved into it was the focal point of the group, and River watched as two of the children took turns scooping up the game pieces from one of the pits and distributing them according to a certain pattern among the other pits. The children who were not directly involved in the game were not shy about expressing their opinions about what would make the best move.

“No! Musa, you’re not going to capture anything if you choose that one!” a girl exclaimed. The boy hesitated, his hand over the second pit.

“Choose the next one,” another boy advised.

“No, no! Choose the one behind!” an excitable, tall boy said. “It has seven pebbles. You’ll capture the pebbles in both pits that way.”

“Yes, he will,” said the opposing player, a quiet girl. Her eyes gleamed as Musa made the move, capturing the pebbles in two of her pits. “But then,” she said, scooping up the contents of a third pit, “I will capture four of his.”

A chorus of groans and cheers erupted from the children, according to which player they were hoping would win the game.

River smiled at the children and silently watched the game. Soon she had the rules figured out, and she calculated the sequence of moves that would win, lose or tie the game, watching as the children scooped up and distributed the game pieces, capturing their opponents’ when their move ended by bringing the total of pieces in the pit to two or three. Eventually the quiet girl’s strategy prevailed over Musa’s hesitation, and the two children stood up, allowing others to take their place.

“Would you like to play?” the quiet girl asked River.

“Yes,” River answered. “Do you have another game board?” she asked, since two more players had settled down at the original game board.

“We can make one,” the girl answered, settling down in the dust beneath the tree. “My name is Isatou,” she said, as she scooped a line of pits in the soil with her hands.

“My name is River,” River replied, and scooped a line of pits herself. She quirked her eyebrow at the girl, who understood immediately.

“Oh, no worries,” Isatou said, producing a little bag from the pocket of her dress. “I always carry my pebbles with me. Most of the children here do.” She overturned the bag and the pebbles spilled out on to the ground. River watched as she distributed them amongst the pits in the starting positions.

“Those are pretty pebbles,” River observed. They were octahedral rock crystals—or, more accurately, they were truncated octahedra: fourteen faces, six of them square and eight of them hexagonal. River noted that most of them had a bluish cast, ranging from pale to an intense deep color, depending on the amount of cupric impurity integrated into the crystal structure. Clarity was also variable, and ranged from clear to milky.

“Yes, very pretty,” Isatou agreed. “All the children know where to find the pebbles, but I know where to find the best ones.”

“Let’s play,” River said.

* * *

Mal found River deeply involved in a board game with the village children. There was no bringing up the subject he had in mind before the kids, so he settled down to watch the game. It was a variant of oware, a game he had played as a child on Shadow, and although at first he watched to be sure River wasn’t taking advantage of the children, he soon realized that many of the children were more than a match for the Albatross. He was sure she could calculate many moves ahead, but the kids were well-practiced, and their impulsiveness worked to their great advantage, because River’s opponents frequently did not make the most logical move, and the randomness of their choices forced River to reconfigure her strategy completely between moves.

“…a fifty-eighty percent chance of a positive outcome, taking into consideration the randomness factor,” River was saying as she scooped up a handful of rocks from the dust.

No sooner had he come to the conclusion that River was just as likely to get her clock cleaned as to clean up, than he felt a gentle tug on his hand. He looked down to see a bright smiling face and a pair of shining eyes, and recognized one of the children who had been treated at Simon and Inara’s clinic. “Jëkkëre Inara, do you want to play, too?” the child asked him.

“Absolutely,” Mal answered with a grin, and a smile on top of it at the warm feeling that came from being called Inara’s husband (even if it weren’t really true). He soon found himself settled in the dust, facing a young boy, helping to scoop out a line of pits.

When Mal was a boy, the game pieces were either marbles, or, if you were improvising, seeds. These kids were playing with pieces made from rock crystals. They were not carved or cut, but just the crystals as naturally formed. Mal had a feeling about the crystals, but soon he was caught up in the game, laughing along with the children, and causing an uproar when he made an unexpected move and captured the pebbles from five of his opponent’s pits. It was a bold move, but it didn’t last, as the boy picked up the pebbles from his only remaining pit and captured all of Mal’s.

* * *

After another busy day assisting Simon in the infirmary, Inara took a stroll in the cooler air of the early evening, and found Mal settled in under a tree near the schoolhouse, surrounded by a crowd of children.

“You think I should sow this one?” Mal asked the group at large, his right hand hovering over a depression in the dirt, while his left hand held onto the legs of a small child who had climbed onto his shoulders to watch the game. “Watch it, little one, the hair’s still attached,” he said as the tot grabbed two fistfuls of his hair for balance. The children shouted, “Yes! No!” in equal numbers, or at least at equal volume. “What do you say, Isatou?” he asked a little girl.

“I say no,” she answered, decisively.

“Alright then, no it is.” His hand moved over to the adjacent pit. “How’s about this one, then?”

“No, no,” an excitable boy exclaimed. “You’ll lose the game!”

Mal looked up, caught Inara’s eye, and smiled. “Musa?” he asked a boy standing at his side. “What’s your advice?”

“You’ll lose this round,” Musa declared, “but—” he bent over and whispered in Mal’s ear.

Mal’s face broke into an ear-splitting grin. “That’s as good a reason as ever I heard, Musa.” He made his move. The children groaned. Mal’s opponent, a girl who looked to be about ten years old, wore a look of undisguised greed on her face as she anticipated cleaning up.

But then she hesitated. It had been a sure thing, but—where had all the good moves gone? A ripple of excitement spread through the crowd of children, as they realized the Captain had turned the tables. Inara watched as the girl grew frustrated, then picked up a handful of pebbles and nearly threw them into the pits.

Inara saw that Mal was carefully observing the girl and the other children, but his face gave nothing away. He went through the process of asking the children’s advice, not prolonging it overmuch, then made his move. It was a spectacular blow-out, and the girl quickly moved to clean up the wreckage. Mal had lost by a huge amount, and the girl, all smiles now, moved off to let others play.

Mal stood up and dusted himself off. “Let it never be said that Malcolm Reynolds cannot snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” he pronounced. “Thanks for a good game, Mualuma.”

“Don’t go, Jëkkëre Inara!” the children began to protest, and the young one clung to his leg.

“Got to get back to work, y’all,” he said, “but I’ll come and play again tomorrow, if I can.”

He made his way over to where Inara was standing and put a hand round her waist. When he spoke though, it was to Ip, who, unnoticed by Inara, had joined the group. “Ip,” Mal said quietly, “will you take a look at the game pieces the kids are playing with?” Ip, whose attention was completely focused on River, was taken by surprise. “Isatou,” Mal called, getting the attention of a quiet girl nearby, “will you show Dr Ip your pebbles?”

The girl smiled at Mal, who gave her a brief one-armed hug and a smile in return. She pulled a little bag from her pocket and poured about fifty curiously-shaped rock crystals into Ip’s hand. Ip started so violently he nearly dropped them all in the dust.

“Are they what I think they are?” Mal asked Ip quietly.

Ip looked up and met the Captain’s gaze. “Yes, Captain, they are—timonium nesosilicate crystals. I’ve only ever seen them in museums!”

Mal looked from Ip to Inara and back again. “Pure timonium—or pure enough as makes no nevermind.”

* * *

Kaylee’s days on Bandiagara were busy. She got up at first light, because she and Simon had found that it was impossible to lie a-bed late here in Fajara. Nothin’ against the Fajarans—they were the kindest, most hospitable people ever—and nothin’ against the rooftop guest quarters, which were comfortable and romantic as anything. She loved cuddlin’ under the stars and snuggling up with Simon and feeling like they were the only two lovers in the ’Verse. The Fajarans had no problem with the idea of an engaged couple having night visits, and she and Simon had enjoyed lots of good lovin’ on their rooftop bedplace. But as soon as the sun popped up over the horizon, the rooftop began to heat up like a griddle, and after the first day they’d learned there was no fighting it. Best just to get up, make your way to the long drop, and get on with business before the whole world heated up like a griddle. They coulda slept aboard Serenity, of course, but the Captain felt it was important for good trade relations to accept of the villagers’ hospitality, so Serenity stayed buttoned up at night, and they all slept in guest quarters. Which, except for the gettin’ grilled alive in the morning part, was just fine and dandy in Kaylee’s view.

She felt queasy in the mornings, but things settled in soon as she had something to eat. She reckoned it was on account of working so hard she was so hungry. There was no denying, she’d always loved fresh fruit, and it was no surprise she’d acquired a craving for papayas sprinkled with lime juice for breakfast every morning. Then she made her way over to Serenity, checked in to see how her girl had passed the night, and set to work fixing up machines as fast as she could put ’em together.

People were comin’ in with requests now, and when she was able, she filled ’em, like the fella that wanted a ten-speed bicycle with an extra-sturdy frame and carry rack welded on. She also just kept fixin’ and making whatever she could put together, because there wasn’t a machine yet hadn’t found somebody here wanted it. Most days, Jayne turned up before long to help with the work, and Captain and Zoe lent a hand whenever they weren’t busy smoothing the workings of the trade and dealing with the village elders. Ip and River had taken over the small electronics department, and the communicators and vid devices they fixed up went like hotcakes. Kaylee had met the two mechanics who lived in the village, Baaba and Bintou, and while the fella was kept pretty busy at his own shop—he mainly did vehicles, much as he could—the gal stopped by frequently, lending a hand at assembling small machinery in return for first pick and a discount on certain items.

Jayne had revealed superior talents as a welder, a skill that came in real handy as Kaylee assembled some of the larger items especially. One day she just asked him.

“Wherever did you learn to weld like that, Jayne?” The man was a true artist.

“Never thought about it,” Jayne answered truthfully. “My old man’s a welder. Reckon I just kinda took it in.”

“If you can weld like that, whatcha doin’ slummin’ here with us? You could get you a good-payin’ steady job on any Rim world where things need puttin’ together.”

“Not a lot of excitement in puttin’ things together,” Jayne answered. He looked at Kaylee with a wicked grin. “Blowin’ stuff up, though—now we’re talkin’.”

* * *

Salaamaalekum,” Mamadou greeted Mal.

Maalekum salaam,” Mal answered, beginning the ritual exchange of greetings that began every new encounter in Fajara.

Nanga def?”

Maangi fi rek,” Mal replied. He had learned the first few questions and responses by heart by now.

Naka waa kër ga?”

Mal always chose to construe this as referring to his crew, so he answered, “Ñunga fa.”

Naka liggéey bi?”

This was where it began to break down for Mal, so he answered in English, “The work is fine, thank you.”

Nanga fanaane?

The elder always seemed to enjoy askin’ him that particular question. “I slept very well, 谢谢 您 xièxie nín,” Mal answered as he always did. And he was—sleepin’ better than he ever had in his life, cuddled up under the stars with Inara. The part of the night that they actually spent sleepin’, anyways.

“You played oware with the children yesterday, Captain,” Mamadou said.

“I did,” Mal affirmed with a smile. “Haven’t had such fun in years. Those kids are tough competitors.”

“It teaches them math skills,” Mamadou replied. “They learn to plan ahead.” He looked at the Captain. “You’re a natural with children, Captain. I hope you and Jabaru Reynolds are planning to have children soon.”

Mal felt his face turning red and he looked at the ground. “Haven’t really thought about it yet.” It was a safer answer than that 白痴 báichī he’d spouted when Kaylee had asked him the same kind of question. Oh, four. Maybe five. But he couldn’t help but feel his heart warming at what the elder had said. He looked up and smiled at Mamadou. “Say it again.”


Jabaru Reynolds. I like the sound of that. Still not used to hearing it.”

“Children are a gift, Alhamdulillah. May you and Jabaru Reynolds have many fine children.” Mamadou watched the Captain glow. “Jabaru Reynolds will make a good mother. I’ve seen how kind and caring your wife is with the children who have been to see the Doctor.”

“She’s a very caring person,” Mal answered, feeling the thrill of hearing Inara referred to as his wife. “She has always been good at caring for people.”

Mal smiled again, thinking that he could get used to the notion of being Inara’s husband. He didn’t know where the Fajarans had got the idea they were married—he never said a thing about it one way or the other, Mamadou and all the others had just started calling them jëkkër and jabar and tucked them into married couples quarters from day one. He didn’t object in the least—wished they really were married. But the best part was, Inara didn’t seem to object neither. She didn’t start or jump when the villagers called her “Jabaru Reynolds” or, now that some of them were becoming more familiar, “Jabaru Mal,” and relations between the two of them had been loving and easy the whole time they’d been here. It gave a man hope.

Mal brought his mind back to the reason he’d sought out Mamadou today. “When I was a kid, back on Shadow, we played oware with marbles. Or seeds.”

Mamadou nodded, seeing exactly where the Captain was taking this conversation.

“But the kids, yesterday, they were playing with rock crystals. I’ve never seen anything like.”

“All the children here play with those. It’s nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Where do the kids get the game pieces?”

“You mean the timonium crystals?” Mamadou returned, sharply. As a Bandiagaran, he’d had enough of outsiders coming in to exploit the world’s resources, assuming that the locals were too ignorant to put a proper value on what they had.

“Yes,” Mal replied, unflinching. The village elder was no fool, and Mal had expected him to be aware that the children had made playthings of high-grade timonium crystals. The question was why.

“This planet has abundant timonium resources. The children know where to find them. I will not share that information with you, nor with any outsider.”

“Reckon I can understand your reasons for that.” Mal wasn’t about to let the matter drop, however. “You mean Allmine don’t know about the timonium crystals you all have here, neither?”

“Allmine operates on another section of the planet, where timonium ore is abundant. They do not know that we can find the much purer crystalline form—without even digging—over here.”

“Why don’t they know?”

“They never troubled themselves to ask us.” Mamadou was unable to keep bitterness out of his tone. “They bribed the World Council for access to what they wanted. They never thought about engaging the cooperation of the people in a mutually beneficial arrangement. Their one thought was exploit, exploit, exploit.” He gave a thin smile. “They are the losers for it.”

“That they are,” Mal said. “It’s all on account of they have no thought of trade for mutual benefit. Works out best when everybody wins from the arrangement. If they’d thought of giving heed to you all and what you need, there wouldn’t be no place for me on this world, because you wouldn’t be wanting the pumps and generators and medical supplies I brought here.” He paused to let the thought sink in. “What you have here is a mineral resource that is more valuable than platinum.”

“But not to us. For it to be valuable, there has to be a buyer. We cannot sell this timonium. There is no market on-planet. We have no access to markets off-planet. We are already making the fullest use of the timonium crystals we can—by using them as game pieces.”

“You need a way to get the timonium to market.”

“We do. But that is unlikely to happen. Allmine has rights to all timonium resources on the planet. 狐狸 Húli Network controls all imports and exports besides the ore transports run by Allmine. There are no ore processing facilities on Bandiagara, no markets for timonium. There is no legal way for us to market this resource for our own benefit.”

Mal understood what the elder was hinting at. “Then what you need is an alternative way of getting the timonium to market.” He paused. The Fajarans had taken well enough to his illegal landing and contraband goods. He studied Mamadou for a moment. The next step was decisive, and there would be no turning back. “What you need is a smuggler.”

“What we need is a smuggler,” Mamadou echoed. The two men locked eyes. “Someone who can take these things to market off-planet.” They both knew they meant black market.

“Alright, I think we got ourselves a deal.”

* * *


小妹妹 xǐao mèimei [baby sister]

Jëkkëre [Husband of] Inara

Salaamaalekum [Peace be upon you]

Maalekum salaam [And on you, too]

Nanga def [How are you]?”

Maangi fi rek [I am fine],”

Naka waa kër ga [How is the family]?

Ñunga fa [They are fine].”

Naka liggéey bi [How is the work]?”

Nanga fanaane? [How did you spend the night?]”

谢谢 您 xièxie nín [thank you (formal or polite)]

Jabaru [Wife of] Reynolds

白痴 báichī [idiocy]

Alhamdulillah [Allah be praised].

jëkkër [husband]

jabar [wife]

Jabaru [Wife of] Mal

狐狸 Húli Network

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Since I deleted this fic accidentally, I also deleted the comments, which are sometimes the best part! Here’s a re-post of comments I had filed from before.

AMDOBELL Saturday, December 03, 2011 - 07:53

Loved this and I take heart that Inara seems to be enjoying being thought of as Mal's wife every bit as much as Mal enjoys being thought of as Inara's husband. Hopefully the day will come when he will give her "hundreds of fat children". Very shiny, Ali D :~) "You can't take the sky from me!"

Delete | Top Bytemite Saturday, December 03, 2011 - 12:36

The game is afoot. :)

Delete | Top Nutluck Saturday, December 03, 2011 - 15:47

This won't end well. That shoe just gets bigger and bigger the longer it has to wait.

I so look forward to the Mal River talk, I have a feeling Mal will leave it red faced for a week.

Delete | Top BrucePluto Saturday, December 03, 2011 - 18:46

Eb…. Seems everyone is happy in Faja ….now why does Mal want to go and spoil things with smuggling? Ha..ha, just joking with you. Actually I find it very exhilarating that the Captain might want to get back to doing a little crime. We all know that the peace and tranquility can’t last forever, can they? Jayne might start itching to shoot somebody, or at least ruff ‘em up a bit. It will be real interesting to see where you take this, and I wonder how well it will pay off? There’s all kinds of directions this could go…and I’m sure you’ve already thought of them too. Ready for the next chapter I am…. BPZ

Delete | Top gwg Sunday, December 04, 2011 - 20:17

River must be taking a dive as oware can not be lost with perfect play. The Awari Oracle (oware) We solved the game of awari! When both players play optimally, the game ends in a draw. There are 5 selectable playing levels: fair, good, strong, expert, and perfect. This server contains a database with the scores of all possible awari positions that can occur in a game. The database contains 889,063,398,406 entries, where each entry contains a score between -48 and +48. In total, the database is 778 GigaByte large.

Delete | Top Bytemite Monday, December 05, 2011 - 04:52

Actually, in addition to the game which I couldn't begin to imagine how to play, and the game of a new job for the crew, I liked Kaylee's section and the reveal that Jayne's good at welding and his family. Very consistent with cut scenes from the scripts, and also explains why Jayne helps Kaylee in the engine room if she's injured.

Delete | Top ebfiddler Monday, December 05, 2011 - 07:33

A lot of games being played here...Mal's got the crew started on a dangerous game of smuggling... Mal and Inara are playing at being married...and the children's games. gwg, you're on to me, so I'll just remind you that I wrote "a variant of oware" without specifying exactly in what way. (It's a sneaky author trick.) That way I can (or could, potentially, if I put the time and effort into it :-) ) come up with rules later to support and justify my statements (eg. River might not win _this_ variant of oware). My friends and I played enough oware (various versions) as kids to work out (eventually) those outcomes you specified. When the game's outcome began to get too predictable, we switched games. :-) Byte, I took off from the line "no one can weld like a Cobb" in Jayne's mother's letter in The Message. Just wanted to make it clear, Byte and BPZ, that Jayne is still looking forward to an opportunity to blow something up. Ali and Nutluck: we'll see those scenes in the next section--hope you like 'em. Nutluck--the longer you wait, the more it builds. I do hope you will find the shoe-dropping to be satisfactory when it happens. Thanks, all, for feedback.

Delete | Top Bytemite Monday, December 05, 2011 - 08:36



Delete | Top BrucePluto Monday, December 05, 2011 - 16:34

eb , yepper….give the mercenary enough time and I’m sure that he WILL blow something up. Maybe even if it is Mal blowing his top over something Jayne has done. Yeah….and I also like it when you bring in those certain things that were in the episodes (like Jayne being able to weld). It always makes me grin when that you’ve done that, and by the by Jayne is pretty good with a cutting torch…Kaylee too. BPZ


Wednesday, April 25, 2012 4:30 PM


That's what I have to say about posting fic on the new version of the site. Lots of things don't work the same way. All my Chinese characters have disappeared, and the links are blanked out. I will probably take this down and re-post through the old site, because I want those Chinese characters. I want the links, too, but that seems to be more systemic, and not something I can fix.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 6:36 PM


Hi! I'm glad you managed to save all the comments. When I deleted all my stories in a fit, I was too shortsighted to think of that. So many wonderful conversations and ideas lost, and some of my last connections and conversations with persons who were very dear to me.

I think Haken is still technically working out a lot of the kinks. But you could also ask haken if he can go recover your old version. It's possible!

This is a cute chapter, as I've said in the comments before. :)

Thursday, April 26, 2012 12:26 PM


I'm hoping that a new chapter will soon be forthcoming, Ebfiddler. Personally I really liked the old site and while this one is shiny I miss it. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Friday, April 27, 2012 6:57 AM


Haken has been working hard to fix the problems. Looks like the links are back, but the Chinese characters are still lost.
Ali, the new fic is nearly ready, and I'll probably begin posting it in a few days. (That's why I'm trying to work out the posting bugs!)


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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