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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
What in the nine hells were they so afraid of? Then he remembered Tracy. The body mailed to them by their old war buddy and all the trouble that had brought down on them.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1116 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "GIFT HORSE"
SERIES: UNFINISHED BUSINESS
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara
SUMMARY: "When the crew of Serenity hear they
have a gift waiting for collection at Paquin not
everyone on the crew is ready to celebrate their
A "Firefly" story
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
"Cap'n, you might wanna get up here, *mashang*!"
Malcolm Reynolds stopped checking the cargo was properly secured in the hold and gave Jayne a nod to finish up for him. The big man scowled but said nothing. The Captain walked briskly to the metal staircase and took the treads three at a time, anxious to see what the good gorram Wash wanted to show him.
He stared. Really. A crate? For them? On Paquin? Three pairs of eyes stared at the short wave from the Postal Routing Service. "Who do you think it's from, sir?"
"I know as much as you, Zoe." Seeing his second in command's look he turned to Wash. "Where was it routed from, Wash? Any identifiers?"
Serenity's pilot shook his head. "*Bu qu*. It's been just about everywhere, can't find a point of origin."
"So, no return address?"
Wash looked at the Captain as if he was *chun*. "That would be a no."
Zoe's voice was dry, her look hard. "We could just ignore it, sir."
The Captain rubbed a hand over the back of his neck, sighed then straightened. "*Bushi*. Now we're tagged as the recipient we have to pay the fees. We dodge those they report us to guess who?"
Wash's face brightened. "Oooh, is this a quiz?"
The Captain ignored him. Zoe didn't need to do the math. No way did they want to draw the attention of the Alliance. "Could be expensive, sir."
"Only if we ignore the gorram collection fee."
"How d'ya figure?"
The Captain pointed to the screen. "See that mark? Says the sender already paid for the re-routin'. We pay for pick up."
Wash whistled in appreciation. "Wow, somebody likes us - a lot!"
The Captain and Zoe did not crack so much as a smile. Wash looked from stony face to stony face. "*Shenme shi*?"
"*Zhangfu*, when was the last time we got somethin' for nothin'?"
Wash opened his mouth then snapped it shut it as the realisation sank in.
"Never." Zoe said.
Three pairs of eyes looked at the short wave with distrust. Tempting as it was to ignore the whole gorram thing they had cargo to deliver and as luck, or lack of it, would have it that cargo was going to Paquin. Sometimes Malcolm Reynolds was convinced the 'Verse was out to get him.
"Think they'll fall for it?"
The answering smile was sweet as saccharine and twice as deadly. "Stupid is as stupid does."
"It could backfire."
"I know what I'm doin'. Trust me."
Although Lem Turner nodded back he kept his thoughts hidden. No way in *diyu* though would he ever trust the scheming little *pofu*. She was good but he was better. Didn't hurt though to let her bait the gorram hook.
The drop went without a hitch, the Captain passing their payment to Zoe for safe keeping. Martinson cracked a toothy smile that was all incisors and bad breath. "Good doin' business with ya, Reynolds."
Mal just nodded. They waited until Martinson and his men left with their cargo, Wash itching to ask questions but silenced by Zoe's look and the tension in the air. He was puzzled, this was a win right? They did the job, got paid, so why the long faces? Then he remembered the wave. "Are we gonna collect the crate now?"
The Captain and Zoe exchanged a look. It frustrated Wash when they did that, saying so much without saying a gorram word and there was him, the husband, with the not knowing.
"In a little while." Said the Captain. "Need to check somethin' first."
Wash wanted to ask what he wanted to check but Mal was already climbing back in the mule, Zoe just a step behind him. Wash started her up and headed back to the ship. "I don't see why we can't just pick it up on our way back, it wouldn't be out of our way."
Zoe looked at her husband. "Wash?"
"Yes, *bao bei*?"
He opened his mouth to complain then decided it wasn't worth fighting over. What in the nine hells were they so afraid of? Then he remembered Tracy. The body mailed to them by their old war buddy and all the trouble that had brought down on them. Especially the part where he wasn't actually dead.
The rim world was busy in a last gasp kind of way. The Chinaman watched, silent as an ocean of stars yet taking in everything he saw and heard. No one paid him any mind. His clothing was worn but without any tears, understated browns and rust colours that had faded into a kind of tie-dye effect that was purely age related. He did not reflect on the chance that had brought him here or the convoluted path he would now walk. Some things you could learn, others only instinct could be your guide.
"Ya gonna buy somethin'?"
A calm steady gaze was the only reply. The trader's sour expression turned nasty. "Then get away from here! You're scarin' away the customers, *dong ma*?"
The Chinaman did not state that you had to have customers in order to chase them away but he understood the subtext. The suspicion unspoken that made the trader wary and hostile. Everyone else seemed oblivious but that was just on the surface. This world was dying on its' feet, the only people who visited were the human vultures come to pick over the bones. Moving away the Chinaman did not turn his head or check out the other traders, he had been watching them with a sharp eye while appearing to take no notice.
He located the woman some hours later. The traders had packed up their stalls and wares but not all had left. A few creaky old ships sat like broken toys waiting for new batteries but he knew they would fly, just not very far. That meant the larger transporters were waiting in atmo. It was all about appearances but for whose benefit? Why would she want to blend in on a world that would soon breathe its' last breath? An economy already beyond repair, a population not so much in decline as virtually extinct. Those who could scrape together enough coin to get off world had already left. This was a mopping up operation, a last sweep to brush away the dregs of a once vibrant colony. Bones picked clean on a world not quite deserted.
* * * *
"What d'ya think's inside?"
Simon was careful not to share in Kaylee's overly bright optimism. The crate was quite heavy but not too big. He guessed it was about four foot square and three high. The post office markings and stamps recorded the places it had been sent and posted on from. A costly trail of locations they had visited over the last six months. It made something in the doctor's gut tighten. When Jayne joined them the mercenary was still chewing on something from their last meal. Simon tried not to think what that might be. There were drawbacks to an active imagination and a nearly photographic memory.
"Not what you think."
He did not jump at his sister's sudden appearance. She was like a cross between a fortune cookie and a jack-in-the-box from Earth-that-was but most importantly she was his sister.
"Huh," said Jayne as he turned his head to spit something out of the corner of his mouth "long as it ain't no dead guy."
Kaylee gave him a look. "Box ain't big enough, Jayne."
The big man scowled. "Could'a cut him into itty bitty pieces."
Before Simon could say anything River bent low at the waist and stared at the base of the box. "No blood."
Jayne frowned. "*Shenme*?"
River looked at him but did not straighten up. "If there was a body inside and it was cut up it would let all the blood out. Would have seeped out the bottom."
Kaylee felt sick. She had been so excited about the mysterious crate, couldn't wait for the Captain to open it and see what they had got. Now she wasn't sure she wanted to know. "Do ya.... do ya think it's safe?"
The clatter of boots joining them announced the arrival of the Captain, Zoe and Shepherd Book. The Captain commed Wash. "Best take off, Wash."
"Do you think that's wise, Captain?"
Mal glanced at Simon. "*Fang xin*, not goin' far."
Inara appeared in a soft hush of fabric, her floor length silk dress bringing the only colour and glamour to the cargo hold. "*Weishenme*?"
The Captain walked slowly around the box, Zoe following him with her eyes but not moving a muscle. Shepherd Book said nothing. Jayne couldn't see what the problem was or why everyone was walking on gorram eggshells. "Told Wash to land on the far side of the planet."
A startled look flashed over Simon's face. "I thought we were going to Demeter next?"
"One thing at a time. First we need to see what we got, *dong ma*?"
Jayne flashed his knife in one smooth movement from its' sheath and took an eager step towards the crate.
"What ya afraid of?"
"Could be booby trapped, sir."
The Captain didn't nod. He looked at Jayne. "We open it up slowly, ease the lid off, *dong ma*? Watch for anythin' catchin' or wires where there shouldn't be any."
Jayne nodded and took one side of the box, the Captain on the other with a crowbar in hand. Zoe crouched down so she would be able to see anything suspicious as they levered the gorram lid up. Slowly the lid was eased up and off, the contents momentarily robbing all of them of speech as they peered cautiously inside. Eyes round as saucers, Kaylee's face broke into the biggest gorram smile as she clapped her hands in glee.
"Oooh, look at all the tasties!"
Packed carefully inside the crate were all manner of foodstuffs and not protein cubes or powder neither but real honest to goodness supplies. Jayne lifted out a large glass jar, mesmerised by what was suspended inside it. "Is that...?"
Simon peered over his shoulder. "It looks like beef. Probably vat grown."
Jayne gave him a look. "But meat?"
"Yes, Jayne, and if it was vat grown it is very expensive."
Simon did a quick calculation. There were ten jars of the beef, another six of something that looked like chicken and smaller straw packed little crates with a variety of vine fruits. Kaylee's squeal fair split the eardrums as she leaned in and grabbed a punnet of strawberries. Despite having been in transit for a couple of months trying to catch up with them the strawberries looked as fresh as the day they had been picked. The Captain gave Simon a steady look, his eyes flicking to Kaylee then back to the ship's doctor.
"I'm thinkin' we should check the supplies before anyone takes a bite, *dong ma*?"
The smile on Kaylee's face dimmed like a cloud blocking out the sun. "But Cap'n..."
He cut off his mechanic's wail before she could get started.
"No ifs or buts, little Kaylee. We don't know where these supplies have come from or why they've been sent but this crate has been following us for months. Need to know why."
"It's a gift, Cap'n, ain't that enough? Can't be thinkin' everythin' good's gonna blow up in our faces."
The Captain looked at Simon. "Need you to check it's safe Simon." He said quietly in a voice with no give in it. Simon nodded.
"What am I looking for?"
"Need to know if any of the contents been tampered with, *dong ma*?"
The doctor's look sharpened. "You think the food could be poisoned?"
"Maybehaps or carryin' some kind'a sedative or somesuch."
Jayne scowled and carefully replaced the jar he had been holding as if it were wired to explosives. "What kind'a *tamade hundan* would poison food?" He growled.
"Permaybehaps the same kind who would send expensive foodstuffs all around the Black until it finds us, Jayne. All I know is if this came from a friend it would carry their mark an' a note explainin' the why of it. Whoever sent this must have coin a-plenty an' none of our friends are rich folk. For all we know it could be bugged." The Captain pinned Kaylee with a look. "Kaylee, think you can resist eatin' any of the fruit an' such while you check it out?"
"*Qu*. If I don't find nothin' an' Simon don't find nothin' does that mean I can have some of them strawberries, Cap'n?"
As the Captain gave his promise and began to walk away Inara fell in step beside him, her voice pitched for his ears alone. "The contents of that crate are worth a small fortune, Mal."
"*Wo zhidao*. That's what worries me."
The woman was confident but wary. Seemed to have eyes in the back of her head. It made the Chinaman that much more careful not to pay her any obvious attention or follow her progress yet he noted everything she did and where she went. When the woman boarded the small flyer he waited until it had taken off then bought a few supplies to tide him over earning a brief nod of thanks but no smile.
When the wave reached its' destination the conversation was short and heavily encrypted. The face that stared back at him was serious, the sharp eyes missing nothing from their brief exchange. "Need help?"
He shook his head. "Don't know what we got yet, *shifu*."
"Just be careful, *dong ma*? Don't wanna lose you too."
* * * * *
Malcolm Reynolds was frustrated. "Are you sure?"
"I did every conceivable test, Captain. So far as I can tell none of the contents have been tampered with."
"That you can tell?"
"You asked me to look, Captain, I looked." The doctor waved a hand at the instruments in the infirmary, each of them brought to play in a bid to uncover anything that might cause harm to the crew of Serenity. "The food is safe to eat."
The Captain was pacing. In the doorway Zoe watched, silent as a grave. "It don't make sense, sir. Why the gift an' such a generous one at that?"
They looked at each other but no one had an answer. Later they all gathered in the commons area. The Captain brought them up to date on Simon's lack of findings and Kaylee confirmed that she had found no bugging devices hidden in the crate or its' contents. Kaylee turned shining eyes on her Captain, hardly able to hide her excited anticipation.
"Can I have them strawberries now, Capt'n?"
"*Qu*, just try not to eat 'em all at once, *dong ma*?"
"But we got a whole crate!"
"That we have, little Kaylee, an' everybody on this boat is hopin' to get a share."
Kaylee flushed. She did intend to share it was just that all that juicy fruit was calling to her. What could a body do but answer?
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *chun* = stupid *shenme shi* = what's the matter? *zhangfu* = husband *pofu* = bitch *diyu* = hell *bao bei* = precious/treasure *dong ma* = understand? *shenme* = what? *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *weishenme* = why *rongyi* = easy *tamade hundan* = fucking bastard *qu* = yes (lit.go) *wo zhidao* = I know
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