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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
The fact that her eyes were hard and sharp with intelligence kind of chilled him. Smart women always made him uneasy, it just weren't natural.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 618 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "COUNTING CHICKENS"
SERIES: UNFINISHED BUSINESS
CHAPTER: 2. Sequel to "GIFT HORSE"
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: Zoe/Wash Kaylee/Simon Mal/Inara
SUMMARY: "The Captain needs to get Serenity
out of sight while they figure out exactly what is
going on and why."
A "Firefly" Story
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
The Shepherd smiled as he thought about the crew and how much merrier everybody seemed with all the good food they had been eating since picking up the crate a few days ago. The only one still as wary as a cat on a hot tin roof was the Captain and while it was sometimes frustrating how suspicious Mal could be about any unforeseen good fortune that came their way, Book had to admit that the unexpected delivery was more than a mite suspicious. After all, the crate had followed them through the Black for more than six months. That was an expensive and unprecedented thing to happen. Yet they had found no tracking devices, nothing that was set to explode in their faces on opening the crate, but also no note or message identifying who had sent it or why. Watching the Captain from his position up on the catwalk, Book could find no way to untangle the mystery. He was reminded of the ancient saying about not looking a gift horse in the mouth but what if this one was going to bite them? If this was some kind of bait where was the hook and who had loaded it and why?
"Ya look awful serious, Preacher."
"Just thinking, Jayne. I notice you and the Captain have the cargo ready for the drop off on Demeter."
The mercenary grinned, happy because it meant a payday was near. "Yeah, should land in the next hour."
The Preacher raised an eyebrow. "I take it you are already planning what to spend your share on?"
"Gonna scratch an itch that's been too long neglected, get me some trim."
Book raised a quick hand. "I don't need to hear the details, Jayne."
Merriment danced in the big man's eyes. "Aw ya ain't no fun."
They both looked down over the railing as the Captain called up. "Jayne! Need you down here to help with the loadin', *mashang*!"
"*Diyu* Cap, we ain't landed yet."
As if to prove the big man wrong the ship gave a shudder and rocked as it settled on the ground. The Captain gave Jayne a look he knew all too well. "You were sayin'?"
Jayne gave the Captain a nod and hurried to follow Mal before the man got too testy.
"Ya sure ya wanna go through with this?"
Her eyes had the glitter and gleam of someone who enjoyed putting others in harm's way. "*Dang ran*. I owe him big time," she added sweetly "an' a lady doesn't like to be beholden to anyone, *dong ma*?"
Jer Miles wasn't that tall but he was built like a brick out house, all muscle and brute strength. He looked like he could snap her in two with just his little finger but there was a puzzled look in his eye. "What he do to ya?"
"That's my business not yours."
"Seems a long winded an' expensive way to get even." He muttered.
Her smile bloomed into a grin. The fact that her eyes were hard and sharp with intelligence kind of chilled him. Smart women always made him uneasy, it just weren't natural. "By the time I finish with Malcolm Reynolds he'll be lucky to be left with his sanity."
Jer blinked. Malcolm Reynolds, he knew that name. Man was a Browncoat and something of a legend among those that had fought the Alliance. Not that it did them any good in the end but there were many that held a grudging respect for one who would not kow tow to the almighty ruttin' Alliance. So what in the nine hells had he done to bring down the wrath of this woman? She had given her name as Shannon but Jer didn't believe it was her real name any more than he intended to trust her as far as he could throw her. He was curious but wise enough to keep it buried. Shannon was paying him and his men a tidy sum along with the promise of a ship thrown in for their trouble if, that is, the Alliance didn't impound it. He wasn't about to mess up a deal that sweet.
Demeter was a mid sized planet with a mix of agriculture and technology as well as a bustling economy. Malcolm Reynolds didn't drop his guard or take anything for granted especially as their buyer was someone they had never dealt with before. Being recommended by Badger wasn't so much an endorsement as a warning. Folks not wanting to starve didn't get to pick and choose who had the means to put the food on their gorram table..
Zoe climbed into the front passenger seat of the mule next to the Captain leaving Jayne to take the back seat. The mercenary eyed the cargo sideways, just three little crates, not even much heft to them. "What d'ya suppose is in 'em?"
The Captain didn't turn his head. "*Wo bu dong*, don't wanna."
"Ain't ya even *haoqi*?"
"Jayne, we do the job, get paid, *dong ma*?"
Zoe half turned and cut him off before he could get started. "You heard the Cap'n, Jayne. 'Sides, looks like our buyer's here."
The exchange went so smooth that it made Mal jumpy. Zoe gave him a look. The Captain forced himself to relax but she wasn't fooled. Jayne didn't notice, he was already calculating his cut. When they got back to the ship Wash lowered the ramp on their approach and as the mule went up the ramp Zoe jumped off and hit the button to shut and seal the cargo bay door behind them. The Captain commed Wash and they were in the air within a minute.
Jayne scowled. "*Ni zai gan shenme*? Thought we was gonna go into town?"
The Captain didn't slow down as he reached the metal staircase and began to take the treads three at a time. "Ain't stoppin'."
"I wanna get off, get me some trim."
The Captain didn't even slow down. "You're welcome to get off if you wanna but we're not landin'."
"That ain't funny, Mal."
The Captain hurried off to the bridge, Zoe coming up alongside Jayne. "Once the Cap'n gives you your share you can spend it next place we stop."
"*Diyu*, Zoe, why's he so all fired up about leavin'?" But Jayne was already talking to empy air.
Wash turned to the Captain as he joined him on the bridge. "Wanna tell me what's goin' on?"
"Soon as I know we're clear, Wash."
A look of alarm crossed the pilot's face. Zoe came up behind her husband and put a hand on his shoulder. "You think we're bein' followed, sir?"
"*Wo bu dong* but somethin' don't feel right."
Wash wondered what had gone wrong this time. "We get paid?"
"That we did."
"Then what's *cuode*?"
"Got a wave."
Wash looked at Zoe but could see that she didn't know about that fun little detail either. "A wave? An' we're just hearin' about this now?"
The Captain really didn't want to go into this until he knew more but that wasn't an option now. "How far are we from Helios?"
"Five, six days."
"*Bu hao*. Anythin' closer?"
Wash started scrolling through the nav system. Zoe didn't like not knowing what was going through the Captain's mind. "Sir, *zenme hui shi*?"
"That wave? It was from Chung Li."
Wash stopped scrolling. Zoe and the pilot stared at him, hard. "Chung Li? From Glory?"
"*Qu*, only the wave didn't come from there."
The Captain noticed that Wash had stopped scrolling. "Wash, need you to keep lookin'."
"You haven't told me what I'm lookin' for, Cap'n."
"Planet close enough to reach by the end of the day, prefer somethin' rocky, not so much with the big population."
"You're describin' an asteroid."
"*Bu qu*, I really ain't. A minin' planet or somesuch would be good especially if the mine's run out."
"Sir, why are we lookin' for an old minin' planet?"
"Need somewhere safe while we figure this thing out." He paused. "A rocky planet or one used for minin' maybehaps with caves big enough to hide Serenity."
Zoe's voice went quiet and kind of deadly. "Who do you think is followin' us, sir?"
"Not sure but my guess? Whoever baited that gorram crate of food."
For a moment no one spoke. "I think I've found your planet."
Mal peered over his pilot's shoulder. "Where?"
"Sentora. It's about a quarter of the size of Aerial. Old minin' planet, pretty much scraped clean of every kind of ore an' mineral decades ago."
The pilot shook his head. "*Meiren zai nar*. The last folk cleared out when the minin' came to an end. Been deserted for over forty years. We can get there in just over six hours."
The Captain nodded. "Lay in a course then set the proximity alarm."
He heard the concern in Zoe's voice. "Want everyone in the commons room an' that includes you an' Wash. That way I won't have to repeat myself. If anythin' approaches the alarm'll warn us, *dong ma*?"
Wash locked in the course and proximity alarm, the ship now on auto pilot. Mal got on the com to tell the crew to gather for a meeting *mashang*. As he turned to leave the bridge Zoe dropped her voice to barely a whisper. "How much trouble we in, sir?"
"That's what we need to find out."
Rafe listened intently to his old friend, concern etched into every line of his wholesome face. "You sure?"
"Eyes not deceive, *laoban*."
"This woman gotta name?"
Chung li paused, carefully sifting through everything he had learnt and not liking the gaps he could not fill. "Describe only, would recognise again."
"What about the ship she met up with?"
"Mercenary ship, slick an' fast."
"Do you have the ship's details? Who owns her an' such?"
Chung li looked apologetic, his size blocking out anything else on the monitor. "Different now."
Rafe frowned. "*Zenme*?"
"Outer skin stripped down, *laoban*."
"You sayin' they changed the ship's appearance?"
Chung li nodded. "Disguise. No decals or markings."
"Did you overhear where they were headed?"
"Chung li, did you find out why they're followin' Mal?"
"Not say but woman bitter, very crafty. Not like."
"Well I don't like it either. We should send Mal a wave, warn him."
The big man gave the ghost of a smile. "Already done, *laoban*."
"*Hen hao, wode pengyou*. Try to keep eyes on 'em, I'll get some of the boys together. Don't hurt for the back up plan to have a back up plan."
Inara wasn't happy. The crew heard the Captain out in silence, Kaylee sucking her bottom lip half in worry and half in confusion. "Why'd'ya think we're in trouble? We ain't done nothin' *cuode*."
Everyone started talking at once. The Captain's short store of patience evaporated. "*Bizui*! Had a wave from Chung Li, *dong ma*?"
Shepherd Book frowned. "Then this is serious. Do we know who's followin' us?"
"Chung Li didn't get a name but here's the thing. It's a woman."
Everyone started talking at once. Zoe moved alongside the Captain. "You thinkin' what I'm thinkin', sir?"
"I am but where'd she get the coin to send the crate let alone fill it?"
"Reckon she must'a stole it." Grumbled Jayne, his voice carrying clear as the others stopped talking to listen in.
The Captain and Zoe exchanged a look. Wash got a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. "How much trouble are we in?"
Just then Serenity was rocked hard. "*Wode ma*, somethin' just hit us!"
"Wash, need you on the bridge *mashang*. Jayne, best get Vera." The Captain hurried after Wash with Zoe but a heartbeat behind him. As Wash slid into the pilot's seat the ship was hit again.
"That was no rock. Cap'n someone's definitely firin' at us!"
"Where are they, Wash?"
"Can we outrun 'em?"
At that moment they were hailed and all of Mal's worst nightmares joined hands. "Transport ship Serenity, this is the Alliance Long Range Patrol Vessel Tamarind. Prepare to be boarded!"
Mal watched as the view screen filled with the huge shiny Alliance ship, her gun ports open and pointed at them. A babe fresh from the womb couldn't miss at that range. "*Wode tian*." He clicked his internal com. "This is the Cap'n, prepare to be boarded." He then nodded to Wash and Serenity came to a dead stop.
The rest of the crew were scrambling to get Simon and River into hiding. Kaylee wrung her hands and tried to fight back the tears. Inara put an arm around her friend's shoulder but there were no words of comfort she could give. Shepherd Book glanced at Jayne. "Best lose the gun, Jayne."
"Might wanna shoot me some purplebellies."
"An' they might want an excuse to put you in prison an' take Vera."
The thought of losing his favourite gun was enough for the big man to back down and return to his bunk to put the gun away. As he returned the sound and shudder of the other vessel docking reverberated through the Firefly's deck plates.
It was frustrating. The ship Chung-li had hired was old but well maintained however it lacked the speed of the newer models. He wished he had been able to put a trace on Serenity but at least he had a trajectory to follow if not line of sight. Maybe it was better this way, less obvious that he was following the Firefly, but it made him anxious all the same. Worrying that something might happen before he could get to his friends.
Hours later he got a blip on his screen, enhanced the image and started to smile. Seeing Mal's ship slowly fill his screen was a kind of homecoming but then his smile froze. Became a brittle unwanted thing as realisation hit him. She wasn't moving. Why wasn't she moving?
As shiny as the Tamarind was it wasn't Serenity. Commander Elias Tong had wasted no time in taking Malcolm Reynolds and his crew into custody. Zoe glanced at her Captain, careful not to move her head but keep it subtle. What she saw in his eyes kept every thought in her head locked up and silent. Wash wanted to protest, complain, do something, ANYTHING but knew this was not the time to push their captors into unnecessary violence. He wanted to ask Mal what his plan was, to pray he did have one, but given the unexpected turn of events he was not holding out much hope.
It was when the Commander had them all cuffed like criminals and began to separate them that Kaylee could hold out no longer. "What ya doin'? We ain't done nothin' wrong an' what about Serenity?"
Malcolm Reynolds kept his voice mild, his tone firm but somehow comforting. "Not nothin' we can do, Kaylee, but let these fine gentlemen do their job, *dong ma*? They'll see it's all been a mistake, no need to fuss."
The Commander peeled back his lips and stepped into the Captain's personal space. "Your mistake."
The Captain raised his eyebrows, his tone smooth as honey even though Zoe knew he had to be seething inside. Deep where his enemies could not see. "The crate was addressed to me, never knew who it was from, but you can trace where it's been by the Post Office redirections on the box."
"So," said the Commander "being the good, law abiding citizen you are going to tell me you are, you did the only sensible thing you could do and refused to accept the crate?"
"Should'a, would'a, could'a." Muttered Jayne.
The Commander spun round and glared at the mercenary. "You have something to say, Cobb?"
Jayne stiffened slightly and shook his head. Mal and Zoe exchanged a look before the Commander turned his attention back to the Captain. "Your pathetic excuse will be seen for what it truly is, Captain. The Alliance will not look the other way while scum like you steal from our citizens."
Shepherd Book's deep rich voice spoke before the Captain could respond. "Then you know where this crate came from?"
An irritated look flashed over Commander Tong's face, as if annoyed that he had given so much away so early on. Ignoring Book, he leaned in close to the Captain and quietly hissed through his teeth. "Pray you won't be needing your Preacher, Captain Reynolds."
The sound of booted feet presaged the return of the soldiers Tong had sent to search the ship. Two of them half carried and half dragged the crate. "There's no one else on board, *shifu*. We found the crate half empty with some of the contents in an old fridge in the kitchen."
The Commander gave a nod then barked out orders, Serenity's crew being marched off Serenity. Kaylee was in tears but bit her lip, trying to be brave. Inara would have gone to her but all of them were kept apart from each other under individual escort. Malcolm Reynolds wanted to protest but instinct told him that any such appeal would not go well. As they were taken aboard the Tamarind Mal noticed his crew being herded away, no doubt to some on board lock-up facility. Tong waited for the distinct sound of his ship disengaging from the Firefly, a slow smug look of satisfaction on his bloated face.
"Your past is finally catching up with you, Captain."
"Like I said, it's all been a mistake. Didn't steal nothin', you can check with the Post Office. That crate's been followin' us around the Black for the last six months."
"And still you couldn't shake off getting caught."
Mal stared at him. The Commander nodded to one of his men. "Lock him up, not near the others *dong ma*? I don't want the good Captain having a chance to concoct a story with the rest of his crew."
"What about my boat? Leavin' her adrift she'll be in danger from passin' pirates an' such. Also she needs repairs."
"*Fang xin*, just be glad I don't want to waste any more ordnance on that *lese* hunk of junk. If by some miracle you win your case you can come back and collect it. If not," Tong shrugged "we'll find some nice little junkyard to take it apart piece by piece."
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*mashang* = at once/immediately/on the double *diyu* = hell *dang ran* = of course *dong ma* = understand? *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *haoqi* = curious *ni zai gan shenme* = what are you doing? *cuode* = wrong *bu hao* = not good *zenme hui shi* = what's the matter? *qu* = yes (lit. go) *bu qu* = bo (lit. no go) *meiren zai nar* = there's nobody there *laoban* = boss *zenme* = how *henhao* = very good *wode pengyou* = my friend *bizui* = shut up/be quiet *wode ma* = mother of God *wode tian* = oh sky (oh God) *shifu* = sir *fang xin* = don't worry (lit. ease your heart) *lese* = crap
Sunday, August 28, 2016 1:02 PM
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