BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

SINGATE

Gamble
Thursday, April 13, 2006

Takes place post BDM. No Wash, no Book, no replacement crew members. Mal is contacted by an unknown man about a job. After they arrive on his planet some humorous and unusual events take place.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2412    RATING: 8    SERIES: FIREFLY

Opens on the bridge of Serenity in outer space. Zoe is at the controls, River is seated in the copilot‘s chair. River looks towards Zoe sensing her uneasiness. River: “He doesn’t know how to handle it“. Zoe gets a look on her face that is a mixture of concern and confusion. Zoe: “What?” River: “Mal, he doesn’t know what to do about Wash”. “Part of him knows he needs to get a full time pilot and another part doesn’t want to admit he’s gone”. Zoe: “Captain’s dealt with men dying under his command before”. River: “Not like this”. Zoe: “If he thinks we need another pilot he’ll bring one in, until then I think we’re getting on just fine”.

Mal walks onto the bridge with a look of purpose on his face. Mal: “Am I interrupting?” River turns to regard the captain, a slight smile crosses Zoe’s lips as she does the same. Zoe: “No sir, just passing the time.” Mal: “Well no need to pass any more time. Just received a wave”. Zoe: “Job sir?” Mal: “Yup.” Zoe: “Anyone we know?” Mal: “Not rightly sure, the message was text only. Didn’t leave a name or any particulars, but we’ve never been too picky”. Zoe: “Why do I get the feeling we’re walking into a trap.” Mal gets that incredulous look on his face like he can’t believe she would even suggest such a thing. Mal: “When have I ever led you astray?” Just as Zoe is about to respond Mal cuts her off by pointing to the monitor. Mal: “Here’s where we’re headed. Get us moving in the right direction okay?” Again another slight smile escapes the corner of her mouth as she turns back to the controls. Zoe: “Of course sir.” River watches Mal intently as he leaves the bridge.

Mal heads down the main corridor into the engine room. Not with any particular purpose in mind it’s just sometimes he feels compelled to see the engine turning. He admits to himself that of late Serenity has been running as smoothly as she ever has. He pauses for a moment placing his right hand on the engine housing, then abruptly turns to leave. Time to prep the rest of his crew. Walking down the stairs to the common area he catches wisps of a conversation between Simon and Kaylee. He sees them sitting on the couch, Kaylee’s legs draped across Simon’s lap. Both of them are smiling. Kaylee is the most upbeat person Mal has ever known, even more so since she and Simon have been together. Her cheerfulness coupled with River’s improvement have finally allowed Simon to relax…but not too much. As soon as Simon sees the captain he tenses up just a bit. He is still a little uncomfortable with open displays of affection in Mal’s presence. This, of course, is terribly amusing to Kaylee. Kaylee: “What’s the good word captain?” Mal: “Got a job. Headed that way just now.” Kaylee: “In the core or on the rim?” Mal: “Closer to the rim but not all the way out.” Simon gently moves Kaylee’s legs from his lap. Simon: “I suppose I should get the facilities in order.” Mal: “Come on doc, not all of our endeavors end in bloodshed.” Now its Simon’s turn to get the funny look on his face. Simon: “Right.” Simon takes a few steps towards the infirmary. Mal: “Either one of you seen Jayne?” Simon: “What were you just saying about bloodshed?” Kaylee: “I think he’s in his bunk.” Mal: “Of course.” Catching the captain’s meaning her face blushes a little. Kaylee: “I’m pretty sure he’s sleeping.” Mal: “Suppose there’s no need to wake him just yet. Best to have him rested in case I need his special talents.” Mal decides its time to head back to the bridge but is interrupted as he starts up the stairs. Kaylee: “Aren’t you forgetting someone?” Mal pauses then looks toward the cargo hold. Mal: “No need to bother Inara with this. World’s not likely to be one she’d contract on.” Kaylee stands up having a less than pleased look about her. Kaylee: “You know darn well she hasn’t taken on a client since she’s come back to Serenity.” Mal: “That may be so but still can’t see her having much interest in the place we’re headed.” The conversation ends in a less that satisfactory manner from Kaylee’s point of view but since Mal is already on his way there’s no point worrying on it.

The captain returns to the bridge. Mal: “How we doing?” Zoe: “On our way. Don’t suppose there’ll be a welcoming committee when we arrive.” Mal: “Not quite sure what to expect. The message said to send a wave once we set down, then we’ll be given more detailed instructions from our new employer.” Zoe: “I really don’t like this sir.” Mal: “I admit the situation ain’t exactly ideal but we’re in sore need of some income.” He finally acknowledges River’s absence from the bridge. Mal: “Where’d she go?” Zoe: “Couldn’t say for sure. She jumped up kind of quick a few minutes ago like she was late for an appointment.” Mal sets himself down in the copilot’s chair thinking back on the conversation he just had with Kaylee. Zoe notices the change in his expression. Zoe: “Something about that got you troubled?” Mal: “No, just finished filling in the crew about our impending employment.” Zoe: “I see.” He is content to let this conversation end here.

Simon is walking past River’s room when he hears shuffling and mumbling from within. He knocks on the door. Simon: “River…is something wrong?” River: “These won’t do, have to find the right…” River quickly slides open the door and moves past Simon like he isn’t there. Simon: “What’s going on?” River: “Have to change, get ready for the costume party. Just like trick or treat. You better get ready too.” Simon: “If you’re referring to the upcoming job I’ve already made preparations in the infirmary. What is it that you’re preparing for?” River: “No, not that, you need to change on the outside. Have to dress the part you know.” She rushes away toward the cargo hold leaving Simon to stare at the chaos she’s left in her quarters.

Inara’s shuttle is not as lavish as it used to be but she’s managed to pick up some choice items on the few civilized worlds they have visited of late. There’s a faint tap on the shuttle door. Inara opens it to see a somewhat agitated looking River. Inara: “Are you okay?” River: “I need your help. Simon does too, well maybe not but he’ll be along in a minute.” Inara: “What exactly would you or Simon require of me?” River: “Your formal training. Its all part of the plan. We’re going on a mission.” Inara: “A mission?” Before she can get any further Simon steps into the shuttle doorway. River seems to be preoccupied with searching Inara’s shuttle. So far she has not taken to tossing things about. From the aftermath in her own quarters Simon judges this to be a good thing. Simon: “Has she said or done anything unusual?” Inara: “Other than telling me about some mission we need to plan, no.” Simon: “Mission? She mentioned something to me about a costume party.” Inara: “I suppose there’s no harm in playing along. Not much excitement around here lately.” The two of them exchange worried looks and River picks up on the tone in Inara’s voice. River: “No call for any of that, there’s enough here for what we need.”

INTERLUDE: this is the part of the story I like to call travel time. You know the boring part getting from point A to point B. It also serves as a good place for anyone who is unhappy and would like to get off. For anyone who is actually enjoying themselves I invite you to read on.

The ship sets down at the coordinates provided, a rather desolate looking area, which isn’t saying much since the whole world appears to be a giant dust ball. Mal and Zoe are both still on the bridge though they have traded places. Just as Mal prepares to send the wave Jayne stumbles onto the bridge still appearing half asleep. Zoe: “Nice of you to join us.” Jayne more or less ignores her choosing instead to look out the cockpit window. Jayne: “Where the hell are we? Looks like the ass end of nowhere.” Mal: “Got a job. Just waiting for our contact to send us the details.” Jayne: “Details? You mean we come to a place like this without knowing why?” Mal: “Best not to think on it too much. Get yourself squared away in case there’s trouble.” Jayne knows when he’s being dismissed and can’t help but mumble a few choice words as he heads back to his quarters. Zoe and Mal exchange the same look they always share when Jayne gets to talking. Just then the board lights up and Mal receives his response. He looks to the incoming wave while Zoe waits expectantly. Mal: “Okay, text only again, still no name.” Zoe: “Did I mention how I’m not liking this?” Mal: “I’ll just touch on the high points. Our man is sending transport to bring us into town. Says we should send some respectable looking types to meet in some high class establishment. Place called The Orient. They are to be unarmed. Promise of a substantial payday.” Zoe doesn’t even try to hide her displeasure. Zoe: “Nothing about this rock says high class. And unarmed? Might as well shoot ourselves and save them the trouble.” Mal: “Could be they don’t allow guns in town. Been to places like that before. Best not to rile up the locals. As to sending in those could pass for respectable I have a few in mind.” Mal gets up and leaves the bridge with Zoe following at his heels. Zoe: “Not us I presume?” Mal: “Course not. You and me ain’t exactly high society.” Jayne emerges from his bunk with damn near half his arsenal. Zoe(to Jayne): “Haven’t we covered this before?” Jayne: “What?! It never hurts to bring extra firepower.” Mal: “Stash your gear, situation’s changed; we’re going in as decent, upstanding folk.” Jayne is starting to think this plan involves Mal pissing him off as he heads back down to unload. Once again he feels the need to mumble a few colorful words. As they continue through the ship Zoe gets a notion as to Mal’s intent. Zoe: “Sir if you’ve got it in mind to send those I’m thinking, it’ll be leading lambs to the slaughter.” This brings a smile to Mal’s face as they pass through the common area. Mal: “Nonsense. I’ve got a real good feeling about this plan.” As Mal and Zoe pass into the cargo hold they stop dead in their tracks. This is what they see: Kaylee is buzzing around Simon, River, and Inara with a smile so wide it doesn’t seem her face can contain it. Simon is dressed nearly identical to the time he first came on board, including the sunglasses and slightly slicked back hair. Inara looks as if she stepped out of a painting, the kind an artist would render if he were imagining what a perfect woman would look like. Then there is River. As difficult as it is to believe she manages to outshine Inara. Not in some crude physical manner but through a hidden beauty most of the crew has never seen in her before. Forget the fact that she is dressed like a life size doll and see that there is a dignity and class about her that Simon hasn’t witnessed since their carefree youth. She is radiant, she is beaming, and for the first time in a long time she looks happy. Mal realizes he’s been standing slack-jawed for the better part of ten seconds. Mal: “Why do I feel like the last one to the party?” Kaylee: “Ain’t it shiny captain? Reminds me of that fanciful ball you and me went to a while back.” Mal: “Ah yes, how could I forget. Bad dancing, overdone décor, and a fresh batch of scars.” Kaylee: “Quit being grumpy, no one’s getting stabbed here.” Zoe: “At least we hope not.” Kaylee: “What’s that supposed to mean?” Mal: “A job. It seems River here was a few steps ahead of me.” Inara: “You’re actually considering sending us out on one of your jobs? I thought we were just playing along with one of her fantasies!” Stunned, she turns to Simon to see him staring at Mal with a look of utter shock. While his time aboard Serenity has been less than ideal it is nothing compared to the disasters he has encountered almost every time he’s taken leave of the ship. Simon: “What is it you expect us to do exactly?” Mal: “Managed to set up a meeting with some local big-wig. Place called The Orient, some sort of high class establishment. Our would be employer requested some respectable folk of the unarmed variety. I figure you and Inara fit that bill quite nicely.” River: “And…” Mal: “And, since little sis is already up to speed I suppose it wouldn’t hurt if she were to tag along.” Simon: “So your plan involves sending two members of your crew into an unknown environment with no means of protecting themselves. Does that about sum it up?” Mal: “More or less. Oh don’t forget, River will be with you. If there’s any trouble I’m sure she can protect you. You know how important your safety is to me.” That last comment causes River to grin from ear to ear. Mal heads to the control panel and presses the button opening the rear hatch. Mal: “Transport should be here soon. Take you where you need to go.” Jayne slips into the cargo bay unnoticed. Jayne: “Sending a transport huh? Bout time one of our cash cows showed us some respect.” Everyone turns in unison to see Jayne standing there in his best attire. A button up shirt and dress trousers minus the stains and holes which seem to plague every other garment he owns. He even managed to shave and run a comb through his hair. The only thing missing is a pair of decent shoes. Seems Jayne has never gotten around to buying anything other than heavy boots. Mal: “Uh, what’s with the get up?” Jayne: “You said we was to play this all proper, so here I am.” Mal: “You’re joking right? You really think I’m sending you to broker a deal? This sort of thing requires tact and diplomacy. Two things you’re severely lacking.” Jayne: “You telling me I did all this for nothing.” Mal: “Reckon so.” Zoe: “It’s not a total loss, we could always get a portrait done and send it to your mother. I’m sure she’d be right proud.” Jayne clinches his fist and grimaces but says nothing else. Instead of leaving he takes a seat on the stairs. To look at him you would think he was conjuring a plan of his own. A low rumbling sound in the distance catches everyone’s attention. Jayne being the only one not paying any mind to it. Everyone else starts walking toward the exit ramp. Zoe: “Headed towards us from the sound of it.” Mal: “Horses. Bunched together. The rest of you stay inside until me and Zoe can assess the situation.” As the two of them leave the ship they are overwhelmed by how truly barren this landscape is. No visible wildlife, very sparse vegetation, and not a trace of moisture in the air. The ground is hard packed dirt nearly the color of sand. Coupled with the high sun it is almost blinding. Taking all these things into consideration one would expect a blistering hot climate but surprisingly it is quite temperate. As they walk around the left of Serenity their eyes confirm what was obvious to Mal from inside the ship. A small team of horses, running in tandem, headed right for them. Mal: “From the looks of the dust cloud they just passed around that hill. That’s when we picked up on the noise.” Zoe: “How long until they’re here?” Mal: “Hard to say. Running together like that horses can’t go all out. Not sure of the distance either since the only distinguishing features in this terrain are the hills that seem to enclose the space we’re sitting in.” Despite Mal’s order most of the others have made it partway down the ramp. Simon: “What is it?” Mal: “A team of horses pulling a stagecoach.” This statement seems to rouse Jayne’s attention. He gets up and walks toward the ramp. Jayne: “Stagecoach?” Thought you said this guy was high class. So why’s he sending horses instead of some fancy hovercraft?” Inara: “In some circles transport by stagecoach is considered high class.” Jayne: “Don’t sound like no circle I’d like to be part of.” Mal: “As stimulating as this discussion is we got business to take care of. We wait for it to get here then see how things play out.” The horses come to a halt on the left side of the ramp just out of view from anyone still inside. Since neither Mal nor Zoe have seen fit to draw a weapon the rest of the crew judges it safe to have a look. Everyone is immediately struck by the appearance of the stagecoach. It is masterful display of craftsmanship, constructed almost entirely of wood without any signs wear and tear. Instead of paint the designer chose to stain the exterior a medium brown color. The varnish overlay has been polished to a glassy finish. There is a single swinging door and several small windows which are covered by curtains on the inside. The man steering the horses is quite a sight himself. Every bit of sixty years old he is decked out in black from head to toe. Wearing a full length coat, bowtie, and a top hat he looks every bit the part of a high class gentleman himself. The horses themselves are a wonder. All four of them with finely groomed, rich, brown coats. Amazing as it seems not one of them is breathing hard. The driver steps down to the ground and addresses the group after a formal bow. Driver: “Good day to you all. I was instructed to ferry some of your party back into town for a pre-arranged meeting with my employer.” Mal: “That would be my understanding as well. And these three folk here are…” He turns around to see Inara and Simon but not River. Continuing the arc he catches up with her and Kaylee admiring the lead horses. River is gently stroking the horse’s face and leans her head against it’s neck. The driver pays this no mind but Simon walks over placing his hands on her shoulders. Simon: “We have something to take care of, remember?” River: “Yes. They like to run. It’s their favorite thing in the world.” Driver: “As soon as I give the horses some water we can be on our way.” Mal: “Good enough.” The driver proceeds to the side of the carriage and opens the door. On cue Inara, then Simon and River, approach the man and are individually greeted as ’sir’ or ’lady’. He takes each of them by the hand guiding them up the few stairs into the coach. The captain heads back into Serenity, everyone but Jayne follows suit. He hangs back a moment studying the stagecoach. Mal: “Now we get to our part in this. Jayne, you want to get up here?! Kaylee, check all the moving parts, make sure everything is in order. You know, in case we have to make a quick getaway.” Kaylee: “Right captain.” Mal: “Zoe, me and you are going to wait until that coach is out of sight, then we’ll follow it’s trail back to town.” Zoe: “We taking the mule?” Mal: “No, we’ll go on foot. Leaving the mule in case we need some rescuing ourselves.” Jayne: “So what am I supposed to do?” Mal: “You stay with Kaylee and guard the ship. If we call, you come running.” Jayne: “Don’t tell me y’all are going unarmed too.” Mal: “Hell no. We sent our respectable types in weapon free as a courtesy, nothing was ever said about those that would come later. Besides, Zoe was right earlier, this could be a trap. We’ll grab what we need then head out. Jayne, get out of that ridiculous outfit and bring Vera back here. Prep the mule in case we call for you, otherwise just keep a lookout.” Jayne: “Okay.” Mal and Zoe head into the ship to grab anything that might come in handy. Jayne, in stark contrast, does not even budge. He simply stares out at the old man who is nearly finished watering the horses. Zoe: “Glad we‘re on the same page.” Mal: “Still not convinced it’s a trap, but then again, how many of our jobs turn out as planned? Besides, if something was up I think River would’ve had some kind of reaction instead of just playing pretty with those horses.” Zoe: “Could be the driver doesn’t know anything.” Mal: “That’s true but if she felt something was wrong she wouldn’t be so keen on Simon being in the middle of it.” Kaylee is rummaging through a collection of tools and spare parts when Mal returns to the cargo hold. Mal: “You find some problem that needs fixing?” Kaylee: “No captain. Just the usual, minor adjustment here, tighten a bolt there.” Mal: “You happen to pass Jayne on the way up or was he still standing around when you came back here?” Kaylee: “No, on both counts. Ain’t seen him since I headed down to the engine room.” Mal heads up the stairs towards the crew’s quarters almost running into Zoe. Zoe: “Forget something sir?” Mal: “Is Jayne still in his quarters?” Zoe: “Don’t know. Haven’t seen or heard of him since you handed out assignments.” Mal: “You telling me he never even went that way?” Zoe: “Not unless he’s recently added stealth to his repertoire.” Mal: “Not likely.” Mal doesn’t make a habit of barging into his crews’ quarters but in this case he’s willing to make an exception. Already knowing what to expect doesn’t stop his initial reaction when he gets to the bottom of the ladder. Mal: “Son of a bitch!” Zoe: “I take it he’s not in there.” Mal makes his way back up the ladder. Mal: “Get Kaylee and start searching the ship.” Jayne: “Jayne ain‘t exactly the hiding type.” Mal: “It’s not Jayne we’re looking for.” The three of them meet up in the kitchen after checking Serenity both inside and out. Zoe: “He must have hitched a ride into town.” Mal: “Not thrilled about it but at least he didn’t knock that poor bastard out and leave him laying somewhere.” Kaylee: “I don’t get it. Why would Jayne sneak off ?” Zoe: “Could be he’s trying to prove a point about being useful in this type of situation.” Mal: “Or maybe he’s just feeling his oats.” Zoe: “So, do we still head in as planned?” Mal: “No, I’ll go it alone. You’re taking Jayne’s place. I’ll call if I need you.” By the time Mal gets outside the stagecoach is already out of sight. He only hopes this town isn’t too far on the other side of those hills it came around earlier.

Just as the captain is embarking on his walk the stagecoach and it’s three occupants pull into town. Although calling this a town is a bit misleading. There seem to be no modern amenities to the place. All of the buildings are constructed of wood, several of them look to be falling apart. The driver brings the horses to a halt in front of The Orient then goes to let his passengers out. All of them take a good look around, Simon being the most bewildered of the group. Simon: “This looks like something out of an encyclopedia. From Earth that was. A time referred to as ‘the wild west’. Didn’t the captain say we were to meet at some upscale establishment?” Inara: “Well, upscale is a relative term. See how the windows are made of real glass…that’s fairly classy.” Simon: “Very funny. The only redeeming quality so far is that people aren’t shooting each other in the street.” River: “Not right now anyway.” As they make their way to the entrance they can hear the sounds of many people coming through the double swinging doors. No doubt this is the most popular location in town. It doesn’t seem fitting that a proper businessman would conduct his affairs in a place like this. Upon entering they are overwhelmed by the smoke which permeates the air. Nearly everyone is smoking and drinking. Most of the patrons are grouped together at tables while a few choose to sit at the bar. The only entertainment to speak of is playing cards for money. Only after Simon, Inara, and River have passed inside does Jayne detach himself from the underside of the stagecoach. How fortunate it was for him that there is a luggage rack fully capable of supporting his frame. He likes the looks of the place and figures he’ll have little trouble finding the sort of entertainment he’s after. Instead of entering at the front he decides on looking for a rear entrance. Experience has taught him that places like this always have a back door.

Simon: “How are we supposed to recognize our contact?” Inara: “I can only assume he will contact us. Looking at these men leads me to believe he is not here yet.” River wanders over to the bar seating herself on one of the stools. She is fascinated by the variety of containers used to house the various liquids imbibed by the customers. The bartender takes notice of her and makes his way over. Bartender: “Good day miss. What can I get for you?” Before she can respond Simon moves in to answer for her. Simon: “Sorry, she doesn’t drink. I don’t know why she came over here.” River: “Look at the bottles. So many shapes, so many colors. Says a lot wouldn’t you agree?” The bartender is a perplexed by this and starts back to his other customers. Inara: “Perhaps you could assist us. We’re supposed to meet someone but I don’t think he has arrived yet. Have you seen anyone out of the ordinary in here today?” Bartender: “You mean more so than the three of you? No, I recognize all these folk.” A strange look passes across River’s face as she quickly stands up. River: “There’s someone who isn‘t here.” Before anyone can ponder this odd statement the bartender looks over Simon’s shoulder as something has caught his attention. Bartender: “That man at the back table is motioning towards the three of you. I’m thinking he’s the one you’re here to see.” Inara: “You know this man?” Bartender: “That I do, but it’s best left for him to do the introduction.” Meanwhile, upstairs and to the rear of The Orient, Jayne has found his entertainment. He is in what could be referred to as a parlor or waiting area. There is a rather unassuming middle aged woman (though not much older than Jayne) seated behind a desk. Though good looking enough, she is not the type he is interested in today. Hostess: “What can I do for you sir?” Jayne: “Don’t know about being called sir but I need a woman. Younger would be better, but not too young, I ain’t no pervert.” Hostess: “Pervert isn’t a term we like to throw around here…ain’t good for business as you could well imagine.” Jayne: “Just saying, I ain’t one of them folk.” Hostess: “Let me go get a few of my girls and you can see if one of them tickles your fancy.” Jayne: “Oh I got it mind for her to be doing more than that.” She can’t help but smile at that as she heads down the hallway. Jayne figures on making himself comfortable so he takes a seat. He barely gets settled in when the woman reappears with five of her girls. This lady really knows what her clients are after. Each one of the women she has brought are of age but not one of them looks to be over twenty-five years. Jayne immediately picks out the one who most fits the bill. Jayne: “That one, right there.” The other four girls take their leave after Jayne points to the one who caught his attention. She is a delicate looking beauty. Thinner than he normally likes his woman with a fair complexion and long, wavy brown hair. Jayne: “Do we settle up now or after?” Hostess: “When you finish she will tell me what services were rendered…then we settle up.” As the two of them walk down the hallway and enter one of the rooms Jayne can still hear all the goings on downstairs in the main part of The Orient. Hearing only the usual sounds associated with a bar he judges the others haven’t gotten themselves into any trouble, which is good for him since he doesn’t want any distractions.” Girl: “So what would you have of me sir?” Jayne: “Nothing fancy. Just want you to play at being sweet and innocent. You know, not so experienced as you really are.” She flashes a rather devious smile which turns into an expression of innocence. Girl: “Surely I can be doing that sir.” Downstairs, Inara, Simon, and River have made their way across the room. The man who motioned them over is seated at an oval table, its surface covered in red felt. He is playing a card game which none of them recognize. Also seated at the table is a dealer and three other players, none of whom are outstanding in any way. Their contact is another story altogether. His appearance sets him apart from everyone else in the room, save for Inara, River, and Simon. For some reason no one else in the room seems to pay this any mind. He is dressed in a finely tailored, dark grey, pin-striped suit. Underneath his jacket is a dark red silk vest. The holster on his left hip houses an exquisite piece of work: a chrome finish, ivory handled revolver. It almost looks too pretty to be of any real use. Hanging from the right pocket of his vest is a gold chain which undoubtedly leads to an equally fancy timepiece. Topping it all off is the matching grey derby sitting atop his head. Inara, who is usually a good judge of such things, is having a hard time pinning down his age. He looks to be anywhere from his early thirties to mid forties. When they reach the table he rises to greet them performing the same formal bow as the stagecoach driver. Barch: “I’m so glad you have made it. The name is Barch.” Inara: “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance sir, I am Inara, these two are Simon and River.” He gives a tip of his cap to each as they are introduced. Barch: “Captain Reynolds certainly sent the right people, you being a companion no less.” She is a little taken aback by this statement. Inara: “I’m surprised he would even mention it. He doesn’t exactly approve.” Barch: “He never said a word as to who was being sent but I can see it plain as day. Not many women in the verse as distinguished as yourself. Even fewer make their way this far out on the rim.” Inara: “I appreciate your grace sir. I might add that there are even fewer men in parts such as these who share your insight.” This lovely exchange is abruptly cut short by one of the men at the table. Player 1: “Excuse me kind sir but are we here for a tea party or to play cards?” Barch: “Right you are, dealer if you would do the honors.” Once he takes his seat the game resumes. River’s attention wanders alternately from Barch to the game itself. She takes note of the fact that he doesn’t react in any way to the cards being dealt. The other three players are not so skilled. Each one gives away far too much information with the way they move and talk. After several hands one of the men loses his temper. Oddly enough it follows a hand he has won. Player 2: “Damn it! I don’t know how you keep doing it. Every time I got you on the hook you wriggle free. You should’ve paid me off big on that hand.” Barch: “Guess I’m just lucky.” River: “It isn’t luck. You’re a reader.” The three men stare blankly at River then turn their attention to Barch whose expression hasn’t changed at all. The three of them push away from the table, each placing a hand on their holsters. Barch pays them no mind choosing instead to focus on River. Player 1: “What the hell does she mean by calling you a ‘reader’?” Barch: “I read expressions, body movements, and betting tendencies, that is what she is referring to.” River: “No, you aren’t here like the others. There’s hole where you should be.” Player 3: “Is she saying you’re using some kind of hoodoo mind trick? You cheating us?” Barch: “I know you men don’t believe in any such thing. If you would all just sit down we could continue what had been a pleasant game.” Player 1: “No, I don’t think so, got another game in mind…boys.” All three men draw pistols training them on Barch who still hasn’t made a move. As everyone else in the bar takes notice the place falls eerily silent. Simon: “Now this is starting to resemble one of Mal’s typical jobs.” Jayne has it in mind to go in for a second round when he notices the abrupt lack of sound from downstairs. He quickly jumps up from the bed and starts to dress. Jayne: “Gorramit!” Girl: “Is something not working proper? I can certainly fix that.” Jayne: “Ain’t nothing wrong with me. Have a listen downstairs.” Girl: “I’m not hearing anything.” Jayne: “That is exactly the sound of trouble brewing.” Before she can begin getting dressed Jayne is out the door, pants barely on, shirt still unbuttoned. His mind being elsewhere he rushes past the desk without stopping. Before he can cross into the next hallway one of the biggest men he has ever seen steps out seemingly from nowhere to block his path. Hostess: “He gets a bit cranky when folks try to leave without paying. Believe me when I say you don’t want him to be cranky.” Jayne: “I’m kind of in a hurry so just tell me what I owe.” Hostess: “Like I said before, when I hear what services were rendered then we settle up.” Jayne: “No telling when she’ll be out, take my word it weren’t nothing fancy, just the usual.” Hostess: “All the same I think we’ll wait.” He paces back and forth anxiously. With nothing better to do he decides to finish dressing.

It is rather fortuitous that Mal makes his way through the doors of The Orient just as Jayne prepares to finish his business. Mal (talking to himself): “Can’t say I’d call this high class but it looks to be…my…kind…of place.” At the conclusion of this statement he notices no one else in the room is talking. Everyone’s attention is focused on something taking place off to his right. He looks over to see three surly looking men standing at a table, each with a gun pointed towards another man who is seated across from them. Inara, Simon, and River are situated just to the left of this man but not close enough to be in the line of fire. Mal is glad that for once his crew aren’t the ones in peril. Nevertheless, he moves his coat past his gun and walks to the table. Mal: “I take it that this bit of unpleasantness doesn‘t involve us.” Inara: “As a matter of fact it does. This is the man who waved you.” Mal pays no regard to the three armed men when he leans in to extend his hand. Mal: “Captain Malcolm Reynolds, been looking forward to meeting you.” Barch: “Just call me Barch. Must say I would prefer to be meeting under better circumstances but it is a pleasure nonetheless.” The three card players become even more agitated each pulling back the hammer on his pistol. Player 1: “I don’t know what your business is with him captain but you better make it quick, he won’t be here much longer.” Four men enter the bar. Mal hears the familiar sound of three more weapons being cocked. He turns to see longer versions of the rifle Zoe favors aimed towards everyone in his vicinity. All patrons seated in between clear out. Mal: “Why can’t anything go smoothly?” The fourth man heads to the bar and pours himself a drink. He is a large, barrel-chested man wearing a badge on his coat. Marshal: “Why is it that every time you come into my territory trouble breaks out?” Barch: “Now that is a rather unfair assessment.” Marshal: “Is that so? After that last bit of ugliness I thought we agreed you wouldn’t come back to these parts.” One of the card players thinks this is a good time to interject. Player 3: “This man here has been cheating us Sheriff.” Marshal: “First off son, it’s Marshal, best not to forget that. Cheating you say? Wasn’t that the same issue surrounding your last visit Barch?” Barch: “Marshal, this is just a simple misunderstanding. I’m sure it can be resolved peacefully, without the need of any legal proceedings.” Player 2: “Peacefully my ass! We are well within our rights to…” Marshal: “The only rights you have are the ones I give you. Now if you boys don’t holster those irons my deputies will end this, and I guarantee it won’t be in your favor.” Faced with the prospect of being gunned down they decide to comply. Marshal: “Now that we’ve cleared that up I think it would be only fair if you were to return the money you took off these boys.” While not ideal it is better than the prospect he had just been facing. The three men angrily snatch up their money and exit the bar. Only after they have departed do the deputies shoulder their rifles, then seat themselves at a table facing the entrance. The Marshal makes his way across the room and leans in nearly face to face with Barch. Marshal: “Now maybe I wasn’t too clear the last time so I’m going to make simple for you. After today I don’t want to see you in this territory again. Matter of fact I don’t even want to hear of you anywhere on this rock. Do we have an understanding?” Barch: “I think I take your meaning. We won’t be seeing each other after today.” As this seems to satisfy the Marshal he sits down with his deputies to have a few drinks. Mal: “Well I must say that was a refreshing change.” Simon: “You call that refreshing?” Mal: “Well yes, none of us was at gunpoint and no one got shot.” Jayne comes barreling down the stairs making a bee line for Mal and the others. Jayne: “What happened?! Did I miss it?!” Mal: “Of greater interest to me is you explaining what the hell you’re doing here. I thought it was agreed you were to stay aboard the ship.” River: “He had something that needed working out.” He is clearly more flustered by her comment than having to explain himself to the captain. Mal: “I got it in mind as to what he was working out but that’s not to be done on my time.” Jayne: “Come on Mal it’s been damn near a month since I got any play.” Mal: “That don’t concern me. What does concern me is you putting yourself ahead of the job. Remember the part where we come in to look after the others?” Jayne: “They look fine to me. No one was harmed.” Mal: “No thanks to you. I think we’ll be talking on this some more later.” Jayne: “Gee won’t that be fun.” Barch finally sees fit to rise from his seat. Although he stands a full head shorter than Jayne or Mal he has a quality that makes him appear larger. He pulls a finely crafted briefcase from the floor setting it flat on the table. After entering a combination into the lock he places his gambling money inside. Mal takes note that a substantial sum is left as a tip for the dealer. Barch: “No point in being greedy. The money isn’t as important as the action.” Mal has a flash to what Saffron once told him about the payoff not being the point. Jayne: “Damn straight! But the money ain’t bad either.” Barch: “I think it would be best if we left now.” Once they’ve made their way into the street Barch looks back at The Orient. He leads them in the direction opposite of where they came into town, Mal walking at his side, everyone else in tow. Barch: “I’m really going to miss that place.” Mal: “Would you like to come to my ship? I could send for a transport unless you want to take that fancy stagecoach out for another ride.” Barch: “No, the horses have worked enough for the time being. Besides, we’ve got some business that needs attending.” Mal: “I was wondering when we were going to get around to discussing why you brought us here.” Barch: “That isn’t the business I was referring to. You see, young Dr. Tam’s dear sister cost me some money back there. That needs to be settled before we can conduct any further affairs.” Simon: “We don’t have much money if that is what you mean. I’m also curious as to how you know my profession. No one said anything about me being a doctor.“ Barch: “Ah yes, now we get down to it. What she said inside was correct, I am a reader.” This stops everyone except for River in their tracks. Barch: “Did you really think she was the only one in the verse?” Inara: “But what you said to the Marshal and those men.” Barch: “Of course I couldn’t tell them the whole truth or it’s likely I would be dead right now. What I said about reading those boys was true though, the day I have to use my ability to beat the likes of them is the day I stop playing cards.” Mal: “So you can read people’s minds, same as River?” Barch: “I don’t know about that. You see, I don’t feel anything from her at all, it’s like she…” River: “Isn’t here. It’s the same with him, there’s nothing, the space where he should be is empty, just like a hole.” Barch: “Precisely. I felt it when you arrived. I’m grateful that you allowed her to come Mr. Reynolds.” Mal: “Not sure I had much of a say in the matter.” Jayne: “This is all very exciting but what was you saying about the doc owing you some money?” Simon casts an aggravated looks in Jayne’s direction which he returns with a smile. Barch: “Don’t be upset Dr. Tam, I would have gotten back to that point eventually.” Simon: “If she was telling the truth in there then why should we owe you anything?” Barch: “While I don’t mind giving money away I certainly don’t approve of money being taken from me. Although it wasn’t your sister’s intent that is exactly what she did. I only think it fair that you provide some form of recompense.” Simon: “What I told you before is true, we don’t have much money.” Barch: “I already know that sir. What I have in mind doesn’t involve you paying me back per se. The service provided by you will earn me even more than I would have taken at the table.” Mal: “Not quite sure I’m following all this.” Barch: “All in due time Mr. Reynolds.” Simon: “At the very least could you tell me what was that game you were playing? I am familiar with many forms of gambling but I have never seen it’s like.” Barch: “I would be happy to enlighten you Dr. Tam. As you can tell by my accoutrements I have an affinity for things from the long gone days, in particular a period known as the wild west. The game we were playing is called poker and was quite popular in that time”. Jayne: “So does that fancy piece actually work or do you carry it because it’s so pretty?” Barch: “Of course it is fully functional. I get the feeling you appreciate a finely crafted gun.” He removes the pistol from it’s holster offering it to Jayne. He takes hold of it as one would hold a fragile work of art. Barch: “What you have there Mr. Cobb is a faithful reproduction of the Colt Peacemaker. Which to my mind is the finest revolver ever made.” Jayne snaps out of his momentary fascination with the weapon and flicks it from his hip to aim at nothing in particular in order to get the feel of it. Jayne: “Feels good, not as heavy as it looks.” Barch: “That probably has more to do with the heft of the weapons you normally carry.” He hands the gun back to it’s owner thinking how nice it would be to have something like that in his collection. Barch: “Someday you and I should have a friendly wager…to see who is better with their preferred firearm. You could even take a few shots with this one if you would like.” Jayne: “That’d suit me just fine.” Mal: “There’s something I’d like to ask.” Barch: “Shoot”. Mal: “Back there, in the bar, that Marshal mentioned some ‘ugly business’, would you mind filling me in on what that was all about?” Barch: “What he said about it being similar to the events that you just witnessed is true, at least from his point of view. The last time I was here two young men wandered into The Orient looking to make some money. They took me for an easy mark and wanted to play some cards. It turned out they were trying to cheat me. When they realized their little ruse wasn’t working they accused me of being the cheat thus challenging me to defend my honor. It goes without saying what that entailed. So I found myself out on the street facing two angry and armed ruffians still looking to get some coin from me, only now they were willing to kill in order to earn it. I implored them to walk away which only incited them further. Needless to say things did not end well for them.” Inara: “Two against one and you’re the one who walked away. I must say that is impressive.” Barch: “It does help knowing if and when they will draw their weapons. I am not so squeamish about using my gift when it comes to matters of life and death.” Mal: “You still have to make your shots count while not getting hit. I’m thinking I’d like to get in on the action if you and Jayne ever have that contest.” Throughout their conversing Barch has been leading them around town. They come upon a large building which looks to be a barn. No doubt the fancy stagecoach and horses are housed therein. He takes them around back where they are greeted with a pungent smell. Only Inara and Simon cover their noses in a feeble attempt to lessen the odor. Barch brings them to a halt at a large pen which is separated from the barn. It is surrounded by split rail fence with a swing open gate on one end and a shed on the opposite side. There is a small door connected to a ramp which leads into the shed. Mal: “You probably already know this but I have seen livestock before.” Barch: “But of course…you growing up on a ranch. Nevertheless there is reason I have brought you all here.” There is a small group of children kicking around a ball not far from where they are talking. Barch: “Children, I have a job for you.” They instantly stop and come rushing over. Child: “Yes sir, what can we do for you?” Barch: “I want you all to go around town and tell everyone you can find that there is going to be a show right here in about fifteen minutes. Get enough people to come and you will be paid.” Each one of them takes off in a different direction without any further instruction. Simon: “I’m having a hard time understanding how bringing us here will get back the money you say River cost you.” He had been waiting specifically for Simon to ask the question before unveiling his little game. Now that it has been broached he walks to the shed and pulls a lever which raises the door. Out waddles the biggest, ugliest looking swine one could possibly imagine. Barch: “You see Dr. Tam, this is how you are going to repay your sister’s debt. You will engage in a battle of wits with Old Bob here.” Mal and Jayne begin to laugh hysterically while Inara has a look which is equal parts amusement and surprise. River has the rather unique reaction of leaning over the fence in an attempt to entice Bob over to her. Simon brings a hand to his face while shaking his head from side to side. Simon: “This is some kind of joke. You can’t possibly expect me to go in there, with that!” Barch: “Don’t be afraid doctor. The locals have been doing this sort of thing for years. To my knowledge no one has ever been seriously injured.” Mal decides this would be an excellent time to contact his remaining crew members aboard Serenity. He composes himself just long enough to put out the call. Mal: “Zoe come in.” Zoe: “Right here sir, any problems?” Mal: “Not exactly. I want you to secure Serenity. Then you and Kaylee get yourselves into town double time. Look for a large barn…we’ll be around back.” Zoe: “On our way sir.” Inara: “Is it really necessary to bring the others here?” Mal: “Are you kidding? Do you really expect me to deprive anyone on my crew of such fine entertainment?” Inara: “I just think this is embarrassing enough without adding to it.” Mal: “I’m sure the good doctor doesn’t find it embarrassing to get a little dirty. After all he treats with my mechanic and she isn’t ashamed of getting dirty.” Simon: “Please stop discussing this like I’m not here. If this is what it takes to settle our so called debt I can handle it.” Barch: “Excellent. Now you don’t want to go in wearing all of those clothes.” Simon: “Now I know you are kidding. You expect me to be naked as well?” Barch: “No sir, not at all. I’m just saying you may want to consider not wearing all of your fineries. For instance, your jacket will only weigh you down once it gets saturated. Also, your shoes will just get sucked off in the muck so you might as well remove them before you enter.” Simon appears to be getting quite agitated while removing the aforementioned articles of clothing. Simon: “Are you at least going to explain what is expected of me?” Barch: “Certainly, but we will wait until everyone is here, then we cover the ground rules.”

Several minutes later Zoe and Kaylee ride into town. Even if the captain hadn’t mentioned where to find them it would not have taken much effort to follow the groups of people headed towards the large barn. After Zoe secures the mule to a post they make their way around back. Kaylee: “Did the captain say what was so important that he needed us?” Zoe: “No, he just said there wasn’t any trouble and that we were to get here quickly.” Coming around the corner of the barn they are overwhelmed by the same foul odor which had previously greeted the rest of the crew. While they make no attempt to cover their noses neither of them can help but wince a little. They see several dozen of the townspeople gathered around a pen. They can’t see through the crowd as to what kind of animal it houses. The rest of their crew is apart from everyone else, gathered near the gate leading into the pen. There is a well dressed man standing between Mal and Simon. No doubt the one who waved them. What Zoe and Kaylee immediately take note of is that Simon is partially undressed. Inara is holding his jacket, shoes, and tie. His shirt is hanging free with the top button undone and both sleeves rolled up past the elbow. This brings quite a smile to Kaylee’s face. Kaylee: “Wow, you really must be missing me.” Simon: “Everyone is a comedian today.” Zoe: “So what’s going on sir?” Mal: “Just wait for it. You’ll find out in a minute.” Barch could not be more pleased with the turnout and now that the final two pieces in place he steps onto a box to gain the crowd’s attention. Barch: “Ladies and gentlemen, today we are privileged to renew the old rivalry between man and beast. On one side we have Old Bob, on the other, young Dr. Simon Tam.” While he pauses a cheer goes up from the crowd. Although Kaylee is somewhat worried she cannot keep herself from smiling. Kaylee: “He won’t we be hurt will he?” Mal: “Course not. Our esteemed host insists it’s perfectly safe.” Barch continues his speech. Barch: “The rules are the same as always, first one to get his opponent down for a full three seconds is the winner.” Jayne looks to be in a considerable amount of pain from constantly laughing so hard. Barch: “As an added bonus I will take any bets against Dr. Tam. This is a straight up even money bet, no odds. If you think Bob can beat this young man I will gladly take your wager.” While not everyone present may be the betting type he is nearly overrun by people trying to get in on the action. Clearly none of these folk think a young dandy is capable of beating the local favorite. Jayne begins digging through his pockets so he can make some easy money. Mal: “Don’t waste your time Jayne.” Jayne: “Are you kidding Mal? This is a sucker bet if I ever saw one.” Mal: “My point exactly. Weren’t you paying attention when he was telling us about being a reader. I have to think he already knows the outcome of this little affair.” Jayne: “There ain’t no way the doc stands a chance against that pig.” Mal: “So tell me why he would be willing to take all those wagers against Simon?” Jayne: “He just wants to knock him down a little, you know, dirty him up. Sometimes that kind of payback is even better than money.” Mal: “I’ve said my piece. If you still intend to give away your hard earned cash I won’t say another word on the matter.” After the betting fervor dies down Barch puts his arm around Simon’s shoulder while leading him towards the gate. Barch: “The only advice I can give is to stay on your feet.” Simon: “I’ll try to keep that in mind. Tell me, how is it that I am supposed to hold such a large animal down for any amount of time?” Barch: “That’s the spirit! Not even considering the possibility of defeat.” Simon: “Believe me I have considered it. I’m just confused on how I can possibly win.” Barch: “Well I have not heard many stories of Bob losing. I imagine that simply getting him off his feet would do the trick. I think it would be quite difficult for him to regain his footing in that slop once he were down.” Simon: “I imagine it would be difficult for me as well.” Barch: “If you lose your footing it will be all over. Bob has quite a talent for pinning people after they go down.” This is the last piece of advice Simon receives before Barch opens the gate and eases him inside. As of yet Bob has not paid any attention to fact that someone has entered his pen. Instead he has spent his time near the fence snorting at onlookers. The crew of Serenity has gathered to the right side of the gate where Barch has seated himself on the fence. Mal: “So when is this thing going to get started?” Barch: “Bob won’t pay him any mind until he makes a move.” Mal: “Hey doc! Best you do something or you’ll be standing in there all day.” Simon: “What is it that you suggest I do?” Jayne: “How about laying down so he can pin you. Then I can collect my money.” Simon’s only response is to give Jayne another sideways glance. Barch: “Just start moving, that will get his attention.” Simon barely takes a step when Bob whips his head around to stare dead at him. At this point Simon takes the full measure of his opponent. Bob’s head is at least even in height to Simon’s waist. While unable to guess at the creature’s weight he believes Bob must be a least one hundred pounds heavier than any of his fellow crew members. Simon: “Oh God, how did I get into this?” Kaylee: “Relax Simon, take a deep breath, and don’t show him any fear. Animals can pick up on that sort of thing.” Before Kaylee can finish Bob charges at Simon. Not knowing what to do he stutters in one direction then the other, in the end he doesn’t move anywhere. It’s lucky for him that Bob stops about ten feet from him and circles back towards the shed. Simon is frozen in place. Barch: “Don’t let him get to you Dr. Tam. That is known as a feint. He was just testing you.” Zoe: “Well isn’t that lovely. A pig with an understanding of tactics.” Mal: “Don’t go insulting swine. They are some of the smartest animals you will ever meet.” Zoe: “Right sir. Is that why they wallow in filth and eat garbage?” Mal: “Let’s just say they have a laidback attitude towards life.” While they engage in this discussion Bob has been pacing back and forth in front of his shed. Simon has been intently focused on him since that little stunt a few seconds ago. It is a good thing because Bob has decided to make another charge. This time Simon manages to move but not fast enough. Bob connects squarely with Simon’s right thigh spinning him down into the muck. Simon almost gets really lucky when Bob comes to a skidding halt just short of the fence. If his head had connected with the gate Simon would surely have won this little contest. As it is Bob is a somewhat spooked by his near miss and circles back to the opposite side of the pen. Simon gathers his wits as he regains his footing. His entire left side is covered in mud mixed with pig droppings. Simon cringes as he gets a good whiff of moist excrement. He wonders how it is that one animal can create so much stink. Kaylee: “Oh no, that’s not good.” Jayne: “About time prissy pants finally got down and dirty.” Inara: “Simon doesn’t look so well.” Mal: “How would you feel if you were covered in animal waste?” Instead of answering Inara looks as if she might retch. Mal: “You didn’t think that was just mud did you? I mean, where did you think that wonderful aroma was coming from?” Inara: “This may come as a shock to you but the subtleties of barnyard life was not part of my companion training.” Mal: “You don’t say. Well then, in the interest of gaining some life experience, maybe we can arrange for you to take a turn…once Simon is finished of course.” Jayne: “Think I’d like to see that my own self.” Inara: “There isn’t enough money in the verse.” Old Bob takes another run at Simon. This time, instead of running at full speed, Bob slows down a bit just before he reaches the target. Simon deftly sidesteps this attack but unfortunately Bob’s decreased speed allows him to jerk his head sideways catching Simon in the hamstring as he passes. It is enough to put Simon down on his knees. Just as Simon is trying to free himself from the muck, Bob turns around for what looks to be the finishing assault. Simon is having no luck pulling his legs free while Bob is bearing down on him. At this point he is all but resigned to defeat. Less than five feet from Simon at full charge something of miracle occurs, as Bob plants his right, front hoof he sinks down quite a bit further than normal. This causes him to lose his balance, fall onto his side, and send him sliding into Simon. Not taking any time to consider his good fortune Simon lunges across Bob’s body to grab his front legs. He pulls with every bit of strength, managing to turn Bob onto his back. With no way to gain any leverage the only thing Bob can manage is to kick his hind legs wildly in the air. He is still laying across Bob’s belly when a cheer goes up through the crowd. Though many are upset at losing money the majority of those gathered are applauding a truly stunning victory. Barch motions to Simon to exit as he opens the gate. Barch: “Come on out Dr. Tam, time to get off Old Bob.” Simon snaps out of his bewilderment pushing himself away from Bob. Instead of making any violent moves Bob casually stands up, then turns around to lick Simon’s face. This elicits quite a deal of laughter from the crowd, especially from River. He finishes by strolling up the ramp back into his shed. Simon remains on his knees, still in shock over the whole situation. Mal: “Hey doc! Get out here so when can celebrate your mighty conquest!” Simon: “Celebrate? What? Oh yes, I won didn’t I?” Mal: “You certainly did. Now get up and come see to your adoring public.” Simon finally snaps out of his stupor while staggering out of the pen. Being that a great deal of his body is covered in muck the crowd gives him a wide berth. Barch: “Let me be the first to congratulate you son. You made a fine account of yourself.” Simon: “I take it our debt is settled.” Barch: “Of course. I made a killing off this little endeavor. Truth be told even if you had lost it still would have been worth it.” Jayne(to Mal): “Told you. Sometimes it’s better to muss a man up than get money out of him.” Barch: “You mistake my meaning Mr. Cobb. My intent was not to embarrass the good doctor nor to knock him down a few pegs. What I needed to know was how far the people on this crew would be willing to go in order to get the job done.” Mal: “You being a reader I have to figure you‘d already know the answer to that.” Barch: “Knowing and witnessing are two different things.” Zoe: “What was that about him being a reader?” Mal: “I’ll explain later.” River looks as if she would like nothing more than to give Simon a big hug but can’t get past the fact that he is so unclean. For his part he is looking even more uncomfortable than when he was in the pen. Inara: “Maybe we should look into getting him cleaned up.” Barch: “Right you are my lady. There is a makeshift shower connected to the outside of the barn. The locals use it for these very situations.” Simon heads in the direction indicated by Barch. Kaylee and River walk with him to the facility which is unenclosed, consisting of simply a pull chain and showerhead. Kaylee: “Now I think you should stay under there long enough to get all the grime off. This probably isn’t going to be pleasant. Are you ready?” Simon: “Do it.” As she pulls the chain Simon is overwhelmed by how cold the water is, almost losing his breath. After a few moments his body adjusts and he welcomes the soothing coolness as it washes off the remnants of Old Bob. Back near the pen Barch is settling his wagers. He takes care not to forget the children who spread the word about this event. When all is done he closes the briefcase and begins walking towards Simon. Mal: “Now that all debts have been settled and you are satisfied with the integrity of my crew maybe we can finally get down to business.” Barch: “I have to say I agree with you Mr. Reynolds, but not here. I’d like to see that ship of yours, then we talk business.” Mal: “No problem. Mule can’t hold everyone but if you can dust off that stagecoach everyone will have a ride back.” Barch: “You must have read my mind. First, let us see how the young doctor is faring.” They reach the shower to find Simon soaked to the bone. By the looks of him that water must have been quite cold. Mal: “How you feeling doc? You certainly look and smell a whole lot better.” Simon: “I am doing quite well thank you.” Inara: “I didn’t think you had it in you Simon. That was quite a display.” Jayne: “Well I ain’t impressed. You cost me some coin in there.” Simon: “I feel for you, really, I do.” Mal: “Told you it was a sucker bet. Why don’t you ever listen?” Kaylee takes Simon’s jacket from Inara placing it around his shoulders. Kaylee: “You did real good. Let’s get you back to the ship and out of those clothes.” More than a few eyebrows are raised by this comment. This causes Simon even more discomfort. Kaylee: “To get him into some dry clothes. I swear, you guys are worse than teenagers.” Jayne: “You two are the ones who act like lovesick puppies.” Zoe: “Alright that’s enough. We’ve all had about enough excitement for one day so let’s just get back to the ship and do what we came here to do.” Mal cannot resist the temptation to salute. Mal: “Yes sir!” The absurdity of him saluting anyone breaks the tension, causing everyone to smile. Barch: “Shall we be off then?”

As the crowd disperses, the crew of Serenity and their new business acquaintance head towards the main street. Just before they make it the end of the barn a look of concern passes over River’s face. River: “Our excitement is not over with just yet.” They round the corner of the barn to see three men standing in the street no more than fifty paces away. Zoe and Kaylee are the only two surprised by this development. Zoe: “Do we know these men sir?” Mal: “Not quite, although our new friend here had a bit of trouble with them earlier. Should have known better than to think the matter was settled.” The captain motions Inara, Simon, River, and Kaylee to move off to the side and join the townspeople who are gathering in great numbers. It looks as though this situation is garnering more attention than Simon’s frolic in the pigpen. Player 1: “I see your friends are still here. Won’t matter none, you will be paying us one way or the other.” At that last word Mal, Zoe, and Jayne train their guns on the three card players. Interestingly, Jayne is holding a pistol in each hand. Yet another reason he prefers boots, they are a great place for stashing weapons. Mal: “Now I don’t think you’ve completely grasped the situation. The odds are no longer in your favor. Seeing as we’ve still got business with this man it would be best if you were to move on out of here.” Player 2: “This don’t concern you and yours mister. In case you didn’t know we’ve got some business with him ourselves.” Barch places his hand on Mal’s shoulder as he walks past. Barch: “Please Mr. Reynolds, put your weapons away. This is my affair, I don’t want you getting dragged into it.” Mal: “Are you sure? We’re pretty handy in a fight.” Barch: “I know you are but this fight is mine alone.” Once Mal lowers his gun both Zoe and Jayne follow suit. Though Jayne has a look of disgust on his face. Jayne: “Finally look to make some good coin and our man decides on suicide.” Barch: “If you wouldn’t mind looking after my briefcase.” Mal takes hold of it, then he, Jayne, and Zoe join the rest of the crew as spectators. Barch: “I don’t suppose I could talk you boys out of this.” Player 1: “No more talking.” He barely finishes the words when all three men reach for their guns. There is a flash of silver and three gunshots ring out so quickly that to the untrained ear it would appear only one shot had been fired. All three men fall to the street dead. Not one of them has managed to fire a shot. One man even suffers the indignity of not even clearing his gun from it‘s holster. There is a stunned silence all along the street. Jayne steps out, walking in the direction of the dead men. Jayne: “No ruttin’ way! Can’t no one shoot like that! Barch slowly turns to the rest of the crew while putting the revolver back on his hip. He looks to River then Kaylee with the hint of a smile on his face. Barch: “That just is not true Mr. Cobb. Some folks can shoot exactly like that.” Mal steps forward to return the briefcase to it’s owner. The rest of the crew falls in line behind their captain. Mal: “I had some doubts about that story you told us earlier but what I just witnessed is one the most impressive displays of shooting I have ever seen.” Barch: “Leading this sort of life a man better know how to fend for himself.” Zoe: “Speaking of taking care of ourselves, might be best to make a hasty exit before we receive further unwanted attention.” River/Barch: “Too late.” Jayne has been spending most if this time looking down the street in the direction of the dead men. He spies four men walking towards him. They march right past the bodies without so much as glancing at them. Jayne: “Mal! We got four lawmen headed our way looking all kinds of serious!” The rest of the group looks to see what River and Barch already knew was coming. The Marshal and his deputies, all with weapons drawn, ready for business. Mal instinctively reaches for his gun. Barch: “Don’t. Lets just see how this plays out.” Mal: “Are you sure? That man didn’t appear too keen on you earlier.” The Marshal comes to an abrupt halt no more than five feet from Barch. Back at The Orient he displayed no weapons, this time he has a sawed off shotgun pointed at Barch’s chest. His deputies are not aiming at anyone in particular, instead they are slowly sweeping their rifles from side to side, just in case Mal or any of his crew decide to interfere. Marshal: “You know, I’m beginning to think you and I have a real communication problem. I told you to get out of my territory.” Barch: “Sometimes my memory fails me but I am pretty sure you said: ‘after today I don’t want to see you in this territory again’. I also seem to recall agreeing to those terms.” This sets the Marshal to laughing. Not the good kind of laugh but rather one that could easily end in violence. Marshal: “You have got brass balls, I’ll give you that. Perhaps I should just burn you down right here and be finished with it.” At this he pulls back the hammers on both barrels. Mal: “Excuse me, but I might be able to assist. I’ve got a ship just on the other side of those hills. I’m thinking we could take this man and be off your planet in say ten minutes.” Marshal: “You’re that fellow from before, in the bar…I take it the rest of these folk are with you as well?” Mal: “That is the case.” Marshal: “And you have some business with this man?” Mal: “That is also correct.” Marshal: “You may have picked up on the fact that I am not very fond of him.” Mal: “I did get that impression.” Marshal: “Let’s add things up then, shall we? I don’t like him. You admit to having some business arrangement with him. By proxy, I don’t care much for you either.” Mal: “I would have to say that truly hurts my feelings.” Marshal: “Another smart ass. I’m starting to think we should just shoot the lot of you.” Inara detaches herself from the group stepping directly in front of the marshal. Inara: “With all these townspeople as witnesses how would you explain killing eight unarmed people?” Marshal: “Don’t trifle with me lady. I know at least half of you are armed. This one just shot three men in plain view of everyone here.” Inara: “Yet neither he nor anyone else has threatened you in any way. So I ask again, how would you justify your actions?” Marshal: “Who is it that you think I answer to? I have complete jurisdiction here.” Inara: “That is not in dispute. What I am referring to is business dealings we have on other worlds.” Marshal: “I don’t quite follow you.” Inara: “When setting down on a planet normal procedure is to let some of our contacts know exactly where we are. If something were to go wrong there would be an investigation.” Marshal: “This may be a backwater world but don’t expect me to fall for a trick like that. Except for you I’m willing to bet every one of these folks has a criminal record. So why would any lawful agency care to investigate your disappearance?” Inara: “Why do you assume I was referring to a legal investigation?” Marshal: “If you are trying to confuse me, congratulations you have succeeded.” Inara: “Allow me to clarify. Some of our more affluent business associates do not like unknown variables. If we were to be captured or killed they would want to make sure vital information was not passed on to those responsible.” Marshal: “Let me get this straight now, I should allow a group of criminals to leave my world so other criminals don’t show up?” Inara: “Does the name Niska mean anything to you?” The shotgun slowly points toward the ground as the marshal swallows hard. Inara: “I see that it does. We regularly work for Mr. Niska. Having never let him down we have become quite valuable to his enterprises. If you know anything of his reputation then you must realize he values loyalty above all else. When we do not check in with him he will become concerned. Though I am sure you are able to deal with any local trouble it is unlikely you would be able to handle the kind Mr. Niska would bring.” There is a pause as Inara lets the full weight of her statements sink in. After some consideration the marshal regains his composure. Marshal: “You had best clear out of here right now. The rest of people go back to your homes, the show’s over!” While turning away he gives all of them a most vicious look. Mal: “Okay, time to go.” Without any hesitation they all head back to the barn. Barch goes inside to ready his driver while the others gather around the mule. Mal: “Zoe, I want you to go back in the mule. Take Simon, River, and Kaylee. The rest of us will ride in the stagecoach.” Zoe: “Should we wait for you?” Mal: “I think it would be best if we all stay together…just in case those lawdogs have a change of heart.” Jayne: “So you forcing me to ride in the coach as punishment?” Mal: “Funny you should mention that. No, you won’t be riding with us. Your punishment will be walking back to the ship. Best get started or we just might leave without you.” He says this without a hint of humor in his voice. Jayne decides not to argue the point because he knows Mal is dead serious. He makes no protest as he heads out alone. Mal and Inara meet up with Barch inside the barn. Barch: “My lady, remind me to never play poker with you. That business with the marshal was one of the finest bluffs I have seen in all my years.” Mal: “Speaking of which, couldn’t you have brought up some other name? I think you know how I feel about that man.” Inara: “I suppose I could have, but then it wouldn’t have had the same effect.” Mal: “There are any number of people the local law might have heard of who would have been just as intimidating.” Inara: “I didn’t mean the effect it had on them.” Inara gives him a nasty smile as Barch guides her into the stagecoach. Mal is left with his mouth open, looking rather dumbfounded. Barch: “You two make quite the pair. After you Mr. Reynolds.”

The ride back is uneventful. No one hinders them, no one follows. When they come to a stop next to Serenity Jayne is just passing around the hills. He looks be running at top speed. Apparently the prospect of being left here doesn’t appeal to him. Mal: “I imagine you’ll be wanting to bring along your driver and that fancy stagecoach. We have plenty of room in the hold so it won’t be a problem.” Barch: “No, we won’t be accompanying you.” The entire crew looks puzzled by this statement. Mal: “I can appreciate standing up to the law but if you stay here those men will kill you.” Barch: “I never break my word Mr. Reynolds. I will be leaving, just not with you.” Mal: “Not many ships make it out here. Unless that rig can fly you may find yourself stranded.” Barch: “I keep a small transport ship hidden around here. Not nearly as nice as yours but it lets me come and go as I chose.” Zoe: “There is still the matter of that job we came here for.” Barch: “I think there has been a misunderstanding, our business is concluded.” Mal: “How’s that? You never even told us why we were here!” Barch: “No need to get upset. I now know that you are the right people for a future job I am still coordinating. Once the plans are finalized I will be in touch.” Mal: “I’m thrilled that you hold us in such high regard but that won‘t keep my ship in the air.” Barch: “Of course, where are my manners?” On cue the stagecoach driver walks over with the briefcase laid flat across his arms presenting it to Barch. He opens it removing two items. One is a sizable bag which looks to be filled with coins. The other is something of a curiosity, a foot long cylinder with a plastic lid on one end. He tosses the bag to Mal. Barch: “That should adequately cover the cost of your time here.” Mal: “How much is ours?” Barch: “All of it.” Mal: “I’m not usually one to refuse money but we haven‘t done anything to warrant this kind of payment.” Simon: “Anyone remember me getting covered in dung while wrestling a pig?” Barch: “You truly are a rare specimen Mr. Reynolds. Most men wouldn’t think twice about what you are holding in your hand.” Mal: “I like to earn my money is all.” Barch: “In my opinion you did, your entire crew that is. You see I’ve been waiting for people to come along that I could trust with a rather important endeavor. The integrity and action exhibited by your crew has proven to me that you are indeed the ones for that job. I want you consider that bag a sample of what is to come.” Mal: “You paying us all this coin for those reasons has got me real interested in what you would be willing to part with for a real job.” Barch: “If everything works out you will be privy to my full generosity” At that the two men shake hands. Mal sees Jayne out of the corner of his eye, still about one hundred yards away, running like hell. This coupled with the money they have earned brings a smile to his face. Mal: “I must say this has been an interesting day, now it’s time for us to be heading out.” Zoe and Kaylee are already inside securing the mule as the other four begin walking up the ramp. Barch: “There is just one further matter, a curiosity I need to satisfy. If the young lady wouldn’t mind.” River makes her way back down the ramp. Mal and Simon are the only members of the crew interested enough to see what will unfold. Barch: “I brought this other item specifically for you. Inside there are five hundred plastic sticks. All of them the same color save one. Do you understand what I am getting at?” River: “Yes.” He pulls off the lid and jerks the canister up in one fluid motion. Hanging in the air is a cloud made up of thin, blue lines. River stares at it, then slowly extends her right hand, making no contact with any of the sticks except for the one she has grasped. A mass of blue hits the ground in a tangle. It is not surprising to Barch that the color of that last stick, which is now in River’s hand, is white. With a smile on his face he tips his cap to her then turns around and walks off. Her only reaction is to tilt her head slightly as she watches him enter the stagecoach. Simon: “That was odd.” Mal: “Can you name anything about today that wasn’t?” Jayne finally arrives, stumbling up the ramp with his last few paces. Though he is in outstanding shape it is obvious long distance running doesn’t suit him. Jayne: “What’d I miss?” Mal: “You almost missed the boat.” Jayne: “Seeing him drive off gets me thinking I missed you messing up a sweet deal.” The captain brings up the bag, shaking it in front of Jayne at eye level. Mal: “If that’s so then I guess you don’t want a share of this.” Jayne realizes he may have put his foot in his mouth. Thinking of no clever reply he simply exhales with a slight frown on his face. Mal: “Let’s call it a day people. I want us off this rock in five minutes.” The engines start up just as Mal hits the button raising the ramp.

THE END

COMMENTS

Friday, April 14, 2006 12:02 AM

MAGHAFFAR


Pretty entertaining for a first shot. Dialog-per-Character was good, often hilarious. Only thing that bugged me was Jayne disobeying Mal so blatantly. After what Mal does to him at the end of Ariel, I don't see Jayne ever thinking of crossing Mal like that. Was expecting some kind of reveal that Old Bob was a trained pig -- seemed like he fell over on purpose. The narrative style kinda threw me but it works if it's script format. Otherwise, you might want to consider reworking it so its more fiction like in flow. The character tags were disjointing to me -- the whole script thing. Either go one way or the other is my advice. Most people are so well-versed in the 'Verse you don't need a lot of 'pointers' to things or people. Liked the Barch character overall -- kind of a 'nice' Niska -- quirky. All in all, it was certainly readable. Made me wanna see the next installment. Any landing you walk away from...
--MAG

Friday, April 14, 2006 1:08 AM

AMDOBELL


Very entertaining though it seemed an elaborate set up just to establish whether or not Mal and his crew would be up to a future job Barch is planning. Being a Reader, wouldn't he know that already? Also with Old Bob, as it was River who messed up Barch's game shouldn't she have had the tussle with the pig? We all know she would have won hands down. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, April 14, 2006 5:42 AM

ALLIETHORN7


Yes, this story was good and long, and the dialouge was near perfect for our BDH's. I am looking forward to a sequel, if you decide to post one. Nice story, this, but the format did somewhat throw me off. good story altogether, though

Friday, April 14, 2006 6:02 AM

LEIASKY


Very interesting. I'm looking forward to seeing this Barch's future job for the crew.

I don't usually like script format fic but this was entertaining and held my attention.

Normally prim and proper Simon getting covered in mud and dung was excellent. Kaylee can comfort him and warm him later :)

Friday, April 14, 2006 9:48 AM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Oh god....I am still laughing from Simon facing down Old Bob:D

I honestly didn't mind the script format....made things rather clear on what was going on when. Though a bit more "fiction"-style exposition would have added an extra level of shininess to the story.

And I too wanna know what Barch has got planned....gotta be real crazy if this story is the BDHs' audition;)

BEB

Friday, April 14, 2006 1:16 PM

SILLYLITTLEDUCK


I really enjoyed this. I liked the script/narrative of this actually, let me know who was saying what with out any ado, but still it described everything. I mean it's fanfic, does it really kill to have you're own style, as long as it's consistant, which you were.

Saturday, April 15, 2006 7:33 PM

SINGATE


I appreciate all the comments so far. Didn't expect so many people to check out my little story. Even more surprised that at least one person didn't rip me a new one. I'm sure someone will get around to it eventually.

Writing this in a script-like format came very natural to me, probably because this story was playing in my head like an actual episode. Another reason I put it together in this manner is that I really enjoy stories which revolve around dialogue, especially between these characters.

I do acknowledge there could have been fleshing out of the story by including more description. The main reason for not doing this was time. I spent nearly a month on this little project. If I had gone into detailed description this thing would have grown out of control. I certainly wasn't looking to write a novel. In the end this thing ended up about three times longer than I had originally anticipated.

If anyone wants to have a more detailed discussion my Yahoo IM is singateiii.

Monday, April 17, 2006 5:17 PM

COBISTEVENSFRIEND


how crap was this???

Monday, April 17, 2006 6:02 PM

USAGIVINDALOO


The Great: The plot is really fascinating and kept me on my toes. The scene with Simon and the pig was hilarious, and you pretty much nailed every single character perfectly. I definitely want to read more.

The not-so-great: In terms of style, this fic couldn't seem to make up its mind between being a normal third person prose work or a script. There weren't enough descriptions for prose, yet a few of the asides (e.g. Inara being unsure what age Barch is) wouldn't belong in a script. I would try and settle on one or the other as a style; as it is, the current style is a little distracting.

I look forward to the next installment.


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