Hey, if I can’t pimp my own stuff on my own site, where can I pimp it?
This, if all goes well, will be a Serenity novel. It will, in fact, be the one I plotted out before I got sidetracked by my “Visit to a Weird ‘Verse, Re-revisited” idea, but I’m all better now.
This takes place immediately after the BDM. Rated PG-13 for adult situations and language, no explicitness unless things get out of hand. Comments welcome.
Firefly, Serenity, and the characters and situations contained are the property of Mutant Enemy, Twentieth Century Fox, and Joss Whedon, and no claim against their intellectual property is being made. Honest.
When the Devil Drives
by C. A. Bridges
The planets and the moons and the spaces in between hereabouts have been pretty well mapped out these days, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to find things. Especially things that strive not to be found.
In a plain room behind an unmarked door, on a ship with no markings, transponder, or official existence, in a desolate area of space so far from respectable folks it may as well not exist, a small group of men were discussing the fate of the universe and their preferred place in it, which was prominent.
“I still don’t see why we can’t just bust in there. We got the surprise thing going for us, and if your boys know what they’re talkin’ about we got enough firepower to wake up God. Why sneak about?”
“Because we can’t be seen as the attackers, my friend. Public opinion will win this war, not anything we can blow up. We must be accepted, demanded, not feared. Recent events have already shaken the people’s trust, there will never be a better opening.”
“Could blow up something little…”
“All in good time, lao pung yo.”
“People get to callin’ me ‘friend’ I start watching their hands,” the first voice said. “Usually means either something I like’s about to go missin’ or something I don’t want to see is gonna show up.”
A third voice laughed. “Wise, very wise. We are not friends here, me least of all. But we are compatriots who find ourselves traveling to the same destination. It is only sensible for us to join our skills to make the journey faster, and safer.”
“There are many of us who are still uncertain about that destination,” said the second voice. “And the means we use to get there. What we propose will not find favor with all of them, especially those with families out in the worlds. We need to present a unified front for them to follow.”
“No. We need to present them with a leader. Someone they will respect, someone who embodies our goals and dreams. Someone who will never back away or let them down because the dream is more important than any person’s life, even his own.”
“Ideally someone so focused on the goal that he won’t notice what we have to do to get him there?”
“Precisely so. We need a believer.”
The first voice chuckled. “Then I got just the man for you. Might take a little work to track him down, but he’s already fought this fight once and never got the taste of it out of his mouth.” And the first voice named a name.
There was a sound of someone breathing in sharply. “I hadn’t thought of that, but… If, as you say, we can find him and convince him.” This time the third voice sounded thoughtful. “I’ve never met him myself, but he would do very nicely.”
“You’ve never seen him?”
“Only once,” the third voice said ruefully. “Through a cannon scope, but I don’t think that counts. I think you may have given us the hero we need.”
Chapter One – Unaccustomed customs
“Malcolm Reynolds, you are bound by law for the charges of smuggling and trafficking in illegal commerce.”
Mal’s jaw dropped open. “Kewpie dolls are illegal? Where do you find enough little handcuffs for the kiddies?”
The scene was one that was becoming far too familiar. The hold of his spaceship, Serenity. His crew arranged in a frozen, shocked tableau against armed men who had the drop on them. And to make matters as bad as they could possibly be, one of them was carrying a clipboard. As far as Mal was concerned there was never a situation in the ‘verse, no matter how heinous, nasty, and fearsome, that couldn’t be made a little more terrifying by mixing in a little man with a clipboard.
Being held two feet off the ground by a very large goon wasn’t a favorable new development either.
“Your paperwork is forged, Captain Reynolds,” the customs officer said, peering into one of the open crates on the deck. He used his pen to distastefully poke through the pile of grinning dolls inside. “And not very well. Even innocent goods must be legally transported and there is quite a collector’s market for these, I understand.”
Behind him a large man — currently being guarded by a small man with a large gun — made a face. “For those things? Knock down three milk bottles you can take your pick.”
“Shut up, Jayne,” Mal croaked. The goon was holding him at arms’ length but didn’t seem to be noticing Mal’s weight, which didn’t speak well for Mal’s chances of escape. He fought desperately to avoid kicking his feet as he was uncomfortably aware that it would achieve nothing and make him look ineffectual. Instead, he tried to hang with dignity.
“I don’t wanna go to prison for a damn baby doll. It ain’t seemly. Besides, they wet on you if you don’t watch out.”
“Jayne, I can’t for the life of me understand why some lucky woman hasn’t snapped you up. Look, officer—“
“Shake him, please,” said the clipboard man, still filling out a menacing-looking form. Instantly Mal’s world became a very blurry, painful place.
“That’s enough. For now. If your next statement contains any permutation of ‘let’s be reasonable,’ I’ll let him keep going.”
Zoe spoke up. “Might want to skip the ‘we’re all reasonable men’ line, too, sir.”
“You’re not leavin’ me much,” Mal said. Zoe, Mal’s second-in-command, cocked her head to the side. Years spent together risking their lives and depending on each other had allowed Mal to develop a nonverbal style of communication with Zoe and right now, based on her lifetime of soldierly experience, she was sending him a very clear signal: You’re humped. Better start dancing. The guard holding Mal smiled at him encouragingly.
“Fine. What happened?” Mal asked the official.
“This!” Mal looked around to take it all in. Jayne still looked disgruntled but that seemed to be his base state. Zoe was being covered by the two guards standing in front of the open loading bay and neither of them seemed ready to do him any favors. Sunlight streaming in from the outside was broken occasionally by passing local folk, both the curious and the very carefully incurious, but he didn’t see any signs of an impending heroic rescue.
“Since when does a simple transaction get this much attention? It may be that my paperwork isn’t archival quality but it’s what my supplier gave me, fair and true. I been comin’ to this rock ever since the first person with a wallet settled here and I’ve never seen this level of persecu… um, dedication to the job as displayed by your fine self. What’s changed?”
The customs official finished writing and looked up. “The rules, Captain Reynolds. We’re enforcing them now. And new people, like me, have been shipped in to see that they’re enforced by whatever means necessary. Misspelled scribblings on greasy food wrappers no longer qualify as an acceptable bill of lading. Even,” he said, as he allowed several brightly colored bits of paper to fall to the floor, “when it seems to have money wrapped in it. This was a bribe, I take it?”
“A docking fee,” Mal said. “A fine Persephone tradition that I have always honored for the good of interplanetary commerce and the local economy, but one I will gladly take back if it means you’re gonna aim that clipboard at me again.”
“Captain Reynolds, this lax attitude towards the rules of a functioning society is exactly why the Alliance formed in the first place. I’m sure you remember the horrors that existed out here before Unification?”
Mal’s mouth worked a few times before he trusted it to answer. “Yeah, it was hell. Couldn’t get a decent pastry for love nor money. I heard some people even tried to live their own lives. What was the world coming to?”
“Precisely. Respect for the law will come to the border planets and it won’t take a war this time. Just a few highly visible examples.” For the first time since coming aboard, the customs official smiled. “Such as yourself. Let’s go. Arrest them all.”
The guards by the loading bay stepped forward but stopped suddenly as a heart-wrenching scream came from above and echoed through the bay. A slender teenage girl, barefoot, with long brown hair and a simple dress ran down the stairs from the upper deck, screaming the whole way down. “Noooo!”
Mal tensed at the sound. Behind him he felt, rather than saw, Zoe get ready to back whatever stupid thing he chose to do. No telling how Jayne would respond but it would probably be highly disruptive, whatever it was. This was about to get painfully physical. The guards were looking away, if he could snap-kick this bull’s collarbone before the goon took it into his brain to squeeze his fingers together, Zoe could—
“Don’t take my daddy!” The girl dashed across the floor and flung her arms around Mal’s legs before he could react. “You can’t take him!”
“River, what are you—“
River let go of Mal — who swung slightly — and lunged at the official, grabbing his lapels in both hands. Mal glanced back at Zoe, who shrugged. “He didn’t mean any harm, sir, he didn’t! Don’t take him away from everything he knows and leave me and mama stranded!” River pleaded.
The official started violently, staring at her for a long moment before taking her shoulders in his hands and smiling down at her. This time, amazingly, his smile was a kind one. “We’re not going to hurt him, little one. Your daddy broke the law and he needs to go talk to some people about it.”
“You’re gonna take him away and I’ll never see him again! They’re just toys, they don’t mean anything. Do you have a daughter?”
Taken aback, the official stared at her again. In her anguish and eagerness River looked no more than twelve years old, a sight to melt any parent’s heart. “Yes. Yes, I do. How did—“ Behind him Jayne looked away and tried not to roll his eyes.
“She wouldn’t want her loving daddy to be pulled away from her for something he didn’t even know was wrong, would she? Just because he’s not very smart it doesn’t mean he’s a bad man!”
Before he could object further River smiled, her whole face bright and cheerful as a spring meadow. “Oh, thank you! Thank you!” She threw her arms around the official, who dropped his clipboard in shock and feebly tried to pat her back in a soothing manner. She let go and backed away a step. “He’ll never do it again! Will you, daddy?”
Mal’s head jerked up, “Hmm? No! No, I’ll never do it again. Uh, pumpkin.”
The guards, recognizing the end of a performance when they saw it, lowered their weapons and began filing out. Mal’s guard let him drop. River danced over to the open crate and plucked out one of the dolls to present it to the stunned official.
“I want your daughter to have this. As a present from me? Is that all right?” River asked, delight reflecting in the tears of joy streaming down her face. The official mumbled his thanks and stooped to collect his things. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
Mal, Zoe, Jayne, and River watched as the men filed out into the sunshine. “Masterfully handled sir. I was spellbound,” Zoe said dryly.
“Went exactly as I planned, except for that whole part there where I was helpless.”
Jayne snorted. “Works for me. No one got shot, we still get paid, and I got to see Mal strung up like a piñata. Nothing but good here.”
Mal took a step towards where River was still standing, watching the people walk by. “River? Thank you?”
She turned around, her face utterly calm and composed. Once again she looked like the 18-year old girl she was, unless you looked in her eyes. It was impossible not to look in her eyes. “He has a daughter. She cried when he was assigned here, cried and cried as they pulled him away from her because his family couldn’t come with him right away. She waves him every night, asking when she can join him and be a family again.” River walked towards Mal, picking up another kewpie doll from the crate and dropping it into his hands as she passed. “I don’t want to do dishes tonight.” She stepped lightly through the doorway and disappeared into the ship, leaving the rest to watch after her.
“Ever miss the days when she was just crazy?” Zoe asked.
“’Ello? Everybody in there still free and not arrested?” A short man wearing a bowler hat and most of a three-piece suit stepped gingerly into the ship. “Ah, good. You brought my merchandise.”
Mal moved in front of the crates and crossed his arms over his chest. “Badger, great, you’re just in time. I have a puzzling dilemma and I’m hoping that you can help me out.”
“You know me, Mal. I live to serve,” Badger said, looking around curiously.
“I’m wondering, should I bother asking you why you didn’t warn me about this new Alliance crackdown before I beat you up, or do I just beat you up? ‘Cause I know you’ll just say something that’ll make me want to hit you anyway, and that way I’ll have more time for my hobbies.”
Zoe backed up the flight of metal stairs leading to the cargo bay’s suspended crosswalk. Jayne came around to stand by the door control panel. Mal remained relaxed. That was the great thing about having professionally malevolent crew, they could handle the menacing part and let him do the wiseass stuff. Division of labor.
Badger’s eyes darted from side to side, trying to keep all of them in sight, and settled on Jayne, who was technically smiling but didn’t look at all happy. “I say we beat him up for the simple joy to be found in it,” Jayne said.
“Dealing with customs is part of the job, yeah? Seems like every day there’s a new law or regulation just waitin’ to be shoved up the backside of an honest businessman,” Badger said. “If I really wanted trouble I would have brought my men in with me. Right? I’m here to do business.”
“Really?” Mal said brightly. “Then you won’t mind telling me, one businessman to another: what the hell is going on? You get some new guy in charge, making himself look good by being tough for the voters?”
Shrugging, Badger walked past Mal to look into the open crates. “Beautiful,” he said in satisfaction. “You wouldn’t believe what these two-bit pieces of plastic go for here, it’s almost criminal. The Alliance is taking out their frustrations on the common man, you must have noticed. More restrictions. Did you hear there’s a tariff on lumber exports from Beaumont now?” Without straightening up he turned his head and watched Mal closely. “Ever since the Miranda Broadwave. Somebody twisted their tails into a right knot, then, didn’t they? Since then it’s been investigations, accusations, probes…” He picked up a doll and held it up in front of his face. The doll remained cheerful. “Funny thing about governments, they don’t take embarrassment well. I don’t envy the people what broadcast that thing,” he told the doll.
Unwillingly, Mal remembered the broadcast. It had been a hologram of a doctor, terrified and carrying the weight of the ‘verse on her shoulders, explaining how a well-meaning government experiment in social control had killed a few million innocent settlers and turned the rest into psychopathic killers. He knew it very well, since he and his crew had been the ones to get it out in the open. Secrets like that shouldn’t be kept, even when the price for revealing them was so very high…
“And you offered them us,” Mal said. “Is that it?”
“I offered you a job, is what, and there aren’t many left who will. Hear much from Li Shen these days?” Badger moved close, with that obnoxious, knowing expression that always made Mal want to shoot his lips off. “Came over all dead, word is. And it was catching. There were a number of sudden deaths around the worlds.”
“Measles?” Jayne said, not getting it.
“Mysterious chest eruptions, more like,” Badger told him. “A contagious ailment common to people what deal with our friend here.”
“We’ve dealt with you more’n anybody. How come you’re not erupted?” Zoe asked.
The obnoxious, knowing look was bad, but the obnoxious, knowing grin was even worse, probably because of the craggy dental vista it displayed. “’Cause when men with great big guns came by, asking questions, I told them everything I had ever known, heard, thought of, or made up about you. A good citizen helps the police with their inquiries.”
A blink, and Mal, Zoe, and Jayne all had their guns pulled and aiming at him. There was a long and sweat-filled moment.
Which was broken when an attractive girl in a colorful skin-tight top and dirty overalls came through the hallway hatch into the cargo bay. “Got that wobble, cap’n, it weren’t nuthin’ but we could stand to pick up some more stabilizing mounts… oops,” she said, stopping awkwardly after walking into the middle of what looked to be a shootout waiting to happen. She waved her hands at all of them. “But I can see you’re busy, I’ll just come back—“
“This may not be the best time to be strolling through, Kaylee,” Mal said to her, without turning.
Badger handed her the doll. “For you, my sweet.” She took it, confused and not sure if she should be pleased or not. “And here’s your payment, Mal,” he said, pulling out a cloth sack and tossing it over. It made a pleasantly hefty ching noise when Mal caught it. “With a bit extra, for your troubles.” Turning and crossing the floor like he was walking through a fancy restaurant instead of a dingy spaceship with guns pointed at him, Badger tugged at his lapels and walked to the hatch. He stopped at the doorway. “And Mal?”
Mal lowered his gun reluctantly, as if he still hadn’t quite made up his mind not to shoot anyway, for the simple joy to be had in it. “Yeah?”
“You might consider changing your wardrobe. Just a tip.” And he left. Immediately two of his thugs came in and started picking up crates. Zoe jumped lightly down to the deck and jogged over to the doorway to look outside.
“Now why would Badger be giving me clothing tips?” Mal asked.
Jayne holstered his gun. “Hell, you need advice, you just come talk to me.” Mal looked at Jayne’s khaki-and-dirt trousers, his combat boots, his forty pounds of assorted weaponry and ammo, and his gray T-shirt with a faded “Kiss Me in the Dark” in Chinese on the front.
“Next time I want to go trolling for underage hookers, you’ll be the first one I call,” Mal said dryly. Jayne grinned.
“It’s a date.”
“Now wait just a—“
“Cap’n?” Zoe called. “You should come look at this.”
Mal and Jayne glanced at each other and then ran over to Zoe, who was still looking out the open doorway. They peeked out.
Much like every other time they’d been in the Eavesdown Docks, the street was crowded with every form of humanity imaginable, but this time the soldier-to-civilian ratio seemed a lot closer than usual. The soldiers moved in packs, looking at everyone they passed with suspicion and contempt. There were also a lot more weapons visible than Mal was comfortable with.
Zoe pointed. On the side of a building, visible between two other ships, someone had painted words in huge, dripping letters.
The Browncoats Will Rize Again!
As one, they all looked down at the long brown coat Mal was wearing, the same one he’d worn during the long, violent, losing battles during the war against Unification. The war that had been won by the soldiers outside with the big guns, who were looking mighty disgruntled.
Mal sighed. “I’m just gonna go change.”