Look at a Captain
By: Runaway Scrape
Date: November 4, 2004
Disclaimer: Firefly, its characters, setting, and whatnot, belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and 20th Century Fox. I'm not attempting to profit in any way, though should anyone official take an interest in my work, I'd gladly trade a story for a chance to be in the upcoming movie, just a small cameo. Maybe I could get killed off by a Blue Gloves guy. It could happen. I'm just saying, is all.
The weather was terrible; the food was worse. What people saw in this planet, she'd never understand. Then again, the people here seemed blind, deaf, dumb, and senseless to boot. It had taken her a week to locate her quarry, and even then, they were under heavy guard. She hadn't been able to catch a break. Now, they were traveling through the lower docktown of Persephone, a smelly, dusty warren of buildings, landing pads, taverns, customs shops, warehouses, whorehouses, and outhouses.
Could no one hear her enemies squeaking in fear as she paced their progress through the stinking streets? They knew she was their doom, if only she could catch up with them. The man guarding them seemed to have no idea of the perils he stood next to. She growled to herself and wiped some dust off her face as she watched from underneath a wagon. It was impossible to keep clean on this world, and she hated it.
"Live cargo, huh?" Mal asked, looking at the box secured to the man's dolly.
"Lab mice," the man replied. "Some big whoop-de-do about getting them to Liang Ho within the week, and the regular courier's on the other side of the Rim. Really not a hassle. You just need to slip them some water and feed once a day. Oh, and don't let them out."
"Right," Mal nodded. "Last thing I need is a bunch of varmints gettin' loose."
"Expensive vermin," the man corrected, handing a bill of lading to Mal, who signed it, put his thumb to it, and tore a copy off for himself before giving it back.
"Well, I got just the man to handle it. We'll send word once we've handed your critters over."
"I appreciate it," the man responded, unhooking the box from his dolly and giving it to Mal.
She watched the exchange with growing frustration. Couldn't they smell the danger? Weren't the hackles on the backs of their necks rising up as high as hers? Stupid, stupid people! Well, there was nothing for it but to follow her quarry on board and make sure they would never reach their destination alive.
"Kaylee," Mal called, and was answered by a perky, tousled brunette peeking out from behind a deck plate, "when you're done with that, take these back to the doctor. Tell him he's in charge of these varmints for the duration. And make sure you put whatever that is back where you found it."
"But, Cap'n," she blinked, "I picked it up special, off'n that dealer in Diurn Alley. Can't get a better deal'n what I got."
"Deal with it later. Get the critters over to the doc," he instructed.
Wiping her hands on the seat of her coveralls, Kaylee went over to pick up the box and peered in.
"Aw, ain't they just the cutest things?" she grinned.
"Cuter'n a box of buttons," Mal rolled his eyes. "Just take 'em on down to the good doc-"
"NO!" River's yell preceded her into the cargo bay. "I won't! They shouldn't be here! They're bad. They're wrong!"
She stormed in and stopped cold when she saw Mal and Kaylee standing on either side of the live cargo box. Simon, following right on her heels, nearly ran her down.
"Mei-mei," he started.
"No! With the whiskers and their little hands! I won't!"
She turned around to shake a finger under Simon's nose. Kaylee looked up at Mal, who sighed and closed his eyes.
"River," Simon started again. "If you'll ju-"
"NO! It's all red and crunchy and . . ." she trailed off and tilted her head, scrunching her eyebrows together as if she were listening to something. "Oh. It's all right now." She smiled, then frowned and pointed her finger back at Simon. "But I'm not going in there."
And she flounced off back to her room.
"You know, just when I think I got a handle on her brand of weirdness," Mal observed, "she goes off in a completely new direction."
"She makes a practice of it," Simon responded, then looked down at the box Kaylee was holding. "What's that?"
"Your latest assignment. Figured, you bein' the doc and all, they'd be in good hands with you," Mal answered.
Simon picked up the box and looked into it. "White mice?"
"Ain't they just the cutest li'l things y'ever did see?" Kaylee grinned.
"When I was in medical school, I must have gone through several hundred of these," Simon mused, tapping on the cage. "Anyway, I need to go check on River. I've no idea what set her off this time."
After Simon left, Kaylee turned to Mal. "He didn't . . . kill them, did he?"
Mal closed his eyes briefly. "Mei-mei, I'm rightly sure that if he did, he would have fitted 'em up with a proper burial and prayers an' all. He's that kind of man."
That seemed to comfort her.
"This is all your fault!" the lab technician snapped at her coworker.
"My fault?" he squeaked in anger. "I'm not the one who let some imposter sign off on Project Devastate and walk right out of the building with three years' work in a small box with airholes!"
"Hey, he had ID. He checked out! Besides which, it's not like I'm the one who forgot to engage the secondary security measures and let Felis Obscuris stroll out of the office."
Both techs glared at each other, until the second looked away and scrubbed the side of his head with a hand. "This isn't doing us any good. They'll be here in one more month, and they're going to want results. We can't recreate all that work in four weeks. What are we going to do?"
The second took a deep breath. "Bounty hunters."
"It's our only hope," she continued. "We take some money out of the security budget, hire some bounty hunters and tell them to bring back Decimate and Obscuris, no questions asked."
"That's embezzling! If they audit the accounts, they'll catch us, and we're dead. Besides, neither of us knows how to do it."
"What, you think I didn't know about your little afternoon delight last quarter?"
The second technician stopped, mouth agape, totally flustered. "That wasn't . . . I mean, you can't . . ."
"You did it then, you can do it again. We'll need at least two thousand."
"Two thousand? I only took two hundred last time!"
"Do it, or we're dead."
The second technician sighed, and his shoulders slumped in defeat. "I'll log on to the Core and see what I can do."
She had found a decent hiding place, but it had taken her hours to bathe properly and restore herself. She was still irritable. The good thing about this ship was that it was riddled with vents, ports, and accesses, so she could slip about without attracting attention. The bad thing was the lack of food and water. She might have to get creative about that. At least she knew where her enemies hid. As soon as things quieted down for the night, she had some exploring to do.
River was ready for her when she appeared. She had laid out a small bowl of water and a plate of dense protein flakes for her guest. She was not disappointed.
"You'll save us, won't you?" River asked.
A pair of golden eyes regarded her, scornful that such a question need even be asked. Their owner then returned to her late night snack and daintily gobbled up the main course.
She was too late. Fear and frustration made her flex her claws, and her lips pulled back from her sharp teeth in a grimace. They had figured a way out of their little home and were now spreading out across the ship to wreak whatever havoc they could. Well, she had a little havoc of her own. She inspected the cage. Four, five – no, six of them. It would be hell tracking them through the ship. There were too many places where they could squeeze in and get to work, but she'd best get started. She jumped down from the counter and wormed her way back into the cupboard where the access to one of the auxiliary wiring ducts waited.