NOTES: This story was written at the behest of wisdomeagle, who requested Stargate SG-1 and Firefly with a secret and a discovery in the 'Crossover Ficathon, Oct 2005'. It's set in the Firefly timeline between 'War Stories' and 'Trash' and not set in the SG-1 timeline at all. If it helps, think of it as a cross-breed, not a crossover.
Wash and Kaylee were studying the other ship with surprise and speculation in their eyes when Mal passed the cargo hatch.
"Gate-class," Wash was saying as Mal paused to see what they were jawing about.
"Refitted," said Kaylee, shading her eyes the better to see the other ship. "Gate-class shouldn't be able to land like that - no blocks, no landing frame." The other hand lifted to sketch a diagram in the air. "See the replating just above the engines? Must be a Buzzard G-23 insides - it would fit if you rearranged the emissions outline so they didn't go through the heating coils."
Wash squinted into the morning sun. "Buzzard G-23? That's a big refit job. And it would decrease your maneuvreability, too."
His exasperation with his crewmembers grew.
Lenarth wasn't more than a couple of hours from the local centre of Alliance operations, and that was a couple of hours too close to the government - at least for Mal. They were in a more deserted section of Lenarth - out near a middle-sized town rather than one of the larger cities on the planet - but that was no call to laze about as though they had all day.
"A good one if you know what you're doing. And they knew what they were doing." Kaylee said, admiration scrawled all over her face and in her voice.
Mal took another look at the ship. It looked like a ship to him, and an ugly one at that. Alliance-make, all straight lines and angles, none of the graceful curves of Serenity.
"Do you know what you're doing?" He asked his crewmembers and was pleased to see them turn, looking slightly guilty as they sat in the mule at the bottom of Serenity's cargo ramp. "Jawing away when you're supposed to be headed for the town to pick up those things you said you needed. Now, I'm letting you head out to the town out of the goodness of my heart, but you'd best be quick about getting what you need there. Once we pick up the shipment, we'll want out of here fast."
"That would be because this is one of those shipments that could get us chased halfway across Alliance space?" Wash asked. When Mal gave him a look he shrugged. "I'm just asking."
Kaylee had turned back to the Gate-class ship already. "We're waiting for Simon and River. They're coming with us."
Mal frowned. "What is this? An outing for all the crew?"
"Oh, come on, Captain," coaxed his mechanic with a sidewise glance. "We've been cooped up on the ship for nearly four weeks now - Caleddon was the last stop where we were allowed out."
"That's because there was civil unrest on Sarjevor."
The look Kaylee gave him was disappointed. "Four weeks, Captain!"
Mal gave up. No point in arguing with Kaylee; she could twist him around her little finger if she tried. "You're to be back on the ship before sunset." He glanced around as River bounced down the ramp and climbed onto the back of the mule, her skirt tangling in her boots as she perched on the back. She looked normal - or, at least, as normal as she ever got, and Mal could only suppose that whatever the young doctor had started giving her after Ariel was working.
It was one less thing that Mal needed to worry about anyway.
Simon nodded briefly at him as he climbed onto the mule with his sister, Kaylee, and Wash and paused to flip his sister's skirt out of the way.
Mal figured Simon Tam wasn't doing too badly for a rich kid who'd found himself with an insane sister to look after, a touchy captain to placate, and a young, pretty ship mechanic's interest to return all at once. At least the young man wasn't looking so starchy these days. The clothing was still a bit fine, but at least the Doc didn't look like he'd just stepped out of one of them fancy restaurants on Persephone.
"Behave yourselves," Mal reminded them as Wash revved the mule and began driving off.
"Yes, sir, Captain Tightpants, sir," Kaylee sang out, giggling a little at her mischievous call.
Mal shook his head at her teasing, and turned to go back inside. But as the mule drove off, his eye rested on the bulk of the Gate-class.
Refit or not, it was an ugly ship.
Mal felt - quite strongly - that there was no need for the second laser-pistol trained on him. The lawman had Mal in his sights, no need to get twitchy about it.
Then again, he supposed that if he'd been the lawman, he would have had two pistols on him, too. Because if the lawman didn't have two pistols pointing at Mal, Mal would have taken his chances with ducking behind the crates they were supposed to be picking up from this warehouse.
Still weren't no cause to get twitchy about it.
"So, let me get this straight," drawled the man as he looked from Mal to Zoë to Jayne. "You just happen to be on Lenarth as there's a shipment to go, with a Firefly-class that's been reported on the Cortex at least twice in the last year?"
"Hey, that weren't us!" Jayne snapped. He shut up as the big man pointing the gun at him shifted, ever so slightly. Mal was impressed. Jayne did crude and gruff as a matter of personality; this guy did intimidating with nothing more than a lift of the eyebrow.
"Look, there's no need to be getting pushy," he told the leader, trying to be pleasant about it, gain himself a bit of ease. The guns trained on Mal never wavered. "We're just collecting a cargo we were paid to deliver."
"Uh-huh," came the reply. The man was tall, and his hair was going grey, but the eyes were dark and sharp. Not as old as Book, not as young as Mal, and looking more than a little irritated at finding himself in the midst of this.
Mal could relate. "Look," he said, figuring he'd be best off telling some of the truth. "We came here to pick up some goods for offworld. Legitimate. Ain't no value in speculating, maybe getting in trouble for it. The pay offered was good and we took it for a job."
He didn't tell the lawman that he'd guessed the job was shady - why hire Serenity if it was up and honest? Serenity did her best job in the shadows, although the occasional legitimate job wasn't to be sneered at. Money was money after all. Mal wasn't Badger, looking for a smear of respectability; he stuck to his honour. That was enough - and the only currency that counted.
"They might be telling the truth, Jack," offered the third man, though his gun never wavered from Zoë's chest.
Younger, dark-haired, blue eyed, Mal would have picked him as the most likely to believe whatever story they concocted to get them out of this. Jack, on the other hand, looked like the kind of man who'd seen trouble in all shapes and forms and was reasonably convinced that Mal was more of the same.
He'd have been right, but that wasn't a helpful thought.
"And they might not," came the reply. "Doesn't matter, Daniel. We'll hand them over to the magistrate and let him sort them out. You can consider it our civic duty for the year."
"You could just let us go," Mal suggested.
"I could," said Jack, amiably. "I'm not going to. So we're going to do this the nice way, okay?"
"The nice way?" Zoë asked, speaking for the first time.
"Does that involve you letting us go, hún dàn?" Jayne demanded angrily, and probably not without a bit of panic-covered toughness. Serenity might be flagged on the Cortex, but Jayne was on record as having accompanied Simon and River onto Ariel. It tended to make a man a mite twitchy when it came to being taken in officially. "Or does that involve me grabbing this guy's gun and beating you over the head with it?"
"It involves your silence," said the big man, his deep voice weighty and intent. The kind of voice that said what it meant and meant what it said. And right now, Mal judged that it meant being very quiet.
"The nice way involves us not shooting you," Jack said to Mal. "The not-so-nice way gets messy. Your crew dies or gets injured, we hold a grudge, yadda-yadda, it's not pretty. You don't want that."
Mal didn't. On the other hand, he didn't much want to be handed over to the magistrate either. But the lawman meant what he said - or gave a very good impression of it - and he and Daniel covered the big guy as he put the handcuffs on Jayne.
They were good. Mal gave them that, even as he pondered possibilities for getting out of the situation in which they'd been caught red-handed.
He didn't even know what the gorram cargo was.
Their contact had assured them that the warehouses were deserted at this time of day; given the heat of the midday sun, Mal could understand why. What he didn't understand was what the lawman and his team were doing on site at a time when the place was supposed to be deserted.
"You know..." Mal began as they were marched across the warehouse floor.
"Yep," said Jack. "I know."
Mal frowned. That wasn't the way the conversation was supposed to run. "I didn't even finish."
"That's because I'm not interested in listening."
Mal kept his frown to himself this time. He was used to coming across lawmen: Alliance-bred, all of them, with a certain attitude to them, a certain disdain for him and his crew as they skipped across the border planets breaking the rules.
This lawman might object to rule-breaking, but he was missing the stick up his pì gu - a trait typical of the breed.
They were nearly at the door when there was a hiss of static from the walkie-phone at the lawman's hip. "Sir?"
The lawman frowned as he took up the walkie-phone, but his eyes never wavered from the trio he and his friends were herding. Even the other two took a step back, giving them a second's more grace if they had to shoot.
Over the walkie-phone, the voice was calm, even, and practical as she stated, "We have a problem."
Zoë shifted, and Mal shook his head at her ever so slightly. No attempts now. The lawman might have something else on his mind, but it was too open here and the lawmen had too much of a drop on them right now. Later, maybe, when opportunity presented itself.
"Are you going to define problem for me?"
"A bunch of heavily-armed men just drove into the town and have started holding locals hostage."
Town. Where Kaylee, Wash, Simon and River were. Mal's stomach lurched uncomfortably as he glanced at Zoë.
From the look of it, the lawman wasn't any happier about the news than Mal. There was concern in his voice as he asked, "Where are you and Jonas?"
"I'm in the hardware store, but I left Jonas out in the trashyard looking for a rollover coupling and those boltheads he was worried about." There was a pause. "I can't see out the door but--"
"Don't venture out. We're on our way."
"We could do with reinforcements," added the woman. "Don't have much by way of weaponry, sir."
"Sit tight and do what you can do. Don't get captured. Or killed. How many?"
"At least thirty."
The lawman swore vividly and creatively. "We'll be there in fifteen. Sit tight."
"Sitting tight, sir. Carter out."
No sooner had the radio gone dead, than Jack turned on his heel. "Right. We'll dump these in the storeroom over there and call the magistrate. They can be picked up later."
"Whoa! Wait right there!" Mal intervened. "You need reinforcements."
"And you think we're going to take you? T, Daniel, prod them along. I'm going to find us some transport."
"Uh, you know that's stealing, Jack?"
"Borrowing, Daniel," Jack said. "Get it right - it's borrowing."
Interesting morals in a lawman. Mal nearly commented but decided to keep that card for later. Instead, he turned to follow Jack as the other man began to walk away. He felt Daniel's weapon pointed at his spine, but figured the other man wouldn't shoot just yet.
"You know, we got people in that town, same as you. Four of my crew went into the town this morning."
There was a flash of irritation in the lawman's dark eye. "And I'm supposed to care about this why?"
"Because you've got people in there, too. People I think you care about. And she said they could do with reinforcements. Thirty men, heavily armed - the three of you ain't gonna walk in there and walk out again like a stroll in the park."
It was a gamble. Mal was aware of that. But he could hope that the guy was willing to listen.
There was a moment when the man considered it before he shook his head. "I don't know you and I'm not about to. I can't trust you not to shoot me or my team in the back - I'm certainly not gonna trust him," he jerked his head at Jayne.
Then he jerked his gun at the door that had just opened.
It was a perfect time to leap.
Mal stared as Book walked into the warehouse. "Captain?" He paused and his gaze took in the crew of the Serenity and the three men holding them at gunpoint. "I see the usual state of affairs prevails."
"Funny that," said Jack. "What the hell--?"
Book regarded the lawman with a steady gaze as he ran a finger inside his collar, easing the tension there. "I realise this may not look good...lawman." There was a slight lean on the term of address. "But whatever these people have been caught doing--"
"You're going to vouch for them...Shepherd?" The lawman returned the pause, but he was surprised. "Smuggling psychotropics?"
"They were books!" Mal protested with a sinking feeling. "Shipment of books." Then again, given how shady this was, it wasn't that much of a surprise. He could feel Zoë's eyes on him. Food supplies, medical theft, stealing priceless items and fencing them, fine; recreational drugs were a little riskier. Not because Mal considered it wrong, just that the way drugs were manufactured tended to be...flexible. And the results might send you to heaven, or it might send you to hell.
"The pages of the books are made from the drug leaves," said blue-eyes. "You could probably read it as a book, but you wouldn't want to for too long." He grimaced. "And you wouldn't want to lick your fingers to turn the page."
"I don't believe Captain Reynolds knew that," Book said, never looking away from Jack.
"Regardless," Jack noted. "We've got a situation on our hands...Shepherd."
"And so do we," said Book. He turned to Mal. "I received a hailing from Wash. There's trouble in town."
"See?" Mal said. "Look, my people are down there." He indicated Zoë, who now had the I'm going to kill anyone who gets between me and my husband look that had sent fear into the heart of many a hardened man. "Her husband - my pilot - is in the town. Now, you can tie us all up here, but that's four hands that you won't have to help you - and three against thirty ain't gonna do you much good."
Silence, while the other man considered the offer.
"I'll vouch for them," said Book quietly.
Jack studied him for a long moment. "You're sure?"
"Fine." Jack tossed the keys to Book. "You can unlock 'em."
Mal looked into the Shepherd's eyes as Book unlocked his restraints. There was more going on here than just a lawman's belief in a Shepherd's judgement of men and women. "You got history or something?"
"There are still places in the 'verse where a Shepherd's word is good," Book told him with a hand on the shoulder.
"Not out here there ain't," Mal muttered. "What're you hiding, preacher?"
Book met his gaze without flinching or hiding. Unlike his usual stolid gaze, the look he gave Mal had sharp edges and a warning. "Just keep Jayne reined in and it will be fine."
The lawman and his pair were already out the door - probably looking for that transport to 'borrow'.
"Can we trust them?"
The preacher had already moved on to unlock Zoë's cuffs. "I believe we can."
Mal knew he wasn't going to get anything more from the close-lipped preacher, so he let it slide. But he and Book would be having a long talk about secrets when they got back to Serenity.
A long talk.