Hostages to Fortune
Part I—The Meeting
Author: just slummin
Disclaimer: I own none of these characters, but I can think of some interesting things to do with a couple of them.
Timeline: One year post-BDM. Set after the events of "Voices".
Author's Note: This is a multi-part fic. Please take a moment to leave feedback!
Summary (Part I): Mal and River make big plans, but unfortunately, they are not the only ones to do so.
General Chang placed the capture on his desk and looked across at the man sitting in front of him. "Every time I see this, I'm quite impressed by River Tam's ability, except for the small, shall we say, 'glitch' in her programming."
"A glitch which we intend to correct."
Chang gazed steadily at the vaguely reptilian man. "And you honestly believe after all that's happened, you can accomplish that?" he asked, skepticism creeping into his tone.
"We believe that, with the right resources and level of commitment, everything is possible to us. You have some of the resources we require, but should you choose not to cooperate, others will be more than happy to participate in such a venture. Once your men have acquired the subject, we stand ready to begin re-education. Fine tuning the process, you might say. Think of the military applications, not to mention your own position."
General Chang considered momentarily. "In the right hands, such a thing could stabilize the Alliance permanently," he admitted.
"Can we take that as a 'yes' then?"
"How could I refuse?"
"You really couldn't," the man replied chillingly, passing his blue-gloved hand briefly over his stern brow.
Mal sat at the galley table, cleaning his weapons and listening to the sound of River's humming coming from the kitchen. For a woman whom he was sure had never even turned on a stove before coming to Serenity, she was a passable cook. A little more subtle with the spices than Kaylee, but still pretty good.
"What's that tune you're hummin, bao bei?" he asked.
"You should know, silly. It's the same one I heard you whistling the other day in the cargo bay," she called back cheerfully.
That gave Mal pause. He hadn't even realized he'd been whistling aloud. How long before River had it been, he wondered, that he'd even had to urge to whistle? What a change to his emotional landscape the woman had brought.
And River herself seemed transformed to him. While still plagued by bad spells, spilling out ramblings about 'blue hands, silver needles, red blood' and the like, she was obviously much more stable than she had been before Miranda. And it was a pure thing of beauty to see her happy, her bright brown eyes shining and content. If her had anything to do with it, those eyes would stay that way as long as he drew breath.
River's humming had advanced to real singing now. Leaning back in his chair, Mal said, "What with your singing and Jayne's guitar playin', maybehaps we can stop this life of crime and tour the 'verse as a novelty act."
"Perhaps," River replied, "but I'd miss the thrilling heroics if we did."
They laughed together easily. In fact, Mal pondered, things had been going easy for the whole crew, as if a horrible curse had been lifted. Their last job supplied food enough for several weeks, no one was nursing an injury, and they had nowhere they had to be right away. He was tempted to pinch himself to be sure he wasn't dreaming.
Deciding that now was the perfect time to act on a plan he'd been debating awhile, Mal announced at the dinner table that they would be heading to Greenleaf for some vacation time. Everyone excitedly began planning what to do with their free time and extra coin. Dinner was a merry affair.
Once alone again, Mal and River discussed their own plans. "I'm of a mind to spend a night off this boat with some lucky woman," Mal began, his blue eyes glittering wickedly.
"And where do you suppose you might find such a woman?" River hooked her arms tightly across his shoulders.
"I got me a fine idea as to where to start the search," Mal said, lifting her legs to straddle his waist easily.
Once they landed on Greenleaf, Mal sincerely hoped that River was honoring her promise to refrain from reading him intentionally. One of the drawbacks to having a lover who was also a reader was the impossibility of surprising her. And he very much wanted certain parts of their evening out to be a surprise. Slipping his purchase carefully into the pocket of his long, brown coat, he made his way back to Serenity.
Meeting Simon and Kaylee coming down the ramp, Mal suppressed a chuckle. Simon carried a picnic basket, blankets, Kaylee's parasol, and what looked to be a book of poetry balanced precariously, while Kaylee practically bounced along in front to meet the Captain.
"Mornin', Cap'n, ain't it just the shiniest day today?" Kaylee asked, enthusiastic as a puppy with a new chew toy.
"That it is, darlin'." Mal smiled at his young mechanic. "You and the doc headed out to enjoy the air?"
"Yup. Palnnin' on makin' a day of it, I reckon." Kaylee's smile was like the sun.
"Have fun then, mei mei. And don't keep the doc here out in the sun too long." Mal walked further up the ramp. "Zoe left yet?"
"nope. Saw her in the galley when we was packin' our lunches just now."
Mal nodded, grateful to catch Zoe alone before she went anywhere. Entering the galley, he saw her sitting at the table, idly flipping through a well-thumbed book while she sipped her coffee.
"Morning, sir," she said, glancing up to see him rummaging around for his own mug. "Looks to be a pretty day dirtside."
"Yup," he said. "You got plans to walk the world this mornin'?"
"Maybe for a bit. You know I ain't much for dirt-kissin'," she replied, a slight smile gracing her lovely face.
"I do know that well enough," Mal said. "But this mornin' I did happen to notice a little shop, not two clicks away, that looked to have a fine collection of books. Thought you might like to look through 'em."
"That sounds like a plan. Thanks for the heads-up, sir. I'll likely check that out and be back by noon."
"Take all the time you want, Zoe. But I admit I would feel a mite better spendin' the night off Serenity knowin' you're here, if'n it works no hardship."
"Not at all, sir," she nodded.
Mal hesitated briefly. "About the night off-ship, I need your opinion on something. You know, as a woman-type person."
Zoe cocked her eyebrow, amused. "I'll try my best, sir."
Glancing quickly over his shoulder, he slipped the small box out of his pocket. When he opened it, he asked nervously, "Ya' think River'll like it?"
"I expect so, sir," Zoe answered, her eyes unusually warm and bright.
"That's good then," Mal said, hiding the package again. His last doubt eliminated, he was suddenly ready to take on the 'verse. "Any ideas where Jayne is?"
Zoe answered, "Said he saw a flock of some kinda' bird fly overhead this mrnin'. Planned on bringing back some fresh meat."
"Is food all that man ever thinks about?" Mal asked, amused.
"Being as how there are also taverns and whorehouses about, I'd have to say no, sir." With that, Zoe stood to leave. "Mal," she said, pausing in the doorway, "I hope you have the kinda' day you're hopin' for."
"Thanks." Mal once again thought how wonderful a gift it was to know his first mate had his back.
"Sir," the nervous young grunt addressed General Chang, "I'm receiving a report that Serenity's been spotted on Greenleaf."
"How far out are we from there now?" the General asked.
"About eleven hours, sir."
"Set the course. And corporal, don't land at the public dock. We'll be going to a private bay owned by the BlueSun Corporation. I'll give you the coordinates shortly."
"Yes sir." The corporal saluted sharply.