Crack!Fic: Inter-Universe Travel Incorporated II (Firefly)
I can give no acceptable explanation or apologise enough. Originally I said in my defence that I present this as a warning to future writers in that one should never let the plot bunnies afflicted with myxomatosis breed. Never. Shoot them on sight. Unfortunately not only did they breed but they also mutated. I'm sorry.
Summary: It's just a jump to the left. A little step to the right. With your hands on your hips, and your characters in a dimension jump fic. Let's do the Time Warp again!
Pairings: Discworld: Polly/Mal, Firefly: Only those that are canon.
Warnings: Readers unfamiliar with Discworld might want to read the introductory paragraphs in the first crossover before continuing. This crazy episode takes place before the BDM, somewhere in the middle of the TV season. Otherwise nothing really, but it is crack!fic so insanity and forced Narativium inhalation do occur. Oh, and mild swearing.
Disclaimer: Author owns nothing and does not intend to profit from the work. Characters from Monstrous Regiment belong to Terry Pratchett and those from Firefly belong to the Joss Whedon and possibly Fox as well? The latter don't deserve them.
When In Space…
Serenity flew undisturbed through the black. Outside everything was perfectly peaceful, inside… not so much. No one was chasing them, no one was waiting for them with uncomfortable questions and for once all the paperwork for the cargo was in order. He should have known, though Mal, swearing fluently though the flow of cursive did nothing to aid his mood. Just by the law of averages this would be the day his load took the idea to go walking off into the shadowy corners of his cargo hold. He stretched his back, looking up to the hull of his beloved ship three stories above. The graceful curves of her generally quietened his mind but they were not having their usual effect today and he angrily called again for Jayne to get his goram lazy butt down to the hold and tie off the crates properly like he should have done in the first place.
Zoe, years of experience allowing her to let the ranting words wash over her like the windblown sands of many a border planet, reached out to grab the swinging comms as it narrowly missed her head.
"Wash honey? We've found the problem. Loose cargo is all. Keep her steady for a set longer while we get it all tied down. Cap'n's getting a mite tetchy dancing the waltz with five-ton crates."
Mal didn't get to hear his pilot's reply. Turning, his only intent to bring his second-in-command to task for daring to criticise his waltzing technique, he found himself enveloped in blinding blue light. There was a tug at his stomach, the world yanked sideways suddenly and he lost his footing -falling into nothingness, the whirling sensation bringing on a wave of nausea. It lasted only a few seconds and then he felt solid ground beneath his feet once again. Opening his eyes at last after the sickness had passed he blinked to see he was no longer surrounded by the safe enveloping walls of his familiar firefly. Instead he found he was stood on a balcony outside what looked to be a very posh building, music drifting through the lighted windows and a young blonde woman in uniform staring at him, startled but unafraid.
"Gotcha. Slow and steady as she goes." Wash's voice crackled through the intercom and Zoe allowed herself a quick smile, straightening her face before turning back to her grumpy captain.
The flash of blue light caused her to raise an arm to shield her eyes and when she looked again Mal was gone and a slim figure in a tuxedo was dropping the last 2 ft to land with a slam on their back on the grated floor of the hold.
Their new passenger looked around for a moment, startled but not perhaps as surprised as Zoe might expect someone to be if they'd just found themselves on a firefly out in the deep black. Neither did she seem as respectful as Zoe might wish to the shotgun thrust interrogatively under her nose.
Polly stood completely still. The interestingly modern looking mini crossbow the ruffian had produced in fluid reflex held her complete attention. For all the inconvenience she found herself taking a moment to admire his technique as he kept the point constantly moving, covering both her and the opened window that led from the balcony back into the ballroom.
Now would not be a good time to do something foolish. He was obviously a trained fighter and she was unarmed. She would have to talk her way out of this one and without Mal's lightning quick reflexes on her side to cool any tension floating around she wasn't going to begin negotiations until he'd finished checking out the immediate vicinity and concluded there was no current threat.
He took his time but she waited patiently for him to settle. Standing there, hands raised just enough to show a lack of intent to harm, she used the time to go over the shopping list, the laundry list and finally the procedures she'd have to put in play in order to meet the latest directive sent down from high command. Eventually he decided both the doorway and the ornamental garden below the balcony held no danger and turned the weapon on her as he demanded an explanation.
"Er. Hello?" Polly raised her hands a little higher. "Not armed here! Perhaps we could dispense with the weaponry at the Lady Sybil Annual Charity Ball and Toff-Shuffle? I'm not sure it's good etiquette."
He frowned and she held her breath, hoping she hadn't been wrong in her assessment earlier. But after giving her a thorough once over he replaced the weapon in its holster attached to his leg.
"Thank you." She really must ask him about that later, she thought, Mini-crossbows were a bugger to carry slung over your shoulder, especially when on sorties with full packs.
"I hate balls." He frowned, running a hand through his hair. "Keep getting stabbed."
"You try waving that thing around again and I'll make sure of that."
That got his attention. He gave her another top to toe assessment, his hand drifting once again to rest on the weapon. In return she waggled her still raised hands attempting to achieve through interpretive dance the phrase "I will not harm you at this precise minute, but cross me and I'll have your head off before you can say Dragon-Benefit-Bash." It was one she'd practiced on Mal any number of times and she thought she was getting the hang of it. His facial expression said otherwise. She gave up and opted for words instead.
"Would you like a drink?"
The look of confusion induced by interpretive dance had obviously decided to settle in for the evening.
"It's quite simple. I pop inside, refresh this glass and find you a beer (his Grace is very strict about catering for all tastes), come back out and attempt to explain the current crazy situation to you so that we can come up with a simple and foolproof plan to set it all to rights. Sound good?"
"How likely is it that you'll wander on inside, whistle up a handful of jun ren and y'all come back out again to toss me over the edge of this balcony into the huey I see laid out so artful below?"
"If by jun ren you mean the Watch, there's a small possibility I may feel the urge to do that, yes. But it's really not large enough for you to worry about right now, considering the rest of the mess you're in. And the beer is good."
She waited and then taking his silence for assent slipped back into the ballroom. Weaving her way through the crush she took a minute to whisper an explanatory paragraph in the ear of the Borogravian Attaché. Major Clogson, though definitely mightier with the pen than the sword, was a good friend and more importantly owed her more than one favour. When she eventually slid back through the diaphanous curtains wafting in the breeze onto the balcony (she could see now why Mal had wanted to come out here in the first place) she found her new companion leaning over the balustrade examining the stonework beneath.
"It's not really solid enough to climb down. I'm told His Grace has had the house insured against edificers."
He spun round and she offered a beer to his surprised self. Taking it he sniffed at the bottle with suspicion before obviously deciding that you may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb and taking a large swallow. After waiting a generous period of time to check he hadn't been poisoned, he looked at her over the bottle with new respect in his eyes.
"You were right. This here is some damn fine jio jing." He savoured the taste for a moment, memories in the bubbles. "Ain't tasted beer like that since 'fore the war."
"Polly Perks." She offered a hand.
His handshake was firm, roughened calluses on his palm speaking of a life not protected from the more mundane tasks of destiny. She wondered what he was reading from her palm as she read his, and as his lips twitched realised he was reading more from her reading of him than she was from his handshake. She dropped his hand abruptly. This one would bear watching.
"And when were you in the army Mr Reynolds?" Leaning on the balustrade next to him she granted him the privacy of her gaze, looking instead out over the city lights twinkling down toward the river. "Not so long ago I'm thinking, the way you were acting just then."
"Seems like a lifetime ago. Long before you started to work your way up through the ranks." She could feel his gaze counting off the bars on the sleeve of her dress uniform. "What are you? A sub-lieutenant?"
"First actually. The extra half stripe, see?" She pointed it out; glad now that Mal had reminded her to send the jacket back when it had arrived without her hard earned insignia. "How far did you get?"
"I only made Sergeant. They stopped the whole hu wai yun dong before I got up to full speed."
It seemed the memories that brought him were not as pleasant and she felt a momentary regret for bringing them up. Recalling old techniques that worked on other companions with a penchant for occasional melancholy she leant in towards him and gave his shoulder a nudge.
"Then it seems that I outrank you Sergeant Reynolds."
He gave her a look.
"Can't you just call me Mal?" He saw a flicker of something unreadable flash over the face that up till now had only shown amusement, with the occasional drawing down of an eyebrow in thought as they sparred together.
"No." She turned away from him, hunching a shoulder to draw up the barrier between them. "I couldn't call you that. Sorry."
He gave her a minute and she needed no longer. But when she turned back to him her face was locked away into seriousness again, the dancing light in her eyes gone as though it had never existed.
"How about Captain" he asked gently, trying to get her back. "I've got a ship and everythin' so it counts. Best goram ship in the 'verse."
He'd managed to choke a laugh out of her at any rate.
"I think I could manage that Captain" and she managed to dredge up the basic elements of a smile. As he clinked his bottle with hers he made a mental note that she really was pretty when she smiled.
The distant sounds of an over enthusiastic reveller throwing up in the bushes disturbed the quiet and drifting on the breeze they heard the muffled shrieks of a debutant doing her best to get herself ruined before her chaperone woke up and came to find her. Captain Reynolds, having finished his beer, thought it time to return to the main topic of conversation for the evening.
"So." He placed the empty bottle carefully on the stone between them. "What's going then?"
"Well, every year, around this time, the Duchess of Ankh Morpork throws this big charity ball for the great and good and slightly tarnished. This year, some idiot secretary fell for the worst coercion technique in the history of the disc and I ended up on the plus one list of distinction."
He gave her a look. It was a good look, with well developed nuances, indicating a number of years experience in the giving of looks to folk who threatened to meander over the border into the territory of aggravating behaviour.
"Oh." She took a slow deliberate sip from her glass. "You mean about the inter-dimensional travel, dragging you from wherever you were so recently happily employed as a scruffy extra to this delightful spot thereby depriving me of my date for the evening?"
"Yes. That." His brain stumbled a little as he tried to weave his way through her phrasing, but living around River had smartened him up some.
"That is slightly more complicated." She had presented him with her profile again, preferring to address her statement to the long-suffering lights of the city sprawled out before them.
"Complicated how?" He frowned in sudden worry. "Complicated in that I still get to go home, right?"
"Complicated in that at the moment I don't know. But as I fully intend to get back M… -the person you were swapped with- you can trust me that I'll be doing everything in my power to get you home."
He nodded, reassured, his thoughts taking a detour into wondering how long this process of getting swapped back might take and what there might be to do in the meantime. She may have been pretty when she smiled, but she was even prettier when she was being serious.
"And stop thinking it." She smirked. "I am more than out of your league."
Maladict was a vampire. Vampires were bred to meet new situations with verve and joie du vie. They were bred to adapt. Thus it was that she looked up past the large strange looking crossbow into the stern eyes of the tall Amazon and swore profusely.
"Not again. I was at a party!"
Zoe resisted the urge to tighten her grip on the shotgun. Her Captain was missing, a stranger in his place and as yet she'd been given no reason to lower the weapon, but that was still no reason to be hasty. Thankfully at that moment Jayne, responding to the earlier demands for his presence, appeared at her shoulder.
"More dead people in boxes?" Taking in the tableau he reached for his gun as well, always ready to shoot first and ask questions of the corpse later. But before she could reply Wash's voice crackled out of the intercom.
"What the hell was that?" The sensors just went wild up here. Zoe? Zoe! Are you ok?"
Things were getting more crowded by the minute. The noise accompanying the flash had been so loud it had echoed throughout the ship. Simon, thinking Jayne had shot himself in the leg again, came at a run from infirmary with Book not far behind. Before long there was what seemed like a crowd of people all standing clustered around the new arrival. All looking at Maladict. All displaying a range of expressions from confusion to exceeding displeasure.
Sensing this was the optimum moment Maladict produced her most disarming smile and ventured to start the introductions.
"Good evening, so sorry for dropping in on you like this, lovely weather we've been having hmm? Do let me introduce myself, Maladict at your service. Distinguished Sergeant in the Borogravian Light Infantry. And you might be?"
"We might be the people that are currently holding the guns." Jayne was never one for small talk.
Unable to nudge him and keep the visitor covered Zoe made do with shooting a quelling look in his direction and with a scowl he reluctantly allowed her to take the floor.
"What are you doing on my ship?" Might as well get the big questions out of the way first.
"Ah yes." Their visitor looked like she might attempt to sit up, but relaxed back as Zoe refused to move the shotgun out of her way. "That's the thing you see, it's mostly an accident. I mean I didn't intend to end up on your ship per se. Didn't actually intend to travel at all. It's kind of complicated. Yes. Anyway. It's mostly magic. Hence the blue light. Do you have magic here?"
Book reached for the intercom and quietly reassured the still frantic Wash that everything was fine, they just had another crazy person on board.
"I shouldn't be here long, obviously last time it took a little longer to get everything straightened out, but this time we were in Ankh Morpork already. At a party - hence the tuxedo. Incidentally could I get up? These trousers were very expensive."
The cold looks bent upon her in response to her hopeful enquiry were answer enough. Maladict shrugged, accepted their well made point and stayed where she was.
"Anyway, Polly just has to get to UU, kick the wizards into action and I'll be out of your hair. Job done. Shouldn't be more than a couple of hours and you'll have your guy back safe and sound."
Looking up at all the weaponry pointed in her direction, Mal decided not to explain the additional bit regarding the tendency towards nakedness of the returning party.
"…Shall I tell you of the night? It was long ago,
Late November and the snow, just about to fall…"
"Gwai-gwai long duh dong? !!"
It was Jayne that swore and looking up they saw River hanging over the upper landing, hair falling loosely around her face. Inara came running out of the shuttle behind her, brush in hand.
"River sweetie? What is it?"
But the girl paid no attention to them, her concentration solely on the visitor sitting in the middle of the cargo bay. Her song drifted down to the cluster of folks staring up at her, falling gently through the echoing space of the hold.
"Softly, swiftly down the road -
never mad a sound-
someone came from far away…"
Maladict knew that song. It was an old memory, by the feel of it not one of her own. Ancient knowledge carrying with it the bite of chill air, drifting scents of wood-smoke and a reedy voice lifted up in song. Old wife's tales they called them, the songs about her kind that long ago folks told amongst themselves in warning. How had this girl, younger than Maladict by the looks of her, come by such a song? It was obviously unknown here, the girl's shipmates unable to recognise it for what it was, treating her cautionary tune with resigned bewilderment rather than the alarm Mal was used to precipitating.
This girl was definitely worth a second look.
But Maladict didn't get a chance to continue that thought as another distraction presented itself when another, more dishevelled girl arrived in a rush, her green baggy overalls coming to a halt a few seconds after she did. How many people had they managed to fit into this strange boat anyway?
"Wait Kaylee." Book caught the new arrival as she ran past.
"What's happening?" She struggled for a moment in his hold. "Mal…?"
The minute she spoke Maladict realised her mistake as weapons that had been allowed to drift away from their target were re-aimed with some urgency.
"Oh." This was going to make things awkward. "I assume from this," her nonchalant wave encompassed both weaponry and displeased expressions pointed in her general direction, "that your lost companion goes by the name Mal as well?"
"Where is he? Where's the Captain? What's happened?" The girl they called Kaylee may have stopped struggling, but her frantic questions indicated she wouldn't stay still for long.
Maladict lay immobile watching the wide barrel that was pointed exclusively at her. The Amazon had a very steady hand. That, coupled with an expression of calm intent even when the others were distracted explaining to Kaylee about blue lights, was sending signals loud and clear to Mal's hindbrain. Even vampires had instincts about faces like that. What with the weaponry and the voices speaking out of the air and the singing kid and the overwhelmingly large number of people now staring at her she was starting to feel slightly unsettled.
There was only one thing to be done. She didn't want to do it, but as Polly had said that time they had agreed never to mention again, sometimes a vampire had to take one for the team. She raised her hands, hoping it indicated surrender even in this crazy place.
"You people got any coffee?"
"Coffee?" That was Kaylee.
"You don't have coffee?"
"What's coffee?" Kaylee again.
Mal sighed. This was not going to be a good day.
"This is the Unseen University."
Captain Reynolds looked up at the imposing masonry with an appreciative gaze. You didn't get old money like this out on the rim. This was wei fong. He had no better idea where he was, Perks had tried to explain and he'd tried to understand but she talked like Kaylee when she was needing new parts, all words he didn't understand and in the end he'd just asked her to tell him if he was in immediate danger and leave the rest to those that had the book smarts to follow it. She'd shrugged and agreed.
Following her through this town he thought it mighty familiar for all he was apparently not only the other side of the verse but in a different dimension as well. Seemed like all places were the same when you got up close, he'd fit right in here.
"Now remember what I said. Let me do the talking, don't threaten anyone and please please please don't call anyone whatever it was you said about that merchant."
"I was complimenting him on his pies!"
"Yes well, that's as maybe. But personally I don't think I have the energy to run that fast, that far twice in one night so don't do it again." She turned to the porter now visible through the gap in the gate.
"High Energy Magic building please – Lieutenant Perks to see Mr Stibbons. He's expecting me."
The grating was starting to get personal with her anatomy and Mal shifted position uncomfortably. Since her remark about the coffee and their accompanying incomprehension they'd all been stuck in this odd stalemate. No one had moved except River, who wandered down the stairs weaving in and out of the tableau. Mal watched her idly in an attempt to ignore the hefty weaponry pointed in her direction but as the girl approached her expression of quiet amusement hardened into something a lot more ugly. Mal didn't read minds as a general rule, finding the inconsequentialities that humans occupied their thoughts with distasteful (plus Polly had had words). But this mind didn't present like anything she'd seen before. It niggled at the edge of her attention, reminding her of someone until she turned to look properly and felt the chill horror dribble down her spine as she saw the full extent of man's inhumanity. This mind had been torn open, ripped apart against its owner's will, private internal workings cruelly offered to any stranger passing by. She could taste the shape of it from across the room.
"Would you mind telling me which one of you sick bastards has been having fun with our friend here?"
She got up slowly from the floor. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Zoe and Jayne raising their guns but ignored them. They were no threat, she'd sniffed out the projectiles they were carrying and there was no silver there. An air of quiet menace exuded out into the air around her as she rose to her full height. To the right she clocked Simon stepping forward after River who had now reached the floor of the cargo hold and was making her way toward the now obviously angry figure isolated in the middle. Mal flashed him some teeth and he halted, shocked.
"Shhh…" River began to circle around the stranger. "Confusion, all confusion. Not the captors, my washerwomen, little lads are we..."
She stopped for a moment as though listening and then continued on. Moving in light steps, almost dancing, River floated around the vampire, one hand drifting over her tuxedo jacket. Within the circle Mal turned with her, watching the stranger warily as that sing song voice continued.
"Ancient one who carries many stories. Walked the world you did. Travelled the river, slow moving but quick changing. Took the shilling. Went to war. Little lads together you were, many threads woven into strong cloth. One with mind aflame, surrounded by guarded walls and her watcher who will never sleep. The gentle one, so small, following faithfully wherever the voice leads her. This one carved in stone but agile?" She threw Mal a puzzled look. "A doctor, always helping. One who was strong for two, a child within."
She came to a halt between the intruder and the crew. "All behind masks."
Mal looked across to her. "Yes."
"She led you." River smiled at what she saw. "All chasing the golden girl, you more than most." She paused, making sense of new information. "She leads you even now."
Mal hadn't moved. "Yes."
Ignoring her brothers voiced protests the petite girl stepped forward again placing a steadying hand on Mal's arm. River struggled for a moment, trying to make sense of the jumbled words in her head. When the words did come, her voice was calm.
"She wouldn't want you to."
Mal thought for a moment before relaxing her stance just a fraction.
"No. She wouldn't want me to."
She placed both hands on River's shoulders, halting the girl's fidgets. Looking deeply into her eyes she said seriously "tell me the truth now."
"They are my washerwoman, my jia tzu, my big damn heroes."
Mal held her a moment longer, seeming as though she were trying to read something off the back of her head and then relaxed, letting the girl go and slipping her own hands into her pockets. Looking up and noting all the weaponry pointed in her direction she broke into a sheepish grin.
"Terribly sorry." She shrugged. "I think perhaps I got the wrong idea."
Still none the wiser about what had just gone on the weapon holders didn't blink or lower their aim. The tableau broke however, when Simon grabbed for River and she went easily, to cling close and whisper reassuring nonsense into his ear.
Book spoke first. "All very interesting. It seems our visitor has been weighed in the balance and found acceptable. What happens now?"
Jayne grunted and kept his gun pointed at what Mal couldn't help noticing was a very valued part of her anatomy. Not everyone was as accepting of River's interview technique it appeared. Perhaps she ought to put her hands up again? But despite all the negative feelings being sent her way Mal kept her hands in her pockets, it made it so much easier to slouch in the blasé yet non-the-less utterly cool style she was currently exhibiting for her captive audience.
"Coffea Arabica. Not Present. Ships inventory lacks vital components." River turned from Simon, her features creased by worry. But their visitor waved a nonchalant hand.
"It's ok kid, I'll manage."
The crew looked from River to Maladict and back in confusion.
"You can understand her?" Jayne's brow creased as he attempted to process another new thought.
"It's not so hard." Mal flashed River a smile. "I've met crazy little girls before. At least this one isn't suffering from religious mania. The last one wanted us to invade a country for her." She paused, realising they wouldn't know what she was talking about and not wanting to tell the whole long story, summarised instead. "It didn't go so well."
"How about you tell us what's going on then?" The fact that the visitor had an odd tale didn't faze Zoe, she had met enough people with strange stories that "didn't go so well" -it was a downside of hanging out with the Cap'n for any length of time. Her main priority now was working out where Serenity's captain had disappeared to and getting him home again before he got into too much trouble. She gestured with the gun toward the stairs and the light streaming from the doorway above.
"It'll all sound a bit weird."
"She came out of a box." Jayne commented, jerking his head toward River.
I got my phrases from (apologies if any of them are terribly out of place)
Gwai-gwai long duh dong – what the hell?
hu wai yun dong - outdoor sports; outdoor games
huey – general term for plants
jia tzu – clan/family
jio jing – alcohol
jun ren - soldier, serviceman, military personnel
wei fong - imposing; awe-inspiring; majestic-looking; majestic and awe-inspiring
River's song is taken from "The Vampire" (Buffy Sainte-Marie, 1969)
Shall I tell you of the night
It was long ago
Late November and the snow
just about to fall
and the moon was big and bright
cold and sharp and clear
and the air was biting
Softly, swiftly down the road -
never mad a sound-
someone came from far away
As I looked into his eyes
no reflections came
and I gave him bedding
Oh my little rosary
how I miss you so
Never used you very well
now I never will.
I am farther from you now~
than the two ends of Eternity
Now I do his bidding.