A/N 1 ...Please read all the beginning notes and disclaimers at the beginning of chapter one, if you have not already done so, before proceeding.
War Crimes (Part 10)
Many of the soldiers had turned their attention from Serenity and were now facing the surrounding scrubby hills, from which bands of ragtag rebels had reappeared, awaiting the outcome of the standoff.
Inara had emerged from her shuttle and taken her place slightly behind Mal, as he and the rest of the crew, sans the Tams and Book, with raised weapons, faced off with Cariss and his men, at the foot of the ramp.
Mal's despising stare continued to bore into Cariss for a moment, as the volatile air, surrounding the two groups, neared it's flashpoint. Without breaking his baleful glare, directed toward Cariss, he relented and begrudgingly shoved his gun back into it's holster. With a sigh of ambivalence, Mal turned slightly toward Jayne and Wash and ordered...
"Start bringing out the grain."
Motioning to a group of soldiers he added...
"Spect they'll help ya"
"We have a deal, then?" ... Cariss piped up and Mal snapped back bitterly...
"Course, we have to deal, else we're stuck on this gorram rock."
"Sir, you really sidin' with him?"... Zoe voiced quietly, while keeping a "death stare" on Cariss.
"Don't see as we got much choice, Zoe. Tales o' woe ain't gonna buy us no fuel."... Mal fumed on, still glaring at the former.
Jayne and Wash still hadn't moved. As they stood there in disbelief, of Mal's decision, Jayne bickered...
"This ain't right Mal. Them folk ain't et in..."
Before he could finish, Jayne jumped back slightly, as Mal turned and snaped...
"You wanna eat!?"
Jayne and Wash just stared back at him, for a moment and he snarled...
"Did I look like I was giving a suggestion?"
Jayne gave him a disgusted looking parting glare and stomped inside. Wash gave him a quick mock salute, while exclaiming derisively...
"Why yes, sir!... Captain, sir!"... then followed Jayne, unenthusiastically, into the bay.
Mal turned to Zoe and indicated the standoff between Aines' rebels and Cariss's men and said resignedly...
"Just make sure they don't kill nobody."... then turned and headed into the ship, with Inara hurrying after him.
Simon and book were still in conversation, just out side the infirmary. Inside, River sat up on the exam table, stared blankly in the direction of the cargo bay, for a moment and softly whispered...
"War not over for some. Still carries the bullet... Bang!"
In the cargo bay Wash and Jayne were assisting (mostly supervising) a group of soldiers, loading barrels onto hover pallets, for transference to the awaiting skiffs outside.
As Mal strode by, with Inara at his heels; Jayne glanced up and to not be overheard by the soldiers (or Mal), voiced quietly to Wash...
"I can't believe he sided with them Xióngmāo pìgu bùyào lian."
"I don't think he can, either."... Wash commented dolefully, as he went back to work.
As Mal approached the stairs, at the rear of the bay, Inara caught up and voiced her concern...
"Mal, are you sure about this?"
"Got no choice, Inara."... he muttered, without looking back.
"Mal"... She appealed, as he started up the stairs... "I'm not hurting for money that badly. If you need something to tide us over for fuel and parts, until another job, I can..."
Stopping in his tracks, he turned back to face her and icily stated...
"Ain't taking your coin; ya ain't part o' this crew."
"I just… I don't want to see you ..." Inara began plaintively, as Mal curtly snapped back...
"Can't buy my regard, Inara. I ain't a whore."
Inara had long gotten use to Mal calling her a whore and had learned to brush it off with a quick snide rejoinder, but this time it was different. His cold derisive tone and scornful glare was indicative that this time it was not just one of his passing remarks; he meant it and it cut to the bone. She just stared back for a moment, stunned, with a look of genuine hurt, reflecting in moist sorrowful eyes.
River's eyes went wide, as she lay on the exam table in the infirmary. She bolted up to a sitting position while screaming out...
"Get him away! They're screaming and screaming and they won't stop!"...
"River!" Simon cried out, as he bounded back into the infirmary toward his sister. He attempted to subdue her as she slid off the table and quickly slithered out of his grasp.
Book quickly came to his aid and grabbed her, as Simon hurriedly prepared a smoother.
"Be calm, girl!" He admonished, while struggling to restrain the wild flaying psychopath.
As Simon approached with the prepared injection, River, almost as though she had, for a split second, dematerialized, slipped out of the Sheppard's powerful grasp. A look of astonished shock came over her brother, as she grabbed his arm and effortlessly flung him around behind her, flying into Book and they both went crashing into a stand of medical supplies, that went clattering across the floor. Then she went screeching out the door in a panic...
"Kill him, kill them all!"
Up on the stairs, the sound of River's maniacal screaming and shattering pill bottles, came reverberating out from the rear entrance to the cargo hold. The tenseness between Mal and Inara was interrupted for a moment, as they glanced down to watch River come racing through the doorway, screaming at the top of her lungs, with Book and Simon in hot pursuit.
The latter two caught up and managed to arrest her mad rampage and began dragging her back to the infirmary, while she screeched out curses in English, Chinese and some other language, that none were familiar with.
Down in the hold, Jayne glanced over to the spectacle with an irritated look, then, as if by a sudden realization, a serious look came over him and he glanced toward the ramp, tapped Wash on the shoulder, to get his attention and they both grabbed their weapons and headed toward the front entrance.
Once the "show was over," Mal looked back to Inara. He suddenly realized the seriousness of his last remark, how it had effected her and tried to apologize...
"Look, I didn't mean..."
"Yes. You did.".. She crisply returned, before he could finish...
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have offered."... She went on dispassionately, paused for a moment, softened slightly and while staring at the ground appended, contritely...
"I know how you must feel."
"You don't know anything." Mal rejoined coldly, while gazing off into space.
Glancing back up with wet eyes she entreated...
"Mal, I'm just trying to help."
"You can't."... he fumed, sulked for a moment, turned his back to her and leaned on the railing with a blank look, then added, coldly and quietly...
"Just go back to the Central Worlds where you belong."
Inara's contrite demeanor evaporated, as she slipped her "companion's armor" back on and agreed, in a quiet resigned tone...
"Get me there and I'm off."... turned on her heels and continued on up the stairs, toward her shuttle.
With a dry mouth, dead eyes and a numbness spreading over him, as if in a trance, Mal continued to gaze aimlessly out over the cargo bay, noticing nothing. He was pulled back to reality, when Zoe's voice echoed back through the hold...
"Captain! you need to be out here!... Now!"
A few minutes prior...
Outside the ship, the standoff, between Cariss and his goons and Aines' followers, continued. While Cariss' faction was sorely outnumbered, the advantage of their vastly superior training, equipment and general physical conditioning, made it clear that any confrontation would be brief, ugly and quite one sided.
Negotiations had met with little success and Cariss, his patients coming to an end, cried out to the rebels...
"You will surrender your weapons... now... and get back to work!"
"We ain't goin' back!" ... Aines spat back venomously, while menacingly waiving her staff in his direction.
A little sadistic, satisfied smile crossed Cariss' lips. Without taking his eyes off Aines and her followers, he calmly ordered the Captain of the guard...
On Serenity's ramp, Zoe stood alone and watched as Captain Chu and his men advanced, in a well disciplined formation, toward the rebels.
She looked back toward the Cargo bay entrance just as Jayne and Wash appeared from inside, with their weapons at the ready.
"Where's the captain!?" Zoe inquired, with an anxious look.
Wash and Jayne just shrugged and she shouted back into the bay, as the two factions clashed...
"Captain! you need to be out here!... Now!"
A moment latter, Mal came bounding out onto the ramp to join the others, but the battle was over almost before it began.
As to be expected, a few of the guards and soldiers had sustained minor injuries and had retreated to the skiffs, to lick their wounds, but most were standing guard over the rebels. All of the rebels were injured, some seriously and many could not stand under their own power. Cariss confronted Aines, who was at one end of the line of prisoners.
"It's over, for you and your scum."... he sneered as he approached.
She spat in his face and he drew his pistol, repeatedly smacking her head with it, hard, driving her to her knees. As he stood over her, he barked out to the guard captain...
"Chu! Find me a few more volunteers. We'll need some examples to inspire the rest."
"Sir?"... The captain queried, with a hint of dread.
"Just those who are most badly wounded, so we won't lose too much productivity."... Cariss elaborated, casually.
Geoffrey timidly spoke up, to reminded Cariss of something...
"Uh, sir? Patrician Al-Asjar's directives..."
"To hell with that kělián de lao nánrén!"... Cariss snapped back angrily..."Doesn't have a clue as how to run a colony!"
"Do it!"... He shrieked to Chu, who was still standing, stunned by Cariss' orders.
"Yes, sir."... he replied, unenthusiastically, smartly saluted and walked off with a few other guards to begin their grim task.
Cariss pointed his pistol at Aines and calmly walked around behind her. He jammed the gun into the back of her head. She was trembling in terror, as she heard the sound of the pistol cocking, but just closed her eyes and bravely waited for the end. Cariss grinned, a tight lipped cruel smile, as his finger tightened on the trigger.
Suddenly his head snapped violently to the side, as he stumbled to the side and tripped over another prisoner. His gun discharged harmlessly into the air, as it flew from his hand and he collapsed into a dazed heap in the dirt, after he was sucker punched from his blind side.
Mal stood over him with a simple silly looking smile… until he realized that more than half of Chu's men had their weapons trained on him.
Cariss shook his head a few times, then picked himself up, while indignantly dusting himself off and glaring at Mal. The guards turned their attention from the prisoners to Mal, as Zoe came up behind him.
"Are you insane!?"... Cariss exclaimed, incredulously... "I should have you killed!"
"Now why would ya wanna do that?"... Mal inquired flippantly, with an exaggerated put on grin... "I ain't one o' your workers."
"And you wouldn't get far if you did."... Zoe put in, while motioning back to the ramp, where Jayne stood with an expectant looking grin and his rifle aimed at Cariss' head. Wash stood nervously at Jayne's back, facing the cargo bay. While it was quite apparent that he was wishing he was anywhere but there, he was doing a fair job of keeping the soldiers inside at bay, with his pistol.
"And you wouldn't get far either!"... Cariss maliciously shouted to Jayne and the others... "You're outnumbered ten to one here."
"But you'd still be dead."... Jayne smirked, while taking extra careful aim, for effect.
"Well it's none of your damn business what I do with my people...how I run my world."... Cariss protested, as he picked his gun up from the dirt.
"They ain't just your people an' it ain't your world."... Mal pointed out...
"Don't all of the Patricians share in the rights and responsibilities of government?"... He questioned while looking pointedly at Geoffrey, who was looking a bit sheepish.
Zoe took a step away from Mal, toward Cariss, who had aimed his gun at the former. Looking him directly in the eye with a cold piercing stare, she advised...
"No, you really don't want to do this; like the man said, you'll be dead before he hits the dirt an' even if you ain't, word gets out our ship went missing, won't nobody want to make deliveries here again."
"Say something, gorramit!...you little guqì de yī tuó shi."...Mal glowered out to the cowering Geoffrey.
"Well... what should I say?"... Geoffrey came back nervously.
"I'm sure we can work something out."... Zoe assured Cariss... "How much is your revenge worth?"
"A great deal."... He returned unyieldingly... "Things will never quiet down, if the likes of these rabble aren't punished."
"They don't work, no one eats; how 'bout that?"... Mal suggested, proddingly, to Geoffrey.
"We'll return the extra twenty-five percent, if we resolve this without guns."... Zoe offered to Cariss.
"They are worth more to us alive."... Geoffrey finally spoke up.
Cariss glared at him, but he continued on, albeit a bit unassertively...
"Well... They can't work if they're dead."
Ignoring his underlings final comment, he turned back to Zoe and demanded...
"The twenty-five back. And half the original coin. For not holding up your end of the bargain."... As he pointed toward the spilled barrel.
"Half!?"... Mal protested... "That's one barrel out of more'n a hundred, and we're barely makin' a profit as is!"... He reigned himself in slightly, as he noticed the guns pointed their way, but held his ground. After the atrocities he had witnessed so far, this final insult was more than he could stomach. He prayed that Wash and Kaylee could somehow nurse Serenity down to the surface of St. Albans, where the grain supply would be most welcome, on a world gripped in an eternal ice age and stated with finality...
"We ain't dealing with the likes of you, 'sides nothing to stop you from turning an' shooting them the moment we break atmo."
"I assure you, they won't be harmed further."... Geoffrey put in.
"Commin' from you, that ain't much of a guarantee...No offense"... Mal contested.
Geoffrey said nothing, just stared at the ground, in response to Mal's remark. Then Chu spoke up...
"My men will keep them alive if ordered to."
Zoe ignored them all, looked to Cariss and pressed on...
"So, do we have a deal?"
As he considered the proposition, Mal, astounded at his first mate's sudden change of heart toward Cariss and his goons, sided up to her and surreptitiously whispered...
"What're ya doin'? Those prisoners're dead soon's we leave."...
"No, they ain't." Zoe replied with an unreadable expression.
"an' ain't you the one wanted to take our business elsewhere?...he pressed on, bewildered by her cooperation with this sadistic murderer... "We gotta try an'..."
"Not now, Reynolds"... She cut him off, dismisivly and went back over to Cariss.
"We accept your terms, sir. "... She acquiesced and waited for his reply, as Mal stood in the background with a look of shocked dismay.
"Well I can see you're a reasonable woman."... Cariss remarked... "Perhaps we should have been dealing with you from the start."... he added while giving Mal a reproachful glance... "I believe we can do business."... He concluded, triumphantly.