A/N: Again, I'd like to thank everyone for continued support and important feedback. :)
The instructions were simple enough; stay on the ship. Mal had made it abundantly clear to the lot of them. Leaving the ship meant death, and their captain had stated that he wouldn't go looking for them if they got caught by Alliance officers roaming the city. Serenity was safe, and as long as they kept to her, the caper would go smooth as a whistle. River hadn't complained. The girl was just happy to return to her normal, dishevelled self again. Simon was still gauging the side effects of the new medication he'd given his sister, and Kaylee was just preparing to be...bored.
Mal, Zoe, and Jayne had gathered their gear and weapons, and headed out to meet with the contact that would fill them in on the illegal smuggling job. For a plan that was supposed to go smooth, the three of them sure did pack quite a few concealable guns and grenades.
After River's rather frightening confrontation with the border officer, Zoe had pulled Simon aside rather abruptly. Making sure that they were out of earshot from his younger sibling, she'd warned him, "Keep an eye on her, doc. Somethin' ain't been right since before we landed. Got the sense the girl don't feel none too good about being so close to high military, especially after Miranda. Can't say I blame her, but it'd be best if you took care."
Simon watched his sister reproachfully before nodding his head in agreement. "I suppose this new job has all of us in a bit of an...uncomfortable position."
Zoe hadn't said anything more. Instead, she followed after Mal, who had chosen to forgo his infamous brown coat for the heist. The weather on Lu'Weng this time of year was typically rainy, but warm. Jayne had worn a light jacket, if only to mask the gun holster around his back. Zoe's shotgun sat against the length of her outer thigh, masked by the long trench coat she had on. They all had a small gun tucked away into the back of their pants.
Just as his two crewmates added the finishing touches to their looks and weaponry, Mal found Kaylee next to him, looking as chipper as a bee, hands tucked into the back pockets of her jumpsuit, and engine soot still smeared onto her cheeks and nose.
"Perfect timin', Kaylee," Mal started, buttoning up his hooded coat that resembled Zoe's in colour and length.
Kaylee turned her smile up at her captain, beaming. "Dontcha just love the sound of rain, capt'n? Pitter patterin' against Serenity, washin' her clean?"
Mal quirked up an eyebrow, but didn't make a comment, for or against his mechanic's question. "Listen, Kaylee, and listen close," he started, gripping her smaller shoulders with his leather clad hands, "I ain't jokin' when I'm askin' you not to leave the ship. I know you want to be seein' her, and it's a sweet notion, but think on the risk you'd be puttin' to your dear doctor friend and his sister. It just ain't safe. For anyone. We've already takin' a gamble comin' here at all. Dǒngma?"
Kaylee's smile never faltered once throughout the entire length of Mal's warning. Instead, when he was done, she saluted him, and said, "Aye, aye, capt'n."
He watched her for a few moments, waiting to hear the argument, to listen to how unfair he was being, and how going to visit the companion was hardly a dangerous thing. When none of that happened, it only seemed to worry him further, the lines on his forehead and around his eyes deepening.
"You're takin' this awfully well...," he commented, fishing for a reaction.
Kaylee shook her head. "Ain't nothin' to fuss over, capt'n. 'Nara's too busy anyhow to make time for the likes of us. 'Sides, I'm sure the three of us can find some way to pass the time that don't involve leavin' the ship," the mechanic smiled optimistically.
"Right. Well, shiny," Mal conceded.
With that said, the main doors to Serenity were opened, and the three crewmates headed out into the drizzling rain, pulling up their hoods for protection. Kaylee waved them goodbye while on her tip toes, before pressing the button controlling the gates. She took in a deep breath of the fresh air, crisp with the smell of earth and rain, before Serenity was once again shut off from the world.
Outside, Mal walked next to Zoe and Jayne. He turned to his first mate, and asked, "Think she's gonna sneak off?"
Zoe looked straight ahead, boots sloshing in the mud when she replied, "It's possible, sir. May be we don't even know it. We'll get back, and things'll be the exact way we left 'em."
Mal sighed. "Why don't she just ask?"
Zoe gave him an incredulous look that told him his question was stupid. "With all due respect, sir, Kaylee may be a dàdǎn woman, but she ain't without a brain. You'd only say no, anyways."
"Yeah, but, I'm still the captain. It'd only be the proper chain of events if she'd ask me first for permission, have me tell her no, and then see to other unconventional methods, like sneakin' about behind my back. Messes up the order of things if she just jumps to all the connivin' and plottin'," Mal remarked.
Jayne clambered after them, and asked, "Wait, didn't Kaylee say she ain't gonna be leavin' the ship?"
Neither Mal or Zoe bothered to answer him.
Back on the ship, River found her way to Kaylee, and stared at the gates to Serenity, where the sound of the gentle rain could still be heard against the metal plating of the ship.
"Are we going on an adventure?" she asked the older girl.
Kaylee turned to acknowledge River, and said, "I got some spare coin tucked away, and there are a few shiny parts they only sell here on Sihnon. I mean, to get 'em anywhere else, you gotta order 'em in, and then pay for the shippin' costs and whatnot. Sometimes, it takes months dependin' on delays. Ain't gonna hurt none if I just have a quick little gander 'fore the capt'n gets back. He don't even got to know, it'll only take a jiffy!"
"What?" Simon asked, coming up behind the two women conversing. Kaylee turned, and patted her lover's shoulder reassuringly. "Not to fret, Simon. You and River can stay right here. Ain't riskin' either of you. 'Sides, ya'll ain't really interested in...ship parts and mechanic talk, anyhow."
Simon seemed lost for words, stuttering as he tried to formulate an argument that wouldn't hurt Kaylee's feelings.
He could only think of one thing, and so he repeated Mal's orders, "But, the captain said we should all stay on the ship." Simon stressed the 'all' part.
Kaylee started walking away, then, still smiling. "I'll be back before you know it!"
Yè Shēnghuó. That was the name of the place the contact had forwarded to them via cortex. It was certainly in the dirtier, grimier parts of Lu'Weng, as displayed on the map that Mal had acquired from a tourist stand in the landing port. The slums of the city, much like the outer planets, were neglected by the Alliance. It was a perfect spot for petty crime and illegal activities, so long as it didn't leave the underground pubs and sewers. Ironically, it worked well enough for Mal; the less likely they were to run into patrol officers, the better.
"Contact's name is Yi Min Syaoran, according to Badger, sir," Zoe stated.
They walked through the crowded and bustling streets of Lu'Weng's core, dodging any massive umbrellas and trying not to get lost amongst the throngs of people. The benefit of it was that this way, it was difficult to be noticed by any Alliance soldiers walking about.
"Ain't this job been flagged as bein' high risk? I mean, even Badger himself didn't want no part in this one," Jayne piped up from behind Mal, practically breathing down the captain's neck.
Zoe's cool voice answered Jayne's concerns. "Risky, because it's movin' cargo off of Sihnon. Badger ain't got the brains or the skills for a job of this sort," the second in command explained.
"Aw, well it can't be too bad if we've already gotten this far...," Jayne mused aloud.
That was when Zoe added, "Also, we ain't got no ruttin' clue as to what exactly the cargo is. Ain't that right, sir?"
Mal hesitated, but smiled sarcastically in response. "They gotta make it fun somehow, no?"
Jayne grumbled. "Come on, Mal! Remember the last time we did a heist, not knowin' the cargo?!"
Zoe grinned, and replied, "With what the doc gave you, I'm surprised you're rememberin' it at all, Jayne."
A sour look crossed the merc's rough features, and he glared heatedly at his highly amused crewmates. "Point is, you winded up returnin' the damn stuff, and we left that blasted planet without gettin' paid a brick o' protein for our efforts!"
Still wearing a smile as he remembered Jayne's condition, induced by the clever, older Tam sibling, Mal said, "Relax, Jayne. Knowin' this planet, it's probably just a piece of high tech equipment that the Alliance don't like leavin' their base without knowledge of where it's goin' to. Either way, I suppose we'll figure it all out once we meet up with Syaoran."
By the time they reached the poorer part of the capitol city, the crowds had significantly thinned out, as had the amount of Alliance patrol. The once lovely, oriental inspired architecture of the brilliant housing, skyscrapers, and buildings, had diminished to a much more raggedy, worn down, ghetto neighborhood. There weren't as many people in business suits, not as many flight cars parked in driveways, and more shady looking folk instead. The streets were a lot less clean, and the people they did pass by, gave them weary glances and uncomfortable, suspicious stares.
"What's this place supposed to be, anyhow?" Jayne asked.
"Yè Shēnghuó. I believe, from its name, it's a night club." Zoe answered.
A dark grin blossomed on Jayne's face. "You mean, a gentleman's night club?"
Zoe fought the urge to roll her eyes, and sighed. "It's a strip club, Jayne. Your kind ain't really considered gentlemen. Try to keep your tongue from lollin' outta your mouth while we're there, please."
Jayne seemed to snicker, ignoring Zoe's jibe, and keeping his mind in the gutter.
On their way there, they saw scantily clad models in the windowpanes, advertising their trade, and doing sexy poses and dances. Mal seemed to be trying his best not to notice them, while Jayne leered and, eventually would have to be dragged away by an irritated Zoe. "You'll have plenty of time to convene with the prostitutes after we've met with our contact," she told him.
Once they reached their destination, they noticed that the club was not as impressive as it had sounded. Much like the rest of the buildings in the slums, it was small, old, and squished between other shops and establishments. The Chinese characters of its name, glowed and flickered in a soft pink light, and the side walls were covered with pictures of provocative women in questionable poses. The windows were a solid black, so as to hide whatever dirty secrets were kept inside.
When the three of them entered, they were greeted by the sight of a short, slim woman, who was as uninterested in them as she was in everything else around her. It seemed they were a touch early. Still, from beyond her, the darkened room blazed to life with the echoes of the loud music and the colours of the stage lights. Jayne looked as giddy as a child in a candy store.
The hostess looked up at the intrusion, and locked eyes with Mal. He maintained a charming smile when he reached her, while she scanned the lot of them with judging eyes.
"Welcome to Yè Shēnghuó. It's twenty credits per admission," she stated, her voice monotonous and without inflection.
"Three, please." Mal answered, pulling out a few crumpled credits from the inside of his jacket.
She snatched them from him with manicured nails, folded them away into her cleavage, and then, without meaning it, said, "Enjoy the show."
She then returned to the task of perfecting her long nails.
"Thank you, miss," Mal replied, more out of spite rather than courtesy.
She didn't say anything more to him, so the three of them proceeded towards the darkened room, where the music grew louder. They were seated at a small table, when their waitress arrived, and inquired about their orders for drinks. She was a smaller woman, dressed in tiny black shorts, and a mid-riff revealing top that squeezed her small breasts together. Jayne ogled her chest shamelessly.
Once the waitress was out of ear-shot, and busy grabbing their drinks, Zoe leaned into Mal, and said, "Our man's got black hair, with a slender frame, sir."
Mal glanced about the room, unsatisfied, and declared, "You just about described half of this room, Zoe."
She smiled before she added, "You'll notice him, sir. Red Dragon, and he wears it with pride."
Jayne's eyebrows shot up. "We dealin' with the Huǒlóng Syndicate?! You ain't said nothin' about them!" He growled.
Mal counted to three before he could calmly address his gun hand. "This ain't their deal, Jayne. We need a way to identify our man, and if he's got their mark on him, ain't no one gonna bother to question him, or us. It's a cover," Mal explained.
"It's a fine cover, sir," Zoe nodded in agreement.
But when the stage lit up, and the first dancer graced them with her naked presence, his first mate spoke in a voice only audible to the captain, "So long as there ain't any actual members here tonight, sir..."
Simon found Kaylee in her bunk, making the necessary preparations while humming to herself a happy little tune. He climbed down the ladder, and watched her gather her things for the trip.
"So. Just to the marketplace, right?" he asked her, unable to mask the nervousness in his voice.
She stood up, wrapped herself into a hooded, army green jacket, and grinned at Simon. "Nothin' to fuss about, Simon. It ain't suspicious behaviour for a mechanic to be shoppin' for parts," she said.
Kaylee then threw her little pack over her shoulder, gave Simon a quick peck on the cheek, and then climbed up the ladder out of her bunk.
Simon sighed deeply, and pressed his temple to the cool metal wall of the engineer's little room. Anyone could tell he was worried. Very worried. Mal's orders were often questionable, but this time around, the doctor found himself agreeing with the strict notion of keeping to the ship. Especially on a planet like Sihnon, Alliance home base.
"Uh, Simon?!" Kaylee's cry for him seemed to bring him out of his thoughts. He shot up the ladder, heart racing at the urgency in her voice.
When he reached the bridge, he saw Kaylee standing still, her back to him, but safe. He stood next to her, scanning the shock on her fine features. When he followed her gaze, he saw his sister in the most unusual getup, standing by the entrance to the cargo bay. His own eyes widened, and his mouth opened, but he couldn't find his voice in the moment.
River Tam had seemingly stolen clothes out of his wardrobe, as well as Jayne's and Mal's. She wore a pair of the merc's tan cargo pants, cinched at her slim waist with one of Mal's brown belts. Simon recognized his own crisp, white, linen dress shirt, and jacket. To top it all off, she'd tucked away her long, dark brown locks underneath a simple hat, only small pieces escaping to frame her youthful face. The clothes practically hung off of her slim body, but she could easily pass for a young, pretty boy.
She stared up at the two of them with impatient eyes.
Annoyed, she cried out at them, "You're going to miss the adventure!"
A/N: Again, had to cut this chapter in half, it got longer than I expected. All the small details seem to eat up the words. Anyways, the setup is being established, and Inara should be making an appearance soon enough. Also, I've understood that Sihnon is a highly Chinese influenced planet, while Londinium is English (the two most powerful Alliance planets). Hence the heavy usage of Chinese, Asian inspired architecture, and characters of Chinese descent, in case anyone was wondering. :) As usual, feedback is appreciated.
Yè Shēnghuó:Night Life
Huǒlóng: Fiery Dragon