River of Guilt

A Plan

Mal moves to intercept Inara. “Ambassador, might be there’s something could be done. I’d think highly of you listenin’ in on it.”

“The great criminal mastermind wants my input?”

“Ain’t a matter of being criminal, more like misdirection, and you are the most misdirectin’ person I can think of on this ship.”

“This should make me feel better why?”

“Ain’t nothin’ personal. Just a man can’t think straight around you. He gets to thinking about things he ain’t got no business thinking on when thinking about business. Might be we could use that to our advantage.” Mal shifts his stance and tries to look anywhere but Inara’s eyes or her barely concealed body.

Book takes pity on Mal. “I think I understand what the Captain means.” He shifts his position to draw Mal’s grateful gaze to him. “You’re thinking that we should check out this Advocate, but not let Simon and River go. Keep them safely away.”

Mal nods. “That’s the track. Inara and I could go down to the planet in a shuttle, leavin’ Serenity in orbit ready to do a fast burn if something goes wrong. We’d pose as Simon and River.” He looks at Inara. “How are you at being crazy?”

“I’m on this ship, aren’t I?”

“That is a wonderment sometimes.”

Book interrupts. “Mal, I don’t think you should pose as Simon.”

Simon jumps in. “I don’t like anyone going in my place. That isn’t right.”

“The Shepard and me don’t neither one think highly of you goin’ down to meet that Advocate. That pretty much leaves it up to me. Wash has to fly the ship.”

“I’ll go. Ain’t no big deal.” Jayne’s quiet voice surprises everyone.

“I’m not thinkin’ you’d want any part of this, Jayne.”

“There’s money in it, ain’t there?” He draws himself up, nose in the air. “I can act high toned.” He shrugs. “’Sides, it’s bout the only way I’ll ever get a date with Inara.” He leers at Inara. Inara rolls her eyes.

Mal protests. “I think I’m the best choice to go.”

Book interrupts. “It could be, Captain, that Jayne has an idea. If we get into trouble on the planet, you are the best one to get us out. And Jayne is very good at localized mayhem.”

Mal and Inara both respond “We?”

Book nods. “If there is an inheritance, Simon and River should get it. If it is a trap, I might be able to get us out of it. If I can’t, I’m thinking that you will leave no stone unturned to get us out.”

Mal felt uncomfortable. He hated being counted on. The worst of it was that he knew Book was right. He couldn’t even consider leaving Jayne in an Alliance trap.

Zoe finally speaks. “Captain, you know they have the right of it. It’s good tactics, sir.”

Mal nods. “Shepard, what’s your angle in going along?”

Book straightens. “It would give our ersatz Tams an air of legitimacy if they were to arrive with their own Advocate. I could play that role for them.”

Mal shakes his head. “Not what I’m askin’. You bein’ a shepherd and all, it don’t seem right you takin’ a role in a deceit. I’m not understanding why you’d do that.”

Shepherd Book looks thoughtful. “If they have money coming to them, I don’t see any deceit. I just want to help the Tam’s. If there is an inheritance, it would go a long way toward righting the wrongs done to them.” He shrugs at Mal’s obvious skepticism. “If there’s enough money, maybe I could get a loan to start a mission. Besides, I have a pretty good background dealing with other Advocates.”

“Never seen no Advocate with a Shepard’s collar,” Mal protests. “Seems to me like the two don’t exactly go together.”

Book smiles. “If Jayne can play a wealthy young doctor, I can play an Advocate. I wouldn’t wear the collar.”

Mal stands there struggling with the possibilities. He keeps looking for a path through the jungle before him. Zoe moves quietly to his side.

“Sir, I think they have the right of it.” She repeats the phrase making it more deliberate. “We can make a good plan ‘tween now and reaching Newhall.”



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