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Dinosaur Moon

Title: Dinosaur Moon
Fandom: Firefly/Serenity
Rating: PG (no pairing)
Summary: Wash discovers that dinosaurs are less fun in real life (the Alliance clearly learned nothing from Jurassic Park). Written for caitn for apocalyptothon 2008.

###

When you're a smuggler, it's generally best not to ask questions. On the other hand, when the seller doesn't really bother to hide what it is, questions still arise.

"What sort of da-xiang bao-zha-shi de la du-zi are those?"

There was a moment's silence, as the crew examined the transparent containers and their contents.

"Eggs, looks like," Zoe replied finally, straightfaced; it wasn't the most enlightening of observations.

Jayne -- who had been secretly hoping for something more exciting -- stalked away with a snort. "Smuggling rutting chickens. I s'pose we've done worse."

Kaylee shook her head slowly. "Ain't chickens. Eggs are too big."

"Then what?" Mal asked.

"Giant mutant hybrid chickens?" Wash suggested, far too cheerfully, and met Zoe's raised-eyebrow look with an expression of bland innocence.

(As things happened, he wasn't all that far off. Except for the chicken part.)

#

They were halfway to Jiangyin, the designated transfer point, when one of the eggs decided to hatch.

Kaylee, the first to find it, declared it to be Cute. (It was, sort of, in the way that most baby animals are. It was also rather reptilian, in the way that most reptiles tend to be, except for the parts that had scraggly-looking feathers.) She also declared that "His name is George."

Mal, on hearing this, gave her a look. "What if it's a she?"

"Then..." Kaylee pondered a moment, and then said, "Then her name is George."

Jayne opened his mouth to protest that George was a boy's name, but a spark of self-preservation changed that to, "I think we should shoot it. Before it eats anyone."

"He wouldn't do that," Kaylee said, and bent her head over the animal, cooing at it: "would you?"

The whatever-it-was trilled at her, and she beamed and scratched it under its chin.

"It's a bird," Zoe said flatly. "Not gonna eat anybody."

Jayne glared at her. "That ain't no bird. Not 'less it mated with a cow--"

"Moocluck," Simon muttered under his breath.

Scowling, Jayne ignored him. "Ain't a bird," he repeated. "It don't even have wings."

"It has feathers and a beak," Zoe pointed out. "It probably eats plants, not people. Though might make an exception for you."

"Funny."

#

Shepherd Book's reaction to seeing George was to frown, bemused. "I know what that is," he said, "I just can't put my finger on it..."

#

"It's a Dromiceiomimus," River said, as she passed by the cargo hold.

"Whosawhat?" Mal called after her.

"Emu mimic," she said, and drifted off again.

#

"Lao-tian," Wash said, when Zoe told him, and ducked under the console to get something off the floor. "Gao-yang zhong de gu-yang I need to talk to Mal keep us from crashing into any planets 'kay?"

"Okay," she said, bemused, to the now-empty room.

#

"This is what we have! On our ship!"

Mal eyed the item that Wash was practically throwing in his face. "Plastic dinosaurs? Preeeetty sure we had those since you brought 'em on."

"Don't be dai-ruo-mu-ji, I'm not talking about the plastic ones, I'm talking about the real ones sitting in our go tsao de cargo hold." Wash glared at the toy dinosaur he was holding, and sighed. "Okay, I know it's not the same kind of gorram dinosaur, but this is the best I could do, given that my other options -- of the plastic variety -- were both herbivores. Plant-eaters," he added pointedly.

"Oh," Mal said. "And the drewhatsits?"

"Aren't," Wash said grimly. "On the bright side, that means it can survive on protein, which is the only sort of food we have. On the other hand, it can eat us."

"Oh," Mal said. "That's..." He cocked his head, took the dinosaur from Wash, and left without finishing the sentence.

"Yes," Wash said, "it is."

#

"I don't know what to say, Captain." Cortex reception was slightly fuzzy, but the seller's expression (a bland mix of innocence and bafflement) was clear enough. "I was told there wouldn't be any ... changes ... to the cargo. Like you, I'm just a middleman." She spread her hands in a gesture that said /what can you do?/

"Right," Mal said. "Betcha didn't even know what the cargo was, right? And therefore you don't have any practical suggestions for how to deal with the go tsao de little problem?"

"Unfortunately." Her expression didn't even flicker. "Sorry, Captain, I can't help you. I didn't even suspect that this would happen."

Afterwards, once the call was over, Zoe commented: "Do I even need to say that she's lying, sir?"

Mal grunted pensively, and picked up one of Wash's plastic dinosaurs, fiddling idly with it as he thought.

#

George, as it turned out, had a personality rather like a kitten. Kaylee, once she figured that out, spent a fair amount of her free time treating him like one, even going so far as to improvise toys for him to play with.

"Careful," Mal said, watching her, "don't want my best mechanic to get munched on."

Kaylee grinned up at him. "Nah. Don't worry, Cap'n, he's harmless."

"Harmless," Jayne scoffed. "Thing's a monster, just watch."

"Is not," Kaylee retorted.

"Is too," Jayne said, and muttered in Chinese about the thing's ancestry.

"Hey," Kaylee said, then, "ow," as George went from lying on its back (batting, catlike, at the string Kaylee was dangling) to launching itself at Jayne's face. The force of the leap left gashes in Kaylee's leg; the end of the leap had the dinosaur's jaws clamped around Jayne's arm, which he'd raised in an attempt at defense.

Mal slapped at the intercom: "Simon, get to the cargo bay now."

#

"Wasn't his fault," Kaylee said, her voice slurred from the injection of pain-killer Simon had given her.

"Hold still," Simon told her.

"But it wasn't. I mean, Jayne provoked him!"

"Yeah." Simon glanced sideways at Jayne. "That tends to happen."

"I am still in the room," Jayne said loudly. "And also still hurting. Hwun dan doctor, forgetting about a patient."

"Haven't forgotten you. It's just that Kaylee's leg needs stitching up first."

"I'd shoot you, 'cept my rutting arm's gone numb."

"There's probably some venom in the dinosaur's bite," Simon said, a little absently. "You won't die, though. Babies don't usually have as much toxin in their systems yet."

"Bizui," Jayne snapped. "Shooting you. And speaking of shooting, that thing that bit me--"

"No way," Kaylee said, as instantly as she could. "George is cuter'n you are, for one thing." She beamed at him, drug-hazy and serene. "Don' worry, it's all shiny."

#

Her opinion of dinosaurs in general changed when the third one hatched. The second had been a Triceratops ("Now that one, I recognize," Mal grumbled), that hadn't particularly liked the protein cubes they had in the mess hall. The third, a Pterodactyl of some form (which within a few hours started flying in irregular loops around the cargo bay), very quickly gained an appetite not only for the protein cubes, but also for Serenity's wiring.

"Ta ma de," Kaylee said, when she found out. "Cap'n, how soon 'til we reach Jiangyin?"

"Not soon enough," Mal said.

#

The buyer, a scrawny long-limbed young man with more money and enthusiasm than common sense, was not entirely impressed with the appearance of the cargo. "I was told it would be intact," he said.

"Not our fault." Mal kept his face impassive. "Truth be told, we did a gorram good job getting it all here in one piece." There had been a few eggs lost to being eaten, and the hatched babies had been hard to maintain, but it was a long stretch better than spacing the load. Which had been far too tempting. "And I'm not going to ask why you want dinosaurs."

"Don't need to ask!" the buyer said, suddenly cheerful. "I'll tell you anyway. I want people to know. 'Cause, see, the alliance is doing a breeding program for a special zoo to be set up on Bellerophon. I figure, why should rich people have all the fun? I'd rather bring it to the masses."

"...Zoe?" Mal said, after a moment.

"Yes, sir?"

"I seem to recall saying that I wasn't asking."

Her mouth twitched. "Yes, sir."

"Thought as much." Mal turned to the buyer. "Generally, I say what I mean; and when I say I'm not asking, it means I'm not asking. Means I don't want to know."

The buyer pouted. "But this will be the best thing in the history of the 'verse!"

"Maybe. I'll settle for getting paid, though."

#

River, curled on her bed with Simon close enough for comfort, closed her eyes but couldn't close her mind.

/I'd rather bring it to the masses.../

"No one ever learns," she said quietly.

Simon looked up. "Huh?"

"Never mind," she said, and sighed.

#

"You think that's the end of it?" Wash asked, as Serenity lifted off, as the planet fell away beneath her.

River said, "Eventually, but there'll be lots of blood first."

"I vote we never come back," Jayne opined. "Ever."

"I dunno." Kaylee chewed at her lip. "It might be a kinda shiny place to visit. Once it's all set up and all."

"...also screaming," River added, thoughtfully.

"Might wanna listen to her," Zoe said.

Jayne scoffed. "You think she knows what she's talking about?"

"You really want to take that chance?"

"Not your decision anyhow," Mal broke in. "Wash, make a note: avoid Jiangyin. Also Bellerophon, in case he was right about what the Alliance is doing. Those are the only two we have to watch out for, right?"

"Yes," River said, solemn. "For now."

"What the go tsao de zao gao is that supposed to mean?"

River looked at Jayne and smiled; it wasn't a comforting expression. "If they evolve space flight, they can go anywhere."

There was silence as they all digested that, and Wash found himself thinking of the pterodactyl, circling the cargo hold but wanting to go higher.

#

"You've been quiet," Zoe said to Wash. The others had left, scattered to various tasks, but she had lingered.

"Yeah," Wash said, and then "--no. I mean, I was just thinking."

One of the plastic dinosaurs was on the floor, half hidden under one of the consoles. Zoe bent down to pick it up for him, but Wash, moving faster, kicked it the rest of the way under, out of her reach and left it there.

###

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