• Published 28th Jul 2015
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Firefly: The Long Job - psychicscubadiver



It seemed like a simple series of jobs. Some of them weren't even thefts. Sure the client wanted secrecy, but the payoff was more than worth it. Too bad nothing is ever as easy as it looks in this 'Verse

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Chapter Two: Ponies Plan and Harmony Laughs

Editor: Silentcarto
Proofreader: Coandco
Story Image by: Silentcarto

Disclaimer: I don’t own Firefly or My Little Pony; that is Joss Whedon and Hasbro, respectively. This is a fanfiction that portrays MLP characters in a ‘Verse very clearly based on Firefly. Shake well and enjoy.


“You figure it’s supposed to look like that?” Gilda asked, staring at the house just outside of Hildenna. She hadn’t been happy about taking the job from Ms. Universe until the Captain had told her how much it paid. She’d forgotten her complaints soon enough.

“I doubt that, sugarcube,” Applejack replied. The rest of the crew hadn’t been as eager, but they’d accepted it. Most folk were adaptable in their risk-taking – and morals – by the time they were working on a ship like Tranquility.

“Maybe there was a storm or something. Some of those houses in town look damaged too,” Dash replied. “All that matters is that he has the ‘bird’ we ordered.” The cover story was paper thin, but with luck they’d never have to use it. Cardinal Song lived isolated from the rest of the town and they hadn’t been seen by anyone on their way in. Captain Dash had played it safe and parked their ship on the other side of the southern ridgeline. No sense announcing their presence or letting the locals get an eyeful of their ship.

“I guess,” Gilda said, scowling.

Cardinal Song apparently ran his business out of his home, if the sign on the lawn that read ‘Rare and Exotic Pets’ was any indication. Thick wood made up the body of the house, with a stone outbuilding and a few empty cages in the backyard. The thatched roof was a typical mix of native plants and modern sealant, but it had a mangled cage sticking through it on one side, and a couple of holes big enough to show rafters had been torn through it. A few of the shutters were missing or dangling from one hinge, and the wooden walls were gouged deeply in several places. The front door had been smashed in and sloppily bolted back into place despite the massive crack down the center, and its splinters littered the front porch. Dash could see three possibilities: somebody else had known the gem was here and stole it, somebody tried to steal it and failed, or she was right about the storm.

Well, two positives out of three wasn’t bad odds.

A quick glance at her companions reminded them that she was going to do the talking. AJ rolled her eyes and Gilda continued sulking. Somebody hadn’t been happy that the Captain had limited her to two concealed guns and a single knife. To her, it didn’t matter that too much weaponry would make them stand out.

Tough, Dash thought. She stepped forward and knocked firmly on the door.

A voice called out almost immediately. “Who is it?”

“I’m a customer. Here to see you about a bird.”

There was the barest hesitation in the reply. “Sorry, but I’m not open for business at the moment.”

Dash scowled. Something had gone wrong, and it certainly wasn’t a natural disaster. The stallion sounded calm and collected, but she could sense a subtle tension in him. From Gilda’s expression she was hearing the same thing.

“I’m here about the purple-throated warbler.” Dash let that hang for a moment. “I better not have come all this way for nothing.”

There was a long pause on the other side of the door, followed by some muttered cursing. “Come around to the back door, please.”

“Okay,” Dash said. “I’ll do just that.” She nodded to Gilda and both of them took softly to the air. Applejack walked noisily down the steps. The stallion may have had a secret peephole and seen their entire group, but just in case he hadn’t, Dash would rather he thought she was alone. They might surprise him if things went sour.

Captain Dash landed at the bottom of the porch stairs and nodded. “I’m front. Both of you cover me. If he tries something, feel free to shoot, because I’ll either be in the air or on the ground,” she said in a low voice.

“Gosh, sure wish I had my rifle. That would be real helpful right now,” Gilda hissed back.

“Can it,” the Captain ordered. “We’re not going to make a mess if we can help it. Just be ready if something happens.” She dug a pistol brace out of her saddlebags and quickly strapped it on.

“Got it,” Applejack replied, dragging Gilda away before the griffin could spout off any more.

Dash finished the walk and arrived at a heavier door at the back of the house. It was set below ground level and there was a narrow staircase leading down to it. If Cardinal Song was looking to start trouble, she’d be a prime target down there. But a glance back let her see Gilda laid out on a tree branch overhead with a solid line of fire to the door. Provided Captain Dash wasn’t in the way.

Dash took a deep breath and psyched herself up. It was a lot easier to be brave with the crew watching, so there was that at least. Never let your soldiers see how scared you are. Battles aren’t won by panicked troops. Or by standing around. Dash fluttered down the stairs and knocked on the door, leaving her wings unfolded and ready to move. “I’m still waiting on that bird.”

There was the noise of movement beyond the door and an uncomfortable cough. A concealed plate in the door slid open and Dash stared into a pair of bright red eyes with faint crow’s feet at their corners. “Yes, ahem, very well. Umm… where exactly did you plan on keeping its cage?”

“Birds aren’t meant to be caged,” the Captain replied immediately, fixing those eyes with a glare. Cardinal Song looked away, and a long awkward silence stretched between them. “Well?”

“There’s been an, umm… irregularity in shipping. I’m afraid I’m fresh out of warblers at the moment.”

“An ‘irregularity’?” Captain Dash asked, her expression tight. If this sunscorched nag thought he could deal on the side with the items that she had claim to, then he was about to enter a world of hurt. “That’s funny, because I was told you already had one set aside, and I was just picking it up. I think it’s time you opened that door and gave me some answers.”

“I think it’s time you leave,” Cardinal Song said with another cough. “I have a shotgun pointed at this door, and I’m not afraid to pull the trigger.”

“Yes, you are,” Dash said. “If you really meant to shoot me, you wouldn’t give any warning. And even if I’m wrong, my girls will burn down your house if I get killed.”

There was a tense silence for several seconds. “You’re bluffing,” Cardinal Song said weakly.

Dash gave a shrill whistle, and half a second later, Gilda’s knife buried itself in the door a couple of inches to the left of the eye hatch. There was a startled yelp from Cardinal Song, and the Captain had to suppress her own reaction. That knife had passed less than a foot from her head. Clearly, she needed to have another talk with Gilda about ‘acceptable risks’. But that was for later. For now, she pretended that was exactly what she had expected to happen.

“Okay, okay,” Cardinal Song said weakly. “I’ll let you in and tell you what happened. Just… try to understand that I didn’t want this. If it were up to me I’d have quietly passed the gem along like I was supposed to.”

“I’ll be the judge of that. Put the gun down, open the door, leave your wings folded, and keep your hooves in plain sight.”

The heavy door creaked open, and Captain Dash got her first real look at Cardinal Song. He was a white pegasus with a bright red mane that matched his eyes. His white lab coat had sleeves too short and too wide for his tall, lean frame. He was old, but not elderly. Not yet, anyway. From his expression, Dash guessed that some of those wrinkles were worry lines from recent events and not his actual age.

She stared for a moment, looking for his shotgun, before realizing what had happened. “Wait, you didn’t have a gun at all? I knew you were bluffing when you said you’d shoot, but geez.” Captain Dash almost felt sorry for him. Almost. She gave another whistle, covering Cardinal Song with her own pistol brace while AJ and Gilda left their hiding places. Cardinal Song stood stock still, his expression both scared and miserable.

“So,” Gilda said, landing on the stairs behind the Captain with a thud, “are we gonna beat it outta him?” Cardinal Song flinched and his wings twitched, but he didn’t take a step.

“Not if we don’t have to,” Captain Dash said. “But I’m keeping the option open.”

“I’m curious to see what kinda excuse he’s got,” Applejack drawled. “Merchandise doesn’t just up’n wander off.”

The Captain waved her pistol brace for Cardinal to move inside. He did, and she followed close behind. Applejack was second, and from the sound of things Gilda was recovering her knife from the door. The room was filled with habitats, cages, aquariums and other animal homes. Most of them were empty but there were enough occupants to make some noise and a musty smell. Some of the critters Dash recognized, like the hummingbird that softly hummed on its perch, or the flint-shelled rock lobsters, but most were unfamiliar. None of them seemed like an immediate threat, so she gestured to the staircase in the corner of the room. Cardinal Song went up, and they followed.

The stairs led to a living room decorated in an earthy style with plenty of wood and dull colors. There were more splinters here, and some of the walls had been broken open. Several torn pillows were stuffed into a garbage can along with the pieces of what looked like a small cabinet. This room had obviously been trashed and only recently put back together.

“Take a seat on the couch,” Captain Dash commanded. Cardinal sat on a pair of ripped cushions, and she took what looked like the only surviving chair. AJ and Gilda remained standing, and they did it from opposite corners of the room. Dash stared her captive dead in his eyes until he looked away. “I think I made my threat plenty clear, so I’m going to put my hoof down. Don’t do anything stupid enough to make me shoot you.”

“That seems fair,” Cardinal Song said with a nervous nod. “If you want anything to drink I’ve got iced tea and some fruit juice in the icebox. I’m sorry I threatened you, Miss… Ma’am… um...”

“Captain,” Dash replied flatly. “I’m not upset about that. What I’m upset about is you not having the shipment. Our employer is a little tetchy about those jewels, and I’m not going to pay the price for your mistake. So spill. What went wrong?”

Cardinal Song gave a long shuddering breath. “I’m not a, well, professional smuggler. But I owe a favor, several favors really, to somebody that is. I act as a drop point for them on rare occasions. It pays well and doesn’t interfere with my normal business. Things have gone that way without a hitch for years.”

He glanced at the damage done to his living room, and sighed. “Two days ago the town was hit by a group of Diamond Dog raiders. It’s the kind of thing you hear about in stories all the time, but this caught us completely by surprise. The packs in the northern hills have always kept to themselves, I have no idea what prompted this. Regardless, they moved fast, overwhelmed the townsfolk and stole whatever they could get their claws on. My house is just one of several that they hit, and I was keeping the gem in my personal safe. A big bruiser of a Dog just ripped it off its moorings and carried it off without even opening it. They’ve got the gem now, and I have no idea how to get it back.” He slumped, defeated.

The Captain took a slow, deep breath. Of all the lousy, rotten luck… Then she disciplined her expression into a neutral frown. No job that paid this much could ever be easy. No sense expecting that. “Don’t move. Me and the girls are going to have a talk about your story.”

Cardinal Song started to nod, then caught himself. “Yes,” he said barely moving his mouth. The entry to the kitchen was a massive arch that gave a good view of the living room. Not that keeping him in view was really necessary; the old stallion seemed scared enough to have a heart attack if she said ‘boo’.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I don’t think he’s lying,” Gilda muttered, playing with her knife and keeping a causal eye on Cardinal Song. “The story’s too easy to check out in town, and something smashed that door in. Mr. Spindly on the sofa sure ain’t strong enough for that. Plus he’s a total amatuer at this. Somebody skimming off a gem smuggling route would’ve given us a lot more than an empty threat, or they’d have gone straight to the sob story.”

“I dunno,” AJ said. “He’s definitely ain’t no pro, but he could need the money. The Diamond Dogs probably hit the town, but he coulda used that as cover for his own theft. Seems like there’s too much broken; especially since he don’t got a mark on’em. What kinda raider would waste time smashin’ stuff to find something worth stealin’ insteada roughin’ up the guy that lives there?”

Dash’s thinking went along both lines and she didn’t know which was right. Best cover as many possibilities as she could then. She hated acting like cheap thug, but if Cardinal Song was trying to cover up his own theft, fear was the best way to keep him in line. “Well, Mr. Song,” she said loudly turning to address him. “We’re going search your house to see if you’re telling the truth. If we find the gem, no harm, no foul. Except for whatever our employer decides to do to you after we tell her about this. If we don’t find the gem, we’ll take a couple of days to check your story and see if we can pick up the gem’s trail. If you’re telling the truth, there’s no need to worry. But if you ain’t, then we’re going to have a much longer and more painful talk.”

She started to turn, but stopped as though she’d just remembered something. “Oh, and if we don’t find the gem and need to leave, you’re going to stay inside until we get back. I’m leaving somebody with a rifle and a good scope to watch the house and make sure you’re behaving. She’s a bit trigger happy, so I wouldn’t test her.”

Cardinal Song mutely nodded, his lips drawn so tight in fear they were almost bloodless. Captain Dash nodded to AJ, and patted Gilda with a wing. “Watch him, while we search,” she said quietly. “And don’t hurt him without a good reason.”

Gilda stopped playing with her knife and frowned thoughtfully. She opened her mouth to speak, but Dash cut her off.

“And ‘I was bored’ isn’t a good reason.”

The griffin snorted and rolled her eyes. “Fine,” she said flatly.

………

“Fluttershy!” the Captain called from the main hallway between the crew quarters. Her mechanic hadn’t been in the engine room or her own quarters.

“Captain?” Fluttershy called back, poking her grease-stained head out of a hatch of some kind.

Dash paused for a moment to stare at the sight. “First that pink menace and now you? How many ponies do I have crawling around the innards of my ship?”

“~Juuuuuusst~ the right amount,” Pinkie sang, popping out of the same conduit only a few feet away from Fluttershy. She wore her usual manic grin, but there wasn’t a smear of grease or speck of dust on her. Fluttershy let out a loud squeak and bolted out into the hallway, losing a few feathers in the process.

“Oops,” Pinkie said, her smile vanishing. “I’m sorry, Fluttershy, I didn’t mean to– well, I did mean to, but not like– I mean… I think I left the oven on.” Then she sunk back into the crawlspace, sneaking off to who-knew-where.

The Captain sighed. She hated keeping Pinkie locked up at all hours, but giving her run of the ship wasn’t any fun either. Even if she did keep to herself, for the most part. “Are you okay, little ‘Shy?”

“S-sunny as ever, Captain,” she took a slow breath and her shaking stopped. “What were you calling me for?”

“I’ve got a job for one of your little friends.”

Fluttershy’s eyes lit up just like Dash had hoped they would. “Really, Captain? Oh, this will be so wonderful! I’ve been tinkering with them a lot over the past day, what with holing up in the engine room, and I really think Mr. Hooty is good to go. I mean, I could always use some more parts, better crystals, and y’know, quality tools, but he’s pretty solid for I have to work with.” Dash was hard pressed to keep up with her mechanic, as the normally quiet pony dashed into the engine room, digging here and there among the cabinets and boxes built into the walls and furniture.

Eventually, she pulled out a rusty little owl-shaped robot. It wouldn’t be good enough to fool anybody that got close, but from a distance it could pass for the real thing. “So what do you need him for?” Fluttershy asked. A thought crossed her mind and she clutched the scrap-metal robot close to her heart. “H-he won’t be in danger, will he?”

Captain Dash gave Fluttershy a couple of reassuring pats. “No, no. I just need you to use him to keep an eye on somebody. The pegasus that was supposed to have our gem says it was stolen. We didn’t find it at his house, so I need you to watch him and make sure he doesn’t run off while the rest of us try to find the thieves.” Her expression turned dark. “And if he’s the one that made it disappear, I can almost guarantee you that he’ll try running. Soarin will be right here on the ship with you, and he can take a turn watching the video feed.”

“All right,” Fluttershy said. “But depending on how long you’re gone, Mr. Hooty’s charge crystal might not last. He’s got the best one since we… lost Sir Gale, but that isn’t saying much.”

“Little Shy, if we pull this off, I’ll give you forty bits out of my share just for your doohickey parts.” Fluttershy gasped slightly and the Captain chuckled. “Just let me know when Mr. Hooty is in position so I can radio Gilda to pack it in.”

“Will do, Captain,” Fluttershy said, humming a happy tune to herself as she made some minor adjustments to the robot owl.

That had been easy enough. Provided that Fluttershy’s knowhow got the job done. Gilda or Applejack would’ve been Captain Dash’s first choice to watch somebody, but she needed those two on something else. Neither one of them would be really happy with her plan, but they would come around. Gilda because of the money, and AJ because she was the best first mate a mare could ask for.

The fourth member of the team would take a little more convincing. Still, Dash held all the cards in this situation. Or... most of the cards, anyway. “Knock, knock,” she said as she barged into the infirmary.

The place had been next to empty not too long ago, aside from a shielded cache behind the left wall, but Twilight had filled the place with all the drugs and equipment she’d been planning to use to start her own clinic. She’d also enlisted Applejack and Zecora to help her clean it, and the place looked spic and span.

“Good morning, Captain Dash,” Twilight said, her voice carefully neutral. “Your … uh, ‘job’ go well?”

“Nah,” Dash said, plopping herself down in the room’s only chair besides the one the patient sat in. She stretched out her wings and hooves, getting comfortable. “The stallion at the drop point says the gem got stolen day before yesterday by some Diamond Dogs. Half the crew will stay behind to watch him, and the rest are coming with me into the northern hills. The way I see it, we can either steal the gem back, bargain for it, or intimidate them with force.”

Twilight nodded, obviously only half listening, as she continued inventory or something. A clipboard floated in front of her, at least. “Well thank you for keeping me in the loop. I can prep the infirmary for surgery just in case, though with any luck you won’t need my help. Resolving it peacefully would be the best, and given the amount of money involved in the job, I’d think your mysterious employer would cover the expense of outright buying it back from the thieves.”

Dash shrugged. Maybe Miss Universe would, maybe she wouldn’t. The Captain didn’t want to test that notion until she had to. This mess wasn’t her fault, but it would still make the crew look bad if she couldn’t fix it. “We’ll see. The point is, I want you with us in the hills. Applej–”

“With you?!” Twilight shouted. Her aura winked out, and the clipboard dropped to the floor. “I thought the idea was to keep my sister and me hidden!”

Captain Dash frowned for a second. “Shouldn’t that be ‘my sister and I’?” she asked innocently.

“No, because we’re the the object of the sentence. You wouldn’t say ‘keep I hidden’ which should make–” Twilight stopped speaking, and scowled harder. “Which doesn’t distract me from my real concern. Why do you want me with you?” A look of suspicion lurked in her eyes. Dash could tell she was trying to decide if this was a trap.

Captain Dash leaned forward, losing her smile and cocksure attitude. Mostly of the time that helped, but here she needed to be serious. And not in a ‘do-what-I-say-or-I-shoot-you’ way. “Odds are we’ll be going underground. As I was saying before you interrupted, AJ is in town getting all the details she can about the Dogs that raided the place. I’d bet my ship that their camp or village is in the hills.” Twilight nodded along with her, clearly listening. She still half-suspected something, but was willing to hear the whole thing out. “With you along, we have a permanent light source and you have the medical skills and magic to make the trip a lot easier. Tartarus, just from what I’ve seen of your ability at levitation I’d want you along. Besides, how likely is it that a group of backwater raiders is looking for you? Or that they’d ever get the chance to tell the Confed you were here?”

Twilight bit her lip, trying to decide whether or not to trust Dash. The Captain didn’t blame her. When you were wanted by the Confed, sometimes it felt like the whole Verse was against you. Still, you had to trust somebody.

“Okay, but I’m wearing the Star Glimmer disguise, and I want all of you to call me by that name so long as we’re outside.”

The Captain nodded. “Good idea. Applejack ought to be good for that, and Gilda would never use your name when she could use an insult anyway. I’ll do my best to remember.”

“Great,” Twilight said flatly, her expression unamused. “When do we leave?”

“Two or three hours. It’ll take awhile to get everyone together and ready, but I want to leave as soon as we can. There’s always the chance those Dogs took the gem on purpose. Waiting longer could mean we lose it for good.”

There was a clattering rush from somebody taking the stairs a little too fast. They cursed as they nearly tripped coming down, and Dash recognized Soarin’s voice. The stallion himself moved into view scant seconds later. “Captain, Fluttershy just said you told her to break out her ‘bots.”

Captain Dash sat up, steel entering her spine. She should’ve expected this from Soarin. Tartarus, probably Rarity too. “I did,” she said simply. “I need all my fighters with me when we go looking for the Diamond Dogs. And I need eyes on this guy in case he moves. And I said so.” Twilight was pretending to be busy with her clipboard and medicines, but Dash could feel her attention on the two of them.

Soarin look a step back at the look on her face, but his expression hardened and he stood his ground. He might not be much good in a fight, but nobody could say he was a coward. “That’s great and all, Captain, but this still seems like a bad idea. Did you forget what she was like after her falcon got scrapped?”

A dangerous gleam entered Dash’s eye. “No, I haven’t. But this isn’t the same situation. The pegasus she’s set to watch doesn’t have anything more dangerous than a paring knife in his house. And even if he did, I’d still have her send a ‘bot out. We need it for the job.”

“Yeah, but–” he began.

“And she needs this. Two years since we found her, and she’s still afraid to go outside. Our little Shy needs to take risks, even if sometimes she gets hurt in the process. So long as we’re here for her she’ll be fine. She isn’t the same filly she was a year ago.”

Soarin frowned, but hesitated. “Maybe, but I still see too many ways this could end badly. What if this guy is more dangerous than you think?”

The Captain snorted. “He isn’t, but if somehow I’m wrong? Well, we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.”