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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
The bad guys continue planning… The crew goes hunting/gathering, River communes with nature, and Inara’s shoulder continues to be cold.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2006 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
See Chapter 1 or my blog for disclaimers and such.
Except I have to say thanks to VERA2529, LEEH, and GUENEVER for the beta help!
Will hummed to himself as he followed Ray down the barren hillside. He could tell by the set of Ray’s shoulders that the sound annoyed him, but that just brought a loose smile to Will’s tanned face. Ray was a good contact, and it tickled Will to no end that Ray’d brought him in on this job, but the guy really needed to lighten up.
Will glanced up the sky, the most interesting thing to look at on this crappy rock. It was near midsummer, so the sun stayed well above the planetary rings all day. The curving section of the rings directly below the sun reflected white light brightly, then faded off into the blue of the sky to either side. The crystalline outer rings were the impressive; the minerals in them scattered sunlight into a pattern of colors, forming a spectacular arc that could be followed from horizon to horizon.
Will’s toe caught on a crag, reminding him to watch the ground under his feet. No matter how shiny the sky, the land wasn’t something to be taking your eyes off for long. The stone was uneven and hard, with no soil to cover it. Dead brush and fallen tree limbs never rotted here, they just dried up into dust and blew away.
He hadn’t seen what the world was like Before, as locals referred to it, but now the whole gorram place was a crematorium, slowly shriveling away to nothing. He’d never have chosen to come here; no one in their right mind would spend any more time on this dead planet than they had to. But he went where his orders told him to go. So far, his stay on this world had been on the dull side, but that looked to be changing in the very near future.
The two men reached a last rough outcrop and Will followed Ray’s example, crouching and using his hands to scramble down. They found the others where they’d left them, gathered in the shade of one of the few trees still standing, dead though it was.
“Gather up,” Ray said to the others, motioning to the ground in front of him.
Ginger was reclining on a rock, her shoulder length grey-brown hair pinned back out of her eyes. She was looking over her rifle, frowning at the dust which she could never be free of on this world. That woman cared for her weapon like it was her firstborn. In a way, Will knew, it was.
He nodded to her. When they first met he’d had to salute. She’d been in the service a good five years longer than he and could have earned command of their unit, but Ginger wanted nothing more than a comfy place to sit and a target to aim at. That was just one of the things he liked about her: the lack of complications. She’d gotten a little plump since the war ended, and her hair had greyed, but she shot true as ever and was just as lively in the sack. Or, against the wall. He couldn’t hide a smirk and he stuck a thumb in his belt, recalling the morning’s play.
Hank sat apart from Ginger, the dusty ground around him spattered with pools of spittle from his chew. The man hadn’t been anywhere near a razor, a brush, or likely a bar of soap in a long while. He stank to high heaven. He was a strange one, hardly spoke. But rumor had it that Hank was the best shot around. Quick and cool on the draw. Will didn’t know about all that, but Ray said the man did what he was told without arguing, and that was enough.
The boy Jase was over by the old transport pod that had brought them out from the city, slouching in the dust with his black hair hanging over his face. He was still in his teens, sixteen he’d said when Will asked. Will hadn’t believed him at first; Jase looked younger than that on account of his small size. But, like Ray, Jase’s eyes showed that the times he’d survived added up to more than the years he’d been alive. Also like Ray, Jase didn’t smile much.
Ginger and Hank gathered around Ray, who nodded to Will. Ray wasn’t much of a talker; he preferred to let Will lay out the plan. Will nodded back and crouched in the dust, drawing up a rough schematic of the Firefly. He’d spent time on one before; he knew the layout.
“Ginger,” he said, keeping his tone impersonal, “Set up out front so you can see into the bay, and help out if it comes to shooting. But mainly you need to keep watch in case the shuttle or the hovercraft come back.
“Hank, you’ll go in the front with Ray. You two have a nice friendly palaver with whoever you find while I go in the top way. Be ready to draw, but don’t kill anyone unless you have to. We may need them alive to help out later. Dŏng ma?”
Behind his thick brows, Hank’s eyes narrowed in disappointment, then he shrugged and turned away to spit. Will pulled his bandanna out of his back pocket to pat the sweat off his face as he studied Hank; the man looked like he should be headman of some loony cult. There really were some weirdos out here on the rim.
Will shoved the bandanna in his back pocket and continued telling what he knew. “They have at least two on board. One’s the Browncoat I met in town; he’s got a gun. The other’s an old man, no gun but take care; he’s seen action.”
“Uh… Will?” Jase asked tentatively from where he still sat against the transport. “What’m I doin’?”
Will looked over, noticing how the kid’s lip had swelled up since the morning. But the question wasn’t Will’s to answer.
Not for the first time, Will wondered about the story behind Ray and Jase. With straight black hair and tilted green eyes, Jase didn’t look a bit like Ray, and they sure didn’t act like family. For a brief time Will had figured the old guy was sly and liked his sport young. Wouldn’t be exactly rare; the Cartel that had done the terraforming on this planet kept business largely in the family, and that didn’t include Chinese. Most black-haired folk on this world had been imported for specific purposes: mostly grown men for labor and young women for wives, but there were always other things some folks would pay for. Not too many reasons for a boy Jase’s age to be here with no family to take care of him.
But that notion had died quickly. Ray avoided Jase like a bad smell. The man was quick with a heavy hand when the kid did something stupid – like just that morning – but other than that didn’t talk to him or even look at him if he didn’t have to.
Ray spoke up without looking away from the diagram in the dust. “Stay with the transport. I’ll send for you after we’re in.” Ray didn’t wait for a response; he glanced around at the rest of his bunch. “We got real lucky `bout the small crew, gotta get in and get gone quick. Let’s move.”
Four days ago
Mal roused Zoë, Jayne, and Book just before sunrise. After a visit to the weapons locker and a brief hunting safety lecture (delivered by Mal, mainly addressing Jayne), stressing the importance of not shooting in the direction of the ship, Book and Jayne set off in one direction and Mal and Zoë in the other.
Kaylee and Wash came down the ramp an hour later and went about setting up a filtration system and a series of pipes to fill Serenity’s water tanks. The conversion of atmospheric oxygen to liquid form for storage was more complicated than the water filtering; they had to take turns watching over it while it ran, constantly chipping off ice that formed on the connectors.
Simon had his own task, with River to assist him. He brought out his handheld computer loaded with a horticultural encyclopedia, and searched the area around the ship for greenery to round out the crew’s diet until they could stock up on supplements.
Simon was feeling pleased with River’s state. Ever since they left New Melbourne nearly a month ago, she’d been remarkably stable. Almost like the little sister he remembered. He’d kept her on a steady dosage of minor smoothers, and her system hadn’t broken them down yet. It had been a weight off his shoulders to see her happily passing the days playing games with Kaylee on the ship, and even to see her swimming with Jayne the day before.
“River, I found something!” he called. She skipped over to him, and he showed her a plant and its picture on the screen. She plucked a leaf and chewed a corner of it, then made an expressive face.
“It’s better than scurvy,” Simon said.
“You’ve had scurvy?”
“Then how do you know?” She spat out the leaf and made a face like a gagging cat. “Tăo yàn.”
“Fine. See if you can do better.” He held the little computer out to her.
River’s eyes narrowed at the challenge; she took the computer and turned away. Simon worked on stripping leaves from the plant he’d found and putting them into a bag. By the time he finished, she’d disappeared. He left the bag of leaves on an outcrop and went looking for his wayward sister.
He found her a short distance into the woods, standing on the edge on a clearing, the little computer held loosely in her left hand. Her head was tilted to the side and her eyes were unfocused. Simon felt worry tighten his stomach; he hadn’t seen that look on her face in weeks. He took the computer out of her hand before she could drop it.
“Mèi mei, did you find something?” he asked cautiously.
She started out her reverie and looked at him. “Belong here.”
River held up her right hand; it was balled into a fist. She squeezed and watched with detached interest as a rivulet of red ran down the underside of her arm and dripped off her elbow.
“River, what did you – ” Simon grabbed her wrist and forced her hand open. A rich, sweet smell rose from a pulpy mass of dark red lying on her palm. He smiled in relief. “Raspberries.”
River studied the crushed fruit in her hand. “Have all they need. Sun, water, food. Belong here, all together. Have a job to do.”
She shifted her eyes toward the clearing beside them; it was filled with heavily-laden berry bushes. Simon’s smile widened. “Ai ya! Everyone will be so happy! Especially Kaylee.” He started to congratulate her with a hug, but she stopped him, a look of growing desperation in her eyes.
“I just found them,” she said. “Didn’t make them. The bushes make the berries.”
“Of course you don’t make berries, you pick them,” Simon said, confused.
“You don’t understand. It’s not what I - ” She tipped her hand so that the crushed berries slid to the ground, then looked up at the treetops in frustration. He saw that her eyes were sparkling with tears.
“I’m sorry,” Simon told her. “If you could just explain to me, I want to under – ”
“Can’t explain! Don’t know.” She wiped at a falling tear, leaving a red smear over her cheek and mouth. Simon didn’t have anything to wipe her face with but his sleeve. He tried, but she pushed his hands away.
“Don’t you see?” She stared into the clearing again as she tried to speak evenly. “They are… what they are. Don’t need to fight. Well, fine.” She held her hands up and shook her head like she was arguing with someone. “Weeds, bugs. It freezes or it doesn’t rain enough. But they know about that. That’s all… how it is. Natural. Nature.”
She paused and licked at the juice on her lips, then her fingertips. She turned to him with a teary smile. “See? Sweet. Wholesome and sweet because it’s what they do. How they work. In their nature.” Her eyes on Simon’s were full of the need to understand and be understood.
“I’m sorry River, I don’t… I’m not sure – ”
She cut him off in a forceful voice. “I am not a raspberry bush, Simon.”
He took a breath to respond, but was unsure of what to say.
“It’s not what I do!” Her face twisted with a wrenching look of frustration, then she gave up and turned away.
“River, wait!” Simon called after her. He followed as she ran through the woods, but she was quicker and lighter on her feet and outdistanced him. She sprinted past Kaylee and Wash where they worked by the ship, then paused at the edge of the water to yank off her boots and dress. Before Simon could catch up she dove in and was swimming away, her head underwater so she couldn’t hear him calling after her.
* * *
Zoë and Mal returned an hour before high noon feeling mighty, Zoë carrying two fat rabbits and Mal proudly slinging a wild turkey. They found a fire burning in a pit a safe distance from the ship, where Kaylee and Book were building a large smoker out of an empty cargo canister. Back toward the trees, Jayne was cleaning out a bear carcass that had to weigh damn near twice as much as he did. Mal frowned as he looked at his skinny turkey, and Zoë held up her rabbits, squinting as she compared them to the bear.
“I think he won, sir.”
“Pffft,” Mal replied in disgust. He set his turkey next to Jayne. “See to this when you’re done. Crew’ll be thankful to have a little fowl after all that greasy bear meat.” Jayne looked up with a grin; Mal wasn’t fooling him a bit.
Zoë stayed to help deal with the game while Mal checked on Wash’s progress. The water tanks were full, but the oxygen chiller would need to run for much of the afternoon. Then Mal noticed Inara and Simon sitting on the rocks near the sea and headed their way.
“You’ve got the greens?” he asked Simon.
Simon looked his shoulder. “Yes… well, I found some edible plants but I haven’t gathered them yet.”
Mal looked out over the water. “I understand the scenery is real pretty, but you have work to do, Doc.”
“He’s not looking at the scenery, Mal,” Inara interjected. “River’s been in the water for nearly two hours. We’re keeping an eye on her.”
Mal looked out and found the face, hands and feet of the girl floating in the water. “She all right?”
“She was upset about the raspberries,” Simon said distantly.
Mal arched a brow in disbelief. “Raspberries? Upset?”
Simon didn’t respond, but Inara rose to her feet. “It’s all right, Simon. You watch River, I’ll take care of it.”
“Take care of what?” Mal asked, turning to follow her toward the firepit.
“He told me where the patch is; I’ll gather some berries for lunch.”
He shrugged. “Fine. I’ll come along,” he said, his tone casual.
Inara smiled graciously. “That really isn’t necessary.”
“You can’t go out there by yourself.”
She stopped at the pile of supplies next to the firepit. “I won’t. Kaylee was planning on coming with me.”
“Huh?” Kaylee said when she heard her name, and looked up from the door she was attaching to her improvised meat smoker.
“You were planning on coming with me to pick raspberries,” Inara explained.
“Ras – ? Oh, raspberries! Yeah, that’s right I was!”
“Kaylee, you have work to do,” Mal said firmly.
“I’m sure Book can handle it,” Inara said as she found a large basket out of the pile of goods, then she turned to the Shepherd. “Can’t you?”
“Actually, we are about done here, Captain,” Book said, taking the screwdriver from Kaylee.
Mal glared at Book before he replied to Inara. “As Jayne has discovered, there are bears out there, and they do like berries. `Specially as appetizers to tasty humans such as yourself.”
“Tasty?” Jayne asked with a curious look at the Inara, then back at Mal.
Mal stammered a bit. “I just meant that she’s… human, and humans are… tasty. To bears.”
“There will be no tasting, bear or otherwise,” Inara said sweetly. She set down the basket and picked up her crossbow. Within seconds, she had loaded it and sent a dart over Mal’s shoulder, hitting the center of a knot in a tree thirty meters behind him.
Mal turned to look at the tree, then back at her. “Very nice.”
“Thank you.” She had the crossbow reloaded already.
“`Course, predators do tend to move a little faster than trees, and I don’t see a dart doin’ too much more to a bear, other than makin’ it mad.”
“I can handle large moody mammals growling at me. I’ve had a lot of experience with that in the past year.” She gave Mal a pointed look.
Mal scowled at Jayne’s chuckle, and saw Zoë trying unsuccessfully to hide a smile.
“Inara – ” he started.
“Stop worrying, Mal. At the very least I can slow a hungry beast down enough for us to run back to your nán zĭ qì protection.”
Kaylee, trying to stay clear of the tiff, picked up the basket Inara had dropped and started toward the woods. Inara set her crossbow on her shoulder and followed while Mal ignored the grins from the rest of the crew.
second half of the chapter tomorrow…
dŏng ma: understand?
tăo yàn: disgusting
mèi mei: little sister
nán zĭ qì: manly
On to Chapter 2B.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006 3:56 AM
Tuesday, May 23, 2006 5:02 AM
Tuesday, May 23, 2006 5:52 AM
Tuesday, May 23, 2006 5:55 AM
Tuesday, May 23, 2006 6:39 AM
Tuesday, May 23, 2006 8:56 AM
Tuesday, May 23, 2006 11:01 AM
Tuesday, May 23, 2006 7:37 PM
Tuesday, May 23, 2006 8:18 PM
Friday, July 7, 2006 11:54 AM
Thursday, July 13, 2006 3:28 AM
Thursday, October 19, 2006 4:59 PM
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