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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Zoë and company are blissfully unaware while the bad guys make themselves ta’home. Simon does his job and River collects info.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2008 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
See Chapter 1 and my blog for disclaimers and such.
Except I have to say thanks to VERA2529 and LEEH for the beta help!
Mandarin translations: put your mouse over the pinyan to get the definitions, or see the list at the end.
A certain character in this chapter wouldn’t be herself without http://www.mandarintools.com/worddict.html
Mal’s nerves had rubbed off on Zoë, and her husband’s creative driving skills didn’t serve to calm her any. They roared up the dry riverbed, following the directions that Kaylee’s mysterious young acquaintance had supplied. After only five minutes they saw what looked to be a bunch of old wooden planks nailed together and leaning against a low cliff face off to the right.
Wash powered the mule over the river bank and across the small field, sliding to a stop about ten meters from the cliff. It sure as hell didn’t look like a place to find tech, looked more like a place for an ambush. Zoë pulled out her carbine and shushed everyone as she climbed out of the hovercraft.
She left Jayne and Wash near the transport, Jayne holding Vera at the ready, and walked to the wooden wall on the cliff face with Kaylee a few paces behind. There was a rough door with a knocker on a metal plate in the middle of the wall; Zoë lifted the knocker and banged it three times, making a hollow booming sound.
It was at least a full minute before a little shutter in the door opened. It was just above Zoë’s belly button, so she had to lean down to speak through it.
“We’re looking for Xiaojun, heard there’s tech for sale. We just need a – ”
A sharp voice cut her off. “Who send you? Who tell you I am here?”
Zoë looked to Kaylee, who answered hesitantly. “A boy, um… teenager. He didn’t say his name. Chinese lookin’. Longish hair, green eyes – ”
The flap dropped shut, then Kaylee and Zoë had to step back as the door swung open.
A petite Chinese woman stepped out. She was wearing a dark red jumpsuit covered in stains, and her hair frayed out of a loose bun, making a frizzy halo around her crinkly face. She had a big smile and her arms were extended wide, showing grease-stained hands.
“New people! Friends of Jase! Gĕ kuài lè de jìnzhăn! Good new people! Never lái bīn these days, no one come. All day I work, but no new people, no new toys, nothing at all since Zhenya die.”
Kaylee threw a look of delighted surprise at Zoë when the old woman hugged her. Xiaojun wasn’t at all bothered by the carbine in Zoë’s hand; she turned and Zoë had to bend forward awkwardly to receive a hug that would not be refused. Wash and Jayne were next; the woman chattered all the way to the hovercraft.
“So good of you to come out to see me on such a day. Hàn! Not good day to drive so far in hovercraft. Hmm – old model Libra ten? Have not seen one of those in some time. Needs work, I see. No roof? Must be hot then – shŭ tiān. Not so good for skin. You should be careful, shèn zhòng! Won’t always be nián qīng rén! Have skin like mine someday!”
She hugged a smiling Wash, who tried to get a word in and failed. “Huăn!” she said, pinching his cheek fondly before turning to Jayne. She didn’t hesitate to reach up and squeeze his bicep, then looked over to Zoë and Kaylee to comment “Nán zĭ qì!” and Jayne straightened with pride. She turned back to him. “Too bad you not come here twenty years ago, when my girls home still. They would be zhōng qíng!” She exaggerated fanning herself before she leaned forward to hug his waist. When she did, her smile faded for just a second while her nose crinkled. “Hmm, chòu.” She leaned back to look him up and down, then turned away. “No matter. Come inside, come inside. Time for tea, and guō tiē fresh cooked this morning, still many stores from Before. Nice and cool inside, liáng kuai, no hot sun.”
She started back toward the doorway, muttering continuously. Jayne looked at the hovercraft, then at Zoë. She held a hand up, motioning for him to stay, and turned to follow Xiaojun.
The old lady stopped at the door and looked back at the men. “No need to guard craft. No one here. All alone. Qù. See? Kilometers around, no one at all. Come in, come in. No use keeping ladies waiting. Good boys come inside now.”
Zoë managed to cut into the woman’s stream of verbosity. “The big manly man Jayne is afraid of the dark. He’d be much happier waiting outside.”
Xiaojun gave Jayne a look and waved a hand at him. “Okay! No matter. Cute one come inside, have tea with ladies.” Jayne reclined in the hovercraft like he’d rather stay anyway, but at a nod from Zoë Wash trotted over to follow the three women through the dark doorway.
“Solar panels,” Xiaojun explained proudly. They took a few uneven steps down into a cavern which had been converted to a smartly finished living space. Electric lamps covered in red tassels hung from a smooth ceiling of dry stone. “Up above, outside, lots of sun on panels, always lots of power. Jiāo yáng, all the time. No rain anymore. Not to worry – have well inside, way back in cave, goes deep, lots of water, chōu shuĭ jī work good. Use all you want. Powder room there. Cè suŏ. Need to go? No? No matter. Okay, sit here. I make tea. So good to have new people. Huì kè, been so long. I miss! Only toys, same old toys I tinker with, day in, day out. Almost as old as me, some of them! No one to talk to. Just lăo tào.”
Ten minutes later, Zoë and Wash were settled on high-backed chairs at a teak table, sipping fragrant tea and snacking on dumplings, watching Xiaojun lead Kaylee through a large natural cavern that extended back into the hillside. The floor was leveled out and more than half full of densely packed shelves. The open half of the big cavern held what appeared to be Xiaojun’s ‘old toys,’ although no one asked about them. They hoped to get back to Serenity before day’s end, and the old lady did have a talent for talking.
Wash leaned over to Zoë. “Good thing Mal didn’t come, this would be hell for him.”
* * *
It had completely caught Ginger by surprise when the browncoat dove out of her sights. She’d tried to follow him and take him out, squeezing off two shots that did nothing but tear holes in whatever he was hiding behind.
With nothing else to do, she stayed put and watched while Ray circled around to her right, shooting across the bay, and then Jase stepped up on the ramp. The boy didn’t last long, just went right down on his back and stayed there. Shortly after, the shooting stopped.
Ginger decided she wasn’t going to wait to be fetched. She gathered her jacket and bag and took a roundabout way down the hill, just in case the bullets starting flying again. It took her a few minutes to get down, and when she did she paused at the side of the entrance until she heard Ray’s voice.
“Will, when you’re done with the browncoat, go out n’tell Ginger to get Jase. I want out’a here before them others return.”
“Ray, it’s me!” she called out; it never was wise to sneak up on a fella right after gunplay.
“Ginger? What the hell are you doin’ here?” Ray called back. “I want you watchin’ for that shuttle!”
“You looked to be `bout done,” she answered, unperturbed by his disapproval.
She crouched next to Jase. The men on the ship couldn’t see the boy on account of the slope of the ramp, probably didn’t even know he was there. He lay half in the dust, the left shoulder of his shirt soaked in blood. The wound was high enough on his chest to have missed anything important, but he was bleeding like he had a talent for it. A gunshot wound wasn’t something likely to get fixed out here. Ginger snickered. Stupid kid, stepping in the way and getting himself killed. All hell was gonna break loose when Ray saw this.
Still, he wasn’t dead yet and she couldn’t leave him on the ramp, nor could she lift him and hold her gun at the same time. She grabbed his ankle and dragged him into the ship, leaving a wet red smear on the plating.
“Forget about our transport, Ray, let’s just go,” she said.
She dropped the boy’s leg as soon as she had him past the inner airlock door, then looked around the hold, getting her bearings. Will was just about done tying the captain, bloody-faced and dazed, to the railing of a staircase across the way. Another man, young and clean cut with short black hair, was kneeling on the deck nearby with his hands bound behind him. Quite the pretty boy. He looked weak and completely outdone, his mouth hanging open in shock and blood dripping down his cheek.
Then she noticed Hank, lying on his back to her right, a single thin line of red coming out of a hole in his forehead, his gun clenched in his dead hand and an expression of utter surprise on his face.
Two of their own down then; it’d gone sloppier than she figured.
In the few seconds she’d been taking in the scene, Ray had crossed the bay and knelt beside Jase. Ginger turned back to see Ray’s face turn ashen as he pulled the boy’s shirt back from the wound.
“Sorry, Ray,” Jase muttered faintly. “`m just stupid.”
Ginger saw the fury in Ray’s eyes and thought he was about to finish the kid off right there, but it turned out it wasn’t Jase he was mad at. He stood and stalked across the bay toward the captain.
“You shot him,” Ray said, and his normally moderate voice shook with rage.
“He shot at me first!” the browncoat replied with a hint of a whine, clearly not getting that it wasn’t the best time for backtalk. He managed to pull his head aside enough to avoid the brunt of Ray’s first punch, but Ray hit him again, and kept on until the captain was slumped over, held up only by the cords around his chest.
“Ray!” Ginger called out in warning when she saw the other man getting to his feet. Ray stopped hitting, and turned to shove the young man back to the deck. Then he just stood there, panting and clenching his fists like he wasn’t sure what to do.
Will paid no attention to Ray’s outburst. He grabbed Hank and dragged him out the door, leaving him in the dust for the crows. When he came back in he went to the control panel, and the doors on the airlock started motoring shut.
Ginger had nothing else to do, so she crouched next to the boy. Couldn’t hurt to try.
“I got him,” Ray said, suddenly beside her and pushing her away. “Will,” he asked, “this ship got anything for doctorin’?”
“The infirmary’s back that way,” Will replied, pointing to the hatch in the back of the bay.
Ray picked Jase up, easily and with more care than she’d ever have expected from the man. “Get us movin’,” he called to Will as he walked toward the back hatch, though the order wasn’t necessary. Will was already climbing the fore stairway.
“Ginger,” Ray said over his shoulder, “tie this other fella up and then you go over every bit of this ship. Make sure there ain’t no one else.”
Ginger started toward the young man sprawled on the deck, but he climbed to his feet and spoke up before she could reach him.
“I’m a doctor,” he said, suddenly all calm and cool as ice. “I can help.”
Ray stopped. “A doctor?”
“Yes. A trauma surgeon. I’ve seen a lot of gunshot wounds.”
“He does look like one, Ray,” Ginger said, eyeing the man’s fancy shoes and tailored clothes. “He sure don’t belong out here.”
“What’s your name, boy?” Ray asked.
“Simon, if you’re tryin’ to play me you’ll die in an ugly way, you understand?” Ray didn’t wait for an answer; he just nodded his head toward the infirmary. “Go.”
The doctor glanced once at the unconscious captain, then led Ray out. Ginger slung her rifle over her shoulder, drew her pistol, and started her search.
Simon flexed his fingers to get the feeling back, rubbing at the white and red marks on his wrists. The cords had been tight enough to cut off circulation. Unnecessarily tight. Simon didn’t know the man well enough to say for sure, but he suspected that Will was a bit of a sadist. And he was out there, wandering the ship…
Mèi mei, don’t come out. Don’t try anything. Don’t you dare.
He bent over the barely conscious boy on the exam table. The bullet had passed clean through without hitting his lungs; the wound shouldn’t be difficult to fix. The blood loss was the real problem. And the boy was thin – he didn’t look to be in the best of health to start with.
Simon opened a drawer and pulled out a pair of scissors, but he froze when he heard a gun charge up. He’d almost forgotten Ray. The man stood in the hatch watching, and was now pointing a pistol at him.
“I need to cut his shirt back,” Simon explained, surprised at the coolness of his own voice. Ray nodded and lowered the gun.
It briefly occurred to Simon that his patient, though young, might be just as violent and unstable as the others. It would be so easy to move slowly, or to make a mistake. They’d never know…
But, even while he was thinking this, Simon was working with his usual careful urgency, wrapping gauze tightly around the boy’s shoulder to staunch the bleeding. He had denied treatment to a patient once. Not for more than a minute, but a vital minute. It’d been a girl he’d barely known, one anonymous face among the hundreds he’d encountered in his struggle to free River. But that girl had turned out to be Kaylee.
Not for the first time, Simon felt a surge of gratitude that she’d lived, and guilt that he’d put her in such danger, going so far as to use her life as a bargaining chip. If she hadn’t made it, he’d never even have known what was lost.
It occurred to him that it was entirely possible that he’d never see Kaylee again. The thought made his stomach twist.
He tried to push his feelings aside and focused on placing an IV in the boy’s arm. He was a doctor; he had his job to do. There was no time for regret or fear or even for the pounding in the side of his head and the blood drying on his face.
Simon Tam fixes hurt people, raspberry bushes make raspberries, Zoë and Jayne come to the rescue, River stays hidden and quiet. That is how it is. Do you hear me?
So much went wrong. Everything ruined.
River didn’t realize she was whispering the words, and would have stopped herself if she knew. But the things that were crawling around in her head had to be let out somehow. It was getting better; the injection Simon had given her was working. The voices were coming from a distance now, instead of shouting inside her skull.
She held herself still in the shadows of the engine room’s ceiling, eyes closed as she tried to listen and separate the tangled voices. When River had worked with Kaylee she’d been getting it, controlling it, but these new minds were overwhelming. Hatred, bitterness, and despair masked reason, and she couldn’t make sense of it. So many walls in their minds holding back ugly things, not enough walls of her own to keep them out.
Walls – build walls. Keep out the strangers. Let in the ones I know.
Not easy to separate. The good ones didn’t feel like they usually did; they were all in pain, all afraid. The Captain was the easiest to find; he often was. He was walking in dark places, places she’d visited with him before, But she couldn’t help him now. She had to leave him to make his way on his own.
Simon was busy. She found him and the cool logic of his thoughts settled over her with soothing familiarity. She shut everything out but him, and felt herself relax. His pain and fear were there, but carefully held at bay. His worry about her kept trying to take over, and she wished she could let him know she was okay and not about to do anything stupid.
But she couldn’t go near Simon to tell him. One of the dark ones was with him, watching close. Ray. That was the man’s name: Ray.
Simon’s medicine was working. It was definitely calmer inside now, quieter. The noisy mess was far enough away for her to untangle it, thought by thought. Her brother had done his job, and now it was time to do hers. She had to let the bad minds in, had to be open to them if she wanted to learn. But only one at time. Carefully, River looked into Ray.
His thoughts were taut, like a rope holding too much weight. There was a constant hum in his background, made of countless tiny pings as little bits of himself gave way to an unending strain. He was still vibrating from the big piece that had snapped when he saw the boy covered in blood. Ray needed Simon to fix Jase; he didn’t even know how much he needed that. Under Ray’s violent anger was hurt. Hurt and guilt and failure and, way in deep, the bitterness of betrayal.
River shuddered and pulled herself away from him. The things inside Ray might break her if she looked too close. She didn’t have the strength, not right now.
She was drawn to the feverish mind of the boy whom Mal had shot. He was in a place with a blue sky adorned with an arc of sparkling color, and bright autumn trees swayed in the breeze. River wanted to go there with him. There was a sweet voice singing, and a rich smell that made her mouth water.
No time. Work to do. She tore herself away.
Two other strange minds wandered the ship; instinctively she shied away from one of them, from the man. The other was a woman. She was checking the panels in the cargo bay, looking for finger holds, panels that moved. She’d already found Mal’s favorite hidey nook by the stairs. Her mind was focused on her job, as it always was. Iisolated. Closed off to her own feelings. For her, life was a series of tasks to be mastered. People in Ginger’s world existed as target or ally or, in a few instances, toys to be used when needed. Ginger had no other use for human beings. She didn’t see what lay deep inside herself, but River did. River saw the starvation for things Ginger had never had, how it eroded the woman inside. River hugged herself against the aching loneliness, trying to push away from it.
A steady chanting rose through the hunger, a deep voice like dark honey that she wanted to sink into until she disappeared.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon… The calm voice blocked out the fear, hatred, and pain of the others, and she clung to it.
where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope… Her eyes snapped open when the thoughts grew stronger. He was coming closer – no, he was waking up. He was hurt, but he was coming back to himself without rage or bitterness to cloud him. Not even fear.
where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
This mind had shadows within, but they weren’t held back by impenetrable walls. He knew of the darkness, and he’d made peace with it. He was able to see with eyes unobscured; he would help her figure out what to do.
She uncoiled herself, swung down from the beam, and landed lightly on the deck. Down the corridor, she could see the Book lying under the table, not moving yet. Silently, she jogged down the hall and crawled under the table next to him.
“Shepherd,” she whispered, poking lightly at this shoulder. “Preacher man, wake up.”
He stirred. She waited until he opened his eyes and pulled himself to sitting. It was awkward with his arms wrapped around the table leg and his hands bound. “River?” he said roughly.
“Sssh! They have the ship.”
He focused on her, and answered in a whisper. “Who?”
River held up four fingers, and pointed to each in turn. “Ray, Jase, Ginger,… Will.”
Book lifted his bound hands and leaned forward so he could rub his forehead, then he nodded and accepted what she told him, just as she knew he would.
“Where is the Captain?” he asked.
“Beat up. Tied up. Cargo bay. Simon is fixing Jase.”
“Mal shot him.”
Book started to reply but River hushed him and scurried up a pipe next to the fore hatch. A few seconds later the woman, Ginger, came through, passing right below River. She ignored Book, just held a pistol aimed at the floor while she glanced into the lounge, galley, and pantry. She gave one more long look around, her eyes lingering on the cabinets. She seemed to dismiss them as too small to hold a person, because she continued on through the aft hatch without opening them. She checked the engine room, then turned into the side corridor that led down to the passenger dorms.
River dropped to the deck and crouched next to the table again. “No one ever looks up,” she told Book with a shake of her head.
“Do they know about you?” he asked.
“No. River stays hidden. That’s how it is. Simon said so. The Captain did too, before he got lost.”
Book leaned aginst the table leg so he could rub his face again; he was struggling to think clearly. “That was Ginger?”
“Where are the others?”
River ticked off her fingers again. “Ray and Jase in the infirmary with Simon. Will is on the bridge, looking, remembering…” River lost track of what she saying. She looked down the corridor toward the bridge, her face slack and her hands stilled with her finger still pulled back.
The thoughts from that dark fourth mind were finally getting into her head. She hadn’t wanted to let him in; he was freezing cold. But she had to. She needed to know.
A few words leaked out her mouth as she listened:
Not hard to fly – power, yaw, pitch… gorram browncoat… warm up engines first should have killed him port stabilizers, starboard… should have shot the worthless piece of shĭ in the head...
“River, River!” Book’s harsh whisper pulled her back from the darkness.
She stared at Book wide-eyed, still listening. “Hates Mal. Wants to hurt him. Kill him.”
“Why?” Book asked.
“Wants things his way,” she replied, and Will’s malice came through in her face and the force behind her whisper. “Doesn’t like people who don’t do as he says. Likes to kill. Not against rules to kill browncoats. No reason not to kill them. Will likes to kill. Will. Kill. You see?”
She tilted her head as she stared at Book, her eyes dark and slightly unfocused, and he drew back from her.
“But he hasn’t killed Mal?” Book asked.
“No. Might need the help. To fly. Need to fly.” Suddenly River shook off the contact, and her face lit up. “That’s it! Have to make sure they need him.” She smiled at Book, her face her own again. “Xiè xie! Sorry – can’t untie – not now.” She jumped to her feet and continued to mutter as she sped toward the engine room. “Can’t just hide, Simon. Got work to do. My job. Only mine. Have to do it. No one else.”
“River – ” Book called in a loud whisper, but she didn’t stop. She had business to take care of.
gĕ kuài lè de jìnzhăn: happy development
lái bīn: guest
shŭ tiān: hot day
shèn zhòng: careful
nián qīng rén: young people
nán zĭ qì: manly
zhōng qíng: madly in love
guō tiē: fried dumpling
liáng kuai: pleasantly cool
qù: live alone; quiet
jiāo yáng: blazing sun
chōu shuĭ jī: water pump
cè suŏ: toilet
huì kè: receive a visitor
lăo tào: old things
mèi mei: little sister
xiè xie: thank you
On to Chapter 9.
Wednesday, June 7, 2006 2:43 AM
Wednesday, June 7, 2006 3:45 AM
Wednesday, June 7, 2006 5:10 AM
Wednesday, June 7, 2006 7:00 AM
Wednesday, June 7, 2006 8:09 AM
Wednesday, June 7, 2006 8:20 AM
Wednesday, June 7, 2006 10:06 AM
Wednesday, June 7, 2006 3:24 PM
Wednesday, June 7, 2006 9:22 PM
Thursday, June 8, 2006 7:08 PM
Friday, July 14, 2006 12:37 AM
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