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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
A victory celebration . . . and more!
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2200 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
The Treasure of Lei Fong Wu
“. . . and I still say we should proceed to insurgency operations in short order,” insisted General Lei forcefully. “Not at once, of course – we need to establish a clandestine rear base and forward supply depots – but if we make a few daring strikes in strategic locations around the Rim, raid some commerce, hit some smaller outposts, we can spread out the Alliance forces enough to make a play for Yuan in a couple of years. Probably by way of the moons. Say, a feint at the bases on Wuhan, then capture the strategic orbital stations of T’ien – we can put Campbell on that. And when they send in the cruisers, we pin them between the Sun Tzu and the orbital stations!”
“And you were hailed as a strategic genius?” scoffed Master Lei. “I’ve seen better strategy in children’s board games. The idea of ‘liberating’ Yuan is noble, but you fail to see the larger picture. The people of Yuan had an opportunity to re-establish the Empire during the war, and you saw how lukewarm your reception was.”
“Wuhan and T’ien went with us,” the General sniffed. “And large portions of the countryside of Yuan.”
“But the main population centers did not. Chang’an – the Imperial City – resisted the Imperial faction attempts to bring it under control the entire war. Face it, boy, Yuan has grown too sophisticated and too jaded to accept an emperor now. Not after so many boring but prosperous years under Alliance control. The entire planet has accepted the pan-Alliance cosmopolitan chic. To try to bring them back under a form of government that they see as archaic would be a feat worthy of the gods, themselves.”
“But . . .”
“A wise man knows when he is beaten, my boy,” the wizened old man said. “A wiser man knows how to change the rules to make winning possible.”
The General stared at him for a moment. “Well, what the hell is that supposed to mean?” he demanded.
“It means that while you have may have ambitions of great vengeance in mind with the family’s new-found wealth and potential military power, you lack the vision for the bigger picture. You can conquer, perhaps, General. But you cannot rule.”
“I bloody well can!”
“Domination is not ruling – and it’s not what the Empire was ever about. Your service to the Imperial cause is notable, nephew, but the Imperial cause was ever greater than mere military victory.”
“Well, without a military victory, there won’t be an Imperial cause to champion,” grumbled the General. “Looks like we’re at our stop,” he added as the car slowed down.
“Perhaps,” agreed the old monk. “Yet what purpose is such a victory without more than conquest in mind? The Mandate of Heaven may fall to those who enjoy a military victory – or it may not. If the people are not supportive of your victory, then what use do they have for the Empire at all? Will they look upon you as liberator, or as a mere bandit?”
“Then you rule the damn Empire,” the General said, sulking.
“I am over eighty years old,” the monk said, testily. “I am far too old to sit on a throne.”
“Then who? Chin Yi? The boy has talent, and a kind of primitive shrewdness, but he simply does not have the experience to attract and hold the attention of large groups of people. I love him like my own son, but who would follow a boy with no formal education or skill at governance? With no military record?” he asked rhetorically as the lift car slid to a halt. The doors opened, and both men got out.
“Perhaps . . . they would?” the old monk smiled, amazed.
“Ai ya!” murmured the General.
Laid out in front of them, stretching on both sides of the door of the lift to the opened cargo hatch of Serenity, was row upon row of Imperial Guardsmen in full dress yellows. Their shiny black weapons were shouldered at parade rest. The regimental banner was prominently displayed every twenty feet or so, as was the old Imperial Household phoenix banner, although it was not the one that represented the Emperor. Instead it had in the lower right corner the insignia of the Crown Prince of the house.
“Oh, gods, what has that boy done now?” the General moaned.
“It appears that his previous success with the Imperial Guard has been improved upon,” observed Master Lei, a little nervously.
“Atten-SHUN!” some non-com called out. Every guardsman there snapped to attention.
A moment later a group of black-clad commandos marched in formation down the aisle between them until they halted a few feet ahead. General Lei stiffened and offered a salute, which was smartly returned. They were his men, a little more than half of the men he had landed with. But he had trained them himself, chosen them himself, and he was very proud of them. They had done exemplary under very difficult circumstances.
“General,” came a young female voice from inside the formation, “Heavenly Master. Would you come with me, please?” Inara Serra asked sweetly.
She was dressed in a formal blood red velvet gown of conservative – but attractive – cut, the kind of thing that was appropriate for a state dinner or a formal presentation to the court of a monarch. Her hair was done up in an elaborate structure of gold wire. Her make-up was thick but expertly applied. Her jewelry was tastefully showy. Standing there with her hands folded daintily in front of her, she looked stunning.
“What’s this all about?” muttered the General. “I thought we were here to celebrate?”
“You will . . . afterwards.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean to say that there will be a short ceremony first, and then an appropriate reception. Right now I am to escort you gentlemen to the stage.”
“We have a stage?” the General asked. As they came closer, he saw that they had dismantled the make-shift machine gun emplacement that had dominated Serenity’s cargo bay, and instead had erected a small platform (which looked to be made from cargo crates artfully covered with a Persian rug) at the hatch opening. Chin Yi was standing there, looking splendid in an Imperial Guard uniform absent insignia or rank. Next to him on the dais was a stunningly beautiful young Chinese girl that had to be the Nyan Nyan girl – herself a scion of the previous dynasty – looking ravishing in a dark emerald green silk dress likely borrowed from Inara and hastily re-tailored for the occasion.
“Heavenly Master,” Chin Yi said, bowing low. “General. Honored relatives. I would like to present to you Her Highness, Hue Hsu Ling. My intended bride,” he added, beaming nervously.
“What?” General Lei said, earning him an elbow in the ribs from Master Lei, who was returning the bow.
“I am deeply honored to make the acquaintance of such a notable member of such an illustrious House, your Highness,” Master Lei said humbly.
“They’re getting engaged?” General Lei said, confused. “Already? She . . . she isn’t pregnant, is she?”
“Note the ring on her finger, idiot, and try to show some respect,” Master Lei whispered harshly.
“Chin Yi proposed the moment he laid eyes on her,” Inara explained quietly. “Just as he said he would.”
“I’m . . . pleased to meet you, Princess,” General Lei said, hesitantly.
“Not half as much as I am to meet you, honored gentlemen,” she said, bowing deeply and formally. “I have heard so much about both of you. Chin Yi speaks of you with great regard.”
“So . . . your father was Hue . . . Du Fu? The last Hue Crown Prince?” Master Lei asked politely.
“Yes,” Nyan Nyan answered sadly. “He and my mother were both murdered by the Tyrant. I was . . . kept as a potential political asset.”
“And I hear that your swift and decisive action resulted in Shan Yu’s fall from power, and my own House’s rise to the Amber Phoenix Throne?”
“My role was a small one, I assure you. Your illustrious ancestor was the mastermind of our people’s redemption. I am just saddened that I was not around to witness the era of prosperity he and his progeny brought to the people of the Empire.”
“I’m not,” Chin Yi said, grinning. “If you had, then you’d be a little too old for me at this point.”
“A case could be made that she still is,” the General said, carefully, which earned him another elbow in his ribs from his uncle.
“So this is an engagement party, then?” Master Lei asked, looking around at all the troops. “Your guests seem pretty heavily armed for such a celebration.”
“Not . . . quite,” Chin Yi said, carefully. “This assembly has two purposes. One is to reintroduce Princess Hue back into Yuanese society,” he explained. “As she did play such an important role in our history, I thought she should get the recognition that she deserves.”
“Of course. And the second purpose was to announce your engagement?” concluded General Lei, displeasure becoming obvious.
“No, actually—” Chin Yi started to explain.
“His Highness has acted to legitimize Princess Hue’s long absence from court,” Inara interrupted. “To remove any doubt about her position as an authentic member of the Hue Imperial House.”
“She’s making a claim to the throne, then?” Master Lei said, surprised.
“The Mandate has turned,” Hsu Ling said decisively, before the General had a chance to speak.. “My House makes no further claims on the Amber Phoenix throne – though I do insist upon taking my place within the Court of the Emperor as a representative of my noble House.”
“Fat lotta good that’ll do you,” muttered the General under his breath.
“So by this announcement you are confirming . . . ?”
“That the Amber Phoenix Throne and the mandate of Heaven rightfully belong in the hands of the House of Lei,” she stated, loud enough for everyone in the cavernous hall to hear. The General let out a sigh of relief at that, realizing, at last, the importance of this display. Re-taking the throne would be difficult enough; to do so while there was an alternate claim on it would make things complicated. By having Hsu Ling publicly renounce her claim, it would improve the House of Lei’s.
“I am gratified that you have extended such graciousness to our House,” Master Lei said, formally.
“Yes, most gratified,” the General repeated, bowing a little more respectfully this time.
“It seemed silly of me to make a fuss, after all,” she said, looking at Johnny adoringly, “when I will be sitting on the throne anyway.”
“Well, yes, as to that,” the General grumbled. “We shall have to discuss—”
“There is little to discuss, Uncle,” Chin Yi said, warily. “The decision has been made. I have plighted my troth, and Princess Hue has been so gracious as to accept my proposal.”
“I do not object to this— to her Highness,” General Lei said, shaking his head. “But I think that this weighty matter should be discussed within our family before any final action is taken. While I can appreciate the young lady’s obvious grace and charm, and I know her pedigree is impeccable, still, the marriage of an Imperial noble is something that should be completely considered. I do not say ‘no’, but I cannot give my unequivocal blessing on this union when there may be more . . . appropriate mates for our nephew.”
“I said the decision has been made,” Chin Yi said, forcefully. “With all respect, General, this is my decision – our decision – and it is final. There is no woman in the ‘verse more perfectly suited to me than Nyan— than Hsu Ling.”
“Boy,” the General growled, “there is more at stake here than your . . . young love. We have acquired a fortune, and an army, and every tool we need to re-establish our House in its rightful place. Princess Hue is no doubt a very capable woman. But for the purposes of the House’s strategic placement, it is the wiser course of action that you remain single for the time being. At some point in the future, perhaps, we can see you wed. Perhaps even to her. But if we are to carry out our plans, then we must keep all options open,” he finished.
“I must disagree,” Chin Yi replied, his mouth in an unfamiliar frown. “Uncle, I have all the respect in the ‘verse for you. But you do not control my fate. Under Imperial tradition, the Crown Prince alone chooses his bride. Is that not true?”
“You haven’t been named Crown Prince,” General Lei said, a trace of scorn starting to infect his voice.
“Neither have you. Yet you had an opportunity to do so, once upon a time. You elected to lead our military, instead, and passed up the chance.”
“True,” conceded the military man. “But I have every bit as much legitimacy to make the claim as you do. And,” he added, a wolfish grin dawning on his face, “And I have the troops to back up my claim. As much as I respect the talents of your transport ship friends, they are mercenaries. They will not back yours.”
“No,” Chin Yi agreed, “Nor would I want them to. Nor do I need them to.” He looked up at the assembled guards. “Does any man here dispute my claim as Crown Prince?” he asked in a loud voice.
“No!” came a huge chorus of voices, as every last Imperial Guard joined in a cheer of “Lei Chin Yi! Lei Chin Yi!” The General was shocked to see most of his own men joining in jubilantly.
“This can be decided upon later,” the General said in a low voice.
“No, it shall be settled here and now,” Chin Yi said defiantly.
“Are you threatening me, boy? I may not be young any more—”
“General, a moment,” Inara said insistently. She led him by the elbow a few feet out of earshot, and spoke in a low voice. “General, you are missing a great opportunity, here, and I feel I should point that out. What has happened here in the last few days is the stuff of legend. The kind of myth that your people – the thousands on that luh suh station in the void, and your supporters elsewhere – need to transcend their defeat in the war. Not to mention these Guardsmen, who will need a capable leader. Johnny has quickly won their respect and loyalty, and this engagement seals it for them. In their eyes he has legitimacy. You know full well those bonds don’t come easily or cheaply. Embrace the situation.”
“I shall not be dictated to by a sapling upstart,” the General growled. “Not after what I have gone through – what I’ve led these men through – to achieve our goals!” he replied forcefully. “I fought the Alliance for years and saw millions of our people die. I resisted their hegemony with every fiber of my being, and after I was defeated I still held my people together. I have earned my place by blood and sweat, and not a few tears. If he thinks he can steal all of that away by usurping my authority—”
“He does not,” Inara assured, quickly, glancing around at the soldiers on all sides of her. “He is trying to build something here. Something you are unable to. He is young, and vital, and the people look up to him. When the tale of this quest gets out, he will be as a legendary hero. A hero your people need badly.”
“If he wants to fight me for control of the House, he will get it over my bloody corpse!” the General said threateningly. “If you thought to stage a coup by bringing me here—”
“That’s not what I meant, Uncle,” Johnny said, softly. “Captain Reynolds?”
Mal stepped on the dais, looking fresher and cleaner than any time General Lei had seen him. His browncoat had been well-brushed, as had his hair. He took a place between Nyan Nyan and Johnny and nodded to the General.
“What, you want a champion? Afraid to face me on your own?” the General demanded, his face getting red.
“Not at all,” Chin Yi explained. “I knew that you might put up some . . . resistance to my engagement. I knew of your choleric temperament. No doubt you had me in mind for a daughter of some powerful member of the Thousand Families, or other allies. And no doubt you’d try to talk me out of this if you had the opportunity. The House of Hue is an empty shell, and its only daughter has been trained as a courtesan. She has no men, no factories, no wealth to bring to the table. But she has wits, and she has strength, and I love her. I just figured I’d spare everyone the angst and the drama of a protracted discussion. The House of Lei has been divided for too long, and we have all suffered for it. Further division would reduce us to irrelevancy to our people – and I don’t think anyone wants that, under the circumstances. I was at a loss. Luckily, Captain Reynolds had the solution.”
“The Captain?” Master Lei asked, confused. “What can he do?”
“The captain of a ship under way can marry people,” reminded Chin Yi. “It isn’t the elegant temple wedding every young boy dreams of,” he said, wryly, “but it is legally binding, providing there are reliable witnesses. I believe,” he said, looking around the huge bay at the rows and rows of Imperial Guardsmen, “that we have a sufficiency of those.”
The General looked around for support, helpless. “You mean you intend to—”
“Get married. Here and now,” concluded Chin Yi. “No more equivocation.”
“But . . . but . . .”
“The wise man knows when he has been beaten,” reminded Master Lei, with a twinkle in his eye. “Shut up and give your blessing, nephew.”
A distortion next to the two old men appeared in the air, and seconds later the holographic image of the Emperor Lei Fong Wu appeared, in full formal Imperial regalia. There was an excited stir among the Guards, who were surprised at the appearance of their old, beloved Master.
“Yes, my boy, show an old man that his descendents are not complete idiots.”
“You have no say in this!” the General growled. “You are a machine!”
“Mayhap,” the image conceded. “But enough of your ancestor’s personality was programmed into me that I’m sure he would agree with my assessment. Besides, now that the ship is released to your control, I’m free to speak my artificial mind. Pray give me leave to do so as a token of filial respect.
“The young lady was correct: you have an opportunity here to heal the rift within our House and not only save it from extinction, but to see it prosper. That was my entire intention when I hid this treasure in the first place. It was to provide for a House fallen on hard times, or in dire straights. But I rigged the game to force you to prove yourselves worthy, and you have.
“I chose Hsu Ling to help me end the Tyrant’s rule for a reason. She was a woman of great strength and conviction, wit and cunning. Such a woman, indeed, that I could not consign her to the fate of an arranged marriage to a courtier, forced to live out her life as the shamed remnant of a lapsed dynasty. So I gave her a second chance and sent her into the future, where perhaps she could find a better life for herself. I took a terrible chance doing so. Had Shan Yu found her first, he would have made her pay dearly for her betrayal.”
“I’m sure she’s a fine girl,” the General conceded. “But this is a very important political matter!”
“No, it is a very important family matter,” the image disagreed. “Our House is currently weak. Not our political position – that doesn’t matter. What matters is that our House needs good, strong blood to prosper, and this young lady has just the fire we need to see further generations have the wherewithal to prosper. They need not sit on a throne to do so. I would rather see a hundred grandchildren playing in the mud of a rough frontier world than a few pitiful genetic relics whose backsides happened to sit on the throne. I did not give you this legacy so that you could be Emperors; I gave it to you so that the family would persist.”
“Besides, what would Madame Lei say about the matter?” Inara asked, slyly. The mention of Madame Lei provoked an immediate, startled reaction. The General’s wife had a profound influence on his life, and he knew that raising a fuss about the marriage would not maintain her respect for him. It took a few moments of internal struggle to get control of himself. Finally he sighed with resignation, and looked sheepishly up at beautiful princess in front of him.
“Welcome to the family,” he said, grudgingly.
A cheer went up from assembled men, and after order had been restored the impromptu wedding was hastily arranged.
Kaylee served as flower girl, bridesmaid, and photographer, carrying a bouquet of silk flowers from Inara’s private stash before grabbing her capture and recording the event for posterity. She had dug out the fanciest dress she had, the frilly pink-and-white number Mal had bought her on Persephone, and Inara had helped with her hair. She cried tears of joy (and, perhaps, a little jealousy) the entire time.
Inara served as Maid of Honor.
Master Lei gave away the bride, and was quite pleased to do so.
Chin Yi patched things up with the General by asking him to stand as best man.
River played Mendelssohn’s Wedding March on her harmonica, her tears dripping down and gumming the notes. She was still groggy from her sedation, but when she learned what was happening she insisted. If she hit a sour note, no one mentioned it, especially not Rel Fexive, who stood protectively behind her and hung on her every mad word.
Mal performed the ceremony in curt, direct fashion. He had actually performed three previous weddings (one sober) between colonists that Serenity had ferried to new worlds, so he was familiar with the ceremony. He looked as proud as if Johnny was his own son.
Wash chose to stand between the Imperial commando’s honor guard and the Imperial Guard, in his dark blue Imperial Aerospace Force flight suit, complete with mirrored sunglasses. If there was more cocky swagger in his step than normal, no one mentioned it. Publicly.
The ceremony itself was the essence of frontier ritual, over as quick and painlessly as a gunshot. After Mal pronounced them man and wife, and Johnny planted an enviably long and intimate kiss on his bride – which portended a long, lusty marriage, Master Lei predicted – everybody hugged everyone else, Kaylee most of all.
“I just wish Simon an’ Zoe an’ Book were here to see this,” she said tearfully.
“Will there be a public consummation now, as per tradition?” River asked.
“Oh, yeah, and Jayne,” added Kaylee.
“Where are they? Are they lost?” Inara asked.
“Probably just got a might turned around,” Mal decided. “Big ship, y’know. Lots of systems off-line, even with the power on.”
“Where’s that champagne I ordered?” the General bellowed, the nature of the ceremony diminishing any political pangs he felt at being left out of the decision making process.
“I get to kiss the bride next!” Wash said, beaming. “I love weddings,” he confessed to Kaylee.
“Yeah, me too,” she said, more tears streaking her face.
“As do I,” came a familiar deep voice from behind her. “Though I admit I get a might irritated when I am not invited,” Book said cheerfully.
Kaylee immediately mobbed him with a tearful embrace. “Shepherd! When did you get here?”
“Lift door opened right about ‘do you take this woman’, which gave me pause as to just where I might be,” he confessed. “I expected maybe a drunken party, to celebrate the apparent victory. I did not expect a wedding, however. Well delivered, though, Captain.”
“Thanks, Shepherd,” Mal said with an easy grin. “It ain’t too bad, long as you ain’t sayin’ the words your ownself.”
“What, are you opposed to matrimony?” he asked, knowingly.
“Not for other folks, no,” he said. “Me, though? Take a right special lady for me to give up my bachelor status.”
“And would such a lady be handy?” Book asked quietly.
“Remains to be seen, Shepherd,” Mal answered, just as quietly. “Now that I’m a man o’ means, and all.”
“Do tell,” Book prompted, one eyebrow cocked.
“Johnny came through on his payoff. Forty four.”
“Forty four thousand? Respectable,” Book said raising his eyebrows.
“Nope. Add three more zeroes. In platinum, no less.”
“Forty four million. I . . . see. That’s a gracious plenty. Couldn’t talk you into a contribution to the Old Shepherd’s Retirement Fund, could I?”
“Now, Shepherd Book,” Mal chided good-naturedly, as he was handed a bottle. “I wouldn’t feel right leading you into all that temptation.”
“I’ve done been delivered from evil once already today,” Book said. “I might be pressing my luck. Shan Yu is dead.”
“Shan Yu?” Mal asked, eyebrows raised. “You sure about that, Preacher?”
“Yes. He fell victim to his own evil, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, and you didn’t have anything to do with it,” the captain said, shaking his head in disbelief.
“I actually counseled him away from a life apart from the Lord. He chose the Devil instead.”
“I . . . see. Mind if I make an announcement to that effect? Lotta folk here would be happy to hear the old bastard has shuffled off his coil.”
“Let’s dwell on happier things, right now. I’ll make an announcement later -- perhaps right after I see the medic. I’ve been without adequate pain medication for hours. And the pain of my ordeal is, unfortunately, more than spiritual.”
“You want me to call for help?” Mal asked, concerned.
“I’m over the worst of the damage, I believe. Our young doctor is quite accomplished at such things. Right now I just . . . hurt.” He looked around curiously. “Where is the good doctor? And Jayne?”
“They and Zoe went lookin’ for you when you went walkabout,” Mal explained. “They’re still chasing around the aft sections, tracking you. But not real successfully.”
“I’m genuinely sorry I caused them such anxiety. Just had . . . a sermon to preach.”
“Oh, exercise’d do ‘em good,” Mal dismissed. “Shame they’re missing the party, though.”
River had started playing lively dance tunes, a continuous medley of folk songs from Sinic and Anglic sources, and the wine that the General had ordered finally showed up, along with some other choice comestibles from the ship’s VIP kitchens.
“Gifts!” Johnny finally called out, handing his glass to Campbell. He leapt up on the platform and one of his bodyguards handed him a bag, from which he began to withdraw the prizes he had looted from the vaults.
“First, to Kaylee, my shoe-shopping nemeses and best gorram engineer in the whole gorram galaxy,” he said, withdrawing a small box from the bag. He opened it to reveal a beautiful amber pendant on a gold chain. Kaylee accepted it with much blushing and tears, and insisted on wearing it at once.
“Next, to Zoe who isn’t here,” he said. “Accepting the gift for her is Wash.” The pilot scrambled up on stage and smiled and waved, before accepting the gorgeous gold-plated revolver Johnny had selected for her. “While you’re here,” he added, “here’s yours, too!” and he handed him a beautiful jade dinosaur – a brachiosaur, Wash noted. The pilot hugged him tearfully, and accepted his salute.
“Now to Shepherd Book I give this: the crucifix worn by St. Hsiang on his famous humanitarian march across the plains of Central Asia,” he said, handing the large gold cross to the preacher. It was obvious that he was deeply touched: St. Hsiang had led the persecuted Christian minority in Great China overland through some of the most desolate landscape on Earth-That-Was to the Euroimperial enclave in India during WWIII. It had been a grim march, with thousands dying en route, but in the end his flock had made it to safety. He was the patron saint of endurance and perseverance.
“To Inara Serra,” he said, grinning widely, “the Beauty of the Stars, I give this magnificent emerald necklace.” He held it up to appreciative nods of approval. Inara tried it on that moment, and was clearly pleased with it.
“To River Tam and her brother, I give these,” he said, opening up his hand to display a gold-chased lacquered box that contained a superb set of calligraphy brushes, a gold-plated ink pot, and a stack of very fine silk paper. “You kids share,” he added. River was very excited by the gift, and after groggily relating the development of the Chinese pictographic writing system from the divinations of sheep’s scapulas in ancient China, she hugged and kissed Johnny appreciatively.
“And to Malcolm Reynolds, Serenity’s captain and rogue extraordinare, I give this,” he said, producing a beautiful antique sextant with matching spyglass, gold plated, which rested in a highly polished rosewood box. “May you always stay on course,” Johnny pronounced. Mal was overcome by gratitude, and managed a bear hug on the boy.
The gifts continued, with Master Lei receiving a series of thin jade plates inscribed with the earliest known copy of the Tao Te Ching, Colonel Campbell receiving an Order of the Imperial Star commendation (which came with a knighthood) for service to the Empire, and the commandos all receiving small but valuable gifts.
“And, lastly, to my Uncle, the General,” he said, taking out the last box in the bag. “I searched and searched for the perfect gift, and in all of my ancestor’s trove I found but one that I considered worthy.” He called the General up on the stage, and with great solemnity presented him with an additional star to pin to his lapel. “I henceforth name my uncle the Commander of All Imperial Forces,” he proclaimed, to wild cheers. The old man looked overcome.
After the ceremony started winding down (and the amount of liquor available started to dramatically recede) Inara sought out Nyan Nyan, and pulled her over to the side of the festivities. She wasted no time in sweeping her into an embrace.
“Oh, Mei mei, I’m so happy for you,” she declared.
“Thank you so much . . . for arranging all of this,” Nyan Nyan said, tears streaking her make-up. “In one hour you have repaired the rift in a family, redeemed the place and honor of my House, given hope to all of these people, and helped me start my own family. Inara Serra, you are some Companion!”
Inara blushed a bit under the praise. “I’m just trying to save the ‘verse, is all,” she demurred. “This was a good start, but you remember the rest of the plan?”
“Every step,” assured the princess in a low voice. “I have your notes.”
“Good,” Inara said, nodding. “I have a wedding gift for you.”
“Inara! That you should speak of gifts when you have given me the gown I got married in, is–”
“Shh, this is important, Mei mei. Here, take this,” she said, holding out her hand. Nyan Nyan took the gift and stared at it quizzically. It was a small leather bag, old and faded. Gingerly she opened it, and a red rubber ball and a handful of child’s jacks spilled out. She looked at Inara, intrigued.
“They were yours?”
“No,” Inara said, a sad smile on her face. She explained about her trip to the petrified playground on Hecate, and the swing set, and the frozen birds, and nine-year-old Elaine whose life was cut too short. “Give them to your little girl, and play them with her. For all the little girls who don’t make it to nine, or passed. Tell her the story of Hecate, and why life is so precious even when it seems so cheap. Tell her, and give her and every little girl you can the hope she needs to grow up strong and smart and healthy.”
There were tears in both women’s eyes, and they hugged each other a long time, as the party ran around them. They only pulled out of their embrace when the cheer rang out when it was announced that the Hammer Group’s frigate was pulling slowly out of orbit, after docking both of its shuttles.
“Here’s to their backside!” Wash declared from the stage, slurring his words just a bit. “Let’s hope we never see ‘em again!”
Wednesday, June 14, 2006 11:15 AM
Wednesday, June 14, 2006 1:26 PM
Thursday, June 15, 2006 8:29 AM
Friday, June 16, 2006 10:27 AM
Friday, June 23, 2006 10:54 AM
Sunday, June 25, 2006 4:54 PM
Tuesday, December 12, 2006 10:16 AM
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