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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
"With everything falling neatly into place Inara flirts briefly with second thoughts. River tries to warn Mal as he gets caught up in the preparations for war."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2021 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: No specific pairing.
STATUS: New. SEQUEL to "CHAMELEON".
ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where.
SUMMARY: "With everything falling neatly into place Inara flirts
briefly with second thoughts. River tries to warn Mal as he gets
caught up in the preparations for war."
The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly'
are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.
No infringement of copyright is intended.
A "Firefly" story
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
Inara Serra could not manipulate or access the Captain's mind. In fact she could get nowhere near it. The light brushes she had managed when they were both on Serenity were as distant now as any dream. Or nightmare. At times she thought she detected something but it was so illusive and ephemeral that it defied description. Not that it mattered. She had Davy and wherever Davy went his protective brother was sure to follow. On some level she was impressed that Mal was able to block her so efficiently but some instinct sensed it was not something he realised he was doing. Thinking about how that was even possible was a distraction she could not afford to dwell on. Her sensors were blinking, confirming the craft approaching on an intercept vector. She resisted the temptation to run. Even now after all the years she had spent in service to the cause they still made her feel uncomfortable. Vulnerable. Exposed to the dark side of their nature. Wondering just how she had reached that point of no return.
Pushing down an instinctive feeling of repugnance she calmed herself down and embraced the training instilled in her. By the time the ship reached her she was ready, the sleek Alliance vessel in direct contrast to their huge Capital Ships. She did not so much dock with them as allow herself to be swallowed inside the belly of the beast. As she relinquished control of her vessel it was as if she did the same with her mind and body. Their creature. The servant to their needs only they needed so little. Beyond total obedience there was nothing but the void. She had seen it. Touched it. Lived once in fear of it. Now it owned her and in the odd spaces between her imprinted training and conditioning she could feel and sense the inflexible walls of a prison that wore her flesh and clothed her mind. Only in acquiessence was there a kind of peace. Inara told herself it was not surrender but survival for did they not embrace the same goal? She wanted passionately for all war to cease. To achieve harmony over chaos. Structure over anarchy. They gave her that control almost from birth. Only occasionally did the cost prick her as if it was a dim echo of a conscience that had been bought and sold too cheaply.
The first man stared at her for long moments in silence. His slim body lacking the free flow animation of a curious mind. His blue gloved hands folded serenely in front of him, his eyes calm but devoid of emotion. It both calmed and unsettled her. He seemed to wait for her to find her equilibrium before speaking. She saw it as a kindness. He was simply striving for efficiency. "They are all here?"
Even as she nodded it seemed incongruous to Inara. Why had the Independents put all their eggs in one basket? "Yes."
"It is hard to be accurate but a couple of thousand at least."
"70. Some are hardly space worthy, it's a wonder they made the journey."
The subtle change of expression on his face stopped her from further comment. Idle chatter or speculation irritated them and she did not want to be blessed with any behavioural correction. Resisting the urge to shudder she waited. The second male stepped forward, as like to the first as to seem related but they were not. It was not simply their build that was so alike but the way they looked, moved and acted. As if all the humanity had been sucked out of them and these pale twisted clones spat out in an obscure immitation of life. Inara kept her thoughts as calm and blank as possible for they read her too well. Even so the first speaker's eyes shimmered a little, the glossy black surface reflecting angles of light that warned her of the intelligence lurking and honed to razor sharpness. "You have doubts."
"About them not us."
"Inara Serra, do not confuse the two."
A flash of fear began to build then was quashed. Not by her mind but theirs. There could be no dissention. No dividing of wills.
"When do they plan to move?"
She shook her head. "That has not been decided. They are meeting and discussing tactics."
The two men both stared at her for a moment then the first one spoke again. "Our forces will be here soon."
The second one seemed to continue the first one's train of thought. "We must stop them while we have them all in one place."
"Before they can pollute the other planets with the seeds of rebellion." The first one paused as if gathering his thoughts. "How long before our ships arrive?"
"Five, maybe six hours."
A pause followed then the second male inclined his head slightly. "You have done well."
They began to turn away when Inara dared to ask a question that kept surfacing in her mind. "Do we have to anihilate them?"
They turned back to face her. Surprised she had spoken. "They resist us." Stated the first one calmly as if it was all she needed to know.
"We have the technology to turn them to our cause."
The second one gazed at her unblinking for a moment. Inara could feel the sweat forming in the palms of her hands. Was apalled at her own foolishness in suggesting such a thing. "The truth as you perceive it is flawed. Those who oppose us would destroy us. It would be niave to think we could re-educate them."
She blinked. Understanding burning a fleeting trail through her mind as she remembered. Of course. The Battle of Serenity. The remnant of the browncoats taken into custody at the surrender. Separated. Interned. Questioned. And tested. Some had died under the intensity of the interrogation. Some they managed to mould, minds made malleable by stress and manipulation had become the new clay of the Alliance. Others resisted and were broken while one or two slipped through the net with scars that would never heal but with a semblance of resistance that they could not breach. Malcolm Reynolds was one such man. The thought made her inwardly shudder but it also made her determined not to feel sympathy for him or his cause.
"It is flawed." The first one repeated softly. Eyes fixed on hers. "As you are flawed."
Her heart almost stalled. Fear tracing rapid steps to her heart as she held her breath in disbelief. "It is the price of being human. A quirk of nature."
The second one shook his head in one single slow movement, as if touched by a trace of sorrow. "No. It is the price of imperfection."
She did not like where this conversation was going. How did it suddenly become an evaluation of her own loyalty? Had she not done all she was asked of her and more? The first one watched her closely, sifting through her reaction. Knowing the fashion of her thoughts. "You were weak," He said. His cold eyes staring at her like dead things. "We made you strong. Gifted. Worthy."
Inara inclined her head graciously. "And I am grateful."
"Grateful?" Said the second one in a voice devoid of all inflection. As if the word had no place in any dictionary they knew.
"We will crush this rebellion before it can start." She stated firmly. No more questions in her mind.
They saw her commitment. Approved her new truth and were reassured. Inara felt as if she had dodged a bullet which was surely absurd. These were allies. All of them serving in a cause that would unite the 'verse forever. No more wars. No more inequality. Was the price so very hard to pay? To clense the 'verse of any who opposed them? Any who would threaten the harmony and structure they would impose for the good of all? Only united and victorious would the 'verse know true peace. It was why she had supported Unification but it was not the only reason. Why then did she feel as if she were approaching a kind of watershed for the human race? What was it that had changed? Truth or lies? For all her training Inara Serra was no longer so sure she could tell the difference and that frightened her most of all.
Sheriff Martin Bowman watched the boy eat in silence. His story had both disturbed and shaken the Sheriff. Cassie Mary Bowman asked no questions, her calm demeanour rooting him in the Here and Now and giving him space to breathe, to think. To absorb all that Tyrone Garvin had told him. The man was young, mid-twenties at most, with a well muscled but lean frame. But not even muscle could hide the abuse done to his body. The scars still showed even through the ripping bite marks of the Alliance dogs. The light fuzz on his face was growing into a beard. The Sheriff thought he would shave it off when he had the chance to bathe and clean up. It was something of a surprise when the young man had emerged clean and dressed and sporting the trimmed beard as if a measure of his defiance. His next thought sobered him some as he realised the boy was trying to mask his features. He was a wanted man now and if he was recognised the Alliance would mow him down without a second thought, along with anyone who happened to be with him.
"It's an incredible story." Said the Sheriff slowly.
The young man sat carefully and systematically demolished everything on his plate, hardly noticing when Mary piled on a second helping. "Yeah but it's true. That's the part that kicks ya in the ass." Ty flushed when he realised what he had said. "Sorry, ma'am, forgettin' my manners."
She waved it off and smiled at him. Pleased to see him tucking into his second plateful of stew and mashed potatoes. Her eldest boy's shirt hung on the man's frame. It should have fitted tight. As if she could address the lack Mary pushed a fresh bowl of mashed potato towards him. The open invitation to keep filling his plate was clear. He grinned at her, mopping up the last of his stew with a slice of bread. "Don't reckon I can eat another thing, ma'am. I'm so stuffed I'm liable to pop before an Alliance bullet can find me."
Her smile vanished and he was immediately sorry. The Sheriff ignored his words and leaned forward on his elbows. Mary whisked the plates from the table and disappeared quietly into the kitchen to wash up. "You say your brother in law betrayed you?"
Ty nodded, the bitterness in his eyes needing no interpretation. "Yeah. Never did like him even when Becky first fell for the *tamade hundan*. Could never put my gorram finger on what was wrong. Not that anyone would ever be good enough for Becky but he just riled me up all sorts of ways that were right distracting though on the face of it he was shiny enough. Even seemed to share our views on the war an' such. Never knew a scorpion had crept into our nest."
"I take it your sister didn't suspect?"
He shook his head. "*Bu qu*. She damn near thought the sun rose an' set for him. Still does. Could never say a word against him that she didn't defend with her every breath." He paused and looked dazed by that fact. "Huh, guess that's what love can do?"
"Love is blind so they say," Agreed the Sheriff. "But it don't have to be deaf and stupid too."
Tyrone shook himself out of his gloomy thoughts and looked him in the eye. "We gotta warn 'em, Sheriff. Before the ruttin' Alliance slaughter every last one of 'em."
Gorrammit if he wasn't having waking visions now. Mal blinked and tried to hide the surprise from showing on his face though River's presence skimming his mind was all kinds of comforting as well. He had to be careful, too many sharp eyes were fixed on him. Wasn't only the hill folk who would think she was a witch if they found out. "First off we need to count our strengths." He said. "How many of you had any kind of rank in the war that was?"
A thin forest of hands rose before him. He nodded and pointed to one side. "Them as were in charge of ordnance best stand over there." He watched as half a dozen men did just that. "An' how many worked on air co-op?" Fewer this time, just two, stepped forward. Air co-operation covered the communications between the ships and the troops on the ground as well as that between command and ground forces. Specialty by specialty Mal sifted through them all so he could fit each man to his strengths then began delagating those who had held rank before into local commanders to bring a semblance of order to their ragged little army. Here on Shadow they looked many but compared to the might of the Alliance they were pitifully few. Mal intended that every last one of them would count.
*Can't rely on outcomes*
He sucked in a breath at River's gently chiding thoughts ringing in his head like the solemn toll of a bell, masking his reaction with more words of wisdom while his mind reached for her. Aching for that unique connection. He was frowning, all concentration now. *River, this ain't a good time 'xin gan'.*
*Love you, ai ren*
*Love you too, bao bei, but I'm in the middle of sortin' out my troops, dong ma?*
*Then I'm just in time*
Mal blinked wondering what the good gorram she meant by that. The men straightened, waiting on his every word. It was kind of burdensome taking on the mantle prepared for him. He wished this cup had not passed to him but was damned if he would not do his part now that he had accepted it. His eyes raked over the row upon row of waiting men. "Any of you not fought in the war that was?"
It was not a trick question. Although most of the men were around his own age or older some of those faces were awfully young. Not yet ready for shaving but eager and old enough to go to war and fight. Reminded him too much of Davy. Would likely die before their first shave. Made him all kinds of knotted up inside but he couldn't show it. They needed him to be strong and that was what he would be. He carefully avoided his brother's eye. One or two hands rose in the air but not nearly enough to account for the baby soldiers staring back at him. He grunted softly. A huff almost. Well. That was hardly a surprise. Would have lied about his age too if it had been like to bar him from going to war. Sold on the right of it no one had been more passionate about the Independent cause. Was it really six long years since the surrender?
"Okay then 'cause we'll be going through the basics as well as brushin' up on the drill." He broke off at the low stirring of moans and let his brows draw down in a dark line of disapproval. "Professional soldiers don't complain nor murmur against orders, *dong ma*? Any of you can't take the discipline of preparin' for battle ain't got no place here. I'll not be thinkin' less of you if you fall out now. No shame in it."
A thick heavy silence descended. No one fell out, the lines stayed firm and if anything that sea of eyes was even more focused. It was disconcerting how familiar many of those faces seemed. Echoes of them as had died. He could feel his brother's eyes on him but dared not turn his head. To lose his concentration.
*Can't stay here, ai ren*
Her thought surprised him. *Weishenme*?"
*Too many eggs in one basket, liable to break*
*We ain't gonna break, River*
*No, but you don't have to break to be broken*
*You got something to explain, xin gan, don't be draggin' it out*
*They know you're here*
His heart missed a beat, his concentration faltering. River quickly prodded his mind hard causing him to wince before he could stop himself.
Her will drove him as she shored up his mental block. The things she had begun teaching him back on Serenity now taking on a whole 'verse of new meaning.
*Survival* She said gently but firmly. *If the King falls the game is over.* River paused, her thoughts clothing and calming his, such love percolating through their connection that he felt stunned with the joy of her. His emotions too deep for words. *In the end we're all pawns*
He wanted to ask her what the *diyu* she meant but Davy was talking rapidly now, Pepper bringing him up to speed on the number of ships they had and which ones were combat ready. Those that would be too old, too slow or too poorly maintained to take into battle would be canabalised to keep the others running. Their remaining fuel would be siphoned off and used to extend the run of the other ships. Mal could feel it all starting to come together. Though the men were impatient they saw the wisdom of his need to do this by the numbers. An army that was ill prepared would fall at the first hurdle and deservedly so. No room for sloppy heroics. Ill conceived or not they could only give it their best shot with planning. While he concentrated on getting the men licked into shape for battle he needed to be finding ways of gathering intelligence. He trusted River without question but he could hardly use her urgings to influence this fledgling army. Would like as not freak them out if they knew he was speaking to her now.
To Mal's surprise Davy raised his hand.
"What you know about intelligence?"
Some of the men chuckled reminding Mal that this was an open forum. "More than you, *da ge*."
"*Qu*. Found you didn't I?"
"I wasn't hidin'."
"No, but you were in the Black."
*Should'a stayed there* he thought but it was way too late for such thinking. Then River's thoughts touched his and a shiver of foreknowledge drew bright sparks of intuition into the thread of his reasoning. A firm belief forming that time was of the essence. "While this is a novel place to plan our risin' I'm thinkin' we need to be elsewhere."
Startled faces stared at him as if he were *shenjingbing*. Pepper Rawlings could not stop the frown on his face creeping into his voice. "Too late for movin', *shifu*."
Mal shook his head. "Ain't safe, Pepper."
Davy gave him a hard look. "What the ruttin' *diyu* are you talkin' about, Mal? We're all here, where else would we go?"
"That's my point." Mal's mouth snapped closed, his eyes hardening as he tried to impress on them just how serious he was. "How many ships we got can fly?"
"All of 'em," Said Richard Morgan, a scarred and battle hardened veteran from the Valley.
"Not talkin' about lift off," Said Mal. "I mean them as can fly and carry men, go right into battle an' make it out the other end."
Morgan pursed his lips tightly, trying to fathom out what had just changed. The Malcolm Reynolds they had first feted had vanished and in his stead stood this determined and grim man. "Near on 50, why?"
"Best we fill 'em an' take this circus elsewhere. *Mashang*"
"Now Mal there's no call to do that, 'sides it's late to be thinkin' of movin'. We got all we need right here, why go to the upheaval of lookin' for another place to ready an' train our men? Don't make sense."
"Davy, I got me a gut feelin' a mile wide tellin' me this is all wrong. Either you all listen to me or get yourself someone that'll never raise his voice or question the status quo, *dong ma*? Can't run this shindig if folks don't listen."
"To what?" Said Lenny Goss, his eyes wide with feigned shock. "If you've got cold feet don't go blamin' your gut feelin'..."
Davy rounded on Lenny, eyes sparking in a rare show of anger. "*Bizui*! I won't be hearin' you speak to my brother like that. If Mal says we move we move."
"But Davy," Said Pepper carefully, trying to placate the one brother while not antagonising the other. If they weren't careful this could all fall apart at the seams before they even got near to any gorram Alliance troops. "Move where? What say we set up guards an' lookouts? A little extra caution can't hurt but tryin' to move everybody onto some other planet at this late stage would just tell anyone watchin' that somethin' big was happenin'. Would give the game away more than stayin' put."
All eyes stared at Mal. He bit back the urge to swear and rant against 18 generations of their forbears. He knew he would be wasting his gorram breath and truth to tell they did have a point. *They won't listen, xin gan*
He could feel her sadness even as she tried one last time to warn him. *The foolish and the arrogant never do. Clock's ticking, less than five hours Mal*
*How you know so gorram much?*
He felt her smile irradiate his mind. As far away from her as he was, as hip deep in *goushi*, it warmed his heart and gave him a measure of peace in the midst of the coming whirlwind. *I'm a genius, ai ren. Didn't you know?*
Mal tried one last time. For River. For Davy. For every gorram one of them. "We have to leave this rock an' I'm thinkin' sooner rather than later."
Even before he had finished speaking a sudden vibrant thrust of will took hold of Davy's mind and demanded he stay put. Whatever argument Mal employed would not have the ability to sway him. Not realising the notion was not his own Davy shook his head as he answered his brother, shooting a reassuring look to the soldiers hanging on their every word. Striving to inject calm and take the urgency out of Mal's words. "We'll leave soon enough, *xiongdi*. Not one of us don't understand your impatience to be attackin' those gorram *wangba dans* but let's sharpen our troops first. Then in a few days time we can think on movin' out."
That wasn't what Mal had meant and they both knew it. He tried to fathom his brother's sea change. In the space of a heartbeat he had fallen back from supporting him to staying where they were and he couldn't for the life of him see why. Coming to Shadow had been a mistake and not just because of what he and Davy had lost to the war but because of what they now stood to sacrifice. River had fallen silent in his mind, but her emotion lapped his senses with sadness. He felt as if the cold dead hands of destiny were reaching for him and there was not a gorram thing either of them could do about it. *River?*
Her hushed mind stroked his disturbed one.
*Why did Davy change his ruttin' mind?*
*Too many faces in the lookin' glass, ai ren*
He thought about that, didn't understand her meaning. He knew they were waiting for some argument from him. Instead he gave a small wan smile as if he were too weary to fight them. "Okay, we stay put for now but I want the spaceworthy ships prepped ready to take off at a moment's notice, *dong ma*? If somethin' bad happens I want our people able to cut an' run 'til the danger's over an' we can regroup."
Everyone agreed. Mal then set about splitting the men into crews with a field officer in nominal charge of each boat.
Turner Watts raised a hand. "*Shifu*, if that happens where are we supposed to meet up?*"
It was a good question. He liked the fact the man was thinking ahead. His answer was worse than the ghost of Christmas past. "Hera."
"Mal," Said Davy in a voice that sounded pained. "Can't be goin' to Hera."
"Yes we can. What less likely place could the gorram Alliance hope to find us?"
For a moment everyone fell silent then Slim Redding said what most of them were secretly thinking. "An' what if all we do on Hera is tempt fate?"
Malcolm Reynolds' eyes glinted as he looked slowly at the faces turned to him in anguish and worry. None of them wanting to revisit the scene of their greatest and bloodiest defeat. The smile that spread over his tired face was one that promised death to the enemy with not an inch of compromise. "Then we tempt it right back. Like the Phoenix," He said, raising his beringed hand so all could see it. "From the ashes of our defeat people we *will* rise again!"
Hearts lifted at the words, resolve steeling at his stolid commitment. Every tongue took up the brief chant until the clamour of it gladdened his heart and helped push back the feeling that every last one of them was damned.
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *xin gan/ai ren* = sweetheart *dong ma* = understand *diyu* = hell *weishenme* = why
*da ge* = big brother *qu* = yes (lit. go) *shenjingbing* = crazy
*shifu* = sir *mashang* = on the double/quickly/right away/immediately *xiongdi* = brother
*goushi* = crap/dog shit *bizui* = be quiet/shut up *wangba dans* = bastards
Sunday, May 30, 2004 11:33 AM
Sunday, May 30, 2004 10:31 PM
Tuesday, June 1, 2004 6:13 AM
Wednesday, June 2, 2004 3:12 AM
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