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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Continuing Mal's and Zoe's backstory and how it relates to their relationship now, and the ongoing Blue Sun robbery.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 3107 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Blue Sun Job, Part 6: More Life That Was
Sequel to the Truthsome series (link is to part 1)Blue Sun Job, Part 1: Plans and SchemesBlue Sun Job, Part 2: Into the Lion’s DenBlue Sun Job, Part 3: Going SmoothBlue Sun Job, Part 4: Return to the CoreBlue Sun Job, Part 5: Life That Was
More Life That Was... five years earlier...
There’d never been any discussion on the matter. Not then. Not later. Not ever. They walked out of the Alliance prison on Beta side-by-side. It was the moment they could have shaken hands and went their separate ways. Instead they turned a corner in unison and continued on together then and ever. Even the times they were apart or off in different directions for a spell, there was no questioning that it was temporary and the other would step back into place at any time. He hadn’t led and she hadn’t followed. They’d gone on their path together.
They walked with no particular destination. Despite over two years on this world they knew almost nothing about it or the city they were in; didn’t know which way they ought to head. One direction was as good as another as long as it was away from that gorram place. Just being out in the open and free created an odd and novel sensation, both good and bad, with unexpected wariness and unease even as they reveled in the sunlight and open air. Once well clear of the prison and the guards, Mal pulled the prison commandant’s wallet out and looked through it. Zoe stared at him in surprise.
“I can’t believe you did that,” she said.
“Seemed like a good notion at the time,” he answered mildly. He pulled out the money, handed half to her and pocketed the rest. Studying the commandant’s ident card, he took out the shiny new Alliance ident card he’d just been given--rather, thrust into his hand with a ‘damn you, take it’--and held them side by side. He tilted them toward Zoe, showing her the comparison. “We’ve been branded,” he said with a hint of amusement.
“Didn’t expect no different, did you?” she countered.
He dropped the commandant’s ident and wallet down a sewer grate. “Nope. War over or not, we’re enemy soldiers behind the lines. Don’t expect no quarter from the sumbitches.”
Zoe shuffled through the sheets of papers and regulations they’d been given. “I want to read this all through--find out what it is we’re dealing with.”
Mal had favored dropping that 狗屎 down the sewer grate, too, but Zoe was right. They had to deal with the way it was, like it or not. Best to have as much intel as they could on the situation.
They came to a corner that opened onto a boulevard different from the industrial-looking area in which the prison sat. Shops and hotels lined the broad street. Sounds of children’s laughter rose lightly on the breeze from a park across the way. Mal and Zoe exchanged a bleak look. Now that was surely the strangest sound in the ‘verse. When last had he heard such a thing? Leastwise when it didn’t end punctuated by gunfire or screaming? Swallowing hard, Mal glanced at Zoe again. She was off cogitating in some deep, black place.
“Hey,” Mal said, shaking her shoulder. “Let’s go.”
“Don’t know. Just somewhere. Somewhere else.” A Fed police patrol was eyeing them.
“Let’s find some place where we can get a room--with room service--real food,” Zoe said, stepping off down the sidewalk toward a tall hotel about half a block away. “And I want a long, hot bath,” she added.
“Sure. But later.” Mal nudged her toward the door of a saloon by them. They went in, paranoid as could be, noticing how many eyes turned to stare at them in their browncoat uniforms. Hearing the whispered comments. No one made any moves toward them, though. Too civilized, Mal reckoned. Not like to be any good, old-fashioned barroom brawls in this controlled, contained Alliance world.
Choosing a table in a far corner, Mal and Zoe positioned themselves to face the room.
“I think I’d be happier if we’d a snuck in the back door,” Mal commented.
“And tossed a few grenades in first,” Zoe added in a low whisper.
Mal chuckled menacingly. He reached for the sheath of papers they’d been given at the prison. “Well, let’s see what being proud, happy citizens of the Alliance means,” he said.
“Citizens of the Alliance?” Zoe asked, hunting through the papers for an answer.
Mal shook his head. “Not rightly sure. Ain’t something I particular aspire to no how.” He paused, glancing around at the other bar patrons. “And is it ‘citizen’, ‘subject’, or ‘slave’?”
“Best we not get to talking politics in here,” Zoe said, low. She looked around. “Or anywhere on this gorram rock.”
Over their first round of drinks they studied the paperwork that defined their lives as losers to Alliance might. Regulations, requirements, restrictions... The list of work they could take was short. The list of jobs forbidden them was long. There were strict curfews and countless places they weren’t permitted to go. Mal glanced around the bar--this might be in one of the forbidden areas, hard to tell. The lingo was pretty damned lawyerly and convoluted at times. Like as not they meant it to be unclear, give the bastards latitude in stomping on them if they chose.
Zoe pushed the papers away and rubbed her temples. “I’m gonna get another round,” she said, standing. She crossed to the bar while Mal reread the part about having to show the gorram ident cards on demand.
“You got a lot of nerve,” a slurred, angry voice nearby said, “showing up in one of our places wearing those clothes. And on U-day, no less.”
Mal smiled in a way that didn’t touch the death shining in his eyes. He could kill this fellow at least six different ways, bare-handed, before the man could twitch. It was a grievous temptation. But then the others, now rising to their feet, would kill him or, failing that, the Feds would hang him. Shiny choice. So Mal smiled.
“Got no quarrels with you, friend. War’s over and we’re just looking for a peaceable drink,” Mal said in the sergeant’s voice he used to quiet down rowdy young troopers.
“They should have killed every damned one of you,” the drunk said loudly. Zoe looked over. Mal signaled her a stay-back & hold command. “I lost a lot of good mates at Serenity Valley,” the drunk’s voice rose, “and I know that’s where you 他妈的 bastards out of that prison were. You’re the ones who did it.”
Mal dropped pretense of pleasantry. Low, he said, “Lost a lot of our friends there, too. And you’re the ones who done it. Tried my damnedest to kill every last one of you. Just sorry I failed.”
Some instinct told Mal not to swing back at the drunk, just to dodge. The drunk slammed head first into the wall, having completely missed his target. Without ever throwing a punch, or making any but purely defensive moves, Mal managed to land three of them on the floor before the police showed up. And yet it was Mal who ended up on his knees with his hands cuffed behind his back. Alliance justice and benefit of the doubt wasn’t gonna go to an ex-Independent. Hell, fuck the “ex-”, an Independent. It was an epiphany moment for Mal all the way around. One hour out in Alliance society, already under arrest and about to get hauled off to jail for something he didn’t start.
Zoe stayed clear as he’d ordered. Good thing as he could read her expression and it was the one that left bodies in its wake. The bartender stepped to her defense when police attention turned toward her, saying she’d been no where near the brawl. Mal didn’t like the up and down look the bartender gave her. Very clearly, neither did Zoe. Mal sincerely hoped she’d avoid killing him, at least publicly.
The trial--such as it was--took place about thirty seconds after they booked him. An annoyed judge barely glanced at Mal before sentencing him to a night in jail, his bit of cash taken as a fine. There was a long line of others behind him. Fights were breaking out all over the city between the newly released Independents and the locals. Funny, though, how none of the locals seem to have been arrested.
Zoe was waiting for him in the lobby of the jail the next day, late in the afternoon, when they released him. He looked her over.
“Been here long?” he asked.
She nodded. “All night. Seemed like the only place I wasn’t like to get arrested myself.”
Spending the remainder of the day in full and careful compliance with all the rules and regulations to which they were subject, Mal and Zoe tried to figure out how to live in this brave, new--warped, scary-ass--world in which they were trapped. Their major objective was simply to leave. But it wasn’t simple. They had no money for transport, and, worse, no clearance to travel. They were as unwelcome on Beta as a plague yet forbidden to leave.
The last of the money Zoe had went to buying dinner from a street vendor. Wandering into the park, they sought out the farthest, darkest corner, behind some bushes and near some trees that gave them a view of the sky while blotting out most of the city that surrounded them. They ate in silence, both thinking the same smolderingly angry thoughts, made worse by the utter helplessness of their situation. Who knew that defeat wasn’t a moment. It was a continual, on-going thing.
“Gorramit,” Mal sighed, laying back on the ground. It was good, at least, looking into the Black, even though he couldn’t reach it. Somewhere out there was freedom and somehow he’d get to it, and then he’d never come back to this forsaken rock. He’d leave the Alliance and all its worlds and all its ways far, far behind him.
He and Zoe glanced at each other. This would have been impossible to endure without her at his side. Mal hoped he was lending her some of his strength, too. Her eyes played over his, a half-smile creeping over her mouth.
“Whatcha thinking?” he asked.
“This... being out on the ground beneath the stars. No war going on around us. Puts me in mind of the first time we met,” Zoe said softly.
“Ummm...” He hadn’t thought on that in some time. “Seems like whole different people. Different life entirely.” He looked up at the scattering of stars, dimmed by the glow of the huge city. “Stars look different than they did from...” he stopped. He hadn’t said the name out loud since... “Shadow.”
Zoe rolled to her side. Understanding flooded her eyes, as well as the wisdom not to say any more about it.
“I suppose we’re some different too,” Zoe said.
Zoe laughed. Real humor. “We were certainly dumb.” She twitched a mischievous smile at him. “Don’t know how innocent.”
“And did we ever pay a price for it,” he said with a sigh. Zoe’s face clouded. “Hey,” Mal said, shaking her arm to break her away from the sad reverie. They had more than enough grief in their lives without courting more. Best not to dwell on sorrows over long past.
“I recollect you dancing by the fire in this purty little blue dress,” he cocked an eyebrow at her quizzically. “Only time i ever seen you in one, private.”
“Only time you ever will, sarge.” She chuckled, gazing up toward the stars with a thoughtful smile. “You got me out of it right quick enough.”
Their eyes met again. Maybe it was the starlight, or the rare moment of peace and freedom, a break for the first time in more years than either could recall from constant life-and-death tension, or the knowledge that rank and military order no longer stood between them... Or maybe it was the memories of the life that was before everything eternally changed. Slowly, hesitantly, they moved closer, leaning together. Her hand caressed his shoulder. He traced a finger over the softness of her cheek. Her lips parted expectantly...
“On your feet you two,” a sharp voice ordered.
Mal groaned. You can’t ever go back. Zoe’s eyes snapped into dangerous fury.
Carefully disengaging from each other, they stood, keeping their hands clearly in evidence. Two long gorram years of forced training in compliance. They could hate it all they cared. Still had to take what you had to take.
They presented their ident cards as commanded. The head cop slid them into a reader and snorted with disgust. In a whisper to his partner, meant for Mal and Zoe to hear, he said, “A sergeant and a private kissing. That’s just sick.”
“Barbarians,” the other agreed, low but loud enough. “No decency in their army. Uncivilized.”
“Turn around, you two,” The head cop put away the scanner, keeping their cards. “You’re under arrest.”
“What the hell for?” Mal demanded.
“How’d you even know we were here?”
The cop made a sweeping gesture. “Sensors. And you should be glad we got you when we did. Looked like you were on the verge of committing a felony.”
This was a perplexing, and evil, place indeed. They had legal whoring yet a willing couple carrying on in a park was a felony. As the cuffs snapped closed around his wrists for the second time in as many days, Mal glanced over at Zoe and commented, “It’s going well so far, don’t you think?”
“闭嘴,” the cop ordered.
Mal shut up. Not because of the cop, but because of Zoe. Maybe he ought not think it, but he hoped they had her cuffed tight ‘cause if she got loose there’d be corpses left strewn about.
“Sarge... Zoe...” Various familiar voices greeted them as they were escorted into the police station booking area. Led to empty places on long benches, they were seated, the chains on the cuffs fastened to the bench behind them. The room was nearly full of brown-clothed folk, more being shuffled through from the booking area to the ‘trials’ on a steady basis.
Mal flexed his fingers and tried to shift positions. He had barely an inch of slack and could hardly move. Zoe sat rigidly beside him. She’d gone to a dark, murderous place and didn’t seem like to come out of it any time soon.
“Well, it’s official,” he said after a spell. Zoe looked at him questioningly. “Since we’ve been ‘free’, I’ve spent more time chained to a bench in a Fed police station than walking the streets of their fancy city.” He sighed long and slow. “I really hate the Feds.”
Zoe snorted. “You’re just figuring that out now? What’d you expect? You know good as me--better--how they treat those they conquered. You know how they treated us in their prison.”
“It’s all been the Alliance military we’ve been dealing with so far.” He sighed again. “Didn’t expect the civil authority to be so...”
“Different uniforms and insignia. Same damn bastards underneath,” Zoe snapped, glaring at the cop approaching them.
Vagrancy was two days in jail, but Mal was awarded a bonus day for his previous drunk & disorderly conviction. The fine they couldn’t pay was noted as a debt. Running a tab with the Alliance. Mal thought it weirdly ironical.
“Got us jobs,” Zoe said when she met him in the jail’s entry days later.
“Yeah? Where? How?”
“Don’t ask how,” she said more than a touch surly sounding. “The ‘where’ is at that hotel I wanted to stop at. Crap jobs. Washing dishes and mopping floors, but it’s legal and it pays. Well, sorta.”
“Enough to pay the fines if we keep getting arrested every couple days?” Her humor quotient was definitely at a low ebb, Mal thought as she glared at him.
“Enough to keep eatin’. Can’t expect no more here. Got a place to stay, too. Just a small room. Told ‘em we were married.” Zoe glanced sharply at him. “Don’t go thinking it means anything.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Mal answered as agreeably as he possibly could. He wouldn’t go touching her with a ten foot pole and wearing a flak jacket, as scary dangerous as she looked right now. They had to get off this rock as soon as possible, before Zoe restarted the gorram war.
For better or for worse...
There’d been some of both. Here there’d been more of the worse and far, far less of the better. It had been a long, hard journey from Serenity to Serenity. Mal looked away from Zoe, no words having passed between them, but the ingrained understanding they’d worked out over lifetimes saying all they needed to say. The way it was was the way it was. All the choices had been made long since.
“Ready to go?” Mal asked when they’d finished eating. He checked the clock.
“Yeah,” Zoe answered, settling her skirt into place. Underneath she had on dark trousers and her boots, counting on the nighttime to conceal her illegal attire, with a black cloak over it all covering the gear she carried.
Mal, also in dark clothing, checked his pockets. Not carrying much. Gloves. The little doodad River’d given him. Some tools. Didn’t like being unarmed but there wasn’t much to be done about that. Couldn’t fight their way out of a fix here anyhow.
Zoe took Mal’s arm like a proper lady as they stepped out onto the boulevard. The street was brilliantly lit and filled with people promenading about. Shiny gorram place. Proud, happy citizens of the Alliance... Zoe’s grip tightened on his arm.
Casually walking past a very familiar saloon, they glanced in. Jayne sat right where he ought to be, right on the tick. Good. A lady sitting by him laughed artificially at something Jayne said and put her hand on his thigh. Mal and Zoe exchanged a quick grin. Didn’t seem like Jayne had paid for this one--fancy suit must be working for him.
“Smooth,” Mal said unconvincingly, as the turned a corner onto the darker streets beyond the boulevard. The police patrols had paid them no mind. Maybe the Feds weren’t seeing the browncoat bullseye painted on their backs, but Mal couldn’t shake the unsettling feeling it was there. Zoe felt tense, too, her fingers digging into his arm. They were walking straight back toward a chapter of hell, the well-lit Blue Sun treasury just a few blocks ahead.
As the entry came into view, Mal’s eyes were drawn to the sentries posted there. Alliance MPs. Not private security guards. Feds. One of the sumbitches looked up at them, weapon shifting in his grip. Same gorram uniforms as the prison guards wore...
Zoe suddenly snagged Mal by the wrists, shoving him backwards into a shadowy alley. She flattened him against a wall, pinning his arms, her body tight against his in an extremely intimate way, her lips against his ear.
“Stop it,” she hissed. “Stop it right now.”
Blowing a coil of her hair out of his mouth, Mal answered, “I ain’t doin’ nothing. You’re the one molesting me.”
Icy cold. “Stop looking at them like you want to murder each and every one of them. They can see it.”
That did stop him. Peering through her curls, Mal saw the guards step into the alley entrance, staring in at them. Zoe slithered up and down against him in a very disconcerting way Mal barely noticed. Just another thing to add to the Wash-don’t-need-to-know-it list. She was right. He closed his eyes and breathed carefully, forcing himself to wind down several notches on the tension scale. As he did, Zoe eased up on her grip.
“It’s okay. They’re gone,” he said a minute or so later. She let go and took a step back, staring hard at his face. Mal pasted on a Fed-compliant smile. “Better?”
Passing the old prison without paying it any noticeable heed, they arrived at a side entrance to the neighboring warehouse. A distantly familiar face above an Alliance captain’s uniform. Monty’s nephew.
In the warehouse Monty waited in the shadows. He stepped forward, a hulking giant. No joviality on his face.
“Won’t be tonight,” he said as they neared. “Had a transport glitch. Took some extra time getting my crew in place.”
Mal nodded. The plan had a few day’s latitude built in. Tonight wasn’t committed, but he’d have been glad to get it done with anyhow. “Tomorrow’s better.” He gestured toward the blue glow from the sky outside. “Full dark on the gas giant.”
“Let’s do some scouting,” Zoe said.
At the far end of the warehouse, behind crates that had been there who knows how long, Mal and Zoe examined the wall critically.
“Looks good,” Zoe commented.
“Looks like a wall,” Monty said, puzzled.
“Just as it ought,” Mal said, squatting down, searching for the latches. It took several minutes to find the years-unused locks and hinges that opened a hatchway in the false wall. Taking a small light from Zoe, Mal squeezed through the opening, standing up in the narrow space between their false wall and the real one.
“Looks untouched,” he said. Zoe dropped her skirt and cloak, and followed him in.
They took their time working at the entry to the tunnel. It wasn’t a fully dug, dirt tunnel, but followed piping and conduits that ran beneath the buildings. Slowly, methodically, Mal and Zoe worked their way along the tight corridor up to the point where the connection to the old prison itself was.
“Want to try it?” Zoe asked.
Mal nodded. “Might as well. If it don’t work, it don’t work. Might as well find out now. Just tread lightly.”
“I’ll just run a surface check,” Zoe said distractedly as she attached clips and wires to a junction box. Staring at the modified not-quite-a-Cortex screen, they studied the feedback. “Just a tickle of power,” Zoe whispered, “not enough to trip any alarms...” Her voice had taken on a sing-song quality. “Looks good,” she said a moment later. “Shiny. It appears our back door is still there.” She met Mal’s eyes with a broad grin.
Mal took a deep breath and looked at the passageway ahead that led back into the prison. He swallowed. “Tomorrow then. We go back in.”
Thursday, June 3, 2004 1:46 PM
Friday, June 4, 2004 4:23 AM
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