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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Book finally explains how a preacher know so damn much about all manner of unseemly things.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1569 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
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CHECKMATE: Bad Bishop.
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One look at the grey tinge to Mal's cheeks convinces Serenity's crew that the Doctor's not wrong. The Captain really is in serious need of some quiet. They climb the ladder out of his bunk in awkard, anxious silence. In the walkway above, they hesitate, unsure what they should do next.
Zoe assumes command. “Looks like it's your call, Jayne. Cap'n's main concern is findin' Inara an' he's relyin' on you to get the job done. Where'd we start?” If Mal weren't in such a bad way she'd be calling him all manner of stupid for fretting about the whereabouts of that murderous bitch. As things stand, her loyalty to him outweighs other considerations. And finding Inara does offer the prospect of pay-back.
Jayne forces himself to put aside his resentment at Mal's reaction to his admission that he'd thrown the Companion off the ship. At the way he'd made him feel lower than the dirt on his boots. When Jayne had only been tryin' to help.
He glares defiantly back at Zoe. He might not be as smart as her but he's the best tracker in the whole gorram 'verse. And she ruttin' well needs his know-how. He ain't gonna put up with being looked down on. “Better tell your husband to set a course for Persephone,” he tells her, ignoring the fact that Wash is standing right there next to him. “And whilst you're at it, you might ask him why the hell Inara would wanna poison him in the first place!”
Wash flicks the switches on the panel above his head and begins entering coordinates into the nav system. “We're a long way out,” he tells Zoe, who's standing behind him, staring out into the Black, “It's gonna take best part of two weeks to reach Persephone from here.”
“Uh-huh,” she says, not really listening. Her mind's somewhere else. Somewhere even less pleasant than in hot pursuit of her husband's would-be assassin on a ship whose Captain – not seven days ago - was hanging from the end of a rope. She feels trapped, manipulated, like a piece being moved around a chess board. Are they heading into a trap? She ain't forgotten the time when the windows in front of her looked out onto the electric blue criss-crossing veins of that gorram net Saffron tried to snare them with. It still rankles with her that Mal didn't finish the jian huo when he had the chance. He's so damn compliant when it comes to women. Got these old-fashioned notions about the right way to treat a lady. Which makes it easy for 'em run rings round him. Ain't hardly a surprise he was taken in by Inara's Companion-with-a-heart of gold act.
“Penny for them, lambie,” Wash says, squeezing her hand.
She blinks away the past and her fears for the future. More pressing matters to attend to. “Not sure they're worth that much. Given as how I was thinkin' about the Captain's ex-wife. How come she found it so easy to seduce him?”
“I dunno,” Wash shifts uncomfortably in his seat. “I never fell for her tricks, remember. Remember?”
Zoe's smile is not entirely convincing. “Which is why I know Inara wou'n't have been tryin' to kill you for havin' ... made a nuisance of yourself.” Is it Wash's imagination or is does the comment carry the promise of a swift death if only he comes clean now rather than a slow one later on if she discovers anything to the contrary?
He's offended. He spins the pilot's chair round and looks up at her with big, sorrowful eyes. “How can you even say that? When you know you're the only woman in the 'verse for me?”
“I'm sorry, honey,” Zoe says quickly, crouching down to look him in the eyes. “Really sorry. Guess the idea of someone tryin' to kill you has made me a mite tetchy. I can't understand it. What'd she have against you of all people?”
“Could be Jayne was drunk and saw it all wrong,” Wash suggests.
“Think you were the one who was drunk, pookie. Anyhow, Inara jus' up and left. Wou'n't've done that if she di'n't have somethin' to feel guilty about.”
“S'pose,” Wash agrees, turning back to the controls. “Still don't know why she'd want me dead. I really ain't that intesting...”
'Ain't that interesting'. The phrase tickles a memory. Something to do with Inara. And something to do with Wash. Zoe closes her eyes. Yes! That's it! In the ensuing excitement she'd forgotten all about it. River stole the shuttle; Mal ordered Jayne to track her down; Jayne said you couldn't track through the Black; then Wash said you could. If you used 'standard military aircraft recognition procedure'. Zoe remembers Mal's curious “Well ain't that interestin'?” and the flash of interest she saw in Inara's eyes. Remembers wondering how Wash knew a good gorram about military procedures of any sort.
“You're interestin' to me,” she replies soothingly.
And just a bit too damn interestin' at that.
Jayne strides off down the corridor, blood boiling with righteous indignation. Feels the need to work off some of this tension before he lashes out at someone. Lifting a few weights is his only option.
Behind him Kaylee quickens her pace until she is walking along at his side. She feels sorry for him. Poor fella's always actin' first an' thinkin' later an' it's always landin' him in trouble.
“You'll find her, Jayne, I know you will,” she tells him with a confidence that is only part bluster. “Where're ya gonna start lookin'?”
Jayne has always had a soft spot for Kaylee, so he can't help but relax a little when he looks into her smiling eyes. “Eavesdown Docks. Pretty sure she'll have gone there lookin' to get off world. I'll ask around, find out if anyone saw her. Not likely folks'd wou'n't notice her, is it?”
“No,” Kaylee agrees. “Fancy ladies is mighty rare in a place like Eavesdown. Think she went back to Sihnon?”
Jayne pulls a non-committal face. “Maybe. But best not to go assumin' nothin'. Quickest way for the trail to go cold.”
Kaylee nods, hesitating. She touches Jayne's arm. “Are you sure – real sure - she was tryin' to kill Wash, Jayne? Cos it don't sound like a thing 'Nara'd do ... You an' Wash maybe had too much liquor?”
The mercenary shakes loose of her, his expression darkening. “I know what I saw,” he says icily. “She was just about to stick him with a needle when I stopped her. Everybody seems to be forgettin' how as I saved the little man's life ... Think I'd be getting' some credit for that ...”
“Oh you are,” Kaylee exclaims, saddened by the hurt on his face. “Wash is all manner of grateful. Zoe too. And the Cap'n will be when he's better. You'll see...”
Jayne is staring at her, monumentally unconvinced. “Yeah. Mal's real grateful. I could tell that by the way he was throwin' me around.”
The security barrier that restricts access to the Blue Sun Corporation facility rises automatically as the car approaches. It's a mid-range model with anonymous grey paintwork. The type of vehicle favoured by middle managers all over Londinium. Nothing fancy, no personalized number plates. Those with real power don't like to advertize the fact.
As the car glides down the ramp leading to the reserved parking bays, Parkin stubs out his cigar.
“I think I finally understand your game plan,” he tells Rantoong.
“You don't care who wins or loses. In fact, you don't want the game to end at all.”
Rantoong remains silent but his expression warms slightly. Skills like his generally go unacknowledged.
“So, it doesn't matter whether Reynolds lives or dies. What's important is that the two sides keep hating one another.”
His colleague nods. “Precisely. There's no better way of maintaining the status quo than making people believe it's under threat. Although I've come to the conclusion Captain Reynolds is of more use to us alive. A dead bogeyman is hardly a bogeyman at all. I believe that ship of his is on its way to Persephone. May I leave it to you to ensure his time there is uneventful?”
... a week later ...
“What do you think?”
Simon's eyes follow the fork's journey from the outset when it digs into the mound of pinky grey sludge he's been cooking for the crew's supper to its final destination as Kaylee's lips close around it with an optimistic curl. Now his attention moves to her bright eyes, waiting for the change in them that will signal success or failure.
She loves him looking at her like this – gazing at her mouth and into her eyes so seriously, so attentively. He looks for all the 'verse like a man in love.
Under his watchful, serious blue eyes, she swallows the mouthful of processed protein. Then her hand flies up to her mouth and her eyes open wide with surprise.
“Is it good?” He can hardly believe it.
“No!” she laughs, wrinkling up her nose. “It's horrible. Jus' hope you kiss better than you cook, Doctor ...” and she flips him playfully in the chest with the back of her hand before dancing backwards towards the sink to fetch a glass of water.
Simon's cheeks flush bright pink and to cover his confusion, he pops a spoonful of the meal into his own mouth. A swallow and then he starts to gag. “Oh my God! That is truly disgusting!”
“Told you. Here, wash the taste away.” She hands him the glass which he empties in one thankful gulp.
Kaylee's eyes twinkle with devilment. “Guess that means we're wed,” she tells him, her amusement growing as he starts at the suggestion. “Ain't that how Saffron married the Cap'n? Got him to drink of her wine?”
Simon gives a rueful smile. “Poor Mal. He doesn't have much luck with women, does he? His wife turns out to be a liar and a thief who'd have happily sent us all to our deaths. Then Nandi goes and gets herself shot a matter of hours after ... you know .. and now Inara's disappeared. To misquote a playwright from Earth-that-was: 'To lose one lover may be regarded as a misfortune – to lose three looks like carelessness'. You'd think he'd give up on women altogether!”
Simon has a mean side to him sometimes that unsettles Kaylee. She don't like the way Simon is laughing at Mal's romantic disappointments, nor the way he can talk so lightly about Inara having vanished. She's missing the Companion almost as badly as she imagines the Cap'n is. The smile leaves her face.
“Maybe she's not lost. 'Nara I mean. Jayne thinks she might be on Persephone. That same day you came aboard she told me one of her clients there had fallen in love with her. Could be she's with him. Perhaps she's decided to settle down. You never know.”
“You two got nothing' better to do than hang about gossipin'?” Mal has taken to padding about in barefeet and his ability to creep up on you unawares is damn near miraculous. “Kind of a girlish occupation, ain't it?” he asks Simon with one of those smiles that makes him look like he's spoiling for a fight.
The doctor makes a strangled little noise and tries to look busy at the stove.
Kaylee attempts a smile but her embarassment is plain. Mal's refusal to return the smile makes her squirm. She didn't mean to hurt his feelings.
“Good to see you up and about, Cap'n,” she ventures. “You're soundin' much better ...”
“So. Now you're a doctor?” he snaps back at her. “Interferin' in Simon's affairs too?”
Her face falls and her eyes prick with tears. She takes a tentative step towards him. A hug could patch this up. But his glower stops her in her tracks.
“Time for a meetin' with all the crew,” Mal announces, all captainy and distant. “Seein' as how you ain't doin' anythin' useful, Kaylee, you go tell 'em all to come up here. Ma shang.”
“Figure I can find out where she went from there,” Jayne ends with a cautious glance in Mal's direction. However the Captain is staring into the coffee mug he's rolling absent-mindedly between his palms.
“It's a good plan,” he agrees without looking up. “An' Persephone's a good place to refuel, take on supplies. 'Course it's also a good place to run into the Feds ...”
“If we're careful, we probably won't. If we do, I'll handle it.” Book says quietly.
Now that *does* make Mal look up. “Yeah, I dare say you will. Been hearin' a lot of awfully strange stories about you, Shepherd. How that ID card of yours got us out of trouble. It surely is an interestin' little wotsit. Think it's time for ... what d'you religious types call it? ... confession.”
An expectant hush falls as each of the crew turns to look at Book. His eyes are sorrowful, imploring. He takes a deep breath and folds his hands together, interlacing the fingers tightly. Almost like he's begging them for absolution. The atmosphere in the room changes and to distract himself from his discomfort, Jayne pulls a knife from his belt and starts furiously polishing it.
“Forgive me, for I have sinned,” Book begins, managing to combine irony with sincerity. “It has been longer than I care to think since my last confession. Best start with my name. Hopkins – Martin Hopkins. But I came to be known as Malleus, thanks to the sick joke of a colleague. Any of you heard the name Matthew Hopkins? A man – a monster – who lived on Earth-that-was in the 1600s?”
“Fire. Screaming.” River screws up her eyes against the picture forming in her head.
“Exactly,” Book nods. “Hopkins was the Witchfinder General. Hunted down so-called witches, put them to the test and had them executed.”
“So?” Jayne can do without a history lesson about a place he don't know an' never will.
“I was working for the government – special operations. Had a colleague who fancied himself quite the historian. Knew all about the witch trials, a book called Malleus Maleficarum or The Hammer of Witches ...”
“What kind of special operations?” Zoe interrupts.
“Interrogating them as had been spying for the Independents.”
There's a sharp intake of breath and vengeful look from Mal but he blinks it quickly away and gestures for the Shepherd to continue.
“Don't know if you're aware of it, but during the war and before it – probably afterwards as well – spies were mostly women. On account of them finding it easier to be accepted into society – particularly if they had, uh, certain charms. Women also have better verbal and social skills. Able to learn more, remember conversations.” He waits for the information to sink in before continuing:
“At first it came easily to me. These women were rebels, dissidents. Determined to bring down the Alliance and the order it had established. They were no better than vermin. All I had to do was to find out what they knew, who they were helping. Had the authority to use any means necessary.”
Kaylee gasps and the preacher hangs his head. “Lost count of how many I killed. Can't forget the things I did to them beforehand.” He takes a sip from the glass in front of him. His hands are trembling. “Then it took hold of me. I don't mean I derived pleasure from it – just a profound satisfaction from getting the job done. Even had a couple of tools custom-made. I was like a machine. They gave me a girl to question; I broke her. As easy as snapping a stick. Even stopped giving half a hump whether they were innocent or not.”
He leans his elbows on the table and covers his face with his hands. No-one speaks, their shock and horror damn near palpable.
“Best you go on,” Mal says grimly. “'Fore any of us gets a notion to be seekin' retribution.”
“Nobody was better at getting information out of a Browncoat spy than me. I had no mercy. The colleague I was telling you about – he gave me a nickname. Hopkins, Hammer of Bitches. Eventually I got promotion, to a position only a few ranks down from the government elite. The kind of promotion that comes with all manner of unseemly perks. They figured I needed a title. So I became the Malleus. Malleus Hopkins. Guess they thought the Latin added gravitas.”
“Malleus. Hammer. Malum. Apple. Mal. Bad.” River does her peculiar brand of math in an undertone as Zoe slides a hand to her thigh and feels for her handgun. Preacher may need puttin' down yet. Even with all he's done for them. Best to be ready.
Simon's face twists with disgust. Sitting next to him is a man who made a living from cutting and burning and doing God knows what else to girls. Girls like his sister. “So you are a fan of Shan Yu, after all?”
“No, son. Was. Not am.” He rubs his temples, dislodging beads of sweat from his brow. “Eventually had a bit of a road to Damascus experience.”
“Damascus? Where's that? And why were you on the road all of a sudden?” Jayne asks in confusion.
Book doesn't bother to explain. “They got clever. The Independents, I mean. The Alliance had always been clever. Our spies were given a drug – obfuscalin - to be taken if they were ever captured. It altered memories, confused things up a bit. Any information beaten out of them would be incomprehensible, useless. And after questioning them, the Browncoats would often let our girls go. Then it was just a matter of picking them up, administering some anti-obfuscalin and sending them off again on a mission somewhere they wouldn't be recognized.”
Mal is following all this with a sharp, unrelenting concentration. There's a dangerous glitter in the dark blue of his eyes.
“You said the Independents got clever?” Zoe prompts the Shepherd.
“Broke into a government facility and stole batches of both the drug and the antidote. Started using obfuscalin themselves to prevent their own spies from giving away secrets under torture. 'Course, with Alliance interrogation methods being so thorough, they didn't have much use for the antidote ...”
Simon is thinking hard. Does this have something to do with what happened to River? Does she talk in riddles because some lan dong government poison is addling her brain, destroying her sanity? “Does the Alliance still make the antidote? Or obfuscalin? Could they have used that filth on my sister?” He wants to seize Book by the dog collar and squeeze the truth out of him. His fists clench into balls.
Book presses his lips together and shakes his head. “I don't know, son. It's possible, I suppose. There was an air strike on the production facility. Totally destroyed it. There were others – where they were experimenting with all sort of mind-enhancing, mind-controlling drugs, but with little success. Although I do remember reading ...”
“This is an interestin' diversion for another day, Doc,” Mal says firmly but not without sympathy. “Get back to your story. How come you went from being a Hammer to following a carpenter?”
“Had to question this one girl. Pretty thing she was. I didn't know it, but she'd taken the drug. I just thought she was defying me. I responded badly.” Book covers his mouth with a hand, as though he might be about to vomit. Tears start falling down his face. “It was only afterwards I realized her child was there ... saw it all.”
“Niu cao de hun dan!” Wash explodes, rising from his seat. Zoe pulls him back down quickly.
“Through her eyes, I finally saw the monster I'd become. After that I couldn't do it any more. Had to quit.”
“What?!” Zoe sneers. “They jus' let you retire? I don't think so.”
“It's true. They claimed I'd earned it. It was unusual, I'll admit. But not unheard of. Some people – war heroes and the like – were even given new identities. Wasn't offered that myself. Think maybe they were hopin' I'd come back to them. Or perhaps they were planning to force me back. They had an awful lot of dirt on me.”
“What did you do then?” Kaylee asks, face ashen.
“A lot of stupid things, Kaylee. A lot of stupid things. Drinking, whoring, gambling. Anything to try to lose myself. But nothing filled the yawning hole inside.”
“Could have jus' killed yourself,” Zoe points out helpfully. “Saved others the trouble.”
“Oh, I tried. Took an overdose, washed down with a bottle of brandy. Wou'n't be here now if the monks hadn't found me. They were good men. Put me back together, metally as well as physically.” He pauses again and shoots a look full of regret, hope and understanding at Mal. “Believe they were aided by a higher power. A power that heals.”
Mal snorts derisively and the Shepherd continues. “I was happier than I'd ever been at the Abbey – and all aware of how I didn't deserve to be. Took the name Book to remind myself I'd been named after a book before. As a penance. But I did find a kind of peace. So when the Abbott told me I had to join your crew, Captain ...” Horrified, suspicious glances are exchanged all round the table but Book continues, “I was most unwilling. But he told me a girl was in danger. Needed my help. It seemed like karma.”
“What girl?” Wash asks.
“River?” “Kaylee?” “Me?” Simon, Jayne and Zoe ask all at once.
“Inara,” Mal says quietly. “Ain't that right? What were you supposed to be protectin' her from?”
There's so much Book wants to say. The only thing that comes out is “You.”
“I've had enough of this..” Zoe starts, getting to her feet.
“Sit,” Mal orders, his eyes not leaving Book's. “Protect her from me? Why?”
“Think I was being manoeuvred, Captain. The Abbott told me a whole pack of lies about you I was stupid enough to believe. Wanted to believe. Felt it lessened the weight of my own sin if there was another like me. Anyway, he had me reporting back to him on where Inara was, what she was doing...”
Even Mal seems surprised by the punch that sends Book sprawling to the floor. He rubs the knuckles of his right hand with the palm of his left and stares down at the Shepherd. “Live with a man comin' on three years, talk with him on every subject...” he muses. “Never figured the real you for a ruttin' fool, Preacher.”
“We all see what we want to see, son. But the scales have fallen from my eyes once again. And now I want to help you. You know I can be useful to you.”
Mal nods curtly and pulls him to his feet. “Dare say you can at that. An' I never did trust you anyway.”
Jayne rubs his chin thoughtfully, eyes evaluating the Shepherd as if he were a weapon the mercenary might spend hard-earned coin on. “Harken let us go because it was you -” he points at the Preacher with his blade “- doin' the askin'. Which means the Feds still think you're working for the Alliance,” he adds tilting the knife towards the imaginary foe. He turns to Mal. “Gives us a bit of an advantage, don't it?”
River regards the mercenary with surprise as he gives voice to her thoughts. “Judas got paid in silver,” she agrees, smiling admiringly at Jayne.
The nightmare is always the same. He yanks the barbed cylinder out of the body of the woman strapped to the table with leather restraints. An arc of red droplets hits the wall. She's dead. At last. He can tell by the way the arterial blood is now pooling instead of pumping..
The heat of his indignation at her defiance leaves him and he starts to shake.
“You OK, Malleus?” his assistant asks as if from very far away.
“Yes, just someone walking over my grave. Think we should run some tests on the cadaver. Resistance like that doesn't come naturally. Could be the Browncoat scum are playing us at our own game.”
The assistant clicks his heels smartly together and pushes the table towards the exit, leaving his superior alone in a room that is now as quiet as a morgue. Or at least, nearly. There's a snuffling noise, coming from behind the blackout curtain.
Malleus Hopkins draws it swiftly aside, and there crouched down, staring dead ahead and sobbing pathetically is a child. A girl of seven or eight years of age. Wispy red hair, round blue eyes just like her mother's.
For the first time since he started in this line of work, the Malleus is sick. And keeps being sick until all he's bringing up is black, bitter bile.
~AUTHOR'S NOTE: probably 2 weeks til the next chapter. But it will be here.
Thursday, June 24, 2004 3:15 AM
Thursday, June 24, 2004 5:10 AM
Thursday, June 24, 2004 6:17 AM
Thursday, June 24, 2004 7:23 AM
Thursday, June 24, 2004 8:10 AM
Friday, June 25, 2004 10:58 AM
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