BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE

NAUTICALGAL

Wish I Was Somebody Else, ch. 3/26
Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Before Miranda, the badguys spring a trap. After Miranda, Inara tries to comfort Zoe over tea, with results that Mal finds extremely discomfiting.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 4243    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

3. Now I’m Learning About ‘Scary’

Before Miranda The trap was beautifully laid, and Wash walked right into it. Aught-three Firefly, same model as Serenity. Intact – so the scrapyard attendant said -- except for her burned-up accelerator core and some associated engine damage. Wash went right for it. And he’d no sooner got to it than he found himself staring down the barrels of two different firearms – one in front of him, one behind.

Wash raised both hands in the air, and turned so his back was to the ship’s hull, which gave him a view of both gunmen. “Whoa. Fellahs. If you had dibs on this ship, I can sure go somewhere else. No shooting necessary.”

They didn’t reply. One fired, and Wash felt the impact in his neck. Had it been a bullet, it would have put him on the ground, gasping and choking on his own blood. But it wasn’t a bullet, it was a tranquilizer dart – something he barely had time to understand before it put him on the ground just the same.

The gunmen grabbed him and dragged him to the airlock, where two orderlies in surgical scrubs took over, dragging him into the Firefly’s cargo bay. It looked much like Serenity’s. Beyond the cargo bay, though, was an infirmary which looked nothing like Serenity’s. It had, in fact, been done over into a fully equipped dual surgical suite. A surgeon, two surgical techs, and an Alliance Commander named Coles stood waiting inside; on one of the operating tables was an unconscious man who looked a lot like Serenity’s pilot.

“Get him on the table. We don’t have a lot of time,” Coles snapped. The techs hefted the limp form – one Hoban Washburne, about whom Coles knew far more than he actually cared to -- onto the table, where one tech placed a mask over his face and started dosing him with anesthesia, and the other started wrestling Washburne out of his clothes.

The officer paced impatiently from the foot of one operating table to the other, his eyes going from Washburne to the other man, looking for flaws.

Manson, the surgeon, noticed. “We’ll finish the surgical alterations, now we’ve got our template,” he said to the officer. “Scars, visible bone structure – the microsurg will ensure that even their facial expressions will be the same. Nothing to worry about.”

“All I’m worried about is time,” Coles said.

Manson didn’t look reassured. He moved to his machines, and the scan equipment mounted on the ceiling moved slowly across Washburne’s body, head to toe, sending information to the microsurgical equipment that immediately began making minute alterations to the other man. Van Soren, Coles remembered. A good officer; a good pilot. Doing even better service now, going into deep cover so that the Alliance could build a more useful profile of this Mal Reynolds character – who, despite his lackluster war record, lowly rank and apparent general haplessness, seemed to have some sort of a knack for stirring up trouble and then slipping from the grasp of the law. Coles had been tasked with bringing in Reynolds after the man had been identified as the one who’d walked right into St. Lucy’s Hospital on Ariel, and walked back out again with millions of credits’ worth of drugs. Reynolds had proved . . . difficult . . . to corral – at least one Federal agent was known to have disappeared without a trace after boarding his ship -- and chances were he actually had a network of support that the Alliance would, ultimately, have to disrupt in order to put a stop to all the trouble. If they could get Van Soren in place without a hitch, the Reynolds situation should be resolved within a matter of months. Three months, actually. At the end of which, Van Soren was due an extraction, a promotion, and a discharge package nice enough to retire to Sihnon, or Londinium, or any other civilized place the pilot might choose.

The scan had finished with Washburne’s head, and Manson was there now, placing the sensors that would complete the neural replication process. When Van Soren woke up, he wouldn’t even remember his own name. Wouldn’t know himself to have ever been anybody but this Washburne fellow – and neither would anybody else, for as long as the overlays lasted.

Three months, until it started to break down. It had been stressed to Coles, in a way he dared not ignore, that time was of the essence in this operation. Intel indicated that Washburne was married – Coles snorted at the thought of a worthless petty thief claiming to participate in a civilized custom like marriage; he was privately convinced that all such men were, in fact, shameless and amoral hedonists – but Intel was adamant that the man’s wife would get suspicious right quick when the overlays started to fray. No; that was imprecise. What Intel had actually said was, “She’ll kill him.” As if the woman were part of the source of those “Reaver” tales the folk on border worlds used to scare their kids. But Coles could not afford to take chances; Intel might be right. So three months was all he had.

He forced himself to stand still; his pacing seemed to be making Manson nervous, and Coles needed Manson to focus, and get the job done. So Coles stood at ease, unmoving, while the surgeon and the two technicians finished work.

Manson said, “All right. I’m done with this one,” and indicated Washburne.

Coles nodded to the orderlies who’d dragged the man in, and followed them as they dragged him back out again through the cargo hold, to the airlock. They dumped him outside, where the gunmen – a couple of local thugs whose names Coles had never bothered with, although he doubted he’d soon forget the face of the one who was visibly missing several teeth – waited, as they’d been told to. Coles tossed a bag of money to one of the orderlies, who handed it out to the gunmen.

“You want we ought to kill him now?” said Toothless, saliva spraying out through the gaps in his teeth.

The orderlies looked back at Coles, who considered. Now he thought about it, his orders on that particular score were distressingly vague. In fact, he had no indication of any preference from his superiors on that score that he could recall. What to do? Well, it was easier by far to kill a living man at some later date than it was to produce a live one in the future, if you’d killed him already.

“No,” Coles said, loudly enough for his voice to carry to the gunmen. “Dump him down a hole somewhere, but leave him alive until you hear otherwise from me.”

“You’re the boss,” Toothless said.

The orderlies closed the airlock doors, and walked back into the ship.

Outside, Toothless looked at his partner. “Let’s get him on the mule. Find sommat to cover him up with,” he said, and his partner nodded.

Inside, Coles walked back to the surgical suite. Manson and the other two techs had dressed Van Soren in the gaudy outfit Washburne had been wearing when he was brought in. “How much longer will he be under?”

“Five or ten minutes,” Manson said. “Put him in the lock, then,” Coles ordered.

They put Van Soren in the lock, with a box of randomly chosen ship parts nearby. Coles stood in the lock next to the unconscious pilot and waited. The neural overlay process was very good, but tended to miss fresh short-term memories; Van Soren would have to be told where to go and what to do, initially. Then Coles could get off this rock and head back to civilization.

Van Soren – who would not answer to that name, now – opened his eyes and looked at Coles. His face registered fear, and he pushed himself up against the bulkhead.

Coles held up a snapshot screen that showed Van Soren’s trigger code, and the man relaxed. “Take that box of parts and go back to the scrapyard entrance. You’ll meet Serenity’s mechanic there. You are to begin pursuing your standing orders.” He flashed the code again, and stepped back inside the Firefly. He watched from the small window as Van Soren – no, he’d be Washburne now, for all he or anyone else would know – sat rubbing his arms and looking confused. Coles suppressed an attack of nerves. The overlays took. The conditioning took. This was all going to work.

Finally, the man in the airlock stood, scrubbed both hands through his hair until it stood on end in a way no self-respecting Alliance pilot would have tolerated, picked up the box and departed.

Coles exhaled.

Time to get off this rock.

**

After Miranda

Inara could have made herself a cup of tea in her shuttle, but she went to the ship’s kitchen instead, hoping to find company. Kaylee, by preference, or possibly Mal. Even Simon would have at least been someone to talk to.

Instead, she found Zoe there, with the same superficial intent – tea. And, possibly, Inara considered, Zoe was looking for company too, whether she would have admitted it to herself or anyone else. So the two women made tea, exchanging only the barest pleasantries as they did, and sat at the table across from one another as they waited for the leaves to steep.

Inara’s training had included all types of companionship, including silence, but even as they sat in silence she considered how she might draw Zoe out. Not that she especially wanted to, but Inara believed that conversation could be therapeutic, especially for someone like Zoe who didn’t engage in it much. So while the tea steeped, Inara considered how best to accomplish her aim.

She rose to serve the tea, and when she returned to the table she said, “I have been so in awe of your strength, lately. If I had been through just a fraction of what you have, I don’t know that I would be able to drag myself from my bed to face the day.”

Zoe accepted her tea – the mug she’d chosen, Inara noticed, had been Wash’s – and said, “You were there, too.”

“I was there,” Inara said, “but your losses exceeded everyone’s.”

For the first time since Zoe had stepped out of the line, in the corridor outside Mr. Universe’s compound, Inara saw Zoe’s façade crack. Not much, and not for more than an instant, but crack it did. And Zoe spoke, as she sipped her tea “What I can’t figure out,” she said, “Is how I didn’t know.”

“How could you possibly have known?” Inara replied. “According to River, even he didn’t know.”

Zoe shrugged. “There were little things,” she said. “I just didn’t put them together.”

“Like what?” Inara asked.

“You knew Wash,” Zoe said. “He only had two vanities – his piloting, and me. If he ever looked at himself in a mirror, it was purely by accident, and he paid no attention. If he owned a comb, he never used it.” Zoe smiled sadly. “Every once in a while I’d say, ‘You’re getting too shaggy to be sexy, husband,’ and he’d let me take the clippers to his hair. But the day we left Beaumonde, on the way to Lilac . . . he came to me after he’d set the autopilot and said, ‘Think I’m getting too shaggy to be sexy. Will you give me a trim?’”

She paused, and Inara sensed that this was a time to wait, and listen.

Zoe took another sip of tea, and went on. “I said, ‘Isn’t that my line?’ I mean, Wash never asked me to cut his hair. Never once. But he just laughed. And I cut his hair.”

“I think you’re being too hard on yourself,” Inara observed. “That’s a really small thing.”

“Is it?” Zoe said. “I cut it really short, because he doesn’t – didn’t – let me do that often. But. Put that haircut together with that black jacket he dug out of his footlocker – the one with the flight school patches – I think he’d actually had it since flight school, and it still looked like new, that tells you how often he wore it up till then -- put that jacket and its insignia together with that haircut he’d asked for, and he looked like some gorram Alliance pilot, didn’t he? But I didn’t notice. Did I?”

This small glimpse inside Zoe’s pain, now overlaid with a hefty (and, in Inara’s opinion, not entirely rational) measure of guilt, could not fail to touch the sensitive Inara. Her heart went out to Zoe, in a way she never would have imagined it could. She wished there were some way to assuage that guilt, but feared she had none to offer that Zoe would accept. So they sat again in silence while their tea slowly cooled, until Zoe said:

“The other thing I cannot understand is, how is it possible to sleep with a guy, and not realize it’s not the same guy you’ve been sleeping with for five years?”

Definitely some guilt there, Inara thought. But she tried to give the question serious consideration. “Unfortunately,” she said, “The only answer I can come up with to that question is . . . well, it’s a very bad joke.”

Zoe went so dangerously quiet and still that Inara feared she should not have spoken. But apparently, Zoe had also heard that particular joke, because a few seconds later, she sputtered – the very tiniest of laughs. It started Inara giggling, though, which seemed to get Zoe laughing harder. She reached across the table and clasped Inara’s hands in hers, and they laughed until they were hysterical and gasping; until tears rolled from their eyes.

**

Mal walked into the kitchen, thinking to get himself a cup of coffee. He stopped, though, when he saw Inara and Zoe sitting across the table from each other, hands clasped, heads bent together, gasping and hiccupping, with tears running down both of their cheeks.

Well, good for Inara. Helping Zoe out like that, he thought, but the sight of Zoe with tears running down her face made him distinctly uncomfortable. He turned quickly, and left before they saw him there.

COMMENTS

Tuesday, January 16, 2007 8:01 PM

TAMSIBLING


Awww, I'm glad that Inara was able to get Zoe to open up, but Inara's right, she is being much too hard on herself.

Still, really interesting insight into how this all got so messed up. Eager for more!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007 9:06 PM

AMDOBELL


Very good scene with Inara and Zoe. Also creepy scenes of how they nabbed the real Wash and did that surgery on what would be his doppleganger. Still have to wonder why they did it and what a lot of effort they went to in paying attention to detail and such. Ali D
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, January 17, 2007 5:25 AM

EMPIREX


Another excellent chapter, nauticalgal. Can't wait for the next installment!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007 5:59 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Oh...this was one hell of a chapter you got here, nauticalgal! Definitely loved your smarmy Alliance commander and the Zoe/Inara chat about Zoe's perceived guilt:D

Gotta say though...from the sounds of it? I would lay good money on the Alliance actually going to the length of modding Van Soren's...length to match Wash's perfect. Helps with the disguise...

BEB

Friday, March 2, 2007 6:20 AM

LAMBYTOES


I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed Wash's weird haircut and new jumpsuit. I though maybe I was just WAY too obsessed with Wash, which, I am, but at least someone else noticed the weirdness of it.


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