BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

MERRYK

Crew, But Not - Chapter 7
Sunday, November 18, 2007

Simon and River find something odd with the cargo, and Simon and Inara match their skills in a game of chess.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2256    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Chapter 7

Hide and seek. On a ship the size of Serenity, it wouldn’t seem a possible game to play. But, on a ship like Serenity, with the idea of streamlined forgotten by the designers, the tables were turned.

“You stay, count,” River said to Simon as soon as they were out of the infirmary. Her face was serious, but he knew what those words meant.

“All right,” he said. Then she was gone. Sitting down on the couch in the lounge, ignoring the slightly foul smell that rose from it as he sat, he closed his eyes and began to count. This was certainly not something he had planned for today, even though he had begun to count on some kind of interaction with River every day. He would have called it play, would have called it normal—but she did not smile. Last night, as he recorded the day’s events in short sentences in his journal, he had commented on River’s overall behavior, nearly putting down the words “almost normal”. Then he had stopped, and crossed out the words with a sudden fierceness. River wasn’t normal—he couldn’t let himself forget the gravity of what had been done. They had stolen her smile away, stolen her laugh, and he would never forgive or forget.

After the flash of anger faded, though, he wrote, “doing well”. He hadn’t lost hope yet, but it was likely that he could never help her to be even “almost normal”. He had to appreciate what he had. And that was a sister, alive, who still knew who he was, who ate and drank and responded to him, and who even interacted in almost playful ways. He wasn’t sure if hide and seek meant the same to River now, but he was more than willing to play along.

Realizing he had lost track of the number he was on, he decided it was long enough, and rose to begin the search. He walked up to the kitchen, looking around in the more obvious places. As he passed through, the conversations floated around him, an outsider who would soon be gone. And he was, as after the two large cupboards by the stove, not even River could fit into the many small compartments that made up the wall on that side.

He knew she wouldn’t be in the engine room—he had told her that was off limits like the shuttle, and strangely she followed instructions he gave her to the letter. He had not even found her on the catwalk near the empty shuttle, let alone anywhere closer, and the engine room also was avoided. The bridge, as well, though he had not given any instructions for it. Going back down, he examined their quarters and the empty rooms nearby to no avail, and then went to the last place she might be.

The cargo bay was impressive, and not at all somewhere Simon would have chosen to hide. Most of the cargo was secured, at least nominally, but he did not have the trust of Kaylee or the Captain in this rickety rusty second-hand ship. Walking up and down the aisles that now existed between the stacks of boxes, he watched out for the cubbyholes. They existed, he knew, and he wouldn’t doubt that River might know as well. Then, bursting into the quiet came a sudden tapping to the right of him. He jumped a little, then frowned. He couldn’t see on the other side of the boxes, and began walking down the aisle to see what it was. As he went, the tapping followed, a couple short taps on each box. He turned the corner, and came face to face with River.

“I, um, found you,” he said after jumping again at her unexpected proximity.

She gave him a look, and walked past him to start tapping on the next set of boxes.

“Game over, then,” said Simon, adapting once again to River’s behavior. “What is it?”

She turned and put a finger on his lips, stopping his words, and tipping her head and whispering: “Shh.”

Simon followed as she continued down the line. This could be some form of the quiet game, or perhaps she was calculating the volume of each box by measuring the reverberations—he really couldn’t tell anymore.

“River,” he began quietly, but she waved her hand without looking at him, clearly a sign that he was not to speak.

Following along, he watched what she did. At each box she would stop, lean in almost as if to smell, then turn her head so the right ear was next to the box, and gently tap it with her knuckles. She would remain in that position for a couple moments, then shake her head and move on.

They were almost on the last few boxes, when River tapped twice. She stopped, tapped, listened, then leaned in closer and tapped again. She pressed her ear against the large metal box and then held very still. Behind her, Simon felt the urge to hold his breath, so full of anticipation was her body language. He almost stepped closer, but then decided it would make enough noise to probably disturb her.

She stood up, then, and looked back at him. “Alive.” The sound was strange, breaking the silence.

“What?” asked Simon, now moving in a little closer.

She tapped the box. “Alive.”

“The box is not alive,” said Simon slowly, trying to grasp her meaning.

“Inside,” she explained, and then began running her hands over the side of the box.

“River,” said Simon, cautioning. “I don’t think—” Her hand stopped and flicked something, so that a panel suddenly opened. “River, we shouldn’t touch this.”

“Alive,” she repeated one last time. Simon stepped closer, and frowned; the symbols on that panel and the readings were similar to the ones on his cryo box. “Need to save them,” said River again, earnestly.

“I—River, I don’t think—we shouldn’t be touching this,” Simon stumbled, his mind running through all possible explanations. “Let’s go.”

“Don’t hide,” she urged, making no move to go. “Don’t let them get away.”

“River, this is the Captain’s business,” said Simon. “We’re not allowed to deal with the cargo.”

“Didn’t say that,” she muttered, looking down at her hands. Simon reached past her and put the panel back where it belonged, returning the box to a normal appearance. River stood looking at what he had done.

“Come now,” said Simon quietly. “Let’s go.” To his relief, she turned and followed, though with eyes lowered.

“Talk to him,” she pleaded one last time.

~*~*~*~*~

“You know what I miss about small cheap cargos?” commented Wash, laying down his bid for that round of tall card.

“Being able to gripe about the Captains’ choice of jobs?” asked Zoe, matching her husband’s bid and raising it.

“No, but good guess,” said Wash. “Spaceball, actually. I’m not a physical sort of guy, you know, but there’s just something about that game.”

“The lack of rules?” put in Mal, raising the bid again.

“Yeah, that seems right,” said Wash. “The creativity, too.”

Jayne grunted and put in the last bid.

Simon sat across from Inara, his hands clasped in front of him as he stared intently at the chessboard. Inara’s face was smooth as a still lake, and she regularly took small sips of her drink. River sat next to Simon, mouthing words but not actually speaking them, while Kaylee stood behind Inara’s shoulder, frowning in concentration. It was his move.

Simon had originally brought a book, intending to sit in the corner and do research, hopefully with River doing something nearby, but Kaylee had apparently spilled the beans about his interest in the game, and Inara had come over to offer a friendly challenge. She was good, very good, not surprising when her training was considered. And Simon was a little rusty—he hadn’t really found time to play between keeping up his hospital work and finding and rescuing his sister. At the moment, she had him in a good check. It was something he could avoid easily enough, and he knew that she knew it, but the possibilities would be limited after that. Finally he moved a pawn forward.

Inara smiled, depositing her bishop and removing the captured pawn with one move.

“This is a long game,” said Kaylee with a little laugh, as Simon moved his knight.

“One does not play chess for quick light-hearted fun,” responded Inara with another smile. “I once played a game over three days with a client; speed is not of the essence.” She paused, tapping a finger gently on the table as she thought.

Simon nodded, glad that she had spoken before he apologized for losing train of thought. Every now and then, as he got close to figuring out his strategy, River’s discovery in the cargo bay would jump back in. He had not mentioned it to anyone, he was not sure he even wanted to, but it would frequently distract him anyway.

“A game with no rules,” mused Book at the other table, dealing the tall card.

“It has rules,” said Mal.

“Yeah, they’re just—very fluid,” said Wash. “It gets very creative in the cargo bay when we play.”

“Anyone can change the rules any time,” said Mal.

Book chuckled. “Where did you learn this game? Spaceball?”

“Spaceball, yes,” said Wash. “Well, it’s a flight school game...during no-grav tutorials, on our breaks we would try to find something to play. Thing was, the situation made it so we had to keep changing the rules: dropping the bounds, changing the rules and punishment for personal fouls...until the rules said that all rules could be changed.”

“Which should mean that I can change that rule and set it in stone that it’s a foul to insult your captain,” said Mal, mostly good-natured.

“Is that system logically possible,” mused Book, confused.

Jayne frowned. “Don’t really matter.”

“I hate to agree with the lowest common denominator, but yeah, it’s just fun,” said Wash.

“And, while you were all distracted, Jayne has won that round,” put in Zoe, letting her cards fall.

Jayne grinned and began to stack up the free passes he had earned on shipboard chores. Book let out another chuckle as Wash looked sheepish, and Mal eyed Zoe who was trying to hide the twinkle in her eye. Wash stood up and stretched, wandering over to watch the chess game.

Simon was almost losing, losing focus even as he tried to keep it, and it was apparently bothering River more than him. She had grown a little agitated, muttering things constantly under her breath after each move. Kaylee had grown bored with it all, and had picked up Simon’s book where he had laid it, randomly flipping through the pages.

“Ah, I knew this would turn out well,” said Wash, standing by Simon. River glanced up at him strangely, but he didn’t notice.

“Still at it?” asked Jayne, looking over while Book shuffled the cards.

“I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t last all night,” said Inara. “I haven’t had an opponent in so long, I need extra time to remember my strategies.”

“Why aren’t you talking?” asked Wash. “Chess talk, you know, nothing really relevant to the game.”

Inara and Simon looked up at each other, and Inara smiled. “There’s no need. I would have no objection, but sometimes a quiet mind is an asset.”

“It has been years since I played,” added Simon. “Concentration is important.”

“But you don’t!” burst out River. Everyone looked to her, but she had not looked up, still concentrating on the pieces.

“I think she agrees that I’m rusty,” translated Simon with almost a smile. “Not that it would make much difference to her if I wasn’t. I never did feel daring enough to challenge her a second time.”

“Crushed?” asked Jayne.

Simon didn’t have to say anything. Jayne chuckled wickedly, and turned back to his cards.

“Are jobs always like this?” asked Simon, changing the subject abruptly.

“No,” said Wash. “You see, we don’t believe in the word ‘usual’.”

“Why do you ask?” asked Inara curiously.

“I expected more wooden crates in the cargo,” said Simon, as inconspicuously as possible. “The metal boxes looked very strange.”

“Yeah, that is something pretty new,” said Wash. “High class people, though.”

“Hm,” said Simon, dropping the subject and focusing on the board again.

“Honey, I’m gonna head to bed early tonight,” said Zoe, coming over and rubbing Wash’s shoulder. “You going to stay up?”

“Yeah, another round or so will be all for me,” said Wash. He wandered back the card side of the table.

“Wanna take Zoe’s place, Shepherd?” asked Jayne. “Ain’t playing tall card anymore.”

“Oh, I have nothing to wager,” Book answered, dealing out the cards.

“Kaylee?” called Jayne across the room. Kaylee had grown quickly bored with Simon’s neurology book, and was refluffing the cushions on the armchairs.

“Yeah?” she answered, looking up.

“Need a fourth,” said Jayne.

”All right, “ said Kaylee.

“Y’know, you could do some chores so you could play,” Jayne added hintingly to Book.

Book laughed. “Well, I’ll certainly keep that in mind.”

“Only crew do chores,” put in Mal. He had been quiet that night, more than usual.

“Of course,” acknowledged Book.

River, after Kaylee had put Simon’s book back, had grabbed it protectively and migrated to the couch with it. Simon occasionally glanced over behind him, but she looked fine with it, curled up comfortably on the couch with the book cradled in her hands as her eyes darted back and forth across each page. Inara appeared to be warming up, and was giving Simon even more cause to worry about his rusty skills. It had been an hour, and they had made only a fair amount of progress.

“I’m wondering,” said Book, as the card game went on quietly, “how do you keep time? There is no night or day, and not even a clock.”

“Don’t need clocks,” said Mal. “Human body naturally keeps it’s own time, and the general lights are programmed to brighten and fade on a 24 hour schedule. There’s a clock on the bridge, though. We don’t exactly need each minute and second detailed.”

“I suppose not,” said Book.

“It feels kinda like my uncle’s homestead,” said Kaylee. Her style of playing cards was very deliberate, thinking about each decision and laying each card down precisely.

“What, all slow and lazy like?” asked Mal.

Kaylee grinned. “Yeah, kinda. Nice.”

Jayne tossed his last card on the pile. “Don’t much care for this game.”

“Why would that be, I wonder?” mused Wash fairly quietly. “Not really a card connoisseur, I suppose, but—oh, you lost.”

“I lost worse’n you, Jayne,” said Kaylee comfortingly.

Jayne grumbled a bit and glared at Wash, who rose to stretch and yawn before going off to join his wife. “Gonna go work out,” Jayne mumbled.

“Wanna play something else?” asked Mal, looking to Kaylee.

“Not really,” she admitted. “I’m kinda tired.”

“Is it that late?” asked Mal.

“Yeah, it is. Dinner was real late,” said Kaylee.

“Oh right, Jayne’s meal,” remembered Mal.

“I’ll just go on to bed, then,” said Kaylee getting up.

“Sleep well,” encouraged Book.

Mal leaned back in his chair, not saying anything for a moment. He glanced down the table to where Simon and Inara were still engrossed by their game. Inara had a soft smile on her face, and a brightness of interest that added to her elegant beauty. Mal could have watched her for hours. Her hand reached out and made a move, and then as she sat back, her eyes glanced over to Mal and Book. Mal sat up straight then, and looked to Book.

“Not tired?” he asked.

“After today, no, not at all,” said Book. “I had nothing to do to make me tired.”

“Some folks’d consider that a blessing,” commented Mal, leaning forward and resting his forearms on the table.

“I like work,” said Book simply.

“I don’t,” answered Mal.

Book looked interested, curious. “What would you rather do?” he asked.

Mal glanced back up, and his jaw tightened. “I’d rather have independence,” he said, answering a different question. He was glad when Book said nothing. “If you like work, doesn’t make sense to wile away your hours in an Abbey,” he continued.

“It wasn’t all wiling,” explained Book. “We had much of God’s work to do besides praying and preaching.”

Mal hmphed. “So where’re you headed?”

“I wasn’t headed anywhere,” said Book with a significant look. “But I think I’ve found what I need.” He looked around the kitchen with a smile. “I’d like to stay on for a while more.”

Mal’s eyebrows raised a hairsbreadth, but all he said was, “Long as you can pay, I’ve no objection to you staying.”

“I can pay,” said Book. “But on one condition.”

“Really,” said Mal with the hint of a drawl. “Enlighten me, Shepherd.”

“I do chores with everyone else,” Book said seriously. “Otherwise, no deal.”

“Fine by me,” said Mal, standing up and stretching. “Now if you don’t mind, I’ll be off to my own rest. Last one leaves makes sure the lights are off,” he called as he left.

Book stayed for a moment, a smile lingering on his dark face. Then he sighed, and walked off and down the stairs to his own room.

Simon captured another pawn, looking up as he did so. Inara followed his gaze, and sighed to the now-empty room. “I entirely lost track of time.”

“We can finish another time, if you need your rest,” said Simon, slowly standing up. Turning to look behind him, he saw River asleep on the sofa, her head resting on his book.

“I’m not tired, actually,” said Inara, smiling in River’s direction. “But if you need to get your sister to bed—”

“Actually,” Simon said, “I think I’ll leave her there as long as it’s peaceful.”

“Well then, shall we finish the game?” asked Inara. “I’m not yet ready to give up.”

“Of course not,” said Simon genially. He sat back down, and the hum of the ship took priority as they concentrated on further strategies. It was a critical time in the game, when each move meant increasingly more and more, and he frowned as he thought. Kings and queens swirled with mysterious boxes in his head—he would have been ready for bed had River been awake, and his mind now was finding it more difficult to focus.

Inara spoke quietly after a moment. “What are you worried about?”

Simon looked up, blinked, and answered: “At the moment?”

“I don’t mean for your sister, or for your new life, or even perhaps for the outcome of this game—” She paused and smiled. “And you are worrying about that, despite being on the offensive.” Then she looked at him, and spoke seriously. “There is something bothering you this evening, something urgent.”

“Yes,” said Simon, stalling.

“I suppose it’s related to this ship and crew, in which case I hope you confide in me; I assure you, I’ll understand anything,” offered Inara.

Simon fiddled with the last piece captured, moving it from one hand to the other. If there was anyone to trust on this ship, he felt it would be her, if he felt like trusting anyone. “It’s just about the Captain’s business,” he said.

“Oh?” said Inara. “You’re not the only one who worries about that, believe me.” She moved from where she had just been looking at Simon, and placed her next piece in position.

“How legal are his jobs, usually?” asked Simon, approaching his subject sideways.

Inara smiled, not her usual encouraging one, but one that seemed to be satisfied. Simon thought it reminded him of a friend who had gone into trauma psychology, who had always pestered him about a psychoanalysis until giving that smile when he finally gave in. “Well,” she said, “that is a difficult question. The short answer is, that they’re as legal as he can make them, and if not so he tries to have some reasoning behind them.”

Simon nodded but said nothing, not ready to show how this answer had opened up more questions than it solved.

“That’s not what you wanted to know, is it?” continued.

Simon glanced up and saw her look, shrewd but kind as always. “You are very observant,” he commented, and moved his next piece.

“You are much easier to read than the Captain, whom I have had most practice with,” she said. “But you are not completely transparent.”

“I was not trying to hide everything, just—” he leaned forward a little, resting his arm on the table. “There is a cryo box in that cargo bay.”

“I doubt that anyone could link such a small item to you, even if they came aboard,” reassured Inara. “They are not extremely rare, even if they are so on Serenity.”

“I didn’t mean mine,” Simon continued.

Chess forgotten for a moment, Inara visibly straightened. “There is another one?”

“In the new batch of cargo,” confirmed Simon. “At least one that I saw—or, well, that River discovered. It was disguised as a normal box as well.”

“None of the boxes were empty when they came in?” Inara began to look less than serene and very interested.

“I don’t know, I didn’t see any of them until they came on board,” said Simon. “But the life readings on this one showed at least something.”

“Oh,” said Inara, trying not to make too much of it, and attempting to focus on the game again.

“I would guess that I know what the Captain felt when he first found River, now,” mused Simon ironically. “Cryogenics still have a negative connotation, I suppose.”

Inara reached for another piece, hesitated, and then placed it. “I think you should talk to the Captain about this. It may be nothing, but he should at least know what he is carrying.”

“I don’t know,” said Simon, his brow furrowed as he looked at but did not see the board in front of him. “He wouldn’t like to know that River had been around there, I think, or that I was making judgment on his business.”

“Yes, but he might be more angry to find out later that you knew all along and didn’t tell him,” put in Inara.

Simon looked up again. “How would he say it: damned if I do, damned if I don’t?” he asked with a sigh.

Inara smiled again, a little more worried than before, but still genuine. “Perhaps you expect worse than the Captain will give, as well.”

A little smile crept onto Simon’s face, though he was not looking at her.

“What is it?” asked Inara curiously.

Simon very deliberately moved his knight, and said, “Checkmate.”

Inara looked down at the board, up to Simon again, and then laughed. “I was not wrong, then, to tell Wash that I needed quiet to think. Very well done; I am impressed.”

Simon shrugged a little sheepishly. “I’m a doctor; I’m trained to remember the plan, even when surrounded by distractions.”

“Your strategy was excellent as well,” commented Inara, rising and moving towards the stove. “Did you receive training?”

“Not officially,” said Simon.

“I see why you were named gifted. Tea?”

“Yes, thank you,” answered Simon.

“Sometimes it’s hard to calm the mind quickly after such a game,” explained Inara, bringing two cups to the table. “And after such a conversation. I know your nights are not peaceful; I wouldn’t want to make it worse.”

“Thank you,” said Simon, sipping the warm tea. Inara had not put any sugar in it, something he did not mind in the least, and the fruity flavor combined with a more savory herbal aftertaste was soothing. “It’s likely better that I spoke,” he added.

There were no more words. The quiet did not seem awkward, the ship’s noises keeping silence far away. The warmth of the tea spread through Simon, and slowly all of his weariness returned. Inara also began to look worn, and after a while she slowly rose and took her cup to the counter. Giving a last small smile and nod to Simon, she left the kitchen. Simon soon finished his tea and also put his cup away, then walked over to the sofa. River was still soundly sleeping, but her grasp on his book had lessened. Simon carefully took it from her hands and, picking up the blanket that was folded and sitting on the armchair, gently covered her with it and sat down.

He flipped through the pages of the book without paying much attention, then noted that there were now many notes in the margins. His face grew worried again, as he found it difficult to decipher any meaning from them. River had always marked up his books with complex algorithms and advanced logic that he rarely fully understood, making corrections to the text, but here he saw only disorganized thought. Sometimes the comments were expanding on the text, calculations and analysis of neural activity described therein, but most of them seemed to be the recordings of her stream of thought. She had put down disturbing images sometimes as well, and other times words and phrases that were unsettling to him because of their near-random placement. He closed the book, glancing back at his sister. Any moment now, she would wake in fear, troubled by these thoughts and more that rampaged through her fragile mind during the night—and Simon’s worry at this moment was how much of it was real. He was not ready to comprehend everything she had been through, not yet.

Moving a little closer, he wrapped one arm around her shoulders. She shifted a little in sleep, turning to rest her head on his arm, and Simon breathed out slowly. He laid his head on the back of the couch, and tried to relax by remembering the earlier events of the day. He would tell the captain tomorrow about the cryo box—and would brace himself for a punch if he offended him, which was unfortunately likely given his track record. It was ironic that this was the thought that led him at last to sleep.

COMMENTS

Sunday, November 18, 2007 7:52 AM

AGENTROUKA


That was one hell of a well-captured mood. All that heaviness of a late evening, coupled with the almost floaty pleasure of relaxing and concentrating at once.

Having Simon and Inara playing chess is a stroke of genius, because these two are people who can appreciate the challenge without getting stuck on a sense of competition.

Inara's pleasure at Simon's skill is just as real as his relief to be able to talk - as much as he'll let himself.

All that while not ignoring the other characters and advancing the plot, as well. I'm impressed and pleased!

You write a lovely Simon, indeed.

Sunday, November 18, 2007 10:20 AM

PLATONIST


Game Night on Serenity (haven't seen this done before, in fanfic) which creates a great setting for excellent crew interactions and conversation... it reminded me of Shindig.

love the chess game and the tall card comparison, and the hide and seek, very sweet

nice writing, looking for more, what is up with the cargo?

Monday, November 19, 2007 2:22 AM

KATESFRIEND


Great job with this - love how you kept the same metaphor of games throughout the whole story. Looking forward to more.

Monday, November 19, 2007 8:17 AM

LEIASKY


This was so lovely. I really enjoy you telling this series of stories from Simon's pov. And all the crew interaction feels just like in the show.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007 12:33 AM

WYTCHCROFT


took my an age to find - but it was well worth the hunt! fine work:)


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