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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - DRAMA
As a dangerous high-speed trip to Hera begins, the crew wait to find out what will happen to the Core worlds, and Mal and Inara try to figure out the rules of their new affair.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1173 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Falling through the Deep Slot
"I... I don't think I can watch any more of this," Kaylee said, shuddering and getting up from the narrow two-person couch in Serenity's lounge. (I didn't particularly like the fact that she wasn't beside me anymore, but understood why.) "It - it's not like they're really telling us anything new at this point, just replaying the vids that they've got over and over again, and talkin' more about what they think of it all..." She reached out for the control that would darken the screen, but thought better of enforcing her will upon everybody else's viewing choice, no matter how good her reasons were.
"The way of the 'verse, Kaylee," Mal said softly, a bitter smile on his face. "When all is said and done, the Cortex news networks only care about ratings, and following the pack instinct. Nobody wants to stop focusing on a story like this, no matter how little of note they have to say - or how it affects the spirit of those who can't stop watching..."
"Oooh, hey, violence and gore!" Jayne exclaimed, passing through at just the right moment and getting distracted by the scene being shown - an argument turning into a knife-fight in a ravaged urban neighborhood, the street lit by waste-receptacle fires. "What's the series? Or is it a feature??"
"Actually, despite the high quality of the brutality being shown, this wasn't staged for our entertainment by the vid studios," I muttered in disgust, standing up and embracing Kaylee as a way to show that I supported her. "At least, not as far as we know. It's being aired as news footage from the Sihnon riots."
"Ohh." Jayne considered that, then pulled a small bag of self-puffing corn out of one of his big cargo pockets. "Seems like good viewing anyway."
I shared a look with Kaylee, and we left the lounge together - to my surpirse, we were followed by Mal, Zoe, and Inara, which would leave Jayne alone in there. As the five of us milled around in the hallway uncertainly, an unfamiliar voice called out. "Hello, captain Reynolds, Doctor Tam, Miss Frye... erm."
The tall, dusky-skinned man seemed to be a bit embarassed that he didn't know Inara's name or title, and I knew that he hadn't gotten Zoe's last name when she'd introduced herself, just 'Zoe.' (Maybe she was feeling uncomfortable about still taking Wash's name after he was gone, or just with reminding herself of him that way.) Mal seemed to think that enough time had been taken up with names already. "Hey. Everything in passenger quarters to your satisfaction?"
"Yes, entirely. You were watching the news reports from the inner worlds?"
"Such as they are, yes," Kaylee responded bitterly.
"It's hard to watch suffering like that, and not be able to help," the passenger said softly. His own name was Hasati Norak, and he was some kind of diplomatic administrator who we were ferrying to Hera - along with two other people and a cargo hold full of millitary equipment. "The Alliance is dying, perhaps, drowning in the blood sins of its ruling class."
"It's hurting," Inara replied sharply, and then bit her lip. Hasati gestured that she should go on, and I wondered if Inara felt that she had been pushed to speaking out of turn because of her own pain over the Sihnon riots and the passenger's remark. "That's all that any of us can say for the present, I mean - the pain and suffering. Whether the Alliance as an institution will die, or *should* die..."
"Yes, I apologize for speaking so, dear lady," Hasati muttered, taking Inara's hand and bowing to kiss the fingers very lightly. "You are a Sihnon national?" Mal was starting to bristle at the attention that this stranger was paying to her, both verbal and tactile, and I forced myself not to watch him out of the corner of my eye, instead following the conversation fixedly. Just what *had* happened between the two of them on that ill-fated trip to the Ares moon? Kaylee was inordinately curious about that, although from what Mal had said so far, there hadn't been much of interest to it.
"Umm... I was born there, but the citizenship situation is a little bit complicated, actually," Inara muttered. "Licenced companions who leave their home worlds are generally under the authority and protection of the guild, rather than planetary expatriates..."
"Ahh, I see." Hasati took a respectful step back. "May I inquire as to your name, Companion?"
"Inara - In..." She broke off repeating her name, which I had been assuming would have been a precursor to mentioning her own last name. Why hadn't she wanted to introduce herself to this person in full? "And I'm not really an active Companion at the moment, just recently in fact I was, well, maybe I should just say that..."
"Don't worry," Hasati said with a trace of a smile. "I wasn't thinking of asking you for an... appointment. We'll probably both be too busy for business of this sort on the trip."
"Ahh, yes." Inara did breathe a bit of a sigh of relief. "Sorry, it was very nice to meet you Mister Norak, but I believe I need to go and meditate. To, umm, to purge the distress from my spirit of those news reports..."
"Oh, right," Mal agreed, shifting his feet slightly. "I reckon I could do with getting my mind off things too. Of course, I don't meditate, so..."
"I could *try* teaching you, if you promise not to snicker," Inara told him. I looked over at her and she was flushing very faintly. Or so it seemed - a bit to hard given her usually richly colored skin, but... hmmm. "Come on."
"Hey, now... meditating?" Mal didn't move from the spot where he was standing. "Me? Seriously??"
"If you don't want to, Mal, then just say so," Inara snapped. Kaylee let out a little giggle right next to me. "But yes, I do think that you're capable of it, and that you might get something out of the experience. If you're *afraid* to explore your own mind and spirit, then..."
"Hey, I ain't afreed of nothin'," Mal growled, crossing over to join Inara. "You just lead the mantra, and I'll follow along as best I ever can..." The two of them left, the sounds of a relatively decent bicker fading out quickly behind them.
"One matter I must bring to the attention of the crew," Hasati put in, as if afraid that we'd all head off in different directions and leave him now. "One of the cases of artillery ordinance has shifted slightly on the top of its pile while we were executing the gravitational assist..."
"Of course," Zoe said, stepping up. "I'll take care of that..." She hesitated, realizing that it was beyond her capacity even with the assistance of the simple cargo bay motary. Her dark gaze slid over me, and then flicked back into the lounge, pondering the wisdom of seperating Jayne from his riot footage.
"I'll be happy to assist, and perhaps the other passengers are too if they are needed," Hasati volunteered. "Just felt that there should be a ranking member of the crew on hand... especially since the motary won't activate without a control code."
"Alright, let's get it done," Zoe grumped and headed off towards the cargo bay. Hasati followed, which meant that I was alone with Kaylee. I like the sound of those five words. 'I was alone with Kaylee.'
"Hmm... maybe I should check on the inertia softeners," Kaylee muttered, her pretty face drawing itself into a slight frown. "If something shifted from that slingshot... that was what he meant by 'gravity assist', yeah?"
"Yes," I assured her, having not thought of it much as I mentally translated the fancier vocabulary into terms that the Serenity crew tended to use. Kaylee led the way towards the engine room, and I followed her out of habit.
"Well, there might be even rougher maneuvers on the other side of the slot, and since we're carrying so much that can go 'boom' down there..."
"Then anything you can do to minimize the shock and impact of the engines firing would be good, yeah," I agreed. "Any idea how long it'll take?"
Kaylee turned to me and made a cute face. "Aww... feeling impatient for some other kind of couples time? Don't wanna just hang around and watch me tinker??"
I had to laugh at the way she put it. "As much as I usually love to be there when you're working... I'm not so sure about it tonight. Do you hate me for saying so?"
"Of course not." Stepping into the engine room, she tried to size up the job that awaited her. "Could be an hour and a half or more. But why dontcha head up to the cabin and keep your sister company? I know that she'll appreciate it."
"Yeah, okay I guess." I reached out to hug Kaylee and kiss her. The words 'I love you' ran through my head, but I froze before saying them, not sure if it would seem too soon. "Take care of these pretty fingers, and don't work too hard sweetheart." Okay, that felt like an even worse thing to say, but gwai-gwai long duh dong.
"Yeah, I'm doing okay," River said without taking her eyes from the control panel yet. "We're falling into the center of the 'verse at something like thirty klicks per second, which is nothing like the top speed that we'll get up to." She looked up. "Between that and the fact that space isn't too crowded around here, maybe it's time I try to get a little bit of rest, actually."
"Hmm... I wouldn't have thought of it that way, but maybe yes." I hadn't really thought about what it would be like for River, piloting through the very middle of her 'slot' trajectory. Instead of following a normal orbit around the 'Verse' from Boros to Hera, we were going to be short-cutting through it, flying at high speeds through space that would be relatively full of other ships, debris both natural and artificial, and taking on a direction that was very different than most of the rest of it. In other words, if Serenity weren't in the right place at the right time, it would get torn apart instantly, and only constant vigilance from my little sister could fend off that dire fate. I knew that she was steely and determined, and I had some experience with performing at the top of my game for a long time at a stretch, like a double ventricular reduction operation. But it would be several days straight when River would hardly be able to take her eyes away from the flight controls I knew, and that was something that I'd never be able to do.
So I distracted her - or maybe I was trying to distract myself. "So, just what's the deal with that Derek guy, and how did he recognize you?" River glanced back to the console. "Did you meet him in the city, on Boros, when you were out so late?"
"Yes, but there's no need to act all Dad-ly about it," River said, rolling her eyes. Hmm... just how WOULD Father have tried to deal with River by the time she was this age? Probably he wouldn't have worried too much if she was staying out late - just as long as she was meeting boys whose families were of a sufficient social station. About the last thing that *I* wanted was for River to get involved with somebody who was rich, privileged, and entitled - I remember being a guy who fit that description all too well. And that brings up another thing - just why was this Derek kid a passenger on such an important trip halfway across the 'Verse? "I... I told you about the bounty hunter I sensed, looking for me, right?" I grunted, not having needed the reminder about that fact. "I thought the best idea was to get out of the way, leave the city. Derek had access to a car, so I flirted with him and suggested a field trip. That's all it was."
"Hmm..." I considered this. "So I should be reassured that you were just using a perfectly nice-seeming young man for his hover-wheels, letting him think that you really liked him?"
"Simon!" she exclaimed, either unused to me teasing her or not recognizing it. "He... well, first off, they were actual wheels, nothing hover about it. And second... do you actually want me to NOT do everything I can to stay out of the way of bounty hunters, up to and including taking advantage of well-meaning strangers?"
"Hmm, I suppose that you've got me there," I admitted. "So if that's all there was, how did you leave it with him? I assume that he drove you back into the city when you thought it was safe, near that small spaceyard where we were docked." She nodded. "And did the two of you, umm, after he dropped you off, or before..."
"Did I give him a kiss for being my knight in shining armor?" River smiled much too cleverly. "Think I'll let you stew about that one for a little while."
"I could just go and lean on the boy," I said. "Find out the truth straight from the horse's mouth."
"Oh really?" River arched an eyebrow. "Don't lean on what you aren't sure you can push over, brother. Derek may be younger than you, but I think he could take you."
Alright, that sort of teasing I definitely didn't have to just stand here and take. "I... I think I'll see how Kaylee's getting on with the Inertia softeners," I muttered. Just before leaving I noticed an odd expression come across my sister's face as she looked at one of the screens, the forward radar or something like that. "Anything wrong?"
"No, it's alright... I think," she said.
Not quite sure how to take that, I walked back into the forward passageway.
"I... I thought that meditation was usually quieter than that," I panted, as the loveliest woman in the 'verse collapsed, all nekkid and a bit sweaty, next to me on the richly soft bedsheets. Of course, I was all nekkid and more than a bit sweaty too. "Though come to think of it, my mind does seem a bit clearer and less full of the little chattering voices than usual, so that sounds maybe good." Inara brushed some hair back from where it had fallen across the side of her face and shot me a glare. "Yes, I get it that the meditation practice thing was just an excuse. Was just tryin' to be slightly funny, and maybe I'd better as not try again too soon."
"No, actually..." she breathed sweetly, reaching out her arm to lay palm on the side of my chest, "I think I would like it if you keep trying to be funny around me. Maybe with enough exposure, I'll actually start to recognize, if not appreciate the experience."
My heart fell for a second, before I realized that she was actually teasing me. "Okay, so, umm... what now? I mean, well... that was great, but I ain't exactly itchin' for another go just yet, an' I don't feel sleepy or anything. We could talk, I s'pose, but I'm not sure what you're in the mood to talk about and what's not to be talked about, and..."
"Hmm..." She stared up to the ceiling of the shuttle and considered the question. "Yeah, it's not much like a talking night. Some other time, sure, but not so soon after... um, you know." I nodded, and brought my own hand over hers, since that was the quickest way that occured to show some kind of emotional support in this situation. "One thing that I'd like to ask, actually... I mean, since neither of us seem especially clear on what the ground rules to this thing going on between us should be - do you have an objection to trying out activities to do together on the grounds that they're... part of my Companion repertoire? Aside from the sexual stuff, I mean."
"Hmm." I had to think about that one. "Not as such, I suppose... I might veto particular things on the grounds of them sounding stupid or just not something that I'm interested in, but not just because... because they're other stuff that you've done for pay." Took a deep breath. "Might have thought that *you'd* object on those grounds, though - drawing a firm dividing line between your affair with me, and your Guild career, I mean."
"It's you, and I won't be charging," Inara shot back among laughs. "That seems about as firm a dividing line as I'll need. Anything in my life, anything I can think of doing together - I want to share it with you. I'm holding nothing back from you when we're together, Mal."
No, you aren't, I thought silently. You're holding back the truth from our friends and crewmates - well, except maybe for Zoe, and I haven't even had a chance to pull her aside and let her know the score... or even decided if I really want to tell her, but that's another story. And you're holding back parts of yourself, parts of your life that you're not ready to give to me totally, when it's not just the two of us in private - like continuing to see other men and calling them 'clients,' or refusing to even consider marriage. But it would do no good to voice any of those thoughts, so I kept them inside me yet again. "Alright, then - any suggestions? Welcoming tea ceremony? Massage of some sort? We actually have room to do some courtly and elaborate dance here in that open section of the cabin, if you turn a bit of music." She was laughing at my suggestions, but that was certainly better than letting her brood about fires and riots. "Or maybe you could just brush my hair very carefully, try something in a simple braid or I-don't-know..."
Didn't get any farther on account of Inara more or less throwing her purdy body back on top of mine and pressing our lips into a kiss. "Or maybe I take a chance to see if I can GET you itchin' for a repeat performance, Mal Reynolds," she whispered, leaving her mouth still only a hair's width from my own.
"Well, stranger things have been known to happen," I admitted in panting breath, letting one hand wander from her shoulder to collarbone, neck, tweaking an earlobe and burying my fingers in rich, curly, dark brown hair. Sure enough, I could feel the weapon of my passion starting to rise on guard once again, and it was easy to tell that she was ready for lovemaking once again, or at least sexplay, since the difference between the two is less a question of the physical and involves other distinctions. Whatever it was she wanted of me, though, I was eager for it and more.
Much as I tried not to, both of us sortuv slept for a patch after indulging the climax of our lust for the second time, and when I came back around, I just sort of lay there next to Inara, marvellin' at how pretty and sweet she looked like that. Finally her eyes popped open and she said "Well, the 'welcoming ceremony' is sort of out of place at this point, though we could have tea if you like," just like an earlier train of conversation hadn't gone off the tracks. "Or massage - me doing you, you doing me, or both. Not sure about the dancing or hair brushing. We could even actually try the meditation stuff if you really feel like it..."
"Hmm." Wasn't sure how long it would be before anybody noticed that I'd been in here for quite a while, but I couldn't bring myself to leave the lady's side just because of that, especially when it were possible that nobody's paying attention. "How about the massage, and talkin'? I mean, I'll try not to bring up - anything distressing, but we done got this far by actually communicating and telling each other how we feel, so it seems a shame to clam up just because the naughty stuff is gettin' done."
Inara raised an eyebrow. "Alright, then. What do you want to talk about?" She brought her hands up from under the covers and flexed fingers slightly as if limbering up.
"Nah, nuh-uh." Gently and tenderly I encouraged her to lie back down and turn around onto her stomach. "I might not have Companion training or anything for obvious reasons, but being stuck on a battleground for weeks on end, you learn a little something about giving back rubs and attending to other sore muscles. I get to take my turn first."
"Hmm... not sure that I'm that sore anywhere," Inara sighed as I started to rub her shoulders, "but hmm, yeah, we can give this a try, sure." I chuckled softly. "And you didn't answer about what you wanted to talk about."
"Hmm." I considered asking something meaty, like what the theological precepts of the Companion's guild religion were that were not taught to 'outsiders,' but it only took a second to decide that staying well clear of issues like that would be wiser. Inara was sincere in her intentions when she said that she would hold nothing back from me when we were alone together, I knew, but that didn't mean that pushing things too far too fast was wise. "How long was it from when you left the Sihnon temple before we met? Where did you go in the time between?"
She let out a happy sigh, which I had to take as a good sign, though whether it was due to the massaging or the question I couldn't be sure. "Well, let's see... you first interviewed me about renting the shuttle in early Mithuna of 2516, right?" I grunted an acknowledgement, though I couldn't have placed the date that closely myself offhand, it sounded about right. "So I'd been travelling for perhaps seven months already at that point... well, I guess the term 'travelling' is rather loose, since I wasn't exactly on the move in all of the time since I left Sihnon, except in the sense that all the worlds of the 'Verse are constantly moving. Took a luxury space liner out of the Great City, which wasn't too different from being on the Heart Worlds in some ways in terms of the sort of people you meet."
"Good clientele, you mean," I put in.
"Safe clientele, yes... the sort of people I felt comfortable among." Inara sighed slightly. "That ship put in on Bellerophon and Ariel, and I saw some of each of those worlds, but didn't get to stay too long at either. Then at Osiris, I went to a Guild temple and stayed to learn for about a month and a half, as they were running a primer on the outer 'Verse - peoples and cultures, the way the women of our... craft were viewed in different places, who the various potential clients broke down and how to spot a thrillseeker who couldn't, or wouldn't, pay."
"Ahh," I said. "So you didn't just head out into the more distant planets without some sort of preparation?"
"Oh, no." She sighed. "I also had a few more specific questions for those teaching the class, because my reasons for going further out weren't entirely those that other girls felt - impatience with the strict culture of the Core worlds, and sometimes even stricter supervision from their Guild superiors... or any passion for great adventure and wild romance on the frontier planets. I mean, I guess I got all of that, the freedom and the big love affair, but I wasn't looking for it."
Stayed silent at this point, with an effort. The real reason that Inara had left Sihnon was another of those questions that I didn't want to push her about, though she had said that she'd tell me before we landed on Hera. "Well, then I shipped out, took a somewhat less prestigious passenger liner as far as Greenleaf, and then found a berth on a fast three-courier. You know, a ship carrying mail, cargo, and passengers..."
"Yeah, I'm familiar with the term."
"And that ship took me to Beaumonde, where I stayed for a bit longer, and then hopped a short-run freighter to New Canaan. Which is where I came across your 'vert for a shuttle leasor."
"Yes, I remember that," I admitted, working down towards her lower back. In fact, though I'm not sure if Inara had ever known it, Zoe had come up with the idea of specifically getting a Companion to come along as passenger or rent the shuttle, because we'd badly needed a bit of respectability and diversion in order to keep the local Alliance cops from tumbling to a wine smuggling run that we were in the middle of. Maybe if she asked, I'd tell her about that part. She might find it funny now. "So, just going from place to place, until you found us? No funny stories or..."
"Well, a lot of my stories are the ones that I can't tell you about." She paused, sighing loudly, and shook her head slightly. "And already I'm breaking my vow that there isn't anything that I won't share with you, but... but one, I'm not sure if you really WANT me to tell you anything about my... clients, and second, that stuff is supposed to be privileged information. I need at least to make sure that you understand that, so that you'd never repeat..."
"Hey, yeah, that's alright," I quickly cut her off. "Yes, I get that it's secret, and I'll never tell a secret that you entrust to me." But I didn't really want to hear about her customers, except that... "So just how did you meet Atherton Wing? I mean, if you'd never been to Persephone before you came on board. I know that we'd been there once before the big shindig, but I got the impression that you'd, umm... 'seen him' before even that. Figured that your wanderings had led you there at least once before we'd met."
Somehow even the skin of Inara's back flushed slightly. "Well, yes I... he was a regular back on Sihnon."
"Oh." Thought about that. "Fairly long trip - did he used to live there, or travel on business... never got the impression that mister Wing attended to business much..."
"For *fencing* lessons," Inara put in, laughing softly, which made her body tremble beneath my hands. "The most prestigious schools of swordplay are on Sihnon, or some of them anyway. Atherton was inattentive to almost everything else, but his chosen avocation of the blade was certainly something that he was serious about." I thought about that. "And don't get that smug smile on your face, Mal Reynolds - you were bold and you were lucky. Fencing is like poker that way - sometimes the newbie can beat the expert, just on a fluke."
"With the difference that in poker, the expert can keep on playing and clean up in the long run," I pointed out. "And I wasn't smiling, don't think I was feeling smug - yet."
"Oh, well then I guess I warned you off in time." I laughed at that interpretation. "Come on, this is great, but it's my turn to do you I think."
"Sure?" Daringly I let my hands slip below her waist.
"Hmm... this is getting to be more than just back rubs and tending to swollen muscles, mister Reynolds." Inara let out a low, erotic moan. "But no matter how good your hands can make me feel, that won't stop me from feeling strongly about doing equal time." And suddenly she twisted so that I spun around and landed on my back, with my but and legs hanging off the edge of the bed because of how far down it I'd been to bring my hands to her bottom end. Inara was on top of me, facing up to start, but quickly she squirmed herself around and started to run her hands over my chest in a way that wasn't just arousing or sensuously comforting, but almost like sexual satisfaction in and of that touch alone.
"Why don't you tell me about your first job on 'Serenity'?" Inara said through a big grin, before bending down so that a curtain of dark hair cut off my view of her face and tickled my neck. "You and Jayne and Wash..."
"Right, Bexter... can't forget about him."
"Well, it started off pretty simple - a cargo run carrying fertilizer to Persephone..."
I looked up at the not-too-familiar voice, even though on some level I'd already known who was coming up to the cockpit. Checked the flight board. "Passengers aren't supposed to be up here."
"There's nobody around to catch me," Derek said with a little smile. "Look, it isn't hard to tell that you never really expected to see me again after that one night, and maybe you're feeling a little embarassed about the fact that you told a few little white lies. If - if you want me to just completely avoid you the rest of the trip, then I will, but I had to come up and talk to you one more time, at least."
"Umm, oh, sheesh," I muttered, sighed, and made eye contact with him one more time. "I... I won't be avoiding *you* completely, Derek - though maybe you shouldn't make a point of coming up here. I'll have to be in the cockpit most of the time for this flight, and... and I need to concentrate, so getting distracted won't be helping anybody. But I'll come see you before you have to leave on Hera, at least, and I do sort of wish that we had more time than this."
"Okay, well, I guess I'll take what I can get," he admitted. "Do I have to leave now?"
"Umm... no, I think we're good for a bit," I admitted, and smiled. He grinned too and without a word, sat down on the other chair. "So, have you heard any more about the political fallout?"
"Yeah - the Alliance Parliament has recessed indefinitely," he filled in. "Translation, they know that there are enough people trying to kill them or hold them hostage that they don't feel like sitting in session where they're supposed to be. Time to duck and run."
"Seems like," I agreed. "And Ariel's planetary assembly has passed a resolution condeming the Parliament's 'unconstitutional executive actions,' and taking emergency control of all Alliance government offices and employees - though they were careful to phrase it so that they weren't declaring independence, like Boros did." Sighed. "Wish there was more news from Osiris - my brother's still worried about our parents."
"Hmm, yeah," Derek admitted. "Can't remember hearing much about that world except 'some riots reported in the cities." I nodded unhappily. "Okay, this may be a weird question, but was your captain - that Mal guy - was he really involved in the Miranda broadcast?? I mean, I heard something about it when my parents were talking about sending me off to Hera with him - but it doesn't really add up. How would a..."
At that point, I wasn't able to contain some slightly histerical laughter and it broke off, puzzling Derek. "Umm, okay, I'll tell you some of the story of the broadcast, but seriously you cannot tell ANYONE that I told you, not even the crew or the other passengers. They may know some of it - the passengers, I mean, obviously the whole crew knows, but we're not supposed to be spreading the secret."
"Umm - of course, yeah, absolutely between you and me," Derek said, his eyes wide with surprise. "So what's the deal? Do you really know everything?"
"Well, pretty nearly - because the story starts with me, or just about." I tried to figure out the best way to explain. "When I was a few years younger, I was in a government institution on Osiris, and government scientists... well, there's a bunch of stuff that went on there that I'm *not* going to get into now. I was part of an important experiment, though, you could say, and there were important Parliament ministers who were shown through the facility. That must be where I found out about Miranda originally. So about a week, maybe eleven days ago, I'm following some of the gang into this bar on Beaumonde and was watching something on a vid screen, and things start to go crazy..."
It took me a while to go over the basic narrative, even skipping over anything that would scare the poor boy off too hard just for the time being. "I don't know too much about how the actual transmission went out - Mal hasn't talked about it much, and it was only him and that creepy Operative guy, down over Mister Universe's power reactor. I was up near the front door, just trying to... to hold off the Reavers and so on. With my brother, and Kaylee, both badly hurt, and..."
"Wait a second." Derek's eyes were firmly on mine. "There's something that you're hiding from me - about the Reavers. What EXACTLY were you doing to help hold them off?"
Oh, man. Never thought that he'd ask me that question. "Err, Derek, come on, it's a bit hard for me to answer that question."
"Take a chance and trust me," he implored. "I... I have a need to know things like this, it's a personality flaw."
"Okay, umm..." Big deep breath. "I ran into the forward room and sealed the blast doors to keep the others - my brother and his friends - safe. Oh, after tossing his dropped medical bag back through." Derek's eyes widened, but he didn't say anything in response. "As they converged on me, I just... did whatever I could to stay alive and beat them back when I could. After the first few went down, I grabbed their blades, and so that made it a bit easier to stay afloat..." Sensed something coming up the dining room. "Sheesh, you gotta get out of here!"
"Umm - where?" Derek got up, looking around, and he must have heard a telltale himself. "Gorram it, no way out and I'm really not even supposed to be in crew quarters..."
"First bunk on the left as you go out is mine, my new one," I whispered. There'd been a lot of reshuffling, but I liked my new digs. "Nobody will look for you down there, and you make a run for the stern as SOON as the coast is clear, get me?" He nodded, and hurried away. I could see plain as day an impulse to hang back and try to kiss me, no matter if that made him late, but he didn't follow through on it. Was surprised that part of me wished that he had.
When Zoe poked her head, I made a point of asking her all kinds of questions about Hera so that she wouldn't be paying attention to anything other than memories of home, so that Derek could sneak back up my ladder and head off.
Zoe was back an hour later, in fact, she was sitting in the pilot's chair when I got back from a quick run to the head. (And I mean quick - hands washed and everything in one hundred and four seconds isn't anything to sneeze at.) "Figured that you could use a plate from the dinner table."
"Plates are good," I agreed, stepping up to the console, just close enough that Zoe could slide out and step away to let me in, which she did after a few seconds. "If they have food on them, so much the better... yeah." Zoe pointed, and I pulled the napkin away to reveal a tasty-smelling squash risotto.
"So, how high a transverse velocity do you figure we'll meed at our lowest point in the sun's gravity well?" Zoe asked, a bit sharply and using her Corporal Zoe voice, which cued me in that this was something like a pop quiz.
"Umm... I haven't memorized the figure. Something like... er, a hundred and seventy kilometers a second?"
"No more?" Her face was forbidding and severe. "I thought that we were crossing the 'verse in just ten days."
"Ten and a half, and maybe it'll be more than that," I grumbled. "Don't worry, I'll get you to Hera on time."
Zoe kept staring at me for a long moment, and I wondered if she was going to say something to compare me against Wash. Actually peeked into her head for a moment, and what I saw surprised me. She wasn't trying to be hard on me, just feeling impatient because... "Why do you want to get back out to Ita moon and figure out what trajectory we were on so bad? And what does that have to do with getting pregnant??"
The first response to those blurted-out questions, as I should have been able to guess, was a look so fierce that it actually knocked me sideways. (Picking up Zoe's anger and frustration probably helped with the effect.) "If you don't learn to respect people's privacy a little better, girl, you're not going to have any friends left around here."
"Sorry... I'm trying, but sometimes stuff just kinda hits me hard enough, and I'm still not good at the impulse control thing," I admitted. "Will work harder on it."
"But now that you know, I guess I might as well - that is, it could help to talk about it," she muttered, sitting herself down. Hmm... am I going to get everybody unburdening themselves while I fly this run? Then again, I was the one doing the confessing with Derek, not the other way around. "I... I thought that I was carrying Wash's child when we got to Boros. Maybe... maybe I was, but if so I lost him - or her..."
"When you got shot," I filled in. Both Zoe and Jayne had been attacked and left for dead because of a bounty hunting assignment that Jayne had taken on Boros and invited Zoe to partner him on. "And - and you *want* to have a baby?"
"Wash's baby, if I can," she said in a low voice. "Somebody to... to start over with, to carry on for. Bit of a long shot I know, but... well, your brother said that my guy had him do sperm testing, and that the sample is flying through space out around there."
"Why would he have sent it out into space??" I asked.
"Not really clear on that, though knowing him, it could have been part of some really tasteless joke - like imagining salvagers picking it up." I had to giggle a bit. "I realize that we might not be able to get to that corner of the 'Verse again anytime soon..."
"Well, you never know," I said. "I... I wanted to come to Boros, because of that message from the other Academy escapees, and - and then the captain got this job." I paused. "You haven't told Mal or anyone else about this?"
"No, I... well, maybe I should mention it, at that. He deserves to know what's goin' on in my head, if it could affect our work, and this might."
"Yeah," I agreed. "He'd support you in this too, I think, as much as he can."
"Hmm, yeah," she said. "I wonder if he's still meditating in Inara's shuttle."
As soon as she said the words, my mind wandered over to one side of 'Serenity' and back, which is much further than I can usually 'read' as far as I've noticed - with the exception of a few cases like the bounty hunter back on Boros. And what I could detect from Inara's shuttle... no, nobody was meditating there, definitely, and... hmmm now. Probably better keep what Mal and Inara were doing to each other under wraps for now. They have their own reasons for wanting to keep it quiet. "I'm not sure, but he'll be around to check on the course before too long I expect."
"Yeah, I suppose you're right," Zoe agreed. "Well, if you see him, tell him I was lookin' to talk to him. I guess I'll go down to the cargo bay and check on all of that darn ammunition again." She got up, and looked around the cockpit. "You planning on snoozin' in that chair for the whole gorram fall?"
"Umm, yeah, well, not 'all' the time, but when I really need to sleep, yeah."
Zoe shook her head. "I got some better ideas. I could spell you at the controls during this part and the last few days before the Hera approach, at least - heck, even Mal could do that much." I giggled slightly at that. "We'd have done as much for - for Wash, if he were still alive now and we were still trying this thing. You wouldn't have to be far - heck, we could set up a matress in the doorway just outside of here if you don't want to be down in your bunk."
"Hmmm..." I considered that. "Okay, we'll try that - how about in an hour and a half or so? I'll probably be kindof tired by then."
Zoe laughed her rich deep laugh. "Good enough." Just before leaving she added, "Thanks, River."
And was gone before I could decided to ask her what for.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Tuesday, December 25, 2007 8:23 AM
Wednesday, December 26, 2007 2:08 AM
Thursday, December 27, 2007 6:39 PM
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