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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Simon gets tested, Zoe gets quizzed, and Kaylee gets . . . satisfied. For the moment.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2475 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
“This,” the young inspector said, his lip curled in an arrogant sneer and his voice dripping with contempt, “is easily the most morally repugnant, least organized, and most misbegotten ship of horrors it has ever been my sad duty to inspect. If I were you, I would care a good deal less about my qualifications and credentials, and spend a good deal more time considering the ramifications of a legal defense, a ruined career, and a long, long prison term. I have yet to decide if this . . . chou ba guai situation is due primarily to gross incompetence or to blatant dereliction of duty, but either way the balance of your life lies in my gorram hands. I suggest you keep that in mind each and every time you choose to open your mouth and enlighten the ‘verse with your opinion.” The voice was low, calculated, and deadly serious, and a similarly dark expression cloaked his face. It was a look of pure intimidation, twice as sharp for appearing from such an unexpected quarter. The inspector was by no means physically imposing. “Are there any more questions?” he spat out, each syllable dripping vitriol.
Silence hung in the air as the force of his reply filled the room. Finally, someone spoke.
“Damn, that made my nipples hard just watchin’!” Kaylee said, enthusiastically.
“Kay-lee!” Mal said, rolling his eyes, “that’s ‘need-to-know’ intel, and I purely don’t!”
“Sorry, Cap,” she said, apologetically. “He’s just so darn . . . adorable when he gets all serious like that!”
“Not exactly the effect I was going for,” Simon sighed.
“Don’t let the, um . . . nipples fool you,” Rachel said, swallowing a chuckle. “That was an excellent response to an off-the-cuff question – just the sort o’ thing that trips agents in the field. What do you think, Mal?”
All eyes turned to the Captain, who was rubbing his jaw in contemplation from atop his perch on the relay they were delivering. “Did right well,” he admitted, at last. “Just like this second lieutenant I knew once. Danvers. Met ‘im early in the War. He could turn on the corrosive personality like a gorram faucet. It was a thing of beauty, if you weren’t the object of his ire.”
“Good officer?” Rachel asked.
Mal shrugged. “Pretty good, ‘till someone stuffed a grenade in his sleeping bag,” Mal added, amused. “You got me convinced. Anyone has the temerity to question you, you’ll put ‘em in their place.”
“Who knew that being an asshole would ever come in handy?” River snorted. “I think you were over the top,” she critiqued. “Too much viciousness, not enough bored toleration.”
“The difference would only occur to a trained professional,” Rachel said, shaking her head. “Intel says the last time any of these guys saw civilization, Hao Ti was president. They’re soldiers on garrison duty, not counterintel agents. They’ll be shaking in their boots over this, not trying to piss off the inspector. You’ll do fine, Doctor. Where’d you learn such a fascinatin’ command of venom?”
“Something I picked up as a resident,” Simon said, his hands in his pockets self-consciously. “Medical students . . . well, they pick them bright and young, then grind away the thinking parts in the classroom to make room for the massive amount of data they have to learn. Then they turn them loose on the wards and try to make them behave like real people when they’ve missed some valuable social lessons. Pure stupidity. If you don’t have a firm hand, things can go . . . poorly. And you end up with idiot doctors. And dead patients.”
“’Splain’s a lot,” Mal muttered.
“Just remember to keep it bureaucratic,” Rachel reminded him. “You are a young Parliamentary inspector on his . . . fifth big assignment? You are eager to make a name for yourself, yet serious enough to cut through the fei hua and ask pointed questions. You are gathering evidence, and it needs to look like that. You’ll be meeting with all the top people on the ship, and they will all be terrified that you will bring them up on charges before the High Court. So they will be trying to alternatively kiss your ass and lie to your face. Keep cool, and when in doubt, rely on protocol.”
“That, at least, I’m good at,” Simon said. “I guess I had better go study up on that shiny new equipment.”
“Take another look at your cover’s background, too,” Rachel insisted. “You can never know your cover story too well.”
“Right,” Simon agreed. I’ve still got . . . what, a day and a half? Plenty of time to learn a completely new life. And then walk unarmed into a garrison of Alliance regulars who will all be terrified of facing war crimes trials – and that’s if things go well.”
“Not completely unarmed,” Mal reminded. “Got that shiny laser pistol.”
“Funny, I don’t feel much safer,” Simon said, wryly. “I suppose I only have to keep it up for twelve hours, or so. I can do that, I think. Unless something goes catastrophically wrong.”
“What are the chances?” River mused.
“You have to keep your cover intact until the new relay is in place, the new transmission pod is installed, and our people can use the back door,” Rachel said. The “back door” was a half-mile asteroid that came relatively close to the Suri Madron every few days. The ad hoc Independent Fleet that had assembled would be taking the long way around, coming in in a tight formation through the radar shadow the rock created and hiding behind it until signaled. Then they would all descend upon the Suri Madron at once. That is, once the Alliance gunboat was safely out of range, which was entirely up to the former privateer Daydream and its crew.
The whole thing had to go like clockwork in order to succeed, and that depended upon a lot of people doing their jobs properly. “After that you find your way to the nearest airlock, don’t get yourself shot by our people, and get aboard. Don’t try to make it back to Serenity – you’ll likely be far forward o’ where we’re docked, which intel says will be close to the Engineering section. Just find a friendly Browncoat, give th’ password, and get safe.”
“And try not to hump it up this time,” River chided.
“Like I did when single-handedly I broke you out of the academy?” Simon retorted.
“One gorram jailbreak and he thinks he’s ruttin’ James Bond,” River shot back, rolling her eyes expressively.
“You’re starting to swear like a spacer,” Simon said, his eyes narrowing at his sister.
“Good,” Rachel said decisively. “That’s how I want her to talk. That’s her cover. Mal’s idiot-savant little-sister, Angela “Albatross” Reynolds. I don’t want her to open her mouth ‘less she must, and when she must I want to hear cornpone and grits, not a cultured Coreworld accent.”
“Angela!” snickered Kaylee under her breath. River stuck out her tongue in Kaylee’s direction, but didn’t otherwise respond.
“Any more questions y’all wanna throw at the inspector? Be brutal,” Rachel encouraged.
“Inspector,” River said in her cultured Core world accent, “I noted on your credentials that you did a rotation at the Zuniga Trauma Center on Hera in ’14 with Dr. Joshua Grebs, noted central nervous system trauma specialist. That was at least eighteen months before the introduction of the Craniostasis Cap for severe head trauma, yet you clearly state utilizing the device on several victims of the Scarborough Bridge collapse that June . . . how is it that you had access to unapproved and highly advanced medical equipment on the frontier when major urban care centers in Londinium and Sinhon did not have access to them then?”
Simon didn’t even blink. “Funny story, actually,” he began with a chuckle. “While I was on a layover between transports at some godforsaken skyplex in the Border Moons, I ran across an old colleague of mine, Buck Brently, who was the senior field investigator of the research team developing the Craniostasis Cap. We had four hours of waiting in common, ahead of us, and after a few drinks he asked me if I wanted to see one. After a few more, he offered to let me try one out. By the time I poured him into his transport, I had four of the rutting things in my baggage – don’t ask me why I did it. I suppose I just wanted a chance to try them out. So when the bridge collapsed and they started bringing in wounded by the carload, I immediately thought that this might be an ideal situation for a field test. Afterwards I sent all of the pertinent data to the company, via Buck, along with the names and follow-up addresses of the victims so that the company could continue monitoring their progress.”
“Whoa,” Kaylee said, eyes wide. “I’m impressed! You didn’t stumble one bit!”
“I guess he’ll do,” River grumbled. “He’s a clumsy liar, but he seems sincere and that sells it. To stupid people,” she amended.
“Hon, no one is going to ask him something like that,” Rachel soothed. “But he did well. Now let’s let him study and get back to work.”
“Want to help me?” Simon asked Kaylee as he passed her.
“Sure!” she said, enthusiastically. Then she leaned in closer. “Tell you what . . . you put on your uniform . . . and I’ll take mine off!”
“Hey!” Mal protested. “This is work, kids, not play time. If your boyfriend humps this up . . .”
“Relax, Cap’n,” Kaylee insisted. “I won’t let him touch me ‘till he gets every one right!” Mal glared at her good-naturedly until both of them were out of sight.
“He’ll do fine,” Rachel assured him.
“Oh, I know,” Mal agreed. “Can’t let him think that, though. The Doc is a cool customer and thinks fast on his feet – but he needs to stay on his toes, too. And if I actually expressed any reasonable amount of confidence in him, might throw him off.”
“You two got a . . . strange relationship.”
“He’s a strange bird,” Mal countered.
“So’s his sister,” Rachel agreed.
“Hey!” River protested. “I’m standing right here!”
“And no less strange for it,” Mal quipped. “Sis,” he added. “I guess you’re the one we don’t talk about at Christmas . . .”
“And why do I have to be related to him?” River accused Rachel. “Can’t I be a great pilot without a big brother for a change?”
“Not in a normal world,” Rachel said, shaking her head. “Look, I know Serenity runs differently than most boats . . . but it’s just plain unnatural to let a seventeen-year-old—”
“Eighteen!” River reminded her, shrilly.
“—eighteen-year-old pilot drive a ship,” she continued, without a beat. “Pilots, even normal smugglers, usually prefer more experience than you have. But as Mal’s sister, well, you can feasibly be seen as a replacement.”
“I guess Mom made me do it,” Mal smirked.
River rolled her eyes. “Great. From one sibling rivalry to another.”
“Would you prefer Jayne was your big brother?”
“I’d rather have cramps,” River said, after a moment’s consideration. “Speaking of cramps, I guess it’s time to relieve Jayne.” She loped off, clearly riled up by something.
“Just what the hell did her parents say to her?” Mal mused, curiously, as she left.
“Strange folk, as you said,” Rachel said with a sigh.
“Must have been something mighty profound to shake our little Albatross around like that.”
Rachel looked at Mal guiltily. “Well . . . if it’s that important to you . . .”
“I can get you the transcript. Purely confidential, of course, but we had a transcript made of the entire conversation. For security purposes. You can see the Tam family dirty laundry if you feel so compelled.”
Clearly, Mal was tempted. But in the end he shook his head. “Don’t know what good it’d do me,” he admitted. “None of my business. No need to go stirring up more trouble, now, not with things bein’ so tight before a mission. Not when there’s so much other stuff in flux.”
“Well, let me know if you change your mind,” Rachel said. “They’re in my files. Just normal family feh hua, but you might find something enlightening there.”
“Got to much else to worry about,” Mal said, dismissing it. “Jayne’s in a tizzy with his fadin’ love spell, Kaylee’s all goo-goo eyed over Dr. Cutie Pants, Inara’s spirits are in the crapper – did you see that damn thing she wore this morning? A gorram coverall – and here I never saw her in naught but a skirt before.”
“And you’d know the right skirt for cooking breakfast if anyone did,” she said. Rachel knew what was really bothering him, and if she had been a permanent member of his crew she never would have mentioned it. But both their long acquaintance and the knowledge that she would eventually leave the ship prompted her. “But face it: Zoe is gone,” she finished. “That’s got to be eatin’ a hole in you.”
“Just took up and left,” Mal said, after a moment struggling with his emotion and deciding that – for similar reasons that Rachel had considered – she could be confided in. “I know she’s banged up bad over Wash, but . . . dammit, we’ve been together through three layers of Hell! You just don’t turn your back on that to . . . to . . .”
“. . . try to get on with her life, now that she’s a widow?”
“She left Serenity,” Mal said, hoarsely. “Of all of them, she’s the one I need the most. Need Kaylee to keep her flyin’, but I need Zoe to keep her . . . keep me . . . flyin’ straight.”
“Huh. You need ‘em all, Mal. Look, the lonesome soldier thing, it gets tired. You can pretend to be chiseled out of bedrock for everyone else, but I knew you afore you shaved more’n weekly. Sure, you see Zoe takin’ this assignment as some sort of gorram betrayal, but that’s ‘cause she’s about the closest thing to kin you’ve got in the ‘verse.”
“Ain’t got kin,” Mal grunted. “I got a boat. And she flies with Zoe or without her. If she wants—”
“What she wants is to get over her loss. To grieve. And, unlike a lot of folk, Zoe just prefers to do her grievin’ with a powerful amount of ammunition. Either she’ll end up dead or cured, one way or another. But she’s gotta do it in her own way, not at your convenience. Face it, Mal, what you’re really worried about is her leavin’ you all alone. But this is for her – either she’ll come back, or she won’t. It ain’t been easy for her.”
“I’m sure she didn’t mind skipping watching the lovebirds make cow-eyes over coffee every morning,” Mal agreed, reluctantly. “Always been against shipboard romances. Make things complicated.”
“Don’t they just,” chuckled Rachel.
“How come you ain’t got a Mr. Spy somewheres?” Mal asked, suddenly. “You ain’t about to take no beauty pageants, but you ain’t half bad lookin’. And a fair shot.”
“There are some what think that particular combination isn’t conducive to harmonious matrimony,” Rachel grinned.
“Point well taken,” Mal agreed. “My own wife was far more ept with a piece than I’d care for.”
“Your . . . wife?” Rachel asked, jaw agape. Mal made a face, rubbing his jaw with one hand.
“I wasn’t exactly a willing party to the nuptials, and she turned out to have had a previous husband . . . or two. Or three. Long story. Short marriage.”
“Big ‘verse to be goin’ around lonely,” Rachel said with a sigh.
“Ain’t it just,” Mal agreed. “I suppose that’s why you’re goin’ on this particular sleigh ride, if I had to guess.”
She eyed him warily, clearly debating how much to tell him. In the end, she gave a quick, curt nod and walked away.
With a sigh and a wry chuckle, Mal headed back to the cockpit where Jayne and his erstwhile “sister” were arguing loudly. It beat heading aft and listening to Simon and Kaylee doing something else loudly.
“Ma’am?” the young man asked Zoe Washburn hesitantly. He was no more than twenty, and despite the olive drab uniform he wore he looked more schoolboy than soldier. He was one of her Greenies, bearing the patch of the Radical Green Militia under the black star of Independence. And he was clearly scared.
“What is it, soldier?” she asked gruffly. She was sharpening one of the three knives she carried into battle. It was more a habit of boredom than a necessity – this kid could have shaved with the blade before she started the process. Not that he really needed to, yet.
“Ma’am, I’m nervous,” he said, after struggling with the words.
“You mean ‘scared out of your tiny little mind’?” she supplied.
He grinned, self-consciously. “Yes Ma’am. That would be putting a finer point on it, it would. How do I deal with that?”
Zoe shrugged. “If you find a good way, let me know.”
“Beg pardon?” the boy asked, wide-eyed. “Ma’am?” he threw in as an afterthought.
“Every soldier worth his kit is nervous – scared – before action,” she explained patiently. “Even me. Especially me, since I know from personal experience all the hell that can erupt when you’re in battle. You’re lucky: you don’t know just how bad things can get humped up sideways, or how fast. You’re a grunt. You just got to shoot what I tell you to shoot, march where I tell you to march. Me, I gotta make certain we’re in the right place, at the right time, shooting the right folk. And I gotta worry about a whole platoon of rookies on their first shootin’ war. My superior is on another boat, incommunicado, my mission is vaguely worded at best, and I have a dread that our extraction is going to be less than textbook. So count your blessings. You’re scared – I’m terrified.”
“That’s . . . less than reassuring, Ma’am,” the boy said.
“It wasn’t meant to be reassuring,” Zoe countered, the steady, rhythmic sound of her knife on stone never varying. “It was meant to put things in perspective. I could quote you military proverbs that go back to Alexander the Great and Xenophon, but that wouldn’t make you feel better. The only thing that will make you feel better is when it’s all over. Then you can relax, go to pieces, get pissed drunk, and count your lucky stars that you survived.”
“Don’t sound like much of a plan,” the kid grumbled.
“It’s not a plan, Private,” she assured him. “It’s hope, pure, raw, unadulterated hope – hope that you make it out alive. Hope that your teammates won’t let you down in a firefight. Hope that the enemy is more confused than we are. Hope that your platoon commander has a chance of finding her ass with both hands. You can live on that hope for weeks, Private, if you ain’t got better. Hope and luck. Those are your two best friends now.”
“I just don’t want to piss my pants when the shooting starts,” he said, in a whisper.
“If you do, you’ll be among good company,” she declared. “My own self, included. War is hell. And piss is the odor that’s going to bother you least in battle. But don’t worry too much – that’s my job. You’re job is to obey me as if I was the Lord Jehovah Himself. That way, if you get killed, it’ll be my fault, not yours.”
“That’s scant comfort,” the kid said with a sigh.
“Tell me about it,” Zoe agreed. “Tell me, son, why go on this mission anyway? I thought you Greenies were happiest on Muir?”
“Got to, I guess,” the kid said, sullenly. “My daddy was supposed to be on that ship. Ain’t seen him since I was a baby. If there’s any way to get him out, I need to do it. Or . . .”
“Die trying?” Zoe supplied. The kid nodded, gravely.
“I can appreciate that,” she agreed, finally putting her knife away. “Well, at least you didn’t say any romantic nonsense about danger and fighting and revenge. That’s the sort of nonsense what gets you ended. You got a clear goal, though, you got a better chance.”
“Good to know.” He didn’t sound convinced.
Zoe sighed. “Look, soldier, I’m not going to blow sunshine and daydreams up your ass about how romantic battle is. It’s anything but. But if you remember your training, follow orders, keep your head, and get really lucky, we’ll all be back here with our people, celebrating, inside of seventy-two hours. So keep that in mind.”
“Good boy. Now go get some sleep. One thing any soldier from any time or place will tell you, quality sack time is more precious than atmo. And on the return trip I plan on us being so crowded with grateful POWs that you won’t have a spot to lay down.”
“Yes, ma’am. Um, thank you, ma’am.”
“That’s my job,” Zoe agreed, coolly.
He turned to go, then hesitated. “Uh, Ma’am? Is it true what they say about you?”
Zoe stopped and fixed him with a serious eye. “Depends upon just what was said.”
“That you were at Serenity Valley, final days of the War?”
“I had that misfortune,” Zoe said, calmly, resuming her sharpening. This was the second or third time this had come up – Serenity Valley was legendary, among the younger soldiers, a mythical battle that encapsulated much of what they knew about the war: a band of battered Browncoats who had withstood the worst that the Alliance could throw at them. Her participation in that battle had made her a bit of a legend in the platoon, something she wasn’t really comfortable with. She had heard her name and ‘Serenity’ in barracks whispers since she took on this task, and after some reflection about whether or not to address it, stop the rumors, or give a rollicking account of the closest thing in the verse she had seen to Hell, itself, she decided to let the whispers continue. It made her boys feel better about going into battle knowing they had an unkillable platoon leader in charge of their fates.
“How did you get through that?”
“Kid, if I knew that, I’d be rich. I just did. I didn’t die. I held on by my fingernails and did what I was told and didn’t do anything fatally stupid. And I was lucky. But worst-case-scenario? This won’t be anything like Serenity Valley. We’re on the offensive, it’s a surprise attack, and it’s in space. Our part is easy: dock on the dorsal side, forward airlock. Make our way through the forward compartments to amid-ships. Disable the comm. node at the nadir point of the circuit, then move up level by level and sweep out anyone who’s lingering. Schematics show that’s a light residential area, so there shouldn’t be much in the way of resistance. Then rendezvous with our people and pull back to the ship. So if you get it, then you’ll get it quick, clean, and probably painlessly. At Serenity Valley, those were the lucky ones. The unlucky ones hung on for weeks in the mud and dirt and rain and artillery barrages and slowly starved, or died of infections, hopeless and alone. No, this ain’t goin’ to be no Serenity Valley.”
“Good to know, Ma’am.” The kid wandered back to his bunk, visibly relieved.
That was bound to start some more rumors, but she didn’t mind. Thinking your commanding officer is a battle-hardened veteran was good for morale, and while these lads were high-spirited, they were also scared shitless. A little morale boost would be good for them on the eve of battle.
She wished she had recourse to some. She wiped the blade of the knife clean and returned it to its scabbard on her battle harness. That should be the last piece of equipment to re-check and repair before the attack. She’d do it all again in the morning, probably, but you could never know your own kit too well.
She eyed the single silver flask she had brought from Serenity – it was filled with bourbon she had picked up at the Gopher Hole, pretty passable stuff for home-distilled. The flask was an anniversary present from Wash, and she wouldn’t part with it voluntarily, but the booze inside was tempting her, almost calling her, to make the sudden spike of fear and anxiety she felt dissipate enough for her to get to sleep. She reached out towards it, and turned off the light next to it. Some real sleep would be more fitful, she reasoned, than a liquor-induced nap. She needed to keep her head clear about the battle plan, she reasoned. No time for self-pity, not when she had more important things to do. Zoe laid down on the narrow cot and tried to sleep.
After twenty minutes, she reached over her head, got the flask, and permitted herself two hearty swallows before re-sealing it. Then she slept.
“That’s enough for tonight, I’m wiped out,” Simon said, in between yawns, snapping the console closed and tossing it on the bed. “I never realized how tiring an alias could be.”
“You’ve got it down cold,” Kaylee assured him, rolling over on her side to face him. “The naked studyin’ helps, I think.”
“Yes, and I don’t know why the thought never occurred to me back at the Medacad,” he chuckled. “Would have made A&P a lot more fun.”
“ ‘A&P’? Who’re they?” Kaylee asked, curiously.
“Anatomy and Physiology,” Simon explained as he settled back into the pillow. “It’s quite a grind. A good ten percent of the class usually fails it. Students walk around with their A&P holos for weeks, little twelve-inch high figures of skeletons and such. By comparison, this was like studying for a driver’s test.”
“You’re so cute when you get all brainy!” Kaylee said, happily. “Don’t much like the thought of you goin’ in by your lonesome, though,” she admitted, her face falling a bit. “You’re smart ‘bout most things, but you ain’t ‘zactly cut out for a gunfight.”
“I don’t aim to be in one,” Simon countered, snuggling down in the bed. “I’ve got that fancy laser, though. And an impressive vocabulary. That should get me out of any tight spots.”
“Well, I want you to take these,” she said, reaching down into the haphazard pile of clothing tossed casually next to the bed and rummaging through her pockets. “I got them from Jayne.” She passed him a knotted handkerchief, in which a number of metal objects clicked. Simon opened them carefully, then stared at them in confusion.
“What . . . are they?” he finally asked.
“Grenades,” Kaylee said, matter-of-factly. “Just a few. The black tipped ones are flash-bangs, the red one is an incendiary, the two blues are EMPS, the yellow is a sleeper, and the purple one is some sorta neuro somethin’-or-other. I think.”
“Grenades,” Simon said, as he cautiously re-tied the package. “Here I though you had borrowed some . . . mechanical assistance from Inara, and instead you bring grenades into my bed. What’s next, firearms?”
“Now that ya mention it,” Kaylee said, cheerfully, “I did get somethin’ from ‘Nara. Here,” she said, pulling a very small three-shot derringer out of her clothes pile. “It’s a little small and ladylike, if you pardon the term, but should get the job done if you need it.”
“And here I thought I was being funny,” Simon sighed, gingerly taking the pistol. He took it out of the slim leather holster and examined it. He had never thought he would become as familiar with firearms as he had, in his new life, but his knowledge of them had grown with his acquaintance with Serenity’s crew. This one was a little .32 job, on a dull titanium frame – serviceable, not decorative. But light. It weighed about as much as a loaded syringe. He checked the chamber, checked the safety, and then returned it to its holster before loading it and his new ordinance on top of his bedside table with a sigh. “You, Kaylee Frye, are one very unusual girl.”
“And you’re one lucky fella to have me,” she said, happy that her present hadn’t been taken the wrong way. “I just wanna keep my handsome fella safe, is all.”
“Yes, you sound like me mother,” he sighed – and then realized with horror how that sounded. “I mean – not that I – I have the highest regard—”
“Cool rings, Simon,” Kaylee soothed. “I know you’re wound up about this – and seein’ your folks like that musta been . . . well, River ain’t ‘zactly been her cheerfully morbid self of late. Since her party. When you saw ‘em,” she supplied.
“Yes . . . I suppose we’ve both been a little off our game,” Simon agreed, reluctantly. “That was hard, for both of us.”
“You don’t gotta talk about it none, you don’t care to,” Kaylee said, hurriedly. “Family business, an’ all. Private. I understand.”
“No, no, not really private just . . . difficult. For all of us. Mother and Father were thrilled to see us, of course, and River. They had no idea what had happened. They didn’t even know if we were still alive. The government wasn’t telling them much, of course . . . so I gave them the short version, mentioned we were still incognito, and left it at that. But then River burst into tears and wanted to know why they had sent their little girl to ‘torture camp’ and I had to explain about the surgeries, then Mother had a breakdown . . . a typical Tam family reunion. Always a party,” he lamented.
“You ain’t makin’ a compellin’ case for my potential future in-laws,” Kaylee said, mock-grumbling.
“Actually, you came up,” Simon admitted, after hesitating. Kaylee sat bolt upright, her large breasts swinging distractedly as she did so.
“What? When? How?” she asked, her voice mixed with excitement and dread.
“River brought you up,” Simon continued. “Right after Mother quizzed her about her personal life – wanted to know if she had been ‘in a situation’, which is Osirin upper-class language for ‘pregnant’. She said no, of course, but then diverted attention from that embarrassing subject by mentioning that I was, as she said, ‘getting far more play’ than she was. That led to the inevitable question ‘with whom’, and River told. She made you out quite well, actually. She said you were the Chief Engineer. Not that Mother would have been impressed by anyone less than a noble, but . . . well, she insisted that I take ‘precautions’, which means birth-control in her world. That’s when I drew a pistol to show them I knew how to take precautions – just me being ironic – and she had a fit. Dad went pale. He asked me if I had had to use it, and I had to tell him ‘yes’. That shook him up a bit.” Simon chuckled. “I made my point. Had he helped me, maybe it wouldn’t have gone the way it did. But he didn’t, and now his prized son the surgeon is a gun-toting outlaw on the Rim, fighting for his life on a daily basis.”
“Ain’t right to trouble them with worries, Simon,” Kaylee said, gently.
“We’re still working out our issues,” Simon assured her. “The important thing was to make contact. Let them know we’re alive and okay. Dad looked ten years older, and mother . . . well, she looked perfect, but I could tell she was losing her composure every moment we talked. I don’t envy what Dad had to go through, afterwards.”
“Well, I’m glad you got the chance,” Kaylee agreed. “Wished I coulda been there, seen y’all’s folks. But I guess there’s plenty o’ time for that, later,” she decided.
“If we’re still alive,” Simon added. “And unincarcerated. But at this point I guess that goes without saying.”
“Well, you gun-totin’ outlaw,” Kaylee said, crawling on top of him, “You ready to say good-bye to your shipboard piece for a couple o’ days? Gonna be pretty lonely without you, but . . . I guess I got my appliances. They’ve been lonesome for me.”
“Not nearly as much as I will be,” Simon said, brushing the hair out of her eyes as she loomed over him. “Kaylee, I know I don’t say it much, but you’ve been a tremendous comfort to me, all these months. If I don’t make it back . . . well, I wanted you to know. I would have proposed to you, I think.”
Kaylee’s eyes opened wide. “And if you do make it back?”
“Well, still need to field test a bit, before I make that kind of decision,” he admitted.
“You, Mister,” Kaylee said, her eyes narrowing, “are about to suffer!”
Friday, February 08, 2008 7:46 AM
Friday, February 08, 2008 8:58 AM
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