Pandora's Box - Part One
Wednesday, February 13, 2008

It’s business as usual for Malcolm Reynolds & Serenity but one of the crew sets off alone to deliver a message. No.2 of Series 2, featuring post BDM characters and a few of my own creation. Please, please comment as much as possible - I need to know if I've done good, done bad or done just plain ugly. Part 1 of 3.


A few weeks after returning home, River finally had the opportunity to talk to them all about the additional reason she had returned. Mal was making a run to Whittier to deliver his horses to a buyer and River, who had not yet had the courage to ask for her job back, asked if she could accompany them. Before they left she had a private word with Mal about her plan, who agreed to it, but for different reasons. While he accepted River’s need for justification with regard to her torture, his only thought was defence and protection. They had a lot to lose and if Wladek found out Dedham was no longer in jail, because he would in all conscience warn Bane - and that put them all on the radar. Now, at Serenity’s kitchen table, deep in the Black, River spoke additionally to Zoe, Karl and Kaylee. “I found out about the Academy,” she began, once Zoe had placed the dish full of fried protein in the centre of the table. Mal looked up from his rice, before reaching out to nab a chunk. “What did you find out?” Zoe said. “That it’s linked to that slave ship, amongst other things.” “How?” asked Karl. “Aside from the additional profits made from prostitution – they used it as a cover to screen potential acquisitions for the Academy. People like me, only taking them under the guise of slavers, or from The Farm.” Karl’s fork stopped half way to his mouth, but it was Zoe who spoke first. “So the slave ship’s run by Blue Sun an’ crewed by Alliance ex-cons. An’ the Academy is an Alliance facility that now gets their fodder from Blue Sun. They’re in bed with each other then.” “It’s not that simple. In my job as pilot for Atlantic Skylines we took on a delegation from Blue Sun. The meeting was chaired by a Member of Parliament.” “Who?” asked Zoe. “A woman called Thomasina Herald. She has a lot to hide and experience in hiding it.” “You couldn’t read her?” asked Mal. “Only the surface stuff. I was afraid she might detect me, and I had nowhere to hide if she did. I did find out one thing though. She was the one responsible for Miranda and, trust me, there was no guilt weighing on her conscience. It was her who likely sent the Operative after me and Simon.” “Why is all this important?” asked Karl. “It’s Alliance business, ain’t it? Nothin’ to do with us.” “True,” answered Mal. “But it affects anyone livin’ out on the Rim. They’re usin’ us as fodder to further their aims. They could take anyone of us, our families, our friends. I’m bettin’ this is extremely secret.” Zoe looked at Karl, understanding Mal. “Which means that the former crew of the Mamma have probably been retrieved and released,” she said. Karl felt ill when he realised that qingwa cào de liúmáng Dedham was probably free again. He pushed his plate away. “So that Colonel Wladek is in on this?” he asked. River shook her head. “No, but Herald is using him. I read the mind of a woman called Landerson. She provides Herald with regular updates on his movements, in particular any check ups he might do on the men arrested on Deutschland. And if he finds out Dedham’s no longer there, he’ll warn Bane. We get caught up in that loop.” “Bane said Wladek’s job during the war was intelligence – he’d know if he was being fed phoney information,” reasoned Karl, getting worried. “Which means,” concluded River. “That the moment Herald thinks he knows something, he’s dead too.” “Just like the Alliance, kill all the good officers, promote the bad ones,” quipped Mal, but his face was serious. “Do we warn him?” asked Zoe. “If we do then we could be discovered and then our lives wouldn’t be worth living. And we have far more to lose than just our lives. We have our families – and Gang Kou,” said Mal. Kaylee had been silent all the way through the conversation, her face bleak. “If we can warn him, an’ pass on the information River found, I think we should.” “Agreed,” said Mal, watching Karl’s face warily. “Wait a minute,” argued Karl. “It’s all very well us agreeing to this, but the minute we get within two foot of Wladek, Herald’s spies will know an’ that brings us into the loop as well.” River was looking at Mal, it was already arranged and he gave an imperceptible nod of agreement. It wasn’t that imperceptible and Karl saw it. “What? What’ve you done?” River looked back at Karl, her face sympathetic, but needs must. “I’ve given Bane the report,” she replied to a silent room. Bane had left Gang Kou a week before them on the Antonia, bound for the Black where she would attempt to contact Wladek. “You’ve no right!” shouted Karl at River. “We’ve no link with this. If she gets discovered, we’ll all be hunted down. Not least of which you’ve put her life in danger. She’s a blind woman, for Buddha’s sake!” “Wladek won’t likely trust anyone else. It’s the right thing to do, Karl,” defended Zoe, who had been just as surprised at the news. “No it’s not!” he argued angrily, rounding again on River. “Is this why you came back? To get Bane to give Wladek your report - to put her in danger?” Mal had enough of Karl’s bitching. “It’s done, Karl. Accept it. Bane knows what to do, she’s as experienced in this type of work as Wladek.” Karl looked at Mal in disbelief. “She’s blind! How exactly do you figure on her doing that?” No one could answer him, so he pushed his plate away and left the table. “Karl,” River said, also standing up. “Bane gave me this to pass on to you.” She offered him a portable com. He starred at her for several moments before snatching it roughly and going to his bunk. Once he had locked the hatch he activated it and listened to her voice. “Karl. By now you would’ve found out the other thing on my to-do list from River. I’m sorry I lied to you. I’m pretty sure that you’re not shiny with it, but I wanted to explain why I’m doing this. Wladek saved my life by making sure I was on those military lists instead of serving several thousand years in jail for stuff I did durin’ wartime, though he had no obligation to do so. He’s the reason we were able to be together. I’ve never regretted a day of it, and that’s the reason I have to warn him – in the same way, I’ve no obligation to do so. Please don’t think I’m not intendin’ to come back from this. I gotta heap of tricks to make an’ a list of other things to do in my life as long as my arm, which largely feature havin’ you in them. I hope you can forgive me, but I guess I won’t know for sure til I get back. Fang xin, bao bei” Karl turned off the com with a sniff, combing a hair through his hair roughly. Don’t worry, she says. Like I’m gonna do anything else but worry until I see her again. Bane was right, he wasn’t shiny with the idea, but there wasn’t a lot he could do about it now.

* * * * *
THE ANTONIA: Bane gave herself a few days of familiarisation with the layout of the Antonia. Just like any other new place, she first memorised the main walkways and routes before moving about the other areas – like map drawing in her head. The Antonia was about half the size of the Rosalyn and more evenly proportioned. There were decent crew quarters and two medium-sized cargo bays, now converted into one. There was a crew of six adults, four children and one on the cusp of both, all Pyes. The family on the ship gave her the space to get her bearings, though she had picked up a shadow; Eurydice Pye, youngest child of Long So Pye and Barty Phillips. Bane didn’t mind at all, especially when she had almost fallen from the first platform while Angel had been mending the rail. Eurydice had grasped her with considerable strength by the forearm and pulled her away from stepping into the thirty foot drop below. There were those she had lived with before when she had been with Pye Eatings - Angel and Ragen Pye; Angel because his wife had run off after just six months of marriage, and he’d returned home to the Black. Ragen had transferred over from the Rosalyn, his relationship with Tony never the same after the Reaver attack of 2521. Bane and Tony had used their shared profits from her munitions work and the Rosalyn to stake Wang in the Antonia, and it was gradually paying off. Because the Antonia was smaller, she could go to some of the less industrial ports that the Rosalyn was too large for. This also meant that the two ships weren’t crossing over with other. Bane felt the ship break atmo and turned to make her way slowly down to the cargo bay where the others would be setting up. She didn’t like milling amongst all the strange noises and crowds of people, but she wanted to speak to Wang. At the bottom of the stairs she called out to him. “Over here!” he called, but Bane stayed where she was and waited for him to come to her. “What is it?” he asked, when he came to her side. “I need to have a private word once the Eatings is up and running. You’ll be off duty then, won’t you?” “Kind of,” Wang replied, puzzled. “How’s that EMP coming along?” “Angel’s still constructin’ a panel for me an’ then we’ll let you know.” “Good. In that case, I’ll meet you in the cockpit in about twenty minutes. After we land, Bethan will be down here, so it should be empty.” Bane nodded, and returned up the stairs. She heard Eurydice following her and stopped. “Go to the galley, Eurydice. I’ve got to speak to Wang on his own.” Eurydice didn’t say anything in response, but she didn’t follow. “What’s all the secrecy,” Wang said, coming into the cockpit later. Bane listened to make sure his were the only feet she heard before talking. “I’ve another job to do while I’m here an’ I’ll need your help.” Wang’s eyebrows lifted and he sat in his wife’s chair, intrigued. “I’m all ears.” “I don’t know if you still have any contacts from your lawman days, but I need you to use them to find out the location of one Lieutenant Laurence Hosier. And, this is very important, it needs to be done discretely. In 2520 he was the Deputy Communications Officer on the I.A.V. Malaga. I want to know if he’s stationed planetside, or where he likes to take his shore leave.” “Can I ask why?” asked Wang. “I need to warn a friend, but I can’t make initial contact directly.” “Okay. I can’t see too much of a problem with that, but I’m guessin’ there’s something else.” Bane smiled and picked at the chair’s leather beading with her fingers. Then she looked up to his direction, her expression deadly serious, which was more than unusual for her. “Wherever he’s located, I need you to take the Antonia there for Eatings or repairs, or make it up, so I can go meet him. No one can know the other reason.” “That’s an entirely different request. You expect me to lie to my wife?” Wang couldn’t really believe Bane was asking him this. “Of course not. I know you’ll find a quiet time to tell her. She’s the pilot, after all.” “Thank Buddha for that,” answered Wang, relieved. They both sat in silence as Wang considered her request. The Antonia wasn’t so big that they couldn’t hear the noises of the Eatings down below, along with the sounds of several Pye children supposedly doing their schooling quietly in the galley. Finally, Wang spoke again. “Let’s find out where this Lieutenant Hosier is first and go from there. I’m not making any promises.” “Thanks, Wang.” Bane grinned gratefully and stood up. He watched his cousin go, before swivelling in the chair and tapping a few keys. He was distracted briefly when he heard Bane’s raised voice in the galley. She had taken on the care and schooling of the young ones unasked. He was grateful, as it kept them out of the way and safe during the chaos of the Eatings. The com beeped at him and he pressed one of the buttons. A woman’s face appeared, weathered and tensed, but she relaxed as she recognised him. “Wang, you old pirate! I was just talkin’ about you the other day. Someone mentioned you’d taken to the Black to cook of all things. I called him a liar.” “You better apologise to him then,” Wang laughed. “I’m doing Pye Eatin’s now, just like before the war.” “How’s Bethan? And Tsung?” “Very well. We have another one too – Letty. She’s nearly four.” “Has it really been that long?” “You better believe it,” responded Wang. He did the customary catching up with his former classmate, Jane Warren, before coming to the point of his wave. “A friend of mine’s gettin’ married an’ wants to invite someone he grew up with. He lost touch with him, but thinks he might be on one of them I.A.V.s – an’ you know how hard they are to wave.” “Tell me about it,” agreed Jane. “I had an urgent wave for an I.A.V. yesterday and it took three hours for them to pick it up. What the guy’s name?” “Laurence Hosier. Emmett says he was a Lieutenant last time he looked.” “Emmett – is that the guy getting married? He got any eligible brothers?” Wang laughed and shook his head. “Two, but they’re already taken.” “Shame,” said Jane, who was already tapping away on her console. Wang had surprised himself by conjuring up an imaginary Emmett and his married brothers so easily. “I got some eligible cousins though – if you’re interested. They’re house trained, I promise.” Jane laughed. “You and your ruttin’ cousins. They’re probably addicted to sailing in the Black,” she added. “I’m a planetside girl, you know that.” Jane sat back in her chair. “Found him….He’s a Captain now…Based at the Alliance station on Beaumonde – Navajo District,” she read. “Oh, get this. He oversees the communications for the whole planet though…Bugger,” she said at the end. “What?” asked Wang, worried. “He’s married,” she said, and Wang rolled his eyes, before shaking his head at her. “Well at least Emmett knows where to send his wave now. Thanks, Jane. I got some more homemade honey for you. This stuff’s really good.” Jane’s eyes widened in alarm, and she looked behind her to make sure she was still alone. “Shit, Wang, keep it down. You’ll get me into trouble. Just make sure you come an’ see me if your ship ever docks here.” “I will,” said Wang. “And I’ll bring my eligible cousins with me.” Jane made a rude sign with a wide smile before cutting off the com. Wang let his shoulders relax and he breathed deeply. It had been easier than he thought to get the information from Jane. After the war and all was forgiven, the Alliance had taken advantage of the military background of many in order to police the border worlds and Wang, along with Jane had been part of the training program. Wang had excelled whereas Jane had quickly realised that she preferred the safety of a desk job. They had kept in touch through the years though, and now she worked at a com station on Liann Juin. He looked up the log he’d got from Tony about which ports were accessible to Eatings. Beaumonde was amenable, but only at the West Sheldon Docks – the other dockyards, according to Tony’s meticulous notes, thought they were too high class to receive spacer Eatings. Wang then brought up their itinerary and cross-referenced it with Beaumonde’s location, also making sure he wasn’t clashing with any of Tony’s destinations for the next month. Now all that was left to do was clear it with his wife.
~ * ~
SERENITY: Serenity landed at Kostova’s Ship Repair close to midnight. Fortunately the trip from Whittier was uneventful and Mal had decided to heed Kaylee’s suggestion and get an overhaul while things were quiet. Koz, as always, was welcoming but Mal was hoping it wouldn’t take so long as hotel rooms were expensive. Normally the large Russian had accommodation, but now it was filled with his staff, which now included some of Kaylee’s family. The work had finally run out on Highgate for the Fryes and Kaylee had used her considerable wiles with Koz to get them work on Boros. They had all moved there in 2522 and were now ensconced within the shipyard, except Lewis who was on Deutschland. Kostova hadn’t taken much persuading, mainly because good mechanics were hard to come by, especially ones of the Frye calibre. Ray Frye, Kaylee’s father, was learning how to take the reigns from Spike, who had decided to retire. “Why, Cap’n Reynolds. Am I glad to see you.” Mal flushed, groaning inwardly. He’d tried to tell Katya Bishky he was married on his last visit, but she hadn’t taken any notice. Their little fling had been over for years and had happened when he thought he had lost Inara for good. He was well and truly spoken for now, and there were no two ways about it. “It’s nice to see you, Kayta. I’ll pass on your regards to my wife as well,” he said, sounding more than a little nervous. Zoe and Karl smirked beside him. Katya sauntered up to him, which in her case was very erotically swinging her hips. Mal had to consciously stop himself from taking a step back. “You ain’t bought her with you?” she asked, worriedly looking around him into Serenity’s cargo bay. “Ah no,” Mal admitted, voice almost cracking. “She’s at home with our daughter,” he emphasised. Karl sniggered and walked off the ramp, more keen on getting a beer than watching Mal squirm. Katya held herself about an inch from Mal’s body and looked up at him, her tight blond curls bouncing around her neck. “Hey Mal!” she said, slapping her hand on his chest. “Get a sense of humour,” she laughed. “Huh?” “Dint Kaylee tell you? I’m getting’ hitched. To her brother, Ray Jr.” Mal turned his head slowly to view Kaylee, hand over her mouth, and her eyes dancing with delight. Very rutting funny, he thought, un-amused but very relieved. “Congratulations. I hope you’ll be very happy,” he said. Katya shrugged and moved away from him. “He stops me from fleecing Feds an’ he’s real sweet an’ funny.” That wasn’t all he was, but Reynolds was fun to mess with. Ray Frye was sweet and funny, and unlike a lot of men she’d known, he had no baggage which meant he didn’t take none of her shit either. “I’m glad,” said Mal, more relieved than he would care to admit. “Koz around?” “Up in his office,” she pointed upwards before sashaying off. Mal and Zoe walked to Koz’s office. To his view, she seemed unsurprised by the news. “You knew about that?” “Kaylee might have mentioned it,” Zoe answered nonchalantly, her tone of voice giving nothing away. “And you didn’t think to mention it to me?” he asked. “Must’ve slipped my mind, sir. Won’t happen again.” “See that it don’t,” said Mal sternly.
Karl found himself in a bar called the Gun Tavern. It’d been a long time since he was there, the last time was when they were scoping for the Quaker job. It was a Fed bar, but Karl remembered they served a good beer and he wasn’t in the mood for company. He didn’t really know what was wrong with him lately. Well, he kind of knew, but still not drunk enough to admit it. “Mind if I join you?” asked Zoe. Karl shrugged and Zoe sat down with her drink. She looked at Karl trying not to look back at her and rolled her eyes. The man had something on his mind and she was fed up with his pi hua, folding her arms and glaring at him. “You gonna tell me to buck up as well?” Karl said morosely. “Why, who else has?” “River, Kaylee, Mal. Wish they’d all mind their own ruttin’ business.” “You do seem a bit quiet lately,” Zoe started gently. “I thought it was just bad food, now that we’ve got used to fresher stuff planetside.” Karl sniffed with amusement. “Yeh, that’s it,” he answered sarcastically, not believing her line. “Bad food. Now you can leave me alone.” Zoe sat back in her chair, surveying him and answering just as sarcastically – more so, as she was plenty practised at it. “Course it could also be a woman. I sin you like this afore, an’ it definitely had somethin’ to do with a woman then.” She kept her voice light, but Karl was not forthcoming. “Then again maybe you are just havin’ trouble takin’ a shi-“ Karl spluttered his beer and he put down the tankard. “Okay, okay. Enough already.” They sat in silence for a few minutes before Karl spoke again. “Don’t you ever worry about Hans when you’re away from him?” Zoe shrugged. “He can look after himself.” She paused. “An’ if he don’t, then I’ll kill him, or the man who took him from me.” Karl raised his eyebrows. “It’s easy for you to say.” “You wouldn’t do the same? Or don’t you think Bane would do the same for you?” “She’s hardly able to do that,” he began, but didn’t finish. “If you weren’t my ex brother-in-law, I’d seriously think about shooting you for stupidity.” “Why?” “Because you’re full of it. You say you’re not with Bane because she needs lookin’ after, bein’ a blind woman an’ all. An’ yet you pine like a child when she’s gone, or tug at her heel waitin’ on her every move, like a dog.” Karl threw down his tankard and grabbed Zoe by the shirt at her neck, heaving her upright. “What right have you to say such things?” he hissed, before hearing the precise click of her Mare’s Leg under his chin. Ever so carefully, Karl released Zoe’s shirt and they stood facing each other. The room around them, shocked into silence, now resumed its activities with an inaudible sigh. Zoe kept his eye contact until he gave up and sat down on his chair again with a thump. “Is that what everyone sees when they look at me an’ Bane?” Zoe sat down again as well. She didn’t want to answer his question so bluntly, but it was about time he knew the truth. “Jayne put it more eloquently than I did, but that’s the consensus, though there’s some say I should keep my nose out - leave you to work it out for yourselves. Only I can’t let it be. Bane’s a survivor – she’ll probably outlive us all. She don’t exactly need looking after, an’ you don’t have to prove yourself useful to her to qualify to be in her life. The more you bury yourself like that, the less of a man you are to her. To everyone, even yourself.” It was probably one of the longest speeches Zoe had ever said and she only did it because she cared about him. In the years since she’d lost Wash, Karl, as Wash’s older brother, had become her brother in kind. Karl’s jaw remained clenched, his face white with a mixture of anger and humiliation. Something had changed in him since they had settled in Gang Kou and he knew it, he just didn’t want to admit it. Zoe straightened her shirt and adjusted the waistcoat which Karl had mussed up. “How many of those rocking chairs and chests have you sold?” she asked. Karl was a thrown by the question and answered after turning the empty tankard in his hands a few times. “None. I do them as gifts. Keeps me busy in the winter nights.” Zoe removed something from her pocket and threw it on the table. It was fifteen credits. “I sold the chair you made for me to Herr Walthar. That’s what he gave me.” Karl looked down at the money. “Herr Walthar’s sister asked me if you could make another one for her.” “He liked it?” he asked in a low voice. Zoe looked at him like he was moonbrain. “A little rough around the edges, but definitely good quality. Look Karl, you don’t have to spend you’re life in Bane’s wake. I’m pretty sure that’s not what she wants either. Hans spoke to a carpenter friend of his - Willhelm Nangaschein - who might be willing to take you in to apprentice. To learn from him, if you’ve a mind.” “Is he in Hannover?” asked Karl. He wasn’t sure whether he wanted to take his hobby into something more, even if he did enjoy it. “No. He’s somewhat of a hermit by all accounts. Lives in the mountains north of Gang Kou. He’ll be coming to the Landing Day celebrations in July though.” “So I’d have to go off with him and learn from him. Leave Gang Kou?” Zoe starred at him, a hint of a smile touching her lips. “That depends on whether he likes you or not. He’s more ornery than Jayne with a hangover, an’ that’s all the time.” She settled back in her chair, words of wisdom done. This interfering business was exhausting. “Now how ‘bout you buy me a beer to replace the one you spilled.”
When Mal and the others had left the ship, River had waited a while and then went up to the cockpit. She was still too afraid to speak to him about piloting Serenity again, so she had to content herself with sitting in her old seat when she was grounded. River ran her hand smoothly over the controls, thinking of the last time she piloted – when Stan had died – and when she’d almost killed Mal. “I’m sorry,” she whispered again to no one in particular. She pressed some buttons and then bit her lip as she realised one of the coded messages from Stan was still in the com buffer. River activated the message – one she’d never seen. Stan appeared, alive and well. “Hey, bao bei. Thought I’d surprise you by leavin’ a message fer when you get back to Serenity. Right at this moment you’re sleepin’ off some incredibly acrobatic sexin’ by yours truly in my bunk.” Stan’s face grinned at her, carefree and strutting with good humour. River’s eyes were already overflowing with tears, but she couldn’t prevent herself from smiling back at him. He took a bite from a large sandwich before continuing, waving it at her. “I’m recharging my fuel cells. Anyways, I reckon we cleared the air ‘tween us,” he continued, mouth still full. “Man, you really know how to rattle a man’s cage, Tam girl, an’ I ain’t never bin happier for the day when we met.” He kept the com running as he took a few more bites of his sandwich. “You prob’ly won’t read this ‘til after I’m gone, an’ I’m not sure when we’ll meet again. You take care of yourself, bao bei, I don’t wanna hear no more stories about narrowly missin’ death an’ all that dah bien. I want my little ballet dancer in one piece when I see her next.” He glared at her, sandwich almost gone, but the last of it he pointed at her. “No more bullet wounds!” He ate the last of the bread, chewed quickly and swallowed. “Now that I’m all re-charged, I’m off back to my bunk where I’m gonna wake you up in the same way as you did with me yesterday. See you around the ‘Verse, babe.” The last words were given with a wicked leer, as he brushed away his long fringe, and River flushed with heat at the memory of exactly what Stan did when he’d come back to her that night. The wave ended and she continued to look at the last capture of his smile, realising in the intervening years of his death – three years, ten months and fifteen days - that her memories of his face had blurred. Now they were sharp again. For the first time since then River felt better about his death. Stan may have died horribly at the hands of Reavers, but he would never have wanted her to wallow in that memory. More like the one she had just seen; fast, cheeky, sexy, with no regrets. River quickly downloaded the message to her portable com – the one she always carried with Stan’s other messages on. She then laid her hands reverently on Serenity’s main console. “Thank you,” she said quietly. River got up presently and headed to the kitchen, as for some reason she was now famished. As she passed Mal’s hatch she heard him call out to her and she jumped, worried at not having heard him return to the ship. She climbed down the ladder and turned to face the Captain, her heart in her mouth. “I’ll come straight to the point,” Mal said seriously. “I need to hire me a pilot. The pay’s not much, but there’s a private bunk, run of the kitchen and other perks thrown in. I had me a few pilots afore, all good, but I’m lookin’ for someone willin’ to sign on long-term. I ain’t innerested in itchy drivers who get bored when things are slow.” Both of them were trying to take Mal’s speech seriously, though neither of them were succeeding as they both had matching grins. “I ain’t the kind to get bored, Captain Reynolds. It’s a fine boat you got – pride of the fleet, you could say,” River answered in kind and fished into her pocket. “Here’s my credentials, you’ll see I got a full license and no trouble followin’ me.” Mal raised one eyebrow at that statement and she continued. “I had me a whole mountain of trouble when I was younger, but along with that license, I got it fixed.” River held up one of her hands for inspection. “Amazin’ what you can get on the Black Market if the price is right.” Mal looked at her hand closely. “Laser treated fingerprints,” he stated. “Impressive. Like as be the only thing that could trace you now would be a blood test. It’s good work – I might have to get you to tell me your contact.” “No problem, Captain. So, am I worthy?” “Ain’t nothin’ ta do with worthy – Miss…Togashi,” he said, referring to the name on her pilot’s license. “You’re the best person for the job, short of me. An’ I can’t do everythin’ around here.” River beamed with pleasure as Mal shook her hand in a business-like manner. The moment of nonsense broken, they fell back into normal step. “Thanks, Mal. You won’t regret it this time.” “I dint regret it the time afore. Leave the past be, Albatross, an’ look ahead.” She almost shivered with pleasure at the sound of her nickname again. Mal sat back down at his desk and lifted some papers to make it seem like he was busy. River took her cue and climbed the ladder. It’s good to have you back,, his thoughts penetrated her mind as she took the last step out onto the gangway.
~ * ~
THE ANTONIA “Why are you doing that?” asked Eurydice, for about the twentieth time in Bane’s reckoning. As well as being her shadow, Bane had discovered she was also curious when it came to gadgets. She answered the girl in the same patient voice she had been using all morning. “Well this thing I’m touchin’ now is the EMP filter console you probably saw me workin’ on yesterday. What I’m doing is fixing it above the controls for the cooker.” “Why?” “You remember your mother sayin’ that weapons are illegal on non-Alliance ships?” Eurydice’s mother was not totally happy with what Bane was doing, but Wang was the Captain, and it was only there for dire emergency, like Reavers. “Yes,” answered Eurydice quietly. “We’re not allowed weapons, so I’m fixin’ this to look like part of the cooking controls.” “But why, if it’s illegal?” “Because of Reavers mainly. If they attack us, then there’s not a lot we can do. With this in place, at least we have a small chance of getting away to safety.” Not that there were that many Reavers anymore. After the Reaver attack on Lilac in 2521 caused so many deaths, and especially since it was the second attack in nearly as many years, the Alliance finally did something about it. They took a couple of I.A.V.s and a fleet of ships to decimate the Reaver population hanging out near Miranda. In spite of the heavy losses, a couple of ships escaped and still patrolled the Black, but they were nowhere near the threat that they had once been. Unfortunately it was a mixed blessing, as with the reduction in Reavers came an increase in space pirates. It wasn’t something new to a Pye who’d been in the Black for generations, but the part about not getting eaten, was certainly more shiny. Bane heard footsteps approaching, relieved that they were too heavy for it to be another curious child coming to see what she was doing. “Hey, Eurydice,” said Wang. “Can you leave me and Bane alone for a minute?” “So you can talk about the illegal weapon?” she asked eagerly. Wang sniffed in amusement. “That’s it – so we can talk about the illegal weapon that no one’s supposed to know about. Now run along.” After she had gone, Wang selected a couple of biscuits from the counter. “I’m guessin’ you might have found out some information for me?” said Bane, who was continuing to work. “It was easier than I reckoned. Captain Hosier is based on Beaumonde in the Navajo District,” he replied, chewing happily. The memories of Beaumonde bought back several mental images for Bane, not least of which a certain bar in West Sheldon where she had first done scoping for a job with Karl as her partner. And almost got herself arrested while trying to break him out of jail. “Can we land there?” she asked. “Only at West Sheldon. But you should be able to take a transport out to the Navajo District. It’s about an hour’s ride. Bethan’s okay with changing our itinerary, it’s on the way to Persephone after all.” “Thanks, Wang. I really appreciate this.” “Turns out it’s no trouble. I’ll take the trip with you.” Bane stopped her work and turned around. “No. I need to do this alone.” “But, Bane, you’re going halfway across the planet unescorted, an’ I don’t like to remind you of this cuz I know how ornery you are, but you’re blind.” “But not stupid,” she retorted. “All you need to do is put me on the right public transport an’ I can get there. It’s a semi-core planet, people will love to help a blind woman, it’ll make them feel good.” Wang shook his head in disbelief. “An’ if I tell your brother what you’re up to, what will he say?” Bane sighed, but was still determined. “If you must tell Tony, then go ahead. But for God’s sake don’t tell him over a wave, it’s too dangerous.” “Dangerous! You made no mention of dangerous before. I’m not shiny with dangerous, an’ I’m pretty sure your brother wouldn’t be, not to mention Karl. Why in the ‘Verse he would let you come on this trip alone…” Wang’s voice petered out as he saw Bane’s expression. “He doesn’t know, does he?” “He likely does now,” Bane answered quietly. “Look Wang. I don’t want to tell you things, because it could be dangerous for you to know. If you don’t know then you’re safe. The only thing I will say is that it has something to do with the slave ship that came down on Deutschland in 2521.” “The one Corren died on?” “Yes,” Bane said firmly. Wang let his questioning be. He still wasn’t shiny with it, but he realised he had to trust his cousin or just tell her they weren’t going to Beaumonde. And he knew, like he knew the stars would always shine in the Black, that she’d find some other way of getting there, if he didn’t. Boo hway-hun duh puo-foo, he said to himself as he walked away.
* *
“Here we are,” said Wang, taking her hand out from the crook of his arm. It leaves in ten minutes an’ will take you to the centre of the Navajo District, ‘bout an hour and twenty minutes.” “Well, I hope you did my makeup okay, otherwise this might be a wasted trip,” she answered with a smile. Bane had got Wang to check them into a cheap hotel under him and his wife’s name, where she could change into something more worthy of core-bred. The hard part had been persuading Wang to put foundation, eyeliner and lipstick on her face. “Very funny. You know the deal – you NEVER tell my wife that I know how to apply makeup.” “Deal. Thanks, Wang. I’ll make sure I’m on either the transport that arrives back here at four thirty, or the one an hour later.” He squeezed her hand in acknowledgement before helping her up the step of the transport and seating her. It would fill up soon and they were both confident that Bane could talk herself into some assistance to get off again. Once Wang had gone, Bane had to admit she was more than a little frightened. This was her first time out on her own and it was every bit as scary as she had imagined. She was shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers who could literally just reach out and shot or stab her and she’d have no defence. It was easy to feel safe on Deutschland as the planet was a community. München had the highest crime rate but there were very few killings. She self consciously touched the thin cloth to make sure it was in place. The veil was of black silk netting and she hoped it added the air of finery to her outfit, as well as providing cover against the security cameras at the station. Bane felt the transport lurch into life and she settled into the journey, listening to her surroundings. At the end of the journey, Bane got a well-bred young man to show her to a private cab which then took her to the Alliance station. She then got the cab driver to escort her into the building. All the way she was polite, grateful and unforthcoming except for useless chatter. Once inside in the reception area of the Fed station, the clerk asked her what she wanted. “I’m here to see Captain Laurence Hosier. I’m an old friend and he asked me to look him up if I was in the area,” Bane said in a Core accent. The man at reception was unconvinced and studied the woman. It wasn’t the first time that line had been used as a way in. “What name shall I say?” he asked with hauteur. Bane had thought long and hard about which name to give. If she didn’t provide the right one, the man would likely refuse to see her. If she gave her real name, then it could be traced to who she really was fairly quickly. “Deena Wladek,” she answered without hesitation. If Hosier didn’t remember interviewing her as Deena Court, then he might think she was a relation of his former boss’s. She heard him relay the message and then there was a long wait before an answer was received. “He’s coming down, ma’am. Please wait over there,” he replied, his manner more helpful. Bane smiled at him sweetly. “I’m sorry, you’ll have to show me. I can’t see.” “Forgive me, ma’am,” he flustered, coming out from behind the counter and guiding her to some seats. Bane counted that she was at least twenty paces away from where she had been standing, enough to speak in a low voice and not be heard. After the man had left she tried to dry her sweaty hands on her skirt and calm herself. She hadn’t done anything like this for years and that was when she had her eyesight. It was considerably different now. All thoughts stopped as another set of footsteps approached her. Bane stood up to face whatever was coming. “Captain Hosier?” “Yes. And you are Deena Wladek,” Hosier answered sceptically. Bane faced him and smiled. “Come now, Captain. Tell me you don’t recognise me?” Captain Hosier looked at the immaculately presented woman, racking his brains. He knew that Pavel Wladek had no sister or wife. Then it came to him as her smile widened, and he stopped himself from blurting it out, realising that there must be some reason for the subterfuge. “Yes. I do,” he said, and Bane could have sighed with relief. “It’s been a long time.” “Oh it has,” she replied louder. “And we’ve so much to catch up on. Do they let you out of this place for lunch?” Bane was hanging on to his arm, but could tell he wasn’t quite with the program yet. “Yes. One moment,” he said, extricating himself and walking away. She heard him talking to someone else, presumably the man on reception she had spoken to before. When he came back he led her outside. It was some time until he spoke, enough time for Bane to figure she had possibly made the wrong decision in tracking him down. “I’m hoping you have a good reason for coming here?” “Well, seeing as I’m blind now, an’ not sure if you really are Captain Hosier, or the great and wonderful Buddha. How ‘bout you tell me who I am?” There was barely a pause as Hosier answered her. “Bane Pye, alias Deena Court. Responsible for the bombing of the Londinium Weapons Factory, and several other munitions dumps which weren’t proved. Cleared at trial in 2520. Good enough?” “Word perfect,” she replied. “I’m hoping we’re not being overheard?” “No,” said Captain Hosier impatiently. Bane could hear the annoyance forming in his voice. “I need to speak to Colonel Wladek. Only I can’t do it in a wave. He’s being monitored.” There was a pause before Hosier spoke again. “Why?” “He investigated a downed slave ship on Deutschland in 2521. I was there, as translator, for the lawmen on Deutschland. What we discovered and the subsequent report he filed means that he’s bein’ monitored. I have to warn him to watch his back, an’ I have some details on who’s doing the watching.” “I find this hard to believe. What’s to stop me just going back inside and sending him a wave?” “Did he tell you about that investigation?” “He mentioned it in passing when we last got together. He said you’d been there.” “Did he mention that James Dedham an’ several other ex-con Alliance were crew on the slave ship, recruited by a Colonel Abigail Penney?” Hosier tensed, Wladek had said nothing about that. “No he didn’t. Look, I’ll get a message to the Colonel. Can I take you back to wherever you came from?” “No, I’m not due back until later an’ I’ll just need you to call me a cab then. It’s best if you don’t know.” “Are you sure all this secrecy is necessary?” “On my life an’ yours. This is high level and involves people at Parliament level. I’ll wait for word on Persephone. Send a mis-directed wave to Lo Pye in Eavesdown from Efram Peabody. The following day at noon, I’ll meet you in the Forever Amber Diner in the Doric Quarter.” Captain Hosier, as used to covert dealings as he was walking down the street, didn’t need the details repeating. “Now, how about that lunch?”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
For a quick OC character description go to



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