Pandora's Box - Part Two
Friday, February 15, 2008

River’s got her job back but the flying is short lived – instead she has to contend with Jayne’s brother. 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 2 of 3.


SERENITY: The ship returned to Deutschland in time for the annual Landing Day celebrations held on the 10th of July. For River, allowed to pilot on the return journey, the time held mixed feelings. She wanted to fly for longer, revelling in the renewal of acquaintance with the old girl. Also, the last time she had taken part in Hannover’s celebrations, the slavers had come and she had been shot. Mal had assured her that they had enjoyed several Landing Day parties since without violence and death – maybe some violence after too much beer, but no deaths. She was therefore the last one to leave the ship. As she came down the ramp it was clear that everyone else had dispersed quickly to their houses. The only person she saw was Matt Cobb walking towards her. She read his thoughts before consciously telling herself not to. I’m glad you’re back safe, meili de funu. She was surprised that his endearment was so clean. “Hey, River,” Matt said on reaching her. “Is it me, or has everyone disappeared?” Matt looked around and shrugged. “Guess they got things to do.” “And you haven’t?” she asked. He looked down at his feet quickly and back up again at her. “Takin’ a break,” he muttered, kicking up some dirt. River hid a smirk and started walking towards Simon and Kaylee’s house. “You look happier comin’ back than you did going?” Matt added. River was surprised at his perception and had come to realise that is was wrong of her to keep comparing him to his brother. “Mal’s given me my job back. I’m piloting Serenity again.” Matt grinned at her in true Cobb style. “So you’re stickin’ around for a while?” “Seems like,” answered River in kind. An’ I thought these Landing Day celebrations were gonna be as borin’ as usual, Matt thought. “Matt!” came a voice and they both turned to see Kaylee’s cousin, Glory, coming towards them. River didn’t need to be a mind reader to see that Glory had set her cap for Matt Cobb and that was alright by her. “A’right, Glory. You met River, ain’t yer?” Glory eyed her up - assessing the competition. He’s all yours, River said in her mind. Kaylee’s cousin smiled at River genuinely the moment she reckoned she had nothing to worry about. Not that she was that enamoured on Matt Cobb, but it was the principle of the thing – she was here first. “Why, sure. Kaylee said you was back. Last time we met was at her weddin’ – you was the bridesmaid.” “Yes. An’ I seem to remember you had a thing for pinchin’ Mal’s butt –“ the words were out before River could stop herself. Glory frowned a little, but it passed quickly as she turned her full attention to Matt, grabbing his arm. “Are you comin’ to the celebrations tomorrow?” Matt, as blind as any man to what was going on under his nose, replied as nonchalantly as he could, giving River a look out of the corner of his eye. “I’ll be there. Though I’ve promised myself a few hands at poker with the Schnabel boys.” “Poker! You don’t wanna be playin’ poker. Dancin’ that’s what you want ta be doin’. Will you dance with me tomorrow?” “I ain’t much of a dancer, but I guess so. River? You up for some dancin’?” he asked, missing Glory’s eyes narrowing. River was not in the least interested in getting involved with Matt Cobb, or making an enemy of Kaylee’s cousin. “Okay,” she found herself saying to Matt but looking at Glory. Gorram it, what made her say that? She watched Glory Frye tug Matt away and she followed them from a short distance. It was probably some innate female instinct that possessed her to speak so – the cavewoman instinct, she reasoned to herself. Yes, that was it – perfectly normal. Get your hand off his rutting ass! Yes, perfectly normal.

~ * ~
Karl followed Hans into the dark front room of the Keller’s house. His eyes took a while to adjust, but finally he saw a man who looked about ready to meet his maker getting a haircut and shave from Lasla Keller. Hans had already explained that Willhelm didn’t speak any English or Chinese, like many people on Deutschland. “Will, this is Karl Washburne. He’s the man I told you about who wants to learn about the woodworking.” Willhelm said nothing at first and starred at Karl, taking in the broad shoulders and work roughened hands. He addressed Karl in a low voice, almost hard to catch. “You want to learn?” “Yes,” Karl answered. He’d given the matter a lot of thought over the last couple of weeks. In truth he did want to find something else to supplement his income. Things were good at Gang Kou but the work never stopped, especially now that Serenity wasn’t so much in the Black. Mal had his horses, Jayne the cattle and Karl helped them both. They all helped at the branding or the driving the herd, even Simon, though his efforts on horseback caused more merriment than usefulness. Each of them found things to bring in extra income; Zoe earned herself extra credit as a Deputy in Hannover, Inara taught and Simon worked at the hospital in München. And Bane had her munitions which bought in more ready income than all of them put together. He had nothing for himself, he just pottered around with things. This was his chance to do something for himself. Lasla finished cutting Willhelm’s hair and was brushing the stray hairs off with a towel. “Could take a long time,” the man answered gruffly, examining Karl up and down. Hans hid a smile, Willhelm was a crabby ornery man, but there was a sense of humour under there somewhere, almost ground into oblivion because of the war. “Whatever it takes,” answered Karl. “Or however long you can put up with me,” he added, lightly. “Hmpfh,” was Willhelm’s answer, and then he spoke such rapid German to Hans that Karl had trouble keeping up. He watched as Hans shrugged and Lasla stifled a giggle. “What?” he finally asked as Willhelm was standing up. “He wants to know whether you’re running away from a woman or whether he needs to be worried about his virtue,” answered Hans. Karl rolled his eyes, everybody’s a ruttin’ comedian. “Tell him I think he looked prettier with the beard, so I reckon he’s safe.” Hans relayed the words to Willhelm who barked with laughter. It was an odd sound, like he wasn’t used to making that kind of noise. He then held out his hand, spat in it and offered it to him. Karl spat in his own hand and the deal was sealed. They left the house and headed back to the party. “I drive you up zhere tomorrow, ja?” “He looks about to croak. Not sure I’ll be there that long.” “He live longer zhan you sink. He’z Lasla Keller’s tvin brother. He ist same age as me.” “No shit?” “No schitt,” repeated Hans. Mal, who had been searching for Inara for the last thirty minutes, finally located her amongst the other Hannover women serving the food. “Enough of this helpin’ out, ‘Nara, you promised me a dance,” Mal said, taking her hand off the tap of the keg of beer. “In a minute,” she said distractedly. “I also promised Berta I’d lend a hand.” Mal looked up and across the noisy table to Berta and shouted. “Ich möchte mit meiner Frau tanzen. Muß ich sie für sie kämpfen?” Berta put her hands on her hips, laughing, and shouted back. “Sie konnten nicht einen kampf mit mir gewinnen, dünner mann. Ich esse sie zum frühstück.” “Ich bilde einen besseren nachtisch,” Mal shot back. “Mal!” Inara exclaimed, shocked, dragging him away to the dancing. Before long Mal had her whirling around the large wooden dance floor amongst the crowd already there. “I can’t believe you said such a thing to Berta.” “What? It’s true – I would fight her for you.” Taking her hand off his shoulder, she hit him in the same spot. “I mean about you being her dessert.” “Oh that. She knows I was jokin’.” Mal leaned into Inara’s neck, touching her skin with his lips. “’Sides there’s only one dessert I intend to enjoy tonight.” Inara allowed herself to revel in the sensations that ran down her body before remembering that she was on a dance floor in the middle of Hannover. River whirled past them with one of the young farmers. Earlier she had seen Jayne’s brother, wearing a scowl on his face every time Glory Frye leaned on his shoulder as he tried to play cards with, she presumed, the Schnabel brothers. From what she knew about him, Matt Cobb liked to make his own rules when it came to women, and they didn’t include a woman who would bat her eyelashes at anything in pants, but return to him when things were quiet. But, River thought, Matt Cobb looked perfectly capable of handling the flirtatiously fickle Glory Frye. “Can I take you up on that dance?” Matt asked, as soon as the last set ended. He’d been biding his time, waiting for her to be free of the queue of partners that all seemed to want to dance with the Doc’s beautiful sister. In fact, he’d muscled a few of them away with a worthy Cobb glare to get to the head of the queue. River, still breathing hard from one dance, couldn’t help grinning as his thoughts penetrated her mind. Well, she had agreed to and it wasn’t logical or polite to change her mind without good reason. River bit her lip as Matt started to move around to the music. He was an horrific dancer, completely wooden – which is probably why she hadn’t seen him on the dance floor. She winced as he stomped on her foot for the second time. “Sorry,” Matt said gruffly. “I ain’t so good at this. I get it in my head but then the legs don’t do what they’re supposed to.” “Maybe your brother could give you some lessons?” Matt looked at her in surprised shock. “Jayne can dance? I don’t believe you!” Normally at the Landing Day parties, Jayne was either found propping up the bar or sitting with Esper and the brood. River talked and Matt forgot how clumsy he was, even letting her lead them to little gaps in the throng of people. She was certainly a meili de funu, especially with those dark eyes and wide mouth – and that smile. She could kill with that smile. Stan’s bullet-marked face appeared in place of Matt’s and River faltered, momentarily horror struck by the merging of the two men. The music ended and Matt, as firm as he dared, kept hold of her hand and led her off the dance floor. Some boys, Ishmael included, charged between them and the connection was severed. River used the opportunity to escape to a group of women serving food and drink. It was a mistake to get involved with Matt Cobb, even if it was just a physical thing. She would just have to control her hormones and urges like any normal person. River spied Glory Frye and marched over to her, spinning her around with ease. “He’s all yours. Just don’t break him,” she stated in a normal voice before walking off again. At her last words, Glory’s expression changed into complete bewilderment. The rumours are true, the girl ain’t right in the head. Despite the shaky start, River was enjoying herself, even more so, seeing that all her friends and family were so happy here. Deutschland had been good for them, they belonged to a real community where there were still those who helped others without asking for anything in return. River filled one of the smaller tankards with beer. She had a liking for the stuff; it was lighter than spirits and could be consumed in quantity without too much of a hangover in the morning. River turned around and almost spilled her drink into Zoe. “I see you picked up some interestin’ habits while you were away?” “I – I – Yes. At least I didn’t come back with any tattoos.” In one way, River had been glad that she’d managed to avoid any moments alone with Zoe. But, she supposed, it was no good putting off the inevitable. Zoe took in River’s apprehension in her usual stoic manner. River spied Berta coming up behind Zoe and made her escape. Zoe leaned down to pour herself a beer out of the large barrel. “I sink my son does not spend much time viz you,” announced Berta. Here we go, reckoned Zoe, more of the preaching. She was getting mighty tired of her interference. Zoe turned away and then felt Berta’s large hand on her shoulder, pulling her around again. Had it been anyone else, she would have likely thrown a punch or drawn her gun (if she’d been armed). Berta smiled, and spoke in German so she could get her point across better without stumbling over the words. “You misunderstand me, daughter. You’re good for him.” Zoe answered her back in German. “Thank you, Berta. I’m sure Hans’ll like to hear you say that.” “Hans will tell me to mind my own business.” Zoe looked back at Berta, the unspoken response clear in her face. “I know, you think the same thing. But believe it or not, I like you. You’re one who’ll protect those you love at any cost. Like me.” “Have you been drinking?” Zoe asked. Berta doubled over with laughter before pulling Zoe into one of her engulfing hugs. She’s definitely been drinking, thought Zoe. Her relationship with Berta was always a stalemate, two strong women caught head to head, their patience with each other always on a knife edge. “I have been drinking, daughter. But the words mean no less for that. I reckon it was about time I acknowledged that you aren’t likely to steal him away anytime soon.” “I’ve never wanted to steal him away, Berta. This is his home, he fought for this place.” “As did we all. I see you together and I see you love him.” “Forgive me, Berta. Nice as it is to hear you saying this stuff after so long. But why are you saying it now?” Berta didn’t speak for a while and then took a big gulp of her beer. “You need a honeymoon.” She held her hand up at the start of Zoe’s protests. “Before you go shooting me, hear me out. I’ve accepted that you two aren’t for marrying, at least not yet. But you’ve both been working non-stop since you moved here and not taken time to enjoy yourselves. You know I can take the boys – why not think on it?” She put down her mug. “Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to go and slap that Frye girl around for dancing with Kelso Steibis – he’s spoken for.” Zoe starred after her, speechless. A few minutes later she felt Hans strong hand on her shoulder and leaned against it. It was true, she mused, she and Hans spent so much time making sure everyone else was alright, they didn’t look to themselves. “Ist my muzzer giving you hard time again, liebe?” Zoe looked up at Hans, seeing his proud angular features full of concern. He had the kind of face that would always look young, belying his age and wisdom. She softened against his large frame before taking his hand and leading him to the dance floor. “Nein, bao bei, I think your mother and me finally agree on something. Let’s dance.” River watched them from the sidelines, wishing she could have said something more to Zoe, knowing that things were awkward between them. Or was it just her own awkwardness that still stemmed from guilt? She was the reader, why in the hell didn’t she have an answer for herself? On the edge of the fast dancers, Kaylee and Simon danced more slowly with their baby girl between them, largely oblivious to anyone around. As soon as they had arrived, Simon had been accosted by various people and their ailments. Kaylee waded in after an hour and pulled him out, determined that he would get a chance to enjoy the party as well. She had got used to people shoving their ailments and diseases at her husband, but had additionally become quite ruthless at calling a halt to the activities. Simon loved her for it and this Landing Day was especially happy as River was reunited with him again.
~ * ~
PERSEPHONE Three weeks after leaving Beaumonde, give or take a couple of days, Bane sat in the diner alone, waiting. She had a pot of tea in front of her, fully prepared to wait the whole day if necessary. She was on her second cup of tea when some people slid into the booth opposite her. “Hey, Mrs Peabody. How’s the old man?” said Pavel jovially. He was out of uniform and dressed in a t-shirt and pants. The jacket he wore was more refined, taking the edge off and proclaiming him to be non-spacer. Bane reached her arm across the table and he took her hand, squeezing it in welcome. “I’m glad you made it. You too, Captain,” she added. “How’d you know it was me?” asked Hosier, surprised – and also dressed in civvies. “Aftershave. It’s rather strong. You might want to tone it down a bit.” Pavel choked back his laughter. “Good to see you’ve not changed, Bane. Now what’s so important that I had to take some well-earned leave to go fishing with Laurence here?” Bane reached inside her bag and pulled out a box. She opened it and showed the contents to the men. “Take what’s inside.” Hosier reached in and took out the bulky envelope, before handing it to his former boss. Pavel unsealed the envelope and looked at the contents. “What the hell language is this?” “Ah yes, that’s code. And it’s been written wearing gloves, so there’s no point printing it when you get back.” “You’re kidding.” “No – they were real pissed when I told them to re-write it all too.” “What use is it to me if I can’t read it?” Pavel asked. “I’ll teach you.” She jangled some keys, also taken from the bag she was holding. “I’ve rented us an apartment for a week – it’s the building across the street, fourth floor. Seein’ as you’re on a fishin’ trip, it’ll match up quite nicely.” Bane beheld their silence and then spoke again, grinning. “Come on, boys. A week with me? Can’t be a prison sentence, surely?” “Is this really necessary?” asked Pavel, not annoyed but more puzzled at the perceived overkill of subterfuge. Bane put the keys on the table and pushed them towards Pavel. Her animated expression grew serious. Although she didn’t know it, she was looking him directly in the eye. “Thomasina Herald has been takin’ quite an’ interest in your career since the Deutschland incident, hasn’t she?” Pavel went white, and so did Hosier, who also knew the name. After a small pause, he spoke again. “Let’s go,” he said in a strained voice. Once in the apartment, Pavel took a device out of his pocket and swept the room for bugs. Once done, he relaxed, taking off his jacket and sitting in the armchair opposite Bane. Hosier leaned against the wall. “Now, enough of this nonsense. Tell me what’s going on.” “On Deutschland we found that the slave ship was run by the Blue Sun Corporation but crewed by ex-con Alliance who were recruited by a Colonel Abigail Penney.” “Yes, that’s right.” “A friend of mine listened in on a meeting of some delegates of Blue Sun an’ caught’em talkin’ about the slave ship. It was chaired by Thomasina Herald, Member of Parliament. Your name was mentioned specifically. Someone called Landerson is doing surveillance on you. If you decide to check up on Dedham or any of the others, you’ll likely be eliminated.” Hosier noticed that Wladek had gone from white to red, in anger. “I know Landerson,” stated Pavel, although he was unforthcoming as to how at this stage. “And no, the only checks I’ve done on Dedham and the others is remotely. I was planning to make a personal visit to the prison at the end of this year when my workload quietened down.” “Do you know whether they’re still locked up?” Hosier asked Bane. Bane twisted her hands together, it was something that had kept her awake on several nights since River had told her. “You’ve no idea how much I want him to still be locked up.” Both men knew the history between the two of them from when she had been arrested. Pavel took the wad of notes out of his pocket and leafed through the unintelligible pages. “And what’s in this?” he asked. “Names, details an’ something else that gives us a ‘why’ to the link.” Hosier spoke, interrupting them. “I have one ‘why’ for you. That Colonel Abigail Penney is Thomasina Herald’s daughter. Her father is the acting Chairman of the Blue Sun Corporation.” Pavel and Bane turned to him, it explained why Laurence had been as shocked as him at the mention of Herald’s name. He went on. “I was at the Training Academy with Abi. She was a prodigy, or that’s what the instructors said about her. The only thing I saw she was genuinely good at was handling weapons. To the rest of us, she was just a rich kid with high level connections.” “No kidding,” said Pavel. “So, Colonel Penney, has been disappeared into Blue Sun, care of Ma and Pa,” concluded Bane. Pavel’s mind was reeling with a number of different feelings and revelations. “Bane. The information in here – where’d you get it?” “The other link,” she answered. “There’s a government funded unit, just known as the Academy, or there was. It was a cover to train young people an’ children with special abilities as assassins, or the skills for some other purpose. The subjects showed specific aptitude for levels of psychic ability. We believe that Academy was disbanded, but has now re-formed. Whereas before they advertised amongst the finest minds the Core had to offer, the purpose of the slave ship was to harvest subjects or ‘acquisitions’ from birth or from the anonymous people of the Rim. The program is in its eighth year – and God only knows what their motives are.” “Jesus!” exclaimed Hosier, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “That still doesn’t answer my question,” Pavel said, his emotions raw. “And while I appreciate the effort to warn me – I need to know exactly what I’m getting into.” Bane was nervous. River had given her permission to tell Wladek her real identity and her connection to the Academy. And she had told Bane what little she knew or remembered of the Academy’s purpose. Still, Bane wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do, even if River was okay with it. “The person who wrote those notes was in the Academy, as was. They’re a reader – psychic - maybe not so much when they went in, but triple the amount when they escaped. Experimental surgery was done, subjects underwent training involving martial arts, decoding, espionage – though the majority of them were already at genius level. Most of the children as they were, ended up being borderline psychotic, if not criminally insane or dead.” “I’m finding all this very difficult to believe.” Pavel scraped his hand through his hair. Bane took off her coat and started to get her bearings around the small apartment. “I trust you, Pavel. An’ believe me when I say I’d never thought to say that of a Fed. I know you don’t have any good reason to trust me. Whether you do anything with this additional information or not, I’ve been able to warn you that your life is in danger. The debt is settled.” “I saw no debt, Bane. And I do appreciate the warning.” He looked down at the papers in his hands. “How about you teach me to read this stuff and then we’ll decide whether I’ll be hung for a thief as well as a murderer? Figuratively speaking, of course”
* * * * * *
Over the next week Bane closeted herself in the apartment with Pavel and Laurence and taught them the code, so they could read the notes River had written. Bane had decided not to reveal River’s name, but she told them all the information that River had passed on to her, down to the location of the old Academy and how she had been broken out. Laurence went out briefly to buy a portable source box so they could access some information on the Cortex. Bane was nervous about that, but Pavel hadn’t got where he was by advertising, but by stealth. “I have various ways of finding out some more information on what you’ve given me.” “Untraced? I thought everything on the Cortex could be traced.” “Your name on the military lists is untraceable.” Bane tilted her head curiously. “Been meanin’ to ask you how you managed that.” Pavel sat back again and pulled off the signet ring on his finger. The top of the ring slid across and then lengthened into a fine metal thread. Laurence’s eyes widened as he watched Pavel insert the device between the power cable and the box. Once the power cable was back in place, the rest of the ring was largely hidden. “I created a digital boomerang. Did it during the war – it’s one of the reasons I got where I am today. I’ve a device that allows me to look at pretty much anything on the Cortex, alter it if possible and leave with no trace. Or rather it imprints the next person who accesses it, not me.” “But surely all they need to do then is just monitor any access you make an’ follow you?” Bane couldn’t pretend to understand everything he was saying, but she was trying. “If they try to trace me instead, then the boomerang works in the opposite way, bouncing off what I’m really looking at to divert to other innocuous things, like fishing reports from New Melbourne. It’s something I’ve been doing for years.” Pavel didn’t go into the finer details, there was little point. In short he could be a ghost on the Cortex if necessary. After returning from Deutschland, he had submitted his report back to Alliance Command where they had told him that they would deal with it, which included taking the prisoners off his hands. He had then been transferred to Londinium where he’d met the Herald woman. Pavel’s job now was largely overseeing all Alliance communications across the ‘Verse. Bane, who couldn’t see anything that was going on, was starting to pace nervously. Pavel was in more comfortable territory, as well as in his element. “Now, let’s see exactly how much time Dedham served for starters.” And he started tapping away at the keyboard. Bane was starting to feel claustrophobic and Laurence nudged Pavel to take a look. “You said you trusted me, Bane. Well trust me now – I can’t be detected. That list I put your name on was viewed at least four times by those Prosecution lawyers, but when they confirmed your name was there, no alterations were registered. Just the records of when they had viewed the lists.” Bane had to content herself with the fact that she could trust him like she’d stated. Pavel tapped his way through mountains and streams of data like a snake. Laurence, who’d only seen his boss at work in the physical capacity, was thoroughly impressed. “Dedham went to a special section on the Penal Moon with the rest of the crew.” Bane heard Pavel swear under his breath. “What is it?” “Looks like he’s still there.” Bane shoulders sagged with relief. “That’s good. Isn’t it?” “No, it’s not,” Pavel answered grimly. “He’s not registered as a prisoner, he’s registered as a guard…Along with Lon Lacey. The others are there too.” Bane’s throat was dry as a horrible thought occurred to her. “Who gets the security contract to run the Penal Moon?” All three of them had come to the same conclusion before Pavel found the proof. “Blue Sun.” “What happened to your report?” asked Laurence. Pavel started tapping again and Bane could feel the sweat forming on her back. She found her way to the window and opened it, glad to breath in the somewhat polluted air. Pavel spoke again. “As I thought. My report was given directly to Herald by…General Falmouth.” Bane turned around at the tone of his voice. “It sounds like you know the name.” “I do. He’s the man I report to. He’s also the same General who told me to bury the report I had on Dedham five years ago at your trial. I refused to.” “Guess he learnt his lesson and decided to pat you on the head and send you on your way instead,” joke Laurence. Pavel said nothing and kept typing. “My report was sent to Herald with a coded memo. Hang on, this might take me a few minutes…” Laurence and Bane waited silently. Laurence looked at the flashing screens that Pavel was passing through, amazed at the speed and direction. Bane was just waiting for his fingers to stop typing. “…The coded message reads: Report confirms that AP’s identity is revealed, but no other connections are made. Dedham’s interview was the only one given under coercion. Colonel Wladek’s report says it was due to the disgusted reactions of the Deutschlander lawmen. Wladek won’t bury it as he has a history with Dedham. I’m having him transferred to a desk job and promoting him. Suggest you keep him under observation.” There it was, confirmed in full digital glory. “Sounds like this goes pretty deep. I don’t suppose there’s anything we can do,” said Bane. “Only keep an eye on it all. And maybe gather the names of those involved.” “That’ll take years,” Laurence protested. “If we bring this to the wrong person’s attention, we’d be dead real quick. I wonder what happened to that promotion he mentioned?” When it came time to sleep they rotated between the two beds and sofa, and to outward appearances it seemed that they were a close family on holiday, who argued a little. Although the landlord did wonder who was married to whom, or if it was some weird threesome. It came time to break up the party and Pavel had done a lot of thinking in the course of the week. Laurence had gone out to hire a transport for them both to return to the Doric spaceport. Bane would, on her insistence, take the public transport back to Eavesdown. Alone for the moment, it gave him the chance to speak to her about something else. “My worry is that although you’ve found the whys on the links between Blue Sun, Alliance and Thomasina Herald, we don’t know the true purpose of the Academy. What are those children being used for?” “I wish I could answer that myself, an’ believe me I’ve done some thinking about it.” “While Laurence is out, there’s something I wanted to ask you – for advice.” Bane tied her bag shut and tried not to show too much surprise. “Really? Well you’ve got my attention.” “This Landerson. I know very well who she is – in fact I know now that I’m her mark, just like Dedham was yours. We’ve been dating for about two years.” Bane was inwardly sickened and held out her hand to touch him, Pavel catching it before it reached him. “Who would have thought that Dedham and I would have something like this in common? But that’s by the by. I wanted to ask your advice on how I should proceed, given that I know what she’s about now.” “How do you feel about her?” she asked him, almost afraid of the answer. Pavel shrugged. “I liked having her around, but I wouldn’t say I’m addicted. Fact was, I was thinking of breaking up with her, as I didn’t think it fair that I was so committed to my work.” “If you break it off, it’s likely that she’ll be replaced with another, or they might find another way of watching you.” “My thinking as well. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer, as they say.” “But it does rather hamper any real relationship you might have,” Bane said sympathetically. Pavel shrugged. “Well it’s never been high on my list of priorities as far as my life goes. I was thinking more of playing Landerson at her own game, just needed to ask you if there’s anything I need to watch out for.” “Well it’s difficult to say. But definitely don’t change your character too much, or she’ll suspect. If you’ve never lost your temper with her, don’t start now. In all honesty, if it hadn’t been for Serenity Valley, I would’ve spotted Dedham had rumbled me almost straightaway, he was that easy to read. You’re nothing like him, bein’ a naturally reticent person. It’s likely Landerson is experienced, but probably frustrated in her efforts to find out what you know. Her remit will only go so far.” “That’s what I’m counting on.” “What are you planning?” “Well, I think I’ll keep that to myself for now. Now, this friend of yours, the one who was in the Academy – can you trust her?” Bane stiffened at the unexpected change of tack and its topic, as she had been very careful not to identify River in any way, even down to a he or she. “I never said my contact was female – how did you know?” “Like I said, it’s my business. The Agents who were searching for that ship you were on – Serenity - were looking for someone, though they wouldn’t say who. When Dedham had you arrested, I wasn’t convinced you were the one they were looking for.” “A war criminal, you mean.” “Yes. Like you said, the war was over a long time ago, and your bulletin wouldn’t have warranted interest by Operatives at that level. I did my research, expanding it to all the people on that ship. The only ones that came out with nothing at all were the Fryes. Reynolds, Washburne, Cobb and Jacobsson had all done time or had a record of some kind.” On Bane’s arrest, Simon and River had identified themselves with the name of Frye and Dedham had been too occupied with Bane to do any further checks. “You might ask why I didn’t kick up a fuss there and then, but to be honest, the information didn’t come through until after the trial. Laurence doesn’t even know about it.” “You know who they are?” Bane asked, her voice a whisper. “Simon and River Tam. I found their bulletins. The other woman was definitely who she said she was - a Frye, Kaywhinnet Lee Frye, born on Highgate. It was some years ago now, but I still remember. Their bulletin was top level, I recognised the contact codes. Those Agents – Operatives, they’re called, were acting on the orders of one or more Members of Parliament.” Bane remembered the two men vividly, they were the reason she was now unable to see. “Thomasina Herald,” she added. “We’ve no way of knowing that,” answered Pavel. Bane smoothed her skirt. “It was Thomasina Herald. As it says in River’s report, Herald was the one responsible for the death of millions on Miranda. She wouldn’t bat an eyelid at wiping out a few ex-cons like us, or you, for that matter.” Pavel finished packing his own bag. She was curious about why Pavel hadn’t turned in the Tams. “What stopped you from reporting them?” “You,” he stated honestly. “That day the trial ended, I saw you back to the ship, remember?” Bane nodded, it briefly crossing her mind that he might have feelings for her. “They were all there to greet you, to hug you. I’d just forged your name on classified military documents to keep you out of jail, and if you crewed on Serenity, then I would just be getting you arrested again. When you were with them, I didn’t see criminals, I saw your family. They’d done everything they could to help you – they found the bounty hunter, told me your real name –“ “What? Who told you?” Bane thought that Pavel had discovered who she really was on his own. “It was Cobb. That fella Jacobsson was with him when I waved.” He saw Bane’s face and added quickly. “That’s what saved you, him telling me your real name.” Bane allowed herself a small smile. “He’s never mentioned, nor has Karl.” “You still know ‘em then?” “In a manner of speakin’…I don’t know what to say.” They heard Laurence call out a greeting as he came in the door. “Really?” laughed Pavel. “I find that really hard to believe. You’ve done nothing but chew our ears off all week, day and night.” “Yeh, you moan in your sleep, by the way,” said Laurence, collecting his packed bag. Bane flushed. “Moan? I don’t remember having any bad dreams, but I’m sorry if I kept you awake.” “Oh it wasn’t that kind of moaning,” Laurence went on cheerily. “It’s the kind of moaning I could stand to hear a little more of, specially if I’m with my wife.” “Enough, Laurence,” said Pavel smiling, but realising his friend had gone far enough. Bane’s face had reddened further in embarrassment, but she tried to keep the tone of her voice light. “Change your aftershave an’ you just might,” she shot back. “So,” Pavel said. “Are we all ready to go then?” “Yep,” Laurence said. “There’s one more thing,” Bane said, shrugging on her coat. “We need to work out a secure method of contact, especially if we have to send someone in our place.” “I think we’ve got it covered with Mr Peabody,” started Pavel, switching off the remaining lights in the apartment. Bane stopped and raised her eyebrows. “Do you know why I was so successful at breaking into weapons depots in the war?” she questioned. “Because you could lie yourself into a tin of paint?” Laurence replied flippantly, causing Bane to laugh. “No, because Fed security was easy to crack. You guys love your routine and those who don’t, make things easier for themselves by not following procedure. We need to work out between us a three tier security check. That way if any of us are caught or questioned and we give away only one of the code words or procedures to save our skins, we won’t be condemning the others.” “This isn’t the war anymore. It sounds a bit unnecessary,” argued Pavel. “What were you suggesting?” “Something simple. First contact is via the mis-directed wave from Efram Peabody like before, to my Uncle’s house, which is well away from any connection to Deutschland. Being that we might be some distance away, we could say two weeks from the wave date, at noon, same place in the diner across the road.” “You’ve thought this through.” “I’ve had some experience in misdirection, like you, Pavel. Okay,” Bane said. “After the usual greetings comes a pairing.” “What do you mean?” asked Laurence. “For example, I say Romeo. You say Juliet.” “Nothing that obvious, I hope. Needs to be a pairing that someone wouldn’t necessarily be familiar with.” “Exactly. I’ve thought of one, if you think it’s appropriate. Orpheus and Eurydice.” Bane had thought of it when remembering her young cousin. Pavel and Laurence mulled it over. “Finally. This…” and she found one of their hands and drew a coded character using two fingers. It meant cupping Pavel’s hand with her left and tracking the sign with her right. “Exactly like that - with both hands. Try it with Laurence.” Pavel did as he was told, although felt somewhat awkward holding another man’s hand in such a way. While Pavel was sure he wasn’t going to need this extra secrecy, Bane obviously had contacts who might found out more in the future, so he was willing to go along with it for now. “Sounds good,” Laurence said. “I’m still not sure it’s all necessary though.” Bane pressed her lips together in annoyance. He was an intelligent and funny man, but she also found him a little bit condescending, as if he couldn’t believe she would know more things than he could. “How did I track you down, Laurence? An ex-con Rim dweller finding out where a high-ranking Alliance officer was posted?” Pavel smirked at Laurence’s discomfort, amazed that the thought hadn’t occurred to his protégé before. “Alliance officer movements are restricted an’ yet I managed to turn up on your doorstep. You can get any information if you look hard enough, even misdirected waves and Alliance officer postings, the key here is to keep ourselves anonymous.” “Point taken,” Laurence answered quietly. In their transport shortly afterwards Pavel spoke to Laurence, telling him what he’d told Bane about Landerson and working out their own system of secure regular communication. “At least she’s close enough to keep an eye on without having to constantly look over my shoulder. Anyway, I’ve made up a boomerang for you, so you can ghost around the Cortex as well. I want you to concentrate on the Herald and Penney families and Blue Sun’s quieter dealings. I’ll take to trying to track down this Academy.” “Sure thing,” Laurence answered, taking the spare ring that Pavel offered. “I’m not convinced that code isn’t somewhere in the information database.” Laurence answered him quickly. “It isn’t. I checked yesterday when I went out to get dinner. Dropped into the com station on my way back from our ‘fishing trip’ to look at my messages. Did some checking.” “You what!” Pavel saw the whole week wasted in front of his eyes, but Laurence was quick to reassure him. “I just checked one thing; I scanned a few characters of the code and nothing came up.” He saw Pavel’s look. “I’m sorry, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t learning something that could be deciphered quicker than spitting.” “Just as long as you’re completely aware of how much danger we’re in if we’re caught. I’m beginning to think Bane has more understanding about how dangerous it is for us to be poking around than the two of us put together.” “She’s quite a woman,” he said. “Yes. And she caused a mountain of trouble for us during the war,” mused Pavel with a reminiscent smirk. “Hell, I was thinking about that moaning,” Laurence answered, and both men laughed.
* * * * * * * * *
German Translations Ich möchte mit meiner Frau tanzen. Muß ich sie für sie kämpfen? I want to dance with my wife. Must I fight you for her? Sie konnten nicht einen kampf mit mir gewinnen, dünner mann. Ich esse sie zum frühstück. You could not win a fight with me, skinny man. I will eat you for breakfast Ich bilde einen besseren nachtisch I make a better dessert


Friday, February 15, 2008 2:18 AM


For a quick OC character description go to

Tuesday, February 19, 2008 8:09 AM


Love the Landing Day celebrations and the revelations that the Alliance Colonel makes about Blue Sun dealings. Though I wasn't happy to hear that Dedham is still around.


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