BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - MYSTERY

WYTCHCROFT

The Wages of Sihnon (pt2)
Friday, February 29, 2008

NEW PT.2: Having been summoned Inara is waiting to meet the Priestess of Sihnon. Meantime some Companions in Training have vanished from a shuttle whose pilot has amnesia. The Guild has apparently sent Radha Brook to investigate, removing the case from the hands of two private detectives... and those characters not already lying through their teeth are about to start.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3001    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Preparations for a dance – part two:

Radha Brook stood under the spray of the shower and wished the water were hotter. Third shower today – hardly a conservative use of the recycled H2O… but the damn Detective had insulted her… deliberately, if her instincts were sharp. The man resented the waste of his time – so he stole some of mine. Not a Companion anymore. True. But – some of the rituals never… you get hardwired – to do… certain things. Leaning against the plexi of the unit she switched the faucet off and let her thoughts, her feelings, her morning and the memory of it, drain away.

For the briefest of moments as the droplets shook loose from her hair, from under her arms, the backs of her legs – for the briefest of moments she felt truly clean – and fresh – just an anonymous young girl – back in the Training House again.

Then the apartments external comm. buzzed and the day collapsed back onto her flesh. Exiting the shower she was unclothed but no longer naked. Distinctions, Companions learned all about them. Walking over the blow square – she picked up the phone with a warm dry hand.

“Radha here,” she said.

………………………………….

Glad as she was to be rid of the meek looking Trainee who had shown her the way, Inara wished they were still walking the hard and shadowed corridors of the inner Temple. After an unseemly length of time, the girl had escorted Inara to a gate, ( here I go down the oubliette – Inara had thought) fumbling with the keys before opening it.

So, waiting by the High Priestess’ office door was for what? Inara had wondered, to make me sweat? Keep me annoyed? I know why I’m here – and so does She… so why all this… whatever THIS would turn out to be.

Smiling at the Trainee who was pointing her through the gate, Inara ducked her head under the heavy stone of the frame – and entered the gardens beyond.

“Ah, there you are,” the Priestess had said from somewhere in front of her. “Don’t dawdle girl, I treasure the time I get in the garden – don’t make me fritter it away waiting for your eyes to adjust.” Groaning internally, Ianra screwed up her eyes and walked forward into the sun dazzled grounds and in the direction of the voice and the flickering silhouette she could just make out. As she did so she began the ritual greeting from companion to High Priestess. The woman cut her off abruptly. “I am not the High Priestess,” she said curtly, “did you expect I would be? Well, you were always ambitious as I recall.” Now, Inara said nothing, wondering to herself if the words were true – or if she were simply being baited. “Ha!” The other woman exclaimed finally. “No child, I am simply the House Priestess here.” Inara looked suitably chagrined. “I am, of course, sorry for any mistake Mother,” she said using the title without irony, “but my summons” – “Yes, yes,” the House Priestess snapped, “and you answered the summons and now you are talking to me. Do you really imagine the High Priestess deals with – and you are still being generous with time that is not your own. Walk with me Inara.” The woman gestured to two almost invisible aides – young girls carefully hefting the weight of the Priestess’s hair as it snaked out behind her, heavy as rope – but carried with the ceremony bestowed upon the sumptuous train of a dress. Inara fell into step – slightly behind and to the left, as required – with the House Priestess. “I am sorry though,” Inara pressed, “I had thought by now that the position would be yours.” This brought forth a barking laugh from the older woman. “Your charm was always an asset, I remember well…” Constance Jong, the House Priestess of Sihnon, turned for a moment and scrutinised her former pupil, “as was your sense of mischief,” she added knowingly. “But…” she continued, strolling on once more, “one of the joys of my age is finding such gambits increasingly ineffective.” The Priestess waved airily with her cane. “That, my dear - and the fact that I can now be as rude as I please. In some respects therefore, my position is all I could desire, it is unfortunate only in that I have such little time to spend here . Believe me Inara these grounds are infinitely preferable to a life increasingly spent in the doldrums of office.”

The landscape - swirling as it was around them, and under the vibrant sunset in a sky filled with kites and gliders – was truly idyllic, distractingly so. The neat arbour of plants, the lawns and small trees, the old stone walls – many of them derelict – the pools and ponds dancing with refractive water and the colourful bodies of tropical fish. Yes, it was distracting – which was presumably why The Priestess had invited Inara to walk with her. She knew Inara well, knew that the heady delights of the manicured nature about her could not fail to impact, knock her off balance, and move her emotionally. Inara knew it too – her head swimming and aflame with every sense engulfed – and her ears - hearing for a moment only the splash of the water, the insects in the grass and the bees among the flowers - were slow to listen to the words being spoken to them.

“This is a time of… choices”, the Priestess was saying as together they strolled the neat and meandering path. “Many decisions are being weighed – and, do you realise that every action of every member of our Guild can affect the whole?”

Inara steadied herself, “In what sense?”

“For example,” there was a pause for effect, the Priestess had deliberately adopted the crotchety tones of an old school ma’am, “your idea to create a Training House in the rim – House Serra… or whatever you were calling it. And now – with the Alliance pulling back from so much of the Rim… They are wondering – would it be possible… a licensed Guild – licensed by us… but no longer regulated by them.”

Inara was shocked. “The Alliance would never - De-regulate? You mean CRIMINALISE – the Guild?”

The Priestess nodded, even as she gazed down at the rhododendrons. “That’s exactly what I mean.”

Inara kept her eyes on the other woman now. “That would never happen. Not now – we’ve come too far – our culture is…”

“Enlightened? I wonder Inara if you really grasp the reality of the checks and balances and – well, just the basic bribery, necessary to maintain such ‘enlightenment.” She accented her words by brushing the green fly from off the petals before her.

“But surely the Alliance approves of - ”

This was met with a snort. “The Alliance approves of control. Surely you are not so naïve Inara?” Finally the Priestess turned and faced her – looking into her eyes, tapping the ground with her cane. “What are the two elements in humanity – the two needs that the Alliance cannot readily meet – and for the lack of which people will rebel, riot… force change and revolution?”

Inara could feel herself becoming the pupil she had once been. It was a role she did not want – but could not easily cast off it seemed. “The Sexual and the Spiritual.” She answered dutifully.

The Priestess nodded. “Exactly. Between us – The Guild and The Priory – we serve to fulfil those needs… we are therefore agents of control. It is THAT which allows the Alliance a choice – instead of de-regulation, they can choose to actively support the Guild, that is YOU – legally, financially. Even as they pull back their men, their machinery – it is YOU that can become their resource for stability. If they decide.”

The woman turned once more to the flowers, leaving Inara to speak to her back. “But very few are eligible to retain a Companion – only the very privileged…”

“Yes – only the very Good. But as for the rest – the rest can aspire, neh? Men can aspire to walk with a Companion – and women to become one. Again – that is Control.” And so saying she moved away and resumed strolling.

Inara was forced to catch up. “But we…”

“Enjoy what – freedom? Ha!” The cane waved into the air. “Our lives are coded, ritualised - we are machinery. We enjoy… luxury – perhaps… but it is the velvet cushion that gives lustre to a diamond watch. And a diamond watch has no concept of freedom – it is of course – a control device like any other.” She stopped quite suddenly again and Inara nearly bumped into her. Nearly but not quite – and to an external eye she seemed as poised and aloof as ever.

“Then why…?” she asked.

The Priestess nodded approvingly. “Because we DO have an opportunity now - for power – of a sort. The Alliance is weakened… the murder of Shepherd Book was a very bad mistake. The murder of Nandi likewise.”

Inara frowned. “Nandi who we – you shunned?

“Nandi.”

Inara’s frown deepened. “But Nandi was just…”

“A whore.” Hearing that word from the Priestess of all people, made Inara blanche. “Yes,” the woman continued, “as are we all.

Inara shook her head. “I disagree.”

The Priestess laughed hollowly at the anger evident in her ex-pupil. “Well my Dear, we can argue the semantics till we’re blue in the face – but that will not affect the politics of the current situation. Protection and Growth in the face of threat, THAT is my creed… my single aim. You would do well to bear it in mind.”

She was once again walking now.

“And why?” asked Inara to the rapidly moving figure.

The Priestess didn’t look round, merely raised her clear voice slightly. “It was felt… your association with Shepherd Book could be… exploited. Your experience of being in company with a member of the Priory – well that made you the natural choice for liaison. Or to choose someone from among your House who would do well, someone the Priory would accept.”

Inara nodded – the Wave had requested as much. “Then the Priory are coming here?” The Priestess smiled thinly. “It will be a grand occasion, the Southdowns Abbott and several Shepherds. There will be food, dancing – all very appropriately of course – and perhaps even a little communication, who can say. But I am sure that the Abbott could use an unobtrusive assistant for the course of his stay here – someone to allay any possible culture shock.” She gave another harsh laugh. “And with yourself as a worldly ambassador…. Then I’m certain we can make his visit both comfortable and educational.” The Priestess’s words had the ring of a well-practised speech. Had she said them already to the Abbott? Inara would not have been surprised.

Inara digested this before speaking again. “I have brought a novice from my House – she is older than the Guild norm…” “Very wise in this case.” …………………….

Downtown Sihnon – and Philip Yip, the Irritable Detective, was throwing his empty Sushine box into the trash. He wiped his hands on his jacket as if there were lapels where there weren’t any. He scowled. His associate Kris, still holding his carton, was scowling too. “On you that don’t look so good,” commented Yip. But Kris was busy with his thoughts. “I guess,” he said slowly, “Feds get the real thing, huh?” “You can bet they THINK they do”, Yip growled. “Hey Buddy,” he was reading now off the box in Kris’s hands, “ ‘Artificial Sushi Protein, synthesised and blended to a traditional themed recipe’ not good enough for the likes of you? Go take it up with the Boss.” Kris looked up. “We actually have a Boss?” Yip swore. “That… is a good question. When did you get so smart?” he cuffed his associate with a stubby hand. Kris gazed sorrowfully at the oily mark the hand had left imprinted. “Stuff don’t even smell like sushi”, he moaned. Yip’s scowl decided to take its owner up the winding sandstone steps that lead to the office. After a moment, Kris followed – but there was a beeping from a device on his belt and he called up at the lumbering form above him. “Looks like we got an update on the tranq.” “So soon?” Yip groaned loudly without turning round. “You charmed that out fast!” “I trained with the best,” muttered Kris. ……………………

“This is your choice?” The Priestess did not seem overly impressed and, already kneeling, the young woman before her seemed almost to burrow away into the floor. “Why yes,” Inara spoke reassuringly as she stood to one side, her hands on her hips. “She’s very capable. Her looks are deceiving.” “So I should hope!” exclaimed the Priestess, she began walking in a circle around the kneeling figure. “Hmm… she certainly seems as drab as this room.” Inara smiled. “I felt she would be less of a distraction if that were so – that the Abbott would have less cause to take offence than with a more gilded Companion.” The Priestess snorted at the pun. “Very well. Does it speak?” “Only when spoken to.” “My goodness – then she does not take after her Mistress.” The Priestess chuckled to herself before seeming to come to a decision. “Then all that remains is to determine the needs of the Abbott and to encourage them a little. Make yourselves ready – the Priory entourage will be landing shortly.”

…………………

“Not a case of Shepherd-napping then”, noted Detective Yip as he watched the procession file out from their shuttle and through the Guilds’ private hangar bay. “Guess that’s something. Would you say ‘flock of Shepherds’?” “Nah,” replied his associate, “sounds kinda dumb.”

Both men looked unhappy to be back in the place so quickly and, to judge from her expression Radha Brook was in agreement. “Gentlemen,” she said, striding towards them as she did so, “you no longer have any jurisdiction here.” She came to a halt before the Irritable Detective. “Or are you just the kind that like to watch?” Kris Tamorra interposed himself quickly. “Just finishing off the report is all. We’ll be done in five. And hey – got the skinny on that tranq if you wanna hear?” “Gorram…” muttered Yip angrily. “Saints preserve us from the Good, the Bad and the Eager.” He glared at Kris and hulked off to go look at the Priory shuttle, unobtrusively tucked away.

“Why are you here?” asked Radha bluntly. Kris was looking over her shoulder at Yip’s lumbering shape. “Ah, we’ve been around and about y’know - and I figured this was on route, we could check a few details before we send you the sheet – like I said.” Radha flicked a lose hair from her eye. “Details? Such as?” “Such as how come everyone can land so neat – except the shuttle with the action onboard?” The Irritable Detective’s voice carried clear across the deck. Something clicked in Radha’s jaw as she span to face him. The Irritable Detective waved a hand. “Don’t s’pose you’d show the security feed for this morning would you?” “Of course,” smiled Radha tightly, “I would do that because…” “We got contacts,” Yip still had not moved, “Kris aint lying about the Tranq. We could trade.” There was a pause. Funny, thought Kris, how such a busy place as a shuttle-port could fall so damn quiet. “What’s you interest in all this?” Radha was clearly considering her options. Kris looked apologetic. “I actually did think coming here was my idea”, he whispered. Yip began finally to shuffle over. He kept his hands in his pockets. “Y’wanna keep the case internal – fine. It gets out – it goes to the Feds, we don’t get paid. So we wanna help contain… anything that needs containing.” Radha blinked. “Are you really Detectives?” Yip smiled at her. “Are you?”

Kris Tamora had had enough. “Ok already with the monkeyshine!” he snapped at both Yip and Radha. “Tranq IS military – like you thought. Alliance. Matches a brace of items listed as missing, some time back, along with a Security Chief. Items were his responsibility.” Radha looked at Tamora with real interest for the first time. “Where?” she asked. “Bellerophon,” interjected Yip. “Do we get our trade?”

………………….

Seven different daily ceremonies had been completed before the arrival of the Priory to the Guild House. The Mistress of Ceremonies was irked by the interruption – even though greetings and introductions necessitated rituals all their own, rare, unused in fact since the beginning of her tenure. It was not creativity that the Mistress cherished however, it was order and precision - the routine of the day had been thoroughly disturbed.

The new rituals were running smoothly enough – that was something to be grateful for. One by one Shepherds were being introduced to the Temple and the names and details of various novitiate Companions were being read out. There were also meditative chants to the Budha Tathekata, the Father. This had been deemed fitting. The horns and conch-shells used by the musician maidens were creating something of a din. This allowed the Abbott and the House Priestess a chance to talk to one another, with less formality than their followers might have imagined. “You know my dear Abbott,” The Priestess whispered with elaborate confidentiality, “there is a rumour going around that this man of yours… Book? Was not a Shepherd at all?”

The Abbott laughed dryly, “Oh really? Well, that’s rather the point isn’t it? Shepherd or no – it made no difference to the military that murdered him.” He smiled benignly at a nervous looking Shepherd. “They felt perfectly free to do so”, he continued from the side of his mouth, “just as they felt free to invade a Companion’s training house – and just as their man Burgess felt free to murder the women on his moon. The ‘licensing issue’ there is surely, um, a technicality?” The Priestess inclined her head. “Touché, your Grace.” “It is, as my aide used to say, a wide and wicked ’verse.” He was clapping politely as he spoke. The Priestess motioned a young Trainee forward to be introduced by the Mistress of Ceremonies, but she was still talking to the Abbott as she did so. “Ah, So that is what you believe…” The Abbott himself raised his eyes to the ceiling in a contemplative pose. “ For thou exists on many a thousand grains that issue out of dust. I believe that also.” “You are fond of the Bard?” “As I am of my aide – I quote wisdom where I find it.” The Priestess noted the disingenuous way that the Abbott avoided answering direct questions. “I begin to feel,” she said softly, “and please do not misunderstand, that you would have made an ideal Companion.” The Abbott showed no sign of offence. “In many respects, we are not so very different.” “I hope we discover the truth of that”, the Priestess nodded towards the crowded hall where the groups of Shepherds and Companions were still going through the tedious ritual – the noisy music and chanting seemed at last to be reaching a crescendo. The Abbott nodded “We are perhaps but different styled gates leading nonetheless to the same city.” The Priestess was still scanning the hall. “And this – aide, you are so fond of – is he to enjoy our hospitality also?” “Ah,” said the Abbott with deliberate sadness. “Alas that pleasure cannot be his – he is not here.” The Priestess looked around then at the neat figure of the Abbott, he was standing discreetly behind her, his black-gloved hands clasped behind his back. This was what she had wanted to hear – that the Abbott would be in need of an aide after all. Perfect. “Oh I’m sorry,” she said, “May I be permitted to ask where he has gone?” The Abbott paused for a second – before looking at her directly – his eyes were grey and hard as tombstones. “He is on Serenity,” he said. The Priestess said nothing - but the word ‘perfect’ was no longer in her mind. Then she nodded and smiled as brilliantly and as charmingly as possible. “Perhaps I could offer you a temporary substitute?” ……………………………..

end of pt 2

.......................... comin next – Dancing pt 1, sundry characters running about discovering the right clues to the wrong mysteries.

...................... I hope this fic is fun – thanks to everyone who comments in any way.

Thanks to 2x2 and EmpireX for spotting a proofing error in the last chapter that I didn’t notice even after reading it on my hard drive like 3974220 fracking times! You STARS!

COMMENTS

Friday, February 29, 2008 5:28 AM

SPACEANJL


Yeah, this is fun. Shades of 'Blade Runner' and Frank Herbert. Always good. You ever read Richard Morgan? Or C J Cherryh? 'Cos the House Priestess reminds me of Ilisidi.

Guess I better get another chapter cooking, huh? Can't let you have things all your own way in the BSR :)

Friday, February 29, 2008 7:52 AM

ANJULIE


I'm enjoying this very much. Can't wait to see what happens next!

Friday, February 29, 2008 7:53 AM

HERMITSREST


I enjoyed the two stories running alongside each other. I kind wish there's more description on Yip though. That part of the text sometimes feels like reading a story from a fast-moving train. Good, but I can't keep up!

Friday, February 29, 2008 8:00 AM

2X2


Mmmmm, I am quite enjoying the flow of your words. They are lovely, and very gracefully draw me through the whole piece. Lovely.

I love the House Priestess and her long braided hair, very nice touch. And her ability to be as rude as she likes, wonderful.

I love your details. The garden, with all it's distractions, and the bright blinding sun was wonderful.

I am very intrigued to know just who this young novice is that Inara's brought with her, and likewise, who (and why) is the Abbot's aide on Serenity? All these inescapable connections, drawing them all together... delicious.

I also loved the moment with Radha in the shower, that fleeting feeling of clean and fresh before the reality of her day came crashing back down upon her.

Excellent. I am completely hooked, darlin'! Giddy with anticipation for where this all is going.

Friday, February 29, 2008 11:22 AM

SAFEAT2ND


Bwahaha!! 'Flock of Sheppards'. Sounds like a modern take on a mediocre 80's band.

Would a Pride of Sheppards go against their...umm.. beliefs? I guess a Murder of Sheppards is out of the question?;)

Whoa!! Excellent story! I'll echo SpaceAnJL's comparison to Blade runner, but I aslo see Yip as a futuristic Columbo. Nicely Done!!

Friday, February 29, 2008 11:23 AM

SAFEAT2ND


Sorry, trouble posting. Meant to add, check out Needy's fic's. He writes about the male side of Companion life excellently as well.

Friday, February 29, 2008 12:13 PM

AMDOBELL


Intriguing. I'm wondering if we are going to find out that the Abbot's aide is actually Jayne. He was very close and respectful towards Shepherd Book and I can imagine his ma instilling a healthy respect for the cloth (and not just the orange one she knits for his head!) Can't wait to see what devious path you are taking us. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, February 29, 2008 2:45 PM

PLATONIST


I've always thought Inara to be a tad bit naive and idealistic about the underside of the Guild and its practices. Her conversation with the House Mistress illustrates that well.

And the power shift for regulating or deregulating, in this case...interesting... and the Guild and Priory uniting to form a power base...interesting

And the missing Companions... that's scary

waiting on more

Friday, February 29, 2008 5:58 PM

NCBROWNCOAT


Hmmmm. I really like this, the Spirtual and the Sexual working together for once.

I have my own ideas as to Inara's novice and the Abbott's aide. Can't wait to see If I'm right.

Saturday, March 1, 2008 5:03 PM

NBZ


Enjoying this very much. :P

Monday, June 2, 2008 4:11 PM

GORAMMAN


Some very interesting things here:
-Companion Guild exploiting Nandi's death
-An alliance between the Book's denomination (or sect) and the Guild
-Priestess discussing the Alliance's use of the Guild as a control.

Your prose paints beautiful settings and vivid images of the characters involved.

The only critique I can offer is in the Burges/Alliance link. You refer to him as "their man." Some ellaboration might have been in order for that one because Burges seemed quited independent in the series.


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