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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - MYSTERY
Having been summoned to Sihnon, Inara is attending a Temple shindig between the Guild and The Shepherds. For reasons not yet fully explained, Saffron is with her. Phil Yip and Radha Brook are investigating the disappearance of some young Companions in Training.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1189 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
The Grand Ceremony:
Kris Tamora hated hospitals - always had, always would. It was like schools - they all smelt the same, left him confused as to why he was there... and suspicious that they would not let him leave.
For this reason, visiting the sedate corridors and quiet rooms of Sihnons exclusive Hospital, the Lao-Tzu, was a brave act. On the other hand, it was also seemed pretty fruitless. As he slipped quietly into the private room where the tranquillised pilot was laid up, Tamora could see almost immediately that the pilot was "sleeping" and he was not alone. The owner of the voice was a man sat on a sturdy looking chair. He had a similar wiry build to Kris but he was older, he was toying with a pen in the idle way that people did when they were sat too long on their own.
Tamora knew the man. "Hey wow," he said, "one of our almost bosses - I'm over come."
The man sighed and didn't get up. "You sound more like Yip every day."
"Occupational hazard I guess." Kris didn't sound unduly repentant. "So what swings you into action then?" he asked. "We not making the grade?"
The man in the chair sighed again. "Got a signal off of Phil, said you'd be coming", he said.
Kris shrugged with an elaborate 'so-what?' gesture. "Kris - whattya doing huh? There's no case here."
"Thought there was this morning." Kris was looking for a chair himself, but there wasn't one. "Phil said we should - keep an ear to the ground, figured something might open up."
"But you were told..."
"Huh? What? That GIA broad? We should bend backwards for them now? Anyway - Phil's on it, so I gotta be on it too. Besides - my contacts came through loud and clear about the Tranq' that sleeping beauty here's sleeping off... leads to a make on a possible fugitive called Yolanda."
The Great Hall of the Temple of Sihnon was vast. It contained a multitude of guests sat round a large number of tables, one of which was imposingly long and all of which were heaped with delicious foodstuffs. There were servants, performers and musicians.
Nevertheless, a place that should have been echoing with the excited hubbub of the feast was struck dumb. The High Priestess had spoken and - to most of her audience - she had sounded totally insane.
The faces of the guests showed that quite clearly, tilted as they were up towards - and yet simultaneously leaning back from - the tiny woman on the throne.
If the High Priestess herself was aware of the impact of her words - she did not show it, the immaculately painted face was utterly immobile - so too was the body, housed somewhere within the voluminous layers of ceremonial dress.
But nature, it is said, abhors a vacuum - so it was for this reason, perhaps, that a rush of loud conversation suddenly and quickly replaced the strained silence. Speech was accompanied by the ring and clatter of a multitude of plates and dishes.
Inara was one of the last guests to pull their eyes away - something in the voice perhaps, or in the eyes - something about the High Priestess was nagging at her. The words she had spoken were an ancient poem from the Earth-That-Was, Inara knew that... but the phrasing, the choice, the manner - something... nagged.
Trying to ignore the fact that she was sat almost directly opposite Saffron, Inara turned her attention to the guests around the table. She recognised some of the Companions, most of which appeared to be working now as tutors. It was interesting to see the muted and somewhat awkward looks on their faces when they noticed her. Unsure whether to acknowledge their acquaintance openly the companions treated Inara to a thoroughly textbook display of neutral expression training. N.E.T. had a lot to answer for, Inara thought to herself - even though she was more than proficient in the discipline herself.
The Abbott of the Southdowns seemed to notice some of this for he leaned forward and said to her, "I remember as a young Friar being present at the ordination of the Bishop of Osiris. I had been ministering out at the rim - and this was before Shepherds were known to travel. At the time, I found myself something of a pariah. Never was sure exactly why." He chuckled. "And I'm still unable to say which was worse, being ignored by the people who knew me or hearing the dread phrase when there's time, you simply must tell me about... " He chuckled again, "I realise of course that I've said that very same thing to you myself."
Inara smiled graciously, "It's a natural enough response", she said. "I remember as a novice being overly excited by those Companions who had stories to tell from out in the 'verse. When I look back at my eagerness - I'm more than grateful now to be ignored."
The Abbott was reaching for a goblet; he studied it before taking a small sip of wine then said, "Strange as it may sound, I believe that in some respects we are quite similar Ms Serra."
"Inara." The Abbott nodded before continuing. "I too am more at home now in a simpler environment."
Inara doubted that. "If 'simpler' is quite the right word", the Abbott added.
Inara changed the subject. "I believe you are to meet with the High Priestess? An audience? I'm jealous."
The Abbott looked thoughtful. "Yes indeed. I am looking forward to the opportunity for dialogue..." He set his goblet down. "I am, however, beginning to think I may need a translator." Inara raised an eyebrow but the Abbott had already caught himself. "If that too is the right word", he said and glanced over at the woman on the throne. "So formal a person - the protocols will be somewhat... esoteric, perhaps."
Inara was about to reply when she was interrupted.
"If I can help in any way your Grace, please... I - I would be honoured." It was Saffron.
Inara's hand tightened involuntarily around her cutlery knife.
The Abbot smiled absently, still wrapped in his private thoughts.
As the Priory's temporary but officially sanctioned aide, Saffron was the lone woman on the otherwise male side of the great table. She was seated between The Abbott and the faithful Shepherd Neame. She was wondering which of them would be the easier mark. Smiling she accepted the fruit bowl passed to her by the Shepherd.
She blushed - lightly and expertly, "Thank you," she said softly, "I'll take a cherry."
So saying, she picked one from the bowl and popped it into her mouth - all very decorously of course. Nonetheless, she noted the sweat forming above Neame's upper lip and she could feel the Abbott becoming tense.
Saffron peeped through her lashes at Inara... she would be wondering about her of course. The whys, the wherefores and the how comes Saffron had agreed to even be here... but apart from her private motivations - there was just the damn fun of it all. Saffron hadn't enjoyed herself so much in... Not since she and Mal were -
Cutting her thoughts off angrily, she pulled her eyes away from Inara and back to the fruit bowl. "Guess I'll take a lemon too," she said, picking up a slice from the bowls rim.
"Surely they're just for decoration, child", said the Abbott looking slightly concerned. Saffron sucked the bitter edge. "It sharpens the senses, your Grace," she said, "and puts the sweeter things into perspective."
Still looking a little alarmed, the Abbott nodded politely. "I see. We have penitent monks who do similar things."
"I - I - have heard of such rituals, your Grace but never had the chance to..." and Saffron was back to having fun once again.
To Radha Brook, walking the long corridors of the Sihnon Temple - infiltrating, to be exact - was not the experience she had expected, mainly because, as she said, "I still feel like I'm in the damn hover-car."
The Irritable Detective who was walking next to her nodded and she noticed he looked a little green in the face himself.
"You know people drive those things for fun?" he rasped, he was reaching into his pocket as he did so, pulling out the pill container Radha had noticed earlier. "Take these," he proffered the box toward the woman.
"These - being?"
"Stemaxine - helps the metabolic system, keeps you balanced. Not so macho as sinus trouble..." he said, referring to his earlier lie, "but I get car sick. These do the trick"
"Thanks," Radha sounded doubtful; "I'll be fine."
"Huh." Phil Yip shrugged and, popping the cap swallowed two tablets. He was gazing around as he did so. "No place like home, huh?"
Radha nodded and then resumed moving along the corridor - it was early evening now and the walls were lined with soft-bulbed lights shining inside colourful paper lanterns. "Still," she said, "it is pretty."
Yip ignored her. "We getting anywhere?"
This was met in turn with a sigh. Radha was now stood by a junction box shaped like a natural rock formation projecting from the wall. She slid her ID card into a near invisible slot and a section of the wall hissed open. She moved quickly and quietly into the space. The Detective followed, his bulk causing him to twist slightly as he made his way.
The interior that greeted him was a small computer suite, dark save for a couple of tiny over head spots and the winking green lights from the back of the various units. "And this is?" he asked.
Radha was pulling a chair back from before a computer and switching it on. "This is a secondary network," the Agent said. "If a suite goes down - or power fails, this is where people, normally students sometimes Agents can come instead. I'm hoping if we use this network, no/one will know till tomorrow. My clearance got us this far but if I use a main learning room or a GIA office terminal then they'll know what we're looking at - and we'll be flushed in seconds." Interesting, Radha thought how she was already assuming their activities would be considered clandestine, when she was just an Agent doing the job they gave her.
The Detective nodded but something else had attracted his attention - another monitor, smaller than the computers and lodged at eye-level in a central pillar. "What's that?" he pointed.
Radha looked over, then with a brisk stride came across and flicked the unit on. "TV", she said. "Guild TV that is."
The Detective watched a picture form on the screen - Radha's attention was caught too. "That's the Great Hall," she said, "big ceremony going on."
Yip could make out the crowded guests, the table, and the food, the Abbott, House Priestess and, in the throne of honour, the High Priestess of the Guild herself.
He made a surprised sound as he studied the wide and pale doll-like face. It was a face he recognised.
"Gloriana Khan? She still here? Always figured she'd be gone by now - while I was out on the rim I guess. Seems dumb not to know - hell; maybe the war robbed me of some my human interest. Or maybe I just grew up."
Radha was looking further than just the TV her eyes were on.
"When I was a girl I had her card", she said slowly.
"Yes... Not the little info-waves most kids got down loaded off the news, but - yeah, real card. " Yip looked impressed at the expense and Radha nodded.
"If you were looking to get trained - get noticed - the cards were... like a badge you know - a reward. 'The Historic High Priestesses of the House of Sihnon'. I had the set." There was pride still in her voice - and it shocked Radha to hear it. "Number ten..." she breathed. " Gloriana Khan ", she quoted from memory, " Truly a blessing to the Guild, this child prodigy excelled not only in the Companion Houses of her youth but at the very best Academies for the gifted. " She sighed then. "Weird, a thing like that - meaning so much."
Phil Yip opened his mouth and Radha's eyes went needle narrow. "You say one wrong word now Detective and, so help me..."
The Detective shook his head. "Hey Lady, I understand. We all get duped that way."
"We do? All?" Radha was intrigued by this curious admission from the Irritable Detective. "Even you? What did you get?"
"Got me a medal."
"Even. 'Medal of Valour: For bravery beyond the call of duty. Serenity Valley' ."
Radha surprised herself by saying, "No – a thing like that... a medal, it's different."
"Just kept me keen in the service, that's all."
"I heard the Valley was tough."
"Tough for us - tough for the Indies. War is hell sister." Yip's face returned to its normal blank scowl.
Radha acknowledged this by backing sharply away from the man and from the tiny monitor and by turning abruptly to the other computers. "That's right," she said to no/one in particular, "work to be done."
In an instant she was scanning through data-logs, the illuminated letters and numbers reflecting off her face like strange tattoos. Yip was still mulling something over in his mind and he interrupted the woman with a question. "There isn't a rule then?" he asked. "No termination date for... office?"
"Being head of the Guild is not an 'office' Detective. And you don't get terminated."
"Well maybe that's something needs changing."
"Maybe someone agrees with you." Radha's voice was low as she concentrated on reading - something had clearly caught her eye.
"What you got?" Yip moved over to see.
In contrast to her superior, the face of the House Priestess was ever mobile. Her livid fury was perfectly hidden as she smiled, nodded, joked with, waved at, listened attentively to and charmed all those before her. This was a culmination - so much time, so much effort to arrange co-ordinate and direct the necessary resources unto this one end, a Grand Ceremony with both the Guild and the Priory in attendance.
All this - and there was the High Priestess, the Grand Mother herself, perfectly willing to ruin everything on a whimsical desire to babble haiku at her audience. Merciful Budha, ‘Daybreak’ she’d said, when it was the flush of evening! The House Priestess dreaded to think what Gloriana would say in private to the Abbott. A confidential meeting that the House Priestess had done everything possible to stymie. She shuddered.
Not only that though - oh no - there was Inara, Inara who was right now monopolising the Abbott quite shamelessly. Well... such insinuation could backfire... The House Priestess exchanged a pleasantry with Inara's trainee. Yes, Sidhi's every word confirmed her impressions - a naïf, a rim trash waif washed up on the shores of Inara's faux-Training House, perfectly malleable.
Still, it was almost as irritating to watch her hanging on the arms of the Abbott and his chief Shepherd as it was to watch Inara.
She made herself chew her food with deliberate slowness, focussing her senses on the fresh herbs, the spices, and the silken texture of each mouthful. This was calming. Everything would be well. A link with the Priory would be forged, Inara would be dealt with and finally, finally, the High Priestess herself would be gone.
Her face was still on autopilot, conversing with one of the younger looking Shepherds. "Oh don't ask me," she heard herself saying with a musical laugh, "I'm afraid I'm really quite empty-headed."
On the opposite side of the table, the Abbott could feel the awkwardness of his Shepherds. It was very easy to over state the comparatively rustic life of the Southdowns Abbey but - despite or perhaps because of, the friendly demeanour of the women here - every man felt awkward, uncouth and rough. Mingled emotions were coming from his group like sweat. Shyness, suspicion - wariness, incipient desire, curiosity, fear and genuine enthusiasm... a stew as pungent as the plates of exotic food they were eating.
The Abbott was a little sorry to put the Shepherds through such an intensity of feeling, it was hard on them, especially the youngest, he knew.
It was a question of priorities however - and perhaps it might encourage a few of the men to venture forth into the 'verse. That would be good, too many of the Shepherds lived in the safety of the restful confines of the Abbey... and such Shepherds were, the Abbott was forced to admit, somewhat... tame. Those few that did go forth, men such as Shepherd Face or Shepherd Neame - well, they could be difficult, unruly... but they were undoubtedly energised and enriched by their experiences. Besides, the 'safety' of the Abbey was something of an illusion... and there again - and in no small measure - the responsibility, the blame, lay with him. The Abbott looked across at the House Priestess of the Sihnon Temple and wondered if she felt the same.
Realising these were unhelpful thoughts - the Abbott concentrated on his food. The Temple had certainly put real efforts in there, he thought, each dish, every course, was delicious and the variety enabled the guests to pick and choose. Those finding a dish too rich or spicy could reach instead for a selection of breads both savoury and sweet, and bowls of plain soup or rice. The whole menu was eclectic but not outrageously so - the courses following one after another quite naturally, from the delicate pate starters to the refreshing fruit desserts. If there was a theme then it was 'ease' - and the Companions were as skilful with their food as they were with their manners when it came to providing that. Between courses, intervals had been set aside for dance performances, music and poetry. The Guild had thought of everything, he didn't even have to make a speech.
The Abbott looked up, ready to issue an order to Neame but he was talking to the House Priestess. "Oh yes," The Priestess was saying, "I'm glad that your party will still be here in the morning. Our dawn rituals are some of the most beautiful."
"Such as?" asked Neame, reaching for a breadstick.
"The salute to the sun," answered the House Priestess. "It is a mix of dance, exercise and prayer."
"That does indeed sound inspiring", said Neame. He's getting better at this - thought the Abbott.
"And then there is the early morning archery." The House Priestess was careful not to sound overly boastful.
Inara leant forward into the conversation now as well. "I always loved archery," she said, "the sun on your back, the fresh smell of the grass, the feel of the bow..." her dark eyes were shining. "The energy you get from the sport itself? It's amazing."
"You certainly make it sound that way" smiled the Abbott, joining in.
"It's true", laughed Inara, "Training with the Guild offers - I mean, sword fighting? Who gets the chance?"
Neame nearly choked on his bread stick. "Swords?" he spluttered, "and archery - I mean, weapons?"
The Abbott cringed - but the House Priestess said diplomatically, "only of a sporting nature rest assured master Shepherd. We do teach our girls methods of self defence however - out of necessity you understand, though such courses boost confidence and deportment too."
"Yes, yes," agreed the Abbott hastily. "We have such sports ourselves, my aide from the Abbey, Solomon - he's quite a boxer. Sport is essential for robust health - or so we believe."
"Oh absolutely", the House Priestess sounded as anxious as the Abbott was feeling. He grabbed the chance to speak to his man. "Brother Neame? I believe that you... I'm sorry it has to be now but..."
"Oh yes - of course." Neame did not seem to have noticed the difficult moment he had caused. "I'll need some help though."
The Abbott nodded. "Take Sidhi," he said, "she will be very useful."
"Ooh" gushed the House Priestess; "Something sounds mysterious!"
The Abbott smiled with his lips. "Only pleasantly, I hope", he murmured.
Neame nodded and, excusing himself rose from his seat. Sidhi followed dutifully after.
"She has proved an inspired choice for an aide" said the Abbott generously.
"I'm so glad,” said Inara through gritted teeth, as she watched Saffron exit the Great Hall.
Radha adjusted her position and pointed toward the screen. "Hmm..." she said. "Bearing in mind that we don't know how trust worthy any of this stuff is..."
"Well - ok. See - here we have the flight plans, file codes and junk, for the Trainee collecting shuttles."
"Uh-huh. Just don't blind me with science ok..."
"Quit it. Look, the most recent shuttle and the two before it share the same authorisation code."
"Which is not weird."
"Not weird, no. This is the weird - the details of the shuttle, type, age, hours in space logged yadda, yadda."
"Similar to the shuttle back in the hangar - but not, as in NOT, the same."
"Well now..." The Detective's eyes followed to where Radha was jabbing at the screen. With one hand he pulled a palm-top from his pocket and flicked his eyes to that, then back at the screen. "Everything we're looking at here is plausible enough for our baby back in the bay - but it aint the same, you're right. I got variations in propulsion equipment, door size and markings - and I'm betting an engineer or a pilot would see more."
The two investigators considered for a moment. "So... " Yip started to say "This starts to look like" -
"A switch." Radha concluded for him. "Something flew outta here - and something different came back."
"Then I'm suddenly starting to wonder " -
"If anyone's missing at all." Radha did it again.
"Will you stop with that?" snapped the Detective, Irritable once again. "Of course they could be missing - just depends when the switch occurred on the way there - or on the way back."
"I'm betting the girls are all still tucked up safe at home." Radha sounded confident of her assumption.
"Why so sure?" asked the Detective.
"Just a hunch."
"Hunches now? I already got rid of one partner tonight." Phil's backchat was evidence of his being impressed - Radha was beginning to get that.
"Hang on to your hat Mister", Radha was beginning to hate herself. "THIS is the real weird..." and she poked at a different portion of the screen.
"The Auth. Codes for the last three shuttles are all House Priestess Jong. Right - That's fine - she has the power for that - probably a few people do. But - the codes for the previous shuttles are different to hers. And they all match. High Priestess Khan - or whoever has the right to use her code."
"Which can't be the House Priestess, because why change it?" The Detective rubbed his lucky eye. "No, wait - could be that the old High Priestess has decided to hand a few of her responsibilities over now, so the other woman gets to use her code."
Radha looked deflated. "That's true."
The Detective however was almost smiling. "But I don't think so. I think it IS weird."
"I got a hunch. Guess it must be infectious."
Radha looked keen again. "You got a hunch now?"
"Yep. Looks to me like we got three versions of the same ruttin' secret. If that aint weird I don't know what is."
"A shuttle tips us to the shuttles that tip us to the shuttles. That's how I read it too... but there's still something we're not seeing."
"Helluva dance huh?" It didn't sound like Yip enjoyed the notion.
"Maybe I should take the Stemaxine after all", agreed Radha. She was punching keys now as she spoke.
"You looking for the 'stink' now?" asked Yip.
Radha nodded, "It's a big day after all, just look at the TV... now - so..." her words trailed off as she concentrated. Yip belched and went back to watching the pillar monitor. Nothing much was going on except a good time being had by all, seemingly.
Radha made a sound and the Detective looked back at her. "Got something?"
Radha beckoned him over. Peering down he saw a frozen feed image of a group of women surrounding another woman and pointing microphones and cameras at her. Yip raised a questioning eyebrow.
"That's the House Priestess..." Radha pointed.
Yip studied the screen. "Had dealings", he said. "Never actually met the lady in person... are those Press?"
"Looks like. Watch." Radha hit a button and the screen came to life. The House Priestess began smiling and engaging with the reporters and photographers until one of them seemed to provoke a reaction. The responsible party was quickly whisked away.
"I know her," Radha was speaking of the reporter, "seen in the office. Forget the name but - she's GIA." Radha rewound the scene and upped the volume. The reporter was asking if the Shepherds were armed.
"Stink?" asked Yip.
"Stink", agreed Radha.
The Irritable Detective eased himself upright. "I know her too," he said.
Radha looked surprised by this. "You do?"
"Uh-huh. Right now - she's on TV." He jerked one of his large hands out towards the Great Hall monitor.
Wherever she was - and whatever she was up to, Akiko Jones was unobserved by those attending the feast, for in the Great Hall itself there was a sudden hush, as with a simple hand gesture the High Priestess indicated that she was prepared again to speak. The Abbott was gazing up with curiosity; the House Priestess looked aghast, if you knew her well enough to tell, which Inara did. Inara herself looked at the High Priestess - aware that something still hadn't quite clicked in her memory. That was about to change.
The mouth of the Grand Mother trembled, the lips thinning to white. Finally the unnatural frail voice could be heard. "Two by two", the High Priestess intoned. The Mistress of Ceremonies took this at once as a compliment - the House Priestess took it for senile dementia and Inara hoped it was just a bad dream. "Two by two," the High Priestess repeated as tonelessly as before - like the ghost of a drowning victim.
"Two by two - hands of blue."
Back at the Hospital, Kris was looking at his watch - he knew it wasn't but it felt like he'd been waiting for hours. He wondered whether he could score somewhere for some of the Tranq that let the Pilot sleep so good. The man in the chair seemed in much the same frame of mind as he rubbed his eyes tiredly. "Ok, ok," the man said, "Phil's not calling in Kris. Where's he at already?"
"Down town - at the temple."
"Oh you gotta be kiddin' me!"
Kris grinned. "Nope. Man gets a lead - he's... what's the word? Dogged."
"Dogg-ed, you damn fool."
"Whatever. Anyhow he and the GIA lady seemed pretty fired up - dunno exactly what but seemed the shuttles was just the start of something maybe, like I said. Phil sent me here - probably getting the lady to trust him better... bad call if you ask me." He shook his head. "We shoulda traded" he said sadly, "and you're right - don't look like he's in a phone-in frame of mind."
The man in the chair nodded in a way that Kris knew well. We got another reprimand coming Phil . Tamora put his hands in his pockets and shuffled about on the balls of his feet. "Anyway - figure I've waited long enough - if the pilot's not gonna be forthcoming and I'm getting no signal off Phil? It's first base and I'm back bending the ear of my contacts." He yawned. "And maybe in the morning at that."
"The Feds right?" The man in the chair sounded exasperated but the look on his face had changed.
"What?" asked Kris. "What now?"
The man in the chair looked concerned. "You ok there Kris?"
"Sure - yeah, why?" Tamora was feeling a little bewildered.
"You got - you got kind've a nose bleed goin' on..." said the man in the chair.
Kris started to say something but then - even as he tasted the blood in his mouth - his legs buckled and he collapsed to the floor. His body went into spasm where it lay and a pool of blood began to spread out from underneath it. Somebody somewhere made a faint gurgling sound.
Sighing yet again, the man in the chair put the tiny device Kris had mistaken for a pen back into his pocket and began to remove his gloves.
end of part five
comin next - oooh the finale!
some kinda conclusion and several kinds of concussion!
thanks again to anyone still following the tale, please comment if you are!
a special thanks to those who have commented or messaged me already -
every piece of feedback helps!:)
Tuesday, March 11, 2008 3:32 AM
Tuesday, March 11, 2008 5:11 AM
Tuesday, March 11, 2008 7:17 AM
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