BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - MYSTERY

WYTCHCROFT

The Wages of Sihnon - CONCLUSION
Monday, March 17, 2008

CONCLUSION Inara and Saffron are on Sihnon, attending a ceremony between Companions and Shepherds. Radha Brook and Phil Yip are also there investigating some missing girls.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2337    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

The Wages of Sihnon Pt 6 - Fireworks -

Shepherd Neame was watching the neophyte Companion he knew as Sidhi very carefully, studying her walk. It was a very individual walk - or at least it struck him as being so. Sidhi moved with an almost adolescent carriage, head down and her long arms trailing even she quick stepped on the balls of her feet - an almost bouncing motion. Of all the things in the wide and wild 'verse - Shepherd Neame was thrown for a moment back to his childhood - a young boy scampering along the sea drenched coves beyond the rolling Downs that would later be his home. It was a holiday memory, there had been a festival that day he recalled - strange rituals re-enacted in the narrow coastal town, dancing men, and decorations. He had been frightened - kicking up a fuss until he was allowed to leave - to go to the cove - to run free as his nature wanted. And there he was - squinting up at the low sandy cliffs and the brisk moving clouds - when something caught his eye. A sudden blur of moving colour that revealed itself finally as a bunch of balloons. Tied together with a glittery twine, they had escaped nonetheless from the hands of the festival-goer that must have been holding them. Like the young Neame, these balloons had fled the town, skipping and dancing down the sandy cliff trails and heading towards the sea - clashing together with a clumsy sort of beauty, bouncing from rock to rock as the wind carried them, lifting them up and setting them down. It seemed a strange impression, ridiculous - but, (and no doubt in part due to the silks of her clothing) Shepherd Neame looked at the woman he knew as Sidhi - and he could think of nothing else.

"What?" He realised she'd been speaking. "Nothing," she said quickly with that soft voice of hers, "it's only foolishness." "Please," said Neame - all too aware that he was hurrying slightly to catch up along side her in the wide stone hall. "I was just thinking how brave you must be." Neame looked confused - the lines on his face deepening. The face was young but already weathered and he seemed ill at ease in the starched collar and fine Cassock his was wearing. "Brave?" Perhaps he had misheard her - he had been trying all day to fit in with the sophisticated ebb and flow of the conversations here in the Guild Temple, it was no easy thing, he had made mistakes, he knew it. Even now the woman was moving on down the corridor - checking with a sideways look that this direction was the right one. "Yes, Brave", she said finally as they came up to the door of the room they had been sent to. "Brave - to be here, among all this luxury, this finery, this... flesh. Brave to swallow yourself up in following the Abbott..." "He is a good man." "Of course." Sidhi said earnestly. "But most of all brave to surrender yourself so to a life - confined." Shepherd Neame said nothing but he was noticing how his footsteps seemed to echo from the stone floor whilst Sidhi seemed to make no sound at all. They came at last to the set of chambers assigned for the duration to the Shepherds, within would be the crate containing the box, containing the case containing the gift that was to be presented to the High Priestess and to the Temple.

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The High Priestess herself meantime was screaming. "Two by two! Hands of blue! By Blue two by too ooh ooh too aaah!" Words at first, became simply sounds, a demented primal howl. She seemed to be assailed by invisible shapes clutching and clawing at her. She squirmed and twisted upon her cushion, hands flying out in a grotesque parody of combat. Screeching piteously, she arched her back in a gymnastic fashion that seemed to defy her own body, willing it to contort with blazing maddened eyes. She kicked herself in the head.

Nobody in the shocked and saddened chamber, the Great Chamber, nobody moved. And then suddenly the Abbott was on his feet, hurtling down the length of the long table and vaulting up onto the throne. With a broad sweep of his arms he drew the High Priestess close to him.

............................................... The object that Neame and Sidhi gazed upon was ancient and wonderful - handcrafted and decorated - inked and painted, stitched with fine thread and carrying even now the faintest hint of perfume. It was an object of value - the price of which could barely be measured - and it nothing more than a fan. "This is our most precious artefact, a fan from the Earth-that-was. It is real and it has held its shape, form and colour across countless centuries and unimaginable distance. To all intents and purposes it is the last fan left - but through its existence a whole lost era remains alive and not forgotten. The fan came into the Abbey's possession quite by accident - among the belongings of the sister of one our Shepherds - and that was many years ago now. It has given us all something to reflect on - to know such a powerful link to the most ancient of days... but such a fan is hardly suitable for our Abbey - it belongs here, with the Guild."

Neame sounded moved by the speech - one he had no doubt practised many times - the words sounded more like those of the Abbott. "In our hands," the Shepherd continued, "the fan is just an object - but..." and here he passed the object across to Sidhi, "in the right setting, the fan will live and breathe with meaning and..."

Sidhi opened the fan wide, holding it up to her face and gazing over it at the Shepherd, who faltered momentarily. " - And..." he was looking at the wide sweep of the delicate paper, the elegant calligraphy of the Chinese characters. "... And... " He was looking at the kohl rimmed eyes of the woman, the electric red flash of her hair, the delicate tracery of the silver in her ears - "...beauty", he said finally. The woman lowered the fan with a slow movement of her arm that became gradually a gathering embrace as she stretched up on her tiptoes. "Beauty," Neame said haltingly one last time before she kissed him. "Oh brother", Saffron drawled. The Shepherd staggered sideways - blinking stupidly for a second before falling to the floor. Shaking her head she closed the fan with a snap and pocketed it. She allowed herself one quick, satisfied, grin before turning smartly on her heels and getting the hell out of there.

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Funny how a beautiful relationship can sour so fast,Radha Brook was thinking. She was staring into the fuzzy illumination of the computer screen and reading the numbers as they scrolled across. "I'm beginning to hate computers", she said irritably, "or numbers... or both - yeah probably both." The man stood near her said without irony, "I know the feeling." He was watching something quite different - exciting live TV, real people, and real events - via the Guilds' internal eye. "Does this... go anywhere?" he asked, sounding bored. "What, the Ceremony or - the picture?" "Probably both..." Yip replied - and the two investigators exchanged cautious grins. Radha Brook ran a tired hand through her hair and straightened up. "Well," she said, "I figure the Ceremony must be nearly done by now - and the picture? Could be going out via the Sihnon Tourism Channel. This is the undiluted security feed we're getting down here." "Uh-huh." The big man turned away from the TV, the only point of interest for him - a pint sized brunette with a determined looking face and a chin like a knuckle bone - had blurred into the glittering masses and gone. All that was happening now was the High Priestess and The Abbott doing some sort of foolish dance. The Detective was glad that the sound was off. "No Agent?" asked Radha. Yip shrugged. "Aw, sorry Detective - I'm sure she'll be back." Radha was looking a touch scornful. Like I care , thought the Detective. "You remember her name yet?" he asked. "Nope," Radha admitted "but I'll lay even it's Akiko Jones." Yip's heavy eyelids drooped as he looked from the woman to the terminal and back. "She the caseworker?" he asked. "Uh-huh." Radha clicked back a few pages on the computer and pointed. There on the screen was a cross-reference; two Guild shuttles with an Agent's case log coded '2X24AR/A.Jones.' "I can't access the log, don't have that kind've clearance - but Akiko Jones is listed as a GIA Staff -Worker on the Intra-net. I could send her a message - you think she's cute, I could do that for you." Radha fluttered her eyelashes. Yip seemed not to notice. "Case work, case work..." he was murmuring, "A log... you got one of them?" Radha nodded. "Sure - but the code" - "It's different right?" Yip had moved over beside her now. "What does that mean?" It was his turn to point. "Access Restricted," Radha explained, "and yeh - an active investigation gets a different code. An AR file doesn't mean 'Here's a Cover Up lunkhead!' - hell, GIA birthday party invites get an AR status... but..." "Wait a minute, wait a minute," Yip waved a hand. "What am I? Traffic?" snapped Radha but the Detective wasn't listening. "When they assigned you the case... you musta known about the two priors... so why...?" Radha caught his meaning. "I got sent a batch of files, sure - not Jones's though. Just details - no mention of a prior till you showed up. Protocol would be for me to ask permission to read the AR, happens all the time. But you gotta ask - and they don't normally fail to mention existing files when they send you out in the field." She was rubbing her face now as she spoke. "You tired, Agent?" asked Yip. "Dog", Radha was forced to acknowledge. "Me too." They looked at other for a moment in mutual sympathy. Then it was back to the grind. .......................

Clutching her about the arms - the Abbott gazed deep into the eyes of the High Priestess for a moment and then whispered something gently into her ear. Whatever reassuring phrase, psalm or prayer he had uttered it had the effect of a charm - Gloriana Khan closed her eyes at once and slid into peaceful sleep, would have crumpled to the floor there and then but for the Abbott's firm grip. He eased her gently back to her throne. She did not waken. For a moment there was absolute quiet. Then Inara coughed loudly. "And now," she said cheerily, "I believe the fireworks are due to start." She looked at the pale face of the House Priestess. "Isn't that right, Mother?" The House Priestess jerked into life. "Yes - yes... Oh absolutely, we've quite a treat waiting for us, I believe. What say we go out onto the balcony and watch?" The woman smiled eagerly - a few of the guests nodded dumbly and gradually people began to move

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"Ok, let's shore up." Yip placed a hand over the screen. "Fine by me," Radha sounded relieved, "I'm going blind." "We got Jones posing as Press - we got Jones at the hangar... and I know you ain’t telling everything there 'cause I already knew the GIA had snooped before I ever met you... but we can skip that." Radha mouthed "whatever" but kept the sound to herself. "And here we got Jones again..." Yip hiked a thumb back at the TV. "Maybe." "I got a good eye for faces - trust me." "Ok," Radha didn't really have the energy for verbal sparring. "I'll take a wild stab here and say - Agent Jones is up to something." Yip did one of his almost smiles. He looks better when he scowls, thought Radha. "Yeah..." Yip was saying, "We can't exactly just nab - for what now, 'suspicious behaviour?'" "Well, you could just carry her off - crying 'come with me, I think you're cute!'" "She's GIA - they don't carry so easy!" Radha blinked. "That," she said, "was almost a compliment Detective." Once again Yip was no longer listening - in fact he began to swear in crude Chinese. "Damn fool", he concluded, this time in English. He slapped a beefy hand to his forehead with a damp smacking sound and said, "Get me the ruttin numbers up again..." Radha flicked her fingers across the keyboard and watched Yip scrutinise the data. He swore some more. "That's what we're not seeing," he said. Radha followed his eye and read the data over one more time. "Destination points," she said out loud, "Sihnon 1, Sihnon 2 - bla bla, the Seven Sihnons all the same... bla bla the spokes of the wheel..." she was mumbling half to herself, "no variance..." the numbing data scrolled past her tired eyes. "Oh that's exciting", she said with heavy sarcasm, "A re-fuel stop at Osiris..." "Maybe someone had to go pee", Yip suggested - not helpfully. "And it's pretty..." Radha was still looking down the lists, tracking through weeks, months, years of info. Eventually she found another discrepancy. "Whitefall..." she noted, "Not so pretty..." She began to sound much more interested, "Faneris, Lilac, Regis, T.Park 185... Woah..." she came to a halt. "Some of these stops are a little out the way." Yip nodded. "Uh huh. Since when did the Guild send shuttles to the rim to collect girls." "Rarely..." Radha was intrigued - could feel the hairs on her forearm, always a sign... She chewed on her lip for a moment. "Ok," she said finally, "Even these..." she was looking at a variant record, " that don't match the normal pattern agree with each other... We got the same number of destinations per journey, - stops all logged as refuels. So the numbers add up..." "But the names are all wrong, wrong, wrong," Yip said. Radha nodded. "Who would go to Whitefall or Regis to refuel? Let alone a Trailer Park..." "I thought all Companions in Training came from the core and wound up on one of the seven Sihnons..." Phil said perplexed. "Uh-huh" Radha nodded "Pretty much - 'cept for special cases; the very wealthy or the strays that come through the Social Services. You don't have to be Guild trained to get a registered licence..." she added, "but only the young get to go to an official Training House." Yip was giving her significant looks so Radha carried on. "I think," she said, "we're looking at infrequent but systematic pick ups and drop-offs, and for some reason not logged..." "Such as hauling girl flesh to the meat market?" Radha shivered, "Maybe so." "And the marker is Gloriana Khan - every one of them. Doesn't make her look too good does it?" "No, it doesn't..." Yip rubbed his hands together. "Then I'm thinking I can hear a whistle being blown." Radha shook her head. "Or a chain that's getting yanked." "Wha -?" "Hell!" Radha snapped back suddenly from the screen and swore. "I mean sure it makes Gloriana look bad but - who wants that, huh? I just -Oh, I don't know..." she said, sounding frayed, "It's just - something don't fit right." "Some things never do, Lady", Yip said with equanimity, "Just get enough to make a case. That's a golden rule." Radha looked through him, unseeingly. "Where do you get your fuel?" The Detective asked. "Huh?" Radha snapped back into focus. "The Fuel?" "Yes the damn fuel!" Yip barked in irritation, "official business - official shuttles - who does your fuel? You don't got your own supply do you?" Radha moved over to the screen again. "No," she said, "we out-source, as ever. But we get a discount, good business sense." "A discount from who?!" shouted Yip. "Well, whoever makes the damn fuel!" Radha yelled back. "I guess... well isn't everything these days just Blue Sun?" She looked at Yip. The Detective looked at her. The phone rang. The Irritable Detective swore and reached into his pocket. There was an insistent sounding voice on the line. It was one of his bosses - and also irritable, "Where the hell have you been Phil?" the man asked, "You were supposed to call in!" "Working." "Well quit working," ordered the man. "We're shutting down the Operation Phil, it's nothing but a nothing. You still inside the temple?" "Uh huh." "Then come the hell out and let me yell at you in person." Yip gave the affirmative, swearing as he hung up. "Gotta go," he said, "gotta see a man about a reprimand." Radha was nonplussed - but sucking in a deep breath she said finally. "Ok. Go. We're done here anyhow... I'll just kick back and watch a little TV." "You do that," Phil said as he began to lumber off, "I got a Jones for the tube myself right now," he quipped, "but I guess you better sit in for me." Radha nodded. "Don't fall asleep now," Yip said as he made his way through the narrow door. Radha was far from sure that the Irritable Detective could find his way out there. Bundling her jacket up into a makeshift cushion, which was not so easy given the number of hard objects her pockets contained, Radha settled down to watch the TV as the camera tracked with the guests out onto the balcony. "Oh look," she said, "fireworks yet." .............................................................

"I'm sorry to be late," murmured the Abbott, "but I can assure you that Gloriana is resting comfortably." "I'm so very glad", the House Priestess said, "I can't pretend to know what came over her - age I suppose... the pressure of work." "Hmmm..." "In any case," the House Priestess said brightly, "you are not so very late - the show has only just commenced." As if they had heard her - two bright fireworks leapt into the night sky and bloomed into spirals of luminous silver and rose pink before exploding into life again with a shattering roar and climbing upwards in chasing trails of gold, and green. "The scales of the Dragon," said the House Priestess proudly, "always one of my favourites." The Abbott clapped vigorously enough but his attention had wandered, he was leaning over now towards Inara. "Ms Serra, have you seen, uh, Sid?" he asked, "or my Shepherd?" Inara shook her head, unable to say anything as a new barrage of fireworks drowned out all other sound. She was also busy thinking - the High Priestess, was she really safe now? It was then; even as the fireworks reached a new crescendo, strobe-ing the watchers below with hard flashes of light - that in the chaos, and coming up off a ladder attached to a lower balcony - was Akiko Jones. She was dressed in serving clothes, looking straight towards the House Priestess and carrying something black, flat and metallic in her free right hand In the instant it took Inara's brain to realise she had been worrying about the wrong target - her body had already dashed between the tightly packed, upwardly gazing throng... and hurled itself at the girl and out into space. It was fortunate perhaps that the sound they made as they crashed back onto the hard stone of the balcony was drowned out by the incendiary display.

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The Irritable Detective was swearing to himself as he located the stairwell down - the first of many. He could hear the rumble of the first few fireworks and that just made him sore. This was not his night, he decided.

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A shadow among the shadows, Saffron moved lithely along the corridors of the Temple. She'd studied the maps so long before coming here - and she was glad of the fact now. There was precious little time to waste - Inara better make the rendezvous or they were both humped.

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Further away in that part of the Temple currently used by the Priory, Shepherd Neame was still asleep. A look of calm upon his face, the muscles relaxed in their slumber - the look of worry gone from his brow.

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Also sleeping, but far from alone, High Priestess Gloriana Khan lay in the sprawl of her four poster bed, curled in a ball and making soft sounds from under the satin. Beside her, a Doctor and several aides compared notes - all in silent agreement that rest was undoubtedly best. The insulation of the thick carpeted floors and the padded walls prevented any disturbing sounds from encroaching. There would be no fireworks here.

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And Radha was watching TV. It was proving a lot more exciting than she'd expected.

............................................... Inara hated fighting. Oh she knew the moves, every Companion did - more than that Inara knew first hand how much a self defence skill counted out there in the 'verse, but... fighting... As a sport Inara loved the energy, the movement, the dance that karate could be... But... this? Grimly trying to wear an opponent down - to beat them, hurt them... to pinch, bruise, and break the flesh, the bone, and the body... Inara loved bodies, she didn't want to - Crack! Merciful Buddha, was that my nose?! "You," said Akiko, skipping backwards as she spoke, "are absolutely Tzao gao at this." Underlining the point she sent out another quick punch. Inara was seeing stars and hoping they were just fireworks. She dodged back herself now, shakily. "I guess I am at that", she said as her legs buckled under her. Another blow landed - she couldn't say what sort or where exactly it connected just that without warning she was lying flat on her back. She wriggled till her head felt stone behind it - and she tried to use that to inch back up. Didn't work. Instead she was simply sat in an undignified heap with everything still spinning - until a slap snapped her back into focus and she could see Akiko's exultant face close up. "You let me out", the girl was saying, "and so - what, you really thought I'd just disappear? The big 'scoop' you thought you were giving me..." There was another slap as hard and as bright as Akiko's eyes. "Ooh," she was saying, "Guild uses human traffic to buy Alliance protection - shocker!" She hit Inara again who was now staring up at her with an increasingly vacant expression. "Like I - like everyone - didn't know already! You're so beautifully dumb." She drew her arm back, fist clenched with an air of finality. "Lights out now Ms Serra", she said. Inara nodded. "Night sweetie." Akiko Jones was still looking at her quizzically, with a fist still clenched when Radha Brook struck her smartly over the head with a billy club and the lights did indeed go out. Breathing with difficulty herself, Inara scrabbled to her feet. She had things to do and more people to annoy. Summoning up all the years of Companion training and experience she had, Inara managed to walk in a straight line up to the door and go through it. Nodding to Inara, Radha Brook turned her attention to the unconscious form of Akiko Jones and wondered if anyone might have a pair of cuffs handy.

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The outside of the Sihnon Guild Temple was famed for its beauty, an emphatic architectural statement it mingled elements from the great myths and religions not only of contemporary times but right back to the Earth that Was. The elegance of the pagoda shape gave grace to the epic solidity of the stone it was made from, rising like a pyramid out of the Great Wall. Night had fallen and the Temple was bedecked in hundreds of lantern streamers, tiny lights of every colour.

Then, as on many a night, these fluttering illuminations were engulfed by great swathes of light, colour and noise - a barrage of fireworks split the dark sky above. This was what tourists gave up their wages, pensions, nest eggs and homes to come and witness. As he trudged sulkily through the basement car park, Phil Yip wished he could see it too. All he got was the odd flash of colour coming through the ceiling grates, an echoing boom from the fireworks and a resultant flicker in the fluorescent lights above.

It was after just such a migraine-inducing flicker that the Irritable Detective saw the man he'd come out here to be yelled at by. The man was standing by a dark hover-saloon and looking impatient, even in silhouette. "Fane", Yip called no/one Sir, "then where's Townshend?" "At the damn hospital yelling at Kris." Yip put his hands in his pockets. "I told Kris to go there - kid was just..." "You're not the boss of him," Fane growled, "he doesn't get to follow your orders - and Kris? He's not a kid anymore Phil." "Uh." Fane raised his eyes to the grated ceiling and for a moment was rewarded with a flash of golden stars. "Damn fireworks." "You don't like fireworks?" Phil asked. "Where's your public spirit?" Fane had a scowl to rival Phil's. "My Spirit's private, Phil - as well you know. I keep it locked away... in a cupboard with the tumblers and the ice." "You mad at me, Fane?" "No, mad? No - should I be? How many man hours Phil? How much time, money, resources? What have you wasted on this - this - whatever this is." "Chasing a lead." "I heard you were maybe just chasing a skirt." "I don't wear skirts." There was a silence between the two men then. It was broken inevitably by another firework detonation. Yip watched the flesh of his hands turn green then pink then silver then back. He looked over but Fane was wearing gloves. No fun that man. "This mean I don't get paid?" The Irritable Detective wanted to know. Fane sighed. "Were you expecting to be?" Yip said nothing to that so eventually Fane sighed again saying, "here..." In one of Fane's hands there was a sealed plastic card that Yip hadn't noticed. "If this gets you away from me for a couple of days, great, have a long weekend, knock yourself out." Fane popped the plexi-card from its envelope and handed it across. Yip refused it angrily. "You gonna sign that?" he asked. "Or am I supposed to take my vacation in stir?" "What?" Fane looked surprised - then realised. "Oh, yeh, damn it - sure." He turned the card over in his hand and reached into his jacket for his pen.

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For the longest time, Inara had thought about a final showdown between herself and Saffron, ever since they'd met - ever since the reply to Inara's "Who are you?" was a smug "Malcolm Reynolds’s widow", ever since - well, ever. Sure, closing the heavy hydraulic lid of a trash collector on her, sealing her in with the rest of the garbage - that had helped some... but it was a little impersonal and not nearly final enough. And so guns, knives, airlocks and voodoo dolls - all the beautiful and possible ways of ridding the 'verse of the damn woman - had floated through her mind at one time or another… each victory involving a suitably humiliating verbal dressing down. She had no doubt but that Saffron had imagined much the same. Reality, it seemed, was determined to disappoint them - but after her run-in with Akiko; perhaps that was for the best.

The long corridor was almost completely dark; Inara could barely make out the decorative plants that fringed its edges. One of those plants squeaked ever so slightly as its pot was moved. Saffron was hiding behind it - Inara was sure. Feeling silly, she crossed the tiled floor and spoke to the shadows. At least the dark would hide the damage Akiko had done, she was thankful for that. "Mission accomplished?" She asked, her displeasure obvious. Saffron didn't bother to reply - so she asked the second important question. "And you weren't seen?" That riled. "Oh please," came the annoyed reply, "credit me with some intelligence." Saffron added some particularly crude Chinese curse words for effect. "Ooh", hissed Inara, "Tough talk coming from someone disguised as a plant."

Indeed for an insane moment Inara could almost believe she was talking to the Aspidistra itself - it seemed to rustle slightly in reply to her whisperings. Then an all too human hand poked out of the shadows beside the plant and waved an object towards her - the hand belonged to Saffron and the object was a tiny silver data disc the size of a watch battery. How much is on here? Inara was desperate to know. How many conversations? The House Priestess, Neame, Akiko Jones... Together, Inara and Saffron had bugged pretty much everyone, even themselves. The Abbott - were his words to the High Priestess recorded?

"I have to say - I'm surprised..." said Inara, easily keeping the excitement from her voice. "You came through after all..." She still sounded sceptical though - and the hand dodged swiftly back into the dark.

"Don't look for me again," Inara heard Saffron said softly but firmly. "I let you... this time, ok? Now we're done - we both got what we wanted... look for me again? Things might not be so pretty... and don't be thinking yours is the only copy - I'm not some dumb biao-tze , if you want to keep all these dirty secrets safe? Stay away." The hand flashed out from the shadows again. Inara seemed reluctant but she took the offered disc all the same, exchanging it for a small ID card. It was a shuttle permit. She sighed. "You better be quick - they might rescind this..." But the hand, the ID and Saffron were already gone.

Inara stood for a moment - pondering her actions - she thought of her old ethics teacher from back when she was just a callow trainee. What would the teacher have made of this? Everything on the disc she held screamed moral subjectivity. But if that was the price of freedom? The cost of safety? Anyway, there was no time now for an internal debate - she was missing the fireworks - and -

"You must be feeling very satisfied." It was the House Priestess - stole up behind me and I didn't hear a thing... Inara chided herself. The woman seemed to guess at her thoughts. "Even an old dog's tricks can still prove effective", she said with a weary smile. Inara agreed with that but “satisfied? Hardly."

"Oh come child," said the Priestess, "surely all is as you intended? You should learn to respect your achievements - nobody else will." Inara let the woman talk - it was all, or partly anyway, nervous relief - you don't come through an assassination attempt without getting a little shook - even if you are the House Priestess of the Sihnon Companion Guild. "Achievements?" Inara asked innocently. "Now you are being facetious," the Priestess grated. "You summoned me here", countered Inara. "And you came - and you brought a young Trainee with you... but you outflanked me there bringing - well, whoever that was... I respect that, such a move showed intelligence." "Now you are flattering me," Inara was not fooled. "Allow me," said the Priestess, "to be at least magnanimous in defeat." "Outflanked? Defeat? Do you ever listen to yourself? I saved your life." "Then it must have been expedient for you to do so." The paranoia of the woman, Inara was stunned. "Although," the Priestess was saying, "I do not yet see the motive - you could have been House Priestess yourself - a valiant effort to save me, only just fails... a hero is welcomed back into the fold, replacing the poor victim of an assassin's -" Inara cut the woman off - this was too much. "I have never wanted such a position," she said slowly and deliberately. "I have never been the ambitious woman you've always made out. You have never understood me, Mother." "Please don't call me that Inara - not anymore." "You have never understood me, Constance." "Thank you - but I understand this. That the wild card you brought with you has put you ahead in the game - I have no doubt that what you are holding in your hands is... Well Inara? Files, photographs, recordings, confessions?" Inara tucked the data disc away in a discreet belt pocket. "The trade between the Guild and the 'Academies' will stop", she said. "The High Priestess will remain in place - you've failed there I'm afraid. But you'll still be House Priestess - and a link has been formed now with the Priory." "I never much wanted that", the House Priestess admitted, "and I certainly don't trust them." "Well, they have secrets too," Inara agreed, "or HAD secrets, I should say." The Priestess looked impressed. "Achievements Inara - just as I said." "I'm not proud of what I've done - what I'm doing." Inara sounded weary now herself. "Politics makes beasts of all," said the Priestess. "Well, now you can blackmail whomsoever you wish. On both sides." The woman took a sudden step back - as if Inara were going strike her suddenly. Maybe I was... thought Inara, but she contented herself with saying simply, "I don't want to and I won't have to."

"So what then - not blackmail - and if you are not indeed ambitious... then..." "I'm learning to be careful Constance. This is insurance." "Ah." "Protection... and not just for me, but you as well. Don't you understand? I didn't just save your life tonight so you can get killed later - you're safe." Inara wondered that the Priestess hadn't realised that yet. "Safe. Me - you..." and this was the crunch, "and most especially those in my care, those in the Training House." Her hands were clenched, she knew her feelings were showing, she didn't care. "The girls will no longer be open to abuse - do you get that? I have wondered how much of the responsibility for the Alliance raid on my Training House you had. Did you engineer it? The Operative... " The Priestess's face was a study in blankness. Even now, thought Inara, she keeps up a front. " A single minded man is easily used - your words Constance... when you were still my teacher. And what happened there, on that moon, the... details..." Inara shuddered at the memory. "How much do you know Constance? Have you even been allowed to know? I've wondered that too, but..." a shake of the head, "It doesn't matter now - because..." And here Inara reached out and broke the cardinal rule of all. Unbidden, she put her hands on the Guild-woman's shoulders. Constance's face twisted at the unexpected contact, the shock of it - and the fierceness of the grip. "Because," said Inara with a voice that was equally hard, " it won't happen again. "

"But what you have there -" "Is more than that? Maybe, Maybe less. I'm not naive enough to think the Alliance, the Guild - the... whoever, couldn't wipe this out, but... everything comes down to time, money, effort, energy. Who can afford it? Especially now." Inara let the Priestess think on that for a minute before saying, "No. The Guild, The Alliance, Blue Sun, Shepherds - everybody not me - will have to think about this box and whether they really want it opened." Inara smiled then. "The moon - the one..." she hesitated to say 'my'. " The Training House is on - it's called Penelope you know?" "Mmm?" "I'm changing the name, tell whoever the hell needs to know. That moon is called Pandora now." The House Priestess looked one last time and forlornly at the woman who had once been her student. "And so that's it..." she murmured, "and you go - where? Back to that moon? Back into the void - the stars, the ugly chaos of the Rim? Merciful Buddha - why? What can you possibly hope to find there for yourself, really?" "Serenity", said Inara instantly and with conviction. And now, she thought, there is nothing more to be said.

...........................

"So what have we got here exactly, Agent?" Radha Brook heard the question but a polite reply took time to find a way past her tonsils. She was looking sadly at the scene around her - the car park and the corpse. In the early morning light, the little that filtered down, all things were equally grey. "Well," she said eventually, "we got a death obviously. But..." "How do we spin this? You thinking?" The questions were coming from GIA Commander P.A. Samsara, though the woman worked also for many other agencies, had many differing roles and probably many other names - Radha wouldn't have been surprised. It was rare to see her in the flesh, let alone at the scene of an incident - but then a death like this, in the Temple itself, pretty much demanded her presence. "Uh-huh." "Homicide?" Radha was impressed by the neutral tone the Commander maintained. They could have been choosing bathroom colours - not discussing the senseless killing of a Private Detective. "Well, if the cap fits..." Radha tapped her head to make the point. "Huh?" "Or the pieces any rate. I'd say we're looking at a cop case", she shrugged. "The Feds? Here?" Now the Commander actually sounded alarmed. "Can they usefully..." "We can give them a suspect," Radha said reassuringly, "made to measure. Name of Yolanda - absconded from Bellarophon with a batch of security stuff, weapons and junk. Stowed away on a shuttle, overpowered the pilot, snuck into the Temple, stole something from the Priory too. ." "Valuable?" "Very. How's it sounding? Seems likely the perp was also a would-be assassin. Didn't get the High Priestess though, Temple security - Guild security - was too good. But they did get away. For now. Cost this brave man his life. Died defending the Temple. Makes him a hero all over again - got a medal in the war already." "That's quite a story..." Samsara sounded impressed. "I'm sure you could sell it." Radha just sounded... irritable "You'd be better”, the Commander said in response. "Huh?" "Wouldn't you just know, there's a vacancy opened up on The Sihnon News. They need a good journalist apparently - and a presenter too." Samsara was staring at Radha now, with intent. "Well that is something." "You want it?" "You asking?" Radha pretended mock horror, "Hey, is this a... bribe? Are you buying me off?" "It would be a steady wage I guess," Samsara concurred. "Of course, if you think you'll miss the Agency...?" " Nee mun DOH shr sagwa... " The Commander pretended not to hear. "Tough gig though, gotta warn you; You get a big in like this - people are gonna want more - they'll expect more. Can you follow through?" "Can I find stories you mean?" Radha was trying not to laugh. "The News needs news." "I might just have a few ideas... give me time... and a desk." "I can give you a desk," said Samsara looking at Radha's face disapprovingly, "but can you give the eager viewers a smile?" Radha immediately smiled - big, bright and empty. "Congratulations Radha," nodded the commander, "I believe you just became a reporter." "Great," said Radha without overt enthusiasm, "we gonna get this body to the morgue already?"

....................

It was much later in the day that a tired Radha, once again fresh from her shower, stepped across the heat of the Blow Square and answered the phone. It's like she knows, always... Radha thought, she'll get me electrocuted one of these days. She held the retro-styled receiver to her ear. "Radha", she said. It was Inara, as she knew it would be. "I'm sorry we didn't get to talk properly - or, well, at all even - the other night." "We had a lot on", Radha said almost humorously. "I'm sorry for the Abbott - to leave him like that, he's a good man." "The High Priestess seems fond, he's still here, doesn't seem too upset." "Oh... I'm glad. Anyway," Inara continued, "it WAS good to see you, after so many years... and that at least we got to talk on the phone even if it was pretty much business... it was also a pleasure." "Yeah... hey - I got a new job! I'm a reporter now." There was a pause before Inara said, "Then that's to the good. You've already been digging I presume. "Uh-huh, You know me - never could let something go..." "It used to drive the teachers mad, I remember", said Inara fondly. "Anyway," she continued, "there's a little something in the post for you. Don't use it - or lose it, just - it might help is all." Radha nodded to the phone caught herself doing it and said, "Your voice is different again already." "Really?" Inara sounded shy. "Well, a little perhaps. Listen, I have to go now but - I'll be in touch as soon as I can bounce another contact line down to you." "Ok, then. Take care Inara." Radha put the receiver back into its cradle. .................... THE END

..................... Additional Disclaimer: As well as being inspired by the characters, situations and dialog from the tv series Firefly and the movie Serenity, this story also freely references The Official Wavecard for Sihnon, published by Universal and created by Adam Levermore-Rush, the Serenity novelisation by Keith R. A. DeCandido and essays from Finding Serenity and Serenity Found both edited by Jane Espenson.

The Abbott quotes the Friar from Shakespeare's Measure for Measure.

Gloriana's Haiku is a traditional one by Kyoriku (1656 - 1715)

Alas - Saffron's use of the first two lines from a wonderful haiku by Suzuki Masajo got deleted - but they're so apt (and remind me of Dorothy Parker to boot) that i make no apology for quoting them here: I have stolen a man - but never a thing of value

...................... Well that's a wrap! most folks seemed to guess where this was fic going pretty easily - but i hope it was a fun ride all the same. all feedback genuinely appreciated - please leave a comment or send me a wave.

just so we're clear - i wrote this before my recent illness - so if it sucks - it sucks... and i'll just have to do better next time!

a final thanks to 2X2 and Hermit's Rest and Platonist for insightful messages during the posting process.

oh - and i left a little mystery about the pilot in there as a (cheesy) nod to Phil Marlowe and The Big Sleep... but there is a solution, if you wanna try and work it out...

COMMENTS

Monday, March 17, 2008 5:04 AM

KIMBER


It doesn't suck... actually it rocks!! I've been reading this all along and the two things which impressed most were how you wrote Inara and Saffron. You made it so real with Inara's determination and Saff's brainy character, you could literally imagine them on screen. One more thing is description - seeing all your other fics, this one is the best 'cause you gave certain details on where they were that in other stories you would'a just skipped... so well done with a big grin!!!

Keep flying ;)

Monday, March 17, 2008 8:10 AM

JANE0904


Okay, I enjoyed it. I still didn't necessarily understand it (but that's my fault, not yours) but it worked. Good job.

Monday, March 17, 2008 11:11 AM

2X2


Well!
I'm going to have to send you a message to make sure I got everything that was going on in this part. I *think* I get it all, but I should probably read it all over again so that I can piece everything together.

Loved Saffron toying with Neame, poor fellow :oD And the scene between her and Inara, or should I say Inara and the plant?

And poor Yip! They got him too. I was sad!

Liked Radha clubbing Akiko Jones *G* Inara took a bit of a beating!! *pets Inara*

Loved Inara's own little intrigue. Oh the secrets she must have on that disc! And the House Mother... she just can't see the big picture beyond her own pettiness.

Overall, it was one wild ride, and a great story, and over far too short! Seriously, I could stand to read a whole lot more of this! I think your image of Sihnon is going to influence me everytime I think about the great city, that wall especially. Well done!

Well, I certainly hope that you will not shy away from penning Inara in the future. I thouroughly enjoyed this and would love to see more, in whatever capacity.

Do write again soon! (after a well deserved break of course ;o)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008 4:43 PM

CHARLIEBZ


I really enjoyed this series! I especially loved your take on Guild life. And, of course, fics featuring Inara are my fav.


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