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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. Post-BDM. Back on Ariel, Mal tries to make delivery, and Zoe looks for passengers. Things do not go smooth. NEW CHAPTER
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1387 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
“Where’re you gonna park?” Mal asked, leaning on the back of the pilot’s seat.
Freya nodded down. “Looks like a flat area to the south of the house. I’ll put us down there.”
“Just be a minute.”
Dr Randolph Bell’s beach house was a two-storey affair with enough tinted glass to keep a team of window cleaners employed more or less permanently. The roof was covered in the obligatory solar panels, and a long veranda ran around the entire ground floor. Just beyond the rear of the property was a set of steps going down to the sandy shore, where there appeared to be a couple of boats pulled out of the water, covered in tarpaulins. Parked in the drive was a top-of-the-range groundcar, bright red and gleaming.
“Nice place,” Mal commented. “Remote, too.”
“Being a professor must pay okay,” Freya replied.
“And he’s never been married, at least according to Simon’s research.”
She flashed him a glare. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just that my pockets have never been so empty since we got wed,” he joked.
“So you’d rather be rich but single.”
“I’d rather not have a penny to my name long as you’re in my bed.” He squeezed her shoulder.
“That’s better.” She smiled and adjusted the shuttle’s attitude thrusters just a little to allow the small craft to settle into the dirt with barely a bump. She’d manoeuvred enough so that they were facing the main house, and switching off the engines she sat for a moment, staring out.
“You okay?” Mal asked.
“The shuttle isn’t exactly quiet. Even if he wasn't expecting us, you’d think he’d be looking to see who we are.”
“Maybe he’s not home.”
“With the yen he had for that piece of wood?” Freya shook her head. “I would’ve thought he’d be chomping at the bit.”
“Me too.” Mal’s hand strayed to his gun butt. “Still, won’t know ‘til we go see.”
Zoe typed in PERSEPHONE on the destination board, setting departure time in three hours. That should be enough for Mal and the others to deliver the goods and get paid. She wasn’t going to admit it, but she was more than a little spooked herself. Mal had told her about the carving, what it represented, and she was glad it wasn’t on board any longer. And it looked like things were improving. Kaylee had almost finished repairs on the water pump with some parts she’d put away for just an occasion, and now -
“Persephone, Ma’am? Is that where you‘re going?”
She turned to face a young man, looking no older than late teens, possibly early twenties at a push. “That’s right.”
“Is it a good place?” He seemed very eager.
“As good as any.” Zoe looked him up and down. He was fairly well dressed, in a suit that looked of good cut, even if it was possibly older than him. She noted the slightly worn cuffs, and the shoes that could do with a polish. Still, his shirt was clean, buttoned up all the way to his neck. “You looking for passage?”
“Me and my girl.” He grinned, making her revise her top estimate as to his age. He wasn't older than twenty. “We … we need to get away.”
“You running from someone?”
He glanced about, as if he was making sure no-one was listening. “Her father. He doesn’t like me. Wants her to marry some fancy hwoon dahn with more money than taste.”
Zoe’s lip twitched slightly. “And she wants to marry you?”
“Definitely.” He held out his hand. “My name’s Cody. Cody Dean.”
“Zoe Mills. I'm first mate on board Serenity.”
They shook and Cody glanced up at the old Firefly. “She looks like a good ship.”
“That she is.” Zoe put her hands on her hips. “But we’re not taking passengers that might cause us problems with the Alliance.”
“If your girl’s father calls the authorities, and they figure out which boat -”
“He wouldn’t,” Cody assured her quickly. “He’s had a few run-ins with them himself, truth be told. He has no love for them.”
Zoe studied him closer. “Can you pay? We‘re not a charity either.”
“Oh, I can pay. I’ve been saving up.” He patted his inner jacket pocket proudly, then realised what he was doing, and swallowed. “Not that I … I don’t mean … I’ve not got it -”
She took pity on him. “Just don’t go around doing that anywhere else, or you’ll find yourself in a dark alley with no money and likely bleeding into the gutter.”
“I won’t.” He smiled gratefully, then it hitched a little. “Um … how much is it to Persephone?”
Zoe named a figure, and she could see his mind working, and maybe coming up a little shy. “But that can be negotiated,” she added.
“I can do chores. Clean. Fix stuff,” Cody offered, all eagerness again.
“How old are you, Cody?”
He drew himself up. “Twenty-three.”
“Want to try that again?”
His shoulders slumped. “Okay, I’m nineteen. But Sadie’s twenty. We’re all legal, Miss Mills.”
“Mrs.” She continued to study him, and he seemed to lose heart.
His head dropped. “That’s okay,” he said, dejection in every line. “We can find another way off -”
“Be back here before nineteen hundred,” she interrupted. “The both of you, with any bags you’re taking.”
Hope lit his eyes. “You serious?”
“If you’re not, we won’t wait.”
“We’ll be here!” He grinned, turning to run then spinning back. “Thanks!”
She watched him as he sprinted away around the side of a Tunstall, and couldn’t help smiling. She didn’t remember ever being that enthusiastic, even aged nineteen. At that point she was already a veteran soldier of three years standing, and that kind of ebullience tended to get drilled out pretty quickly. Hank, on the other hand -
“Who was that?”
She looked up to see the man himself standing on the ramp, Kaylee at his side. “Passengers.”
The young mechanic’s face lit up. “More‘n one?” she asked.
“A young couple. Running away from her father, no less.”
Kaylee almost bounced. “Ooh, stories! I love folks with stories. And that‘s so romantic.”
Zoe smiled. No, it was Kaylee who was filled with that enthusiasm, more than anyone on board. Nothing kept her down for long. “I suppose it is.” She walked towards them, fixing her gaze on Hank. “And you should be in bed.”
“I got lonely,” he explained. “And bored. Besides, Simon said I could take some gentle exercise.” He waggled his eyebrows at her. “Fancy taking some with me?”
“And throw your back even further out. I don’t think so.”
“If’n my back hurts from crawling under my girl all day, I find hanging from the support beams helps,” Kaylee offered. “Freya told me ‘bout it. Works too.”
“I don’t think Freya uses it for that, Kaylee,” Zoe said, her dark eyes twinkling a little.
“Hey, neither do I. Not all the time.“ Kaylee sparkled. “It’s amazing the reaction I get from my husband when I get the chair out …”
Mal, Freya and Simon walked towards the front door, while Jayne took a detour around the perimeter.
“Is something wrong?” Simon asked, aware the other two were watching everything.
“No. Not so’s you’d notice.”
“Well, I have noticed. Are we expecting trouble?”
Mal smiled at him. “Don’t worry. I'm not intending to get shot today.”
“That’s a relief,” Simon responded dryly. “I’ll put it in my diary.”
Mal laughed. “Maybe I'm turning over a new leaf.”
Simon gave him a sideways look, then they were at the wooden steps leading up to the veranda.
“Anything?” Mal asked, and for a moment Simon wondered who he was speaking to.
“Nope,” Jayne said, materialising out of the scrubby bushes next to them. “Coupla windows open a bit upstairs, but no other signs of life.”
“Then I guess we knock.” Mal climbed the steps and rapped loudly on the frame – shave and a haircut. He followed it with two bits and they waited, but there was no movement, no voice asking them to hold their horses.
“There’s no cameras,” Freya said, having been studying the front of the glass house. “No sign of any security at all.”
“Maybe he doesn’t like to keep a record of visitors.” Mal knocked again. “Could be maybe he has done this kinda business before.”
“I’ll just go …” Freya vanished around the corner, her feet silent on the decking.
“Perhaps he’s gone for a walk,” Simon suggested. “It’s a nice evening.” He looked towards the sun, still an hour or two from setting, but throwing long shadows across the ground. He felt a cold shiver he couldn’t explain climb his spine.
“Could be,” Mal agreed. “But like Frey said, he should’ve heard the shuttle, been high-tailing it back. And there’s no sign.” His eyes scanned the horizon, and only the swoop of seagulls proved there was any life beyond their little group. “I for one –“ He stopped as Freya’s voice rang out.
He was running before the echoes died away.
Freya was leaning against one of the grey walls, her hands cupped around her eyes so she could see through the tinting.
“Looks like a body,” she said, her breath steaming the glass. “On the floor.”
“Cao.” He stood next to her, shading his eyes as she was doing. Sure enough, there was what appeared to be a figure lying at the bottom of the open-plan staircase. “Gorramit.”
“Mal?” Simon was trying to see in as well. “If someone’s hurt …”
“Yeah.” He turned to look at the ex-mercenary. “Jayne, try the back.”
“And it it’s locked?” the big man wanted to know.
“Break in. Like Simon says, he might be hurt.”
Jayne nodded and loped off around the veranda.
Mal and the others headed back to the front door, and he took hold of the handle. “Well, here goes nothing.” His eyebrow raised as it turned in his grip. “Okay.” Glancing at Simon he added, “Stay outside until we find out what’s going on,” giving the young man no time to answer as he pushed the door open. It took only a moment for the odour to register, and he recoiled slightly. “Now that’s a perfume I hoped never to smell again.”
Simon sniffed. “Decomposition.”
“Yeah. Definitely stay back.” He stepped into the house, gun drawn, Freya at his back.
The front door led straight into an oversized room, overlooking the ocean, all dull wood and burnished metal. There were free-standing shelves delineating areas, and tables and chairs full of more books. Not a single surface was free of clutter. And, of course, there was the body.
“Frey, check upstairs,” Mal said softly, and she nodded, hurrying up the steps, her gun leading the way.
A slight noise from the rear had Mal lift his own firearm, but he released the slight pressure on the trigger as Jayne appeared.
“I think something died in here,” the big man said, stepping through from one of the other rooms. At Mal’s look he went on, “Back door was open. Didn‘t have to break nothing.”
“Dr Bell.” Simon stepped past Mal and went down onto his knees next to the body lying face up, eyes staring milkily at the ceiling.
“What part of ‘stay outside’ didn’t you get, doctor?” Mal said, exasperation in his tone.
“That‘s the point. I am a doctor.”
“And there might be a killer still in here. Anyway, I doubt you can do much for him now. Not ‘less you can resurrect the dead.”
Simon sat back on his heels. “No. I’m afraid you’re right. But I doubt the killer, if there is one, is still around. The body’s been here a while.” He put his hands under Bell’s shoulders, lifting him a little. “He’s not been moved, either.”
Mal stared at him, then back at the body. “How can you tell?”
“Lividity is settled, with no sign of post …” He stopped. “The blood has pooled all down his back and legs, where they‘re resting on the floor,” he explained.
Mal didn’t take offence at the captain dummy talk, not this time. “Any idea how long he’s been dead?”
“Well, pathology was never my discipline, but …” Simon thought for a moment, his long, lean surgeon’s fingers touching the dead flesh here and there. “The air conditioning’s on,” he began slowly, “which would delay start of decomposition somewhat, but from the lack of rigor, tissue colour and texture, and of course the smell … I’d say at least two days.”
“So he was dead before we picked up the plaque.”
“Oh, yes. Probably shortly after we left Ariel. I imagine he came straight here after seeing us.”
Mal sighed in relief. “Good.” He realised what he sounded like. “Not that it’s good he’s dead, of course, but –“
“What, you were thinking it was Hank’s curse?”
“You were the one brought it up first, as I recall,” Mal pointed out. “But … yeah.”
“And there I was thinking you were concerned because we wouldn’t get paid.”
“That too, doctor.” He slid his gun back into its holster. “So … an accident?”
“There’s a ruck in the carpet,” Freya said from the top of the stairs, crouching down. “And blood on the middle step.”
“I’d say he fell, and broke his neck,” Simon added. “Whether someone pushed him, that I can’t say.”
“Well, they don’t appear to have taken anything,” Mal said.
“How can you tell?” Simon looked around the room, every surface piled high. “There could have been the Alliance ceremonial sceptre here for all we know.”
“It ain't robbery,” Jayne said flatly.
“And you know that … how?”
“’Cause that’s worth more’n Serenity,” the big man pointed out, nodding towards a high end, ultra expensive and very new looking Cortex screen. “Black market’d get you at least six thousand, probably more.”
“Jayne’s right,” Freya said, descending the stairs and avoiding the bloodstain. “Besides, he’s wearing a watch that’d keep us flying for a year. No self-respecting thief’s gonna leave that behind.”
Simon looked down at the timepiece on Bell’s left hand. She was right. A gold Osiran.
“So it was an accident. Unlucky,” Mal observed.
“Not for us.” Jayne had been opening drawers in a desk by the window, and now held up an envelope. “Even got our name on it.”
“We can’t take that,” Simon insisted.
“We did the job. Got a little hurt doing it, too,” Jayne added, holding up his gun hand. “I figure we leave that hunk of wood and take our pay.”
Simon turned to Mal. “We have to inform the authorities. Dr Bell is … was a well-known figure.”
“Then someone’s gonna miss him sooner or later,” Mal said firmly. “Jayne’s right. We did what we were paid for. The rest of it’s someone else’s problem.”
“No.” Except it wasn’t Simon this time. It was Freya. “It’s still ours.”
Mal looked at her. “I thought you wanted this off the ship.” He held up the backpack.
“I do. But … not like this.” She looked at him. “We have to take it back.”
“What?” He was about to give her any number of reasons why that was a bad idea, but Jayne got there first.
“You’re crazier than moonbrain!” he blurted out. “There ain’t no way I’m going back to that forsaken moon. We nearly all got dead last time … I ain’t gonna risk it again!”
“I don’t know if it’s cursed or not. I don’t usually believe in them, but … so many things have been going wrong, I …” She shook her head, trying to clear the fog. “I just know we have to do this.”
Mal put his hand on her arm. “Frey, honey … it’s just a lump of wood.”
“That screams in the night.” She shuddered. “It’ll kill us all if we don’t take it back to Aegis.”
“Cap, talk some sense into your wife,” Jayne boomed.
Mal ignored him. “You sure about this? You sure if we leave it behind, leave it here, you won’t feel better?”
She shook her head. “It’ll only get worse.”
He gazed into her eyes. You honestly sure?
He exhaled through his nostrils. “It’s but a day. We’re pretty good on fuel, could burn it a little, make it more like eighteen hours, maybe even less.”
“Mal, you can’t be serious …” Jayne leaned on the glass, feeling it cool beneath his head.
“You don’t have to come,” Mal pointed out.
“Where the hell else’m I gonna go?” the big man sighed, pushing himself straight.
“Then let’s get back, before someone decides to come looking for the good doctor and finds us here. I’d hate to have to be explaining things to the Feds right now.”
“In this case, I have to agree,” Simon said softly, taking one last look at Randolph Bell.
“Nice to know my diagnosis is concurred with,” Mal said humourlessly. He motioned Freya to go ahead of them, tossing the pack onto his shoulder again.
They stepped out into the fresh air, each taking great lungfuls to clear the smell of corruption. Except for Jayne, who leaned over the veranda railing and threw up, violently and noisily.
“Jayne?” Simon was immediately at his side, putting his hand on the bigger man’s forehead. “My God, you’re burning up.”
“Don’t feel too good,” Jayne mumbled, spitting into the bushes.
“Why on earth didn’t you say something?”
“On a job.” He was having trouble focussing. “Never let things get in the way of a job.” His knees buckled, and it was only Simon’s arm around him that stopped him from falling.
Mal and Freya exchanged looks, and she ran for the shuttle to get the engines started.
to be continued
Monday, March 31, 2008 10:29 PM
Tuesday, April 1, 2008 2:10 AM
Tuesday, April 1, 2008 5:17 PM
Thursday, April 17, 2008 11:01 PM
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