BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

WYTCHCROFT

Independently Blue parts complete 3 parts
Sunday, November 9, 2008

just a coda to wrap things up is all.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1799    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

Independently Blue:

this fic is inspired by characters and situations created by joss whedon, tim minear and brett matthews, i have no claim or copyright on this material. PG-13 - part one. this story is set quite some time after Serenity the movie but flashes back to episodes from the firefly series and some of my earlier fics.

part one

Objects in Space. Funny how many things in life come down to that. Given the chance Inara Serra might have reflected ruefully on the truth of it. But time was a luxury she was frequently forced to for-go, and so this is the story of a bar stool, a head - and if not star-crossed love... then certainly crossed eyes seeing stars. Anyhow the story goes something like this. Woman walks into a bar - No wait, I'll back it up some.

Inara Serra's shuttle tucked itself like a chick under the protective wing of its mother as it slipped into place on the starboard side of Serenity. It had been a while. "That you keeping me steady, Zoe?" Inara's voice was edged with brightness put there like lip-stick, but she was sure the pilot would understand. Hell, with Serenity pitched up here on a moon that even Mother Buddha would have overlooked, the arrival of her shuttle must be something of a pleasant distraction at least.

Inara was taken aback when she heard an unfamiliar voice and a male one. "You must be the Ambassador we've been expecting."

She sucked in a breath. "That's not a title I chose for myself," in fact it's old - can we just not go there please, "but yes - this is Inara." "Welcome back to Serenity." Inara had done the math. "You must be Shepherd Face," she said neutrally. "That would be me, uh-huh. Call me Solomon, everybody else doesn't."

"That's a nice name. Are you very wise Solomon?" A momentary pause. "Well, I'm here anyway." "And that makes two of us. I've been looking forward to meeting you," she lied smoothy. It wasn't malicious, just... damn if Book's death didn't still... But she closed that off. That was for her to think on privately. She began to gather up her loose things from the dash of the shuttle, luggage could wait. In case you change your mind Inara?

She closed that off too, only in a less becoming manner. "Wish I could say I've heard all about you," the Shepherd continued as she moved to the door, "but fact, what I know? Just that no/one will talk about you." Oh? Fine. Just fine.

The Shepherd must have realised his lack of tact because she heard his tongue click even over the wire and he said somewhat hurriedly, "No, I mean, the not talking is a BIG not talking. Like, they don't mention you - you aint gone. Am I making ANY sense? 'Case you don't know - I spar some with Zoe and River, my lack of social skills can maybe be put down to the seven bells or more they've hammered out of me." Inara had to smile a little at that. Good for them. But talking of..."And where is everyone exactly?" she asked the aether.

"You know," echoed the voice from the cockpit, the man who wasn't Book or Wash, "it's strange, everyone's planet side. The Captain - he said he had business, Zoe too. Kaylee wanted to stretch her legs, Jayne said he had to go help the Captain and why is it that I'm only starting to get this now..." "They can be very... winning." Inara said to the air. "You think they were avoiding me?" "No, I think they were NOT avoiding something else." Inara sighed. So, after everything and she was going to have to go trailing in his wake - or wait on him. Some choice. She made up her mind and quick. Going would be kinder to her nails. And Mal had a way of spotting things like that - a chipped nail, he'd be on her like a - And again with the cutting off. "Ok, Shepherd," she said. Too forcefully? Maybe. L'il bit. "Would you open a door for a Lady?" She turned outside of the shuttle now, and walked the familiar winding way down to the bay doors. "Pleasure ma'am," said the Shepherd, and with a wrenching sound the doors came up. Inara could see almost directly ahead, a small dwelling, not much more than a hut, and she could hear the inebriated sounds of an off-kilter violin and a chorus of ragged voices. So that was his business? Getting drunk? Meh. Not again, surely something must have changed by now. Clamping her fists together tight and keeping her face and figure poised, Inara Serra went to go give Captain Malcolm Reynolds a piece of her mind. As the door on Serenity lowered back into place Shepherd Face was wondering if he should have wished her a happy Unification Day.

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

"Well, well," said the man - and didn't they always? "Malcolm Reynolds... I guess some things never change." The two men regarded each other for a dangerous moment. The grizzled figure of former Independent Lt Gen Hammond and his one time comrade in arms Malcolm Reynolds. Serenity's captain gave a half smile. It stayed that way, looking a mite sickly as the muzzle of a nasty looking pistol moved up and on towards his eyes. "Except sometimes they do," Mal said, using the whole of his mouth this time. Hammond had gone over to the Alliance not long before the end of the war, but that wasn't the issue, not wholly anyways. "You know," Reynolds continued with a deliberate carefree tone, "time was, come Unification Day, folk could have a clean ruckus without the need of firearms." "It's a whole new verse Reynolds - you should know, you made it." Mal gave a disparaging sigh. "I keep not noticing. I'm simple," with a deft flick of the wrist he snatched the pistol from the man's hand and reversed it, "like that." And yet fast as he was the other man had whipped a spare piece from behind his back. At least our guns see eye to eye, thought Mal. "Remind me here, dance like this, who leads, who follows and should I curtsy?"

If there was an answer to that it never came. "Excuse me ladies," an interloper growled drunkenly, "but I - ah, hell with that!" And so saying, Jayne Cobb sent Mal sprawling with a powerful arm even as he butted heads with Hammond. Mal screwed up his eyes as said from the floor, "Jayne ? What - sides? Sides remember?" Jayne ignored him. "He still squealing?" he asked the other man instead. "Yup" the other replied, "always was a squealer, Malcolm Reynolds." He threw out a wild hey-maker. "Not me though." "Yeah," Cobb moved inside the punch and struck upwards, putting the man down hard on his fanny, "you just can't hit for -" A bar stool will distract a fella some. Jayne went to the floor as just such a distracting item connected solidly with his head. "How many times," wheezed Mal, stool in hand, "have you told me this aint your fight?" He was crouching low, waiting for an opening on the other man. "Hell, Mal, I got bored waiting for -" Another equally distracting item this time wielded by a burly lurker cut him off again. Suddenly everyone was hitting him. Regaining his balance he flung an elbow out and felt it connect. "It's on!" yelled the Bar-Keep from somewhere to the side of them, and his words were the signal for a wild whooping brawling rumble to break out gleefully all around.

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

Yes indeed, a bar stool will distract a fella some - and it will do the same to a woman too under the right circumstances, or the wrong circumstances to be truthsome... which is where we started. A woman walks into a bar. Introductions follow. Stool meet Inara, Inara meet stool, that's the one see? Slow motion flying with the greatest of ease and spinning just for the fun of it and landing plum smack and right between her eyes. She was hot suddenly - white sparks were coming out of nowhere, bright static across the screen of her mind and then, quite suddenly, images, memories. It's true, she thought. Your life flashes in front of your eyes. She should tell someone. She should speak. She should try. So she tried. "Urghmplmh..." she said.

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

"Urghmplmh!" Mal had said, his lips momentarily paralysed from the stinging slap.

Inara had pulled her hand back. "You should be careful," Mal said ruefully as the feeling came back into his face, "that thing's loaded." This was back on Mr Universe's moon, Independence, Mal had dubbed it though he made precious effort to settle, little effort to change. Inara let her hand drop. Funny, looking at it now it seemed alien, odd. Did it really, did I really just - "What is that anyway - they have slapping school now at the whore academy?"

No, no change - there. It had been Simon, Simon that nested now in the lunar heart, calling in favours from 'the underground' to get Serenity prepped and the moons TV screens flickering again. He wanted to do good. Mal? Mal wanted to... be Mal. He was looking for shadows while she, while Inara, wanted... "What?" "I don't know Mal! Something... Sunlight." After all they had gone through she'd found herself hoping that for once Mal might want the same. But no... not yet. Not ever - maybe. And the arguments were no less bitter for being familiar - a ritual almost, dancing the same old same old. "These things EAT at you Mal," she'd said. But he hadn't been moved. "It's a hard stretch of nothing we got as our own still 'Nara, you don't need tellin'. You want to rely on folk? Well good and shiny is your kindly heart but don't expect others to make the same gorram mistake -'specially not those that have made it before. I keep one person and the one person who aint let me down yet. And that person is me." And his face had been nothing but hard edges. "Then you'll cut yourself off Mal - eventually, finally - alone - somewhere in the black. You really want that?" But Mal had an answer - he always had an answer; "Fought for it often enough - Independence remember? Some people call that Freedom." "And other people call it fear." Inara snapped, leaning forward, chin up. Mal just folded his arms. "Well send for a Shepherd - that was quite a sermon there missy. Only spike being I recall you feel the same damn way. Huh?" He looked smug. "Truths cuts deep as they do say." "Run-tse duh fwo-tzoo!" The man was impossible! And in that moment she had made up her mind to leave again, to grab her shuttle and go back to the Training House, back to Sheydra.

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

Deep. She was going deep. Into herself her memory. Like being under water. Swimming - it was hard, she felt heavy, her limbs, somewhere in the darkness. How did I get in the water? - she wondered vaguely, she feel herself going down, deep and she was cold. Very cold....

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

...and listening to Mal's dreadful message over the Serenity inter-com, she had shivered.

She'd never felt cold in her room before, not here - in all of Serenity her one private place. Here where she would sleep curled into herself and breathing in her own heat, wrapped in the bed clothes as in the kind arms of a friend. Here where she would wash; cleaning and erasing all the grime of this life on Serenity - and all that went with it, the stress, the insults, the.. love.

but River was not the only child waiting to be pulled from a box, all of them were really, here on Serenity just... a box, yes. She was holding a box now, the speckled marble of its cover was cleaned and neat but the black tin bottom was scuffed. "Oh it's old Inny, real old." "Inny's a belly button" "But it's still old," her brother had said. "And expensive mei-mei, only the best for you and your schooling. Something to remind you of me while we're apart." And the bland look on his face under that wild dark tangle of hair. She knew he was lying. "Meh, you made it yourself!" Inara stuck her lip out petulantly. "LANGUAGE!" a mother's love-filled scolding. "Just take it Inny, please?" a brother's love-filled giving. Sometimes she wanted to scratch those few memories, scratch them out completely. A long nail traces the ragged edging and the delicate designs.

Yes, he made this, for her - her brother, lost to the black. Gone with the rest of her family - snatched from life by shadows, bogeymen, Reavers. Dead. That's what she was told, pulled from her class at school to receive the crude message from the black uniformed courier. Shaking in front of him as he gave her the loose bag of things, objects - all that remained. No more love. No more family. Dead. All dead.

But now as she struggled with her own body, scrunching herself backwards in a tangle of sheets, sleeves and wild eyes, she was waiting for the dead to come on back. Reavers. Any moment now they would burst into the ship - they would burst her into her shuttle and they would burst into her room. And maybe - just half crazed and irrationally maybe - the box would be recognised.

And there was what it contained. The syringe, the needle, the drug inside - that should help - it was a neuro-amplifier. "You can cheat at every exam" her brother had joked when they were alone and she finally opened it. "If you're the only one of us fit for learning then you damn well better make the grade girl! Ha ha! This little baby, well it helps you remember stuff." Remember. And what could she remember? The soft face of the social worker - the troubled grey eyes. "Really Inara it's for the best. In fact -" "It's a privilege." And the sharp voice of the Priestess.

And then a blur of places, the stifling court, the waiting in barren rooms, the hard grey transport, being pushed roughly into line along with the other young girls, their manner, their expression, their flesh under scrutiny. "Welcome to Sihnon. Welcome to your new home." And even then it hadn't stopped. "You - you - and, you - " A bony finger pointing at random it seemed. "There appears to have been an error of judgement or perhaps a bureaucratic mistake. Please, accept our apologies and step outside. Shola, if you would show these three girls out please?" And then they were gone, those unlucky one's who failed to satisfy. Inara couldn't even remember their faces now, those girls, tweaked from the line, pulled like an unsightly hair from the perfect skin of the face of the Training House and never seen again. No souvenirs this time, no crumpled letter, no bloody fingerprints, no box.

She was clasping her box now with taut white fingers, her eyes on the door. Still shivering.

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

"If I disturb you, switching me off will not damage my function, periods of inactivity are required for energy storage..."

Lenore's eyes, under the heavy lacquer of their eyelashes, had given an approximation of a shy glance. "That's true for people too, yes?"

"You don't disturb me," Inara lied firmly and looking straight-ahead through the shuttle window and the stars beyond. "Input recognised," Lenore clicked and hummed. Meh. Lenore had been in 'safe' mode ever since Mal recognised her as the key to Mr Universe's fiendish security protocols that almost killed them back on his moon. 'Safe' mode meant no creepy replays of Mr Universe's voice or anyone else recorded by the Bot. It also meant Lenore behaved and sounded more like the machine she was under all the behavourial modification software and the projected fantasies of those about her.

"No, I'm not disturbed," thought Inara, keeping her attention on the shuttle controls, I'm just... Companions, the Empathy training is all. So, not disturbed then. She knew she was lying to herself now - and that never worked. Much.

Sighing, Inara checked the guide-feed, set to take her back to the temple and Sheydra. First time in quite a time... First time in fact since she'd fled the place - along with with Mal and away from the clutches of the Operative and the Alliance. And left behind... what exactly? She knew there would be smiles and hugs, relief and glad conversation, refreshments, tea. But it would be a reckoning all the same.

Lenore shifted on the couch. "I am programmed to recognise physical and psychological stress as manifest in key body postures and to offer suitable treatment." "I'm sorry, what?"

"I have over six hundred sexual intercourse and stimulation/relaxation programs. Selection is made by -" Inara's interruption was immediate and noisy. "Please wait while Chinese language recognition is downloaded," Lenore requested politely.

............................................................. end of pt 1.

this fic is for charlie_bz who encouraged me way past the bounds of quality control.

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

Independently Blue:

this fic is inspired by characters and situations created by joss whedon, tim minear and brett matthews, i have no claim or copyright on this material. PG-13 - part two.

.........

Moving tiredly along the low-lit corridor Dr Huxley rubbed his eyes. He guessed the level of the lights must aggravate them less - but damn, it didn't help them stay open! Management. It was probably a funding issue - Things being what they were these days it was a miracle there was any funding whatsoever for projects formally known as 'special' but now, well, not so much.

Everyone was feeling the pinch. Even Blue Sun. Especially Blue Sun, point of fact. Well - it was hard to care really, in fact he hoped they'd hurry up and do whatever companies did, merge or dissolve or whatever. He was hungry and irritable.

And so he dragged his heels, actually pausing for a moment to sigh and gaze around elaborately at nothing. Nothing was fortunate, because when he finally pushed himself through the exit door a lithe figure clad in an eccentric combination of wrap-around skirt and combat boots dropped to the ground from almost directly above where he had stood.

"River!" a voice hissed loudly, "Mei-mei are you -" River Tam clapped a hand to her ear, counting to ten before saying quietly. "I'm fine. Stop shouting." "Sorry - I mean, I'm sorry - I should be there with you, I -" "Simon..."

Far up above, sat inside a disused porter-cabin and next to a pile of medi-kits and blankets, Simon was watching on his monitor, cursing the distance, the delay, and the impotence he felt just watching his sister at work. Kaylee had done her work well, the alarms had shut down without being noticed, the connection with River was clear and quick - but still... and he knew he had to be here but... it felt like nothing, like doing nothing. It didn't matter how well he knew the rational truth of letting go, of letting his sister have 'her turn now'... To do nothing just wasn't natural for him, not when it came to River.

"Which is precisely who it must be." The man known as Quicksilver had said reasonably. He was never anything else than reasonable. "Simon we're not not forcing anything on you here - it's just the truth, the Underground doesn't have anyone else that could do this."

So, he could say no. He'd said no before. "I don't even have to listen," he said pointedly, "not to you." "That's very true. And if you were Malcolm Reynolds I would simply be a speaker full of static by now. But you're not him and I'm not... who I was. Simon, I'm not doing this out of some misguided desire for atonement - I do what I do because it needs to be done and I can do it. And Captain Reynolds? He is an honourable man, he will see the repairs the Underground has provided as a debt he will want to repay. And so, with all that in mind, perhaps you should go and ask your sister." "She won't want to." "Maybe so. But we won't know for certain until you ask, will we?" Yes, always reasonable. Remorselessly so.

And River? She seemed to make her choices by whim, by mood - from violent rejection, to sullen acceptance to a kind of serene determination - then she would glow, take charge almost in her way. And Mal would look on grinning. As he had this time.

"Hardly even a prison anymore?" Zoe had been the one to raise objections. In a good crew someone would always raise an objection - that could be chaotic, but Simon had finally begun to realise the wisdom of it. Mal too. Maybe. He shouted them down less anyway, just looked up and across from the galley table that still served for their meeting room and waited for Zoe to spit it out. "Hardly a prison? Then I have to wonder Sir, what it is exactly?" "It's been forgotten about by everyone," Simon had filled in the blanks. "Calling it a prison was always a good cover - who would care? The prisoners were never political, who would care about serial rapists and child abusers. So it just... faded. It is what it always was." "Hardly a prison." "A laboratory."

"It's a zoo." River spat. Leaning forward with her dark hair falling. "Come see the animals!" "Woah, settle down there! - Jeez!" Jayne had leant back fast and skidded his chair away. She still spooked him. Always would. "You likely to know any of these folks?" Mal asked. River's face came up abruptly - and she rubbed her face, hard. "Know - I don't, no - would I know?" Mal leant Simon. "Translation?" "River still doesn't remember her time in the Academy - not in the way you and I remember anyway." "Feeding time at the zoo... come and get it..." his sister said, her voice dropping so low it lost the next sentence altogether. Simon was still talking. "Besides - they might not be, I mean... in their way, they're simply prototypes.." Mal gave the expected HUH - but Jayne did a double take - his face changing expression. "Wha - your sister's - what are you saying - she's a Bot???" And damn if he wasn't looking at the girl in a whole new way. Mal hissed at him in Chinese to shut up but that angered him some and clapping loud hands Jayne said, "Well I don't get this at all. Mal, what's in it for us? You getting all hero minded again?" Mal began to drum a finger on the table top. Jayne ignored him. "Now that's noble maybe, but noble don't mean cashey money. Now we can be - hell, we've been most everything. Do it again too, you know that. But hungry ? Tyen-shur! Can you even remember the last time we..." He stopped, his eye catching the spot the spot here Mal's finger was thumping down. Under his hand was a crude map. "What?" "Mr Lee's Remarkable Den of Repose." said the captain. "That sound like an eatery to you?" "Huh. Or a morgue maybe." Simon shook his head. "No, no - it says here," fumbling with his notes. "Uh, oh - right, just outside the landing zone for civilians. Refuelling dump and, er, stopover." "Well, then that's where I'm stopping." Cobb was adamant. "Well Ok then." Mal agreed quickly. Too quickly, Jayne thought to himself. But hell, long as there was dim lights, thick smoke and loud loud music, the rest could take care of themselves. Or leastways he could get good and drunk till they needed him - like they always did.

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

Chauncey Roberts hated his job. Watching - that was all it was. Day in, day out - just standing in the little makeshift watch tower, a crude pagoda of chicken wire and wood that didn't even keep the rain out. And in this damn valley it rained all the time. He dreamed of making a break for the sunny side - over the crags and out to the refuelling station - oh I could have myself a time...

Squelching from foot to foot. I'm as much of a prisoner here as anyone... he knew it.

He pulled out his walkie-talkie and shook it - there was a pathetic crackle of static. Never did work right - but the battery seemed dry that was something.

In the dark of the downpour the little screen display was the most cheery thing he'd seen all day. The tiny face glowing.

Certainly it seemed a deal friendlier than the face of the woman who appeared out of absolutely nowhere. And a whole lot friendlier than than the shotgun in her hands.

Be careful what you wish for had always seemed such a dumb phrase - well, if the price of an education was a bruise black egg on the back of his head and a swollen lip where his face hit the wet metal floor - then hell, I shoulda stayed ignorant , was the last coherent thought he had before, with a resigned sigh, he lost consciousness.

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

Losing consciousness had became mighty fashionable of a sudden on the dirt moon of Scudder 518aa54C. All the best people who doing it. The interior of Mr Lee's rest stop being now littered with the bodies of those indulging suddenly in oblivion.

One of these was Inara Serra - now bundled across the broad shoulders of Malcolm Reynolds as he fought his way towards the door. That was normally the easy part of a brawl - people most often WANTED him out - but these folk, hell if they didn't block the way with loopy wide grins and howls of sheer bloody fun. One of them was Jayne Cobb - who with little sense of giving a rut was whaling wide and hard on all comers.

He did however pause long enough to glance critically at Mal and the woman he was holding. "This part of the plan then? Seems kinda stupid." Mal ignored him, he was looking for another exit. Trouble was the other exit was something they'd counted on for entirely different reasons - because it lead to the link-way out back and from there were pouring purple bellied guards, several shabby looking bruisers of no fixed affiliation and - a woman with a large metal - what was that? a ladle? She was whacking it upside some fellas head anyhow.

"C'mon Mal!" yelled Jayne, as he flattened another man, "we can - oh..." the pile of the fallen was actually blocking the route out now worse than when they was standing and swinging. "...Ok." He shrugged - catching a small head in one large hand. And spinning a confused assailant away.

"Stairs," Mal pointed.

The pair began to windmill their way across the room. There was a groan from Inara as Mal span around - actually using her shoe heeled feet as weapons. If she was awake I'd catch hell for this... Mal thought to himself. Not that I won't be catching hell anyhow soon as she comes too, never gonna believe this distraction was Zoe's idea. Mostly.

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

Inara was not coming too - she was still sinking through the layers of her memory - falling into them like a stone into a lake; there were bubbles, ripples, but she was still going down.

And the Reavers had never made it to the ship...

Wash had seen to that - as only he could - and so she'd carefully put the box back and clamped down her emotions - willfully losing herself in the adrenaline and excitement of events - the thrill of the chase they were in. Serenity dodging from place to place - from sand to snow and from peace to noise, from fear to adventure.

Willfully... she told that lie to herself sometimes, but rarely believed it. Truth was she had to fight just as hard against that - to not show her exhilaration. THS was what Sheydra had meant - what all the girls meant - when they talked of her adventures with the Space Pirate.

Such romantic notions...

Easy to cling to something like that when you're young and troubled - when you've run from hard hands and worse and finally found some sort of sanctuary in the calm of Sheydra's moon. The beauty of a morning where the sun would rise glistening like the waterfalls below and urging the jungle greenery to flourish and rise.

And she'd wanted to disabuse them, of course she had. Seeing the smile on Sheydra's face as they chatted together over a balcony breakfast. It made her... and so when that man had - when that Operative appeared, and the calm retreat was broken and despoiled, then some small voice in her head, small but insistent, called out, "You made him come! You made him come!"

And as the shuttle began to dip towards its destination, as Lenore hummed away beside her, as the cockpit screens lit up and streamed the landing data, Inara wondered if Sheydra felt that way too.

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

Moving slowly down the iron steps, River wished she were barefoot, she missed the feel of things, trailed a soft hand out onto the rail just to to touch the cold solidity for a moment. Even here, a place she did not want to be, a place that should not be touched.

She knew she was close. She was biting back bile and unbidden images - I can do that, I can do that now - I've learned... I'm not not - I'm whole now - they don't own me - pieces of me there are no pieces of me here, kept here in glass cages and fed on mush and needles, under hot lights and the voices asking question after question and wondering how the sticky on her fingers would taste.

Not here. There were monsters here. But not me, I'm not -

She froze as she rounded the bottom of a stairwell and found herself face to face with a lab-coated man. He looked at her for a seconded bewildered - but then his face changed, he had recognized her.

He knows me...

"River Tam..." the man's voice was almost awed. "It IS you..."

River raised a knuckling hand.

"Wit, wait!" the man said quickly. "This - this is such an opportunity - do you realise? Now you're here? We - we could learn so much - we should, we should talk!"

"Talk?" River's voice sounded strange in her own ears, the dead echo from this metal room and she shaped the words as if they were foreign and strange. "What could you say to me?" The man looked thoughtful - but River said again, and with angry accusation. "What could you possibly have to SAY?"

The man shrugged."Well, uh, you know, er, oh hey, how about Eta kooram nah smech!" There. Like a magic spell. Bad wizard, bad - For one raging second River's eyes screamed NO! and then she slipped away and into herself.

end of pt 2..

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

Independently Blue:

this fic is inspired by characters and situations created by joss whedon, tim minear and brett matthews, i have no claim or copyright on this material. PG-13 - final part

"Is that beautiful?" the robot woman asked. Inara had pulled the shuttle into a slow dive towards an Atmo entry window but already the craft was beginning to skim the clouds like a stone bouncing across the calm water of a lake. The cockpit windows were reacting to the light, the vivid glow of the land below; its sparkling blues and verdant green, the hundred coloured ribbons flying from the turrets of their destination. The luxurious tint of the brick work and wood.

"Yes," said Inara, "that is beautiful."

Lenore nodded from her passenger seat. "Information updated - adding to comparisons database."

Beautiful.

Inara's fingers had nearly slipped from the control sticks as the world unrolled below like a luxurious carpet leading up to the Training House

She was squinting as the shuttle tipped over and yawed into a parking angle, passing across the Training House and curving in towards the landing point. It was so bright. And so... real - Inara could almost feel the sun directly, could almost taste the rush of ozone fresh off the mountains, her skin felt suddenly itchy as if remembering the touch of the cool streams and waterfalls where she had loved to bathe and swim.

Beautiful?

It was paradise.

As the shuttle nosed into the final descent towards the landing square cut into a hillside, Inara was sure that the gates would be locked against them.

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

"Locked!" Stood on the landing, Mal kicked the door at the top of the stairs in frustration and unleashed a vitriolic stream of Chinese cuss-words as though they might burn their way through the stubborn portal. It did no good.

Jayne needed no encouragement - with a yell he stomped full hard against the hinges - there was a nasty sounding crack. "One more," he said hoarsely.

But that would be one too many - as from the stairwell poured a sudden rush of men, armed men and mostly wearing purple. Jayne did the math quick and raised his hands. Mal couldn't, he was holding Inara who was still out cold, but he stopped and pulled an unhappy we surrender face.

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

It was a good thing the girl weighed so little the man in the lab coat had thought as he hoisted her across his shoulders like a steer. And he thought it again as, after fumbling with the door seal, he dropped her, none to gently, onto the couch in the tiny room that served as the scientists' lounge here in the heart of the hidden laboratory, under the roil soaked soil of Scudder518aa54C.

I should've called for a guard, he thought as well, lifting and dumping - that's their job. But, he didn't like the guards all that much - the men in blue saw him as a runt, a nerd, a freak as much as any of the inmates, he knew that. And he knew too, even he knew, that most of all of the men had dashed off earlier for some sort of monotony breaking super-brawl, the details of which had gone in one of his ears and straight out the other. The boys wanna fight? Let them - no interest to me.

But she - this girl - THE River Tam... well he wasn't sure what method might best suit the quantification of his interest but he knew the result anyhow. And it was Win for him and the girl. Girl - small word - wrong word... he should... subject, yes that was right - it was Win for him and the 'subject'. What would she be now? Number 9, yes - since that business with the - and 9 had to be put down. So, hello new number 9. And Huxley can kiss my soon to be promoted ass. Number 9 meet MR Huxley, yes that's right MR Huxley - oh a Doctor? Well, I suppose he is - but that would be me in fact; Dr Wilder, and believe me I am... He was staring down at the girl, the lank hair half covering her pale oval face, the flush of red above her bosom which was rising and falling steadily beneath the opaque half-covering of her vest. ...Or at least I can be, Wilder that is.

He leant down and brushed a thick lock from of the side of her cheek. And the thin steely hand that choked the breath from him came fast and hard and out of nowhere. "Wilder..." River's voice was a white heat of anger, it blasted him. "You want wilder?" "No - no," gurgled the confused man in sudden terror, "I -" "Tell it to number 9!" And River's arm lashed out and up and the scientist crashed back into a hard metallic cabinet and down to the floor. There was a roaring in his ears now - but was that his blood? The girl? Oh God, the inmates! "W-wait I -" But River didn't wait - a combat booted toe kicked him into silence.

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

...Inara had been sure that the gates would be locked against them. But they weren't. Even as she set foot on the landing ramp, feeling her stomach tighten, thinking what have I done - coming back here, after everything, just breezing in and with nothing to offer but a sleazy LoveBot(tm) - as she paused to let her eyes adjust to the wonderful daylight, there they were, girls, peering with wild hope and against all the fear and damage and throwing rose petals and waving sticks of incense and - Sheydra there at the head of the welcoming group, her arms wide and then holding her, just holding her as Inara wept openly. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." and hushing her and stroking her hair and having nothing to offer herself but love. Just love.

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

"Well," Jayne had his grump on and good, twisting the cuffs he was wearing, there were livid red marks forming under the clasp of the iron where his wrists poked out from the green of his army jacket, he looked across sourly at Mal, "that's another fine job gone s-" "Don't say it," Mal cut in quickly, "Mighty tired of hearing that word." "Tired of sayin' it," Jayne growled. He leant forward and spoke to one of the guards. "Where we going anyhow?" "Down the road apiece." Was the response. "Down?" "Uh huh." "As in South?" "South." "South Mal, how 'bout that?" But Mal wasn't listening anymore, he had heard a groan from the woman in his arms and he wasn't doing anything now but feeling the smooth shoulder under his palm - and the warmth of it, of her. Stay warm, he was thinking, stay warm...

He could hear rain now glancing off the top of the transport, the light dwindling as the rickety machine trundled its way down into the valley. The way a bleak looking building up ahead - with only a couple of lights visible, despite the gloom, the place looked abandoned already.

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

The transport come paddy-wagon slowed to a halt just inside the side entrance. "You fellas don't go in the front?" Mal had asked with ersatz outrage. "Seems kind of shabby." No/one had answered, discounting grunts and grumbles and - hell, that was probably Jayne.

Two guards sloped from the shadows up to the sides of the vehicle as its doors opened with a reluctant hydraulic hiss. The driver got to his feet slapping at his lap with his gloved hands. "Rodgers was right," he spat angrily, "this piece of crap carthorse leaks!" The nearest of the two gate guards nodded. "Leaks everywhere," she said, "it's a damn shame." Too cold, too tired, too hung-over and too underpaid to give much of a good gorram anyway - the driver was way too slow in reacting. Zoe whisked his weapons and his legs away and left him in the dirt. She pointed his gun at the others, who raised sullen hands. One or two made half hearted movements towards their holsters but seeing the gleeful anticipation in Cobb's eyes they gave up. Zoe looked disgusted. "My, this must be The Sorry Bunch of which we all have heard and been so mightily afeared." She pointed now towards the wall and the hapless troopers jostled their way to it. Mal was glad to stretch his legs as the door next to him opened and the other faux-guard peered in. "Capt'n?" Kaylee jingled what Mal took to be a skeleton key of some sort and he held out his cuffed wrists. "Aren't you a little short for a purple belly?" he asked. "Sir yes sir!" Kaylee piped back from under her over-size troopers' helmet.

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

For a moment Simon had thought it had all gone wrong - that he had betrayed his sister into the hands of - and that was... and his mind froze. But then his sister had risen and he knew the safe-word she had been training to overcome was indeed no longer effective. One eye still on the screen he was ripping open a med-kit and starting to unfurl one of the blankets. There would be little time once the prisoners were freed, if they COULD be freed - and they were likely to be walking wounded, befuddled and damaged as River had once been.

The girl in question was stood with her head cocked - listening or sensing or, Simon couldn't tell, but she seemed to know because with a snap she was back beside the fallen scientist and rooting through his pockets.

He caught a glimmer of plastic in her hand, ID card. She stepped across to what was almost a turnstile, and inserted the thing.

There was a beep from his laptop and data began to scroll across the monitor. Bless you Kaylee, when that had been stood together in the rain as Kaylee lashed a device to the exterior junction box and cut several wires, as the rain went down their collars and Zoe stood by tense and dangerous, he had been certain it would not work. He was happy to be wrong. There was another beep as the card River used triggered a verification request. Simon tapped in an override that Kaylee had promised would work and the data ceased. There was a final beep - and Simon could see River stepping back in readiness as the inner door locks began to open.

Turning his attention deliberately back to the kit, he pushed away the nagging fear of just what River might find inside.

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

"Here Sir," Zoe said to Mal, "didn't think it would come in handy so quick but..." she passed him a capsule. "Pick me up?" Mal asked as he cracked it under Inara's nose. "So the Doc' says." Zoe replied.

Inara stirred, tear drops leaking from the corner of her eyes. There was a groan, near inaudible but... "Ok," said Mal. "Shiny. And this isn't me and I'm not doing this and if anyone asks - it was you." "Sir?" Mal slapped Inara hard across the face. "Wake up gorramit!" he hissed.

Colour flooded into her cheeks and her eyelids fluttered, another groan, then Inara sagged again. Mal swore. "I don't wanna..." he sighed, closing his own eyes wearily, "we haven't got time for..." Another loud slap made him start - and his eyes snapped open at once. "That wasn't me Sir," said Zoe, "and if anyone asks I'm not here and if anyone asks, it was Jayne." Mal grinned. "Hell I don't mind," Jayne barked from behind them. Inara was groaning again now and slowly, slowly a hand came up to touch her cheek. "Wha?" "Get them peepers open 'Nara, now aint the time for..." She opened her eyes, gazing up at Mal foggily. "Mal? My... face.. I..." "Later 'Nara," Mal said urgently, "things are moving." "Yes," the woman agreed the woman thickly, "they are." There was a buzz and Mal grabbed his comm. "Doc?" "Hurry up Captain -" Simon mirrored Reynolds impatience. "River's on the inside, she needs help - and the alarms are going to go anytime now." "I thought Kaylee fixed that?" Kaylee answered for herself. "Hell, Capt'n I re-routed them all - but sooner or later they gotta come on." "Sooner or later?" Mal was furious. "How soon? When later?" Kaylee shrugged, "Can't say for sure - we got ourselves a little time yet." "Why didn't you...?" "Aww c'mon Captn, I don't know exactly - all I woulda done is confuse things up some more - and like they aint enough already?" Mal bit down on his anger, it wasn't Kaylee and he knew it. "Ok," he said, "let's get moving then - best pick up the pace. Simon - you guiding us in?" Simon gave an affirmative. "At last," Jayne chimed in. "Not you Jayne. I want you here with the car - and keeping an eye on them fellas." He waved at the staggered line of guards." Jayne wasn't happy, "well can I hurt 'em maybe a little?" "No." "Gorram it Mal, I aint no watch dog." But Zoe had already stepped on and Reynolds was moving forward now too, he had grabbed Inara's hand without even realising and she stumbled along beside him, still blinking, still drawing a bead on just what the run-tse duh hoe-tze go-se was going on.

And that was when the alarms went off.

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

River had stood silent as she gazed into the first of the glass cages - her body just stopped. Her toes locked, her fingers clawed in and her she.... stopped. Only her eyes had motion following the thing inside as it hopped and shuffled. She was going to let it out, I'm going to release - my hand is going to... and I'm opening the cages and - she didn't move.

Just watched - just looked in as the thing looked out - and they were eye to eye at the glass.

Then she'd heard a noise from back behind the door and spinning she saw a man framed in the entrance of the lounge, the scientist that had passed her earlier. He too seemed frozen - couldn't take her in all at once, but then his hand dropped to his side and the communicator on his belt.

That did it, River jumped back and turning grabbed the main emergency release lever, yanking it up.

"We got a breech! " She could hear the man yelling. "Purge the tanks - purge the tanks!!"

The lights cut to red as the claxons rose in volume, River could feel the hum of some new machinery down under the metal floor plates. She looked aback - the man had moved to the turnstile, a crazed look in his eye and even as she knew what he was going to do it was too late. The floor under her feet crackled with vicious electric blue fire and she was thrown back against the wall, screaming - she was screaming - the things in the cages were screaming too, screaming with her, they were screaming together, one scream.

The scientist laughed. "Like that huh? You do? Let's see how far you get now!" A voice of pure panic.

But once was enough - some part of her, almost separate, but always active - somewhere on the inside, some part knew the timing and the direction of the charge and when the switch came down again she was zig zagging away and jumping up to grab an insulated strut above.

"Purge the tanks!"

There was an ominous hiss and twisting around the dangling River could see the cage she'd looked in - the glass had turned an evil looking smoky green. Glancing down she could see the same thing happening in the cage she was nearest to. They were going through the tanks one by one, even as the doors were opening. She could see a dark shape stumbling forward, could hear an agonised sound from a throat and then it blundered past her blindly towards the exit.

There was another blast of blue fire and the thing went down just by the entrance, crawled for a moment then stopped.

That was enough, River twisted herself around again and began to monkey swing along the length of the tunnel. Dropping at one point and only just dodging another deadly shock.

Another figure brushed past her clawing and coughing and smoldering.

The scientist was continuing to laugh, openly hysterical now.

Rounding a curve River could see a narrow band of plastic strip - some sort of safeguard - relieved she dropped onto it and hurtled away t the furthest cage, hoping that maybe just maybe the gas hadn't reached it yet. How much have I breathed in? How much, Simon? When she made it to the cage, she didn't even look at the slumped figure, just grabbed it and started to drag.

No shocks.

Dragging and dragging and crawling and stumbling and grabbing and dragging and coughing and falling and crawling and dragging and who did what and when was just a haze and

no shocks

they rounded the curve and River new why the floor hadn't triggered. A glass seal had come down at the end so that now the tunnel itself was filling with gas and beyond the glass the scientist had

stopped

had been stopped. Zoe. Zoe had stopped him. But now she had stopped herself, just staring down at the face of the creatures by the door and then up and coldly through the glass at River and the Reaver. River felt the word in Zoe's mind - it hit her, it hurt her, it hurt. And Zoe wouldn't stop thinking it, wouldn't stop, wouldn't - "Stop!" River screamed pounding her small fists against the glass. "Stop! Just - stop!" Her voice broke into pieces and he flailing beame weaker. "Please" she mouthed the word.. "Please..." She slumped again, her legs going, she began to slide down, keeping her eyes on Zoe desperately. She could hear the Reaver beside her roaring in distress but then went deaf and soon she would be blind and then she would -

With a strangled bellow Zoe spun on her boot heels and smashed her rife butt through the emergency glass and onto the button inside. The reaction was immediate - the lurid red lighting cleared to normal and they could hear the hiss of a sprinkler system in operation. Then there was the noise of the door seal coming open. A strong woman's hands lifting her up and out and the Reaver too, River would not let go of him. Him, she knew it now.

And then as she lay on her back gulping down the cleaner air Simon Tam came running in to the lounge.

"River!" he yelled. His sister had slumped to her knees. "Dying... she moaned ".... dyin'.." "River!" He was at her side now with the kit already open. But with an odd angular movement her head came up and she sobbed, "not me - not me! Them - in there!" a long arm and finger pointing back towards the tanks.

Simon looked up at the rigid figure of Zoe. The woman did nothing for a moment then gave a forced nod.

Above them, Mal and Inara staggered in.

Seeing River on the floor with Simon desperately ministering from the med-kit they both stumbled across. "Doc'," Mal said, "is she -" and then something knocked him down and with a roar the fallen Reaver was on its feet, flailing and threshing. Zoe's gun came up but he knocked her down too, still raging - and then he turned with a screech to the one persona still standing and that was Inara - and their eyes locked - two sets of dark, confused eyes, squinting and blinking under dark curls of hair. And then as one they both went down.

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

"So, that really him?" Mal asked the question, a long while later and really just to get some words out and into the air between them, between Inara and him, here and now and in her room. "Yes Mal, really is. My brother the Reaver." She turned back to the mirror and wiped her face again.

Mal tried a more earnest approach. "How did it - were you ok in there?" "No," Inara said truthfully, "but he was. Surprisingly." She was glad of the flannel, it muffled the tone of her voice. She remembered the struggle - the screaming - a vague sense that there had been furious quarrels - but all could see clearly were her brother's eyes - after she had rammed home the needle. "Huh." Mal considered this. "He knows you then..." "No, not really - " She turned in her chair towards him, one hand flat on her knee, the other placing the flannel back with gentle firmness. "Actually yes," she said, "I think he does - on some level and for now. The memory enhancer - helped. But..." she faltered for an instant then, "and Simon seems to think the Underground might have access to, I mean we could get some more..." "Pax. That's what it is right?" "Yes. Pretty much. Pax." Neither one of them liked saying that word. "And they have... facilities," Inara continued. "Remember the Reaver boy on Independence." "I aint like to forget." Mal recalled those dark events only too well. "Well, it's like that. There'll be people to... and it will take time but... people to..." From a cage to a cage. Suddenly she could not go on. "It's my brother, Mal." Family, kin. It was funny how everything on this boat seemed to come around back to that. Funny. Except it wasn't.

"Anything we can do mean times?" "I don't know - Simon, well he's - doing the best he can right now."

..."I'm grateful Simon, truly," she'd said as they had stood together looking through the glass of the med-bay at the sullen figure of the young man within, his dark hair hanging matted across his face. The resemblance to River during her first weeks on Serenity was unavoidable. As he wont, Simon didn't reply verbally, just made that familiar breathless sound and gave a hurried smile from the side of his mouth. He's the one that's grateful! Inara flashed on that, realising how difficult it must have been for Simon to adapt after Miranda; he'd given up everything for his sister, until finally the only thing he could give was to give up giving. Simon shifted uncomfortably, despite the lightness born of expert training, he could feel Inara studying him. This is an opportunity for him, Inara was thinking, someone to care for. Would he give up his new role, she wondered, maybe he would at that - maybe he wanted to get out from the underground, was it that? Did they, whomever they were, make him uneasy? Had he bitten off more than he could chew? Or was it simply that he would be relieved to get back to what was most natural for him - being a medical man, a doctor. I don't care, she thought brutally, and neither would he in my place. If this is what he wants then all the better, it helps my brother.

"But the others are still - they're frightened Mal, you don't have to have River's gift to see it." She finished, looking at Mal with those dark eyes of hers wide and worried. Mal met her gaze evenly. "'Nara, he's here - he's calm. And he don't get moved on less I say so and you don't want me too then..." "He needs care - he needs me." "And you need him too, I'm getting." "I - I don't know... anymore," Inara said with an effort. "But - give me the chance to find out Mal, for us both."

Mal said nothing for the time, nothing too rushed. Inara looked relieved, took a breath then lightening the mood deliberately she said, "and I want to thank you Mal, getting the crew to agree to... this. That can't have been easy." She smiled, "I'm actually glad I passed out."

Following her lead, Mal allowed himself a deprecating chuckle. "Oh there were ructions aplenty," he shook his head, "fact I aint sure exactly who's still on speaking terms here." He raised his eyes to hers for a second then dropped them again. Inara nodded, "Zoe?" "Some things it's just better you missed," Mal said slowly, "I don't believe that's a kind of argument I'll go looking for again." He rubbed the line of his jaw ruefully. "Not in the galley, that's certain." "There was crockery?" Inara smiled. Truly, the way that they could... Mal and me - we can spin these things on a coin... she loved that. "There was crockery," Mal agreed mock-solemnly. "Preacher helped some," he added. "The Shepherd - he knew about all this?" Mal grinned. "No, not this time - I meant helped Zoe." "See - I figured we needed someone to stay here and be innocent. Any ship on this place - gonna be questions, so when he told the folk here that Captain and crew had gone the Lord knows where - but some at least with the definite desire for drunkeness and fist-fights, well, he was being truthsome." "Hmmm." "Yep." Mal looked a little embarrassed now. "Seems our Shepherd didn't take over kind on that," again with the rueful and the rubbing. Then he brightened and looking up said; "So... You think, him and Zoe?" Inara was nonplussed. "Really?" "Well, I aint saying, but... I believe that'd be a handsome couple." Inara was making 'Ooooh, tell all!' faces, but what she said was, "And you told me that crew and romance don't mix, uh, how many times?" "Bout the same number as you." Mal's voice had sharpened but it dropped again as he said,"Things change 'Nara."

a beat.

"That's why you sent for me?" Inara asked. Mal was on his feet, "Huh? You told ME to come wait for YOU!"

Inara put her hands on her hips as she searched her memory, whilst Mal folded his arms and did likewise.

another beat.

The diffuse light on her hair, the traceried glitter and lace.

Mal grinned. "Actually, I can't remember." he admitted. He was standing awfully close now. Inara gave a pretty smile back. "Actually, nor me." She angled her face looking up at him. She was standing awfully close now. Everything was awfully close now.

The room felt close, their bodies were close, eyes, fingers, lips...

Mal pulled back at the last with a sudden comical look on his face - and giving a sudden watchful glance about for unwanted intruders. "She's not here." Inara's voice was level and pained. "Huh now? Who now?" Mal pulled his face back around. "Saffron..." "Well y'know I..." Mal had a half smile on his face - but it hung there for a moment then died. Like Nandi - he had said similar words to her - that first wild kiss conjuring memories of that trickster minx Yo/safff/bridge - call him suspicious but when lips equal unconsciousness a man gets leery of the consequences. Consequences - tell THAT to Nandi. Yeah right.

But this was Inara - here and now - and he was looking down at the pale of her face and the dark of her eyes. " Maybe..". she said with an effort, fighting her instinct to lash back. "Maybe, if we take it slow." "Slow?" "Slow." "Huh." Then again sometimes Inara just loved the guay out of this big damn maddening man and the sudden real laughter that lit up in his eyes like fireworks warming a cool wintry sky. "Slow... seems to me that claims been staked but we could ask Jayne, maybe, I mean he's affable - on a good day. Mind, slow though, still." And Inara's guffaw forced her mouth open just enough for Captain Malcolm Reynolds to take merciless advantage.

'Least it seemed that way to him. Raising an elegant eyebrow to the heavens Inara fell gratefully backwards.

THE END.

................................................ this fic is for c, y and p - and with thanks to all who have encouraged me:) shine on.

COMMENTS

Monday, November 10, 2008 9:06 AM

2X2


Bwahaah! oh, how much do I want to know what it was Inara said to the 'bot??? *GRINS*

Stool in the face though, ouch! That's got to hurt! A piece of her mind sure, but not literally I hope! ;o) eeee...

I really like the exchange at the beginning between Inara and Shepherd face, especailly all of Inara's little aborted thougts and such.

And then her abrupt meeting with the bar stool *G* And her sinking into her memories, nicely done! The fighting with Mal, with her ready, finally, wanting something more - the sunlight - and Mal still stuck in the shadows... shadows, and Shadow... the past, not the future, his only future.. sad :o(

Intrigued to read more more more!!! Always! :oD

*whispers* oh, and I saw one thing, you call Face 'Book' in the last sentence of that first part ;o)

Monday, November 10, 2008 10:50 AM

KIMBER


"I have over six hundred sexual intercourse and stimulation/relaxation programs. Selection is made by -"

Inara's interruption was immediate and noisy.

"Please wait while Chinese language recognition is downloaded," Lenore requested politely."

---------------------

ROFL! I can't immagine Inara's face when Lenore told her that XD But the Mal part was a bit sad =( Lovley job as always!

Keep flying ;)

Monday, November 10, 2008 3:59 PM

PLATONIST


So... Reavers? It amazes me after all this time writers can still be creative with her back story; she's such a mystery and now an unconscious enigma, ouch! That sounded painful.

I'm confused though, are Bots available through the Guild or are they competition for Companions? Either way ...interesting.

I agree with Kimber, the conversation between Inara and Mal was sad, although, I see Mal consistently seeking a relationship with her (life's too short...) more than vice versa. I always think of her as a runner, afraid of commitment and knowing how painful things will get. I guess we all have our own interpretations at this point.

Looking for more, and I’m glad to see you writing again.

Thursday, November 13, 2008 3:48 PM

PLATONIST


Aww! Nice finish, Mal closing his eyes while he's slapping her and blaming it on Zoe, hilarious! And them forgetting who was waiting on who, and finally the unspoken, it's time to walk the same road, slowly... yeah, right.

Did she just faint?

I also like the River's and Simon's path, will we see anymore?


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