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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - SUSPENSE
On a job for Badger, Kaylee finds a way to pull off a big score - by going undercover as Simon's wife!
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 873 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
There was a lot of celebration aboard Serenity after Mal and Inara brought the Lassiter on with them, and Wash pulled up from that barren, desert patch of Bellerophon. After all, they had gotten away with what Yolanda-Saffron-Bridget described as 'the million-square job', managed to outwit that devious con girl and leave her trapped in the dumpster, and even Mal's stripped nudity quickly developed into a festive joke. (Though he did take the first opportunity to slip down into his quarters and find some spare clothes to restore a bit of captainly dignity with.)
Kaylee had organized an impromptu celebration of their success in the kitchen, but just when they got to the protein cake, Wash called back down. "Wave for you, Captain no-pants. It's our favourite small gnawing critter, from Persephone."
"What does Badger want with us now?" Zoe exclaimed.
"How'd he even route to us here?" Simon chimed in. "Thought we were off the matrix, for jobs like this."
"We are," Mal agreed emphatically. "But Badger does have his own ways, and I haven't managed to learn but a few of them." He considered, looking around slightly. "Guess I'll take it in my quarters."
"You don't want us here?" Simon asked.
"If Badger asks to talk to me, then he has his own reasons for wanting it private," Mal told the doctor, wondering why he bothered. "Else he would a said he wanted to address the crew. Burned enough bridges with them as is willing to pay for our services lately, I don't exactly want to piss the Badge off today."
By the time he'd finished with that speech, Mal was already into the forward crew passage, and from there, it took but a few moments to get down into his own bunk, and turn the cortex screen on. "What can I do you for?"
Badger smiled one of those incredibly gap-toothed smiles, and Mal fought a trace of an urge to shudder. "First off, I understand that congratulations are in order, Mal."
How does he *know* things so quickly, Mal wondered. Well, maybe playing dumb would help establish just how much information had reached Persephone. "Congratulations for what, exactly?"
"Oh, come on now, don't be coy with me. I've heard about the Lassiter job, and when I find your little horsefly leaving the surface of Bellerophon, hear that a certain dirty but lovely young lady was apprehended in a garbage dump of self-same world, and discretely check with the estate of on Durran Haymer to learn that yes, they've just had a theft, and the priceless valuables have not been recovered - it doesn't take much to add things up."
"Hmm... no, I suppose not," Mal had to admit. "So you know the girl in question well?" The realization struck him instantly, and Mal couldn't help but laugh. "She wedded up to you too, didn't she?"
"It does seem to be a favourite mode of operation. Yes, I will admit that I had my espousal day." Badger chuckled. "I also have something of hers that not many of her husbands can boast of."
"Really?" Mal smiled, enjoying this back and forth more than he'd ever have expected. "And just what is that?"
"It would be a signed writ of divorce. Probably not legal, but then, neither is the marriage certificate, not unless her real name is Brittany Wilkinson. Never mind that, though. I wonder how quickly she'll be able to get out of legal custody this time."
"Is this all that you called to talk to me about?" Mal asked, his patience running low now that the big surprise seemed to have run out. And then he thought of something. "Are you looking to move the Lassiter for us?"
"No, no, not about to touch that one. That's the big reason I didn't lend Brittany one of my crews - well, that, and not trusting her further than I could hold to her. Most of the fences who might try dealing in something like that are - well, not to put too fine a point, those are circles I want to be moving in, and sending the message that I can't deal with it myself would show them that I'm not worthy. Better to just ignore the thing completely."
"Oh, well, that's a shame," Mal muttered, wondering why Badger admitted such a thing to him. Was this the little man's way of buttering him up for a different favour?
"Yes. Best person to handle the Lassiter would probably be Niska, but then, you've burnt all your bridges there."
"Any bridge of Adelei Niska leads somewhere that I don't want to go," Mal said automatically.
"Well, in any event, on to business," Badger said with a decisive nod. "Realize that it might be a bit awkward to continue hanging around Bellerophon, but I do have a heist of mine own that I'd like to pull off, around there. No particular plan, but I know how you love to arrange such things yourself, and I have a considerable amount of data prepared about the target. Seems right up your motley crew's alley, and I want this taken care of well."
"Send along the data, and we'll see if we can work it," Mal agreed equably. From what Badger had said, the Lassiter might be a valuable bird in the hand, but that wasn't worth a smaller and cheaper one already sold off. "What's the headlines version?"
"You're familiar with the Baty Power engine, of course?" Badger said. Mal was. It was a clean electrical generator that ran off water, (not necessarily pure,) and exhausted decent air with a touch of helium as it burned. Most important, it was so small and sturdy that it could be carried on a donkey cart, or even by a man in an oversize wheelbarrow. The Alliance kept the supply of Baty generators limited to approved and loyal citizens - of course, some inevitably got stolen once they were in use, but nobody had ever managed to steal their secrets, mostly because the moulded case was almost impervious to attack, and if you managed to get through that, the internal workings were trashed by that point. Back during the war, the use of Baty generators by Alliance troops had been one of the key tipping factors, in Mal's own opinion. That was about as much as he knew, and briefly he told Badger so.
"Alright, that's good enough for a beginning. There's a brilliant Alliance physicist, by the name of Dee Bentley, who lives in the south of Bellerophon, on a garden valley estate. He's hosting a symposium in his gigantic mansion, with the objective of miniaturizing the Baty so that it could fit in a backpack. All kinds of scientist types showing up, mostly other physicists, physical chemists, and a few biologists and bio-radiologists, to make sure that whatever gets tried, it's safe to be around people. The Alliance has approved this little gathering, on the understanding that they keep the exclusive distribution rights of the micro-Baty, through the Blue Sun contract."
"And you want us to get into the conference and... do what, exactly?"
"Steal a Baty prototype that isn't locked up tight, of course," Badger answered easily. "There'll have to be several around, for experimental purposes. You should still be able to move it, carefully, and the instructions for that are in the data that I've just about finished sending. Get it to me, and leave it to my boys to crack the design. Then I've got a competing source to the Alliance monopoly - I'll be able to undercut them out on the rim without anybody realizing it for a while if I'm careful, and even after that, I should be able to compete in terms of price, and keep my supply lines hidden. It's a great product, Mal."
"What's our cut?" Mal said, with a laugh.
"No cutsies, dear, not this time. Nine hundred and fifty thousand in platinum is my price for a prototype, and that's a Senator's ransom, at least. What I make out of that once it's delivered is up to me."
"No deal," Mal dared. "If you get rich off this, then we get our piece of the pie too. And no sending any other independent contractors after it. This is up to my crew."
"Before you've even told me that you've figured out a plan, found an in?" Badger scoffed.
"We'll find it," Mal swore. "Count on it. But once we get the sample, I don't think you're the only one who'll be interested in it..."
"That's *my* intelligence, Reynolds," Badger muttered, his face growing furious.
"And I'm more than happy to deal exclusively with you, since you transmitted the data upfront, Badger; as long as you extend us the same courtesy. Some of the other crews you contract out to - they have a tendency to stir up the hornets."
Badger sighed. "Okay, I think that we can deal."
"That's music to my ears."
Eleven hours later by ship's time, Mal was seriously starting to wonder if he'd been over-enthusiastic in assuring Badger that they'd find a way to pull this job off. The information that the Dyton-born crime boss had sent over was quite comprehensive and thorough, but it had also included plenty of information on the extensive security precautions that were being taken for this conference, which seemed more than adequate to handle any armed robbery, surreptitious burglary, or obvious trickery that the crew of 'Serenity' might be able to manage easily. Falsifying identification also seemed to be infeasible, since this conference was a one-time affair, with Bentley handling the passes and invitations himself.
It all came down to one thing. If the heist was going to work, it would have to be a genuine inside job - and they had no possible 'ins.' There was just no overlap between the crew of Serenity and the list of attendees - their circles were much too widely separated. Even Simon could not claim to have met anybody on the guest list, though he did recognize several names from his studies, or social life back on Osiris.
Everybody was eager to get a new 'big score', though, (well, except perhaps Book, who tolerated the life of crime as reluctantly as ever,) and it was Inara who got the first 'break in the case.' Mal hadn't been eager to let her join in again, but she had insisted on the basis of her 'save' of the Lassiter. "Okay, I managed to get Bentley's cortex address, through a friend of a friend, and I think that I might be able to talk him into a pair of general invitations, for myself and one - client. But they'd be the most restricted type of observer passes, which won't give us that many opportunities. We'd be on-site, but still not to get into the experimentation zones unobserved or anything like that."
"Yeah, I would tend to agree that something like this will play a supporting role, no more," Zoe agreed uncertainly. "We need to get someone deeper in, as well. Who would you pick as your client? Can we manufacture a back-story for him?"
"Yes, and we'll need to scramble to make it something that will pass a cursory background check," Inara said. "Umm... let's see... mister Tam?"
"Me?" Simon muttered. "You want me to play a cover again? I kind of bombed on Higgins' moon, remember."
"Yes, but you did much better on Ariel," Kaylee insisted, always eager to compliment the handsome doctor. "And this seems a bit more like a Core world, even if technically it's on the border. You'll have some time to prepare, and you'll do fine."
"Hmm..." Simon muttered. "Yes, I'll be available."
"Well, we can start laying the groundwork, but nothing that we can't reverse," Mal advised. "You never know."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Zoe put in. "You want to be the one to escort Inara? She made her choice."
"Until we have the rest of the plan, we don't know if Simon will be needed somewhere else," River pointed out. "He might need to be a supporting player somewhere else, with his medical skills - or he just might be the deep-inside guy."
"What?" Simon exclaimed, startled. Kaylee got a thoughtful look on her face and started to skim through one of the files again.
"In the meantime, how are we going to stay clear of the Feds, Mal?" Inara asked.
"Nobody's looking for us, not yet. I don't think that Yo-Saff-Bridge has given us up, and even if she does, the authorities might not likely believe her. Yeah, the Lassiter wasn't found in the dumpster with her, but there are other ways to explain that. It might have gone to the wrong trash collection depot, or dropped off on the way."
"And Wash is doing his usual magic at the controls," Zoe said loyally. "Even if the Alliance is looking, they won't likely find us."
Inara nodded serenely in response. The meeting broke up around that point, everyone heading off to different parts of the ship, except for Kaylee, who stayed at the table in the lounge, continuing to pore over the files.
Book was leaning against the door of the bridge, as Wash sat back in the pilot's chair, checking on Serenity's orbit and the other ships that might be near her every so often. For a long time, neither of them said anything, just comfortable there in silence, and then Wash looked up at his quiet companion and said, "So, how does our current little crime spree strike you, Shepherd?"
Book smiled a bit wanly. "I try not to get too judgmental since I've been riding on this ship. For one thing, although the bible may say 'thou shall not steal', it's hard to read those words in context and not realize that our concept of property has gotten a lot muddier than it was when those words were first written. Taking your neighbour's cow, that he needs for milk, because you feel like having a steak? Not only is that morally repugnant, it's not good herdsmanship or stewardship." Wash chuckled appreciatively. "Swiping something like this Lassiter, which was probably stolen goods more than once already, and not the rightful inheritance of any man living in the 'Verse?" Book sighed heavily. "It's not a moral wrong, but then, I'm not sure that going after this kind of work is really healthy behaviour either, especially for Malcolm."
"You haven't been around much," Wash suddenly decided. "You helped move the cargo from that smuggling run, the one where Mal bumped into Bridget again, and I think somebody mentioned that you helped haul Jayne in again after he'd hurt himself, but aside from that..."
"No, you're right, I've been spending a lot of time by myself," Book admitted. "It's a sort of a spiritual thing, called the Walk of Searching. I didn't try to hold to it as strictly as some of my brothers in holy orders do, but as much as you can, for a period of seven days, you're supposed to meditate and read, and very little else. I helped out when it was obviously important, and I made it to dinner with the rest of the ship's company more times than I excused myself, but aside from that I was in my room."
"Hmm... interesting," Wash said after a moment. "Did you find any great truth as you searched?"
"No, I can't say that I came up with anything truly profound," the man of God admitted.
"What were you reading?"
"Oh, my path included many good books. Some of them were definitely... theological - the bible, and the Talmud, and Kojiki and Qur'an. Then there came commentaries, and written meditations, and debates; also a novella by Jolen Sheris, which I found a very interesting study of the paradox of trying to hold onto faith in a largely secular universe." Wash smiled slightly at that, and nodded silently. "If... if you don't mind my asking, have you had much involvement with organized faith yourself? I wouldn't really ask, except - well, you do seem to be curious about my faith tonight, so I thought I could return the interest."
"No, that's fine," Wash said. "Well, I grew up on a farm actually, not too far from the big city on Beaumonde, and... going to church was something that our family did, but I always got the feeling that it was never as much about God and figuring out how to live your life right, than a chance to meet up with the neighbours each week, and identifying ourselves as better than the folks who didn't attend, and gossiping about anybody who was doing something different from everybody else. By the time I was sixteen, I didn't want to have much to do with it, and I didn't care what my parents said about me when I told them so." He shrugged. "On the other hand, my last real experience with church was my wedding, and that was definitely a great memory, so I'm a little conflicted about the whole thing overall. Sorry."
"There's nothing to apologize for," Book said mildly. "I asked, and that was a clear answer. It does... sadden me that you've seen such a flawed side of the church... but the body of Christ is yet of this imperfect universe, and flawed as all mortal man. Those who are true of heart will strive for the glory of the Lord, but fail all too often, and there are many who wear the sheep's clothing and yet have no true love of God in their heart." He stopped abruptly, and then shrugged.
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Maybe I'll go and see if there's anything at all appetizing in the kitchen," Book said, stepping back towards the door. "I haven't been eating that much over the past few days."
"Good luck," Wash said. "I... I think I'd like to continue this later, after I've had a chance to think some things over."
"You'll know where to find me, I think."
"Yes I will."
Back in the infirmary, Jayne was still laid up in traction, because Simon said that he had to let his spine rest to avoid the possibility of further damage. Inara knocked politely on the door and waited for a response.
"Hello, companion," he mumbled sourly. "If you're going to come in and try keeping me company for a spell, then come."
"All right," Inara said, crossing over to the bed on which the fierce gunman laid, a slight trace of a smile crossing her lips. "Are we feeling a little abandoned lately? Or is it the reverse, too much attention?"
"Neither, I suppose," Jayne muttered wryly. "Simon checks on my poor self every hour or better, Kaylee and the preacher have been by, and the Cap 'n' Zoe both made a point of telling me about this new offer of the Badger's. Any more fussing and I'd be telling people to knock it off and leave me 'lone. But..." He took a long breath before continuing, mindful of Simon's orders not to let his chest move too much while breathing. "I don't do well with this sort of thing. Being sick, or gettin' hurt - the kind of hurt where I can't just keep it heroically to my own self until it recovers naturally, at least. So I'm pretty much impossible to please just at the moment." And then, his face changing mercurially, Jayne shot a very lascivious look at Inara. "Not that I'd be that opposed to you trying' to *cheer me up*, if you know what I mean."
"We always know what you mean, Jayne," Inara said with her best dry tone. "You're not exactly a master of subtlety... which is possibly the only reason anyone on this ship has the slightest fondness for you, your simple forthrightness. As far as that particular suggestion goes -" She paused for a long moment before settling on the single word "No."
"Eh well," Jayne was about to shrug, and then remembered that he wasn't supposed to, and grumbled about it under his breath. "Is there any word about this new heist?"
"Not really, I came up with something that might be a piece of a plan, but far from the whole thing. Nobody's sure where to look anymore, except maybe Kaylee. She was still poring intently through the files when I left her."
"Okay," Jayne said. A silence stretched between them for seconds and seconds, and suddenly he blurted out, "I sold out Tam."
Inara pulled up a chair and raised an eyebrow. "First, to which Tam are you referring?"
"Well, both of them really, I suppose, but I meant it for the Doc."
"And - was this recent? Should we expect the Feds to come board us any minute to haul them away?"
Jayne laughed a few times. "Hey, c'mon, quit it, I don't think I should be doing that. No, this was back on Ariel."
"Oh, I see." Inara had been getting her Guild medical check-up while the rest of the crew had robbed a different hospital on Ariel, but she'd heard of how the caper had gone wrong, and the Tams, along with Jayne himself, had been captured by Feds. "Were they going to let you go later with the cash, or..."
"No, I got double-crossed, obviously," Jayne growled. "Can't trust the alliance snakes to even treat a weasel right. But the thing is - Simon cottoned to it, just now, and he... he said he still trusts me. What kind of sense does that make?"
"I'm not sure," Inara admitted. She suspected that there was more to the whole situation than Jayne had said yet, but didn't really want to get into further details, so... "Can I ask you just one question, Jayne Cobb?"
"For sure you can."
"If you're not even supposed to be laughing, what did you really think I could accomplish to 'cheer you up, if I know what you mean?'?"
Jayne suppressed another chuckle. "Ohh - guess I didn't think it through that far."
Suddenly there was a shouting from outside. "Hey, Simon, Mal, come here! I think I done found it. We've got our 'in'! Come on..." It was Kaylee's voice, delighted by whatever she had found.
They waited until everybody could come before Kaylee started to explain - she had nearly insisted on that much. So Wash put Serenity into a safe parking orbit, with plenty of alarms to alert him to anything that might require his attention, and Simon checked Jayne out and pronounced him fit to go and sit in the lounge for a little while, as long as he was still careful of his spine, and Book lurked on the edges, keeping his disapproval down to a minimum.
"Alright, here it is," Kaylee said, pressing a button on one of the portable screens, so that it showed a color picture, with just a hint of a 3-d effect, and a bit of text around the edge. Looking around at the gathering, she passed it to Mal first. "What do you think?"
"Rickard and Juli Maren," Mal read off the text, while he was trying to figure out what to think. "Scientists, married, long list of schooling and accomplishments - and I've certainly never heard of them before. Have you?"
"No, I haven't," Kaylee admitted excitedly. "As far as I know, nobody here on board has."
"Then how are they our 'in'?" Jayne asked irritably. "I don't get it."
"I think that I've heard of them," Simon started, and Inara nodded as well. "But still..."
"You're missing the point," Kaylee insisted. "Look at them in the picture. Don't they remind you of nobody, even a little?"
"Hmm?" Mal had been about to pass the screen over to Zoe, but at this he scrutinized the image a bit more closely, twisting it this way and that to consider the holographic perspectives. "Well, the guy does seem a bit like our favourite Osiris-born man of learning right here. Maybe something about the good breeding and the better schooling that gives a man that aspect, but still - yeah, they could be brothers at least."
Kaylee was tapping her foot with impatience by this point. "An' what do you think about the girl?"
"Hmm..." Mal considered making a reply, and then decided to draw things out, passing the screen over to Zoe with a bit of a flourish. "What do you think, Zoe?"
"Well, now, let's see." Zoe pondered. "Maybe she resembles that older sister of yours, Kaylee, the one who threw you a party when we got back to Three Hills to sell sugar."
"And so, if she looked like anybody who was a little bit more HERE, somebody who also looks like my sister, that would be..." Kaylee pressed, looking like she was only a few seconds from breaking into tears.
Zoe just grinned slightly and passed the screen on to her husband. "Well, even if the two of you do look like them, and I can't really tell that one way or another, yet, - is that actually a plan? We can't just sneak into the conference, bonk them on the heads when they're not looking, and take their places. SOMEBODY'S going to notice and get suspicious if we do that."
"NO, we're not going to do that," Kaylee told him, just a bit witheringly. "The first reason for that is that they're not going to make it to the conference. Nobody expects them to show up, though they'll be welcome if they - make that, *when we do.* They're hermits, and just about nobody has seen them in months or years, which means that nobody there is going to notice that we aren't them."
Mal turned gratefully to the topic of practicalities, as the screen continued to make its way around the group. "Those sound more like assumptions than facts, little Kaylee, and something always goes wrong. What if they DO go, and show up when you're already there? What if somebody does recognize you for impostors? The Fed guards are going to be right there, all through the mansion."
"There's more to work through, I admit it," Kaylee put in. "So let's work it, get things as tight as we can. But this is better than having no place to start, ain't it?"
"I agree, I think it's worth looking into, at least," Wash said. "But I think that we're going to need to pay a visit to the real Doctors Maren first. There's a lot that we'll need there - genuine ID badges, their invitation passes, information and props to help out the masquerade, up to and including their means of transport if they have one."
"And we can persuade the real Mister and Missus to stay put, right where they usually do," Jayne pointed out. "I'll volunteer for that duty, if I'm able by then."
"Don't persuade them too hard, Jayne," Zoe said. "They look like decent people, and don't need a heavy hand to stay in line."
"Do you want to hang around too, and keep Jayne in line?" Mal asked her quietly.
"Honestly, sir, I'd rather not babysit Cobb again," Zoe replied in more of a stage whisper. "I was hoping that I could stay on board with Wash this time. There's a lot of Alliance around, and a lot of reasons that we don't want them noticing Serenity, and I have a few tricks up my sleeve that could help in just that respect."
"Wait a second," Simon put in. "Can we *find* where the Marens live? Famous hermits usually don't post their addresses on the Cortex. That's not a good way of being hermits."
"It's right there in Badger's files," Wash said.
"Really?" Simon looked around to see who had the screen, and groaned as he saw Book hand it to Inara. "Did Badger expect us to pull this? Maybe he spotted the resemblance, but didn't want to tell you what to do with your own team, Mal."
"Nah, Badger doesn't have that much tact I think," Mal said. "Plus, he was just about as thorough with everybody else associated with the conference in the slightest detail."
"Badger doesn't usually have intelligence this good, come to think on it," Zoe muttered. "At least, not when he depends on his usual snitches. Wonder where it came from?"
"Does Badger know about Mister Universe, Wash?" Kaylee asked.
"Umm - I've never heard either of them mention each other, but you never know," Wash admitted. "Universe would know *about* Badger, of course - and he does need a few things that he can't get by tricking computer systems into shipping them out to him. Maybe he cut a deal."
"Okay, but we know where," Kaylee summarized for Simon. "And it's not too far - over on Whittier. We can go, take what we need from the Maren's place, and get back - just fashionably late for the conference, which sounds better than showing up on time lately. And -- was there anybody who wanted to partner up with Jayne?"
"I think that maybe I will also... enjoy the hospitality of Doctor and Miz Maren," Book said. "Or - does she have the doctorate honorific as well?"
"No, it seems not," Simon said, finally taking the screen himself, the last one in the room to get a good look of his own at it. "Well respected scientist in her own right, a biotechnologist, but never dissertated."
"Well, that works," Zoe said, seeming reassured by the idea of Book tagging along to keep Jayne from going too far. "And that leaves - Inara, do you think that you can actually make my captain look respectable?"
Inara gasped slightly as she realized what Zoe meant, how her options had narrowed with the various teams that had already been set up. Mal just smiled smugly. "Well... he did okay at the Persephone ball... so if I can just keep him from insulting some physical chemist and winding up in a duel to the death with particle accelerators as the weapons, I think that we'll be okay."
Simon let out a choked laugh. "What about me?" River asked.
A few people exchanged glances. "Umm... why don't you stay in the ship with Wash 'n' me, River honey?" Zoe suggested.
"I never get to go anyplace fun," she groused. "Not since the Skyplex."
Simon shot Zoe a confused look, and Zoe just shrugged. "Okay, is there anything else we need to do before setting course for Whittier?" Mal said. There was a moment's silence, and then Mal got up and headed for the stairs.
"I'm on it."
"Could you just wait for me to give you an order, once?"
"Yeah, but not when you're expecting it," Wash wisecracked, and Mal sighed.
"Alright, I guess that does it for my big presentation," Kaylee said, and sighed. "Si--"
She turned toward Simon, and then saw that he was so deeply engrossed in scrolling through the background information of the other scientists that he was probably unlikely to even hear her. Saving face seemed to be called for. "So I'm gonna get out of here for a while. Anybody needs me, I'll be in my b..." She shuddered, remembering how that simple phrase had become a risque in-Joke after Jayne had used it in reference to a pretty female client of Inara's. "Well, you know where I'll be."
"Yeah, alright," Mal said. Kaylee took the forward route, not wanting to bump into Wash on the way if she could help it, but as she crossed the open space of the mostly-empty cargo bay, it was impossible not to notice another pair of shoes making footsteps behind her. Sighing, she came to a stop and dramatically sighed without turning around.
"I hope you don't mind that I came, but I wanted to have a discrete word," Inara's voice came to her, quiet but clear through the space between them.
"I'm not too far from minding," Kaylee complained. "What *is* it?"
"Could we go to my shuttle?" Inara asked. "Nobody would bother us there except Mal, and I don't think he wants to start with me tonight."
"Okay, all right," Kaylee admitted, half-turned, and waited for the much taller Courtesan to catch up with her. She was dressed as elegantly as ever, in a flowing purple gown that covered her from neck to wrists to the tips of her feet, but clung to her figure stylishly. Wearing one of her own much simpler dresses, Kaylee felt quite inadequate and plain.
But she did start to feel better when they were both inside the shuttle and Inara was pouring tea, remembering how close she had felt to Inara when she first rented the shuttle - when Wash, her closest friend among the crew, had been in the midst of his whirlwind romance with Zoe and many of the rest of the Serenity 'family' had found them yet. "So, what's on your head?"
"Hmm? Ohh... well, I just wanted to talk to you about this 'you and Simon being married' plan," Inara started. "It's a clever ruse, to be sure, but somehow I'm not at all surprised that you were the one to think of it first, and I just wondered if you were expecting anything more than finding this power engine that we're after."
"Huh, what?" Kaylee said, shaking her head in agitation. "Come on, I mean... yeah, I'm kinduv sweet on Simon. Ain't a secret to nobody but maybe himself if he's actually forgotten about the time I threw myself at him. Even Jayne called it the first day, in his own unique way, and he ain't what you'd normally call a perceptive man. But - and I've gone all over that just to stress how much this next point is despite the others - but on this occasion, I'm all about the payoff! It'll be... well, it'll partly be nice and partly be very frustrating to have some time to spend with Simon without the rest of you being so much around, and playacting such an -- an unusual cover story with him." She sighed. "I wouldn't-a proposed it unless I thought it was the best way of pulling off the heist, and you know that's the truth. If it was you, or Zoe who could have passed for Miz Maren, or if it were Mal or Wash who'd I'd have had to work with, I'd still be behind this approach. Even - well, Simon-River would have been weird for both of them, and pretending to be Jayne's little woman woulda tested my patience, but... you know what I mean?"
"Hmm," Inara said, and sipped her tea pensively. "I understand everything that you're saying out loud, it makes sense, on both the practical and the fairly rational emotional level. But... but I will admit that I'm still concerned. It's easy to say that you're able to handle this; that working with Simon won't get either of you into trouble of some sort, but... but believe me, I do know how deeply a romantic longing can affect you. Anyone, that is." She started to look off into the distance. "You tell yourself that you're the captain of your own heart; that you can work with him - with this person, whoever he may be. Or she... and that everything will be fine. Live with them, study with them. And then, something small happens that maybe you never expected, or that you knew was coming, but either way it blows you off your balance with a reaction, a passion so strong that you couldn't possibly control it. And as beautiful as that moment might be, once it comes NOTHING is fine and nothing is rational. There's nothing left at that point but to keep walking the tightrope, correcting for the stable footing that you no longer have by swinging crazily this way and that, hoping that you can scramble to some kind of safer footing again. And going into a heist like this one is dangerous enough even if you don't have that extra danger factor of your hormones and your endorphins affecting your judgment."
"Inara, I... I can appreciate that you're looking out for me, for Simon, for the whole gang," Kaylee said. "But I think that you're getting a little over-excited. Nothing is going to happen between Simon and I, especially not on this little trip if we get it organized. Nothing is going to 'blow me off my balance.'" She cocked her head slightly, tea cup held in front of her, completely untouched. "Or was that spiel really about something else, and not me? You and the handsome ex-soldier, pretending that he's one of your rich boys -you're wondering if YOU can keep it together..."
"That is ENOUGH!" Inara snapped, not very far from outrage. "There is... is nothing at all like that between Mal and I. I... I was trying to warn you of a serious danger, but if you're not going to treat me with common respect, then... then get the *tien-huh* out!" And she pointed an imperious finger back toward the shuttle hatch.
Kaylee just smiled confidently. "Well, I came here on your invitation. If you don't wanna talk no more, sure I'll go." Got up, put the full cup of tea on the table, and headed off. Just before making it to the curtain that Inara hung up to make the room look a bit less like a bare shuttle cabin, she turned back and said, "We'll just see what's what back on Bellerophon, I suppose."
And for many minutes after she left, Inara fretted and flustered, trying to meditate but unable to achieve anything much in that respect, wondering if her young friend could possibly be right about her - about her emotional reserve, which was the one thing she had to keep intact if she wanted to remain active in the Guild business.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Monday, May 25, 2009 3:36 AM
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