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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. POst-BDM. Zoe gets to meet the other candidates, and other members of the crew get ready for the meeting. NEW CHAPTER
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 916 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
A.N. A brief note to say that the last part of Jericho Wells dropped off the bottom of the story list quite quickly (due to some other good stuff being uploaded!) so you might want to go back and check that out before this chapter. Jane
“Hi.” The puzzled young woman stood up, trying a smile on for size. She was about Kaylee’s height and weight, but more curvy, going in at the waist as if she was cinched. Her hair was lighter, too, almost blonde but not quite. “I’m Mercy. Mercy Fischer. And please, no jokes about my name. I’ve heard them all, I promise.”
“Zoe Mills. Like the man said.” Cromwell had melted away, but she was sure he was just outside the door, listening.
Mercy glanced down at Zoe’s left hand, at the ring prominent against her dark skin. “You married?”
She chuckled. “Only one of us that is, then. I guess your husband’s a bit more … advanced than the rest of ‘em.”
“Hank’s okay.” More than okay, she thought, but wasn’t about to say.
“Well, I guess I’d better make the introductions. Since no-one else seems inclined to say anything.” She glared at the other women.
“It isn’t like we have to, Mercy,” said the one sitting down. “And I don’t see how come there has to be another candidate anyway.”
“Because it’s the law.” It sounded like a conversation that had been held before, at least from the suppressed sigh in the young woman’s voice. “You know that. Mr Cromwell explained, didn’t he?”
“And he didn’t exactly sound overly pleased, neither.”
“That man doesn’t sound overly pleased about anything,” Mercy said, a flash of irritation in her tone. “I don’t know how his wife puts up with him.”
The woman standing by the window with her arms crossed, made a harsh sound in her throat. “Like the rest of us do. Or like we would, if we were the kind of women men’d marry.” She sniffed hard. “And I don’t see you saying anything to his face, either.”
Mercy sighed, and turned back to Zoe. “We’re okay, really. It’s just … some of us take a bit more getting used to than others.” She smiled. “Like I said, my name’s Mercy.” She pointed to the seated woman. “That’s Polly Adams. Paulette, really, but everyone calls her Polly.”
Polly Adams, her thin face made even thinner by the way her reddish-brown hair was caught back into a bun, revealing a high forehead, nodded briefly. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.” She couldn’t have sounded more like she was lying if she’d tried, and her lips snapped shut at the end of the sentence.
“Likewise,” Zoe said.
“And that’s Sarah Cordell.” Mercy indicated the woman by the window. “She was married, but her husband up and died a year or so ago, leaving her with a couple of kids to bring up.”
“She doesn’t need our life histories,” Sarah said, looking back out of the window and ignoring Zoe. “Just like we don’t need to know hers.”
There was Chinese somewhere in her ancestry, Zoe decided, from her delicate bone structure and slightly hooded eyes. Her hair, cut very short, was black, and what there was of her figure was almost anorexic.
Mercy sighed. “Sarah, it pays to be polite.”
“No. It doesn’t.”
Mercy looked at Zoe. “I’m sorry. We’re not exactly giving you a very good impression.”
“That’s okay,” Zoe said. “I’m sure I’d feel the same way about a stranger coming in like this.”
“Oh, we don’t really know each other. Not really.” Mercy smiled again. “We only really know what we’ve told Mr Cromwell, to put in the leaflets,” she explained. “I think Bea’s the only one actually comes from Jericho Wells. The rest of us … we’re from other places round about.”
“Me. Beatrice Jarvis.” The last woman pushed away from the wall, where she’d been leaning. She was tall, as tall as Zoe, although heavier set, and most of that was muscle. She looked like she’d been earning her living in a physical manner all her life. “Born and bred.” She put her hands on her hips. “Okay?”
“Sure.” Zoe didn’t back down, just gazing at the other woman until she muttered something unintelligible and went back to propping up the wall. Oh, this is gonna go great, Zoe found herself thinking.
“This should be good,” Mal said, letting Freya go ahead of him down the stairs into the cargo bay.
“I’m not sure Zoe’s thinking about it that way,” his wife said, glancing back at him.
“Zoe’s gonna do fine,” Kaylee said firmly, leaning on the railings of the catwalk as best she could, wiping her hands on an already greasy rag. “She’s never been backwards in saying what she thinks.”
Mal stopped, having to smile up at her. “Xiao mei-mei, I’m not so sure about that. Zoe’s always played things pretty close to her chest, far as I can see. And I’ve known her a lot longer’n you.” He continued on to the floor, and almost walked into Freya.
“Yeah, but she’s always told you when she thinks what you’re planning is a bad idea,” his dearly beloved said.
“And I’ve listened.” At her raised eyebrow, he went on quickly, “Okay. I might not have done anything different. But I listened.”
“Yes. And look where it’s got you.”
He grinned. “Yeah. A loving wife and family.”
She glared at him. “That won’t get you out of it.”
Mal pulled her closer. “Of course it will.”
Jayne’s footsteps rang through the bay as he exited the shuttle. “I told you I would, didn’t I?” he was saying. “And I wasn't planning on falling asleep anyway.”
“I was just mentioning it,” River said, following him. “Otherwise I will have to look through someone else’s eyes, and the Captain wouldn’t like that.”
“No more I would, albatross,” Mal said, putting a mock stern look on his face. “Feelin’ you tiptoeing around in there … like an itch I can’t scratch.”
“I don’t look at things I shouldn’t.” She thought for a moment. “Much.”
“That’s better. Best tell the truth, young lady, else you’ll be setting that boy of yours a bad example.”
Caleb was on her hip, playing with her hair. “Mama,” he said, putting a lock of it into his mouth and chewing happily.
“Besides, I thought you were helping Kaylee with those parts?” Mal said.
“She was, Cap,” Kaylee confirmed quickly. “Her and Frey both. I was just fiddling with a couple of things.”
“What kinda things, and does it entail getting into tight places?”
“Never you mind, and no, it don’t.”
The young mechanic rolled her eyes. “Cap, I was just making sure the grav boot was settled in right, ‘fore we can get on with the couplers tomorrow. Shouldn’t take more’n another half an hour, tops.”
“Well, you see it doesn’t.”
“And then I’m going to make sure she gets clean and has something to eat,” Simon said, coming out of the common area doorway and looking up at his wife.
“Well, make the most of the showers while you can, since we might be back on short ration once we leave,” Mal pointed out.
“And there I was thinking we could save water now and take one together,” Kaylee said, a wide grin on her face as she looked meaningfully at her own husband.
“And there I was thinking it was only Frey who had these urges at eight months gone.” Mal shook his head. “Whatever you do, you make sure to keep an eye on the kids. I don’t see this affair going on too long, but you never know.”
“So, how did you come to decide you wanted to stand for office?” Mercy asked, sitting down on the long sofa and patting it in the universal signal for Zoe to join her.
Doing as she was told, Serenity’s first mate pulled her dress around her knees. “Felt like I had to do my bit.”
“You’re not from around here, then?”
“No. I was born on a freighter. In space.”
An odd, almost wistful look spread over Mercy’s face. “Space.” She sighed. “I always wanted to travel, see different places, meet all kinds of new people.”
“Nothing to stop you,” Zoe said.
The wistfulness vanished. “I couldn’t do that,” Mercy said, dismissing the idea. “Where would I go?”
“No.” Mercy shook her head. “Best to make do with what we have.” She smiled. “And you didn’t really tell me anything.”
Well, I’m standing for office so that we can break into the Cortex database and fool it into thinking Simon and River don’t exist. Except if I say that, she’ll think I’m even more crazy than I know I am. Zoe took a deep breath, and lied. “Sometimes a woman feels she has something more to give,” she said. “To make a difference.”
“Here?” Sarah Cordell scoffed. “Lady, you’re in the wrong place if you think that’s going to happen.”
“It’s an official post,” Zoe said slowly. “How can’t it make a difference?”
“Oh, lots of ways.”
“Sarah,” Polly Adams warned, her face still set and tight.
“Well, we all know it. I don’t know why we’re still involved in this farce.”
“Because we need the cash,” Bea Jarvis said bluntly. “You know that’s the only reason why we’re standing.”
“Cash?” Zoe echoed.
“The salary,” Mercy explained. “Whoever’s elected gets a decent stipend, at least for the length of office, and they can take on their own staff.” She glanced around the other women. “It’s kind of traditional for the defeated candidates to get those jobs.”
“I see.” Zoe did, and it didn’t make her current view of Jericho Wells’ society any better. “So how come there’s only four of you? I thought there was supposed to be five candidates for each post.”
“There was.” Sarah pushed away from the wall.
“Olive Drexler,” Mercy confirmed. “She had to drop out.”
The four women glanced at each other, and Zoe could tell that, even if they didn’t know each other that well, there was a kinship there. It might only last for these few days, but they were connected, set apart from everyone else. She’d seen it in the war, when young men and women were thrown together and became a fighting unit because someone else was trying to kill them. Maybe it wasn’t quite so firm, and they weren’t likely to ever form the kind of friendship she’d made with Mal, but it was a link, nevertheless, and one she needed to be careful of.
“She … got hurt,” Mercy said softly.
“Her husband beat her up until she had to go to hospital,” Bea expanded, then added on the looks she was getting, “We were all thinking it. Someone had to say it.”
“Mr Cromwell said she fell down the stairs,” Polly said, her lips tightening even more into just a thin line.
“Yeah. Then she got up and did it again.”
“Did he get bound?” Zoe asked.
Sarah laughed. “Of course not. She didn’t even swear out a complaint against him.”
“Why not? The hwoon dahn shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.”
Polly Adams tightened her mouth even more at the cursing, but Mercy merely shrugged. “It’s just how things are done here on Jericho.”
Mal had mentioned how he was beginning to hate that phrase, and Zoe was beginning to agree with him.
“So, how is she?” Mal asked as he and Freya walked through the still warm, leafy streets of Jericho Wells, Jayne a few steps behind.
“Uh huh.” He slipped his arm around his wife’s waist, and felt her reciprocate.
“She’s … well, if it was anyone else I’d say she was nervous. And … angry.”
Mal smiled. “Now the second I can understand, but the first? I kinda find that hard to believe. Though I recall when she married Hank … but who wouldn’t be nervous about to say ‘I do’ to him?”
She pinched him lightly. “Hank is a great guy.”
“Did I say he wasn’t?” He looked askance at her. “You know, I've always been a mite suspicious of you and Simon, but maybe it’s my pilot I need to be keeping an eye on.”
“And there I was thinking we’d been careful.”
“Not enough, xin gan.” He leaned down to brush his lips across her cheek, but felt her stiffen slightly. “What?”
She was looking around. “They don’t like public displays of affection.”
His eyebrows rose as he caught the expressions of the people passing by. “You feel that?” he asked, keeping his voice low enough so only she could hear.
She nodded slowly, lowering her defences just a shade. “Their antagonism. Resentment. Uncomfortable to the point of –”
“Frey.” He pulled her around so he could look into her eyes directly. “You stop peekin’ right now and you come on back to me.”
She looked a little shamefaced. “Sorry.”
“Not your fault.” He glanced around. “So if’n I kissed you properly …”
“There’d probably be a riot.”
“Sounds like a plan.” He smiled and pulled her closer, crushing his mouth onto hers, hearing more than one sharp intake of breath from someone who then hurried on, probably disgusted and appalled.
“Damn it, Mal, you gotta do that in public?” Jayne complained, and Mal could feel Freya laughing.
“Yes,” Serenity’s captain said shortly as he came up for air. “And I still get nightmares over what I got an eyeful of when I caught you and River doing … what it was you were doing when we were on Midas last.” He shuddered dramatically.
“Aw, come on. You know I can’t say no to my moonbrain.”
“Try. Particularly out where anyone can see you.”
Jayne grumbled under his breath, and the only words that were audible were mostly Chinese and obscene. Then he said clearly, “You know there ain't no whorehouses here, don’t yah?”
Mal glared at him. “And you’d know that … how?”
“Looked it up. Closest is half a continent away.”
“Now, bearing in mind you’ve got a wife and child back on board Serenity, think before you answer this next question. Why would you be wanting a whorehouse?”
Jayne kicked at the dirt. “Not wanting. Just saying. Don’t never trust a place where there ain’t none.”
Mal didn’t respond, even though he privately agreed with the big man. It wasn't that he had ever frequented such places – well, not since he was first in the Independent army, anyway, and that was a story he hoped Freya would never find out – but somewhere that didn’t accept the baser instincts of some men tended to have odd ideas about other things too. “Well, just keep it in mind that we’re only gonna be here for a few more days. Then we can shake the dust of Jericho Wells from our heels and never think on this place again.”
“Can’t be soon enough, Mal.”
They continued on their way towards the Town Hall, aware of Freya’s warmth against his side. He smiled at her. “So what’s Zoe angry about?”
“I’m not sure. Someone told me to stop peeking.”
He laughed. “So I did.” A yawn caught him without warning, and his mouth opened wide before he had time to cover it with his hand. “Sorry,” he said when he had it back under control.
“Are you okay?” she asked, her hazel eyes studying his face closely. “It’s been a long day –”
“And it ain’t getting any shorter.”
“– and you didn’t nap this afternoon,” she finished, ignoring his interruption.
“And whose fault was that?”
“I was busy helping Kaylee, remember? With that grav boot. So we can fly out of here when your grand plan succeeds.”
“Not my plan, ai ren. Mostly River’s.” He smiled. “’Sides, you know I don’t sleep well without you next to me. Something about that side of the bed being all cold and bare … ain’t natural. Just can’t seem to drop off.”
“You tell Kaylee she’s gotta be truthful,” Jayne muttered from behind them, “but there you are lying through your teeth. You know damn well whatever you’re doing in the afternoons in your bunk it ain’t sleeping.”
“Jayne, the septic vat needs doing.”
The big man speeded up to walk alongside. “Fine. I’ll do it. Just so’s I can have the pleasure of tellin’ you what we all know. And what we know is you’re worse than me’n’River, even the doc and Kaylee. In fact, you’d give a pair of cats in heat a run for their money.” He lengthened his stride and moved ahead.
“Is it me or is Jayne getting more fractious lately?” Mal said surprisingly mildly, watching his gunhand marching along.
“Lack of weaponry,” Freya said succinctly.
“Remind me to put him in the front line next time we get shot at.”
Freya laughed. “Now you know River won’t like that.”
“Hell, she’d be next to him.”
The Town Hall came in sight, and there was a surprising number of people milling around outside the rather grand building. Jayne had already pushed through the crowd and gone inside, but there was another familiar figure watching them arrive. Leo Gunn, in his best striped shirt and pressed pants.
“Leo,” Mal said, nodding just the once.
“Mal.” Leo grinned. “You’re surprised I'm here, ain’t you?”
“Hell, I ain’t gonna let an opportunity like this go by. It’s been a month of Sundays since there was the prospect of any kind of ruckus.”
“What makes you think there’s gonna be today?”
The scrap merchant let out a wheezy chuckle. “I’ve met your second, remember? I doubt she’s gonna take any crap from the likes of this lot.” He jerked his head over his shoulder towards the good folk of Jericho Wells. “And they’re gonna offer it, believe me.”
Mal glanced at Freya, who suddenly looked more serious, and felt something crawl up his own spine. “Well, best be getting to our seats.”
“I’ll be in the back,” Leo said. “Making sure no-one locks up the doors before the Alliance gets here.” He laughed again, highly amused at his own joke as he strolled inside.
Mal couldn’t help the lift to his lips. “It might all be an act, but I kinda like that man,” he murmured, then put his hand in the small of Freya’s back to urge her to follow.
Jayne had found seats about a third of the way back by being intimidating, thus relieving a little of the tension from his body. He waved at the others to join him.
“Where’s Hank?” Freya asked, her eyes scanning the crowd.
“Front row,” Jayne said, just as she found him. “He looks like he’s been here a while.”
Hank had sunk down in his seat, his arms crossed, legs stretched out, giving a very respectable impression of a man asleep.
Mal shook his head. “I’d’ve thought he’d be a mite more interested in the proceedings.”
“He’s not asleep,” Freya said. “He’s trying to send Zoe all his energy.”
“Yes.” She sat down, easing her back against the wooden seat.
“So he’s catching it off you and River?”
For some reason Jayne sniggered under his breath, just as a man stepped out onto the stage at the end of the hall.
“Good citizens of Jericho Wells, please take your seats. We are about to begin.”
to be continued
Monday, June 01, 2009 12:09 PM
Monday, June 01, 2009 1:07 PM
Monday, June 01, 2009 1:14 PM
Monday, June 01, 2009 4:42 PM
Wednesday, June 03, 2009 1:11 AM
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