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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
This is the next chapter in the story of what happened between the laying down of arms and the picking up of passengers. Mal and Zoe come to some decisions about their future. Oh and there is a slinky dress.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1977 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
THE PRICE PAID--CHAPTER FOUR –SOMETHING FRIVOLOUS
This is the next chapter in the story of what happened between the laying down of arms and the picking up of passengers. Please feel free to let me know your criticisms. I really am interested even if you didn’t like the story, hell, especially if you didn’t like the story. Once again I would like to thank Archer for his tireless beta. At his suggestion I am putting the glossary at the top to make translation easier.
All of the customary disclaimers apply, please do not archive without permission.
They didn’t make it on the next boat but the one after that they got the berth. He must have done his best for the woman, because the berth was a good one. The ship was a converted troop carrier, now used to carry terraforming crews to the outer rings but had to refit at the Eavesdown Docks on Persephone. They got a miniscule cabin to themselves for the two week trip, giving them time to map out a plan. She had known he was hatching something since before they made it to Relocation and she figured he’d tell her when he was ready. He was ready the second day out.
He came in to their berth to find her reading on the bunk. She could tell he was nervous as he wandered around the tiny cabin picking up and putting down the oddiments that collect when people live in too small a space, her hair combs, the chess pieces left on the board, his razor. Seeming to make up his mind to take the plunge, he turned to face her and took a deep breath.
“Zoe, I’ve been studyin’ on what to do when we get to Persephone.”
She put down the book and gave him her full attention. “You ain’t serious about buying a spread.” She made it a statement not a question.
“I made up my mind, ain’t never gonna call a place home that someone can take away from us again.” He looked at her with an unreadable expression in his eyes, only the restless movement of his hands betraying his anxiety. “If you want to settle, we’ll get the money and find you a place you can call home, but I can’t.” He looked up from the chess piece he was turning over in his hands, to see how she was taking it.
“Home is where you are Mal. If you aren’t there, it ain’t home. I think we’ve finished talking about that.” She said with quiet finality. “You have something in mind?”
“You know those boys I brought to witness the—uhm, you know—doin’s with the chaplain? Well they’re pilots. They were with the Angels and got shot down over the Valley. Anyway, I been talkin’ to ‘em about--uhm, about things.” Nervous, but determined, he took the next hill at a dead run. “I think we should buy a ship.”
She was surprised, “A ship?”
He went on urgently, as if needing her to see his vision, a glimpse of the old impetuous Mal peeping through the misery of the past year. “A deep space transport. If we get a ship there’s plenty of work to be had on the fringes. We can take jobs as they come, live like real people, never be under the heel of nobody ever again. No matter how heavy the Alliance hand is we just avoid ‘em, just keep movin’ . . .”
She heard her own voice echo across the years “Never stay in any place long but always have our home safe about us.”
His eyes lightened as her words told him that she saw what he did, “I know we could do it. It might take us awhile to make it happen but we got the start of it with the money Mama sent. Look for deal on a second hand ship. Put together a small crew, them we could trust—them as wants a free life. We could do it, Zoe.”
It came to her that this would be the life she was born to. The rhythms were in her blood. It was with a sense of rightness that she realized her answer was already given, that in her heart she’d already said yes. So the only thing left to do was say it out loud. “We will do it, Mal.”
After that he took her to the mess and introduced her to Mike Tanaka and Rafael Arreola. They had both been at the wedding but had excused themselves immediately after, assuming the newlyweds would want to be alone. This was the first time she’d had a chance to size them up. She liked what she saw.
Tanaka was in his late forties, capable and matter of fact, of mixed Japanese-Hindi ancestry. He had the puckish sense of humor which seemed to be common among pilots, at least those who’d enlisted with the Independent forces. They were an iconoclastic bunch. Commanding them in the war had been compared to herding cats. He’d been a deep space trader in the before. He had joined when Alliance blockades made it impossible for a free man to make a living. Rafe Arreola was in his mid-thirties. A small man, he reminded her of a wren, small, round and brown with bright active eyes. He’d served with Tanaka since the earliest days of the war as a gunner but he’d been trained as an engineer.
Tanaka had mothballed his ship on Verbena. Their plan was to get passage from Persephone, pick up the ship, get her space worthy and run a cargo of black market war surplus from Boros to New Hall. They needed an extra man, one who was handy with a gun and could be relied upon not to lose his head nor talk after. Tanaka was willing to take on Mal, give him a crash course in the basics of shipcraft, show him the ropes and give him ten per cent of the profits.
She heard them out in silence raising one eyebrow at the obvious omission of her presence. “And what am I expected to do while this is goin’ on? I’m not really the type to sit and embroider doilies.”
“You got that thing that you have to do on Shadow.” Mal had said with heavy meaning.
He continued as if she had not interrupted him, “This run with Mike and Rafe should take about eight, maybe ten weeks. Should give you all the time you need to do what you gotta. We’ll meet up back on Persephone and look for a ship of our own then. Mike says he knows a shipwright that’s middling honest, he’ll give us an intro, see we’re only passably cheated.” All said with a dazzling smile as if to dare her to say anything in front of the others.
She knew Mal was up to something, so she gave the pilots a slow smile and said nothing while they talked of ways and means of taking ship from Persephone to Verbena, where to get the cargo and how to avoid the customs agents on the Alliance Cruisers currently deployed at the rim to prevent just such freebooting. After what seemed endless cups of a beverage that could be called coffee only with the grossest disregard for truth, the thing was in a fair way to being settled. Except for the part where she still wasn’t quite clear on why she was going to Shadow. So she got to her feet and collected Mal with a look that said ‘Now’ as clearly as if she had shouted it.
Mal smiled easily, as if it was his idea to leave. He’d always had a knack for getting ahead of a mob and calling it a parade. “We’ll be talkin’ on this a whole lot more before we hit dirt, I’m sure, boys. Glad we can do bizness on this. I’m sure we’re gonna work fine together. I hope you’ll excuse us, but me and the missus are still by way of being newlyweds.” The last said with a lecherous smile, and they were out of the mess on their way to their cabin.
“You did that to annoy me didn’t you, sir?”
“We-e-l-l-l”, he said with a grin, “no, that was a bonus. I said it because I could tell if you sat there without saying anything for one more minute, blood would start to leak out your ears. And as amusing as that sight might be I felt it might be counter-productive to what I am trying to accomplish here.”
“And what would that be, sir?” She said as they entered the cabin and shut the hatch behind them.
“Why, to convince you that you need to go to Shadow, not on a ten week jaunt as an apprentice smuggler.”
“And why exactly would I be going the very place we’re proscribed from bein’ and us not one month out of camp?”
“Look Zoe, one of us needs to go. We need to see Jimmy about the spread and get what funds are due us. We’ll need them to get up and flyin’.”
She looked at him skeptically.
He met her eye and told her the real meat of the situation. “We need to get a line on Avery. You’re better at keepin’ a low profile than I am. Now may not be the time, we may not be able to move for a long time. But we gotta have the intel on this guy now so we can track him. I ain’t lettin’ go of this, but better right now if I’m not on the same planet with him, I’m thinkin’.”
She reluctantly nodded her agreement with his thought there. He was in no fit state to exercise the self-control not to get himself killed if he met the man.
“You can go back as my wife, go in civies, no mention of enlistment. No one who knows is ever gonna give the time of day to the Feds. Look around quietly. See what the landscape is and see if you can set Jimmy or someone else we know to keep a quiet eye on Avery and let us know from time to time which way the wind is blowing with him.”
She thought on it for a bit. It was rough, they would have to work out the details, but they’d have plenty of time before planet fall. It made sense. Mal took her silence for assent and went on.
“While you’re there you can file for annulment on grounds of desertion—tell them you haven’t seen me in months, don’t know where I am. You can publish the notice on Shadow. It’ll all be nice and legal and you’ll be single again as soon as the cat can lick her ear.”
She gave him a dazzling smile of comprehension. “Nobody who is divorcing a no good deserting philanderer of a husband would be acting for him in any underhanded way, would she sir?”
“Philandering? Who said philandering? Deserting I said, not philandering.”
“But you were philandering sir, went with that shameless pofù right in front of my face, for three weeks. You were an insatiable philanderer!”
“I knew I was gonna pay for that, some day.”
“Well, sir, that day has dawned.”
After what seemed like endless discussions over not-coffee they had a plan. It appeared they would need about fifty thousand credits. According to Mike Tanaka, sixty would be better. A second hand ship, nothin’ flash but sturdy and serviceable would run them thirty, maybe thirty five thou. Figure another ten thousand to refit, upgrade, and provision her. That left a meager five grand to bankroll them until they could start to turn a profit and out of that they’d have to hire at least a pilot-navigator and a mechanic to keep her in the black. They would provide the muscle and brains. It was left vague as to who was to be the muscle and who the brains.
Zoe would go to Shadow. She’d go in as his wronged wife and file for annulment by notification. She’d get the lay of the land on Avery and see to whatever business needed doing about the ranch. She’d decide after talking to Jimmy whether a buy-out of their shares would be feasible or they would have to take the income for a few years until times got better. The drovers were family and you didn’t strap family just because you were hurting your ownself.
As soon as the ramp was down on Persephone they headed out for the bank. Each wearing their only set of civvies, issued at the relocation center and screaming ‘displaced person’ as clearly as if they had just worn regulation Browns. They arranged with Tanaka and Rafe to take their bags and meet at a modest doss The Pilot’s Wife on the edge of the Eavesdown Docks. The area was notorious but Tanaka knew the proprietor and said they wouldn’t be robbed or raided.
They walked through the raucous colorful crowd of the port slightly dazed with the noise and variety of the street life. After the sameness of the POW camp and military posts, the hubbub was disorienting. Weaving their way through the vendors crying their wares and ships pursers trying to hustle passengers, they followed Mike’s directions towards the edge of the port and into the quieter lushness of the commercial district.
The Alliance Bank of Credit and Commerce was a temple to the wealth of the Core Worlds and they felt as conspicuous in it as a drunk at a Temperance garden party. But nothing could have been smoother or more polite than the exquisitely dressed, bland faced youngster who shepherded them to a private office for pass-worded accounts after they made their needs known. They were given forms on which they impressed their thumbprints and each listed their ‘middle name’ and they were given their money. It came to just over thirty five thousand credits.
A good start, but not a ship. Well they hadn’t really expected it to be. It seemed they could leave the money on account there, drawing interest, and get a draft by wave from any affiliated branch, so that’s what they did. Mal took fifteen hundred out in cash. They were going to need to be outfitted and good weaponry didn’t come cheap, but bad weaponry was an expense they couldn’t afford. Zoe would need money for transport and what with one thing or another she might need a sweetener here or there, the war had pushed even the price of bribes up.
They went first to a gunsmith, recommended this time by Mike. It was a small shop, family run and it was clear that they loved the weapons they sold. No laser or sonic weapons at all, just projectile. Fit for use in the black or dirtside. Nothing fancy, just honest value at a fair price. No fancy gentlemen would look for dueling pistols here, more fools they. Mal
selected a revolver- a revolver wouldn't jam, and if it misfired, just pull the trigger again and let the next round do the job. He liked the feel of it, solid on his hip but leaping lightly to the hand from the holster, not a hair trigger but a very smooth pull. He bought a rifle and shotgun as well, and the smith threw in a holster. Not new, but well oiled and clearly cared for by someone who knew how; and why it was important.
Zoe got a sidearm as well, a lighter piece more suitable to her upper body strength and the smith threw in the holster on hers too. At Mal’s suggestion she got a belly gun to carry on Shadow where concealment might not come amiss. Just as they were leaving another weapon caught her eye, a shotgun, sawed off and fitted with a wooden dueling grip. It was a vicious, lovely thing. No real range to it but deadly in close quarters and the buckshot would have no possibility of piercing even the thinnest hull plating. She remembered her father keeping something very like it on the bridge of the Atticus Finch in case of Reavers or brigands. So she made Mal buy her that as well. It made a sizeable dent in their funds but they both felt truly free for the fist time since they laid down arms.
Neither felt comfortable heading for the City Center with its luxury malls, probably luxury prices too. So they looked for a mercantile near the docks. They found one in a slightly better-class neighborhood and did their first civilian shopping in over nine years. Mal made do with three sets of clothes, much like the ones he grew up wearing on Shadow. One to wear, one for the wash and one for the drawer, Mama used to say. He bought a good pair of boots and two pairs of suspenders. If he was going back to a belted sidearm he wouldn’t want a second belt around his middle.
He insisted that Zoe do a little more damage to their bankroll. He convinced her that her role on Shadow would require more than the three serviceable sets of pants and shirts, which is all she set out to buy. It was true, but the real reason was because he wanted the joy of watching her shop for pretty things. It was such a little thing for most people, to watch a pretty woman buy a dress. But for him, and for her, it was the first time. She’d only been eighteen when she’d followed him to war. She’d worn pants most the time, with party dresses homemade or ordered by catalogue. Besides the blouse she’d worn to her vows, bought on that long ago liberty, he’d never seen her buy anything pretty just for herself. He wanted her to have that. He wanted to have the memory of it for himself.
She started out getting a divided leather skirt and vest which set her figure off so well it would have started a riot in most of the local bars. But it was still practical to wear and travel in. She got a couple of skirts in dark sensible colors with shirts to match. As she shopped he watched her eyes keep straying to something deep green and glittery but when he urged her to try it on she demurred.
“Got no use for such fooferal.” She said regretfully.
“I think the very point of fooferal is not to be useful.” He drawled. “Come on Zoe, give a fella a rush, let’s see you in the thing.”
She let herself be persuaded and he lounged in the store while she went behind the curtain to try it on. He heard her muttering to herself in gentle complaint about the wastefulness of the thing. Then he didn’t hear anything for awhile.
“Zoe, you alright in there?” He caught the clerk’s eye and winked as he said “Do I need to mount a rescue op?”
Just then the curtain rattled on its rod and a total stranger stepped out to confront him. Zoe King looked like a courtesan from the palace of some ancient prince of Earth-that-was. The dress was cut long but any pretense of modesty was destroyed by a long slit up the front to mid-thigh. The hem skimmed her ankles, which was good, because it didn’t have an over-abundance of material in the top. The front was cut low, plunging to her waist and the back was non-existent. It was a marvel of engineering that the thing stayed on and it was clear that under the gown was nothing but beautiful woman. Mal’s eyes ‘bout popped out of his head.
“Who are you and what have you done with the gal I came in with?” he quipped.
“Oh Mal, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” She said wistfully.
“Nah, you’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, bao bei.” He said it so reverently it made her laugh. “Woman, you got to buy that thing.”
“What will I ever do with somethin’ like this? It’s a waste of money” She seemed shy of him as if they were strangers.
“Zoe, believe me when I say to you that nothin’ that makes you look that good is a waste of money.”
She’d laughed again, a little breathlessly, as if tears might not be too far away.
“Hey, young fella, you got something to put on her feet to go with this number?” He’d looked at her and waggled his eyebrows. “Somehow I don’t think them boots are gonna to make the cut.” He said laughingly.
She still looked askance at him, so he said to her with quiet sincerity “Zoe in all the years I known you I ain’t never given you anything frivolous. I want to have the memory this one time of taking you shopping and buying you something for no other reason than it makes you happy. Let me have this one memory.”
He saw her suddenly relax and they weren’t strangers anymore but back to being Mal and Zoe, like always.
“Well, I guess I can always be buried in it.”
To be continued. Next Chapter Five--All in Cages
Tuesday, July 15, 2003 5:40 PM
Tuesday, July 15, 2003 6:43 PM
Tuesday, July 15, 2003 6:46 PM
Tuesday, July 15, 2003 8:17 PM
Tuesday, July 15, 2003 10:03 PM
Thursday, July 17, 2003 7:11 AM
Friday, July 18, 2003 11:30 AM
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