Through other eyes
Friday, February 12, 2010

On the last leg of her journey back to House Madrassa, Inara reflects.


Big thanks to GillianRose for developing this with me. It's nowhere near what I hoped nor what I think she could have done with it. But good enough is, I hope, good enough.


Inara was heartily discouraged by how easily she slipped back into her old House-centered way of life. During her journey, with the freedom of the Black still clinging to her, she had thought that would make her own way to the vast complex housing the headquarters of the Guild. There she had thought she would – charmingly – demand accommodation in one of the suites maintained for visitors.

But the way that the crush of people around her increased as she tried to make her way out of the port, the way they called out her name, taking capture images of her, jostling, reaching out and trying to touch her, told her that her fame would make impossible the independence that she had become accustomed to during her absence.

And she froze. Not wanting to go backwards to the life she had just left, or forwards to the life she had known before.

It was the Guild’s port representative, arriving with several security guards, who facilitated her departure: the guards cleared a path, the representative guided her with just a hint of a hand at her elbow, led her towards the exit, explaining to her that a Guild transport vehicle was waiting and that her luggage would be sent separately.

She didn’t even ask where it was going. She sat half-stretched out and motionless on the expanse of well-upholstered back seat, taking in without wanting to the scenes that passed on the other side of the discreetly-tinted windows. Familiar scenes: the industrial buildings and rice farms surrounding the port, small villages dotted along the express route, the beginnings of the capital city’s sprawl of suburbs. It was night, and the street lights strung from poles flashed diagonal stripes across Inara’s face and body. The lights changed: controlling traffic, warning of works, illuminating landmarks, declaring commercial and political messages. Floodlights casting their beams on Sihnon’s main assembly building, where, at this time, there was no one to be seen.

“Go through Xio-Tzu please,” Inara said to the driver, without moving. The heart of the capital, if you were looking for food, entertainment or shopping. This street, filled with strolling window-shoppers, the home of the planet’s most celebrated couturiers; the next lined with an endless variety of bars and restaurants whose clientele spilled out on to the road. And here the theatres, one of them showing a play that had been running when Inara had left.

A little further along the capital’s opera house where, one of her biographers claimed, her ascent to super-fame had begun. The evening she had – by contract, of course – accompanied David Yo to the premier of a avant-garde new work. But how everyone had longed for it to be a non-contracted pairing! It couldn’t be possible that the soccer star needed to engage a Companion, when there wasn’t a marriageable woman on the planet who would have declined an invitation. It was the same whenever they were seen in public: analysis of their body language and the compatibility of their clothing, comments by ‘friends’ about how their relationship was developing or unravelling, speculation about the size of Inara’s belly.

And all of the time she had truly been in love, as far as a woman as protected, watched even, could be. And no-one, absolutely no-one knew. It was the need – considered essential for a Companion at Inara’s level - to have complete knowledge of the Shih Ching that provided the opportunity. Old Lin, the teacher that House Madrassa had used for what seemed like centuries, had died, and a young student was employed to take his place. Inara had only recently made her first appearance in society as a fully-fledged Companion and was considered by her mentors to be at a most delicate and vulnerable stage in her development: her powers were at their height and yet she did not yet possess the maturity and experience to be sure of being their master. She had been inundated with male attention from all sides, from high and low, after captures of her subsequent appearances were shown all over the Cortex, and was receiving requests from men who had, neither personally nor in terms of their connections, ever been known to the Guild.

It was worrying; it created a responsibility among her older Sisters concerned with her training to guide her, for her own good and for the good of the House. They agreed that it would be wise, until Inara had refined her own tastes and developed some experience, to go through proposals with her, to maintain a close interest in her client roster, to ensure that the passion that she provoked did not damage her or anyone else.

They made sure, then, to be on hand when Inara had her language lessons. Not to be actually in the room – which would have been unsubtle – but to happen to be passing when she entered and when she came out. Just so that she knew, just so that she was aware of their presence, just as a way of embodying the prudence that they wished her to exercise.

The teacher, Xianbo Cyao, had been carefully vetted. He came from an ordinary Sihnonese family, father an engineer for a cortex-development company, mother a teacher, two younger sisters still at school. The young man seemed to have all the right interests, habits and goals and to properly appreciate the opportunity that employment by House Madrassa while still only at the outset of his academic career offered him. And very talented, too, of course.

It was a disappointment, then, when he attended an evening at the House, at which Inara was to recite a selection of the poems they had been studying, that he made some unexpected comments about the Unification War. They were silly, underdeveloped, and the war had ended three years earlier, but the fact that there were two colonels in the room at the time only underlined the young man’s lack of judgement in making them at all.

It seemed a shame, nevertheless, when they heard that he had been fired from his position; moved to another off-world that lacked the prospects that his previous one had guaranteed. The dishonor, of course, would affect his family, but the matter was not worth pursuing, it was decided.

The Opera House was well behind her now, but Inara was still thinking about Xianbo. They had delighted, gloried in deceiving the House Sisters. They had sat chastely during their lessons, going over, around and under the lines of the poems, only occasionally touching hands; but after, when the Sisters thought he had left the House compound, Inara had hurried out to meet him at the gate where deliveries were made. And there, in the lee of the wall, beneath the spreading crown of a flame tree, they had laughed, whispered and kissed, sometimes going further than kissing, as far as the circumstances would permit.

She remembered being told that he had been fired, demoted. And, still intent on maintaining their deception, still believing that there was a need to deceive, she had said nothing. It was Xianbo himself who had made clear to her that their relationship was absolutely, irrevocably over, during the one cortex-conversation that they managed to have. Was it pride that made him tell her that he was reconciled to what had happened, that he intended to make the best of his situation; was it bitterness that made him say that he did not want her to be a hero for him, that he did not want her to contact him again?

She had tried to bring up Xianbo’s departure with Tasmina Sharre, the House Mistress, as part of a query about who would be teaching her the Shih Ching. And Tasmina had smiled, the warm, knowing, compassionate smile of the almost-mother that she was. Her words, though, held no comfort: “He has gone, Inara, and there is nothing you can do. There is nothing that I can do, now that it is done. If we had known ahead of the event, perhaps we could have intervened – your newfound fame might even have had more of an effect than my influence. But it is done, and it is too late to bring him back.”

She had hugged Inara while she cried, and told her to learn her lessons in her own good time – because of course Tasmina had suspected, she had shared it with no-one, but she had had an idea of what was going on.

And the lessons Inara learned, what were they? That her still-growing fame was worthless, if she could not use it to save someone she loved; that she should not embroil outsiders in the ways of the Guild, lest they be brought low and cast out as Xianbo and his family had been; that prudence would be her guiding light in all her dealings with people henceforward.

They were driving through the silent wealth of Li-Pei district now, would shortly be arriving at House Madrassa. And how could she reflect on heroics, and prudence, as she just had, without allowing Mal into her thoughts? So reluctantly, with such pain, but irresistibly, she felt his spirit and for a moment saw her birthplace through his eyes. What was she doing here? she wondered as the transport came to a halt.


Friday, February 12, 2010 2:35 PM


NICE descriptions. I'm imagining the streets of Hong Kong, merged with the culture you've described, historic buildings with vaguely chinese decorations in the middle of a riot of reds and characters. The streets with the high end window shops, the opera house, and how well it ties into Inara recalling the story of the first person she apparently loved.

Why do I suspect that it is the rare outside contacts Inara had that most influenced her developing tastes and opinions? Aside from the sense of discipline Inara gained from her guild teachings, that is?

Friday, February 12, 2010 3:20 PM


Well done! And hey, did Inara date future-David-Beckham on Sihnon? I like all the little details here, the vulnerability of such a young person exposed to so many powerful and perhaps harmful influences; the physical details of the drive into the city itself; and of course, the sadly, sweetly naive relationship between Inara and the language teacher. The poetry recitation was an inspired choice, something so demure-seeming, a way to demonstrate learning and attention to detail, fidelity to a cultural standard - just the thing perhaps to help ground a young superstar:)

A very nice glimpse of Tasmina as well - with a lifetime of experience behind her, she would see all the different layers of what is happening.

Friday, February 12, 2010 5:01 PM


You almost wonder if it was really the comments the language teacher made in front of the officers, or if the Guild was looking for an excuse to separate Inara from him, to teach her to keep her attachments within the Guild.

I know this is before the Guild theoretically was corrupted, but considering the way they were grooming her? And the demand for her among clients? Could her career have been cut short or diminished if clients found out she had a real relationship on the side?

(Also commented for rating!)

Friday, February 12, 2010 8:35 PM


I, for it is late and I am sick, am of the cynical view that there has been something discreetly hinted at in the text.

The loss of Xianbo was part of her training, to ensure that the brightest bird of their menagerie remained theirs, and not a loose cannon.

Does she know?

Saturday, February 13, 2010 6:12 AM


Wonderful description of the city, it brought back memories of my time in Shanghai, old, meeting new, with many people and vendors on the streets. I’m glad Inara remembered her teacher:)

Do tell us more about the soccer player, although I’m sensing Inara has changed since she spent time with Mal on Serenity and her views on love have probably too, they’ve become less idealistic and more disillusioned…well, it’s always that way with Mal, isn’t it.

Post more

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 12:09 PM


Thanks for commenting guys - been away.

Byte & AS: I'm very interested by the way your always-subtle and complex thinking leads you to see layers that if I'm honest I hadn't considered: 'if the Guild was looking for an excuse to separate Inara from him, to teach her to keep her attachments within the Guild.' and 'The loss of Xianbo was part of her training, to ensure that the brightest bird of their menagerie remained theirs, and not a loose cannon.'

I don't think that this level of control over one Companion by others would have to be calculated or indeed out of the ordinary. I think it would be habitual and entirely necessary: Companions deal in the commodity of desire - highly combustible, unpredictable, dangerous. It has to be controlled, and the more desirable the Companion the more stringent the control.

GR: I worked out that there may be another 20 chapters of this?!? - which means another year of posting. Which made me feel a little panicky and rush this chapter. I'm glad it was okay, after the amount of thinking and encouragement you put in.

Platonist: Woo, it reminds you of somewhere real AND in China!!!! I'm delighted by that!


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Inara's and Mal's paths converge.

Mal recovers.

Further apart, still together
Mal's journey begins.

Farewell Part II
The 'Verse turns, Serenity's people move off on different paths.

Farewell Part I

No ship to fuel, no crew to feed, no job to chase
Mal gets ready to move on.

Previously on Aliasse's Firefly Fan Fic Series.....
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Fight. Flight.
Next in this Mal/Inara saga. Inara breaks away. Follows 'Connection'.

Mal re-enters the human race. Short update.

Mal and Inara talk. Next in series.