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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
The beginnings of a way forward for Mal and his crew.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1122 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Mayor Osborne Lee was standing by his open back door eating breakfast pancakes, or rather stuffing them hastily into his mouth as though the faster he despatched them the less of a fact it would be that that was what he was doing. He’d started off one at a time, but now he was separating them from the rapidly-diminishing pile in threes, folding them nimbly into triangles and swallowing them almost whole.
It was good. What did it matter, being mayor of Warminger? – meaning, there was no ceremony to stand on and even if there was he wasn’t the type ever to stand on it. Still, he wished his mouth hadn’t been all smeared with syrup when Mal appeared in the kitchen doorway.
Mal tapped the door to announce himself, suppressed a smile as the mayor whirled guiltily around.
“Was your wife let me in,” he said.
“That ain’t my wife,” the mayor replied, gulping and wiping his face with a clean cloth. “Didn’t never marry. Three older sisters babyin’ me since the day I was born, and the one you just met worked out food was the way to keep me a baby forever.”
This time Mal didn’t attempt to hide his reaction: a ‘you’re giving way too much away’ raised eyebrow.
The mayor stopped wiping his face. “That sounded weird,” he said. “Well, okay. I’m thirty-two and I live with my sister. Can’t get away from the weirdness o’ that.”
“You ain’t the only one,” Mal said.
“Yeah. Well. Folks is weird,” Lee replied with a shrug.
“It don’t leave no one out,” said Lee with a nod.
“Every vote counts.”
“Mine was ‘Vote Lee’.”
“Was my sisters what won it. Bakin’ and talkin’ ‘s what it takes. Husband is what they all need, give ‘em a proper channel for their energy. Got any single men in your party?”
It was obvious to Mal that self-deprecating irony was a habit of Lee’s. But he had no doubt, from Lee’s expression, body language and tone of voice, never mind his house, particularly the scrupulously-maintained weaponry mounted in the hallway, that he’d won the mayoralty on his own merits and that, most likely any of his sisters could do the same if she chose to.
“Got a whole soldiery out there with nothin’ to do,” Mal replied, the question about his romantic status still resonating painfully in spite of his refusal to acknowledge it.
Lee’s expression changed. No more joking around.
“Shame harvest is done,” he said. “Could’ve used a workforce like that.”
“’s what I came to ask about.”
“What you’re thinkin’ to do with ‘em – the Alliance men.”
“Them havin’ blown up your ship an’ all.”
“’s their ship I got a particular interest in.” Lee didn’t prompt him. “Salvagin’ it.”
“You reckon you got the know-how for that?”
Just then they were interrupted by another visitor, who Lee introduced as Harlen the jailer.
“Got a special request,” Harlen told Lee after introductions were done. “Yan wants a service. A memorial.”
Lee looked at Mal. “That it?” he asked Harlen.
“That’s it. Says he wants to honor the men what died in the attack.”
Lee thought for a moment. “Might’ve made up my mind one way or the other by the time I get to the jail,” he said to Mal. “’specially if you was to come along with me.”
Harlen excused himself, saying he had other business to attend to, and Lee and Mal set off right away. Mal felt Lee glance at him once or twice as they walked.
“Gonna see what Yan has to say,” he said in the end. “But seems like the right thing to do, to say yes. So long as you and your people are agreeable.”
“Ain’t got a problem with it,” Mal said, “and that goes for my people too,” he added, not caring whether Lee meant his crew or the Pity settlers.
“We want to keep ‘em,” Lee said then, stopping to face Mal. “Me and the main folk around here, we sat down and talked on it last night. Not keep ‘em like they was chattels or nothin’. But that’s the kind of justice we do. Don’t got the time nor the space for lockin’ able-bodied men what want feedin’ up. And look around you. There’s plenty work to be done.”
Mal looked around and confirmed what he’d already seen: a place that had negotiated the transition from settlement to town a few years back and was still going forward with progress firmly in its sights. The variety of shops and traffic, three enormous grain silos on the near horizon, a distant movement of cattle like the shadow of clouds moving across a field – all attested to the fact that Warminger was doing well. That was why they’d come here, wasn’t it? – having heard tell of this successful settlement on more than one world they’d visited since Miranda, they’d headed here in search of fresh contacts and work.
“We’re doin’ all right,” Lee went on, as though he wasn’t perfectly aware of how well Warminger was doing. “But we ain't had no new blood since Warminger was a settlement. Ain’t properly on the map yet. Got all excited when the Pity settlers came, ‘til we saw how they just wanted to keep to theirselves.” A pause. “Them and their mine.”
Lee looked at Mal and Mal looked back. Now seemed about the right time to drop the backwoods hicks-act they’d both been keeping up: Lee knew about the mine, or at least suspected; probably didn’t know it was bicarium but being as shrewd as he was might suspect that too.
“You did some work off-world for the settlers,” said Lee.
“They got their mine fully-functional?”
“Anything you want to know about anything that’s their business, you should ask them,” said Mal, as expressionless as he could be.
“True. Only they’ve never seemed too – trusting towards us.”
“Not you. The Alliance.”
“On account of their mine not being registered.”
“Who wants to pay all their taxes?”
“Just thought, maybe the attack was to do with the mine. And if there’s more to come, could be dangerous for us.”
“They wanted us. The girl. You were there.”
Lee nodded. “Yeah, yeah. But I got to check. I’m mayor of this place and responsible for the public’s safety.”
Mal was certain that Lee’s enquiry about the mine was prompted as much by a sense of the opportunity as much as the danger it presented.
“So, about the Alliance men,” he prompted, and Lee continued heading towards the jail. “Not chattels you say. And you want to put them to work.”
“Yeah. For some fixed amount of time. We ain’t got laws about bombing neighbouring settlements but, you know, we’re resourceful, we can make something up. Couple years feels about right.”
“So, not chattels, but you’re wanting to put them to work for a couple years.”
“Not chattels. That’s bothering you though.”
“Man in my line of work comes across plenty of offers of profiting off of slavery.”
“Ain’t talking about that.”
“And what’s going to stop them from escaping?”
“I was hoping you and your crew could help us there.”
“Well – guard them. Stop them. From escaping.”
Mal’s eyes widened with astonishment and, with a feeling as though his chest was cracking open, he began to laugh. It was loud, whooping, almost-doubled-over laughter that made passing townspeople stop and look. Him and his crew – from Alliance fugitives to Alliance jailers! In his head, he was still thinking it was hilarious, ridiculous, surreal when, through the cracks in his chest, some of the pain he was bearing began to leak out: the war, Shadow, Retrieval, Wash, Book, Zoe, Inara. Serenity.
It was a public place. Several times during their walk Lee had interrupted their talk to greet the many people passing by. But he couldn’t help it: couldn’t help the way the pain rode out of him on the updraw of his breath, changing his laughter to sobs. He was grimacing, gulping. Lee grasped his arm with one hand, his shoulder with the other.
“Whoa there fella,” he said. “Keep it together. Keep it together.”
It helped. Lee shielded him from view with his body. He managed one longer breath, then another. He closed his eyes, pushed the pain down through his diaphragm. Supporting Mal slightly, Lee led Mal the rest of the way to the jail where Yan was waiting.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010 12:23 PM
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Friday, February 19, 2010 3:37 PM
Friday, February 19, 2010 4:22 PM
Saturday, February 20, 2010 6:54 AM
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