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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Finally a little Mal POV, but it doesn't last long.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2056 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
The Fish Job, Easy Tickets,
BS Book I, BS Book II, BS Book III, Chapter 1.
Timing, pairings, and canon blurbs are in my FFF blog.
Many thanks to desertgirl for the beta read.
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Five days ago
Malcolm leaned against the railing bordering the street and folded his arms, enjoying the smell of the mountain air while he waited for his errand-running companion to finish her business.
He soon realized that the local ladies passing by were noticing him, so he took to noticing them right back. He saw no silk, no curls, no heeled shoes. These women wore rough denim or corduroy, heavy leather boots, and had hair pulled back and skin coarse from the sun and wind. He couldn’t help but smile and nod as they passed; he knew and was fond of these kinds of women. They’d be strong workers, good shots, and lively drinkers with tales to match anything he’d seen or done on his mother’s ranch. He’d happily spend an hour with any of them, just to hear their talk and drink in their crackling eyes and ready smiles.
But, oddly, he found that as soon as they passed he forget the details of their faces and forms. In his mind, he kept seeing satiny golden skin, dark eyes, and tight curls of ebon hair that his fingers ached to comb through and mess.
Malcolm found his eyes returning to the half open windows of the building next door, though he had to lean back and tilt sideways for a clear view. The woman doing business at the bank’s counter was an entirely different kind of female creature then any he’d known. He might have thought he had a handle on her type—a wealthy, high-class citizen of the Alliance, therefore weak, judgmental, and apathetic—but she’d surprised him. Inara Serra was nothing like weak, and her judgment, though it sometimes knocked him off kilter, was insightful and fair. But what got to him most about her was the genuine depth of her feeling. Nothing about this woman felt contrived, as he would have expected from one whose affections were for hire.
The Companion flashed a smile at the teller as she finished her business. Malcolm straightened and pushed himself away from the railing; he didn’t want her to know that he’d been watching her.
When she stepped out into the sun, Inara’s eyes found him and her face lit up. It was a different kind of smile than she’d shown in the bank, warmer, and Malcolm felt himself basking, as if her golden skinned face rivaled the glow of the sun.
“That’s a start,” Inara said. She lightly patted her hip, where Malcolm made out the small bulge of a money belt hidden under her full skirt. “How are we on time?”
Malcolm checked his watch. “Got plenty.”
“Good. They told me that there’s another bank across the street. I’d like to make a second withdrawal.”
He squinted his question at her.
“I shouldn’t take too much in one transaction,” she explained. “It might draw attention. But I have a second account I can access while I have the opportunity.”
He nodded, then offered his arm. She immediately took it and he led her down the wooden sidewalk.
“Folks here sure are friendly,” he ventured. “I had several hallos while I was waitin’ for you.”
She smiled up at him and squeezed his arm just a bit tighter. “Good. I’m glad to see you’re feeling better.”
He turned his face away and felt his shoulders tense. He’d almost forgotten that he’d recently been feeling “worse,” but he certainly had. And she knew it. Inara was not a stupid woman, and she must have seen how scattered he’d been on that ferry ride over from New Melbourne, especially at the end of the trip when things went out of his control. First he’d had an offer of love that, for no reason that he could logic out, had made his skin crawl. Then, not twenty minutes later, he’d exploded in murderous hate, as if such a mood was his natural state. He couldn’t deny that all he’d felt in the moment he’d pulled the trigger on Will Cantone was exhilaration and joy, and he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to make peace with himself over it.
He realized that he was brooding in silence when Inara spoke up to gently disturb his thoughts. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sour the day with unpleasant reminders.”
He forced himself to relax. “Not at all. I am feelin’ better. Had some heart to heart with Kaylee while the ship was coming down to land. She sure is a fine young lady.”
Inara smiled fondly. “Yes, she certainly is. I’ve been an admirer of Serenity’s mechanic from the first day I met her.”
“The girl can have an effect on one. Just like all this sunshine, after so many days in the dark.” He stopped when they reached a corner so he could focus his attention on the traffic. “In fact,” he went on when the street was clear and they continued on their way, “I’m feeling so fine that I don’t mind delivering an apology long due.”
Her eyebrows shot up, as if his offer surprised her. “An apology? To me?”
“Yes, to you. I regret that I might have said some things, here and there, that weren’t as gentleman-like as I’d have liked.”
“Gentleman-like?” She laughed. “Is that a priority to you?”
He frowned down at her, wondering if she really had such a dark opinion of him.
“I’m sorry again,” she quickly amended. “That was ungracious. Believe me, Malcolm, you have nothing to apologize to me for. You have been… honest. You have been honest and sincere. I must assure you that, even if we haven’t always agreed, I have nothing but respect for you.”
Her words refreshed his smile, and as soon as they stepped up on the wooden walk again, he looked sidelong at her. “I could say the same.” He tightened his hold on her arm. “You know, there’s just one thing I can’t figure about you, miss.”
Her dark eyes twinkled. “Just one?”
“Well, for the moment.”
“Don’t mind if I do. So tell me, Miss Inara Serra: why’d you come out here?”
She turned her gaze to a fine pair of ponies in the street and didn’t reply.
He went on. “I mean, to think of all a lady like you must have had, but here you are choosing to fly with this gang of ruffians, fightin’ to survive in the heathen wilds of the `verse.” He half-laughed at his exaggeration as he glanced about the peaceful town, then glanced at her to take in her reaction. She still made none. “But seriously, why choose this path?”
Her face was placid, her smile firmly fixed, but her eyes fell to the wooden walkway at her feet and her voice was subdued. “Perhaps I wanted an adventure.”
“Perhaps,” he said with some doubt. “It sure is an adventure, being out here. Maybe more than one would want, or one would stick with for the long haul. So I can’t help wonderin’ if you mean to—”
“And here we are,” Inara interrupted brightly. He looked to his left; they had arrived at the town’s second bank. He was disappointed that the settlement wasn’t large enough to require a longer walk; he didn’t want this conversation to end.
“I’ll just be a moment,” Inara said, and she tried to pull her arm from his.
Malcolm managed to hold onto her hand, gripping it to keep her beside him. She looked up at him, her expression a smile, but her eyes held a question. In the shade of the building, the light on her face was soft, or maybe it was a mix of freshness and dust in the air that clouded his vision. He felt drawn to her, stuck in a quiet moment in the midst of the chaos of the town’s foot traffic. The bustle and cheerful noise seemed like nothing more than a buffer, and Malcolm felt that he and Inara were, for the moment, completely alone.
“I ain’t never met anyone like you,” he said softly. He lifted his free hand and pushed a wayward tuft of hair from her cheek. He let his hand linger there, tucking the curl behind her ear.
“I’d have to second that,” she replied, though her words were hesitant. His touch seemed to distract her. “About you I mean. But then, my experiences have been… somewhat limited.”
He leaned closer to her, emboldened by the way she seemed unnerved. “Limited?” he asked with a small smile.
Her face tilted up to his. “Actually, yes. As far as knowing… a man… like you…”
The bank’s doors opened with a loud chime and a departing customer bumped against Inara. She looked away to acknowledge the stranger’s apology, and Malcolm had to drop his hand from her cheek. The quiet moment was lost.
“I’ll be… right back,” Inara muttered. She didn’t raise her eyes to his. “I’ll be just a moment,” she added unnecessarily, then she disappeared into the darkness of the building.
Malcolm stepped back, jostled by a swell in the crowd, and stumbled off the edge of the walk. He didn’t mind; in fact, he couldn’t stop smiling. Something had almost happened there. He’d made her nervous. He’d made her mumble like a nervous school girl. Inara Serra, Companion, had just said that she’d never known a man like him.
He found himself standing in the road as a carriage, harness creaking and jingling, passed just behind him. He jumped out of his happy thoughts and looked after the wagon and its cursing driver. The long central lane of the town slanted downhill to the east, allowing an open view of sky above the low plains. Far out on the horizon, a black shadow was growing in the pale blue sky.
Malcolm’s eyes widened. “What’s that?” he asked himself.
* * *
Her transaction complete, Inara crossed the bank’s small lobby and stepped into the bright noon time sun. She squinted and searched the slowly strolling crowds on the walk before finding Malcolm in the center of the street. Drivers of passing carriages were too well mannered to run him over, though the comments directed his way might of flayed a more attentive man. He didn’t seem to notice; he stood motionless, staring open-mouthed toward the east.
“Malcolm!” Inara called out. “Come out of the road!”
He must have heard her because his head slowly shook in response, but his eyes never wavered from the horizon.
She stepped down off the walk, intending to pull him out of traffic, but had to pause to see what held him so rapt. The sight in the eastern sky made her freeze beside him
“It’s just a ship,” Malcolm muttered. “I guess it’s just a ship. But something about it… It’s makin’ me feel…”
A year ago, Inara would have had no idea what bothered him, but now she’d heard the stories. She knew what the tendrils of black smoke polluting the clear sky behind the quickly approaching vessel could mean.
“We should go back to Serenity,” she whispered, her throat suddenly too tight to carry her words with any force. She raised her hand to Malcolm’s arm, though shock and disbelief still held her feet in place.
“Yeah, I think that’d be wise,” Malcolm replied. He didn’t move either.
Inara’s stomach felt like a lead weight, but she somehow made herself turn and take a step. Her mind racing, she towed Malcolm along behind her by a tight grasp of his sleeve. He wouldn’t turn his back on the approaching ship, and he was no longer the only one staring. Locals began to raise their eyes and murmur their own questions over the rising rumble of the ship’s engines: What is it…? Ain’t right… reminds me… I heard once… Can’t be…
“Reavers,” Inara said, the word coming barely more than a quiet gasp. She couldn’t seem to speak in a full voice. “Reavers.”
An old man caught her and jerked her to a stop. “What was that?” he demanded, his breath sour in her face. “What’d you just say, lady?”
She looked to the sky again. The ship was closer now, close enough that ragged tears in its hull could be plainly seen. The sight wiped away any hope that she might have been wrong; she’d heard about this detail from Serenity’s crew, from Mal and Zoë.
Malcolm knew it, too, somewhere inside himself. He stood beside her, his face ashen and eyes darting around helplessly, from the ship that was nearly overhead now to the distant fueling platform where the tips of Serenity’s upturned engines could just be seen over the trees. The fear in his eyes made Inara finally find her voice. She couldn’t count on Malcolm Reynolds right now. She couldn’t count on anyone. She had to take action, and she had to do it quickly; the golden sunlight was suddenly cut off as the ship arrived overhead.
“Reavers,” she told the old man firmly. “They’re Reavers.” She pulled free of his grip and turned in the street, catching the eye of everyone near her. “They’re Reavers! Run! Everyone get away!”
A shriek of torn metal rang out, making Inara stop and cower. She froze in the street and held a warding arm over her head as she looked for the source of the sound. A small craft had been caught out of midair by a grapple. Its engines didn’t stop firing, and it pulled the Reaver ship away from the town, letting the sun in again, though the light was now polluted by falling wisps of smoke.
“What is this?” Malcolm demanded, his face upturned. “Reavers? You serious? Gorramn Reavers?”
Inara grabbed his arm again and started forward through a suddenly thick and chaotic crowd. Before she’d gone ten paces, the shadow of the Reaver ship returned. Lines shot down, thick ropes ending in hooks that bit into trees, walls, and rooftops. Dark figures started down the ropes, but then the ship slid sideways again, pulled by another snared transport. The anchors tore free and a few of the descending Reavers lost their grip, screaming their rage as they plunged to the ground. The rest dangled from the ropes, waiting for a chance to continue their invasion.
Malcolm was still muttering behind Inara: “Oh, my good lord. They can’t be real!” She didn’t try to reply over the noise, but started to run, pulling him behind her. She didn’t make easy progress through the crowd: a panic had descended on the streets of the town.
A few stalwarts seemed to be prepared to fight. When the ship above them steadied and the landing lines again shot down, a volley of bullets immediately went up. Dark shadows of creatures in torn clothing, hair wild and faces fixed in demented grimaces, slid down the ropes, but few of the first wave reached the ground whole.
One bullet-ridden body fell in Inara’s path. She turned her eyes aside quickly to avoid the horror of its face and its many wounds: not all were recent. The thing festered so badly that its smell instantly reached her, and her stomach turned a long, slow circle. Hearing about such things hadn’t prepared her for seeing them, and for a moment she lost her way. Her mind clouded and, though her eyes hadn’t stopped working, she felt nearly blind. The oily black smoke fell heavily now, mixing with red-brown dust kicked up by the ship’s laboring engines.
Sharper screams rose around her. Some of the Reavers had made it to the ground alive and fighting. The attack seemed to be coming from everywhere. The people of the town didn’t know which way to run, and in their panic they bumped into Inara from all sides, making her lose her grip on Malcolm’s arm. She lost sight of him entirely and turned about, unsure of which way to go.
Suddenly, strong, sheltering arms circled Inara’s waist, pulling her aside, up a step and over a rough surface of wooden planks. A door slammed shut behind her, shutting her into relative darkness and quiet. She felt hands on her cheeks and found herself staring into worried blue eyes.
“Miss Serra? Inara? Inara—you all right?”
“Mal!” she gasped. His voice, his grip, his eyes; all pulled her out of the panic that had gripped her. “Where are we?”
“Out’a the way, for now at least.”
“Thank you. I couldn’t… I didn’t know what to do.”
“Well, I ain’t sure that I improved things much. But at least we’re clear of the madness.”
She took in her surroundings. They were in a shop, a room lined with shelves full of wood carvings and colorful polished stones. The main counter was littered with empty boxes. She stepped closer and read the labels; the boxes had once held ammo. Whoever had left this place had done it fighting.
Malcolm was beside her. “Maybe they left something for us,” he said. He circled behind the counter and began searching the shop’s cabinets. Inara understood. They needed weapons.
As Wash dashed into the sun ahead of her, Zoë took a last glimpse back into the cargo bay: River stood at the far end, confused and terrified, the blanket she had been clutching around her shoulders lying forgotten at her feet. The Shepherd was standing by with a pair of guns in his hands as Jayne burst through the aft hatch, yelling over his shoulder at Simon to hurry.
Zoë turned away; that particular chaos was no longer her business. She had other folk to rescue.
She caught up to Wash on the stairs leading down from the platform, and at the bottom she tapped his shoulder and motioned with her hands—follow me, stay quiet. The violence in the little town’s center was still some distance away, but she wasn’t about to assume that the woods near her were clear. She veered off the narrow dirt road and ducked into the trees to her right.
Just on the edge of the town’s center, Zoë and Wash encountered a wide open lot. Downed timber was stacked neatly around the edges of the clearing and the beginnings of a stone foundation rose from in its center. Wash almost ran right into the open, but Zoë caught him and pulled him back. The Reaver ship was nearly above them, and she would take no risks. They’d be staying under the cover of the trees, even if it meant some delay.
It turned out to be a wise decision. They were barely halfway around the clearing when a black-sided, shuttle, its hull scarred and stained, landed right in the middle of the open space. Zoë dove behind a pile of chopped wood, pulling Wash down beside her.
“Don’t!” she hissed when he raised his rifle. “You’ll only draw them to us.”
She rose on her knees to stare through a small opening in the wood pile; the creatures that poured off the shuttle paused to sniff the air, then fanned out. They were on the hunt.
Frustration and fear played on Wash’s face as he clutched his gun and looked about with wild eyes. Zoë laid a calming hand on his chest and kept him still. Fortunately, the off-loading Reavers saw prey toward the direction of the town and none came near the woodpile.
“If there’s something I don’t want to do,” Zoë said, half to herself, “it’s follow on the heels of a Reaver raiding party.”
“But we have to,” Wash said. “Mal and Inara are in there.”
Zoë nodded and they both rose up, staring over the woodpile.
“You think the shuttle’s empty?” Wash asked.
“We got to risk it. Can’t wait here all—”
They both whirled at a noise in the trees behind them, setting their backs against the wood and taking aim, but Zoë quickly lifted the muzzle of her gun and reached out to steady Wash’s hand. It wasn’t Reavers. A trio of locals armed with nothing more than axes had circled behind the wood pile, doing their best to stay out of the landing party’s path.
The three men collapsed to the ground beside the Washbourns. They were breathing hard and looked to be nearly in a panic.
“Do you know what’s happening?” Zoë asked.
“Pirates…?” one of them asked, his eyes wide.
“Reavers,” she corrected. “Gorramn Reavers that you can’t fight. No one can. Don’t you dare even try! Collect all the people you can and get to those caverns. Wait wait!” she yelled when they started to run. “I got friends in town, strangers. A man and woman. Both dark-haired, tall man in a leather coat, small pretty woman. Doing business with the banks.”
Two of the locals shook their heads and ran off without reply, but one, a bony, pale-skinned man, paused a moment longer to crouch beside them and nod. “Strangers. Two of `em. They ducked into Ned’s craft shop right up there. You see? You see?” The man half stood and pointed towards the main road.
Through a break in the smoke and dust filling the street, Zoë made out the building he meant. “Thank you kindly,” she said. “Now you get to shelter.” He ran off immediately, but she yelled after him: “And you take everyone you find on the way!”
Screams in the distance rose; people in the town were being victimized in a way Zoë had to force herself not to picture. She’d seen this before, but couldn’t let herself remember. Not now, when Mal was somewhere out there in it.
The shop held no guns. A stockroom in back had a cabinet meant for a pair of rifles, but it had been emptied. The best Inara and Malcolm could find were knives in a display case; the handles were thickly encrusted in semi-precious stones, and the blades were long, but they weren’t at all sharp.
“I don’t think these’ll do much for us,” Malcolm said. “Unless them nightmare monsters are like to get fascinated by shiny things.” He twisted the dull blade of his purple-hilted knife side to side in the air in front of him.
“They’re better than nothing,” Inara replied. “With enough pressure, even a dull blade will break the skin.”
“If you say so.”
Inara sighed; she couldn’t tell if this was the careless teen or the strong-willed captain she was dealing with, and she didn’t have time for a full psychiatric assessment of the man.
“As far as I’ve heard,” he went on, “a few blades, pretty rocks and all, won’t get us far against—”
A crash shock the store’s front wall and they both jumped and looked toward the wide window next to entrance. Inara immediately squeezed her eyes shut, but it was too late. She’d already seen. Against her lids, the frozen outline of a powerful figure swung a long sword out and upward. A thick stream of red poured off the blade as a smaller body collapsed before it, cleanly split in two.
“Merciful Buddha!” she gasped as Malcolm her pulled into the shadows.
Entering the chaos in the village’s center was like descending through time. Zoë had seen action in spades while smuggling on the remote worlds, but she hadn’t been on a battlefield, or in a true slaughter, since she’d left the war behind in Serenity Valley.
So she found herself looking at the streets of the small mountain town through younger eyes, or maybe the sights were processed through a part of her brain that had been laying dormant all this time. She’d almost forgotten the clarity and coldness of combat. It came back to her in full now, fitting as snugly as a favorite sweater dug from the bottom of a deep cedar chest. She knew as surely as she knew herself that no time could be spent pondering the price of bad choices or bad luck. She’d act as her instincts demanded, and only later, if she survived, would she stop to take stock of the damage caused by her mistakes.
A crash of broken glass above her head made her jump sideways and press into the wall of the building to her right. “Get down!” she snapped at her husband. Wash moved, but he went the wrong way. He staggered out into the open center of the street, looking up into the smoky gloom of the sky with an expression of confusion. He didn’t seem to realize that he was facing an attack from above.
A dark shape surrounded by sparkling shards of glass fell from a second story window. The creature hit the ground hard and crumpled, but managed to roll to its feet without losing grip of the long, cruel blade in its hand. With the heartless focus and power of a predator, it rose to its feet facing Wash.
Zoë aimed her carbine, but her husband was in her line of fire, directly behind the Reaver. Wash didn’t shoot either; the sight of the thing’s face seemed to have stunned him into paralysis. Zoë jumped forward and, keeping her carbine ready in her right hand, pulled a large knife from her hip with her left.
The Reaver paused for a bare second, as if to enjoy Wash’s terror. It’s cruel hesitation gave Zoë the chance to take two silent steps forward and bury her long dagger in the back of the monster’s neck, severing its spine. She pulled her knife free, grabbed her husband, and pushed him back into the shade of the building before the Reaver’s limp body even hit the ground.
“Damnit Wash,” she found herself hissing harshly. “You’re gonna get yourself killed!”
He only stared and blinked, as if her hard words were more shocking than the attack. But she had no time to be gentle with him; this was war and her husband needed a wake up call.
“If you can’t handle the heat here,” she added, “maybe you ought to slink your way out to those caverns and hide.”
His eyes crackled and his reply was stubborn. “To hell with that! The thing caught me by surprise is all. I wasn’t expecting—”
“Exactly.” And I almost had to watch you die. “I can’t cover you. You’ve got to handle yourself better. I need to know you’re—”
Her lecture was cut short by a burst of activity further down the street, a crash of splintered wood and an inhuman scream, then the lively crackle of flames.
Zoë cursed to herself. They were too visible here. “Què ding. Bèi hòu,” she told Wash, and she turned away. Trusting him to follow, she pressed her shoulder against the rough wood of the wall and moved further into the town.
Billowing smoke and dust obscured her view, and the continued snarls and growls of the Reaver ship overhead made it hard to locate the sounds of violence and death around her. As she stepped up on the wooden walkway that lined the central blocks of the village, she saw a few large, grunting figures running toward distant screams and gunfire as if the sounds were the tinkle of an ice cream wagon. These creatures didn’t fear pain or death. Rather, they were drawn to it as if they savored the horror that would make any sane human wither.
A brief breeze cleared the air enough that she could locate the craft shop that the local man, the one with the ax and the frightened eyes, had pointed out. She darted toward the building, sprinting down the street into the smoke and jumping up on the walkway, but pulled up short as the thick air parted again to reveal a gruesome sight. A pair of Reavers were on their hands and knees, rending the fresh corpse of a human that had been cleanly split in two.
The creatures abandoned their sport when they saw a livelier meal approaching. Zoë didn’t mean to be nourishment for either of them. She took one down quickly with her rifle: a shot to the chest, then, because it kept moving, a second blast to its already mutilated face.
The second Reaver moved inhumanly fast. It dove past her and managed to knock the gun from her hand, then rose to its feet again and jumped at her.
A blast from over her shoulder took the monster’s head off.
“So who was it needed cover?” Wash asked, his smoking shotgun still braced against his shoulder.
Zoë nodded her thanks, then picked up her rifle and hurried to the door to the gift shop.
It was locked. She knocked out the glass beside the doorknob and reached through, then shoved the door ajar against a heavy wooden table that braced it shut. She stumbled in and found herself on the wrong end of a large and horribly gaudy crystal-studded knife. The arm that wielded it was hidden behind the door, but the hand seemed human enough.
“It’s all right!” Zoë yelled. “I ain’t one of `em!”
The knife pulled away, and a familiar voice rose out of the shadows deeper in the shop. “Zoë!”
“Inara? Is Mal here?”
“Yeah,” the man replied himself as he stepped into her view. He’d been the one brandishing the purple and silver knife at her throat. He moved aside so the Washburns could slip through the door. Malcolm had his wits together enough that he immediately locked the door and pushed the heavy table against it again.
“Zoë, thank the gods!” Inara said. “Where is everyone else?”
“Caverns,” Zoë said shortly. “And that’s where we need to go. There ain’t no takin’ off, not with the Reavers and their grappling hook up there.”
A heavy crash like a battering ram splintered the door behind Zoë and Wash: the Reavers had followed them.
Què ding, Bèi hòu: OK, get behind me.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010 4:13 PM
Wednesday, November 17, 2010 2:15 PM
Wednesday, November 17, 2010 3:50 PM
Thursday, November 18, 2010 10:42 AM
Thursday, November 18, 2010 1:47 PM
Thursday, November 18, 2010 4:28 PM
Thursday, November 18, 2010 6:11 PM
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