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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Confrontations. Lots of them.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1850 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
BREAK OUT (05)
Follows EXPECTATIONS (04). Precedes THE TRIAL (06)).
The series so far:
A LION’S MOUTH (01)
ADVENTURES IN SITTING (02)
SPARKS FLY (03)
Confrontations. Lots of them.
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* * *
When, by evening, Simon and Kaylee still hadn’t shown signs of kissing and making up, Mal decided it was time to intervene more actively. He headed to the engine room, where an intermittent grinding sound was issuing forth from the moving parts. Kaylee was not working on the engine. She was sitting in her hammock.
“Kaylee! Those aren’t happy ship noises. What’s going on?” He saw she was crying, and asked, “What’s going on, li’l Kaylee?”
She tried to stop her tears. “Sorry, Cap’n.”
“Hey, 妹妹 mèimei,” he said, giving her a hug and dropping a kiss on top of her head. “I’m sorry you’re hurtin’. You and Simon have a fight?” It wasn’t really a question.
“All his fault? Should I toss him out the airlock?”
“No, Cap’n. He’s just jealous ’cause I been kind to the new fellow.”
“What sort of kindness we talkin’ about, Kaylee?”
“It’s not nothin’ Cap’n, just ordinary hello and how are you kindness. I wouldn’t mind Simon being a little jealous—’cause I know he loves me. But Simon’s acting like I been whoring with the new guy, or somethin’. It’s beyond all reason.”
“I suppose he don’t see that you’re not the kind of woman would play false to her love,” Mal said, seeing clearly in others that which he could not see in himself.
“’Course I’m not,” she answered. “I chose Simon, the 混球 húnqiú, and I intend to stick with him.”
“Don’t get too friendly with Neumann,” Mal cautioned.
“Now it’s you, too!” Kaylee exclaimed. “What’s wrong with bein’ civil to people?”
“Well, it ain’t that, it’s just he ain’t gonna be on this boat for long.”
“You said that about Simon.”
“Yeah, well, I mean it about Neumann,” Mal said. “He’s just here to supervise the grav cargo. Once we deliver, we drop him off at Persephone, we’ll never see him again. But that’s not what I meant. No, you see, you go about bein’ friendly to a fellow, pretty girl like you, he’s like to misinterpret it. Read too much into it.”
“I ain’t flirtin’ with him! It’s just bein’ civil, that’s clear to anyone what’s usin’ their brain.”
“I ain’t sayin’ you’re flirting, Kaylee. But men-folk don’t always think too clearly when there’s a pretty girl involved. Don’t think with their brains, if you know what I mean.”
Kaylee looked at him in a manner he couldn’t interpret. “I guess I can see that,” she said, thinking about how the Captain tended to behave around Inara.
“Now, Kaylee, you just try to pull yourself together. You been hurtin’ and now Serenity’s hurtin’.” Kaylee straightened up, and seemed to notice the engine noises for the first time. “You see to fixin’ the ship, and I’ll see to gettin’ Simon to see reason. Top three percent and all, I expect him to use his brain.”
* * *
Ip Neumann asked River if he might use the cortex link on the bridge to send a wave, and she readily agreed. She helped him set it up, and figuring he might like a little privacy, she set the autopilot and left him to make his call. Ip was feeling the need to talk to a friendly face—someone who would understand his particular problem—so he pulled out an electronic card and plugged it into the cortex screen. If he had been watching very closely, he might have seen a digital code flash briefly across the screen, the kind of code that Mr Universe had referred to as “Alliance and high military.” But Ip blinked, and he missed it. There was a brief pause while the connection was made, and then the friendly, soulful face of Brother Chan ’eil Càil an so a’ Faicadh filled the screen.
“Dr Neumann! Good to see you. How does your research go?”
“The research, that’s fine,” Ip answered. “I’ve drafted a paper about 尘球 Chén Qíu. It just needs a bit of polishing, and I’ll submit it. I even had help from an unexpected source—found a proofreader right aboard Serenity, of all places.”
“You weren’t expecting that.”
“Oh, I don’t know what I was expecting,” Ip said, in a dispirited way. “I—the crew of this ship just baffles me.”
“Baffles you? Whatever do you mean?”
“It’s an assortment of geniuses and thugs. Some of them are both at the same time. I’m warmly welcomed, like an old friend, and then all of a sudden they circle the wagons and I’m on the outside of the circle. The most puzzling of all is the Captain.”
“Why do you say that?” Brother Chan ’eil Càil regarded him quizzically.
“Well, you know how I have a bee in my bonnet about the terraforming accident sites.” His friend gave a knowing smile. “I could even say you’re responsible for my predicament.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, you’re the one who told me the Captain had been to Miranda.”
“I did,” Brother Chan ’eil Càil agreed placidly.
“And that’s why I decided to take the supercargo job on his ship. I signed on in hopes of interviewing an eyewitness. And yet, every time I approach the topic—that’s when they circle the wagons. The most closed off of all is the Captain.”
Brother Chan ’eil Càil considered for a moment. Then he said, “Dr Neumann, what did you learn from that broadwave about Miranda?” Ip opened his mouth to speak, but the other cut him off. “Not about the science, about the event.”
“The scientist in the record said that there had been no terraforming event,” Ip answered. “She said that many people had died. That other people had become…Reavers.”
“When did that event happen?”
“I don’t know exactly—the recording didn’t mention the date. I know that when I looked at the Miranda data in the office of my department head at Blue Sun—that was about half a year ago—the report indicated several catastrophic terraforming events as the likely cause of the settlement’s failure.”
“So you don’t really know when the event happened. How many people died on Miranda, Dr Neumann? Do you recall?”
“Thirty million,” Ip said, softly.
“Yes. And the Captain visited recently, after the devastation of the planet. Do you really expect someone who has recently seen hundreds, thousands—perhaps millions—of dead bodies to want to talk about it? Would you want to talk about it?”
“No,” Ip acknowledged. To tell the truth, he had been so much focused on the science, the mystery, that he had lost sight of the human tragedy that had occurred on Miranda.
“The only way you’ll hear this story is to gain the Captain’s trust. You’ll need time, patience—and a good supply of less controversial terraforming accidents to investigate—to gain the trust of the Captain and the crew. Make yourself useful to them, and they’ll want to keep you aboard. That will give you the time. The rest is up to you.”
Zoe knew she was pregnant. The wonder to her was, how anyone else had escaped noticing it. Of course Simon knew. He had confirmed that she was pregnant with the standard urine test, and estimated the date of conception. Zoe didn’t need an estimate. She knew this baby was conceived the last night they were on Haven, after River had busted up the Maidenhead Bar but before the 狗屎 gǒushǐ really hit the fan, with the Operative coming after them.
Inara was the first to notice. She was deeply intuitive, and very good at reading people’s body language. She had suggested the possibility to Zoe, when Zoe herself was still in denial about the whole idea of it. With Wash gone, she hadn’t allowed herself to consider it. If she believed it, and then it turned out not to be true, she didn’t think she could bear the second loss. So she’d deceived herself, rationalizing her missed cycle as the result of stress.
Mal knew, but didn’t know he knew. He’d noticed all the signs, seen that his best friend wasn’t acting her usual self. She’d seen him notice—that she was queasy, that she craved salty, fatty foods, eating with unnatural avidity, then pushing away her meal in sudden revulsion. He’d seen the glow in her skin, her hair, her eyes. He’d noticed her moods, and he was an expert in interpreting her subtlest looks and gestures. He’d definitely noticed—but had the grace not to comment on—her sleepiness, and the lapses of duty it had led to. (She thought with regret again about the time when the nav sats blew up and the ship drifted way off course during her watch. He had confined his reprimand to a look he knew she would understand.) But he didn’t have the experience to add up the signs into the notion of “baby.” He had never really considered the possibility of a baby—any baby—aboard Serenity. He’d have to figure that one out, and it would take a while for him to wrap his head around that idea. That was still the main blockage—why he didn’t know he knew. She’d have to tell him soon.
But Zoe knew. Her pants, already form-fitting, were barely wearable. She’d need to buy bigger ones next stop planetside. No matter that no one else could see the bulge. She knew it was there, got reminded every time she sat down, every time she tried to move, gorrammit. Her leather vest was expandable, thank goodness, and would do for another month or two. But what concerned her most was the body armor. Form-fitting for the practical reason that you had to have uninhibited movement in a firefight, and unyielding by its very nature, the body armor was already a problem. Her body knew the baby was coming long before she acknowledged it herself, and her body had already begun preparations for the new arrival. Breast tissue was building up in volume, making ready for the milk necessary to feed the new life. Although she could still get it on, the body armor chafed in some powerfully tender areas, and she knew it would just get worse.
Simon confronted him in the cargo bay just as he began his round of balancing the grav modifiers. Neumann tried to speak reasonably, but Simon was angry, and the conversation quickly escalated to a shouting match. The grav modifiers were already in dire need of attention, and as the two men engaged in their verbal sparring, several of the crates began to list, lifting off their pallets.
“Back off, Neumann!” Simon growled.
“Are you threatening me?”
“No,” Simon said sarcastically. “This is how I talk to people politely.”
“Why is everyone on this ship so hostile?”
“You haven’t seen hostile yet.” Simon hadn’t spent the last year and a half as a fugitive, hiding in the Black with outlaws, battling Feds, thugs, and Reavers, for nothing. Compared to an intellectual fresh from the Core, he was much tougher, and he knew it.
“It’s like there’s some kind of secret—”
“You’re one to talk,” Simon sneered.
“I don’t have a secret,” Ip protested. “I’ve been up front about everything. But every time I open my mouth, someone gets cryptic, hostile, or sarcastic. Everyone except Kaylee.”
“ Of course, everyone except Kaylee!” Simon had pushed Neumann up against the bulkhead and was staring at him with an intimidating glare, in his best imitation of Mal, when Mal himself entered the bay.
“Hey! What the 地狱 dìyù is this?” Mal demanded, pushing the two men apart. He directed his orders to Neumann. “Get these gorram crates secured before they take off and wreck my ship. You got a job, do it. Simon, I need to see you in the infirmary.” Simon opened his mouth. “ 马上 Mǎshàng .” His look said he would brook no argument.
Simon did not argue. Mal was just so much better at being Mal.
The Captain led the way into the infirmary, shut the door behind them, and activated the privacy screens. Then he turned to Simon and spoke forcefully. “Simon, you’re on my crew and he ain’t. But I can’t have grav modifiers sailing around unsecured in the cargo bay of my ship. He’s got a job to do, and I can’t have you distracting him from his duty.”
“Captain, I realize that I let a personal issue interfere—” Simon began.
Mal interrupted. “I know you got a personal issue with him. Hell, your personal issue has affected the running of the whole boat—from the engine whining from neglect to people can’t eat their dinners in peace. I don’t appreciate that I gotta be intervening in everybody’s jobs to put ’em back on track. You gotta put a lid on those personal issues.”
“Captain, those ‘personal issues’ are—”
Mal talked right over him. “Besides, what do you mean, accusing Kaylee of such a thing?”
Simon’s gut reaction spoke first. “I didn’t accuse her of—” he sputtered, realizing, “of—what do you mean?”
“Listen, Simon, the bulkhead between Kaylee’s bunk and mine is…thin.” Simon reddened. He was well aware of it. “I know you two had words. And Kaylee ain’t doin’ what you think she’s doin’ with Neumann. She’s just being ordinary friendly.”
Simon exploded. “ ‘Friendly’! Captain, she goes out of her way to be alone with him—I’ve seen her touch him—”
“Whoa, whoa there, Simon. You seen her touch me, kiss me even—you think that means something unseemly is goin’ on between us?”
“No, of course not.”
“Simon, Kaylee’s a jewel. She’s got a spark of joy in her like nobody I ever seen. She loves most everybody in the ’Verse—even a mean old man like me. Only sees the good in people. But you—you she loves more. Can’t for the life of me figure out what she sees in you, but see it she does. And it makes her miserable that you’d think so poorly on her to accuse her of being false to you. Breaks her heart.”
“You’re turning the tables on me,” Simon protested. “Now I’ve broken her heart!”
“Do you love her?” Mal demanded.
“Yes,” Simon answered, in a fierce whisper.
“Then I’m thinking you owe her an apology.”
Simon sputtered. He was the aggrieved party.
“And after you tell her you’re sorry for not trusting her, do something really nice for her. Show her how much you care about her,” Mal advised. “She won’t even look at that other fellow if she’s sure you love her. Don’t get all angry and withdrawn.”
“Coming from you, this relationship advice is…very funny.”
“Glad you found some humor in it,” Mal said, rolling up his sleeve. “Now, I could use your doctoring services. Time for my monthly inoculation.”
Inara invited Kaylee to her shuttle to talk. Kaylee arrived looking upset, and burst into tears as soon as Inara closed the shuttle door. Inara made her a cup of tea and let her release her feelings. Kaylee was angry as well as upset, and her tears were mixed with harsh words directed at Simon. Inara talked soothingly and brushed Kaylee’s hair. Gradually, Kaylee became calmer, but couldn’t quite stop sniffling.
“Kaylee, 妹妹 mèimei, I’m sure you and Simon can work through this.”
“He called me a whore,” Kaylee said indignantly, tears on her face.
“And how many times has Mal called me a whore?” Inara asked.
“But you a—Mal—Cap’n—that’s different. Inara, you know it is. Comin’ from Simon. He’s just being so unreasonable!”
“Hell, yes,” Kaylee retorted. “He’s all jealous and I ain’t done nothing. I’m just being friendly, ordinary friendly. It’s how normal people behave.”
“Normal people?” Inara arched an eyebrow.
“Simon’s gettin’ all bent outta shape over nothin’,” Kaylee stated firmly.
Inara spoke in calm but firm tone. “It’s not ‘nothing’ if Simon—and Dr Neumann—don’t also agree that it’s nothing.”
“What do you mean?”
Inara gave a sigh. She knew all too well about this kind of situation. “Kaylee, you remind me of my friend Catriona.”
“How’s that?” Kaylee asked, knowing that Inara had a story to tell.
Inara began the tale. “She and I were roommates, at the Academy, early on. Best friends, back then. She was from Juno Moon, and during our term breaks, she’d go back home—”
“Who wouldn’t?” Kaylee interjected. “Ain’t Juno Moon famous for the beautiful scenery? I even heard of it on Harvest. All the tourist adverts make it seem like a paradise.”
“Oh, it’s every bit as beautiful as the tourist adverts make out—and then some. I even made a visit to Catriona there, just so I could take in the scenery. Anyway, some time in our fifth year, a fellow named Whitton joined our dance class. He seemed like a friendly sort of guy and he started hanging around with a group of us after class. Then he started playing the lute, so he could join the music class as well. Catriona—well, I’ve said she was like you—she was very warm-hearted and friendly to everybody. Whitton began to follow her around like a puppy dog. All of us could see that he came just to be with her, but she accepted at face value what he said about wanting to learn to dance, and play the lute, and everything else that we were doing together. And when she went home for summer break to Juno Moon, he made plans to follow her. She believed he came to Juno to see the scenery—who wouldn’t? But she hadn’t heard what he told other people.
“He’d been talking for weeks about how he was going to see this girl on Juno, and he hoped her father liked him. He’d built up an entire relationship in his head—because he was infatuated with her—and he took every friendly word she said to him to be an encouragement of his most ardent wishes. He was nearly ready to propose to her when he discovered what was perfectly obvious to everyone else—that she was committed to training for being a Companion, that she had no intention of abandoning her chosen career for him. He was nearly suicidal, and ranted about how she had deceived him.”
Inara paused, remembering the hours-long conversation she’d had with Whitton the night he found out, starting in the student café, talking, walking, ending in the rooms she shared with Catriona, still talking, a circular conversation that seemed impossible to end. He had sought Inara out, as a friend, and poured his heart out in her ear, hoping she would say something about Catriona that would let him love her or make him hate her. Inara had felt like she was walking the razor’s edge, trying not to say anything that would send him away in suicidal despair, but unwilling to lie and give substance to his unreasonable hopes. It had been completely exhausting. Inara had become aware partway through the latter half of the endless conversation that Catriona had returned to their rooms ahead of them and was pinned in the back room, unable to move, unable to avoid listening, because Whitton would not be consoled, and would not leave. “She never had any intention other than to be ‘ordinarily friendly,’ as you put it,” Inara continued. “But he felt she did. Men can misinterpret a friendly manner—especially if that fits in with their dearest desires.”
Kaylee didn’t reply, but she looked thoughtful.
Mal waited until Neumann had finished adjusting the grav modifiers and settled them all safely back down in place, then he confronted him in the cargo bay.
“Dr Neumann.” Mal began the dressing-down formally.
“Captain,” Neumann responded with a friendly smile.
“I’m not appreciating what you’ve been doing to upset the smooth running of my boat.”
“Captain, I’m truly sorry about the grav modifiers. I’ve done my best to put that right, and I promise not to neglect them—”
“I ain’t talkin’ about the grav modifiers,” Mal interrupted. “You’re upsetting my mechanic.”
“Kaylee? Have I upset her?” Neumann was concerned. “I certainly don’t want that, I’m actually becoming very fond of—”
“That’s the problem, see. She don’t need some Core-bred 傲慢 àomàn 过度教育 guòdù jiàoyù piece of 狗屎 gǒushǐ doctor mooning after her, on account of she’s already got herself one.”
“You’ve upset my mechanic and you sure as 地狱 dìyù ’ve upset my medic,” Mal continued. “If they can’t do their jobs on account of you settin’ yourself into the middle of their relationship, my boat don’t run smooth. I don’t need nobody on my boat makes things not smooth.”
Neumann was disconcerted. He hadn’t noticed. This explained a lot of the hostility. “Kaylee—Simon—I didn’t know—”
“You were contracted to supervise the cargo. To see it safe to 泥球 Ní Qiú. That’s all. I expect you to do what you were contracted to do, and not to interfere with the crew of my boat in any capacity. If you can’t fulfill your end of the deal, I’ll have to reconsider my end.”
Now that he understood, Neumann rose to his own defense. “Captain, I intend to fulfill my part of the contract. But there’s no reason to call my interactions with the crew ‘interference.’ ”
“Did you not hear what I’ve just been saying?”
“Of course, Captain. But I disagree. It’s unjust to attribute my attempts to get better acquainted with my shipmates to some malicious desire to interfere with the regular conduct of the ship. The terms of my contract—”
“Contract be damned. If you throw a wrench into the smooth running of my ship, I’ll leave you on 泥球 Ní Qiú and let you hitchhike home. You want to stay on my boat, you’d better make yourself useful, and don’t disrupt the smooth working of my crew.”
Having done what he could to set the internal affairs of Serenity in order, Mal set about the next order of captainly business. They had a paying job taking them to 泥球 Ní Qiú, and some funds to spare, but much of the pay from the Holden Brothers job had already gone into food and fuel, and he’d be needing to find a job on 泥球 Ní Qiú to fund the trip to Persephone. Problem was, 泥球 Ní Qiú really was just about the end of the galaxy as far as paying work was concerned, and he had very few contacts there. He waved them all, one after another, investigating the possibility of getting either a cargo or at least a job. He was finishing up his last call, with much the same result as all the others, when Inara entered the bridge.
“Well, if you do have any leads on a cargo we might be able to haul off 泥球 Ní Qiú for you, I’d sure appreciate you sendin’ me a wave,” Mal said in his most pleasant tone, with a pleasant look on his face. “Thanks for takin’ the time.” He shut off the communication and exhaled his frustration.
“So pleasant, Mal,” Inara said, placing her hands on his shoulders.
“ ’S just an act, Inara,” Mal said, looking up at her. “Gotta make ’em think I’m a nice guy, so’s they give me work.”
“Must be hard work, being nice to people.”
“Can be,” he answered automatically. Then he registered what she had said. “Hey! Harrumph.”
Inara suddenly leaned over and kissed him. She sat down in Mal’s lap, wrapping her arms around him. He was surprised, but pleased. They were alone on the bridge, and he indulged in the pleasant distraction from work and worries, kissing her and enjoying her warm presence in his lap. After a while, he pulled up and asked, “So, you come up here just to kiss me and sit in my lap? Or did you have an ulterior motive? Not that the kissing’s unwelcome or anything.”
“I must confess to having an ulterior motive,” Inara said, laughingly. “Mal, the restaurants on 尘球 Chén Qíu were all very fine, and I’m sure 泥球 Ní Qiú offers much the same kind of diversions, but I really need to visit a more civilized planet soon, so I came up here to make my humble request.”
“What kind of civilized planet might that be?” he asked, knowing full well that their next stop after 泥球 Ní Qiú was Persephone, but he wanted to hear what her idea of ‘civilized’ was.
“Well, Beaumonde, Boros, Persephone, even Greenleaf or Verbena. I hope I’m not being unreasonable.”
Something about the glibness of her response raised his hackles. “And may I ask why you need to—?”
“It’s the Guild business again, Mal,” Inara said quickly. “And it’s urgent. I need to take care of it.”
“ ‘Guild business’,” Mal repeated slowly. “Can’t you just send ’em a wave, Inara?”
“There’s someone I need to meet face to face.”
“You need to meet ’em face to face, but it can happen on any one of half a dozen planets? Inara, there’s something you’re not telling me.”
“I can’t tell you more. Please, Mal, trust me. This business really is urgent.”
“You ain’t been in touch with the Guild for weeks, and now suddenly it’s urgent? Inara, this just don’t hold water. What is really going on?”
“Please, Mal, just…please,” Inara pleaded, willing him to understand.
“Why don’t you just tell me what’s up?”
“I can’t, Mal.”
“Can’t? Or won’t?” Mal demanded.
“Perhaps you’d like to be gettin’ up offa my lap here.”
“I’m comfortable with where I am.”
“Well—I ain’t. Not when you’re keeping secrets from me and lying about it.”
Inara jumped up angrily. “Mal!”
“I oughtta a’ known better ’n to take up with a lying whore.”
Inara slapped his face and stormed off the bridge. Anger carried her to her shuttle, but the tears came as soon as the door was shut behind her.
妹妹 mèimei [little sister]
混球 húnqiú [jerk]
狗屎 gǒushǐ [crap]
妹妹 mèimei [little sister],
傲慢 àomàn [jumped-up]
过度教育 guòdù jiàoyù [over-educated]
地狱 dìyù [hell]
泥球 Ní Qiú [name of a world]
尘球 Chén Qíu [name of a world]
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