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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Inara works her contacts; River and Simon do some research; more plotting and scheming.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1666 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
THE TRIAL (06)
Follows BREAK OUT (05). Precedes SHADOW (07).
The series so far:
A LION’S MOUTH (01)
ADVENTURES IN SITTING (02)
SPARKS FLY (03)
BREAK OUT (05)
Inara works her contacts; River and Simon do some research; more plotting and scheming.
Previous Part | Next Part
* * *
“We stand the best chance of freeing the Captain if we can prove that the indenture contracts are fake, and better yet if we can find evidence that the people were kidnapped or reported missing from their homes before Serenity ever came to 泥球 Ní Qiú,” Neumann said.
“Can’t we just ask the people to give us their histories?” Simon asked. It seemed the obvious question, but both Neumann and Inara seemed to be ignoring it as an option. “They would know best, wouldn’t they, what world they were on when they were kidnapped, how they came to be enslaved? Couldn’t they just attest that they boarded Serenity willingly?”
“We could ask them, Simon, if we could talk to them,” Inara replied. “That’s the problem with the Immigration Detention Center. According to Melissa, Immigration throws up every possible barrier to communication. Even family members and the detainees’ lawyers have to apply for access, and it often takes days or weeks for the applications to be processed. And even then, many of the applications are denied. Melissa told me she’d consider herself lucky if she got to meet with any of them at all before the arraignment hearing reconvenes on Tuesday. The SAHT is working on getting access to the detainees, but so far they’ve not been able to meet with any of them.”
“Did you talk with any of them while they were aboard Serenity?” Ip asked. “One guy told me about how he got taken on Paquin. He answered a help wanted ad, signed up for what he thought was a mining job, and found himself on a transport—not to a mine on Santo, but to a slave market. He was unceremoniously auctioned off and has been working terraforming sites near Newhall and 泥球 Ní Qiú for three years.”
Simon nodded. “I talked with some of the people, the ones who needed medical care.” He thought for a moment. “There was a woman with a—” he coughed abruptly “—medical condition, who told me she’d had the problem ever since she was abducted from her home on Ezra. But most of the people didn’t tell me where they came from—I’m the doctor, so they told me their symptoms. I could make a list of what I remember, but it won’t be very long. What about you, River?”
“Too many voices in there,” she said, with a little note of panic in her voice. “It was getting very crowded and I had to get away.”
“You spent most of the flight on the bridge, didn’t you?” Neumann asked.
River nodded. It was almost enough to overwhelm her now, just remembering how crowded it got in her head, especially the first two days, before the Captain started calming people down. She worked to control her panic. She did not want to lose control in front of Ip Neumann. He still thought of her as a more or less normal young woman, actual and whole, and she really wanted to keep it that way.
“Oh, River,” Simon lamented, “if only you could go with Ms Draper to hear what Mal knows about our ‘guests’ we’d have a lot more information to go on. But it’s not safe. You and I shouldn’t even go out together—we’re too tempting a target. If only Zoe or Jayne were here.”
This speech made little sense to Ip Neumann. Why was Simon so worried about safety? The dockyard area was a little dicey, to be sure, but Inara’s shuttle was parked right in the best part of town, and not far from the courthouse.
“I’ll go without you then, Simon,” River said.
“No, River.” Simon was adamant. “You can’t just walk into an Alliance jail—it’s far too dangerous—” with a glance at Neumann, he cut himself off and re-thought his words “—for a girl of your age,” he finished lamely for Neumann’s benefit.
“To go from here to the visitors’ entrance with the Captain’s lawyer?” Ip was incredulous. “Simon, aren’t you being a bit over-protective? It’s not as if she’d be in jail.”
Yes it is, Simon thought. Rescindment notice or not, River’s former status as a highly wanted fugitive and her current status as a person of not necessarily normal behavior were both things that might attract unwanted attention. And drawing attention to herself in an Alliance detention facility just might be too tempting for those who were still pursuing her to resist. Simon was convinced that someone was still after River, despite the official rescindment. Two by two, Hands of Blue: the creepy nursery rhyme that River recited every time that she was most agitated. Simon didn’t know what kind of authority or access those Hands of Blue had, but he well remembered his feelings of terror as they pursued him and River in the hospital on Ariel. He had no desire to put River or himself in that kind of position again. “The fewer of us who are seen acting on the Captain’s behalf, the better,” Simon asserted, more rationally.
“I can’t exactly do it long distance, Simon,” River inserted. “I’m not some kind of goddess with magical powers, despite what people think.”
Ip Neumann stared, while Inara laughed at this speech. “Long distance…” Simon mused.
“Do what long distance?” Ip asked, puzzled.
“I wonder how we might do that.” Simon began running through possibilities, but lacked the technical knowledge to come up with any workable solution. “Some kind of two-way CorVue screen….Would that work? But how could we get a vid link in to Mal? They’d never let it past the door.”
Inara’s mind was racing. The Advocates’ Society Dinner Dance with Judge Advocate Momsen, as dance partner and beta tester. She’d done her research. Colonel Momsen had been nicknamed ‘Inspector Gadget’ by his colleagues because he was always testing out new high-tech equipment with law enforcement applications. When she contacted him for a preliminary interview, she’d asked him to elaborate on the “beta tester” part of the contract, as it was an unusual request to make of a Companion. While he’d declined to be specific unless she accepted the contract, he’d been quite forthcoming about the general nature of the beta testing: weaponry and surveillance equipment, to be tested at the dinner dance itself. He’d laughed as he assured her that no shooting would be involved, and explained in what way the weaponry was being tested. Then, unable to resist, he allowed himself to explain in somewhat more detail the nature of the surveillance equipment. “I have an idea,” Inara told the others.
Inara spent the evening on the job with her client, Colonel Cyrus Momsen. He was sly and had no interest in her as a bed partner, but the annual Advocates Society Dinner Dance was an event not to be missed by someone in his profession. He adored dancing and liked to have a female dance partner, preferably one who was skilled enough to follow his lead in the many couple dances he excelled at. He was senior Judge Advocate on Persephone, and although Mal’s case was in the civilian court, Inara made it her business to ensure that the military did not also want a piece of the action. An important benefit of escorting Colonel Momsen was that she was well-placed to mingle with the flower of Persephone’s legal profession, taking the pulse of the room and making contact with key individuals. It was this aspect of the event that had caused Inara to consider Momsen’s request in the first place, and luckily, Momsen’s secondary agenda played into her purposes as well.
It was another case of dancing on the razor’s edge. Momsen of course danced with her, but he also expected her to dance with others. The Dinner Dance was not one of those gatherings of boorish people who arrived with their dancing partner and stuck to them like glue for the entire evening. In fact, many of the Advocates went to the other extreme and abandoned their spouses, dates, and dance partners in order to get on with the serious business of working the room. People asked others to dance, and mixed and mingled, and Momsen had a list of people he expected Inara to dance with and socialize with on his behalf, while he worked his way through another list of his own. During the course of the evening, Inara was able to gather reassurances from allies of Melissa Draper, Sir Warwick Harrow, and other supporters of abolition that the Reynolds case was in their sights and that they would apply their influence in the direction she wished. She worked the other angle as well, dropping hints with friends of Prosecutor Ficker that their interests might best be furthered by tempering the prosecutor’s zeal. Ficker himself was in attendance, and although she was careful not to interact with him directly, she planted the seeds for a plan that she hoped would bear fruit in short order. Ficker cherished political ambitions—everyone knew he was eager to be elected State’s Attorney—and Inara was able to work several of Ficker’s political allies around to the view that a conviction in the slave trafficking case would not accrue to Ficker’s political benefit.
She had to work hard for her fee. Momsen might not want to sleep with her, but he did have high expectations from the Companion, and she was obligated to meet them. Exhausted as she was by the recent round of amelioration therapy, she had to keep her wits about her as she worked the room, making sure that she fulfilled Momsen’s expectations in that regard as well as serving her own interests. And then there was the beta testing.
Ah, yes, the beta testing. As soon as she contracted with him, Momsen told her more of the details. “You know, I tested the limits of the most high-tech gun-scan on Persephone at a society function a few months ago.”
“Did the scan detect your weapon?” she asked, all innocence.
“One of them,” he answered seriously. “I relinquished it, of course, with a sheepish grin—silly me, how could I have forgotten? But the scan didn’t detect the other concealed weapon.”
“How can that be?”
“It was made of a new material, whose exact chemical make-up I am not at liberty to describe—highly classified military secret, you understand.” He gave Inara a wink, and she understood that he was similarly armed tonight, packing iron, or at least packing classified material, at that very moment.
“Tonight,” he added, “my second weapon is an upgrade, version 2.0 if you will, and although the gun-scan at the Advocates’ Dinner Dance is even more advanced than the one at that ball a few months back, I’m hoping it will come through undetected. Now you, my dear, will be carrying your armament in plain sight—”
“I’ll be carrying what?” Inara responded in surprise.
“Your armament,” Momsen repeated, and he held out a set of what looked like hair ornaments. “Allow me.”
Inara submitted to having the admittedly good-looking ornaments placed in her hair. She examined her reflection in the mirror and was pleased with the effect. Momsen certainly had an eye for aesthetics. “Did you design these…what are they, anyway?”
“Hair ornaments,” he answered. “I am not about to disclose the exact nature of the weapons they contain.” He relented and smiled. “And yes, I did consult on their outward appearance, although I had nothing to do with designing the technology they contain. I’m no engineer. But I told them what they needed to look like if they really expected a lady to carry these weapons at a public function.”
Inara wondered aloud what she should do if the hair ornament weapons were detected by the gun-scan.
“Play the ditzy female card,” Momsen advised. “Oh, I can’t think how such a thing ended up in my hair!” he squeaked in a horrible falsetto. “I must simply fire that servant girl, how could she have made such a mistake, I said hair ornament, not hair armament.”
Inara laughed at the horrible pun, inwardly rolling her eyes and vowing to put on a much more effective performance if required.
“But it won’t be detected,” Momsen continued. “I can nearly guarantee that—but not quite, which is why you’re wearing them in your hair tonight.” Inara understood that the point of carrying the weapons was to test the security system. Momsen would carry more than one weapon, one of which he expected to be found, and one of which he hoped would not be detected—and that would give him information about the gun scan’s capabilities. He continued, “Now—the surveillance equipment. This is the really exciting part.”
He was almost bouncing up and down in his eagerness, and Inara had to work very hard not to show her disappointment when he produced, with fanfare and flourish, a pair of glasses. Ordinary-looking glasses. “Here you go. Not quite as fashionable as the hair armaments,” he chuckled.
That’s an understatement, Inara thought as she studied herself in the mirror. The glasses weren’t bad-looking, and they didn’t interfere with her vision, but they did give her an owlish look that she didn’t much care for.
Momsen produced a second pair of glasses and put them on himself. Definitely an owlish look, Inara thought, as she regarded Cyrus Momsen. She kept her features schooled into a calm and pleasant expression as she smiled at him, while inside she was jumping up and down, pointing at him and saying, I can see why they call you Inspector Gadget.
“You can see why they call me Inspector Gadget,” he grinned, and Inara hid her start of shock. Did these glasses give him psychic abilities, too? “Every time I get my hands on something new like this, I just can’t resist—even if it means wearing glasses at a society function.”
Inara would have gladly, easily, resisted the urge to wear glasses at a society function, but she was being paid to be a beta tester, so she said nothing and kept her expression neutral.
“These glasses are the two-way vid links I was telling you about before. They’re the latest thing—military just acquired the technology from the Parliamentary Operatives Bureau, very hush-hush. You can look through the screens and see the room, or focus on the screens and see what’s on them, although I warn you, it gives you a bit of a glassy-eyed stare.”
That was another understatement, Inara found. When the screens were activated, it was so distracting she could barely continue the most basic conversation with the person she was speaking to, who stopped short and said, “Inara, is something wrong?” It was not too bad when the glasses were in “send” mode, but when her glasses shifted to “receive” mode and Momsen’s conversation from the next room played in front of her eyes while the audio unit in the earpiece transmitted by bone conduction right into her ear, it took all her concentration and all her training in the art of conversation to respond, “I’m fine. I think my glasses are giving me a headache.”
Her friend looked at her strangely. “I’ve never seen you wear glasses before, Inara. I’m surprised you didn’t consider corrective surgery.”
“Oh, these are…temporary,” Inara improvised, as another blast of Momsen’s conversation threatened to derail even that simple sentence before she could get it all out. “I’m going to sit down. 请原谅我 Qǐng yuánliàng wǒ.”
A few minutes later, Momsen arrived and sat next to her on the sofa. He had removed his glasses, and Inara took it as a cue to remove hers, which she did with relief.
“Blast it all,” he said, frustrated. “These glasses are so 该死的 gāisǐ de distracting. I think it’s got potential, but for now I feel as if instead of having one fruitful conversation, I can carry on two incoherent conversations at once. I’m not sure it’s a step forward. If only I could test these under less distracting circumstances.” He appeared lost in thought for a moment. “I can think of lots of ways to test them further—you and I could test them from different hotel rooms in the morning, for example—but nothing I can think of involves passing through a detection system, and that’s a key element of the test.”
He appeared lost in thought, and clearly his frustration was mounting behind the blandly pleasant expression he wore on his face like a mask for society functions. Inara saw her opportunity. “My friend Melissa Draper is visiting a client in lock-up tomorrow,” Inara offered. “What if I were to persuade her to wear the glasses? She’ll be passing through the security scan at the visitors’ entrance to the jail—”
“That’s brilliant!” Momsen exclaimed. “That’s one of the best security scans on the world. If the glasses pass undetected—” he glanced at Inara and declined to continue that line of thought aloud. He coughed and added, “You must be confident in your powers of persuasion. Are you sure Ms Draper won’t mind having me listen in on her private conversation with her client? She’s a—” he paused ever so slightly as he made the connection “—human rights attorney—isn’t that right?”
Inara smiled. “Yes, she is. And no, I don’t think I could persuade her to let you listen in. But I do think I could persuade her to let me listen in. And I could give you a full report when I return the glasses to you—about how the glasses function, not the content of the conversation. Companions don’t tell.” She accompanied that statement with a look, and saw that he understood her point about the legendary discretion of Companions.
“Hmm. This might work.” He stood up and offered Inara a hand. “Meanwhile, let’s dance. Do you know the reverse flåm hambo?” And he led her away in three-quarter time.
Many of Inara’s skills were called into use at the Advocates’ Dinner Dance. Dancing, conversing, working contacts, beta testing high-tech surveillance equipment while wearing undetectable weaponry in her hair—well, she had to admit that was a new one, perhaps she should mention it to the Guild, and they could design a course to prepare young Companions for the possibility…. She was not used to dancing for hours on end, and when they retired for the night, having danced non-stop for nearly five hours, Momsen expected her to massage his sore muscles.
At last, after an endless foot massage—his feet, not hers—Inara was free to retire to her own bed. She fell into an exhausted slumber, too far gone for dreaming. The next day she awoke to the sun streaming through the window, still tired and sore. It wasn’t over. She had two more clients in the next two days. But she allowed herself a feeling of satisfaction as she regarded the two pairs of surveillance glasses and packed them discretely into her hand luggage.
Melissa Draper pulled out her brief and studied her client for a moment through the odd pair of reading glasses. “I’d like for you to tell me anything you know about the individuals who traveled on your vessel from 泥球 Ní Qiú to Persephone. Names, ages, where they’re from if you know it, profession, any information you have about how they ended up enslaved on 泥球 Ní Qiú. Your friends made a particular request for you to think about each person as you tell me the details, and to look me in the eye. I was told it had something to do with…an albatross,” she said with a puzzled expression.
“An albatross?” Mal’s expression showed comprehension almost immediately. “Right. Well, there’s Mr and Mrs Vladimir and Ilona Chow,” he said, concentrating on the mental image of the couple with as much detail as he could. Hope you’re tuning in, Albatross, he thought, and imagined that he heard River answering loud and clear in his mind. He didn’t rightly know how River’s abilities worked exactly, but if she could somehow garner useful information by having him stare into the lawyer’s owl glasses (which he deduced to be some kind of surveillance device that Draper had somehow snuck past security) then he would cooperate. “Kidnapped on their way home from work on Whitefall six years ago. Left behind their four children, ages six through thirteen, to fend for themselves. I don’t know if there would be a missing persons report on that planet, Whitefall has a pretty irregular form of local government…”
It was the oddest experience Ip had had in a long time. He and River had set out with the Captain’s lawyer, walking toward the courthouse complex. Inara had announced that the lawyer would be wearing a special pair of glasses inside the courthouse jailblock, and that River was to wear another pair. She twiddled and fiddled with both pairs of glasses for a considerable time, from which Ip had deduced that the glasses were not your garden-variety reading glasses, but neither Inara nor anyone else would explain the plan or the significance of the glasses.
“Don’t go inside,” Simon insisted, for the sixth time.
River rolled her eyes, the expression exaggerated by the lenses. “No, silly,” she said. “I don’t have to go in. Just near. They won’t know I’m there to listen. Ms Draper will let the Captain know the Albatross needs to hear. He’ll understand why.”
“I’ll walk her there,” Ip offered, and River skipped with delight. Simon’s reaction was a comical mixture of relief—someone would be keeping an eye on his vulnerable sister—and annoyance—because the person keeping an eye on her was not himself, but Ip Neumann.
River insisted upon Ip’s escorting her literally—arm in arm—and danced along by his side. When they neared the visitors’ entrance to the jail, she insisted that he accompany her to the park across the street, rather than waiting near the entrance or going in. They strolled through the park, chatting light-heartedly, until River suddenly stopped in her tracks and cocked her head with an odd expression on her face.
“What’s wrong, River?” he asked.
“Sshhhh!” she said. “Listening!” She sank down onto a nearby park bench, and for the next half hour or more she sat, frozen, with an expression of intense concentration that managed at the same time to look completely vacant. He tried asking her what was going on, but it was if she were absent. She didn’t even seem to hear him. He decided to take his role as protector seriously, since she so clearly was not engaged in her present surroundings. He sat on the bench and watched people pass by. It was a fine spring day, and it really wasn’t such a terrible hardship to be passing the time on a park bench with a pretty girl by his side, even if she was behaving rather strangely. He fielded a few questions from people who stared, explaining that his friend had never been the same since her hovercraft accident, but that she seemed to enjoy the fresh air nonetheless.
About forty minutes later, River suddenly stood up. “Time to go,” she said, with a winsome smile, just as if she had not been sitting mute and frozen for a good portion of an hour. “Betcha can’t catch me!” And she took off across the park at a run.
He raced after her. She didn’t stick to the footpath, but dashed around flowerbeds and leapt over bushes. She actually ran under the rim of the fountain, avoided a woman walking a dog by dancing between the two and leaping the leash, and ran a complete circle around a father pushing a baby carriage. She finally allowed Ip to catch her by pinning her against the trunk of a large tree. “Won’t stop unless you kiss me,” she laughed. So he did, a quick, friendly peck on the—she turned her head at the last second and he landed on her lips instead.
It was nice. He pulled back, and they gazed smilingly at each other. Then River took his arm, and they walked back toward the courthouse, meeting Melissa Draper shortly after she exited the visitors’ door. She told them that Captain Reynolds’s descriptions had been very thorough and specific—River nodded knowingly—and she handed Ip an electronic portfolio and a glasses case. They parted ways and Ip and River made their way back to Inara’s shuttle.
“That wasn’t very nice, you know, telling people that my brain got damaged in a hovercraft accident,” River said.
“I’m sorry,” Ip said, unapologetically. “But I had to make up something. People were staring.”
“It’s not true,” River said.
“I know, but how else could I explain the vacant stare, the frozen posture, the—”
“The real story,” she said with a mischievous smile, looking him directly in the eye, “is much more interesting.”
River spent most of the next forty-eight hours on the cortex doing research. She accessed the indenture contracts that the prosecutor had entered into evidence. As she began to investigate them a disturbing picture emerged. None of the indentures were made out with the names the Captain’s 泥球 Ní Qiú guests had given him. The descriptions, pictures, and retinal scans on each indenture contract matched the people, however. When River looked up the retinal scans in Social Control Office database—a clever bit of hacking made easier with the help of a code supplied discretely by Ip, who told her he had obtained it through a friend—the retinal records matched with the names given on the indentures. An unsuspicious mind might have accepted this information, and concluded that the passengers had all given the Captain false names. But River’s was not an unsuspicious mind. All of the Social Control records had been updated in the database on the same date, less than a week ago. Just after Serenity left 泥球 Ní Qiú. Who had accessed the Social Control records, and what kind of “update” had they made?
Simon and Ip Neumann were likewise busy with research. Simon was searching medical records, while Ip searched news archives, following a tip that his friend Brother Chan ’eil Càil had given him when he waved him with an update on the Captain’s trial. The breakthrough came when Simon discovered that at least twenty-three of the names on the indentures were the names of people who had passed through the 泥球 Ní Qiú morgue. They were dead.
River took some steps to protect her identity before doing the next step of research. She selected her target and took the necessary steps to assume his identity, reflecting gleefully that he deserved whatever trouble came his way as a result of her investigations. She bypassed his security firewall, and, using his cortex address, accessed the protected databases of the 泥球 Ní Qiú medical examiner’s office.
“I sincerely hope that no one is able to track this research back to Inara’s cortex link,” Simon remarked as the three worked through their respective data streams. “What you’re doing is highly illegal, since we’re not exactly law enforcement agents acting on a warrant.”
“I’m using Wing’s,” River answered.
“Using wings?” Simon repeated. He was looking at her as if he expected to see wings sprouting from her shoulder blades.
River had no time for such nonsense. “Is there an echo in here?” she responded, brattily.
* * *
泥球 Ní Qiú [name of a world]
请原谅我 Qǐng yuánliàng wǒ[Please excuse me].”
该死的 gāisǐ de [goddamn]
Tuesday, August 16, 2011 8:22 AM
Tuesday, August 16, 2011 8:30 AM
Tuesday, August 16, 2011 8:35 AM
Tuesday, August 16, 2011 12:06 PM
Wednesday, August 17, 2011 9:21 AM
Thursday, August 18, 2011 4:17 AM
Thursday, August 18, 2011 8:56 AM
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