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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1177 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Follows ONE MAN’S TRASH (08). Precedes TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10).
The series so far:
A LION’S MOUTH (01)
ADVENTURES IN SITTING (02)
SPARKS FLY (03)
BREAK OUT (05)
THE TRIAL (06)
ONE MAN’S TRASH (08)
Previous Part | Next Part
* * *
She couldn’t find Mal on the bridge. Inara looked all over the boat, and finally found him in his bunk, sitting at his desk hunched over a set of books. He was biting the end of his stylus, running the fingers of his other hand through his hair, and he looked dog tired.
Mal had been working indefatigably ever since Serenity had lifted off from the surface of Beylix. First he helped Kaylee install some engine parts. Mal only visited the bridge to confirm course settings, leaving the piloting to River and Zoe, and letting Zoe take over executive functions until the top priority engine repairs were complete. The repair work continued on the bridge with replacement of the smashed pilot’s console, and then some kind of work on the ship’s atmo system. As soon as that was done, all hands—all hands except Inara, that is, who felt herself to be increasingly useless—joined in a massive effort in the cargo bay, sorting and cleaning the piles of refuse that filled the space. Kaylee began fixing up machines, putting together pumps and electric generators—and all sorts of things that Inara didn’t really recognize. Mal spent most of the work day in the cargo bay, assisting Kaylee with the task, disappearing from time to time to take care of what Inara could only assume were captainy things, since he certainly didn’t appear to be resting.
Inara’s original purpose in seeking Mal out was to ask him when they would next be visiting a civilized planet—she needed to schedule another appointment for amelioration therapy, attend to her Guild business, and she felt increasingly ill at ease with how long it had been since she’d done any work. Living on Serenity as a passenger, as Mal’s guest, or even as his—dare she think it?—significant other, was all very well, but it wasn’t a profession; it wasn’t even a job. She needed to do something to earn her keep. In another mood, she imagined Mal might make a coarse joke about how she might earn her keep, but as soon as she saw him, she knew that was out of the question today. He just looked so tired.
“Hello, Inara,” he said, looking up with a tired, but welcoming smile. “请进 Qǐng jìn.” He shifted in his chair, stretching his sore muscles, and stood up. “Have a seat.” He offered her the chair he had just vacated, which was the only one in the bunk.
She sat, but only at the edge, and pulled him back down next to her, perching herself on the corner of the chair so that he still had a proper place to sit and rest his weary body. “I’m workin’ on the ship’s books,” he explained, waving vaguely toward the sizable volumes spread on the desk.
Inara knew he kept the books. On many small cargo vessels, the function of ship’s purser was carried out by the captain, rather than hiring a specialist to handle the accounting. Food, water, machinery, medicine, pay for the crew, ships’ stores, cargo (both the buying and selling), licensing, insurance and other business costs—someone had to keep track of these things, and on Serenity, it was Mal. He kept two sets of books—one suitable for inspection by agents of the Alliance, whether a police checkpoint or the Bureau of Taxation and Revenue—and the other providing the real accounting that he himself needed to keep track of Serenity’s state of financial well-being. Which was mostly not-so-well-being, as Inara knew.
Inara asked Mal to explain what he was doing. “I’m updating the books with our recent work on Beylix,” he said. “In honest truth, I’m puzzled what to do about the cattle run. Ordinarily, cargo like that—” she knew he meant smuggled cargo “—would go in this set of books.” He indicated the extra-legal set. “But Harrow paid into my credit account, which means the Feds got a record of that money, so now I got to register it in this set as well.” He indicated the legal books. “Can’t write it down as ‘Received payment for shipment of smuggled cattle’ now, can I? But it can’t be written down as something far off, otherwise the expenses I had—the septic vac system, and especially the fodder—don’t make no sense. Wish I knew what to do, but I can’t even hardly think straight.” He sighed again, and worked his hands through his hair, drooping over the desk.
Inara looked over at the books, noted where he’d registered the intake of “recyclables”—their current cargo of junk lifted somewhat extra-legally from the Beylix dump—and scanned the page. She turned to ask Mal a question and saw that he’d fallen asleep. She got up and turned down the blankets on his bed. He woke a bit when she pulled him out of the chair and eased him onto his bed, but only just enough to help her remove his clothing and get him comfortably situated. “Thanks, ’Nara,” he mumbled, and settled into his pillow. By the time she finished tucking the blankets around him again he was sound asleep.
She settled down in the chair, and began reading through the books. Income from each job—whether legal or otherwise—was allotted into shares. The most significant share went to the ship. Serenity needed to keep flying, or none of them would work. Of the remainder, the lion’s share went to the crew, shared out according to agreement. Mal had scrupulously paid his crew, every time they earned it—even if he’d had to put off the payday (as he had recently on Beylix), even if he’d had to borrow money back from the crew to cover expenses (again, something he had done on Beylix). He accounted for every bit owed to crew, and made good on it. The remaining monies formed the captain’s share of the pay.
The story the books told was appalling. Mal had perpetrated a systematic fraud—for years—against…himself. As she examined the books, Inara found that, aside from a few sundries—socks, underwear, toiletries—the captain’s share was always plowed back into the ship. Compression coil—paid for from the captain’s share. Buffer panel on Boros—captain’s share. Fuel on Persephone—captain’s share. Navigational updates, required by law—captain’s share. Food, for the entire crew, on Beylix—captain’s share again. Only thing he’d spent on himself were occasional drinks and restaurant meals—usually when he was on the job, meeting a contact—and ammo—again, used on the job. The only significant personal expense was three years ago when he’d bought himself a new pair of boots. And given the state of his old boots, she knew he had waited until it was absolutely necessary. Serenity stayed in the sky because Mal never paid himself. Never took anything, but gave and gave and gave. Paid for the ship and the crew with money out of his own pocket. Sometimes paid with his own blood. In the extra-legal books, Inara noted some cryptically described expenses—bribes, blood money, ransom—that told the tale of just how hard survival on the Rim could be.
Inara picked up the stylus, and began making some notes. There were advantages to being a Companion, after all. She hadn’t been a successful businesswoman all these years without knowing something about keeping books.
Mal woke to find the Shepherd sitting in the chair in his bunk, in front of his desk. It was a shock. He’d left the ship’s books out on the desk, wide open. He never left the books out in the open, particularly Volume Two, as he thought of it. Shepherd Book coulda seen—oh 地狱 dìyù, what was he worried about? Weren’t nothin’ in there the Shepherd didn’t already know. “Shepherd,” he said by way of greeting. “Funny how you seem to turn up whenever I’m too tired to get up. You’d get to thinkin’ I didn’t do nothin’ but laze around in bed ’round here.”
Shepherd Book, as was his wont on these occasions, merely nodded a greeting, with that half-smile of his, and said nothing.
Mal propped himself up on his elbows, knowing it wouldn’t do no good to tell the Shepherd to get gone from his bunk so he could get outta bed and get dressed. When the Shepherd came, he wanted to talk, or at least he wanted to make Mal talk, so Mal waited until the Shepherd said what was on his mind. Sure enough, the Shepherd soon started grilling him.
“Are you prepared?”
“Prepared for what?” Mal asked.
“To take the place of Wash,” Book replied succinctly.
“Ain’t tryin’ to take the place of Wash,” Mal answered. “Ain’t tryin’ to be Serenity’s pilot, nor Zoe’s husband. Only thinkin’ that when her child is born, Zoe’s gonna need some help, and yeah, I figure I’ll sorta stand-in as a father to the kid.”
“Are you prepared?” the Shepherd repeated.
“Hell no, Preacher, I ain’t prepared,” Mal replied. “I reckon it’s gonna happen whether I’m prepared or not, so I might as well get used to it.”
“Don’t you think Zoe’s strong enough to stand on her own?” Book inquired.
“’Course she’s strong enough,” Mal answered. “That ain’t up for debate. But she needs to know she ain’t alone in this. Wash may be dead, but she’s got a family, and her whole family’s gonna help her raise this child.”
“Speaking of children, what about Simon and Kaylee?” Book asked.
“They ain’t children. What about ’em?” Mal returned.
“You’re trying to do right by them,” Book observed.
“I screwed ’em up this time. Weren’t intentional. Figure it’s up to me to fix it.”
“So you approve? Of their relationship.”
“No!” Mal replied instantly on his gut instinct. No one was good enough for his 妹妹 mèimei. Then, upon reflection, he amended, “Well, yeah, actually. Simon’s shaping well.”
“You mean you’ve succeeded in corrupting him.”
Now it was Mal’s turn to play the silent card. He waited.
Book expounded. “Turning him to the wickedness of your ways.”
“Guess I have,” Mal said with a bit of a proud grin. “Reckon I figure it’s better for him to follow our wicked ways out here than for him to follow the wicked ways of the Alliance. He’s changed, Book. He ain’t Core no more.”
“You’ve made him a misfit.”
“Don’t figure I have. He always had it in him. That’s why he broke his sister out of that academy. I didn’t have nothin’ to do with him makin’ that decision.”
“Ah…yes,” Book said. “His sister.”
“She’s coming along.”
“She’s doin’ better,” Mal said. “Steadier.”
“You once said she wasn’t completely right.”
“I did. But she ain’t all wrong neither. Way I figure, she was talkin’ sense most of the time. I just didn’t know how to listen.”
“Still got the danger lurking in her,” Book said ominously.
“I suppose she does,” Mal agreed. “But don’t we all? Don’t we all, Book?” he insisted, when Book didn’t reply.
Book still wouldn’t answer. Mal had a sense he had touched on the territory the Shepherd never wanted to talk about.
Mal continued to press. “Doesn’t the darkness lurk in us all, Book? She may have killed dozens of Reavers—”
“And some people in the Maidenhead Bar—” Book interjected.
“Way I see it, she ain’t no worse than what I am,” Mal asserted. “Better than, maybe. I got the blood of thousands on my hands—men, women—”
Book interrupted him. “You can’t take responsibility for every death under your command in the war.”
Mal wasn’t about to be talked down. “Yes, I can. And should. Not just the ones I shot, not just the enemy. Everyone I ordered to stand when they coulda run, everyone I ordered to attack when they shoulda took shelter. That girl River ain’t no more of a killer than what I am myself. Less so, maybe, since she was made to be that way by some remorseless 不道德 混帐 bùdàodé húnzhàng cutting into her brain.”
“And you weren’t made to kill? Forced by circumstances?”
“I volunteered to fight, Shepherd. Ain’t no one forced me.”
“And you killed others easily, gleefully, with pleasure?”
“Hell no, preacher. Every death sits on my conscience. Some more so than others.” He fell silent, thinking of some of the deaths that sat heavier on his conscience.
Book interrupted his journey down that dark path. “Your new man.”
“You mean Dr Ip? He ain’t my man.”
“He’s making himself your man.”
“Can’t see why he’d want to do a thing like that.”
“Can’t you?” Book pressed.
Mal considered. “He wants information outta me. Favorite activity is ‘Grill the Captain.’ The question is why.”
“Curiosity?” Book suggested.
“Sure,” Mal readily agreed. “But on whose behalf?”
“Whose indeed?” There was a beat of silence. “I questioned you often enough,” Book offered.
“Yeah, you did.” Mal gave Book a penetrating stare. Book was another one whose favorite activity was ‘Grill the Captain.’ “Without offering up a lotta confidences in return, I might add.”
Book was silent. He didn’t look like he was about to begin offering up any of those confidences now.
“Maybe I just keep him on ’cause I miss your needling, Shepherd. Need someone to keep me sharp.”
The Shepherd quirked a smile and turned the subject. “Looking out for Jayne, I see.”
“Jayne can take care of himself.”
“Yet you rode to the rescue when he found himself entangled with Janice.”
“Hell, Shepherd, he didn’t tell me he was havin’ domestic troubles. From the sound of his comm, it was mayhem, women and children screamin’, crashes, explosions, and a Reaver attack thrown in as a bonus.”
“Jayne got out of that scrape.”
“He did.” Mal did his best to look stern, but the Shepherd wasn’t fooled.
“You wouldn’t mind seeing him entangled.”
“No, yeah. It would be funny.” Mal knew his sense of humor contained a cruel streak, and part of him was disappointed that Jayne had extricated himself from his predicament so easily. He would have liked to watch him squirm a bit longer.
“Just as funny if it happened to you?” the Shepherd shot back.
“Ha, ha,” Mal replied without humor. “But it won’t.”
“You’re so sure? Cock sure?”
This time Mal couldn’t contain his snort of laughter. Everybody seemed to be askin’ him that question. “I am. I ain’t a man of loose morals, Shepherd.” Book raised his eyebrows and mouthed the word ‘thieving.’ “Well, okay, I am,” Mal conceded, “but not that way. No matter what you may think—with your special hell and all. I may be susceptible,” Mal allowed. He was just a human being, after all. “But I ain’t loose. Besides, I’ve taken precautions.”
“Because you don’t want to father any children on Inara.”
Leave it to the Shepherd to hit him where he was most vulnerable. “Yeah, Shepherd, I do,” he confessed in a low voice. “I want as many children as she’s willin’ to bear me. If she’s ready to be a mother, I’m ready to be a father.”
“And you’ve told her this?”
“I spilled it on her unawares,” Mal blurted. “I could see her face. She don’t want children. Leastaways, she don’t want ’em with me.” This confession hurt more than he expected, and he tried to take refuge in sarcasm. “Ain’t a ‘suitable candidate,’ I s’pose.”
“But when she asked you, point blank, if you were serious about wanting children, you wouldn’t give her a direct answer,” the Shepherd pointed out. “You were flippant, you were evasive, you tried diverting her attention, you counter-attacked.”
“I’m…afraid,” Mal admitted, at last.
“Afraid of what?”
“Afraid if I tell her I want children, I’ll scare her off.”
“You think she’s afraid?” Book queried.
“You heard her. Well, I guess you didn’t. I heard her. Heard her say she figured she’d die before she retired from Companioning and had children. That ain’t very hopeful now, is it?” Mal drew in a breath and looked the Shepherd in the eye. “Shepherd, I could put up with a lot of misfortunes, but losing her again—I might not die, but I reckon it would kill me just the same. Just live a long slow death without her.”
Book maintained that Shepherd-y calm of his, almost seeming indifferent as Mal contemplated the idea of long, slow living death. In the circumstances, it was maddening. So was the reasoned logic of Book’s next question. “Why not marry her?”
“Nothin’ would please me better,” Mal replied, repeating his earlier statement.
“But when she asked you about that, you also said you weren’t serious.”
“Didn’t say that!” Mal exclaimed. That was not true. Is that how it had sounded? “Said I couldn’t give any other answer.”
“Why not tell her what you want?” Again, there was the Shepherd with his damn logic.
“Don’t want to scare her off,” Mal reiterated.
“You know she would be scared off? Maybe it’s what she wants, too.”
“She don’t tell me her feelings about marriage. About anything.” She hadn’t told him she loved him. Had she even said she liked him? “She don’t talk about her real feelings.”
“Like you do?”
The Shepherd’s barb was sharp, and Mal nursed his wounds in silence.
“Maybe what your relationship needs is more openness. More trust.” Book’s voice was kind, but firm.
“I been open,” Mal protested. “I gave her everything, right from the beginning—offered myself and all my worldly goods to her acceptance, before we so much as kissed.”
“You mean you proposed—” Book began.
“—without mentioning the word ‘marriage’,” he finished pointedly.
Mal looked away. “Didn’t want to scare her off,” he repeated.
“In my own mind, I been married to her since that day. I would never betray her.”
“You’re a faithful man.”
“Yes,” Mal said, fiercely.
“Why not tell her so?”
“Would scare her off.”
“You should declare your faith in public, before witnesses, with her consent.”
“You’re talkin’ like a preacher.”
“I am a preacher,” Book stated.
Mal was silent.
“She loves you. You know that.”
“Loves me enough to sleep with me,” Mal replied. “Mayhaps not enough to marry me.”
Book looked disturbed at thought of people sleeping together not married.
“Don’t need your shock, Shepherd, we’re grown adults, not teenagers. I’m thirty-five years old, and she’s…”
Book prompted, “And she’s—?”
“No idea, actually. Younger ’n me, I suppose. But a woman grown. Old enough to make her own decisions.”
“And if her decision were to marry you?”
“I’d do it tomorrow.”
“And if it were not?”
“Then I’d take as close to marriage as I can get, for as long as I can get it. ’Til death do part us, if she’ll allow it.”
“You should ask her.”
请进 Qǐng jìn [Come in]
地狱 dìyù [hell]
妹妹 mèimei [little sister]
不道德 混帐 bùdàodé húnzhàng [immoral bastards]
Friday, November 04, 2011 3:46 AM
Friday, November 04, 2011 5:05 AM
Friday, November 04, 2011 6:33 AM
Friday, November 04, 2011 7:10 AM
Friday, November 04, 2011 7:33 AM
Friday, November 04, 2011 9:28 AM
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Friday, November 04, 2011 12:11 PM
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Friday, November 04, 2011 2:16 PM
Friday, November 04, 2011 2:58 PM
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Sunday, November 06, 2011 10:37 AM
Sunday, November 06, 2011 10:59 AM
Sunday, November 06, 2011 4:33 PM
Monday, November 07, 2011 5:59 AM
Monday, November 07, 2011 10:49 AM
Tuesday, November 08, 2011 11:07 PM
Monday, November 21, 2011 3:17 PM
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