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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
The state of trade on Bandiagara. Simon opens the doors of his clinic, and Mamadou celebrates the return of electric power by taking a wave from his cousin Juju.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1918 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)
The state of trade on Bandiagara. Simon opens the doors of his clinic, and Mamadou celebrates the return of electric power by taking a wave from his cousin Juju.
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* * *
“Your visit to us is illegal, of course,” Mamadou said, as he poured his guests cups of ditah juice. “Technically, I should report your arrival with a shipload of contraband, and hold you in custody until the authorities from New Bamako come to take you away.”
“Are you gonna?” Mal asked boldly, knowing the answer.
“Certainly not, Captain. Your cargo is like manna from heaven. The last thing I want is for the authorities in New Bamako to come and confiscate it all.”
“Don’t 狐狸 Húli Network bring you the things you need?” Zoe inquired, sipping the dangerous-looking green liquid. It was surprisingly refreshing.
“No, madam, they do not. They bring us the things they need to sell. They have an exclusive deal, arranged with the Bandiagara World Council in New Bamako. It generally works to the disadvantage of Bandiagarans, but 狐狸 Húli Network makes certain it works to the personal advantage of the Councilors.
“Our needs are few and basic,” Mamadou continued. “We need clean water. Medical supplies. Basic infrastructure, like roads we can still travel on when it rains. Basic technology, robust machinery that we can maintain ourselves.”
“That sounds simple enough,” Mal remarked, drinking the bright green ditah juice. He was glad they sat in the shade, because even by mid-morning, the heat was becoming intense.
“Well, it is not,” Mamadou remarked sharply. “What we get is cast-off cheap junk that nobody wants on the ‘civilized’ planets. They figure the Bandiagarans will buy it and be grateful. They sell for reasonable prices, and feel good about themselves for seeing to the needs of the poor. Their Bandiagara business is the basis for a PR campaign back in the Core—my wife’s cousin who moved to Londinium tells me that 狐狸 Húli Network is highly regarded by many Core people for their charitable intentions towards the backward masses who live on remote Rim worlds.”
“What an offensive load of 废物 fèiwù! Core 傻瓜 shǎguā with their patronizing attitudes!” Zoe exclaimed, while Mal snorted. Shadow had been offered some of the same kinds of “charity” back in the day, and the well-intentioned Core folks who offered it had not understood why the Shadow World Council had rejected their offer.
“The other thing we get,” Mamadou continued, “—and this is from some of the more thoughtful Core people, the ones who understand that we need clean water and a reliable electrical grid—is high-tech, high maintenance solutions. A few years ago, a humanitarian group in Osiris raised funds and bought permits to import an electrical generator and grid system large enough to power the needs of the entire village of Fajara.”
“That actually sounds like a good plan,” Mal replied. He had seen that the village was noticeably not electrified. No cortex sportswaves, no musicwaves blaring, no artificial light sources in the mud brick houses. “It didn’t work out, I take it.”
“They brought in a large generator, state-of-the-art, very fine indeed. A shipload of volunteers from Osiris lent their expertise to install it, and for three weeks it worked beautifully. Then we had a dust storm roll in from the Zahir Desert, and the machine seized up. We have tried to fix it, but we haven’t been able to get it to run again.” Mal made a mental note to ask Kaylee to take a look at the thing. “It sits in the middle of our village, simply taking up space. A machine such as that might work well enough in the Core, where spare parts are easy to come by and an army of specially trained technicians can easily be hired. But here—yes, we have mechanics here, good ones—but our Baaba and our Bintou have to be jack-and-jill-of-all trades. They must be able to fix everything from refrigeration units to wind turbines to internal combustion engines. They cannot afford to specialize.”
Mal and Zoe discussed terms of trade with Mamadou, his wife Nana, and several other of the Fajara village elders. The Fajarans were cash-poor, but they had local products to trade. Most abundant was fresh produce—tropical fruits and vegetables—and Mal immediately began thinking of how best to adapt Serenity to carry such a cargo, and where he could take it to market before it spoiled. The villagers also made beautiful cotton fabrics, both prints and tie-dyed, and excellent basketry. Of course timonium was an option, but the Firefly just wasn’t well suited to carrying timonium ore, neither in its unprocessed nor partially processed form. It just didn’t have the capacity to carry bulk commodities. Mal wondered if any of the timonium ore was refined on Bandiagara, because carrying a more concentrated form of the mineral might be more feasible.
On their way back to Serenity, Mamadou and Nana showed Mal and Zoe the generator. It was huge and it did indeed occupy an inconveniently large amount of prime space in the village. No one would have begrudged the machine its space if it had been working, but since it didn’t, and hadn’t for years, it was an eyesore. As they passed to the outer rings of the village, Mamadou showed them the village council building, mosque, and schoolhouse, presently unoccupied as the heat of the day came into full force. They trudged through the field where they’d landed Serenity, where several women hastened to finish their agricultural work before the heat of the day forced them to retire for the afternoon.
Zoe scanned the field with narrowed eyes. “What’re those women carrying on their heads?” she asked.
“They each draw a bucket of water from the well,” Nana answered. “The head is an excellent place to carry it.”
Zoe marveled at the women’s balance—and their neck strength. She had never believed that old saw about the weakness of women. But she also noted the fact that the water had to be carried a considerable distance by hand, and that the well (which they had passed by on their way) was also hand-drawn, bucket by bucketful. These women’s strength was not being efficiently used.
Anywhere that was not planted, irrigated and tended, the land was dry and parched, and very little vegetation clung to the soil, just a few dusty weeds. There were places where the bare rock was exposed, and places where the heavy rains that came seasonally had eroded deep gullies. They passed through an orchard of sorts and Mal noted with interest the lines of rocks running crosswise to the gentle slope of the land. When he asked, Nana explained. “That is for soil conservation. Our soil is very vulnerable. The land here is very dry. When the life-giving rain comes, it also washes away the soil. These lines of rocks trap the soil, so that it does not all run down the slope. During the dry season, they also collect wind-blown soil. Our soil is precious, and we try to encourage any practices that preserve and enrich it.” Mal was thoughtful. The germ of an idea that had planted itself in the back of his mind on Beylix, and sprouted and grown on the journey, now came to full fruition. The time was ripe.
* * *
While Mal and Zoe were talking terms with Mamadou and the other village elders, Simon saw his first patient. A child, about two years old, was carried by his mother to the foot of Serenity’s ramp. The child’s condition, though not life-threatening, was debilitating, and Simon had the means to remedy it. A simple surgical procedure, followed by a brief course of antibiotics, and the prospect of lifelong debility would be lifted from the child’s shoulders. He invited the boy and his mother into Serenity’s infirmary.
Fatou Kiné carried little Alpha up the ramp and into the ship, following the man who said he was the ship’s doctor. Alpha had been a healthy baby and a happy toddler, but as he grew, instead of walking more steadily, he began to stumble. A few months later, he could not walk at all. Finally, the lower half of his body was nearly paralyzed. Mrs Kiné was mystified as to how the paralysis had come about. There was no illness, no snakebite, no injury to cause the problem. Fajara had no doctor resident. The nearest doctor was halfway to New Bamako, and no one in Fatou’s near or extended family could spare the time or afford the cost of the journey there. As she stepped into the cargo hold, she nearly dropped dear Alpha. It was like the Cave of Wonders in the tale. Water pumps, generators, small engines, and the sewing machine of her dreams—mountains of treasures, piled high. The last trade ship to land in Fajara had carried nothing but plastic flip flops and odd-size T-shirts with the irrelevant label ‘Inside Out’ printed on them—right-side out, of course.
The doctor asked her to set her son down on an exam table in a sparkling clean clinic. He asked her and the boy a number of questions, taking a history of the illness. “Your son has a tethered spinal cord,” the doctor said. “It’s a fairy common congenital anomaly—meaning he was born with the problem; it didn’t come about as a result of illness or injury. I’ll need to take a scan of his spine, and then surgically detether the spinal cord from the spinal canal. The procedure to correct the problem does not take long. He won’t even have much of a scar, because I can use the laser scope.”
Simon was particularly glad that he had experience doing endoscopic neurosurgery, and that among Serenity’s relatively few high-tech medical gadgets was a portable MR imager and a good surgical endoscope. “He’ll need some recovery time, then he’ll learn to walk again, and re-build his muscles.”
The kind doctor set about preparing his surgical tools and medicines, while a beautiful lady in rich clothing set Alpha on a clean white bed, asked him to roll onto his tummy, and set about washing Alpha’s lower back. Fatou was permitted to watch the procedure, and in less time than she could have imagined, it was over. The doctor gave Alpha a shot. “It’s an anti-adhesive, to prevent the scar tissue from forming and tacking the spinal cord back onto the lower vertebrae,” Simon explained, glad that Serenity carried adequate supplies of this essential post-surgical medication. It was a point of pride with Simon, that his surgeries left less intrusive scarification, as a result of his careful application of anti-adhesives and collagen antistimulants.
He handed her a small container with pills. “He must take two of these a day, until they are used up. It should prevent infection. Before you know it, he’ll be running around again like other children.”
The Captain, walking past the infirmary door, saw Simon and Inara tending to a young boy and his mother. “Had your first patient, I see,” he said to Simon, acknowledging Inara with a smile, and greeting the boy and his mother. “You’ll be feeling better in no time,” he said kindly to the boy. “I’ve had occasion to test the doctor’s services many a time myself, and he always fixes me up fit as a fiddle.” He gestured for Simon and Inara to step outside the infirmary with him for a moment.
As soon as they were outside, Mal asked Simon, “What was your agreed upon price?”
“Mal!” Inara exclaimed, while Simon looked shocked.
“Captain—” Simon began to protest, but Mal cut him off.
“Can’t afford to operate no charity clinic here, Simon. Mrs Kiné knows that, too. She got a problem payin’, she can take it up with the village elders. They got a system for that here.”
“I will not deny medical care to those who need it, Captain, particularly when they need it so desperately,” Simon said forcefully.
“Ain’t askin’ you to deny nobody care,” Mal retorted. “You treat anybody and everybody what needs it, as long as we got the medical supplies to do it with—so long as they pay.”
“Mal, how can you be so cold-hearted about this?” Inara exclaimed. “This isn’t some business transaction—”
“The hell it isn’t,” Mal interrupted.
“—these people need medical care,” she continued.
“And we need to eat,” Mal returned. “Simon, you can’t give away your medical services, and you can’t give away the medicines. And that’s—”
“I will not go against my oath as a physician and surgeon,” Simon interrupted. “It is my duty to provide care to those who need it. I save lives first. Filthy lucre comes far, far down the list of things I worry about.”
“Let me tell you something about filthy lucre, Simon,” Mal said with fire in his eye. “Survival is pretty gorram hard if you don’t got none. I have a duty, as Captain of this boat, to see that my crew don’t starve. To see that the boat don’t drop outta the sky. I have a duty,” he repeated, as Inara began to protest, “an obligation, to pay my crew—one I ain’t been able to meet recently, to my shame. It’s my duty to find work, paying work, for Serenity and her crew. To keep flying.” He spoke with low intensity. “We are hand-to-mouth ourselves, and we cannot afford to offer charity to the whole—”
“Like with the slaves on 泥球 Ní Qiú?” Simon shot out.
Inara could see the barb had struck Mal deep. “Well, yeah, you see, that one just about ruined us. We are still payin’ the price for my decision to take on that job for no pay. We don’t make good on this Bandiagara venture, we are dead in the water.”
Inara knew it was true. She had examined the ship’s books only a few days previously.
“If I had 泥球 Ní Qiú to do over again, I wouldn’t do it no different,” Mal continued, “but much as I’d like to starve and all, I got a crew to look after. Zoe and I discussed the prices with the village elders, and we all agreed. We ain’t gouging nobody. Just askin’ fair pay for fair work. We didn’t get those medicines for free, Simon, and those medicines didn’t get transported to Bandiagara for free neither. It cost us, and there ain’t nothin’ immoral about askin’ those who get the medicines to recognize that fact.”
Mal paused and breathed deeply. Inara felt fully how difficult a position he was in—even as her instincts told her Simon was right to insist that he would not deny care to impoverished people who couldn’t pay, she understood that Mal was not wrong, either. She had not understood how desperate Serenity’s financial situation was, until Mal pointed it out. Somehow they had always landed on their feet, before—and now she understood that it was because Mal worked extremely hard to land them on their feet. She felt obligated to mention one more thing. “How can they pay, Mal? There’s hardly enough cash in this village to pay for even one operation.”
“Don’t expect coin. They can pay in goods and services. Long as I leave this planet with something I can sell for cashy money someplace else, I’m happy. Enough to keep flying, ’s all I ask.” He looked at Simon and Inara, and knew they had given their agreement. His face quirked in a half-smile and he said, “I’m lookin’ forward to gettin’ paid in food, myself. They got excellent produce here in Fajara. Pineapples, mangoes, bananas, watermelons, limes and papayas…” His words had all their mouths watering. “You just go back in there and ask Mrs Kiné there how many pineapples she thinks that operation was worth.”
One of the first trades made was for an electric generator that went to the village council building, which, like the schoolhouse and the mosque, sat outside the cluster of houses that made up the heart of the village. Jayne muscled the piece into position, and Kaylee installed it with the help of both Baaba and Bintou, the Fajara mechanics.
“This here’s the access panel,” Kaylee explained. “Used ta be on the bottom of the generator, but I didn’t the see the point of that. Have ta shut the whole thing down, get a crew of people—or one really strong one,” she amended, thinking of Jayne, “to roll the thing on its side just ta fix it—that didn’t make no sense. So I refitted the casing. That way you can get at all the moving parts easy. Make it easy to clean if it gets clogged with dust.” The two mechanics nodded. During dry season, dust was the bane of machinery on Bandiagara. During the briefer wet season, it was mud. More than one good machine had been killed by dust.
“Now that is thoughtful design!” Bintou exclaimed. “We had a generator that…”
“Bintou, that one never was designed to work in this environment,” Baaba interrupted. “It was a miracle it even functioned as long as it did. That one was designed to be placed in a sterile, air-conditioned room—” Both the Fajaran mechanics burst into laughter.
Kaylee joined in. “And there ain’t no sterile air-conditioned room in this place, and if’n there were, you wouldn’t be keepin’ no generator in it,” she said. “It was the same on Harvest, where I’m from. Used ta do a lot of business just clearing dust outta the workings, at my daddy’s repair shop,” Kaylee related. “I figured in a dry place like this, y’all would have a like problem.”
As soon as the new generator was installed, Mamadou celebrated by turning on the village cortex screen. Yes, they did receive the signal, even here in Fajara, but what good was that when most of the time there was no power to run the device? It was so exciting to have the cortex working again that Mamadou stayed in the village office right through the hot part of the day, when he normally retired to his house or the shade of a good tree for a nap.
First, he attended to his duty and checked for messages. A number of them had built up since the last time they’d had electric power in Fajara, and cognizant of his responsibilities, he attended to the official ones first. There were the usual assertions of authority from the World government, the feel-good messages that amounted to nothing more than advertisements from Allmine and 狐狸 Húli Network, and the customary admonishments to report any persons attempting to trade illegally on Bandiagara. There was one personal message from his cousin Juju Kamara. After skimming perfunctorily through the official messages, Mamadou settled in to savor his cousin’s greeting.
Since live communications were next to impossible, recorded messages were the principle means of communication between families thus separated, and over the years, each had perfected the art of verbal letter-writing. After responding to his last wave and giving news from her family and other Bandiagarans on Beylix for Mamadou to pass on to their relatives, Juju went on.
“I think you can expect a visit before long from some friends of mine, cousin. Captain Reynolds—the very same man who delivered the long-awaited herd of cattle I told you about—was quite interested when I told him about the state of things on Bandiagara. He paid very close attention when I described the things needed in Fajara, and I am certain that you can expect him to pay a visit within a few weeks or months at the outside. He is a good boy, or young man I should say, and it is clear that he was properly brought up. He has a loyal crew, and they are loyal with good reason. He is a capable leader, conscientious, modest, and polite.”
Mamadou raised his eyebrows at her glowing description. Had his good cousin fallen for the Captain? Cousin Juju, for all her serene dignity, had a weakness for young men. No, not that kind of weakness. She was an inveterate matchmaker. She could never resist. Mamadou listened as she continued with her story.
“I invited the Captain and his crew to our house for Friday dinner, and the most romantic thing happened! The Captain introduced us to a most beautiful lady, Miss Inara Serra. It was abundantly clear that the Captain was head over heels in love with the lady, whose gracious acceptance of his attentions indicated her encouragement of his suit. He informed me of their courtship, and when I asked if he did not intend to marry her—what do you think happened? He asked her right on the spot! Told her nothing would make him happier than to be married to her. She smiled her acceptance of his proposal, so modest and demure. It was so joyous! I suppose I need not tell you how delighted I was to be the catalyst of that proper and fitting conclusion to their courtship.”
Mamadou smiled in spite of himself. Cousin Juju was responsible for pushing more than one couple together, including himself and his own wife. He smiled again, thinking about his contentment—more than thirty-five years of marriage, and he might not have worked up the gumption to ask Nana to marry him all those years ago, if Cousin Juju had not pushed and prodded at just the right moment.
“I do not know if they will have had an opportunity to marry before they reach you,” Juju continued. “Perhaps they may even have a Bandiagaran wedding!”
狐狸 Húli [fox]
废物 fèiwù [garbage]
傻瓜 shǎguā [fools]
泥球 Ní Qiú [name of a world]
Wednesday, November 23, 2011 6:41 AM
Wednesday, November 23, 2011 7:05 AM
Wednesday, November 23, 2011 8:47 AM
Wednesday, November 23, 2011 10:53 AM
Wednesday, November 23, 2011 2:05 PM
Wednesday, November 23, 2011 6:23 PM
Friday, November 25, 2011 3:11 PM
Saturday, November 26, 2011 1:15 AM
Saturday, November 26, 2011 5:44 PM
Sunday, November 27, 2011 8:22 PM
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