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EBFIDDLER

BANDIAGARA (09) Part (10)
Thursday, December 8, 2011

Unintended consequences, and the dawn of a new day


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2721    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

BANDIAGARA (09)

Part (10) 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) EXPECTATIONS (04) BREAK OUT (05) THE TRIAL (06) SHADOW (07) ONE MAN’S TRASH (08)

Unintended consequences, and the dawn of a new day

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* * * Simon was awakened earlier than usual, and not by the feeling of being grilled alive that awoke him most mornings. It was the noise. Discordant, harsh, braying, off-key singing blared through the early morning air. No, correction: calling it singing was an insult to musicality the ’Verse over. It was the most 很可怕 hěn kěpà din he’d ever heard. And it was loud.

Kaylee stirred next to him, stretching and groaning. “I was afraid of this,” she moaned into the pillow.

“And I can see why,” Simon replied. “I’m likely to have nightmares about this for years to come, I’m so traumatized. Do you have any idea what’s going on?”

“I installed a generator at the mosque yesterday,” Kaylee told him.

“That hardly explains why someone is broadcasting the torture of animals at high volume in the early morning light,” Simon responded.

“It ain’t torture,” Kaylee started, then reconsidered. “Well, yeah, actually, it is.” She tried to stuff the pillow into her ears, but Simon was not about to suffer alone, and he pulled it away. Kaylee sat up and explained. “I fixed up the generator, an’ obviously, the muezzin decided to try it out.” At Simon’s blank look she elaborated. “He’s got loudspeakers mounted on the mosque, but he ain’t been able to use ’em up ’til now.” Simon still wasn’t following, so she spelled it out. “It’s the morning call to prayer.”

“A call to prayer?” Simon exclaimed. “This makes me want to run the other direction!” He considered for a moment. “On the other hand, it does make me want to pray…pray for peace, pray for mercy—anything to make it stop.”

* * *

Simon and Kaylee joined Mal and Inara at Nana and Mamadou’s house at an earlier hour than they usually turned up for breakfast. They waited patiently for their hosts, rubbing their eyes, yawning, and reflecting that at least no one would be cooked alive on the rooftop this morning. Finally—it seemed like finally, but they were actually earlier than they’d ever been before—their hosts appeared and greetings were made. Mal flicked a look at Inara, and she understood his signal. As the most socially skilled of the group, it was her job to inquire—in the most diplomatic way possible—about the startling tuneless din that had awakened them all.

She was about to begin when Mamadou spoke. “I’m sure I have Alhajji’s performance to thank for your early appearance at my door,” he declared.

“Is it a Bandiagaran tradition?” Inara inquired politely.

“It certainly is, Jabaru Mal,” Nana responded.

“The chanting was very…exotic,” Inara said carefully.

“Actually, I would say it was very tuneless,” Mamadou replied, surprising them all.

“And very loud,” Nana added.

“Is this a special occasion?” Inara asked, trying not to sound too hopeful.

Nana and Mamadou’s faces took on long-suffering expressions. Mamadou sighed, and spoke. “No. Sadly, no.”

“Alhajji is a very enthusiastic muezzin, but he is not very talented,” Nana lamented. “He never was very talented. The only difference is that now the entire village can hear him, not just his nearest neighbors.” She and Mamadou sighed again.

“Nothing like solving one problem to create a raft of others,” Mal commented, and set to eating his breakfast to hide the smile twitching at his lips.

* * *

Mal finally caught up to River alone. Oware had become her obsession, and when she was not working with Ip on the small electronics—or playing with Ip at the kissing games, more than likely—she was invariably engaged in a game with the children of Fajara. Mal had a feeling that River knew exactly where the children found the timonium game pieces, and a lot more besides, but she wasn’t telling.

“Albatross, you’re a genius,” Mal began. River looked at him and made no attempt to demur. “You’re very smart. But that don’t mean you know nothin’ about—”

“About boys,” River interrupted.

“—About men,” Mal finished. “He’s young yet, but he’s no boy. He’s a grown man. And you’re still but a girl.”

“Am not. I’m a woman. Not been a girl since before the Academy. They came down the chimney and stole childhood. Took it away. Made me grow up.” She flashed him a look that made him jump. It was almost—sultry? Now he surely was in a panic. “Not a girl,” she stated categorically. “Woman.”

“River, if you’re a woman, you’re a very young one. I won’t see you hurt. Most men, they see a pretty young woman, they see one thing—all they want is—” he hesitated, not wanting to be coarse.

“Sex,” River finished. “The male of the species, especially the young male, spends approximately ninety percent of his waking hours thinking about sex.”

“Disconcerting how you seem to know things like that.”

“When he looks at me, he doesn’t just see my 山峰 shānfēng and my 金的 山谷 jīn de shāngǔ . He also sees my mind. That is why I like him.”

“Now that is really disconcerting.”

* * *

Inara’s days were filled with work in Serenity’s clinic. Word had spread that a doctor was visiting Fajara, and the sick and the injured from the village, the surrounding countryside, and—as the week wore on—more distant villages, made their way to Serenity—on foot, by donkey cart, on bicycles, on beat-up old groundcars, and on hovercraft so decrepit Inara was amazed they even lifted off the ground, let alone ran.

Inara became quite skilled at triage. For minor ailments (and a few more serious ones that were common enough that she began to recognize their symptoms) Inara dispensed antiseptics, bandages, and antibiotics. Anything unusual, unexpected, or surgical she referred to Simon, who actually had the medical training to make a proper diagnosis. For the more serious surgeries, Inara assisted Simon in the operating room (Serenity’s infirmary). The passenger lounge and two of the passenger bunks had been turned into the waiting area and two exam rooms, respectively.

“How are the medical supplies holding up?” Inara asked Simon during a lull in traffic one afternoon.

“We’re just fine with surgical supplies,” Simon replied, “Sutures, sterile saline, Ringer’s solution and anesthetic. Only thing we’re short of there is bandages, believe it or not. Medicines, though, are another story.”

“I’ve dispensed more antibiotic than I thought Serenity carried,” Inara commented.

“Well, we’re lucky I purchased that case of antibiotic on Beylix,” Simon remarked, “Otherwise we’d have run out the second day here. I have never seen so many cases of—well, diseases I thought were extinct—

“Extinct?”

“Or at least very rare.” Simon paused a moment. “Trypanosomiasis. Onchocerciasis. Malaria.” He looked directly at Inara. “Malaria for pete’s sake!”

Inara didn’t understand. She had never heard of these diseases. “I’ve never heard these terms. What is malaria?”

“Malaria,” Simon explained, “is a disease that ravaged Earth-that-was for millennia. It’s a disease as old as humankind itself, or even older. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, some breakthroughs occurred, and people understood for the first time that parasites caused the disease and that it was spread by mosquitoes. For a while, it looked like the disease would be eradicated. There were some set-backs, but finally in the twenty-first century the corner was turned. I didn’t know the disease still existed anywhere in the ’Verse—until I saw some cases here. I don’t even stock anti-malarials on Serenity.” He looked down for a moment, then continued. “Ip told me about a medicinal herbal tea made from Artemisia annua that his grandmother used to make. It’s apparently a family recipe and dates back to Ip’s distant ancestors in China on Earth-that-was. Anyway, the tea-making process extracts an anti-malarial from the Artemisia—”

“What is an artemisia?” Inara asked, imagining some kind of cultivated garden flower, perhaps like a hibiscus.

“It’s a weed,” Simon replied. “It grows everywhere around here. There’s a patch of it growing right at the foot of the ramp, in fact. Anyway, I pulverized some of it and extracted—” he saw he was losing his audience, and cut to the chase. “It worked. The Fajarans told me that they couldn’t get regular shipments of the anti-malaria pills. They didn’t know that they had the solution right here, literally on their doorsteps.”

Inara made up her mind, right then and there, never to dismiss a weed as worthless out of hand.

“And then there’s onchocerciasis,” Simon continued.

“Onko-what?” Inara echoed.

“Also known as river blindness.”

River blindness? You’re kidding!”

“Not kidding. That’s another dinosaur disease I thought I’d never see, but it’s prevalent in these parts. The proper treatment is transivermectin, but regular antibiotics can keep it in check. That’s what’s been eating into our antibiotic supply so heavily—well, that and all the infections, and preventive treatments for the surgeries, and…天啊 tīan a, they really need a doctor on this world.” He sighed and ran his hand through his hair.

Inara sat down on the stool, next to where Simon stood contemplating the nearly-empty medicine locker. “There are a lot of things they need on this world.” Inara had seen things her privileged upbringing on Sihnon and at the Companion Academy had never prepared her for. Even the several years she had spent flying with Serenity had not prepared her for Bandiagara. She remembered complaining to Mal about ‘backwater moons, slums, and frontier planets without so much as a temple built’—her previous standard for underdeveloped. Her complaints seemed so petty now. Now she realized that she had had no idea—and that what idea she had was all wrong, anyway.

“Kaylee told me there’s an electric generator in the middle of the village that hasn’t worked for years,” Simon remarked. “A charitable group from the Core brought it out here and installed it. Three weeks later it stopped working. Apparently it wasn’t hardy enough to survive in Bandiagara.”

Simon had put his finger on it. “There’s a lot that works in the Core that just doesn’t work out here,” Inara said. “It won’t stop people in the Core from coming out here and telling these people what to do, however.” How did I come to sound so much like Mal? she wondered.

“Because the Alliance and Blue Sun know what’s best for people,” Simon said with ironic emphasis, adding, “Good grief, how did I come to sound so much like Mal?”

“I’m glad I didn’t come here fresh from the Core; I’m glad I’ve spent some time traveling the Border planets and the Rim. Because Bandiagara just stretches one’s concept of the ’Verse, doesn’t it?”

Simon agreed that it did, but he waited for her to elaborate.

“The Core solutions just do not work here,” Inara continued. “Drop a person, an intelligent, capable person, from Sihnon or Osiris or Londinium here on Bandiagara, and they would not know what to do: they might not even know how to survive. They would find no restaurants, no grocery stores, they wouldn’t know where to get food. They wouldn’t know how to function without air conditioning; they wouldn’t have the sense to sleep away the hot part of the day. They’d get heat stroke and at the same time call the natives lazy, not understanding that it’s a sensible adaptation to the climate. They’d be bored without access to the cortex and newswaves, and would overlook the cultural riches that are to be enjoyed here. They would abandon their hovercar as broken and useless, and a Bandiagaran would come along and see the same vehicle as having many thousands of miles left in it.”

“Did you see the vehicle one of our patients arrived in today?”

“You mean the hovercar with no roof, no dashboard…”

“…no seats, and no floor? Yes,” Simon said, “I saw it. The patient was lying on a blanket stretched across the struts, while the driver’s feet dangled through the holes rusted through the bottom. It can’t have been a comfortable ride.”

“Do you know how they started it up for the return journey?” Inara asked him. “They hot-wired it. Just like that’s the normal way to start a hovercar. The key probably is back on Londinium somewhere, and never made to Bandiagara in the first place.”

“And yet they made it work. That is just what is so remarkable.” Simon considered a moment. “A Core person—like I was a couple of years ago, before Serenity—would just give up, probably die in short order, in a harsh environment like this. These people—they’re not just surviving here—they’re thriving.”

“Well, not thriving in the conventional sense, Simon—there’s no running water, no electricity, no money—” Inara began.

“Agreed. Not in the conventional sense. But they have wealth of a different kind. A strong community. Family ties.”

“Happiness. Peace.”

“No one here is unemployed. Everyone finds a way to contribute to the well-being of the community.”

“They don’t look for a job. They make themselves a job.” Rather like Mal did in coming here, Inara thought. Bandiagara had really turned her sense of order on its head. She thought she was skilled at assessing people’s place in the social spectrum. She could distinguish someone from an old, moneyed Core family from the newly rich. She could read the wealth and social status of a Core or Border person with great accuracy. But this place was off her social scale altogether, and defied assessment by the means she had been taught. She began to wonder if her training even applied out here on the Rim, or if she had been confused from the beginning, equating “rural” with “backward” and mistaking unconventional education for ignorance. There was a time to judge, and a time to think. She needed more time to think.

Simon looked out the bay door and saw a donkey cart headed towards the ship. “Well, Jabaru Mal, it’s been an enlightening discussion. But it’s time to return to work.” Simon smiled to himself. Inara hadn’t so much as twitched at the name. “You like it.”

“Like what? The work?” Inara smiled at Simon. “I certainly do. It’s a bit of a challenge, to tell you the truth, and I’m glad you’re willing to put up with my help, given that I’m not really trained beyond basic first aid. And—” she stopped, as she caught Simon’s expression. “What?”

“You really do like it. You didn’t even notice.” Simon was grinning, unable to contain himself.

“Notice what?”

“I called you Jabaru Mal.” He smiled. “You like being Jabaru Mal.”

She arched her eyebrows and smiled. “Hmm. Perhaps I do. It seems to work, here.” She stopped before she said anything definite. “And what about you, Dr Tam? I haven’t seen you object to your ‘engagement’ to marry a certain mechanic. You seem to like it, as well.”

“Oh, yes, I do,” Simon replied readily. “I do. I really, really do.”

* * *

Someone had to mention the elephant in the living room, and Jayne figured it was gonna be him. Only it weren’t no elephant. And it was in the cargo bay, not the living room. But it was big. And smelly, too. “Mal,” he said, “Someone forgot to empty out the septic vac on Beylix.” He glared at Simon, ’cause the Doc was always tryin’ to get out of septic vac duty, and he figured it was him what forgot. Jayne had momentarily forgotten how the work had broken down on Beylix—how Simon, Kaylee, Zoe and Mal had worked liked dogs collecting the junkyard gleanings that had filled Serenity’s cargo bay, while Jayne had been preoccupied with his friend Janice.

Mal looked conscious of something. Pleased. But he wouldn’t answer. He looked down at his folded hands and his mouth twitched into a half smile.

River spoke up. “We can turn trash into treasure.”

“Gorrammit, girl, you done said that a hunnert times already.” Jayne glared at her. Enough of this 废话 fèihuà.

“Seventeen.”

“Gorram—”

“Wasn’t there a fairy tale where they turned straw into gold?” Zoe asked, knowing perfectly well what Mal had in mind.

“Yeah, but ya can’t turn 牛屎 niú shǐ into gold,” Jayne replied, a bit angrily. Fairy tales weren’t gonna empty the septic vac. He just knew it was gonna be him.

“Can’t ya?” Mal said. “How about turning 牛屎 niú shǐ into timonium?”

“Now how the 地狱 dìyù ya gonna do that, Mal?” Jayne asked, in all seriousness. To his annoyance, Mal burst into stifled guffaws, joined by a snort of laughter from Zoe and uncontained hilarity from River.

“Already found a buyer for it, Jayne.”

* * *

Mal lay next to Inara in the half-light before dawn, propped on one elbow and tracing light circles on her chest with his other hand. At intervals he dropped his head down to kiss or taste her body.

“You’re thoughtful this morning, Mal,” Inara said softly, as she stroked his neck and shoulders lightly with her fingers.

Mal’s exploring tongue stilled a moment. “You mean to say, you can do what I’m doin’ thoughtfully?” he inquired. “Huh. Have to think on that a moment,” he added impishly.

“Oh, you!” She batted at his ears playfully.

He continued his ministrations silently—thoughtfully, no doubt. Then he spoke. “Inara, I’ve been wondering…”

He paused, so she gave him an encouraging smile.

“Will you make an honest man of me?”

She met his eyes. His look was half-bantering, half-serious. “Make an honest man of you?” she answered with a smile. “I can’t do that. That’s something you have to do for yourself, Mal.” She stroked her fingers through his hair. “Besides, I wouldn’t stand a chance, Mal. Not as long as you keep doing these illegal but noble acts. It’s irresistible.”

He sputtered a moment, then propped himself up on both elbows and grinned. He kissed her chest a bit more—thoughtfully, he reflected—then he spoke. “I was just wonderin’—everybody here in Fajara thinks we’re married…” he began.

“And why is that, Mal?”

“I didn’t start it. I don’t know where they got the notion.” He gathered his thoughts. “But I have to say, I never been happier than when the people here call me your husband, or when they tell me that my wife saved another child’s life at the clinic. I could wish it would be this way always.”

“I love where we’ve been these last two weeks,” Inara said, then clarified. “I don’t mean Bandiagara, specifically. I mean where you and I have been, with respect to each other.”

“Why not make it for keeps, then?”

“Did you just ask me to marry you?”

“I believe I just did.” She looked at him silently, so he made it plain. “Inara, will you marry me?”

“Are you sure, Mal?”

“Yes.”

“No, think about it. You’d be happily married to me here, but what about when we’re elsewhere?” He began to protest that his love would not diminish anywhere, but she overrode him and continued. “I have a past, Mal, one that you’d have to accept and deal with if we’re to be together.” He fell silent, and she elaborated. “Suppose we were walking together, on Persephone for example, or any of dozens of other worlds where I have worked, and I were greeted by a man—someone who had been my client—and he were to look at me with a smug, satisfied look on his face. How would you react?”

I’d beat that smug look right off the 他妈的 狗娘养的 tāmādē gǒuniángyǎngde face, thought Mal, and Inara said, “I thought so,” even though he hadn’t said a word. Had his thoughts been so transparent?

You look that way, too, after a good night, Mal, she thought, and maybe you’ve seen that look on me. She shifted her position on the mattress. “You’re not ready for this step. I can’t have you doing violence to all my former clients, Mal. They are powerful people whose influence can work to our benefit, and besides, there are too many of them. Don’t look that way, Mal—this is part of who I am, an unchangeable element of my past. If you can’t accept that, we have little chance of a future together.

“Don’t tell me you have no unsavory elements in your past, Mal,” she continued. “I have to learn to deal with and accept your past, as you with mine.” She looked searchingly in his face, and it seemed to him that it was her inner self, the real Inara, seeking to connect with his inner self. “We have a lot to do—getting to know one another and coming to terms with history—before we’re ready to take this step.”

“I take it you’re not sayin’ ‘yes,’ then,” Mal said, less disappointed than he thought he’d be with this outcome.

“I’m not saying ‘no,’ either,” Inara responded. “I’m saying it’s best if I don’t answer the question right now.” Her eyes grew bright. “But I’m delighted you asked.” She bent over and kissed him. “It’s the first sincere marriage proposal I’ve ever had.”

“Really?” he asked, astonished. For the first time in a long time, he saw his glass as half full. She had said not now. He heard it as yes, later. “What’s the matter, all the men in the Core blind?”

“This discussion is over,” she said. He began to protest when she added, “The sun is up. We don’t want to—how’d you put it the other day?—‘bake like scones on a griddle’.”

It was true. The rooftops were uncommonly pleasant places to be at night, but during the day, the relentless heat of the sun made their sleeping quarters untenable, starting no more than a few minutes after sunrise. No grilled Captain today. Nor grilled Companion. They hastened to dress and walked to breakfast, hand in hand.

* * *

*

*

*

fin

glossary

很可怕 hěn kěpà [godawful]

Jabaru [Wife of] Mal

山峰 shānfēng [mountain peaks]

金的 山谷 jīn de shāngǔ [golden valley]

天啊 tīan a [god]

Jabaru [Wife of] Mal

废话 fèihuà [rubbish]

牛屎 niú shǐ [cow shit]

地狱 dìyù [hell]

他妈的 狗娘养的 tāmādē gǒuniángyǎngde [f**king son-of-a-bitch’s]

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COMMENTS

Thursday, December 8, 2011 6:35 AM

BYTEMITE


Mal, you missed an important part of what River said. He's not JUST interested in her brain. Older brothers whether by blood relation or by circumstance really are clueless.

Also, they're low on bandages. That's foreshadowing if I ever saw it.

Aw, he asked. Little disturbed her answer had some shade of the answer she gave Atherton Wing though.

Thursday, December 8, 2011 7:03 AM

NUTLUCK


Mal got off a lot easier than I thought he would, I figured River would torment him for awhile for meddling in her love life. By being way to frank, open in their "discussion".

Friday, December 9, 2011 7:24 AM

EBFIDDLER


I'm sure that wasn't the actual end of Mal and River's talk. Maybe I'll show more in a flashback some other time.

If this ending seems kinda unresolved...it's because it is. This story is the first half of a monstrously long tale, continued in the next story. Which I now think needs a re-write. Again. Arrgh. What happened to my nice tidy 12,000 word episodes?

Friday, December 9, 2011 7:55 AM

PLATONIST


River's kissing game with Ip will inevitably lead to other things, perhaps the ladies on the ship should speak with River about protecting herself.

Mal/Inara are synonymous with unresolved ambiguity, I think under the circumstances it's wise to wait on marriage though, Inara is practical AND wise, while Mal's a romantic at heart...hmm.."Malaria" sounds like something bad from long ago.

Inara makes a wonderful nurse to Simon's doctoring, who wouldn't want something that beautiful, angelic, and caring bedside!

looking for more

Friday, December 9, 2011 9:45 AM

AMDOBELL


I did chuckle at the awful racket when the call to prayer went out. Could almost hear it my ownself. I'm thinking they need to introduce their friends to the notion of ear plugs! I liked Mal giving River a fatherly talk, looking out for her and wanting to keep her from getting hurt. The talk with Inara was truthsome without shutting the door on the possibility of marriage sometime in the future when both of them have accepted each other's pasts. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Friday, December 9, 2011 11:58 AM

NUTLUCK


I think you need to add a extra 0 in there for the word count ebfiddler and then learn to write a post a day. :)

Friday, December 9, 2011 2:13 PM

BRUCEPLUTO


WOW eb!

You certain went all over the place with this episode. Simon & Inara, Doctor and Nurse, River shocking the pants off Mal (and by that I mean figuratively not literally), with her knowledge of the big “S”, Ok sex….so there, I said it…Jayne not knowing that crap IS really worth a crap!! And Inara turning down Mal’s offer for what I believe is truly the RIGHT reasons. At least for right now anyway.

I believe both the Captain of Serenity, and the best Companion in the universe have too much on their plates right now for me to think that some sort of trouble wouldn’t befall them if they actually took the blessed plunge. Not to say that it doesn’t seem like a great fairytale…. But that’s just it for now. All fun and games and a fairytale, once reality hits again and the dust of that small world is in the rearview, what would become of those marriage promises…..?

I want Inara to make an honest man out of Mal too, but right now I’m happy with the Captain being dishonest. At least while he’s a criminal and dealing with the Feds….

BPZ

Tuesday, December 20, 2011 7:50 PM

EBFIDDLER


Belated thanks to all who have commented. I appreciate all your comments, and love the speculations as well. You all are so very astute. I've been working on fixing up Two by Two by Two, and will begin posting it soon.


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