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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Motherhood, fatherhood, marriage, infidelity, and jealousy—we’ve got the makings of a good opera here.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1425 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10)
Follows BANDIAGARA (09). Precedes WHAT BEGINS WITH AN APPLE (11).
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)
Motherhood, fatherhood, marriage, infidelity, and jealousy—we’ve got the makings of a good opera here.
May possibly be NSFW
Previous Part | Next Part
* * *
Zoe reclined on the sofa in the common area of Serenity, off the dining room. Pregnancy made her tired. She was not used to tired. She was used to being alert, at attention and ready to back the Captain’s move. Who’d have thought that growing a baby was such hard work? So, more often than she’d care to admit, she felt an overwhelming need to sit down—and more than that, to put her feet up, recline, and close her eyes.
Strange to think, although she felt so tired, she also felt stronger than she ever had in her life. The baby growing inside her was a presence. She didn’t feel it on a conscious level so much as she knew and felt that the baby was there. Not just ‘it’, but some one, was inside her belly, Someone who was making his or her presence known in ways that were subtle, but undeniable. To a person who didn’t know her, her belly looked just a little fat, but Zoe knew the bulging curve was just another one of the ways that Little Someone signaled his or her presence to mama. Huh. That was something. Mama. She was someone’s mama. Mama to somebody yet unborn, but mama just the same. Ooh! Seemed that Little Someone was not so subtle after all. She flipped her eyes open and looked at her belly. Someone not Zoe was moving her belly around. 喂 Wèi! there it was again. And this time she saw it. A little bubble that felt like belly gas, but not originating from within her own body—a bubble made by Someone else. She watched the little bump wiggle up and down. Someone was inside her. Bubble, bubble. Little Someone was kicking.
Baby was kicking.
Strongest she’d felt since Wash died, she thought, lying flaccidly on the sofa. Wash would never see his child, but his baby gave her strength—and thus Wash gave her strength, the strength to go on, to continue, to struggle, to live—and to love. A tender smile spread across Zoe’s face as she listened to her body and felt in concert with the little one wiggling inside her. It was an unusual look for Zoe, whose friends mostly saw her face of stoic calm, and whose enemies saw a face of lethal intensity. Few people besides Wash were even acquainted with Zoe’s tender face. Tenderness was not weakness. Not in any mother. And especially not in Zoe. Tenderness was strength.
As Mal passed through Serenity’s dining room, he glanced over to see Zoe stretched out on the sofa in the common area. That in and of itself was an unusual sight, as Zoe weren’t one to be lounging around in the broad daylight—well, okay, ’s always dark in space, but it was mid-afternoon ship’s time. What stopped him in his tracks was the look on Zoe’s face. It was dreamy and focused at the same time, tender and loving and strong. Blissful beyond imagination. He’d not seen Zoe look that way in all the days he’d known her, not even that time some years back that he’d stumbled onto the bridge inopportunely, to find Zoe and Wash—best not go there. Anyways, what was goin’ on here was clearly something different, so he walked a bit closer, giving notice he was there and letting Zoe make the call as to whether or not his presence was welcome.
She looked over and beckoned Mal to approach. “Captain. Mal.”
She almost never used his name, and he looked at her with some surprise as she took his hand and placed it on her belly. He knelt down by the side of the sofa, with Zoe holding his hand on her belly, held his breath, and waited. With a jolt of surprise he felt it. What the good gorram was that?!
“Mal, you feel it?” Zoe asked.
He surely did. The baby. Zoe’s baby. He closed his eyes, held his breath, and waited—longer this time. A little bubble of movement. He lowered his head to Zoe’s belly, placing his ear and cheek right against her skin and looking up into Zoe’s face. Felt like little burbles. Quiet-like for a spell. Then another little twitchy. Didn’t know what his face was expressing toward Zoe, but what he felt was a fascinated wonderment, almost holy in its intensity. Zoe…life. Zoe creating life. Zoe. Life. He felt a little jab at his cheekbone. Kid had just kicked him in the jaw, most like. He gave a little laugh, reached up, and cradled Zoe’s face in his hands. He bent over and kissed her. “You done good, Zoe,” he said softly. “Got yourself a little fighter in there.”
Inara glided softly into the dining room, seeking a soothing cup of her favorite tea. Someone was in the common area, and she glanced over. What she saw stunned her, and only her Companion training saved her from betraying her shock. Mal was kneeling next to Zoe, with his face pressed into her bare belly. What was going on? The two of them were so wrapped up in each other that they were completely oblivious to her. She couldn’t quite read the expression on his face as he gazed up Zoe’s shapely body into her face, but love was undoubtedly a large component of his look. As she stood transfixed, he laughed softly, tenderly placed his hands on Zoe’s face, and kissed her. Kissed her! He murmured sweet nothings. Inara could bear it no more. Turning, she quietly fled to the shelter of her shuttle.
Mal and Zoe! Zoe and Mal! How had she never seen it? All that not-touching they did in public. Zoe calling him ‘sir’ like she didn’t even know his first name. Those intense dialogs they had with just their eyes. Everyone knew Zoe and Mal were close, but she’d always bought the line they fed the others that they were not a couple, never were a couple. Just war buddies. And she’d felt sorry for Mal—sorry for him!—that he’d spent so many years alone, deprived of feminine caresses, feeling no womanly touch. Arrgh! She could just scream. How had Wash put up with this 狗屎 gǒushǐ?
Wash. Oh, poor Wash. She knew he’d felt jealous of Mal and Zoe’s closeness. They went off together on jobs, and returned with the stories. The stories of thrilling heroics, adventure and bonding. It was always a “job” that took them off by themselves, and no one else really knew what they did when they were alone together. Of course they’d been discrete aboard the ship. It was a very small community. But both of them had phenomenal powers of restraint—amounting to repression in Mal’s case. She’d seen through Mal’s attempts at obfuscation and re-direction in other matters, but she had to admit he’d thrown her off the scent in this case, with all his nattering complaints about shipboard relationships. Wash had thought those complaints were directed at him. Oh, poor Wash! Was Zoe’s baby even Wash’s? Or was it Mal’s? “I’m going to be a father for sure.” Of course. She felt anger at their betrayal. On Wash’s behalf, of course.
Or mostly on Wash’s behalf. But some on her own behalf. A lot on her own behalf. Much as she hated to admit it, she felt tremendous anger at Mal for betraying her. Control is the first lesson, and the last. Mal and Zoe! And all this time he’d made such a show of mooning after her! Her, a bona fide Companion! Control is the first lesson. He’d convinced her that he loved her, worked his way into her bed, into her heart. The first. He’d seemed so joyful, so grateful, that she’d allowed him to lie with her. Control is first. So sorrowful, when she shut him out. Oh, the hurt in his eyes when she spoke harshly to him. Control. The jealousy he expressed when she went off to do her business. Jealousy! Zoe and Mal. Traitor!
Mal was still in a state of complete awe when he went to the bridge to take his watch.
Zoe’s baby was real. Kid had just kicked him. There was gonna be a baby on this boat, in just four months’ time. Better get used to the feeling.
He knew that, with Wash dead, Zoe was counting on him to stand-in as the child’s father. 我的天啊 Wǒ de tiān ā. It finally hit him. He was going to be a father. Not biologically, perhaps. But it was real enough.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Wash said.
“Yeah,” Mal responded with overflowing eloquence. He was unable to think of a single thing to say that properly expressed his feelings on the occasion.
“You look like you’re in shock. You should sit down.”
“I am sitting down,” Mal replied.
“Sit down, put your head between your knees…and kiss your freedom from responsibility goodbye.”
Mal’s face twitched in a half smile. “I already done that, Wash. Long ago. But I ain’t the child’s father, Wash. You are.”
“Of course I am,” Wash answered. “But, you know, being dead and all, it’ll be hard for me to be much of a ‘hands on’ kind of father. Funny, my old man was ‘hands on’ but it was only when he was trying to catch me and my brothers to punish us for 撒赖 sālài.”
“What, you? Cause trouble?” Mal responded with a shake of his head. “Can’t imagine it.”
Wash merely smirked.
“Didn’t have nothin’ to do with your smart mouth, did it?”
“Well, luckily, you’ll make a good stand-in,” Wash grinned. “You’re almost as much of a smart-mouth as I was, so the kid’ll have a good example.”
“You’re expecting me to stand-in?”
“I’m counting on it. So is Zoe. She can’t raise this kid on her own.”
“She ain’t on her own. Everybody here on this boat is family.”
“Yeah, but Jayne?” Wash looked toward the ceiling and shook his head. “I can’t have Jayne being the father figure for my child. It’s you, Mal.”
* * *
Zoe had truly never seen such a look on Mal’s face before. A wondering amazement. Joy. She hadn’t seen Mal with such a look of pure joy on his face in…she couldn’t actually recollect. It had been too long. Been long enough since she felt much joy herself.
But thoughts of the coming child brought her, if not joy, at least contentment. She only wished….Tears came to her eyes, and she blinked them back and bottled them up before they could spill over. Wash would never put his hand or his cheek on her belly and feel the baby kicking. Wash would never see the baby’s face, look in its eyes, never hold their newborn child in his arms. Their child, who would never know its father.
Mal had her back. He always had her back; she knew that. Mal couldn’t fill Wash’s place, and he wasn’t trying to do so. But she knew, without so much as a word being spoken, that he would try his damnedest to help her raise her child. Wash would have taken to fatherhood easily and with great good humor, despite his misgivings about starting a family in the first place. Mal didn’t know a gorram thing about fatherhood, but he would give it his best effort. And as Zoe already knew, Mal’s best effort was nothing short of heroic.
Mal would be protective. Incredibly protective. In fact, she could easily foresee that the trouble would be to keep him from being over-protective and interfering. Looking long into the future, she could see that, particularly if she had a daughter, Mal would be ready to scare off any potential suitors for good. No boy would be bold enough to pass the double gauntlet of her scrutiny and Mal’s guardianship. If Mal and Inara ever had a child themselves, Mal was gonna be so over-protective, Inara was gonna have a helluva time…
Back on Bandiagara, she’d seen how he’d just basked in joy every time the folks there called him Jëkkëre Inara, like he couldn’t get enough of being called Inara’s husband. It hadn’t surprised her a bit when he confessed to her that he’d asked Inara to marry him.
Well, it hadn’t surprised her a bit from that perspective. What did surprise her was that he’d recovered enough feeling of self-worth to believe he was marriageable material, that he was anything other than damaged goods. He’d lost everything at Serenity Valley.
Now, Zoe understood loss. She’d lost a battle, and lost a war. Her spaceship home, and what was left of her family—also casualties of war. And she sure as hell understood losing her love…. 哦 天啊 Ò tiān ā, she thought, as the notion struck her. Mal understood what she was going through as a widow because he’d already lost everything. Zoe hadn’t lost nearly so much at Serenity Valley. Mal had lost the battle, the war, his platoon, his home and family, his love, his trust in people, and his faith, all at once. Six months after Serenity Valley, he emerged from that Alliance internment camp a shattered man. It was testimony to his strength of character that he survived as anything better than a wreck. She’d seen him crawl into a black hole, and it had taken him the best part of a decade to emerge partially from it. And she had to give Inara credit. Because Inara had done more than anyone else to bring him out of the dark place.
What Inara had done to pull Mal out of that black hole was truly amazing, and Zoe respected her for it. Zoe herself had not succeeded in doing so in all the years since the war. 天啊 Tiān ā, she had tried. She remembered those times living in the slums of Hera, sometimes in a shelter, but mostly on the street. Hell, they didn’t care; hadn’t lived in anything resembling a house for much of the latter part of the war, and this wasn’t any worse, physically speaking. Better than: no one was shooting at ’em, at least most of the time. But 哎呀 āiyā if that helped. They were both a sorry sight in those days—twitchy as rabbits, ready to startle for a nothing. A sound, a sight, a smell—something would set them off, send them diving for cover, trigger those flight or fight reactions. They’d re-live some of the worst parts of the war, one or the other or sometimes both of them at the same time. It was scary when Mal had a flashback and she had to watch, and talk him down—sometimes take him down—but she never flinched from doing it.
Zoe’s PTSD had never been as severe as Mal’s, and in Zoe’s case the turning point came when she and Wash got together. Zoe’s flashbacks came less frequently, and her nightmares were less disturbing. She liked to think that PTSD was no match for Wash’s irrepressible good humor, and Wash’s comforting touch kept nightmares at bay—or maybe just knowing he was there by her side helped her cope with it. Wash had reminded Zoe of what it was to laugh and love—and she had climbed out of the darkness of the valley, and begun to live again. Mal had stayed in the dark place.
Inara had helped Mal. Zoe hadn’t been awakened by Mal’s nightmares so often since he’d taken to sleeping with Inara—and it wasn’t just that he spent some nights out of her earshot in Inara’s shuttle rather than his bunk. He was sleeping more peacefully, Zoe could tell. He was smiling more, laughing more—not so much in front of the others, which was what had made the whistling incident all the more unusual—but Zoe had heard him and Inara laugh together, when they were sitting and talking, and thought they were alone. Reminded her of Mal in his younger days, early on in the war, when he could always be counted on for a joke or a funny story or seeing the humor in an otherwise grim situation. As the war went on, the humor got darker but the charm wasn’t lost. It was only after Serenity Valley that he became grim, and only in the hellish aftermath of that battle that he stopped smiling and laughing with sincerity. Who had Wash reminded her of? Young Mal, her brother-in-arms, her brother.
Zoe had been aware that Mal was attracted to Inara…almost from the word go. But he was not the type of man who acted thoughtlessly on the force of physical attraction. She was a Companion, and despite all his protestations, Mal really was a man who was saving it for marriage—or for a serious relationship, anyway. Zoe had often teased him about his puritanical attitude. At first, Zoe didn’t believe it would ever work, and she tried to get in their way. She could see that Mal was drawn to Inara—almost like a moth to the flame. She thought he would get burned. Inara was a Companion; Mal was a committed monogamist—two different worlds. But then she noticed that Inara couldn’t leave, either. Mal (and Serenity) gave Inara access to intangibles she couldn’t get anywhere else—freedom, including the freedom to be herself. Zoe got the idea that Serenity was the only place Inara had expressed her true feelings in years—probably since she first went to Companion Academy. Even if some of those true feelings were frustration towards a certain annoying transport captain. Inara provoked Mal, in the hope that he would drive her away, because she was afraid of her feelings for him. She loved him, and feared that loving him would spell death for her career. Mal needed Inara. And Inara needed Mal.
Zoe remembered talking to Wash about it. “He’s gonna drive her away.”
“He won’t. He loves her.”
“He sure does. But he won’t admit it. Not even to himself, half the time.”
“If I loved a woman—and I do, lamby-toes—there’s not a power in the ’Verse would keep me from admitting it.” Wash suited action to word, by giving Zoe a hair-curling kiss.
“Mmm hmmm,” Zoe hummed, in a satisfied way. “Hair-curling kisses—that tells it pretty plain.”
“Not that you have need of any hair-curling, my 秋花 qiū huā,” he said, running his hands through her curls. He’d always loved her curls. “I love your hair. And where your hair connects to your head. And your face. Your eyes.” He kissed her eyelids. “Your nose. And right below your nose. Your cheeks and…where your cheeks join your mouth.” He kissed her on her lips. “Your mouth,” he said with extra emphasis, and devoted some time to a deep exploration of that particular facial feature.
“Your mouth,” he gasped breathlessly, some time later.
“Don’t forget my mind,” she added pointedly, “long as we’re talkin’ above-the-shoulders features.”
“Shoulders…yeah,” Wash gasped, his hands wandering, then corrected himself. “Mind. Right. You’ve got a beautiful mind. If not for the brilliance of your mind, I might be overwhelmed by the brilliance of your…” his eyes wandered, then snapped back up. “Eyes,” he declaimed dramatically.
She beamed him with a pillow.
“Hey! That’s me, praising your mind!” he protested. “You know, opposite of caveman. I love your mind, your intelligence, your….” He was struggling, and given the nature of what she was doing to him, she had to admit he was doing a remarkable job of keeping his remarks coherent. “…your voluptuous, luscious, sweaty, slippery, sexy—” he was losing it “—sexy, sexy, sexy brain!” he gasped.
Simon drew Mal into the infirmary and activated the privacy screens. He didn’t know how to begin.
“Alright, Doc. What’s up?” Mal asked, not wasting any time.
“Captain, I have reason to believe the injectable men’s contraceptive I gave you is ineffective.”
“‘Ineffective’,” Mal repeated. “And just what do you mean by that?”
“I mean,” Simon replied, feeling like he was plunging over a cliff, “that it may not work properly.”
“I gathered that, Simon,” Mal said with annoyance. “I know what the word ‘ineffective’ means.” He gave Simon a penetrating stare. “What I want is an explanation of why you think so.”
Simon hedged. “The expiration date on that lot has passed.”
“I thought you told me the expiration date didn’t make no special difference, that the stuff didn’t suddenly go bad.”
“It doesn’t suddenly go bad. It gradually loses efficacy. And in this case, it’s so far past the expiration date that I doubt it’s even fifty percent efficacious. You should probably switch to the oral—”
“Why the hell didn’t you replace it earlier?” Mal demanded.
“Because we were short of money,” Simon stated pointedly, completely uncowed. “Serenity was out of funds, and I had only my own savings to spend on medical supplies.” He noticed that Mal began to look disconcerted, flustered, guilty even. “I had to make choices.”
“You shouldn’ta had to make those choices,” Mal began.
“Yes, I should have,” Simon asserted. “It’s my job to make those choices. I’m a doctor. The choices I make in my profession can mean the difference between illness and health, life and death. It’s a balancing act, and I’m trained to make those choices.”
“Still,” Mal interrupted, “if you’d had more money—”
“Captain, in an ideal world, Serenity would have unlimited access to every kind of medication and all the latest medical equipment. But I’m well aware that there’s no ideal world. The budget is limited, and my job is to make best use of it. Don’t fret,” he said, as Mal opened his mouth in another attempt, Simon knew, to assume responsibility. “I ran into the same kind of budgetary limitations on Osiris—just on a different, massive scale. Believe me, managing the medical budget of Serenity is a piece of cake compared with the Surgical Department of Capital City Hospital. And there are far fewer committee meetings.”
Huh. A baby. It wasn’t the way she planned it, but honestly, it was wonderful news. Kaylee had always known she wanted babies, preferably lots of them, and more recently she’d come to the conclusion that she wanted lots of babies that looked just like Simon, and had his top-class brains, too. So this was a start, and on the right track.
She didn’t reckon she’d be havin’ a baby with Simon quite this way, though. Well, honestly, there’d been a time when she’d despaired of ever havin’ babies with Simon. But that was before Miranda. Kaylee’s feeling about babies was very similar to her attitude toward sex—part of the natural rhythm of human life. People were born, they grew up, they started sexin’, and sooner or later babies was likely as not gonna be part of the picture. Anyone as didn’t understand that was denying the forces of nature, and probably tryin’ to hide something from themselves, too. So to find herself expecting a baby, when she’d been lovin’ Simon the way she’d been doin’, was just a natural thing to happen.
She was not in any way adverse to marriage. But that, too, she wanted to come natural—not be forced on someone unwillin’ just because he’d started a baby. That’s why she didn’t want Simon tellin’ the Cap’n. Cap’n was old-fashioned—had to do with his Shadow upbringing, she knew. Her mama had told her tales of a fella from Shadow she’d tried to date, long before she met Kaylee’s daddy. “Those Shadow folk, they was just too prim and proper,” Mama had told her. “It warn’t that they spent too much time in church, it was just what that-there church of theirs told ’em about sin and all, that turned their minds a certain way.” Her mama had sighed. “That Shadow boy was mighty fine-lookin’, and kind, and polite. But it woulda taken me longer ’n a Harvest winter ta get him in the sack, and I weren’t about to wait that long ta see if it was worth my while to get serious with him! Luckily, there were plenty a’ boys on Harvest what understood the natural order of things, and by the time I met your daddy—and I knew he was the one the moment I lay eyes on him—I clean forgot about that handsome boy from Shadow.”
Kaylee knew that as soon as the Cap’n found out about the baby, he’d be tryin’ to order Simon to marry her. Cap’n was like a big brother to her—and she loved him for it—but she didn’t want no man marrying her because he feared retribution from her 哥哥 gēge if he didn’t.
Kaylee knew that Simon’s own upbringing was working against nature as well. Simon had been brought up all proper and high-class in the Core—not that she had anything against high-class or proper, but it meant that Simon had been trained for too long to do things what went against what his heart told him. He wouldn’t cuss ’cause it wasn’t proper, even when cussin’ was highly appropriate to the situation. He wouldn’t spontaneously hug a stranger ’cause it wasn’t proper—no matter that sometimes folk just needed a hug. And he wouldn’t make a girl pregnant and then be content to cohabit with her and just be a daddy, ’cause that wasn’t proper, neither. He’d think he had ta marry her.
And she didn’t want that. If Simon was gonna marry her, she wanted him to marry her because he loved her, because he wanted to live his life with her, wanted to share her joys and sorrows, wanted to raise a family and grow old together with her. She didn’t want him marryin’ her because of some confounded notion that it was the only proper thing to do, that it was his duty. She wanted him to marry her ’cause his heart told him so, and it felt like the natural thing to do. And if that weren’t the reason for it, she reckoned she didn’t want nothin’ to do with marriage at all.
“So how’d you figure out this lot of contraceptive is no good?” Mal leaned against the side bed of the infirmary, arms folded. His tone was mild enough, but Simon knew he wouldn’t be put off.
“I didn’t say ‘no good,’ I said ‘less efficacious’,” Simon corrected, putting off the explanation. Mal stared at him until he relented. “It’s the same lot of contraceptive Wash was using.” It went against his professional code of conduct to break patient confidentiality, but Mal was his patient, too, and he had a right to know the answers to the questions he was asking. It was just that, in a community this small, there was no possibility of disguising the identity of anyone. He could say ‘one of my patients’ but that was just another way of naming names, and he didn’t see the point in obfuscating.
“And Zoe’s pregnant. I get it. But I don’t see how that proves anything. Didn’t you just tell Jayne not too long ago that there ain’t no contraceptive that’s one hundred percent effective? What makes you think that weren’t just an accident?”
“Because…” Simon felt his face turning red, even as he told himself he had nothing to be ashamed of, “I’ve been using the same lot.”
Simon watched as a stunning array of emotions flickered across Mal’s face in rapid succession as he worked out the implications—all the implications—of what Simon had just said.
Fever. Elevated temperature. Affects the brain. Alters the brain. Biological feedback loops, interconnected. Interact with all systems. A few degrees’ temperature change and the organisms can’t grow. Can’t reproduce. Have babies. Body’s defense mechanism. Fever affects the brain but the viruses die first. A few degrees temperature change. Killed all the life on Shadow.
Caught a bug. Inaccurate terminology. Bug: hemipterous insect. Did not catch a bug. Not family Hemiptera. Caught a member of family Culicidae, genus Anopheles, species gambiae. Mosquito. Easy to catch. Move slowly when they’re full. Vector: a quantity possessing both magnitude and direction, represented by an arrow. Or, the course followed by a spaceship. Or, an insect that transmits a pathogenic organism. Caught a vector. Vector for malaria. Malaria. Mal: bad, in the Latin. Aria: air. Also, a song. La, la, la. Focus, River. River’s brain is altered.
Malaria. Bad air. Incorrect supposition of causation. Caused by the parasite Plasmodium. On Bandiagara, it’s Plasmodium falciparum. By means of the bite of Anopheles gambiae. Only the imago can be a vector. Imago: adult insect. Also, idealized concept of a loved one. Pupa: juvenile insect. Also, girl. Doll. Puppet. Only the female bites. Needs blood to make eggs. Which came first, the mosquito or the egg? Males feed on nectar. Nectar of the gods. Only the female bites man. Anthropophagous: eats man. Cannibal. Reaver. River. But she doesn’t eat man. Female imago feeds preferentially on females. Sweeter. Woman, swatting frantically: I’m being eaten alive by clouds of insects! Man, bare-chested, untroubled: What’s the problem, darlin’? Nothin’ but a few bitty bugs. Not bugs. Culicidae. Vectors. Vector for malaria. A vector is an arrow. Time is like an arrow. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana. Black flies…
…transmit onchocerciasis, a.k.a. river blindness. Say that three times fast. (Onchocerciasis onchocerciasis onchocerciasis.) Black fly (Simuliidae)—the vector—transmits Onchocerca volvulus. A nematode. Nematode: round worm. Eye of newt, and toe of frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog—. Spotted dog. Captain made a spotted dog. Steamed pudding. Steam. Heat. Fever—adder’s fork, and roundworm’s sting—. Worms don’t sting. It’s not the nematode that causes the disease, anyway. It’s the endosymbiont that lives inside the roundworm, Wolbachia pipientis. Causes severe inflammatory response when the worm bursts open. Inflammatory: incendiary. Provocative. Fiery. Fever. Fever, itching, and blindness. River blindness. Onchocerciasis. River. Blindness.
Blind. Means can’t see. Can’t see, can’t see. Can’t look, can’t look. Look and see are not the same.
Do you all know what it is you’re carrying? Carrier. Transmitter of disease. Vector. Arrow. Dart. Cupid’s darts.
Love is blind. Is it love? Or infatuation? Or do I just like him?
Love. Captain is in love. Never felt what the Captain felt. Ergo, River’s not in love. But I like him. River is in like. Like kissing him. Really like kissing him. Like kissing him. First with the kissing, then with the touching, then with the—pitter-patter of little hoofs—hooves—hoofs—voiced or de-voiced? Depends where you were raised—Core or Rim. When you hear hoofbeats, think zebras.
Zebras. Caught a zebra on Bandiagara. Just a little zebra. I am always a zebra. Never been a horse.
Always was a zebra. Knew I was a zebra. Two years old, standing in the vestibule, playing with a doll, and thinking. Doll: a small figure representing a baby or human figure, especially for use as a child’s toy. Pupa. Girl. Doll. Puppet. Inanimate object. But she had a name: Patty. Trying to make Patty stand. Mother in the dining parlor, talking with the housekeeper. Making arrangements for dinner. Mother never cooked dinner. Mother arranged dinner. Stand up, Patty (doll, pupa). Thinking, now is now. But wait, it is already then. As soon as I think it, it is past. I think now! Too late. Already then. Patty has trouble standing up. Juvenile primary lateral sclerosis (zebra). Or maybe she just lost her balance (horse). Hard to stand without a vertebral column. Take me where I cannot stand. Try again. Now. Already then. Can stand in zero gravity without a vertebral column. Take me out into the Black. Now! Then. Time is an arrow. A vector. Mother sees two-year-old girl playing with a doll. Smiles. Cute. Doesn’t know daughter has discovered directionality of time. If you’ve got the money, I’ve got the time. I get the time. I get time. I get what time is. What time is it? Now. Then.
Silly idea, that sneezing means cold. Sneezing never meant cold. Indicative of viral infection, mild case of rhinovirus. Reflexive tussis, rhinorrhea and pyrexia. (Cough, runny nose, and fever.) Cold: outdated terminology from culture ignorant of the germ theory of disease. Now. Then. Vestigial. Vestigial mode of time measurement based on solar cycles. It’s not applicable.
“So you got my mechanic pregnant?”
Simon huffed. Of course Mal would zero in on that aspect first.
“What are your intentions?”
And of course he would immediately assume the role of big brother and protector of Kaylee. “I intend to be a father to her child. As good a father as I can possibly be.” Simon took a deep breath, and saw that Mal was not satisfied with his answer. The Captain drew breath, but Simon interrupted before he could speak. He was not done; he just needed space. “I intend to support Kaylee in parenting, and stay by her side.”
“That ain’t en—”
“I want to be with her always. I love her,” Simon declared, daring the Captain to raise an objection. “I—”
“You ain’t said you intend—” the Captain interrupted.
“I intend to marry her.”
“Have you asked her?”
“Why the hell not?”
“Captain, I only found out about this—child—very recently. I haven’t digested this information myself, let alone had time to act on it. And I wanted to buy a ring.”
Mal suddenly deflated before his eyes, and the flustered, guilty look settled on his face again. If the subject hadn’t been so serious, Simon would have been tempted to laugh, the contrast between assertive, bullying Mal and flustered, guilty Mal was so striking. Mal knew Simon had no money. And he knew why Simon had no money. He hadn’t been able to pay his crew on Beylix, nor on Bandiagara, and Simon had spent his last coin on medical supplies for Serenity, supplies that should have been paid for from the ship’s budget.
“I’ll see you get money for a ring, soon as we hit dirt and get paid,” Mal promised.
* * *
喂 Wèi [Hello!]
狗屎 gǒushǐ [crap]
我的天啊 Wǒ de tiān ā [Dear god in heaven] (literally means “Oh my sky”—I particularly like this phrase for Mal)
撒赖 sālài [raising hell]
Jëkkëre [husband of (in Wolof)]
哦 天啊 Ò tiān ā [god]
天啊 Tiān ā [God]
哎呀 āiyā [damn]
哥哥 gēge [older brother]
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