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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
…and keeps on hitting…
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2386 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)
…and keeps on hitting…
Author Note: I’d like to bring to mind the “safeword” that Simon was taught as a means of making River fall asleep after triggering. It’s “Это курам на смех (Eto kuram na smekh).” Literally, it means, “That's for chickens to laugh at” or “That is to make hens laugh,” and it’s a Russian idiom for “That's ridiculous.”
This chapter is rated R for violence and language.
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* * *
The first man stepped past the dumpster into the dim light of the narrow alley.
“Not listening! Not listening! Not…”
River’s panic was palpable beside him, and his gut wrenched with instinctive knowledge: the rod that the man held in his outstretched blue-gloved hand was some kind of terrible weapon. Ip lifted his eyes and looked into the face of his assassin.
And he was astonished to find that he recognized the man. Somehow, he found his voice. “Is that you, Bill?”
Three Years Previously
That day, when Ip met up with Hari at the Blue Sun cafeteria, Hari was accompanied by another young-ish man. “Ip, I want you to meet Bill. Bill, this is Ip.”
“Ip Neumann,” Ip said, shaking hands. “I work in the Terraforming Division.”
“Bill Borjigin,” the other replied with a smile. Since he didn’t give his division, Ip immediately assumed that he worked with Hari in the Reaver Studies Department, where all the research was classified. Or perhaps he worked in some other hush-hush research department. Ip’s security clearance was low-level, and all he knew for sure was that there existed security levels he didn’t have the clearance to know about.
One great thing about working for a large corporation whose many subdivisions included the largest food purveyor in the ’Verse was that the cafeteria food was tasty, there was a tremendous selection, and the prices, subsidized by the corporation, were extremely cheap. The cafeteria was very popular with the employees of Blue Sun Bernadette. Ip, Hari, and Bill went through the lines, then settled into a table near one of the virtual windows. Hari chose a Hawaiian waterfall scene from the window menu—it was one of his favorites, and Ip liked that one, too, because once in a while a bright red i’iwi bird fluttered through the ohi’a blossoms in the foreground. Ip was an avid birdwatcher, and even though he’d never seen a real i’iwi, he still felt a thrill—there’s one for the life list!—every time he spotted it.
“Bill’s new here,” Hari told him.
“Where are you from?” Ip asked Bill.
“You just move here, then?”
“Bill got recruited from…” Hari trailed off, looking at Bill.
Bill gave the slightest shrug. “I used to work for the government.”
Ip understood the code-talk. It usually started with, “I work in the public sector,” but Blue Sun was already beyond that, and Bill had skipped directly to the second level. The third level was “I work for the Department of Defense,” and somewhere beyond that was “I work in Military Intelligence.” Ip knew there were levels beyond that, but he’d never been admitted to them. So Bill was some kind of intelligence officer who’d been recruited to work in one of Blue Sun’s discreet divisions. Well, there were all sorts of intelligence work to be done in private business—Ip had heard of corporate spies who tried to steal the company’s secrets and sell them to the competition, for instance, and undoubtedly people had to be hired who could uncover the spies and deal with them. No doubt there were other uses 妈妈 青日Māma Qīng Rì had for a military intelligence officer or—judging by Bill’s physical fitness (not typical amongst the desk-jockey scientists who dominated the Blue Sun Bernadette workforce)—a special forces operative. Ip didn’t bother to speculate further, and he knew Hari and Bill would never tell, anyway.
As lunch wound down, Hari spoke up. “Ip, Bill’s got a problem, and I figured, with your being a native of this wild frontier you would know how to help him.” Hari was from Ariel, and it was a running joke between them that Hari had given up the trappings of civilized life on Ariel to make the trek to the wilds of Bernadette—which was every bit as urbanized as Ariel, and had been terraformed for as long as Osiris.
“What’s the problem?” Ip asked.
“Well, I—” Bill began awkwardly.
“The fact is,” Hari interrupted, “妈妈 青日Māma Qīng Rì recruited him, but couldn’t be bothered to help him find an apartment. He had to ask Tourist Services at the spaceport to book him a bed and breakfast, and he doesn’t have a clue where to look for a more permanent place. I recommended my own apartment complex, of course, but it turns out there’s a three-year waiting list for openings, and I haven’t thought about housing in years, and honestly, I don’t have any idea where—”
“I get it,” Ip smiled. “You want me to recommend Bill to my Aunt Waltraud.” Ip’s aunt was a bit of a real estate mogul. She managed a collection of properties, some of them quite upscale, but even the least of them was a very nice building in a good part of town. Bernadette was a very overcrowded world and the scarcity of decent housing was a perpetual issue. Newcomers to the world faced special challenges, as much of the housing was reserved for native-born Bernadettiens. Knowing his relationship with Waltraud Neumann, people were always buttonholing him for assistance with housing. “No problem.” Ip wrote down the wave address of his aunt’s business and handed it to Bill. “I’ll wave my aunt and let her know to expect your wave.”
“Ip?” Bill hesitated.
That was all it took. “Это кур— (Eto kur—)” began Bill’s partner, but River had already made her move. She launched herself with a flying leap and accurately kicked the second Blue Hand in the head. Ip heard the man’s neck snap with a sickening crunch and he dropped to the ground with a high cervical fracture, dying…dead as a rabbit.
“I—” Bill was still holding the awful cylinder.
“Put that away, Bill.” Ip had no idea where he was getting the wherewithal to say such a thing to a man holding a lethal weapon.
“Ip,” said Bill again, flicking glances toward his dead partner and River Tam. Ip didn’t dare break eye contact with Bill, although he could hear that River was in distress. “Get out. Get away.” Bill lowered the rod, but didn’t put it away.
Ip was startled by the hardness in Bill’s voice. This was not the Bill he used to know. The Bill who, though secretive, was a friendly man. “Bill—” Ip began.
“Trust me, you don’t want to be found here. Go.”
“What about—?” Ip’s eye strayed to the dead man.
“That’s my problem,” Bill said. “I’ll deal with it. Now get out. While you can.”
Ip moved over to River, who was quaking like a bowl of jelly and making incoherent quivery sounds. He put his arm around her and helped her up.
“You can’t take her.” Bill’s voice was harsh, and his face, hard and affectless.
“She’s my friend!” Ip exclaimed.
Ip watched as Bill’s affect changed, from the hardened indifferent expression of a tool—a truly frightening look—to a man’s face with human emotion. Conflicted emotion. “Ip. I can’t—” Bill began in a quiet, intense voice.
“I can’t leave her here,” Ip stated, again wondering where he had come up with the gumption to say such a thing.
Bill frowned, seemed to reach a decision. “I’ll deal with it,” he said, to himself more than to Ip. His look hardened again. “Get out. Both of you. Get as far away as you can. They’ll be looking for you, as soon as they find out what happened here.”
“How soon?” Ip’s voice was barely more than a harsh whisper.
“I can stall them two hours. Maybe three. Get out. Get away.”
Ip didn’t wait to be told again. He picked up River and walked straight out of the alley to the sunshine of Broadway Boulevard. There he turned to say “Goodbye, Bill,” but the Bill he had known was already gone.
“Simon!” Mal called as he staggered up the ramp. “Simon! Where the hell are you, Doc?”
“Cap’n!” Kaylee gasped as she moved toward the cargo bay ramp and saw Mal carrying Zoe draped over his shoulder. “What happened to Zoe?”
“Could use some help here, Kaylee,” Mal said. He wouldn’t ever admit it, but carrying Zoe at the double all the way from that backstreet near Holden’s place had tested his limits of strength and endurance. “Where the hell’s Jayne? Where’s everybody else?”
“Jayne’s still away.” Kaylee helped Mal carry Zoe through the cargo bay. “Everybody else is in the infirmary.”
Mal looked sharply at her. Something 不佳 bùjiā was going on.
“River and Ip got set upon by those Blue Hands guys. They barely got away—”
Mal felt a jolt of renewed energy as a fresh burst of adrenaline pumped through him. “Blue Hands? They gonna be here any minute?”
“They got away somehow, I don’t know how. Ip said they weren’t followed. Just got here a minute ago.”
“Anybody hurt?” Mal asked, as they rounded the corner of the infirmary.
The answer to that question was in front of him. River was crouching in the corner of the floor of the infirmary, crying and fending off the others with her arms and kicking out with her feet. “Get back and watch the door,” Mal told Kaylee shortly. “Call Jayne, tell him to get his 屁股 pìgu back here 马上 mǎshàng.” He reached the infirmary door.
“妹妹 Mèimei, try to calm yourself, please,” Inara spoke soothingly.
“…Blue…Hands of Blue…two by two, two times two, powers of two, too many hands!” River sobbed.
Both Ip and Simon tried to approach her, while Inara kept trying to soothe her with words. Simon held a hypo gun—filled with sedative, Mal didn’t doubt.
Inara’s attention was suddenly caught by the sight of Mal, carrying Zoe through the infirmary door. 亲爱的佛啊 Qīn'àide Fó ā, Zoe was hurt. Was she even conscious? Mal settled Zoe on the infirmary exam bed, where she lay down with a groan, her eyes closed, a makeshift bandage tied around her head. Mal immediately slumped into the chair by the bedside. There was a smear of blood on the sleeve of his coat. Was he hurt, too? He didn’t seem to be injured. He was obviously exhausted with the effort of carrying Zoe. Poor Mal. 天啊 Tiān ā, what had she done, what had she done to him! Mal closed his eyes and took a couple deep breaths. How could she have done it! He opened his eyes, got his second wind, and pulled himself up.
His first move was to take Zoe’s hand. “Zoe, speak to me. Zoe. Doc!” he called. “Zoe needs your help!” Zoe’s eyes fluttered open. She focused on Mal, and the two of them locked eyes and exchanged one of their disconcertingly long, deep, and intimate looks. Inara saw it and fumed.
“Coming, Captain. River needs my help too,” Simon returned, sparing a quick glance over his shoulder at Zoe. River, like a cornered animal, saw her chance, and made a break away from Ip and Simon, avoiding Simon’s needle. A tray of medical equipment crashed to the floor.
Inara was torn, wanting to help someone. But who most needed help? River? Zoe? Simon? Mal? Simon and Ip were dealing with River, Mal seemed to have recovered from his exhaustion, and the medical equipment could wait. She came to Zoe’s side, looking for injuries. Zoe was groaning, but still conscious. Inara couldn’t see any other injury besides the obvious head wound.
“What happened?” Simon called, without looking this time. He’d missed his chance to sedate River, and he and Ip circled slowly, re-positioning themselves and trying to close in again.
“Someone shot her!” Mal raged. “Shot Zoe! Shot a pregnant woman! What kind of immoral 非人 fēirén shoots a pregnant woman?! Inhuman, 道德沦丧 dàodélúnsàng, 无用 wúyòng, 乱伦的 luànlúnde—”
“Is she bleeding?” Simon asked.
“Not that I can see,” Inara answered, while Mal and Zoe spoke in unison, “No.”
“Матрёшка Солнце Синее (Matreshka solitse sineye)…eats her children…blood on her hands!” River stared at her hands as she held them out in front of her. “Don’t like chickens! Don’t like hens! No mатрёшка (matreshka)!”
“River, they’re gone, we’re safe, we’re safe here now, stay calm, River, it’s okay,” Ip repeated like a mantra.
“Tell me you weren’t followed, Ip,” Mal demanded of Ip.
“We weren’t,” Ip stated definitively, without taking his eyes off River.
“You sure?” Mal asked, fixing him with a look. It missed target, as Ip kept his eyes completely focused on River. “Damn sure?”
“The Blue Hands won’t be coming for us right away,” Ip stated with surprising force.
“And you know this how?”
Without removing his eyes from River, Ip gave a slight shrug. He didn’t want to talk about Bill—didn’t want to think about Bill, and Bill’s partner with the broken neck, and River turning into a whimpering, quaking bowl of jelly. But the Captain’s stare was boring into the back of his head, so he faced those horrors for a moment and said, “He said he could give me two hours. Maybe three.” Somehow he was sure that Bill would keep his word, would do his best to give them a reasonable head start, but he knew that it wasn’t entirely in Bill’s hands. Hands of Blue. “Just know.” It was all he could say just now.
Mal gave Ip a hard look, but the man was focused on River. Mal wasn’t satisfied with Ip’s reply, which raised as many questions as it answered, but he didn’t have time to sit around pondering. “Where the 地狱 dìyù is Jayne already? We gotta load up Holden’s cargo yesterday and get the hell off this rock before any of those 不道德 bùdàodé 王八蛋 wángbādàn catch up to us.”
“Which 不道德 bùdàodé 王八蛋 wángbādàn do you mean?” Simon asked, not turning his head. “The Blue Hands or the ones that shot Zoe?”
“Both,” Mal replied tersely, and began working with Inara to remove Zoe’s vest.
Kaylee appeared at the infirmary door. “Cap’n—” she began.
“Not now, Kaylee—unless it’s urgent,” Mal replied without looking at her.
Kaylee spoke up. “Cap’n, while you and Zoe were—” she stopped and started again. “I went to install the navsat, and I found somebody already tried to sabotage Serenity. Despite the watch set by Mrs Li’s son. I’m thinkin’ probably before we even reached Pedro Docks. Back at the fruit market.”
Mal shot a penetrating look at Kaylee. “What the h—” he began.
“Explosive device, nav and comm systems, just like before,” Kaylee reported. “Couldn’t install the navsat. Gotta defuse the detonator afore I can work up there.”
“他妈的 Tāmādē!” Mal swore, acknowledging the report with a nod. He and Inara continued working to remove Zoe’s body armor. All the while he kept up a steady stream of muttering, working himself up into an irrational state. “… can’t believe, who would shoot a woman who’s pregnant, Zoe’s only chance to have Wash’s baby. What kinda 乱伦的 疯子 luànlúnde fēngzi would shoot a pregnant widow, carrying her husband’s last hope in the ’Verse? If Wash’s child come to any harm I swear I’ll—”
“What?” Inara interjected. “You swear you’ll what? What’ll you do, Mal?”
Zoe interrupted Mal’s rant at the same time. “They can’t know that. How would they know I’m a widow?”
“What kind of 道德沦丧的 狗娘养的 dàodélúnsàngde gǒuniángyǎngde shoots at a pregnant woman?” Mal continued, not acknowledging their interjections. “Animals—not even animals would do this—”
“Chickens are animals! Don’t like chickens! Don’t like hens!” River ranted.
“They couldn’t tell—” Inara began.
“She’s five months pregnant!” Mal exclaimed. “It’s perfectly obvious!”
“Zoe carries it well,” Inara replied. “They don’t know her; they might just think she’s fat,” she said reasonably.
“Fat?!” Mal and Zoe exclaimed in unison, with identical expressions of indignation.
“Can’t make the hens laugh. Can’t make the hens…I hate Матрёшка (Matreshka)!!”
“River, calm down, easy,” Ip said, edging closer to her.
Simon closed in and administered the shot. “Got it,” he said, as River slumped down gently. He turned his attention immediately to Zoe. “What happened?”
Ip picked up River and placed her gently on the second infirmary bed.
“Took a chest shot,” Zoe explained, as Simon began assessing her injuries. “Armor stopped it, but it knocked me down. Twisted my knee, something popped, hurts something fierce. Took a tumble and musta hit my head on the way down, knocked me out. Next I remember, Mal was carrying me back here.
Simon examined Zoe’s bruised chest as he asked, “Are you having any trouble breathing? Does it hurt when you breathe?” Zoe answered both questions in the negative, and Simon placed his hands on either side of her ribcage, applying pressure. “Does it hurt when I do this?”
“Not especially—well, no more than it already does. Feels like I been kicked in the chest.”
Simon nodded with relief. Despite being hit squarely on the sternum, Zoe didn’t seem to have a cracked sternum or any cracked ribs. The body armor had done its job. He unwrapped the bandage from Zoe’s head and began cleaning the gash on her forehead. “You won’t be needing any stitches on this, just a weave. It’s a pretty good knock; I expect you have a concussion. You’ll have headaches, nausea—” He stopped speaking as Zoe vomited into a basin that Inara held, while Mal supported Zoe’s shoulders and held her hair out of the way.
Simon pulled out the scanner and set it for Doppler tones to check the baby.
Mal continued the tale. “Four shooters. One was a woman. Ambush. Didn’t see it coming.”
“Didn’t see it?” Inara remarked. “That’s unusual.”
The steady thunk thunk thunk of the baby’s heartbeat sounded through the Doppler fetal monitor and they all let out a breath they hadn’t realized they were holding. “The baby’s heartbeat is strong,” Simon reported. He reconfigured the scanner into imaging mode for the fetal exam.
“We were distracted,” Mal returned, then admitted, “Well, I was distracting Zoe—all kinds of talk.” He was kicking himself. He hadn’t been paying attention, wasn’t watching her back. And distracting Zoe, so she couldn’t watch either. He met Zoe’s eyes. Sorry I wasn’t watching.
Zoe gazed back at him. Not your fault, sir.
Yes, it was.
Watching the exchange of glances, Inara felt the jealous emotions rising in her throat again. Whatever were they talking about? Why couldn’t she have that with Mal? Why was it so hard to communicate with him?
Mal felt Inara’s eyes on him and knew she was closely watching his silent interchange with Zoe. A guilty flush crept up his cheeks, though he tried to will it away. Zoe was injured because he distracted her attention with talk about Inara, nattering on about his relationship with Inara, his personal problems that he shoulda kept to himself. He looked up and across the exam table. “Inara—” he began, but Inara was suddenly busy, and wouldn’t look at him, or reply.
“Any dead bodies?”
“What?” Mal and Zoe replied together, equally startled by Simon’s question.
“Did you leave any dead bodies?” Simon inquired. “I mean, should we be expecting a visit from the police?” He placed the ultrasound probe on Zoe’s bare abdomen and began to examine the baby.
“I dropped the 他妈的 混蛋 tāmādē húndàn who shot Zoe,” Mal returned bluntly. “Don’t know if I killed ’im, but I hope so. Any man as can shoot at a pregnant woman don’t deserve to walk the world. Winged one of the others, but the three of them walked away. Don’t want to stay parked on this rock any longer than we have to, to get loaded up, fixed to go.” Mal was getting ramped up again. He looked toward the open door of the infirmary, and he completely missed Ip’s shocked expression.
Ip didn’t know what to make of the Captain’s level of comfort with violence. He opened his mouth, intending to tell Simon and the Captain about the Blue Hand man that River had killed, but the words stuck in his throat. Bill had implied that he would hide or dispose of the body somehow. Ip felt bile rising in his throat, and swallowed convulsively.
“Kaylee!” Mal called through the infirmary door. “Where the hell is Jayne?” he asked yet again.
“Jayne’s at a…whorehouse,” Kaylee replied meekly from the doorway.
“Well, get him the hell back here. We need to load the cargo 马上 mǎshàng.”
“He said he’s coming.”
“I bet he is,” Mal retorted, disgustedly.
“I don’t see any placental separation or hemorrhages,” Simon reported. He focused his attention on the ultrasound screen. “The baby’s moving. Amniotic fluid looks clear, but I’ll do a full exam.” He paused in his work while Zoe was sick again.
Simon ran through a mental checklist, verifying that all was well with the baby. Without a pause, he reconfigured the same scope for a spectral scan and examined Zoe’s knee. It was clear what was wrong there. She must have caught the inside of her foot on the way down and she had a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament. Her anterior cruciate ligament and medial meniscus were also injured. She would need a surgical repair to knit the ends together, once the swelling went down. “Zoe, some ligaments are torn. You’re going to need surgery on that knee. You’ll be laid up for a day or two. After that, you can wear a knee brace, and I’ll approve you for light activity—no fights. Presently, I’m concerned about your concussion. You’ll need to lie still for observation for a day, perhaps two.”
“Cap’n,” Kaylee spoke up, with a nervous glance at Zoe, “We gotta defuse the detonator afore I can get up there and install the navsat. Gotta take care of that booby trap before we fly, or we’re like to be caught in space with no navigation and no communication, like before.”
“Gorrammit!” Mal exclaimed, leaping into action. “Get the tools, Kaylee. I need the fine EM toolkit, with the precision flux density tool.”
“Mal!” Inara was alarmed. “You’re going to defuse the bomb?”
“Ain’t a bomb, Inara, it’s just a detonator.”
“And that’s different how?”
“Bomb’ll blow up the whole ship. Detonator’ll just blow up the person working on it and anybody nearby.”
Inara blanched. “Mal, you’re not going to do it.”
“Well it sure as hell ain’t gonna defuse itself, don’t see who the hell else gonna do it.”
“You could be killed!” she exclaimed.
“More likely it’ll just blow off an arm or a leg. More like to get killed breakin’ my neck when I fall off the ship unconscious from the blast.” His tone was not melodramatic; his statement had a battlefield straightforwardness to it.
Inara gasped, but Mal was already on to his next task.
“Simon, we done with the emergency intervention here?”
“River’s stabilized,” Simon replied. “She needs watching. Zoe, you just need to lie still. I can’t operate on the knee until the swelling goes down.”
“Good,” Mal said to Simon, not even acknowledging the two patients. He was in full wartime command mode by now, and everything he said came across as a succession of battle orders. “Need you and Ip to go to the warehouse, get Holden’s cargo. Where the hell is Jayne when you need him?”
“Captain—” Ip began.
Mal addressed the two doctors, cutting off Ip’s speech. “Now tell me one of you can drive the gorram mule.”
“Yes, I can. What do you want us to—?”
“Simon, you got your piece?” Mal interrupted, meaning a gun. Simon produced his weapon from within an infirmary drawer. “Ip, take this.” Mal reached under his duster and handed him his left-hand weapon. “Even got a left-handed grip, you’ll like it.” He ignored the look on Ip’s face. “Simon, here’s the chit, go to the coordinates listed on it, keycode is taps. Take the cargo hauler. Get moving.” Mal ignored the fish-eyed stares from the two doctors. “You got exactly one hour to get this done, no more, 懂吗 dǒng ma?” He gave them a look that got both of them moving without further delay. “Soon as Jayne shows, I’ma send him along after you. Gorram good for nothin’ never there when you need ’im…” He ceased grumbling as he caught Inara’s eye. “Inara, you stay put, watch them as needs tending here.”
Inara bristled at Mal giving her orders, but he was so completely in I-don’t-have-time-for-any-bullshit mode that no amount of bristling could reach him. He was already striding out the infirmary door.
“Kaylee, you got the tools? Come out an’ spot me from the ground, mayhap break the fall if I get blown up.”
* * *
妈妈 青日Māma Qīng Rì [Mother Blue Sun]
Это кур— Eto kur— [That is for hens— (Russian)]
不佳 bùjiā [not good]
屁股 pìgu [butt]
马上 mǎshàng [now]
妹妹 Mèimei [little sister]
亲爱的佛啊 Qīn'àide Fó ā [Oh dear Buddha]
天啊 Tiān ā [Oh heavens]
非人 fēirén [subhuman]
道德沦丧 dàodélúnsàng [morally bankrupt]
无用 wúyòng [worthless]
乱伦的 luànlúnde [depraved]
Матрёшка Солнце Синее (Matreshka solitse sineye) [Mother Blue Sun (Russian)]
地狱 dìyù [hell]
不道德 bùdàodé [immoral]
王八蛋 wángbādàn [sons of bitches]
他妈的 Tāmādē [F--k]
乱伦的 疯子 luànlúnde fēngzi [depraved lunatic]
道德沦丧的 狗娘养的 dàodélúnsàngde gǒuniángyǎngde [morally bankrupt son of a bitch]
他妈的 混蛋 tāmādē húndàn [f---ing bastard]
马上 mǎshàng [immediately]
懂吗 dǒng ma [understand]
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