BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

EBFIDDLER

WHAT BEGINS WITH AN APPLE (11) Part (01)
Saturday, May 5, 2012

No one’s quite the same in the aftermath of the events on Beaumonde.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2554    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

WHAT BEGINS WITH AN APPLE (11)

Part (01)

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Follows TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10). Precedes ENDS WITH A HORSE (12).

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)
BANDIAGARA (09)
TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10)

Mouse over Chinese words in text for translations. In this story, there’s also some Latin and Greek, and a little bit of Russian, Japanese, and Gaelic. These, too, are translated in mouse-overs.

Rating: My stories are typically PG to PG-13 to occasional R. You will not find detailed descriptions of blood, gore, and sex, but you will find situations appropriate for mature readers, innuendo, implication, and (gasp) swear words. This story is rated R.

Pun Warning: I feel obliged to add a pun warning to this story, as I may in fact have exceeded the legal limit. (This chapter is relatively pun-free. But it will get much, much better (worse?) before the end of the story.) For those averse to punning: Duck and cover!

I’d like to thank my wonderful beta readers, my sister and Bytemite, for taking the time to read this entire story in raw form, and for their many helpful comments and suggestions. (And in the case of my sister, thanks for reading the story in a much rawer form, asking questions, demanding answers, and provoking a thorough re-write which led—some 30,000 words later—to many improvements.) I want to thank my sister for specific additions to certain scenes of this story (particularly some involving Simon, Ip, and the Operative), and Bytemite for very useful feedback and discussions of other scenes (especially those involving Mal, Inara, and a special guest). I’d also like to thank my friend Julie, who acted as Official Fowl Consultant and Chicken Wrangler for this story.

No one’s quite the same in the aftermath of the events on Beaumonde.

* * *

“What begins with an apple must end with a horse.”

River’s pronouncement was met with puzzled silence.

Most of the crew was gathered around the dining room table. The Captain was still out cold in his bunk, recovering from what all agreed had been a very stressful day on Beaumonde. They were flying undisturbed through the Black now, headed toward Beaumonde’s Trojan planet Hektor to deliver two crates of live chickens before flying on to their final destination of Bernadette. The events of the last twenty-four hours had left everyone aboard distressed, exhausted, injured, or traumatized. Simon had discovered his own face and River’s staring out at him from a missing persons bulletin—he was wanted in connection with the “disappearance” of a missing child, his own sister. Kaylee had discovered that someone had attempted to sabotage Serenity, complete with a booby trap set to blow up anyone who tried to fix the damage. River and Ip had had a close call with the Hands of Blue, and avoided kidnapping or assassination only because Ip had recognized one of the Blue Hands as a man who owed him a favor. River had killed the other Blue Hand in his moment of distraction, but he had spoken most of the safeword phrase, putting her into an incoherent state. Simon had been obliged to sedate her. Mal and Zoe were ambushed on the way back from a meet, with Zoe hit squarely in the chest and saved only by her body armor. Inara, too, had had a bad day, as her physically stressed body tried to deal with great emotional distress that was not lessened by her knowledge that much of it could have been avoided, had she chosen differently. Ip, Simon, and Jayne had loaded a massive amount of cargo double time, and only Jayne was not suffering from the physical effects of the unexpected workout. The Captain had, in the last twenty-four hours, negotiated two deals through to closing, obtained a lead on a fence for the illegal cargo he was carrying, fought a gun battle, field-dressed Zoe’s injuries, carried her all the way back to the ship, assisted in the infirmary, commanded the crew through a crisis, defused a detonator, loaded cargo, and piloted the ship in a hasty departure with worries of pursuit by the Blue Hands, the Feds, and the unknown attackers. Then he collapsed in a heap in his bunk. No one expected to see him up and about before noon.

“What’s that s’posed to mean?” Jayne demanded around the large chunk of apple in his mouth.

“What begins with an apple,” River repeated, bobbling her head like a Delphic oracle strung out on oblatory incense, “must end with a horse.”

Ip and Simon stared at each other. Ip had learned by now that many of River’s strange pronouncements contained kernels of truth—for those who could follow the meaning. At the moment he couldn’t see it at all, and he could tell that Simon was still thinking it through. The only connection he could see was the bowl of apples in the center of the table. All of the crew—those present anyway—were partaking of the fruit. He absently reached for an apple and felt the muscles in his back spasm, while his arm muscles complained in the aftermath of their unexpected workout. As for horses—all he could think of, in his current state of mind, was: (A) there were no horses in space, and (B) didn’t somebody say something like that years ago?

“It’s clear enough what it means,” Simon began, and Ip and Jayne turned equally confounded faces toward him.

Oddly enough, it was Jayne who lost his stupid expression first. “Ah, gotcha,” he said. “Apple falls on the ground, horse comes along an’ eats it.”

“Jayne, I don’t think that’s exactly what River—” Simon began.

“Well, you gotta admit, it makes a certain kind of sense,” Kaylee inserted. “I mean, practically speakin’.”

“’Course it does. Horse eats it, turns it into—”

“Too much detail, Jayne, thank you,” Simon interrupted, gritting his teeth.

“Well, at least there ain’t no Grizwalds in these apples,” Kaylee said with a smile, as she prepared to bite into her apple. “Right, Jayne?”

“No ruttin’ idea,” Jayne replied, and Kaylee hesitated for one appalled second. “But I don’t figure the Cap ’d order ’em with Grizwalds. Grenades cost extra.”

“You mean you didn’t buy these apples, Jayne?”

“Nope. I figgered we already got leftover fresh fruit from Bandiagara, so I just got more of them choice combustibles—”

Comestibles,” Simon corrected.

“Compostables, whatever,” Jayne responded. “The protein packets. Cap musta had the apples sent down to the ship hisself.”

River picked up a golden apple from the bowl, and contemplated its skin as if the secrets of the ’Verse were inscribed there. “Καλλίστῃ Kallistei,” she intoned. “For the fairest.”

“That’d be Inara,” Kaylee said with an easy laugh. “She’s still on the bridge. Funny, ain’t it, to think of Inara takin’ a trick at the helm. She said the Cap’n himself asked her to fly Serenity.”

“Well, Zoe’s still in the infirmary,” Simon noted, “And River was out cold at the time.”

River gave Simon a dirty look. “Put me down like a mad dog. Gorram needles.” She did not care for Simon’s reliance on heavy sedatives when she had a psychotic episode.

Simon returned his sister’s dirty look. “Not like I had much of a choice, River. I’m glad you’re feeling a bit better now.” Brat.

“I know what you’re thinking, Simon!” Brat yourself.

Simon grinned, but then his look turned serious. “River, 妹妹 mèimei, I’m just glad you’re not in the custody of those Blue Hands 混蛋 húndàn—or worse. The thought of them taking you back to that place…”

Ip visibly shuddered as he remembered those moments in the alley when he expected to be killed. When River suddenly snapped the neck of one of the Blue Hands. And the other turned out to be…Bill. A man he’d thought of as a friend. Bill the hitman. Bill, the secret, corporate assassin. For Blue Sun.

Kaylee noticed Ip’s shudder. “Well, it sure was one helluva day, weren’t it, Ip? I think we can all agree on that.”

Everybody murmured their agreement on that point, and Ip felt his bleakness recede a little. His day had been an escalating series of creepy incidents, piling on one another like he was a character in a badly-written spy novel or a B-grade film noir—seeing River’s face on the missing children bulletin at the restaurant, fleeing through the hallways of the Geology Building of Dunsmuir University, climbing down the outside wall of the building from a third floor window using a rope made of labcoats, facing the Blue Hands’ rod of death, and the sickening snap of the neck—. Ugh. Ip felt the apple bits coming back up, and fought to control the urge to vomit. River reached out and took his hand, and he felt steadied. He looked around. He was safe. Surrounded by…family. Friends. Even Jayne was a steadying presence. Ip took a deep breath.

Jayne pulled out his big, sharp knife. With an intent, menacing look he brandished it in the air, aiming it toward—thunk. Jayne pulled in the apple speared on the end of his knife, removed it from the blade, and began cutting it into slices.

“What’re you up to, Jayne?” Kaylee asked, as the tension receded and everybody relaxed again.

“Just cuttin’ some apple slices to take down to Zoe. She wouldn’t touch it if I brought her a whole one.”

* * *

“Tired.”

“Yes, I am,” Inara answered, without any attempt to be anything but perfectly direct. She’d been up all night, and her defenses were completely down. Mal could have asked her anything at that moment, and she would have been incapable of telling him anything except the unvarnished truth.

“You need sleep.” River slid into the pilot’s seat. “藕断丝连 Ǒuduànsīlián.” Inara looked sharply at her. The expression on River’s face could have meant anything, or nothing. “Καλλίστῃ Kallistei,” she said, offering Inara an apple.

Inara took it with a murmur of thanks. “Are you feeling better?” she asked with a yawn, as it occurred to her that River must have recently awoken from the sedated sleep Simon had put her in after the attack on Beaumonde.

“Better,” River answered. “Not good.”

Inara nodded. “Can you fly?” she yawned.

“Yes. Sleep now.” River began the standard checks of the ship’s log and systems.

Inara left her flipping switches, and made her way wearily to her shuttle.

* * *

Inara was exhausted, but her thoughts were in such turmoil that it was impossible to sleep. And the focus of her thoughts was Mal. He’d carried injured Zoe on his back, saving her from the unknown shooters who’d ambushed them. Inara had seen his exhaustion, though he pulled himself up and made himself go on, and on, and on, until the day was done and they were safely back in the Black. Looking at him as he’d arrived in the infirmary and placed Zoe on the table, Inara had felt guilty. Guilty to see that he’d pushed himself so long and so hard, for the sake and safety of his crew, while she had indulged in some self-destructive anger and taken a conjugal client in a fit of pique. He’d shown loyalty and courage, had taken care of everybody but himself, and gave and gave and gave, while she…used a client to take revenge. And hadn’t even enjoyed the experience.

She knew what she’d seen, and what she’d heard, on the voyage to Beaumonde: Mal and Zoe speaking intimately, touching, kissing. It was impossible to discount that. Corroborating that evidence was Mal’s focus on Zoe in the infirmary, before Simon checked her injuries. He’d barely spoken to Inara, but he’d locked eyes with Zoe for one of those long, intimate no-talking talks that made Inara insanely jealous.

Why couldn’t she have that with Mal? Why was communication between them so difficult? And why was it so easy between Mal and Zoe? Those two understood each other perfectly, almost without saying a word. Back in the infirmary, Mal had held Zoe’s hand, and clearly his emotions were completely engaged with her. Mal and Zoe had even spoken in unison. 该死 Gāisǐ! All the 九幽 jiǔ yōu were not enough—nor the 三塗, 即血塗, 刀塗, 火塗 sān tú, jí xuè tú, dāo tú, huǒ tú. 心の 鬼が 身を 責める。Kokoro no oni ga mi o semeru.

But what to make of his rant in the infirmary? That was where her questions started. Could she believe him? He’d stated unequivocally that Zoe’s unborn child was Wash’s baby. She’d been angry, still so angry with Mal, but she couldn’t imagine he’d be able to obfuscate under such circumstances. He’d been blurting out his feelings, undisguised. And those feelings were that any person who harmed Wash’s child would have him to reckon with. If her assumption that Mal was really the father of Zoe’s child was wrong, had she also been wrong about his infidelity with Zoe?

He hadn’t been hiding anything. He’d bared every thought and feeling in that time of crisis. And his feelings were clearly that any 混蛋 húndàn who shot a pregnant woman for any reason was a 混蛋 húndàn who deserved ending. It wasn’t personal. It was the rant of a decent human being.

Inara was in no state to admit it, even to herself, but she and Mal were in complete sympathy with one another on this point. Inara felt exactly the same way. Deep within her, reinforced by her Companion’s training and the philosophical principles of the Guild, was the concept of the mother goddess, the source of life and comfort. Protecting a woman’s capacity to bring forth new life was at the core of it. It was part of what made sex both beautiful and natural. Any person who violated that covenant was unfit to be called human. Inara felt that the killing of a pregnant woman went beyond mere criminality, and even beyond being an offense to all humanity. It was offense against Nature itself. There was a term for species of animals that did not protect and cherish mothers and their young. The term was extinct.

* * *

“River?” Ip asked tentatively, as he stood at the threshold of the bridge, unwilling to enter without invitation.

“Ip,” she returned mildly, and indicated that he should enter.

“Are you alright?” he asked, reaching for her hand. Ostensibly, the gesture was to comfort her, but the truth was that he was more in need of comfort himself. She took his hand.

“No,” she answered straightforwardly, looking him in the eye. “Are you?”

Her answer to his question allowed him to admit it. “No. I’m not alright. I’m…River, that was the…craziest…” he couldn’t finish his sentence.

River looked into his eyes, and held his hands. “It’s not easy to accept that someone has tried to kill you.”

“I just don’t understand.” Ip was traumatized by the events on Beaumonde, disturbed. He didn’t know how to make sense of what had transpired. The whole thing just seemed…almost unreal. And yet River seemed to see it coming, and had taken steps to avoid, escape, and finally to confront the danger. It just didn’t make any sense. “River, what was going on there, at the university, in that alley?”

“Can’t talk about it, Ip,” she answered, breaking contact with him, and looking out into the Black.

It was easier for him to take on the role of comforter than to confront his own fears about the events on Beaumonde. So he said soothingly, “Yes, you can. I won’t tell anyone else. I’ll keep your confidences.”

“I didn’t say I won’t talk about it. Said I can’t.”

Ip pondered the semantics. “So there’s a difference.”

“Of course there’s a difference,” River snapped. “Different meanings, different context.”

Ip held up his hands up in a gesture of surrender. “Okay. No offense meant. I…just want to help.”

River gave him a penetrating stare. “You want help.”

Ip sucked in a breath. Yes. He wanted help. He needed help. “Yes. Actually, yes. I just can’t make any sense of it. Why would…anyone…come after us in an alley? Not random violence. It was like it was…an assassination,” he whispered the word, wondering if he was crazy to suggest it. Who would assassinate a free-lance terraformologist, lately employed by Blue Sun Research Branch? It made no sense.

“It was,” River said, matter-of-factly.

“It was?” Ip’s voice jumped an octave or two.

“It was,” River stated definitively.

“But…”

“Planned operation. Capture me. ‘Neutralize’ you.”

Ip shuddered. That was the word the Blue Hand man, Bill’s partner—Bill’s dead partner—had used. “But I’m nobody.”

River rolled her eyes.

“Nobody important,” Ip continued, wondering how—it was his life, it had really happened to him—but how had his life come to resemble some pulpy spy novel? Secret agents, assassinations in a dark alley—what was next? Torture by insane crime bosses? Comic book villains bent on revenge? Ritual suicide? What was he doing on this ship? “Why would anyone feel the need to assassinate me? I’m nobody.”

“Witness. They don’t want a witness.” Definitely, they didn’t want a witness. Ip had seen them hunting her, and now he was a target, too. River wanted to tell him why. It wasn’t only a matter of what he knew. It was also a matter of what they might think he knew. It was because of her. She wanted to tell him all, and yet at the same time she didn’t, because—even after all that had passed—he still saw her as a person, actual and whole. Still saw the girl, not the weapon. She wanted to tell him about Miranda, because that would explain a lot, but she couldn’t. The Captain was still of the opinion that the story of what had happened at Miranda, the battle with the Reavers, and the struggle to send the broadwave was to be divulged only on a need-to-know basis, and he still held to the opinion that Ip did not need to know. River did not agree with the Captain, but she chose not to argue the point. It would soon be moot. The decision would be taken out of the Captain’s hands. Still, her hands were tied at present. She couldn’t tell Ip now. “And you’re not nobody,” she added with warmth in her voice, her eloquent eyes on him.

Ip couldn’t believe that River was bringing up fond feelings at a time like this. “River, this really isn’t the time for friendly…”

“Not saying that just because I like you, Ip,” River interrupted, tossing the word like casually into Ip’s pond, as if unaware of the ripples it caused in his feelings. “You are an important piece of this puzzle. You are on this ship for a reason.”

“On this ship for a reason?” Ip echoed. “River, the reason I’m on this ship is that I happened to be stranded on 尘球 Chén Qiú when Serenity showed up, and I needed a job.”

“Could have taken another job. Could have taken another ship. Chose this one. No accident.”

Ip pondered. That was exactly what Brother Chan ’eil Càil an so a’ Faicadh had told him, too.

“You need to think about why you chose Serenity,” River exhorted him earnestly.

“I’m beginning to wonder,” Ip spoke, almost to himself. “Must have been crazy, to put myself…”

“They were after me,” River said suddenly. “You stood in their way.” After a pause, she added, “Thanks.”

Ip gulped. He had almost been killed because he stood in the way of the Blue Hands getting to River Tam? “Why—?” he began. “Why are they after you?”

“Secrets.”

Again, he was frustrated. What were these secrets, and why wouldn’t anyone tell him anything?

“Secrets in my brain,” River clarified.

“They’re after you,” he realized, making connections, “because of…secrets in your brain?”

River nodded.

“What—? Who—? Why—?” Ip began several times, but it was impossible even to formulate the question. It was all so unreal. He paused for a moment, his thoughts in turmoil. Some scraps of earlier conversations with River and Simon floated to the surface of the roiling pool. “They told our parents it was a school.” “Taught me how to kill Reavers.” “They were taking unsuspecting teenagers away from their families and conditioning them with triggers to fight Reavers.” “They opened up her skull and cut into her brain.” “My education was interrupted.” “I wanted to leave the Core. Simon gave up his position and everything he had to help me.” “I broke River out of that so-called school when I found out they were torturing her there.” “We were fugitives. The Captain took us in and kept us safe.” “Can’t see the weapon. Only see the girl.” “We’re too tempting a target—it’s far too dangerous.” “Can’t leave Serenity. Don’t want to leave Serenity.” “Never feels safe.” “Blue Sun secret operatives.” “They’ve chased us.” “Two by two, Hands of Blue, two by two…”

“Can’t talk about it, Ip,” River repeated. But you can think about it.

* * *

*

*

*

glossary

Καλλίστῃ Kallistei [To the fairest (Greek)]

妹妹 mèimei [younger sister]

混蛋 húndàn[bastards]

藕断丝连 Ǒuduànsīlián [lit. “Lotus roots may break, but the fiber remains joined” (idiom meaning “Lovers part, but still long for one another”)]

Καλλίστῃ Kallistei [To the fairest (Greek)]

该死 Gāisǐ [Damn it]

九幽 jiǔ yōu [nine serenities (a term for the nine hells in Chinese Buddhism)]

三塗, 即血塗, 刀塗, 火塗 sān tú, jí xuè tú, dāo tú, huǒ tú [the three tortures (of Chinese Buddhism), namely, the spilling of blood, chopping by knife, and burning by fire]

心の 鬼が 身を 責める。Kokoro no oni ga mi o semeru [The body is tortured only by the demon of the heart (Japanese Buddhist proverb)]

混蛋 húndàn [bastard]

尘球 Chén Qiú [name of a world]

Chan ’eil Càil an so a’ Faicadh [There is nothing left to see (Scottish Gaelic)]

Also, thanks to my daughter, who read the opening line of this story on my computer and made a comment that turned into one of Jayne’s lines in this chapter.

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COMMENTS

Sunday, May 6, 2012 2:56 AM

NUTLUCK


Very cool glad to see the next story getting posted. So where's the next part? And why oh why is no one guarding the Reaver chickens, don't they know what they carry?

Sunday, May 6, 2012 8:36 AM

BYTEMITE


Uh oh, some of the translations didn't work right. It might be my browser and the new site, I'll check out on internet explorer monday.

If that doesn't work, might have to do some quick find and replaces on the question marks everywhere. Or, maybe it's an issue with the copying from the document drafting program. Do copy-pasted html symbols work? Investigating.

À Á Â Ã Ä Å Æ Ç È É Ê Ë Ì Í Î Ï Ð Ñ Ò Ó Ô Õ Ö Ø Ù Ú Û Ü Ý
à á â ã ä å æ ç è é ê ë ì í î ï ð ñ ò ó ô õ ö ø ù ú û ü ý

That would be a lot of work replacing all those. Something else you can try, copy everything from your original word document into a very simple program like note pad, then try copying it here.

Sunday, May 6, 2012 8:37 AM

BYTEMITE


It might also be an issue with the hover text, you might just have to remove that.

Sunday, May 6, 2012 8:54 AM

EBFIDDLER


Had a problem with the Chinese characters...they were there when I first posted, but then they disappeared and were replaced by question marks. I've been talking to Haken about fixing this (it happened with the Bandiagara re-post I put up about a week ago as well, and Haken fixed it). Already tried what you said there, Bytemite, so we'll see what Haken says.
Nutluck: hope to post this story at regular intervals. Re: chickens. You'll just have to wait and see. I don't think you'll be disappointed. (*cackles*)

Sunday, May 6, 2012 9:30 AM

ZZETTA13


I really liked this episode eb! I like the dramatic story building…….I’m sure we’re in for a bumpy ride ahead.

“Torture by insane crime bosses? Comic book villains bent on revenge? Ritual suicide?” < loved those lines…..lol.

With having witnessed more chaos likely than he’s seen in his entire lifetime, maybe Ip is wondering why he chose this boat?

Enjoyed the story very much, Z

Sunday, May 6, 2012 1:45 PM

EBFIDDLER


ZM: Maybe we'll see Inara fly the boat again sometime. *They* may have forgotten the Reaver chickens, but I haven't hehehehe
ZZ: Oh, I am so glad you mentioned that line about the crime bosses...because, yeah, that *happened* he just doesn't know it! I had fun putting that one in.

Sunday, May 6, 2012 2:30 PM

AMDOBELL


Finally the penny drops for Ip with a great big CLANG! As for the apples I am mighty suspicious of where they came from and if they have been tampered with first especially given River's comment "for the fairest" put me in the mind of Sleeping Beauty. Great story, keep going! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, May 6, 2012 3:39 PM

EBFIDDLER


Ali D: definitely a great big clang. And you're not the only one who's suspicious of those apples. Thanks for comments.

Sunday, May 6, 2012 4:56 PM

PLATONIST


Glad to see you posting another tale.
Liked Mal's opinion about divulging Miranda on a "need to know" basis, it sounds like a rule he would establish.

Monday, May 7, 2012 4:09 AM

EBFIDDLER


Platonist -- Mal does not really want the spotlight focused on him, his crew or his ship as a result of Miranda. He'll do what he can to avoid it. This tale is a long one. I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, May 7, 2012 8:42 AM

BYTEMITE


Oh hey. That is a Snow White reference layered in there.

Well spotted Ali, didn't notice that myself.

You know, Inara does say a line about how she keeps to her shuttle, and it implies separation, but I'm not really sure that's accurate based on what we see. She doesn't leave the shuttle much, true, but most of the crew seems to go to HER, quite a lot, barring Jayne and Zoe. And the only one who Inara has imposed a strict ban on not going in her shuttle (which is subsequently ignored) is Mal, the others seem pretty welcome.

I think maybe she was more trying to put Book at ease in case he found her presence incompatible with his religion.

Thursday, May 10, 2012 3:23 AM

EBFIDDLER


Also, if you're a Castle fan, I hope you enjoyed the Castle reference (especially since it's a reference to a Firefly reference on Castle). :-) (My aren't we circularly referential here?)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012 3:34 AM

EBFIDDLER


Put in forward links (to Chapter 2), but still unable to fix the Chinese characters.


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