Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Naked mole rats and Blue Sun. Inara is furious.



Part (13)

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

The series so far:

Naked mole rats and Blue Sun. Inara is furious.

* * *

Using Jayne’s electronic door opener, she let herself out of the room. She carefully replaced the door opener in its secret cache, closed the door behind her, and slipped into the shower to retrieve the bolt remover. Not chancing the trip through the dining room this time, Saffron removed the bolts from a panel in the cargo bay, and gained access to the crawl space underneath the crew hallway. Gorrammit, this place was filthy! Probably hadn’t been cleaned since the hull was laid down fifty years ago. Worse than the gorram chicken crate. In cortex dramas, when people crawled through secret ductwork, it was never this filthy! When she finally reached the panel leading up to the bridge, she waited, listening for sounds of activity. Her view through the holes in the panel was limited, but she could see the pilot’s chair was empty, and the autopilot was engaged. She couldn’t see or hear anyone, and after waiting and listening for a long time, she decided that whoever was on watch had left the bridge.

Silently she lifted the panel and pulled herself onto the bridge.

River, sitting with her feet drawn up in the co-pilot’s seat, whipped a gun out and aimed it directly at her face.

“You’re like a human weapon,” Saffron gasped. “You’re not going to shoot me now, are you?”

River cocked the gun.

“We could…talk some more,” Saffron offered.

“Naked mole rat,” was River’s authoritative reply. The fingers of River’s left hand were busy at the control desk, even as she held Saffron at gunpoint.

Saffron was completely confused by this irrelevant statement, but with the gun trained on her, who was she to protest? She tried edging away, but the barrel tracked her precisely. How did that girl do that?

“Eusocial rodent,” River elaborated. “One female breeds with multiple males, keeps all the others in a state of subjection. Highly adapted to an underground life. Moves backwards as readily as forwards. Crawls through tunnels.” River looked Saffron directly in the eye, the gun never wavering from its target. “Feels no pain.”

Saffron quailed, though she tried desperately to hide it. The mad girl had the trigger partially depressed, and a breath was all it would take to complete the shot. “I…can feel pain,” she whispered, unsure of how to play the game for once in her life.

“No. Can’t,” River answered. “Substance P deficiency in the skin.”

At Saffron’s terrified bafflement, River rolled her eyes and continued. “Substance P. Neurotransmitter. Without it, pain signals are not transmitted.” She snorted and added, “Doesn’t mean that you can’t inflict damage.” She locked her eyes on her target and focused her attention back to her aim.

At that moment, Saffron’s attention was distracted by the arrival of the Captain and Zoe on the bridge.

“—that 神经病 shén jīng bìng loose on this boat—what the hell is this?” The Captain pulled up short at the sight that greeted him, and in an instant, Saffron had three guns trained on her.

She held up her hands.

“What are you doing here?”

“Came to ask directions,” she offered.

“How’d you get here?”

“Naked mole rat. Crawled through tunnel,” River responded.

Mal glanced over at the displaced access panel to the crawl space, taking in Saffron’s apparent mode of entry, while Zoe covered the prisoner. “So how’d you get into the crawl space?”

“Wish I hadn’t,” Saffron replied, recovering some of her spunk as she engaged in the more familiar sparring with the Captain. “It’s absolutely filthy in there. Do you people never clean?”

“Naked mole rats collect shiny objects and secrete them in their burrows,” River inserted.

“Hush a moment, Albatross,” Mal said, gesturing. “Asked you a question, Yo-Saff-Bridge. Waitin’ on an answer.”

“You’ll be waiting a good long time then, 爱人 àiren,” she replied, with a provoking smile. She made as if to lower her arms, but Zoe intervened.

“You just keep those hands in evidence,” Zoe ordered. “And let’s make this perfectly clear, sister: the Captain ain’t your 爱人 àiren.”

“Married me, didn’t he?”

Zoe’s response was sudden and unexpected. In an instant she had Saffron shoved against the bulkhead, the muzzle of her mare’s leg pressed against her throat. “You 贱货的 潑婦 jiàn huò de pōfù, I will end you, you so much as—”

“Zoe, stand down,” Mal ordered.

“Sir, she’s a danger to the ship. Better off killing her and spacing the body.” Zoe’s eyes were flashing with murderous intent.

“Stand down,” he repeated, reinforcing it with a look. His own weapon and River’s remained aimed on Saffron. Tempting as it was, spacing Saffron was not an option. “Much as I’d enjoy watchin’ you do it, it just ain’t the thing to do right now…it’d leave too many unanswered questions.” Such as, why is Saffron even on this boat? What’s so important that she’s willing to risk every kind of stand-off with us to do it? And— “Who put you up to this job?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“And why are you here?”


“Can’t just end her,” he said in an aside to Zoe.

“Don’t see why not, sir.”

“’Cause she’s—” he struggled to articulate his reasons without showing all his cards to that evil snake. It was those off-ship partners who were Saffron’s protection. If she disappeared without explanation, likely they’d notice, and then there’d be hell to pay. He didn’t want to reveal any of his speculations on the subject in front of Saffron. “Just…’cause,” he finished, rather lamely. He cocked his head significantly and gave Zoe a pointed look, trying to convey the message.

Zoe was too angry to pick up on his unspoken communication this time. “I can’t believe you still got a soft spot for that 潑婦 pōfù,” Zoe retorted.

“Zoe.” His rising voice carried a warning. I am not havin’ this discussion with you now. “This ain’t the ruttin’ town hall.”

Zoe did not offer further argument, though the fire in her eyes was barely contained.

“Zoe, you get Jayne. Thorough search of Saffron’s quarters and any place she’s been on this boat. Dining room, head, cargo bay, engine room…and the gorram crawl space. I’ll frisk her for contraband and weapons. Then call the crew for a meeting. River, helm’s still yours.” Focusing back on Saffron he added, “I expect your full cooperation, or you’re goin’ back into that chicken crate for the duration. Is that clear?”

* * *

Unfortunately, the search turned up very little. Saffron carried on her person another fuse filament of the type she had previously deployed in the cargo bay, and one other device whose purpose remained obscure. An electronic tracking code was found on one of the two chicken crates in the cargo bay, but it was unclear if this item was a legitimate part of the shipment or placed there by Saffron. The search of her room revealed nothing but an innocuous length of microfilament. Saffron kept mum while Zoe was watching, but whenever the first mate was out of range, she improved her time by harassing Mal with innuendo.

Mal made an excursion into the crawl space. The exploration yielded nothing but a missing sock and an inactive safety deposit box keycard he’d lost through the grating years ago—and one helluva lot of dust. (It really was filthy, and he put cleaning the crawl space onto his mental list of captain-y things to do. Damn Saffron for being right about something.)

Meanwhile, Saffron was very pleased. Although she hadn’t yet enacted the main plan, things were going well. Sure, they’d confiscated a few of her toys, but that, after all, was part of the plan. She had brought plenty to act as decoys, and could afford the sacrifice. They still hadn’t discovered her main cache, and her door-opening system was working like a charm. She’d been systematically besting each and every member of the crew she had dealt with so far—well, excepting that crazy girl…and perhaps that snarky doctor, too. But the others—she’d succeeded in messing them around so that they were all thrown off balance. And unless Mal was willing to do a full body-cavity search, he would never discover the really dangerous stuff. Oh yes, Malcolm Reynolds, you can miss a place you’ve never been.

* * *

Steeling himself for the onslaught he knew was coming, he unlocked the door and faced Serenity’s resident goddess of discord, the tormentor of all aboard.

“Ah, the young scientist!” Saffron exclaimed with a bright smile. “I was wondering when I’d get to spend a little time alone with you.”

Ip was disconcerted. Not to mention nervous. On the other hand, it wasn’t that long since he’d faced the nameless lethal rod that the Blue Hands carried, looked into the face of death, and…seen his former friend Bill. Bill the Hitman. So, what the hell, could this really be any worse?

“Shower,” he said tersely, and gestured for her to proceed down the hallway.

She looked so harmless, so much less menacing than blue-handed men in suits with lethal weapons, but he’d already seen her completely discomfit the Captain, push Zoe into a murderous rage, and knock Jayne out cold. If she could do that to the toughest people he knew, what was she going to do to him?

“You seem like an intelligent, well-educated man, Doctor,” Saffron said.

“I am,” Ip answered confidently, “but I don’t let it go to my head.”

“So I’m wondering, why are you on this boat consorting with criminals?”

Ip stared at her. Then he answered, in a quiet voice, “I’m on a mission.”

She raised her eyebrows and stared. Ip made a subtle gesture for her eyes only.

Oh….This she did not expect. Recovering from her momentary surprise, she gave the Blue Sun countersign. He nodded, and they proceeded silently to the shower.

* * *

“So did it work?” River asked.

“Sure did,” he answered. “Shut her right up.”

* * *

Saffron stared at her next escort. “Really?” she said. “You’re going to keep me in line?”

Inara arched her eyebrows. Don’t underestimate me. “After you.”

After a quiet moment, Saffron spoke. “I was surprised to find you still aboard this ship.”

“Why is that surprising?”

“I really would have thought…well, you don’t need any advice from me to know what you’re doing to your career by remaining here.”

“You’re right. I don’t need any advice from you.”

“I hate to see you ruining your career like this.”

“I’m sure you do,” Inara replied, matching Saffron’s insincerity exactly.

“I’m sure by now that you recognize it was a poor business decision to free-lance aboard a scruffy cargo vessel like this, but I really expected you to have more intelligence and savvy than to…” She trailed off.

Inara did not give her the gratification of asking for clarification. Saffron was left to carry the impetus on her own.

“What I really want to know, Inara, is why you’re willing to ruin your career for a loser like Malcolm Reynolds? Really, what are you thinking?” Saffron looked at her with a slight smile and a little shake of the head, and continued as if she were Inara’s best buddy. “Really, Inara, you’re a better player than that. You could keep your career, keep company in the best of society, keep the income, and still indulge your taste for low life with Mal Reynolds if that’s what you really want. He wouldn’t be any the wiser.”

Saffron had unknowingly hit her target with that shot. Inara knew she couldn’t have known what happened on Beaumonde. She kept her reaction to herself.

“You’re smarter and better than that, Inara. You could play him like a dulcimer; he’d never know. Just tell him you have…oh, appointments with the dentist or the doctor or the hairdresser or something…he wouldn’t know, and wouldn’t think to ask. You could still do him on the road between planetfalls, if that’s what you want.”

Again, Saffron’s chance shot had hit home. Inara kept her face serene and gave no sign.

Saffron was certain that Inara’s composed silence concealed something, so she kept on the same tack. “I’m sure he wouldn’t say no to a freebie. It’s not like he can get it by paying full price. Income like his, it’s not as if he has a lot of…options. He really doesn’t have much to offer a woman, except his body.

“Ah, but his body,” Saffron continued, allowing herself a fond little shudder of ecstasy, as if recollecting more than she possibly could know. “Now that body is worth a little risk, isn’t it? I suppose that’s why you’re risking so much for a man like Mal—because ordinarily, a poor-as-dirt, skunk’s-luck petty thief and 琐细 suǒxì smuggler just wouldn’t be worth the effort, would he? Not worth the sacrifice of a successful career in your chosen profession.

“But that’s assuming he remains faithful to you, isn’t it?” Saffron carried on. She thought she detected the smallest hint of a response in Inara’s features, and decided to mine this vein for all it was worth. “And that’s a big if, let me tell you. Why, when I married him—” Saffron flung the word freely in Inara’s face “—he confessed to me…well, maybe I shouldn’t say.”

Saffron kept silent for a long moment, but it was clear Inara was not going to ask, so eventually she took up the thread again.

“On our wedding night, he confessed to me about all the flings he’d had at Serenity’s many ports of call,” Saffron confided. “Basically, a girl in every port.” Inara snorted, and Saffron rounded on her. “Oh, you can scoff all you want, but do you really know? Do you have any idea, Inara, how Mal spends his time in port when you fly off to receive your clients? Sure, he says he has a job to do. How often do you actually stick around and watch him do the job he says he has?” Inara sniffed, and Saffron was quick to react. “I’m not saying he’s making it all up. Of course some of those jobs are real: that’s the only way he can pay the bills. But do they really take as long as he says they do? And what does he do for the rest of the time? And who does he do it with?”

They walked in silence for a bit as Saffron let that last thought sink in. “He plays the puritan pretty well. All his lectures about what’s morally right, pretending he doesn’t know the first thing about carnal desire. But I learned better on our wedding night.” She paused for a moment to set the shaft of the wedding barb in the wound she knew she was making. “Don’t think for a moment that this is just me taking out my resentment of his betrayal on you. I don’t envy you. He may have married me, but I’ve come to terms with the idea that I’m better off without him.” She paused as if trying to make a decision. “You know, as an act of charity, I really should tell you what I learned about him on our wedding night. If only to save another woman from having to go through what I did….

“He’s a man of experience. You know that. Despite the puritan act. On our wedding night, he proved it, by doing all manner of naughty on me…Oh, you can laugh all you want, but I’m perfectly serious. I had to fight him off.”

“That’s not what I heard,” Inara said, goaded at last into responding. “You knocked him out with a drugged kiss.”

“Did he say that? Did he mention why? Have you thought about why I had to resort to such a measure? He may not have succeeded in the final act of penetration, but you never heard what he did before that. All kinds of…you know, at first I thought it was foreplay. I’ll admit it, at first I welcomed it. It was my wedding night, after all, and I was expecting….”

Inara couldn’t believe the nerve of this woman, persisting with her “innocent bride on the wedding night” act. It was beyond comprehension. But Saffron wasn’t finished.

“Well, it started out fine. Pleasurable. He was sweet and attentive, long enough for me to drop my guard. But it kept going. It turned from naughty to nasty.” She shuddered, as if in recollection. “Listen, Inara, I may look like an innocent—”

Oh, you most certainly do not, Inara thought.

“—but I’ve been around the block. A woman has to take measures to protect herself…”

Inara recognized perfectly well that Saffron was systematically detecting her insecurities and trying to play her on them. It was nonetheless disturbing to listen to Saffron’s monolog.

“—and when she’s alone, at the mercy of a…man like that, she has to be prepared to defend herself. Particularly when that man turns out to be a maniac rapist, a deviant sexual pervert.”

Well, didn’t that just take the cake? Inara knew, better than anyone else—certainly better than that 狐狸精 húli jīng Saffron—exactly what Mal did in bed, and she knew without a doubt that the most adventurous acts he had ever performed were the ones that she herself had encouraged him to try. Saffron had missed the mark completely, and her transparent falsehoods were offensive. It made Inara angry on Mal’s behalf. What a load of 鸟话 niǎohuà.

That was it. Inara’s blood was boiling. She knew, rationally, that Saffron was just shoveling on the 马屎 mǎshǐ. The woman could spin lies and falsehoods faster than Arachne spun her web. But she’d guessed and prodded and found Inara’s weak spots. All the doubts and insecurities Inara had ever had…it was as if Saffron had been privy to her internal debates. She’d touched all the raw nerves. She was 不要脸的东西 bùyàoliǎn de dōngxi . As Saffron opened her mouth to add another outrageous lie to the pile, Inara had suddenly had enough. She spun and kicked hard, catching Saffron off guard, and Saffron was down on the floor, her body curled in pain. Inara glared down at her, breathing hard, her mouth pulled into a snarl of rage.

“What did you do that for, Inara?”

She looked up to find Mal watching her warily from the door of the dining room, as Saffron writhed on the floor. Apparently he had heard none of their conversation. It seemed to Inara that he looked at Saffron like she was the victim of an unprovoked attack, while he looked at Inara like she was an enraged maniac.

* * *

Inara turned and fled to her shuttle, where she locked herself in. She was heedless of Mal calling her name as she left. Mal called Simon. Simon examined Saffron, pronounced her injuries to be minimal, and saw her seated at the table for her meal.

For her part, Saffron played up the injury. She knew the Companion was trained in martial arts, and, since she’d set out deliberately to provoke her, she’d been prepared for an outburst—although the exact moment and form of it had taken her by surprise. She sat at the table pushing food around on her plate listlessly, making a show of her lack of appetite, while she surreptitiously concealed pieces of sausage-style protein lumps filched off the platter at Jayne’s elbow for later consumption. The pitiful act worked like a charm, with the doctor and the young scientist openly expressing their concern, and the Captain and the mechanic unable to conceal theirs. Only Zoe regarded her with hard suspicion, while Jayne, oblivious to all, shoveled food onto his plate and thence to his gullet.

She was already planning how best to take advantage of the little wave of sympathy and pity. She determined to milk the supposed injury for all it was worth. If she feigned physical incapacity, she’d have a better chance at taking them by surprise again. As she prepped the most important part of her mission for deployment, it was best that they all believe she was barely capable of moving.

* * *

Despite the way she had teased Mal when Saffron was first discovered aboard, Zoe knew it to be a fact: that woman was damned dangerous. She didn’t believe for a second the pitiful act that apparently aroused Mal and the doctor to sympathy for the 贱货的 潑婦 jiàn huò de pōfù. Saffron didn’t need rescuing. It was another trick of hers, to throw them off guard. Inara was right on target when she’d detected Saffron’s skills in seduction, manipulation, and divisiveness, way back when they’d first encountered her on Triumph. Skills that seemed especially effective with the Captain. Saffron had the capacity to twist Mal around like few other women Zoe had seen. In fact, only Inara could top her.

So. Fight fire with fire. Inara’s influence over Mal would trump Saffron’s any day. Inara had the power to end this. She simply needed to stop opposing Mal herself and kick him into gear. And to do that, Inara needed to be willing to talk to him.

Mal and Inara had wasted enough time not talking, not working through this misunderstanding of theirs. And even though Zoe had made no secret to Mal that she thought he’d behaved like an ass, it was Inara who needed a good talking-to at this point. Mal had tried. Zoe had seen him, making his attempts at reconciliation, apologizing, agonizing, trying. Ham-fisted attempts, granted, but he’d given it the effort. It was Inara’s turn.

While she’d been thinking, Zoe’s steps had directed her toward Inara’s shuttle.





神经病 shén jīng bìng [insane person]

爱人 àiren [husband, lover]

贱货的 潑婦 jiàn huò de pōfù [cheap floozy]

潑婦 pōfù [floozy]

琐细 suǒxì [petty]

狐狸精 húli jīng [vixen, bitch (lit., “fox spirit”)]

鸟话 niǎohuà [bullshit (literally "bird speech")]

马屎 mǎshǐ [horseshit]

不要脸的东西 bùyàoliǎn de dōngxi [shameless and less than human (lit.: "a thing that has no shame")]

贱货的 潑婦 jiàn huò de pōfù [cheap floozy]

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012 7:27 AM


You seem to have ended this partway through a sentence. Not sure what went wrong then but up to that part very engaging. I was waiting for Inara to flatten Saffron. Very sad when Zoe didn't knock her out when she was caught by River. Also if I was Mal I would have asked River about what Saffron was up to and where she had hidden her toys. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Wednesday, July 18, 2012 8:10 AM


At least River seems to have a plan to deal with Saf, with the help of Ip and I am sure using bluehand signs against someone likely is a added bonus. The rest just need to let River or Simon deal with Saf, but of course they won't. Where would the story be if Saf was unable to accomplish at least some of her goals. Though I somehow doubt Saf will like the aftermath if River is the one that catches her in the end.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012 8:39 AM


Secrets and lies on top of deception, on top of malice. If River wants to have another talk about mythology, I might suggest one about a serpent and an apple.

Thursday, July 19, 2012 6:03 AM


I was wondering about that too.

Thursday, July 19, 2012 3:29 PM


Thanks for your comments. Ali, the scene with Zoe and Inara forms the substance of the next chapter. Right, Nutluck, if the crew left Saffron to River and Simon, they'd handle her, but where would my story be then? ;-) Bytemite...ah, yes. Layers upon layers of deceit here. ZoesMom -- I always wanted to know where those lost socks got to. I think Bytemite put spacebugs in her version of Serenity's crawlspace -- wish I'd thought of that myself! ZM and Byte -- we'll find out more about Blue Sun eventually (can't wait to find out, myself ;-) )

Thursday, July 19, 2012 7:04 PM


Something tells me we'll eventually find out why Saffron is the way she is too.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012 3:56 AM


Mal letting his conscious get the better of him. He is an easy mark, isn't he? Most would lock her back in the crate.

Another good chapter EB.


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ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (20)
“Vaccinations?” Jayne asked, with a stupid expression. “Fer chickens?”

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (19)
“Inara, I ain’t willing for you to bribe—” “Who said anything about bribes?” “What other form of persuasion you plannin’ on using? I’m not sure I like this plan.” “Mal, I can be very persuasive,” Inara replied. After a short beat, she added, with a touch of asperity, “Fully clothed.”

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (18)
Extreme measures as more things go wrong

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (17)
In which things begin to go wrong

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (16)
Waiting for the other shoe to drop

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (15)
Serenity enters the Core, Mal and Inara sleep together, and Simon and Ip come up with a plan.

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (14)
In which we find out more about Miranda

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (13)
Simon makes an announcement; Zoe and Inara take Mal to task

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (12)
Mal tells Inara a folktale from Shadow

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (11)
Inara and Zoe have a little palaver