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EBFIDDLER

WHAT BEGINS WITH AN APPLE (11) Part (14)
Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Zoe and Inara take tea together. Saffron causes trouble. Apples and horses.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2170    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

WHAT BEGINS WITH AN APPLE (11)

Part (14)

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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)

Zoe and Inara take tea together. Saffron causes trouble. Apples and horses.

If you haven't read "Generic S/K Plot Outline" by Manic Giraffe, allow me to recommend that you take a moment to do so. (Be prepared to laugh out loud! I think it's one of the funniest Firefly fanfics ever written.) If you've read it, you'll enjoy Simon's scene in this chapter even more.

* * *

It was Zoe tapping on the shuttle door. Slipping on her figurative Companion’s mask to conceal her state of emotion, Inara invited her in with cool politeness and offered her tea. Zoe entered and accepted the tea. Well. That was a first in Inara’s experience.

Zoe, always a woman of few words, was silent as Inara used the preparation of the tea to cover her feelings of awkwardness at this tête-à-tête with Mal’s first mate and mistress. Obviously, Zoe hadn’t come here for idle chit-chat, and as she sat on the sofa with her injured leg propped up, Inara decided that the burden of starting the conversation ought to fall on her shoulders. After all, Zoe had sought her out.

With the tea ready, Inara sat gracefully on her end of the sofa, poured, and handed Zoe the cup.

Zoe took a sip. “Mmm. Inara, that’s good tea.”

谢谢你 Xièxie nǐ.” Inara took a sip from her own cup, and waited for Zoe to take her cue. Ball’s in your court, Zoe.

Zoe stretched and shifted, trying to find a comfortable position. Both her outstretched leg with its mechanical brace and her enlarged belly got in the way of proper posture. At last she leaned back in a position just so unlike the Zoe-of-military-bearing that Inara was tempted to laugh.

“Just can’t seem to get comfortable these days,” Zoe remarked. She reached behind herself to massage her lower back.

Must be uncomfortable, carrying the extra weight of the baby. 该死 Gāisǐ. Baby. Zoe was having a baby, the baby that was the last she had of Wash—or was it? Mal’s baby? 该死 Gāisǐ. Inara bit back the upset feelings, knowing that the careful mask of her features had betrayed nothing. She wouldn’t ever have the opportunity to carry Mal’s baby. 该死 Gāisǐ! Had she really just had that thought?

“It’s the bruising,” Zoe observed, and Inara was immediately ashamed of herself for being caught up in petty jealousy. Zoe had been attacked. Had she not been wearing body armor, she would be dead.

“Does it hurt much?” Inara managed to ask.

“Hmm. Some.” Zoe shifted again, and this time Inara saw the tells. The first mate concealed the twinges pretty effectively, betraying nothing more than a slight stiffening of posture. Had Inara not known her subject, she might have missed the signs. “Seen worse.”

Yes, she probably had. Back in the war, doubtless, when Zoe and Mal…该死 gāisǐ. Together. How long had Zoe and Mal been together? They went through the war together, the internment camp together; they lived together in the slums of Hera before Mal found Serenity, and they had lived together on the ship ever since. When had Mal and Zoe not been together?

“During the war, of course,” Zoe said, as if she had divined the direction of Inara’s thoughts. “Kinda alters your perspective.” She paused, as if deciding how much to say. “We been in some tight spots since, but honestly, nothin’ else comes close. Even when we were living together in the slums of Hera, after the war, homeless and starving and nothin’ but the shirts on our backs, it wasn’t so bad. Weren’t nobody shootin’ at us, and we had each other.”

该死 Gāisǐ! Only Zoe could make a speech like that turn like a knife in Inara’s chest. Just how much togetherness had that “living together” on Hera entailed? How many times had they “had each other”? Conversation with Zoe was an improvement over conversation with Saffron, but not by much.

“Inara,” Zoe continued, despite the strong emotion betrayed in Inara’s eyes, “I know you don’t want to talk about this, but I’m asking you to listen. You and Mal…well, it’s done him a world of good.”

Inara was furious. Yes, she could see that Zoe might just appreciate the lessons she’d been teaching Mal. Some women scheduled appointments for their husbands with Registered Companions, requesting that particular attention be paid to refining technique, and they enjoyed the benefits of improved performance afterwards.

“You didn’t know him back then, before Serenity Valley. He was…well, he was still Mal, but not nearly so dark. Same jackass sense of humor, tinted much brighter.”

I didn’t know him back then. Of course. And you did. Inara concealed her huffing under a motionless neutral mask.

“He had the good looks, the charm, the sense of humor—weren’t no wonder all the women in the unit—some of the men, too—looked at him like he could walk on water.”

Inara was seething. “And you, Zoe?” she managed to say, in a tone of voice that was a reasonable facsimile of pleasant.

Zoe snorted. “I had reason enough to know he was a mortal man.”

他妈的 Tāmādē! I bet you did.

“He made no secret of the fact that he had a steady girlfriend back home on Shadow.”

他妈的 Tāmādē! So not only does he betray my trust now—he’s also done it before, with that poor girl from Shadow.

“Didn’t make him any less attractive,” Zoe added with a smile. “Some thought that made him all the more desirable.”

Inara found it increasingly difficult to avoid expressing her ill temper. She swallowed her growl of animosity with her tea.

“I know he asked you, on Bandiagara, to marry him.”

Inara wasn’t sure what angered her more—that Mal would tell Zoe about the proposal, or that Zoe would bring it up to her, in such circumstances. “Zoe, I don’t want to talk about—”

“Hear me out, Inara,” Zoe interrupted. “I reckon he bungled it; in fact, knowing him—and I do—I’d say it’s a dead certainty. Took you unawares is my guess.”

“That’s enough, Zoe.”

“But don’t hold it against him. He’s doin’ the best he knows how.”

“I really don’t—”

“I told you this before, Inara. He listens to you. He pays attention to what you do and say. You’re the one can influence him.”

And he betrays me anyway, Inara reflected bitterly, as she set the teacup on the table with a little more force than was necessary. “What do you want?” she asked bluntly.

“I want you and Mal to pull together. It’s the only way we’ll get the better of that 賤貨 的 潑婦 jiàn huò de pōfù.”

“You want me to forgive Mal and cooperate in counteracting Saffron’s purpose.”

“That’s correct.”

哎呀 Āiyā again. If that wasn’t the whole dilemma. Maintaining her distance from Mal meant playing into the hands of Saffron. It was what River had been trying to tell her—Saffron used the divisions among Serenity’s crew to her advantage. She kept them from “pulling together,” as Zoe put it, and with each pulling alone and in different directions, they were weaker. An elder statesman of Earth-that-was had once put it succinctly: “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” For the sake of her Serenity family—not just for Mal—certainly not for Zoe—Inara would do it. “Alright.”

Zoe smiled. “And Inara—he ain’t done what you think he’s done. He—”

Inara cut her off. “Just one question, Zoe.”

Zoe raised her eyebrows.

“Do you love him?”

“Of course,” Zoe answered, adding with her look, I love him like a brother.

Inara had already turned away.

* * *

Simon’s examination had convinced him that Saffron’s injuries were nothing serious, but her behavior at the dinner table had him concerned, and he began to wonder if he had missed something. As a conscientious physician, he went to her room to check on her recovery. He discovered that she was no longer in her room. He immediately called up to the bridge to let the others know that Saffron was on the loose, then went in search of her. He didn’t have far to go. As he entered the cargo bay, he saw her standing next to one of the crates, examining it closely.

“Going to see a man about a horse?” he asked, aggressively.

To his astonishment, she fell down in a swoon. He automatically ran over to provide medical assistance as needed, although by now, he strongly suspected that “dramatics” and “malingering” were her primary afflictions—along with sociopathy.

“What’s wrong?” Kaylee asked, looking down from the catwalk. Others of the crew gathered as Simon proceeded to check Saffron’s pulse and other vital signs.

Simon found nothing medically wrong. As far as he could tell, Saffron’s fainting spell was neither more nor less than a technique to avoid being questioned about what kind of plot she was hatching in the cargo bay when she was discovered.

“As far as I can tell, she’s developed a case of Plot,” he deadpanned.

* * *

“Well, I ain’t assigning Ip to guard Yo-Saff-Bridge,” Mal explained. “It’s clear as daylight she’d play him like a piano.”

Ip looked offended at the implication that he was weaker, more vulnerable, not to be trusted. The Captain wasn’t aware of the stunt he’d pulled at River’s suggestion. He was about to open his mouth to explain when the Captain cut him off.

“And it ain’t ’cause I think you’re weak, Ip,” Mal continued, correctly interpreting the young scientist’s expression. Mal wasn’t about to reveal his real reason. He didn’t completely trust Ip. The fellow was eager to be liked and trusted, and his actions and behavior generally engendered trust, but still there were things that made Mal uneasy. Not only the recent “Blue-Hand-operative-is-my-friend” incident, but also Ip’s correspondence with a mysterious Buddhist monk whose voice was unsettlingly familiar. Not to mention Ip’s complete lack of discretion in the talking department and his propensity for asking uncomfortable questions about things as weren’t any of his gorram business. He had noticed that River and Ip seemed to be working as a team, but as far as he was concerned, that was just another cause for uneasiness, because Ip didn’t seem to know what his intentions were regarding that girl. River was effective at countering Saffron’s moves, though he couldn’t say how she managed it, since she’d been nuttier than a squirrel ever since the attack on Beaumonde. Had it not been for the fact that piloting seemed to settle her more than anything else and they absolutely needed the manpower with Zoe injured, Mal would have temporarily relieved her of piloting duties. “That evil snake could make a solid stone bend to her will with that forked tongue a’ hers,” Mal asserted to the entire crew and to Ip in particular. “She’s done played every one of us, and good. And that’s after—”

“Except me,” River interrupted.

“Except River,” Mal allowed.

“And me as well,” Simon asserted.

Ip opened his mouth and drew breath, but Mal pre-empted him, reasserting his position as the speaker who had the floor. Nodding to Simon in acknowledgement, he continued, “And that’s after taking the precaution of locking her up, and knowing she was gonna try to play us. The woman is an evil, treacherous snake, and the only way I see is to limit her opportunities. Now on she eats in her room. Guard stays outside the door, only slides the food in, does not enter. Yo-Saff-Bridge is only allowed out for visits to the head, and if she abuses that privilege, she gets to use a chamber pot. And River, seein’ as you’re the only one she ain’t been able to get to, I’m hopin’ you’ll be extra vigilant.”

* * *

Saffron waited until late at night, and all was quiet. Using the coded door opener she had lifted from Jayne, she unlocked the door to her room and silently slid it open. She had picked her way stealthily down the hall in the passenger dorm when suddenly River’s door slid open and River herself jumped out in Saffron’s way.

“Uh-uh-uh!” River scolded, shaking her head.

Saffron turned about and raced back to her room, shutting the door and locking herself in.

* * *

Needless to say, they investigated. Again. Turned her entire room upside down. Found one cache of thoroughly disconcerting devices, most of which had the look of something designed by the props department for a cortex drama about super secret agent spies, but Saffron wouldn’t tell about them of course. Her denial (“I have no idea what those things are. Don’t these Fireflies have lots of smuggling nooks and crannies? I suppose this is something you folks left stashed there.”) was completely unconvincing, but she stuck to her line.

Mal was getting mighty frustrated, having asked Saffron more than a few times by now, how she ended up in the chicken crate, and why she stowed aboard his ship. “Can’t believe this was just a random happenstance. Or that you thought for an instant that a chicken crate was a fine place for a nap, and got put here against your will. Who packed you in that crate? Who are you working for?” Mal’s questions were all met with defiant silence. He was getting mighty weary of it. It occurred to him to wonder what kind of stuff was packed along with Saffron when she stowed aboard. This thought triggered an investigation of the chicken crates. The search revealed a concealed compartment in one of the crates, and two contraband devices were extracted from it.

Mal was left with some very disturbing thoughts. Each time they searched, they seemed to turn up another item or two. He did not believe they had found it all. So, how many items had they missed? How many devices had Saffron already deployed, and what were they going to do to his ship when he failed to find them?

* * *

“Should just turn her in, Cap.” Jayne spoke up at the next mealtime. “That’d get her out of our hair. There’s gotta be a re-ward.”

“There is,” Zoe confirmed. “But that’s—”

“River and I saw it,” Ip contributed eagerly, “when we were on Beaumonde. She’s on the Most Wanted list—I saw her picture. She broke out of a prison.”

No one seemed the least bit surprised at Ip’s news.

“Ip’s correct,” Zoe confirmed. “There’s a warrant out on her for her escape from Pegasus Prison. Seems she seduced a guard and knocked out a few others, stole a ship, and generally trashed the whole prison security system. Substantial reward money involved.”

“See? What’d I say?” Jayne nodded with satisfaction. “She still ain’t served her time for that Trash dumpster job on Bellerophon. Turnin’ her in’s the right thing to do. Easy money.”

“You have got to be kidding.” Mal finally broke his silence, and turned his look upon Jayne. “Turn her in to the Feds?”

“Well, yeah, uh…” Jayne was rapidly losing enthusiasm for the idea under the Captain’s steady glare.

“Why not? Is she also wanted by local authorities?” Ip asked, missing the point entirely.

“Zoe?” the Captain queried, ignoring Ip. You’re not seriously suggesting that we go to the Feds…voluntarily seek the attention of the Alliance’s 家丁 jiādīng

“Of course not, sir,” Zoe replied. “Simply stating the facts. Saw her warrant when I was checking…” for others. Still no warrants out on either of us for that ambush incident.

I mighta killed that 混蛋 húndàn who shot you.

Either you didn’t kill the fellow, or his friends decided to cover it up. Didn’t file no incident report with the police.

Mal nodded. “River and Ip?”

Ip looked up at his name, but didn’t understand what the Captain was asking. He opened his mouth to speak, but River stepped on his foot, so he closed it again. The Captain had locked eyes with the first mate, and some kind of unspoken communication was going on between them.

None for River or Ip—Blue Hands business is bein’ kept strictly undercover, sir.

Ip’s gorram ‘friend’ Bill’s kept his word, then—so far. “Simon?”

Nothin’.

Mal nodded. “We’re good then. Nothin’ to be done ’til we get to Hektor, and can get her off my gorram ship.”

* * *

“Trying to spin us about.”

Mal looked over at River, as she sat in the co-pilot seat. He’d been thinking as much, himself. Truth to tell, he hadn’t really been that surprised that Saffron had discomfited every member of the crew. She’d used her wiles—and of them, she had a goodly store—to sow discord throughout the ship. Not a one of the crew as hadn’t been messed about by that evil snake. The real question was why.

“Eris.”

“Who’s an heiress, Albatross?”

“Eris, not heiress,” River corrected. “Goddess of discord.”

“Have to agree with you there, Albatross,” Mal nodded. “She’s a fair contender for the title.”

“Throws the golden apple in amongst them, starts a war.”

“She ain’t started no war. Not that I’m aware of. Leastaways, not yet.”

“Ends with a horse.”

“I’m not following you there, Albatross.”

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

“You done said that about twenty times, darlin’—”

“Eight.”

Gorrammit, the girl was a stickler for accuracy. “Plenty of times, sweetheart. I still don’t conjure what you mean by it.” He had borrowed Simon’s Universal Encyclopedia and looked it up. It was the oracle at Delphi who said the bit about the apple and the horse, back in ancient times on Earth-that-was. (Apparently nobody back then could make head nor tail of the oracle’s pronouncement neither.) Seemed that a disagreement over an apple had precipitated the Trojan War. (How an apple could start a war was beyond Mal. Just didn’t seem like something worth fightin’ for.) The armies fought to a stalemate, but the war went on, and folk kept on dying (some things about warfare didn’t never change) until one fella on the Greek side figured out a way to trick the other side into losing. That was where the horse come in. It was a wooden horse, with some folk hid inside it. They got into the city of Troy that way, and opened the gate. The attackers sacked the city and razed it to the ground, destroying every gorram thing. End of siege, end of story. And while that was an informative bit of ancient history, Mal did not see how it applied to the situation aboard his ship.

“What begins with an apple—”

“And just why do you think repeatin’ it is gonna cause some revelation in my mind?” he interrupted, exasperated. “Unless you got some new information to offer, why don’t you just drop it?”

River gave him an offended look, and left the bridge.

Mal sighed after her retreating form. What the 地狱 dìyù did that girl mean? What begins with an apple…must end with a horse. Couldn’t make head nor tail of it. And what was all this 廢話 fèihuà about the goddess of discord and starting a war?

Saffron (the evil snake, he automatically added) hadn’t exactly started a war, but she’d got the whole crew tossed about and at odds. Turned Zoe furious with murderous rage. Turned Inara furious with murderous rage—and wasn’t that was a sight to see, because he’d never before seen her so angry with anybody but himself. Turned Kaylee…well, she weren’t exactly furious with murderous rage, but honestly, he’d never seen Kaylee so unlike her sunny self. And Kaylee sure weren’t acting like a happy woman who’d just been proposed to by the man she loved. Mal had seen that she was wearing Simon’s ring, but she hadn’t announced their engagement to the crew, which struck Mal as very odd and just not like Kaylee. And she walked about lookin’ as if she was like to cry for a nothing. Simon wasn’t acting like a happy man whose marriage proposal had been accepted, neither. His cold, snarky shield was back in place—Mal guessed to defend himself against Saffron, but it held against everyone else as well. Jayne wouldn’t talk about how Saffron got the drop on him, Ip was withdrawn and aloof, and River was acting a good bit crazier than usual. And as for himself…Mal knew Saffron had spun him about pretty badly. Not just by playing him directly, but playin’ him through every one of his crew. He didn’t know what the treacherous snake had planned, but he could guess that she was waiting until everyone was seriously off-balance before striking the fatal blow. What begins with an apple must end with a horse…now what the 地狱 dìyù did that mean?

All this talk of apples had made him hungry, so he checked the course and settings, engaged the autopilot, and headed to the dining room.

* * *

River was sitting at the table, gazing sadly at the bowl of apples in the center of it. Mal sat down opposite her.

“Sorry I sniped at you, River,” he said. “Weren’t no call for that. Taking my frustrations out on you, I reckon. Shouldn’ta made you a target.”

“Eris,” River replied softly, looking at him with sad eyes.

“Eris,” he repeated. “Goddess of discord done a number on us. Got me snarking at my pilot, when I know you’re tryin’ to be helpful. Not your fault I’m too dim to get what you’re talkin’ about.” He knew that River’s cryptic remarks frequently contained kernels of sense. And it really weren’t her fault that she wasn’t able to speak more plainly. He had a notion that when she talked all metaphorical like that, oftentimes she didn’t know herownself quite what she meant. She just had a hunch, an instinct. She needed to puzzle out the meaning just as much as anybody else did. And oftentimes, if a body would just sit still and listen and work at it with her, ’stead of jumpin’ down her throat and callin’ her crazy, the meaning became clearer. He picked an apple from the bowl in the center of the table and began cutting it into slices.

“Golden apples of the sun.”

He cocked his head at her. “These the golden apples of the sun?” he queried, hefting the apple.

She nodded.

“The apples what started the war you’re talkin’ about?”

Again she nodded.

“And ended with a horse.”

More nodding.

“I still don’t get it.” He shook his head slightly, munching on an apple slice. “Still, I hafta say, it’s not often that we have such a fine selection of fruit on this boat. First, all them pineapples and mangos from Bandiagara, now Jayne’s crate of apples—”

Not Jayne’s.”

“Whaddya mean, not Jayne’s? Jayne bought ’em, didn’t he?”

She shook her head. “He thinks you bought them.”

Mal stared at her. “An’ I think he bought them.” Wheels were whirring in his brain. “Who the good gorram bought them, then?”

* * *

*

*

*

glossary

谢谢你 Xièxie nǐ [Thank you]

该死 Gāisǐ [Damn it]

该死 gāisǐ [damn]

该死 Gāisǐ [Damn it!]

他妈的 Tāmādē [Goddammit]

賤貨 的 潑婦 jiàn huò de pōfù [cheap floozy]

哎呀 Āiyā [Damn]

家丁 jiādīng [servants, household retainers]

混蛋 húndàn [bastard]

地狱 dìyù [hell]

廢話 fèihuà [nonsense]

地狱 dìyù [hell]

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COMMENTS

Wednesday, July 25, 2012 4:43 PM

BYTEMITE


Poor River. And Inara. And Zoe.

Maybe they should induce a medical coma in Saffron and intubate. :/ But she'd probably manage to be a problem that way.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012 7:51 PM

NUTLUCK


And to think Inara considers Mal thick at times. Least Mal seems to have maybe figured out part of what River was saying. I did especially like the part where Saf started out and River jumped out on her and Saf ran back and locker herself in. :)

Thursday, July 26, 2012 3:00 AM

AMDOBELL


There are times during this whole story when I just want to shake Inara until her eyes rattle in her head. For a Companion she isn't too bright, jumping to conclusions about Mal and Zoe instead of getting to the truth first. As for Saffron, such an irritating *pofu*. I cannot understand why, every time she lets herself out of a locked room and they search it but don't find how she did it, they go and lock her in the SAME room again. Duh! I would have put her in a totally different room, one she has not been in just in case I'd missed a hiding place. I am troubled that those apples seem to have come from Saffron. Uh oh, maybehaps she injected them with something? Wouldn't put a gorram thing passed her. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Thursday, July 26, 2012 5:36 AM

M52NICKERSON


Okay, I'm not alone. I want to shake Inara as well.

Thursday, July 26, 2012 6:18 PM

EBFIDDLER


Oh, don't worry, folks. *I* want to shake Inara, and I'm the one who wrote her this way. It's all on purpose. There will be revelations, there will be character growth, and when all is said and done hopefully we won't feel like we need to shake her anymore.

Monday, July 30, 2012 4:57 AM

ZOESMOM


I liked that conversation about the warrants...who has them, who doesn't, and what to do (or not do) about it. Oh, what a tangled web we weave...


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