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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
The Last Temptation of Dr. Simon Tam
(Go ahead! Try it! First one's free . . .)
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 3598 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
“. . . so that’s the plan,” Jayne said as he refilled his ammunition stores from his stash aboard Inara’s shuttle.
Inara looked skeptical. River looked completely disinterested, gazing instead out the viewport into the Black, and slowly twisting the copilot’s chair back and forth in an arc of precisely (should anyone have cared to measure) eighty-eight degrees and humming a nursery rhyme.
“A frontal assault? That’s a plan?” the Companion asked, alarmed. “That seems a bit mad even for Mal and Zoe.”
“Ain’t their plan. My plan. My risk. They just gotta get their attention. I’m the one poppin’ in through the chimney. I’m gonna be a one-man flanking maneuver.” He seemed pretty pleased with the prospect.
“Are you going to be able to handle it, Jayne? I mean, not that I doubt your virility, or your lack of good judgment, but one man up against – what, a dozen?”
“Probably be less by the time I get there,” he said. “Zoe’s always cheatin’ me outa my fun. But figger at least nine or ten. I’ve come through worser odds – and that was when they was expectin’ it. Ain’t gonna give ‘em th’ chance, this time.”
“And what are we supposed to do while you are out getting shot at?”
Jayne considered. “Well, if you wanna be safe, close the hatch behind me. If you wanna be helpful, keep it open and shoot anyone who comes in who ain’t me.”
“Is that distinction necessary?” she asked wryly. The humor was needed to cover her anxiety. It was also completely lost on Jayne.
“Yeah, I’ll be the one in the fancy-pants suit lookin’ like an undertaker. Anyone else, shoot them.”
“How do you know I have a weapon?”
Jayne rolled his eyes behind his sunglasses. “Don’t take this the wrong way, ‘Nara, ‘cause I like you an’ all. But I ain’t met a workin’ girl yet who wasn’t packin’ some kind o’ nastiness in her handbag. I really gotta give you a gun?”
Inara produced a very lady-like pistol, in brilliant platinum plate, from the folds of her dress. It irritated her that Jayne was correct.
“Told ya,” Jayne grunted. “How ‘bout you?” he asked River warily. “Or you prefer a butcher knife?”
“Chopsticks,” she muttered, not looking up but still swinging the chair.
“Crazy,” Jayne said under his breath as he shook his head. He took off his sunglasses and wiped them clean of dust and blood droplets, then put them back on his face. “Gonna be usin’ a lot o’ flash-bangs,” he explained.
Time seemed to crawl. So did the shuttle. Inara was maintaining the slowest possible speed she could to avoid the attention of Traffic Control and still stay within moments of the airlock. It took some concentration, but apparently their attention was elsewhere – her suspicious piloting didn’t even warrant a warning call, much less intervention from the Traffic Patrol shuttle. It seemed like hours before Wash’s call finally came instead of the ten minutes that had actually passed. When it did come, she didn’t hesitate. She ploughed forward and sideswiped into Serenity’s starboard lock like she had done a hundred times before.
They waited thirty seconds for an explosion of bullets riddling the hatch while it sealed and hissed, but it never came. Instead they heard plenty of firing, the vibrations ringing Serenity like a bell.
“Remember,” Inara called out, with her best encouraging smile, “a gentleman makes an entrance with savoir faire.”
“Ain’t no gentleman, but I gots enough savwah fare for any three men,” He said, pulling two flash grenades from his belt.
“Ain’t no gentleman,” River repeated. “You’re a naughty puppy.”
“Puppy?” Jayne said with a laugh. “I ain’t no puppy.” He toggled the hatch and as soon as it was open a crack he gave a quick glance and tossed the flashbangs into the cargo hold.
“I’m the meanest gorram dog on th’porch!” he said, throwing himself through the hatch while firing both guns in different directions.
Inara considered closing the door, but she didn’t want to cut off Jayne’s escape route if he needed it. Instead she swiveled her seat to face the hatch, her pretty pistol held casually in her lap. It was then that she noticed River quietly crying, ruining her geisha makeup with ghastly streaks.
“Sweetie, what’s wrong? Worried about Jayne?” she asked, concerned. So far River had not turned her impulsive wrath on Inara, but in all this stress she figured there was room for all kinds of issues to emerge. She was actually rather glad that if she had to sit with an upset River that she had a pistol in her hand.
“N-no, no, puppy will be all right. Bad puppies will die. Good puppies will live.”
No stranger to her often-psychotic world view, Inara suspected what that meant. She chose not to address it directly, lest she learn more about River’s madness than she cared to. “Then what is it?”
“It’s just . . . I broke your fan,” River said, simply.
“Oh, bao bei, don’t concern yourself with such things. It was a pretty thing, but pretty is not forever.” She gave River as much of a hug as she could while watching the door. The girl continued weeping, and Inara was strangely comforted in embracing her, something familiar to her, as bullets and bombs sounded just outside.
After a while River looked up at her, sniffing, tears still quietly falling. “I may have stained your kimono, too,” she confessed.
Far away, deep in space on Serenity’s other shuttle, Simon put away the cards. He was sick of cards. He was sick of chess, checkers and go. He was sick of games. As much as he enjoyed Book’s company, he was starting to get sick of the man and his enigmatic ways, too.
He wasn’t real proud of himself for having the feeling.
Doctors weren’t supposed to be impatient. They weren’t supposed to be short-tempered in stressful situations. They were supposed to be secure, supportive, real pillars of fortitude in desperate times. And that was true, as far as it went. Simon could display enormous patience and forbearance when he was tending a patient. But he wasn’t. He was entertaining a Shepherd, and getting tired of it.
“Book?” he asked, as he put the cards away.
“Yes, son?” the preacher asked, vaguely annoying Simon with the inherent patronizing that ‘son’ implied.
“I’ve just found it curious that we’ve been in this shuttle together for, what is it,” he glanced at the battered chronometer on the console, “fourteen hours now, and you haven’t brought up religion once, except in passing.” He spun idly on his chair. “Did my sister burn out your tolerance for the Tam family agnosticism?”
Book smiled and shook his head. “Son, I’ve been on transports or in close quarters with all manner of folk in all manner of situations. Sometimes my faith, it’s been a blessing. Other times, a curse.”
“A curse? Sounds like there’s a story there.”
The old Shepherd laughed. “Not much of one. On a transport once – passenger transport, short haul, trip was less than a day. But I got stuck next to an elderly woman who was a ‘true believer’, and the closer she got to her Reward the more she wanted to talk of it. She was thrilled to see that I was a Shepherd, even if it was a different denomination than she. She wanted to spend the entire time talkin’ scripture. Now,” he said grinning, “I’m as charitable a fella as you could want, most ways. And I enjoy talking about the Good Book, especially back then. I put up with her questions and her opinions and her speculations and criticisms as much as I could, but I do swear that by the time that trip was but half over, I was ready to gnaw my own arm off to get away.”
“Too much of a good thing?” Simon asked, chuckling.
“Just a might,” Book agreed. “I mean, I can talk shop plenty, don’t misunderstand. Once spent a three day trip arguing metaphysics with a Buddhist monk and an imam – an enlightening trip, actually. I’ve got a passion for the Word, and one which I’m inclined to share with those as wants it. But when you turn religion from a spiritual pursuit to a morbid hobby, well, best you be looking a little more carefully at your life. You got your priorities a might misplaced.”
Book walked over to his luggage and tugged out a bottle of rice wine – some of the swag Wash had rescued from the original Pear Blossom, and quite good. He inclined his head questioningly to Simon, who considered, then nodded. A snort might do him good. Medicinal reasons, he justified.
“I’ve had similar experiences, actually. Being a doctor. I’ve yet to take a public transport where my seatmate or a setamate’s family member wasn’t suffering terribly from some obscure disease. I gave probably a thousand second opinions before I wised up. An older surgeon gave me the secret: tell them you’re an insurance adjuster. No one wants to talk to them.”
“I got to remember that!”
“Also, it would probably help if you didn’t wear the collar on the transport. Dead giveaway. Just like my medical case.”
“Might help, at that. But my Order encourages us to be public in our faith.”
“I wonder whether I’ll ever do that again,” Simon said idly.
“What’s that? Give a second opinion?”
“Take a public transport,” Simon explained. “It doesn’t seem likely, does it? Being a wanted fugitive means never having to take a bus again.”
“You miss it that much? The Core, I mean. Ain’t too many busses out here. Nor public transport.”
“I suppose I really do. Only thing I ever knew, really. It’s interesting: I had this nice, neat life, all planned out. I was about halfway along my career – and young for all that. I planned to be Chief of Surgery before I was thirty-five. Not impossible to achieve, just not very likely for most doctors. But I was good, perhaps good enough to accomplish it.” He stared out into the Black. “It seems like that was a whole different person. A whole different life.” He sipped his drink reflectively.
“It was,” Book commented. “Son, like it or not, the moment you made the decision to help your sister, you started eroding away the man you were and building the man you are.” Book considered a moment. “Simon, if I might ask, why did you become a doctor?”
“To help people, to save lives,” Simon said, as if this was obvious.
Book shook his head. “No, son, not that answer. That’s the answer the Medical School wants to hear. They want to know just how compassionate you might be, before they get their hooks into you. I mean, what compelled you to be a doctor. There has to be something.”
“My father,” Simon answered instantly. “Oh, my mother too. She was very class conscious, always looking to support our social standing. But my father, most of all. I wanted to make him proud. And I suppose I did, when I came through residency in only 8 months. He paraded me around town like a prized bull for weeks.”
“That the only reason?”
“Well, there are few professions really open to a certified genius – which technically, I suppose, I am. There weren’t enough waste management positions to go around, so I got stuck with Medical School. Truthfully, I could have gone into pure research, or law, or, God forbid, politics – but law would have been interesting for about two years, and research . . . I have to admit, research was attractive. But as gifted and connected as I was, I would have risen too quickly, and I learned early on that senior people in research don’t do research, they do fundraising. I needed the intellectual challenge of surgery. The better a surgeon you are, the more surgery you actually do.”
“Because I didn’t want to do the boring stuff. Most diseases can be medically treated, so surgery is fairly routine after a while. Oh, Neurology still has it’s interesting finds – after a thousand years, we still have only the vaguest idea about how the brain works. Embryonic surgery can be interesting too. But Trauma – that was the sexy stuff.” He looked up. “Can I say ‘sexy’ to a Shepherd?”
“You tell me.”
“In trauma surgery you were able to actually make a real, concrete difference in someone’s life – save someone’s life – right there, right then. Walk away knowing that you saved a life. Instant gratification, and follow up with your regular doctor. Every day a new case would come in – hover crash, street fight, household accidents – I loved it. Trauma surgery has the greatest potential for intellectual heroics of any of the disciplines.”
“You have regrets? About leaving?”
“Of course. I had a nice little career sewn up there. Mother would have found me a fine, upstanding socialite from a good, wealthy family to marry before long, and I would have settled down at the family estate. Had some children, perhaps.”
“Is that what you wanted to do? Or your parents’ idea?”
“Oh, I was a long way from wanting to settle down. I wanted to keep at it, keep achieving, keep pushing up. I would have made Chief of Surgery on my schedule, I think, perhaps even higher. But I wasn’t ready for marriage. I wanted to see the ‘verse a little, do a little traveling. I had planned to take a sabbatical in another few years when I started noticing River’s odd letters and threw my life away.”
“Son, don’t say it like that. You didn’t throw your life away.”
“Well, it certainly seems like it to me, sometimes.”
“No, you didn’t. You still have your life. You have merely found a greater purpose.”
“Greater purpose? How do you arrive at that conclusion? I traded a career of helping thousands for the selfish purpose of helping one. How many people could I have saved had I never left the Core?”
“Tell me something: you the only trauma surgeon on Osiris?”
“Of course not! I—”
“Were you the only trauma surgeon in your hospital?”
“So all those people whose lives you would have saved, wouldn’t you say that they were probably in good hands without you?”
“Well, yes.” Simon was sullen.
“How many trauma surgeons have you encountered out here, in the Black?” Book continued.
“Just me,” he conceded.
“And you’ve saved lives where your absence would have doomed them to an early grave. Including many on Serenity.”
“Yes, you have a point,” Simon said, though his tone was anything but conciliatory.
“And how many gunshot wounds had you experienced on Osiris?”
“Well, six. Seven if you include the laser incident.”
“Unless my count is wrong, I believe you saw more than that your first month aboard Serenity. In fact, you have encountered wounds out here in the Black that you would never have seen on Osiris in a long and eventful career.”
“Well you are right about that. But it’s hardly intellectually challenging.”
“River’s injury boring you? ‘Cause from where I’m sittin’, looks like you got all the intellectual challenge you could ask for right there.
“So, let’s recap: You enjoyed the ability to make a difference and the intellectual stimulation of a career in the Core. Yet you have saved more people, and seen more variety of wounds, and gotten the juiciest, most complex puzzle you could have asked for by choosing the path that you did. Where are your regrets?”
“Being able to take a bus would be nice,” Simon said, sighing. “Or go to the theater. Or a decent restaurant. I liked my apartment. It had a view,” he added.
Book turned in the pilot’s chair to face the viewport. “You don’t call that a view?” When Simon didn’t answer, he continued. “You haven’t had need of a bus. As far as theater goes, I’d say that you don’t lack for entertainment in this life. So that leaves the restaurants. And I have to admit, the all-protein-no-flavor diet can wear on a body – but did you ever taste better pork than what Devon cooked in an engine-room of a tramp freighter?”
“Well, no. I haven’t. And I don’t need busses, and I don’t need theater, because Jayne’s antics are so damned entertaining, and I don’t need my apartment because I have a ‘stateroom’ the size of my old closet and a view of all of eternity. Then what, Shepherd, am I regretting so much that it makes me angry every time I think about my old life?”
“Stability, for one,” Book said, propping his feet up on the console. “You are not the type of man who enjoys the . . . spontaneity of the wild life, Simon. You like order. You like plans that don’t change at the last minute. You don’t like a lot of the things you have to deal with now and didn’t have to deal with then. But consider this: is that stability worth your sister’s life? Or the lives of any of the people you’ve saved?”
“Yes, I enjoy stability. Predictability. Order.” He got an unexplained grin on his face, just for a moment. “River always said I was too hidebound, and didn’t leave enough room in my life for adventure.”
“I think you done rectified that,” Book nodded. “You got adventure. And you may not be the adventurous type – in fact, I’d say that they’d have a hard time finding the romantic bone in your body. But consider that romantics get killed much easier than pragmatic men out here. For all of Jayne’s sins – and he’s got a book full – he is one of the most practical men I’ve ever known. Not a romantic bone in his body, either – unless you count his view of himself, and I think that got a might lessened after all that fuss in Canton.
“My point, son, is that romantic types, they get themselves killed out in the Black. They should stay home and read or watch vid about excitement. They pretend that they want the danger and the excitement, but when faced with the real thing, they get stupid and die. It’s the practical men and women who have the adventures worth havin’. And didn’t you pick a little one; you picked one of the biggest, meanest, nastiest adventures you could ask for. Mal, he’s got some enemies – some of ‘em even justified – but you, you’re takin’ on the whole gorram Alliance, and you ain’t got much to do it with. You might feel a might discomfited by it, but any lesser man, one with any romantic illusions, well, I would have funeralized you months ago.”
“I never really thought of myself as the heroic adventurer sort,” Simon said, smiling sadly. “Just wanted to get my sister back. I didn’t plan on all of—” he gestured enormously with his hands, encompassing the shuttle and the Black outside the window, and, by extension, his whole current situation, “—this.”
“Well then tell me something, then, Doctor Tam,” Book said, fixing him with a serious stare after refilling his glass. “Would you do it again? Was it worth it? Trading your career, your life, your wealth, your social status and position, everything you thought was your happiness, was it worth trading all of that for your sister’s life?”
Simon had to think about it. He had to weigh it all, the preponderance of the evidence for his admittedly illegal acts versus the life he was groomed from childhood for. Then he threw his sister into the equation, wonderful, maddening, brilliant River, and he evaluated it again.
“Yes, absolutely,” he whispered.
“You would. She’s worth all of that to you? Sounds t’me like you and your family never were what you’d call close. So I can’t imagine you thought of it as mere obligation.”
“River was – is – special,” admitted Simon, the rice wine making him a trifle more loquacious than he was accustomed to. And perhaps more forthright.
“We were always very close for siblings. My father and mother, they were loving parents, I suppose, but always more remote than I think I would have preferred. River, though – River was not just my little sister. She was my brilliant jing zi mei-mei, my first and best playmate. We used to play ‘prince and princess’ when we were little – like most children do, I suppose. She was always my princess. My mother actually thought that there was something . . . unhealthy about our relationship. That’s why she was so encouraging about River going off to the Academy in the first place.”
“Your mother wanted her to go?” Book said, frowning. “That sounds . . . interesting.”
“It got her away from me, away from her society friends,” Simon explained. “If you are my mother, and you have a brilliant and reasonably handsome surgeon for a son? Pure social gold. She doted on me, I was her favorite. I was like a badge of honor to her, a prize she had won and deserved to gloat about.
“A daughter who had no use for high society, who intellectually dissected every bit of data that came her way, who was hopelessly bereft of tact – and who showed little interest in ever marrying into a good family and having a reasonable number of grandchildren – that she could do without. Mother was always tense around River, I suppose, ever since she was about seven and started really demonstrating her abilities. I think it was when she started correcting Mother at her parties, in front of her friends.”
“That ain’t hard to imagine,” admitted Book with a smile.
“But River and I, we were inseparable, and that bothered Mother to no end. It was as if she and River were in competition for my affections. It bothered her that she often lost, by her standards. After having River around, well, even adults, my vaunted parents particularly, seemed kind of dull and stupid.
“And it bothered her even more that I stuck up for River. She would want to take me special places, little side-trips to museums or plays as treats or rewards, and I wouldn’t want to go unless River was included. So when the men from the Academy came and asked permission to test her, Mother leapt at the chance. And I guess that’s one reason I was so dead-set on pursuing her, too, when I discovered she was being . . . tortured. I suppose I felt a little abandoned after she left. Things just weren’t as bright, as vivid, than they were when River was around to see them with me. When my parents refused to see the codes she had cleverly hidden in her letters, I saw that as their way of forgetting that they really had a daughter. It was easier for them to pretend everything was fine, and tell their friends how great she was doing at her special school.” Simon paused.
“So her brave big brother went off into the Black, gave up everything, and against all odds rescued the princess from the evil sorcerers,” supplied Book.
“Well, there were more guns, security systems, and spaceships than most evil sorcerers employ, but that’s essentially correct.”
“And are you satisfied with the result?”
“I don’t honestly know,” Simon said. “I mean, I have River back – no question about that. But she isn’t quite the same River that left. And I find that frustrating.”
“Obviously,” Book nodded. “Girl’s done grown for three years. And the time between fourteen and seventeen – that’s a powerful amount of growin’ to be doin’ for anyone.”
“I was actually talking about the hideous neurological surgery, the experiments, and the brain washing they did, but I suppose puberty did have a role to play,” Simon said dryly.
“I s’pose what I’m sayin’ is that she was bound to be different no matter what happened. I’m just asking if you are satisfied with the result? You got your sister back.”
“She’s different,” Simon conceded. “Waaaay different. And it can be hard, trying to talk to her about things that she should remember, clear incidents from our childhood, and have those memories just be . . . gone. And seeing the girl I used to know, the one who was always calm and collected, who only got excited if something was intellectually challenging, to see her so . . .”
“Impulsive?” Book supplied. “Impetuous? Rash? Reckless? Batshit nuts?”
“Yes, but there’s more to it than that. Old River was impulsive, too – she just didn’t usually draw blood when she had a sudden notion. She’s excitable, and that’s one side of River I’m not used to. Old River was placidity itself – serene wouldn’t be too strong a word. And the dreams, they’re hard for her to bear. To be truthful, I miss the old River. But I suppose I should be happy to have any River left at all,” he said, sadly.
“You don’t give yourself enough credit, son,” Book said. “What you have done is no less than miraculous – and I’m speaking in my professional capacity when I say that. To have the girl you describe in your life in the first place would be remarkable enough. But to accomplish what you have, with merely a top-flight medical education and raw determination, that takes a courage equal to any that Jayne or Mal or Zoe has displayed.
“You could’ve easily taken the simple route, the one your parents did. You could have pretended that River was fine when you knew she was not. You could have continued to live your fine, upstanding life. River probably wouldn’t have disturbed that life if she wasn’t desperate.”
“Yes, you’re right. She feels guilty about it. Sometimes,” he added.
“But you didn’t choose that. You chose the hard way, and didn’t even consider the price. That shows integrity, and strength of character I’ve rarely come across. That shows compassion that’s like to be Biblical in nature.”
“That’s overstating it a bit,” Simon objected. “It’s not like I was willing to die for her. Or at least willing – I suppose I would die for her if it helped make her whole again.”
“Actually, it’d be easy enough to die for her – and many men wouldn’t hesitate to die for their family, I’ve seen it. But you chose to live for her, instead, and that is much, much harder.”
“I don’t see—”
“Hear me out, Son, you need to hear this from someone, some time. You weren’t content to merely rescue her, bring her out of that Hell. Because when you did, well, you saw that she brought a little piece of Hell with her. Did you abandoned her then? Let her go back to that, or worse, and you go back to your old life? Or just any life, any life at all that wasn’t near dominated by this horror you face daily?
“No. When faced with the Hell behind your sister’s eyes, you chose to dwell there with her, rather than make her face a hellish life crippled and alone. You took her from Hell, and traded Heaven away for it, just for the chance to dwell with her in this purgatory for a few months. Most men would rather face death than that kind of life.
“What can you expect for all of your trouble? The absolute best you can hope for is to find an obscure little corner of an obscure little hole and hope you die of old age before they find you.”
“That was my original plan, actually. But then someone had to let a Fed on board because he needed the fare, and things became complicated.”
“Didn’t it just. Fact is, you’ll likely be dead in a few months. A few years at the outside. ‘Cause they ain’t gonna stop comin’ for her, and there ain’t but so many places you can run to. Eventually, there’s gonna be a showdown, and it’s one that’ll be hard to win.”
“Might need a miracle,” Simon admitted.
“At least one. But this ship, this crew – there’s a miracle awaitin’ inside every one of ‘em, you mark my words well. You stick with these folk, do well by them, and they’ll see it through. Of all the ships you could have happened upon, you chose Serenity. I have to think that that was guided, somehow. Oh, I know you didn’t pick it because of the name but because it looked disreputable, you said – but you did, and you found a man who’s as close to a miracle as you could ask in Mal Reynolds.”
“This, of course, is the same ‘miracle’ who punched me in the face and threatened to kill me?” asked Simon incredulously.
“Son,” Book said, levelly, “don’t take this the wrong way, but there have been times where I ain’t been a stranger to the notion my own self.”
“Point taken. I’ve started to come to the conclusion that I’m – that I’m not an ideal crewmate.” He had to blurt it out, lest he let himself hide it.
“Had worse,” Book admitted. “But then again, I’ve had better. You’re just findin’ your space-legs, is all. You’re a Traveler now. That means you’re outside easy planetside rules. It ain’t like they do things back home. The Rim is a hard place, got special rules. And the folk you’re running with now, they got rules on top of those rules. So it’s going to take a little ‘acculturation’ before you can truly fit in.”
“What a valuable educational opportunity I’ve been given!” Simon declared sarcastically.
“Actually, yes. Think about it, Simon: in the last year or so, you’ve done things your classmates on Osiris will dream about for the rest of their dull, boring, stable lives. You’ve engineered a jailbreak. You’ve become a fugitive from the law. You’ve uncovered a secret government plot. You’ve held a man at gunpoint, been in a firefight, been shot in the leg, been in several fights, delivered a baby—”
“—nearly froze to death and died of carbon monoxide poisoning when the ship broke, got shot by a psychopathic bounty hunter as an object lesson, nearly was burned alive at the stake for witchcraft – that one is a personal favorite, by the way—”
“—planned and executed a major and thoroughly audacious robbery, seen Jayne Cobb hailed as a hero of the people—”
“I take it back—that was my favorite!” Simon said, laughing at the memory.
“You’ve healed the sick and comforted the dying. You have escaped the depredations of the Reavers. You’ve eaten pig cooked in an engine. You’ve stepped out of an airlock and into the Black with nothing but a spacesuit on, even though it turned your blood to icewater to do it.”
“Noticed that, did you?”
“You’ve been saved, you’ve been betrayed, you’ve been needed, wanted, loved, loathed, cheated, stolen from, beat upon, and knocked unconscious at least a few times. Son, you’ve done a whole lifetime of living, more’n most folks ever see, in the space of a year. And that’s just one year! What does the next year hold?” Book refilled his glass and toasted. “And there is one other person upon whose life you’ve had an impact – like it or not. A certain young engineer.”
“Kaylee,” Simon said, sighing heavily. “What to do about Kaylee. Yes, that is a difficult problem.”
“Huh? Shepherd, you said yourself – I’m likely to be dead soon. Is that an investment that she should make? That I should make?”
“If you’re asking if it’s a sin to make promises you don’t intend to keep, then yes. If you are looking for a justification to subvert your own happiness, and compound the emotional suffering of someone else, well, I can’t give that to you. You got to face this thing, Son. Even with everything else that’s goin’ on. Especially with everything else that’s goin’ on,” he amended. “Life doesn’t wait. You got to be fair, to her and to you. If you couldn’t turn your face away from your sister because you couldn’t lie to yourself then, what makes you think it’s any better to lie to yourself now?”
“But we’re so different from each other!”
“That don’t mean a thing, and I think your heart will agree. I seen how you look at her. I know the affection that’s grown between you two. And I know every time you see her, you feel guilty, like you’re takin’ advantage or somethin’ foolish like that. It’s like since you left your old life behind, you can’t see right to finding even the possibility of a new one.. That ain’t right, Son. Man and woman, they were made to cleave to each other.”
“This is hardly the most appropriate venue for ‘boy meets girl’.”
“I seen worse.”
“And there is the whole River issue—”
“River? Oh, you mean Kaylee’s best friend?”
“And it’s hardly fair that she and I are the only unattached, un avowed, non-cretin, non-prostitute, and non-clinically-insane people on the ship.”
“Fair? I get stuck in a shuttle with you for fifteen hours, and you wanna talk to God about fair?”
“I didn’t mention God, Shepherd.”
“Who else makes things fair? Look, Simon, you’re a bright boy. I know faith isn’t your for-tay, but consider: if you accept for a moment as an axiom that everything happens for a reason, even if you don’t want to use the ‘G’ word, you’re talkin’ about the same gorram thing. Fact is, you’re here, put here by God, the Devil, Fate, or random chance – that doesn’t change the fact that YOU ARE HERE. She’s here for much the same reason. Figure it out.”
“What if I don’t fit in with her friends?” he asked mockingly.
“What, you don’t acculturate? Eventually, all those annoying things that you do, the whining, the complaining, the total lack of sensitivity when it comes to another human bein’s feelings, all that will either go away, become part of your colorful character, or we’ll stuff you into an airlock before the Alliance can find you.”
“Goodness, Shepherd,” Simon said slowly. “You sure know how to comfort a body, don’t you?”
“That’s my job,” Book said, smugly.
“Enough about me and my lousy relationship skills,” Simon said, shaking his head. “What about you? Let’s talk about your lousy relationship skills instead. We’ve been . . . shipmates for months, now, and I know so little about you. What’s your story?”
Book smiled sadly. “Well son, my tale is a might complex. It’s a pretty interesting story how I came to the Order, followin’ a Call to the Faith. It all begins back when I was—”
“Hold that thought Shepherd,” Simon said, turning towards the console where a wave was coming through. “Looks like we finally got some news. It’s . . . Inara.” He punched the connection, and Inara’s cramped and pinched face was soon swimming on the ancient monitor.
“Ni how, Inara. How goes the thrilling adventure?”
“Far too thrilling. I don’t have time to go into too much detail, but Serenity was captured, retaken, and Zoe and Mal were thrown in jail. Everyone is fine, now – except maybe for Kaylee, who got herself kidnapped—”
“Kaylee?!” both men asked at once.
“She’s fine, she’s fine. Mal just went to fetch her. But because of the problems, Zoe thinks a little extra push from Dr. Worthington might help out. Any way you can fake the origin of your signal and give Wendell a call? A good reason to get the ship out of port fast might prove valuable.”
Simon groaned. “I have no idea how to fake an origin code—”
“I do!” said Book.
“And you know how much I hate being abusive to petty underlings,” he started. Inara held up her hand.
“No time. We’ve been busy here, and we just need Worthington’s cooperation. Think up some big damn lie to tell him about how badly you need those supplies, then wave him. Quickly. I trust your judgment on the details. Just get into your doctor outfit and call him within the next five minutes, or your whole plan – your plan, Simon – will be for naught.”
“Hard to argue with that,” Book said. Simon nodded, his lips pursed.
“River’s fine, perfectly fine, and with me. In fact no one was hurt in all the commotion. But a little expeditious behavior on your part may go far right now, dong ma?”
“Yes, yes of course, I’ll get right on it. Simon out.” He turned his chair and bolted for his bag, where his fake doctor outfit was laid out for just such an occasion.
“And how do you,” he asked as he was stripping off his shirt, “know how to fake a wave origin code” he asked Book.
“I think its somewhere in Ecclesiastes,” Book said, smiling. “I can do it, and it’s actually pretty easy, if you know how to do it. But let’s skip that for now, and concentrate on a big damn lie. I’m thinking lots of bodies, maybe a fire – how about you? Oh! Could we do orphans? That’s always a good motivator! They eat that stuff up!”
Monday, August 22, 2005 6:15 PM
Monday, August 22, 2005 7:20 PM
Monday, August 22, 2005 9:41 PM
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Tuesday, August 23, 2005 12:31 AM
Tuesday, August 23, 2005 1:31 AM
Tuesday, August 23, 2005 4:14 AM
Tuesday, August 23, 2005 5:41 AM
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Tuesday, August 23, 2005 9:06 AM
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Tuesday, August 23, 2005 1:13 PM
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Tuesday, August 23, 2005 6:19 PM
Thursday, August 25, 2005 6:53 AM
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