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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Check out time is 11:00. Leave the keys under the floormat.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 3511 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
The Treasure of Lei Fong Wu
“It even smells new!” Kaylee said as they walked through the lobby of the Apex Regency Hotel. Part of the aroma was evaporating solvents from paint and tile adhesives that were still recent, and workmen scurried around putting final touches on a number of areas. Here and there were unfinished electrical conduits with wires hanging out, awaiting lights or other fixtures, and every now and then there was an unpainted swath of wall. But the over-all effect was still spectacular, a kind of understated elegance that screamed “We’ve got more money than God!”
“It’s pretty,” murmured Zoe, who looked a little uncomfortable here. “I like the carpet.”
“It’s softer than our bed!” Wash agreed, taking a few practice bounces. Zoë rolled her eyes at her husband, who was grinning like the rube she felt like. “I wonder what the beds will be like?”
“Now, children,” Simon said quietly. “Be jway. We’re trying to appear affluent enough to maintain a low profile,” he reminded.
“This here is the fanciest cathouse I done ever seen!” exploded Jayne gleefully. “I swear, I could strip down to my skivvies and roll around this here carpet and it’d be as soft as a gorram virgin whore!” He ended his ode to luxury and privileged circumstances with an ear-splitting, wordless cheer.
“That’s better,” breathed Simon, sighing with closed eyes as he approached the front desk. “Ho tze duh pee goo.”
A very dignified middle-aged man greeted him with a bow and a smile, while a very pretty young woman in the green and pink silk suit that was the Regency’s uniform stood by, pad in hand, awaiting instruction.
“Ni how? May I help you, Sir?”
“Yes,” Simon said, coming close to the counter. “I waved ahead about some rooms for myself and . . . these good people. Name of Smith.”
“Smith . . . yes, of course. Four suites. I put you on the second floor, on the ocean side, as you requested. Hmmm. It seems that, for whatever reason, your credit code neglected to be transmitted.”
“That’s because we will be paying in cash,” Simon said softly. “I spoke with the Hotel manager, and he assured me of complete . . . discretion. I plan on looking at several properties while I’m here, but for many reasons which I do not care to go into, I have a fervent desire to not have my presence known. It could . . . complicate things for me. Which might reflect on any purchasing decisions I may make. Dong ma?”
“Absolutely, sir,” the concierge said with grave assurance. “In fact, I now see that Mr. Hogan has made your rooms complimentary while you look around. I do hope you will find them satisfactory.”
“I’m sure I will,” Simon agreed. “Our requirements should be minor, I assure you. This . . . crowd travels light.”
“Indeed. I do hope that you will excuse our mess – we are still in the process of upfitting, and there are a few areas still under construction. I do hope it won’t be an inconvenience.”
“Stiles, sir, Joshua Stiles, at your service,” he said, bowing again.
“Yes, Stiles, well, I’ve been in a rusty tin can breathing canned air and eating re-sequenced protein for five weeks now. This will be the first decent bed I’ve slept in since Isis, and the first time I will have immersed myself completely in water since then, as well. This place could be a wooden shack and it would be more than adequate. So don’t trouble yourself on that account. I do, however, want your assurance that no permanent record of our stay is to be recorded here. It could prove embarrassing, perhaps even disastrous, if it became know to certain parties who I am and why I am here. Do we have an understanding?” The question came with the subtle passage of a five hundred credit note across the counter.
“We have an absolute understanding Mr. . . . Smith. Fahng sheen.”
“Excellent. Well, if you give us our room codes, we’ll be on our way. I have an appointment with a Mr. Goldman tomorrow at nine – actually, how many hours in the local day?”
“Guay! That will take a little getting used to. Still, I plan on spending a good deal of my time here relaxing between business meetings before I stuff myself back into that jing-tzang mei yong-duh spaceship.”
“Excellent, sir. Here are your code keys, and . . . your wave indicated another room for tomorrow?”
“Yes, the captain of the ship will be joining us. He’s getting the oil changed or something, and won’t be down until tomorrow. Is there a problem?”
“Oh, certainly not, sir. In fact, as we are just now opening, we are only at ten percent of our capacity.”
“Excellent. I’ve argued with the man for weeks, now, and I think it would do him good to have a relaxing time here – out of my sight.”
“Yes, sir. I’d also like to remind you that the Beachcomber Restaurant is open twenty-one hours a day, and the hotel bar as well. Room services are available – menu is on the room console – and we encourage you to inspect our boutique and gift shop. We hope your stay is enjoyable – shall I summon a bellhop?”
Simon shook his head. “Unnecessary. As I said, this crowd travels light. They probably wouldn’t give up their baggage without a fight.”
“Indeed. Lifts are through there. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to make your stay more pleasant.”
“I certainly will,” Simon said, turning without another word. As he walked towards the lifts he handed out key cards – one for the Washburns, one for Jayne, one for River, and one for . . . he and Kaylee.
“Y’all have big fun, now, y’hear?” boomed Jayne wickedly as he strutted off to his own room.
“Ignore him,” Kaylee said, making a rude gesture at his back.
“I do,” Simon assured. “River, you and Kaylee can switch rooms if you like.”
Kaylee looked at him, eyes wide. “You gotta problem sharin’ a room with me?” She shouldered her way passed him and strode to the lift with determination.
“No, no,” Simon said to her back, realizing belatedly how that must have sounded. “I was just saying, if you felt uncomfortable – I didn’t want you to think I was—”
“Takin’ advantage of poor, innocent jing-tzang mei yong-duh Kaylee?” she asked over her shoulder, iron in her voice. “I don’t rightly think you need worry yourself about that.” She stabbed the lift button forcefully.
“Lao-tyen, boo! I was just trying to be a—”
“Idiot? Moron? Boob? Insensitive prick? Fey fey duh pee yen? Socially retarded genetic throwback?” River supplied helpfully. “God, I always suspected Mom drank when she was pregnant with you.”
“I was going to say ‘gentleman’,” Simon finished. “I didn’t want to presume—”
“Well, she certainly did,” River pointed out. “Does she have to draw you a gorram map?”
“Apparently,” Kaylee said viciously. The lift door opened and she stepped on. River got in after her. Simon was about to follow when Kaylee held up her hand. “Sorry, full, have to take the next one.” The doors closed.
“Boy,” Zoe said, softly, “You got a natural talent for makin’ an ass of yourself.”
“It’s really amazing,” agreed Wash.
“You’re just plain stupid, y’ask me,” Jayne said. “You got a chance at some free cooze, an’ you’druther sleep with your sister?” He shook his head. “Just weren’t brought up right.”
“What is this, pick on Simon day?” he asked, astonished.
“No,” Wash said, reassuringly. “No, not at all. Isn’t that tomorrow?”
“I think so,” Zoe said with a small smile. “We’re just practicin’ today.”
“Oh, good, I haven’t done my Pick-On-Simon-Day shopping yet,” Wash said.
“Keep laughing,” Simon said evenly. “And just remember, next time you’re on my table with a bullet in your ass, I’m going to think back on this day while I regulate your pain meds.”
“I think the consensus opinion here,” Wash said, looking at his crewmates for support, “is that Kaylee has been throwing herself at you at every opportunity, and your attempts at being a gentleman are starting to wear thin. She doesn’t want you to be a gentleman. She wants you to . . . well, it isn’t my place to say.”
“She wants your bone. Why’s that so hard t’say?” demanded Jayne.
“It’s not hard to say,” Simon said, his cheeks coloring, “it’s just crude, uncivilized and beyond the pale of mannered conversation.”
“Don’t make it any less truthful,” muttered Jayne.
Simon looked back at the lift door. “What is taking this gorram thing so gorram long?” he exploded.
“Uh, oh,” Wash said in a stage whisper. “Profanity!”
“Helps if you mash the button,” Jayne said helpfully, pointing out the unlighted switch. Simon silently activated it, and was gratified when the door did swing open.
“So, honey, you wanna go to the room first, the beach first, or do some shopping?” Wash asked as they got into the lift.
“Room, shopping, beach. And put ‘bubble bath’ between room and shopping,” she added.
“Bubble bath,” Wash said, eyes dreamy. “I like the sound of that!”
“Me too!” said Jayne. “Y’all mind if I—”
“Suffer from a painful groin injury?” Zoe asked, eyebrows arched. “’cause that’s what’s goin’ to happen, you finish that thought out loud.”
“Some people’s just touchy,” the mercenary said, frowning.
The door opened and they trooped out, split up and went to their respective rooms.
Simon’s was gorgeous, a beautifully appointed suite that was such a stark contrast to his usual surroundings for the last several months that he was a little disconcerted. Plush carpet in a pale pink, deep green walls, tastefully ornate fixtures, and two – two queen sized beds. The balcony was elegant and revealed a magnificent view of the ocean, which was bluer than any ocean he had ever seen. The bathroom had every amenity known to man.
He noticed the lack of luggage or other signs; the room was as yet unvisited by either his sister or Kaylee.
He was kind of pleased by that, somehow. He took off his tie, looked at the nearest bed, and sighed.
Inara leaned back into the arms of a very handsome, very rich older gentleman and sipped her champagne. It was an excellent vintage, over twenty years old, from Merovingia in the Core. It tickled her nose and galloped across her tongue like a runaway stallion.
“That’s wonderful!” she said, raising her eyebrows appraisingly. “I hope you laid in a few cases!”
“Six,” Mason smiled. “I may have to double that, though – I’m on number three!”
“A worthy investment – That’s better than the ’88 by far!”
“I’m so happy you appreciate such things,” Mason said with a sigh. “I offered a glass to Ziggy Moreland the other day – he’s that boor from Ishtar that’s always going on about his horses – and he made a face like he’d eaten a lemon. Barbarian!”
Inara laughed prettily. “Mason, you can’t expect everyone to have the tastes that you have worked your whole life to develop.” She took another sip of the sparkling wine and savored it visibly. “And afford.”
“Oh, Moreland could afford it, if he wanted to. He would just rather put his play money into ponies. How do you enjoy a gorram horse? Without a first rate chef, I mean?”
“I still want to know what you’re doing here! I was so surprised when I checked the registry. Pleasantly so, of course.” Mason had been a client four years before, a regular for most of a year. He had showered her with gifts, taken her to all the best parties, even included her in some of his business meetings – he found her allure an easy distraction for his professional adversaries. Then he had left to oversee a construction project out on the Rim, a substantial development, and he had dropped off the social map.
“I was just as shocked to see one of the brightest stars in the sky so far from the galaxy’s core,” he countered. “Inara Serra? Shlepping about the Rim on a tramp freighter?”
“It’s actually quite romantic. Every day is an adventure.”
“Fei hua, darling, but if you insist. My yacht would outpace that thing on a bad day. But you always had character! That’s why I liked you. Never boring, Inara Serra. And now I have you for one full week! And what a propitious time, too!”
“I’ve got investors coming in from all over. Apex is finished – the first phase, of course, eight phases after that – but it should be enough to convince a number of them to lay down deposits.”
“On land. Oh, I know we can’t ‘technically’ sell until we get Certified, but I can take cash deposits against that day. And a few cash deposits would be very welcome about now!”
“Mason! Are you . . . in trouble?”
“Trouble? No, not like that. I just have most of my assets tied up in this little moon right now, and the sooner it starts showing an income, the better I’ll feel!” He looked out at the stars in the viewport appraisingly. “Of course, abject poverty might be fun. Surely I could scrape up enough for, say, a tramp freighter, and live the life romantic in my declining years.”
“You couldn’t handle the diet, I assure you,” Inara said, trying to picture sophisticated Mason living Mal’s ‘romantic’ life. “And the champagne is rarely this select.”
“No doubt, no doubt. Oh, well, if the gorram thing collapsed tomorrow, I’d still have enough in just trust funds to keep me in tasties like that for the rest of my life. The family estate and the parties and the events and God that sounds boring doesn’t it? I need the money, Inara, because money is power. I can do things with money. Big things, important things. Like this!” he said, pointing to the soft green and blue globe in the viewport below them. “It’s beautiful, it really is, a true paradise. We spared no expense.” He looked at her wryly. “Which is one reason a few black notes in the balance sheet would not be amiss!”
Inara laughed appropriately. Mason was a dear man, but he had just a little more than his share of insecurities. To him, money was influence and power. A tool he used to write his name large in the sky, to build on the ‘verse itself a legacy that would outlast his memory a thousand fold.
He was a senior partner in the ECTC, a major stockholder – something like twenty percent. His father had made the initial investment, a lifetime ago, when the stock was cheap and more speculation than investment. By the time Mason was old enough to take an interest, the project had neared completion. He had jumped at the chance to take the company’s standing invitation for a seat on the board. He had been here ever since, using his formidable business skills to help the company whenever he could.
Inara understood the insecurity, though. Unlike some of the power-hungry moguls out there, Mason saw what he did as a constructive thing – he was birthing a new world into the ‘verse, something god-like. He did not care if he owned it afterwards. Just being able to look out at the world, from horizon to horizon, and know that was responsible for twenty percent of paradise was enough.
Only it wouldn’t be. Not really. There was only one thing that would fill that void, something a whole planet couldn’t provide.
“So,” he said, refilling her glass. “Tomorrow we’ll go down to my little private bungalow for a few days. Then we’ll meet with the Ginger Group – they’re a multi-planet real estate consortium who is considering sinking some money into my little resort. A whole lot of money. So I’d like you to be there, just like old times. If you can smile that magical smile of yours, flash those . . . eyes, I can get them to sign before they come out of their trance. Dong ma?”
Inara was rarely completely comfortable with this side of the job, but she knew how important it was. In many ways it was why Companions were valued allies in the Core. Their mere presence was an asset in such negotiations. She knew what to do, and how, and why. And she would do it flawlessly because . . . because. . . because she was just that good. And men were so easy to manipulate, when you knew how.
“I look forward to it,” she said, curling herself around him like a cat. “Especially your ‘bungalow’.”
“Oh, it’s quite rustic,” he assured her. “Almost a wooden shack.”
“No doubt. But will there be enough champagne?”
“Darling! That’s whereI keep my cellar! You can’t store good champagne in orbit! The gravity drives are murder on maturation!”
“So I’ve heard. Very well, tomorrow I will see this ‘shack’ and drink more of your very fine champagne and swim in an ocean for the first time . . . in a long time. I’ll even drive, if you tell me where it is, and show off my piloting skills and make you wet your pants in fear. And then we will splash, and run on the beach. And I insist that you bury my feet in the sand while I tan.”
“If you insist,” he said, nuzzling her neck.
“I do. But what about tonight? This bottle is about done, and I don’t see another. Besides, you can’t keep decent champagne in orbit. What would people say?”
“Tonight,” he said, inhaling her exotic scent with obvious relish, “I think we should go to bed early.”
“I am feeling tired,” she said, slyly.
“Me too. A lot of stress. Pressure. I need to relax, and . . . relax.”
“Bao bei, that’s why I’m here,” she murmured, her eyes sparkling as much as the bubbles in the wine.
Despite his assurances to Wash, Mal was a little rustier in his take-off than he had anticipated. Not to the point where he was in any danger, but he couldn’t remember a rougher departure from atmo, even when they were being shot at. It made him appreciate his wise-cracking pilot even more.
Once in orbit, however, piloting was a fairly simple matter of programming coordinates to the repair facility and letting the autopilot take over. Fifteen minutes after he had left atmo he was sliding backwards into the pre-arranged service dock. Fifteen minutes after that he was opening the dorsal airlock to admit one Jeremy Banks, the mechanic responsible for the core-rebuild. He was a pleasant-seeming man in his forties, slightly balding, in a stained coverall. He carried a datapad and a flashlight, and shook Mal’s hand with a down-home, just-folks kind of manner that he had not expected in so ritzy a system.
“Captain, glad you chose us for your needs! Haven’t worked on a Firefly in a dog’s age – not since before the War,” he added. “Been lookin’ forward to it since you called.”
“Are Fireflys difficult?”
“Naw, not at all. Easier than the rich-boy yachts what usually drop in here. Shouldn’t take more than a day to pop her off, two-three days to tear down and rebuild, then another day to put her back together.”
“Glad to hear it,” Mal nodded. “It’ll feel a might funny not to have her up an’ runnin’.”
“Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing—there was a loud, startling clang. Mal whirled around to face the engine room where it had come from. Banks laughed good naturedly.
“Don’t worry none, Cap’n, that’s just m’boys getting’ started. They’ll have your hind-end off in just a while. And I’ll treat her gently, like she was my own, while you’re here.”
“I’d be obliged,” Mal said, uneasily.
“Now, if I could just have your credit code . . .”
“Don’t got one,” Mal said, with a small smile when Banks’ face fell a might. He reached into his coat and pulled out a pre-counted wad of Fed notes. “Here’s half. I’ll get you the other half when work’s done. Fair?”
Banks eyed the large pile of cash with interest. “That there is a deal, yessir.” He took the bills and stuffed them in his own pocket. “I’ll just write you out a receipt, then you can be on your way. Commercial shuttle leaves the station in about an hour. I’ll send you a wave at your hotel when we’re done.”
“Gonna take my own shuttle,” Mal said. “I ain’t fond of commercial transport, to be truthsome. Reminds me too much of a troop transport.”
“Yeah, had my fill o’those my own self,” Banks said, eyeing Mal carefully. “You in the War?” It was a silly question, on the surface – Mal still wore his Browncoat. But it was polite. There were many who didn’t want to talk about their past, and it was dangerous to approach the matter incautiously.
“That I was,” Mal admitted, after a moment of consideration. “Independents,” he said, though it was obvious. “Infantry sergeant.”
“Artillery man, myself,” Banks declared proudly. “Corporal. Mostly on Daoxiang, then Corinth, then Hera. 33rd Volunteers. You?”
“Oh, all over the gorram place. But I ended on Hera, too,” Mal said, simply.
“Kinda figgered that when I saw the name of your ship. After Serenity, weren’t much left t’fight about. You near there at the end?”
“I was there. From start to finish. Two months.”
“You—” the man stopped, looked at him closely. “I was given to understand that there were no survivors.”
“You were nearly correct. Only ‘bout a hundred an’ fifty made it out alive.”
“Out of . . .”
“Yeah.” He looked around at the interior of the ship, then glanced at his coat. “Guess I never really left it.”
“You done better’n most. I seen . . . well, don’t much matter what I seen. You done better. ‘Course, guess I have too. An’ you still wearin’ the Browncoat . . . Don’t worry, son,” the man said cheerfully, “I’ll take real good care o’ this one. You came outa Serenity Valley alive, well, you’re a goddamn hero. Or crazy.”
“Or both,” Mal said, sadly. “I’d appreciate any consideration you could give me, Corporal. Thank you.”
“Not a problem. Take care. Enjoy the beach – that’s why I moved here.”
The man left. Mal sighed, shook his head. He felt strange whenever he was around other veterans he didn’t know from the war, anyone he didn’t personally serve with. Most of the time it was okay, but sometimes . . . sometimes you either got guys who were still fighting the war, over and over in their minds, even to singing ‘Rally ‘round the banner, the banner gold and green’, or you got bums who were so bitter about the defeat that every reminder of that time in their lives was met with open scorn – men who blamed all their problems on their defeat, and couldn’t move on.. Browncoats were always an outspoken and passionate lot – volunteers to a man, the Independent worlds never stooped to conscription no matter how bad things got. They were often just as passionate after the war – disturbingly so.
But every now and again he’d run across a fellow like Corporal Banks, who was just trying to get by, just like him. They were often a pleasure.
He was thinking a lot about the War, recently – but not the way he often did. It had been a while, almost seven years now since he had laid down arms. For so long that had more or less defined how he thought of himself. Would it always be that way?
Mal moved through the ship, just looking around. Serenity felt odd with no one else aboard. Empty. It was sad, somehow.
He had bought her to escape the Alliance. That was what he had said to Zoe. ‘No matter how far out they go, we can always just go a little further.’ It sounded noble and brave and strong at the time. But the truth was, he bought her as much to escape the war. She was virgin territory for him. Something that had nothing to do with the Independents, or the Browncoats, or military officers or politicians or idealism or anything else but taking care of him. He was Master here, after serving others for so long and been badly served in return. Master of his own fate, as close to real independence as he could get. No one could help him, but he wasn’t beholden to anyone, either.
He was free to do as he wished. Could go anywhere in the ‘verse he wanted, the entire sky was his domain.
But was he free inside his head? Or was he doomed to relive the war, over and over, for the rest of his life? Was he now one of those bums he disliked so much, the ones who would be haunted by the war forever? Was he merely the ghost of the man who had taken the oath? The shade of the hero he thought he was being when he showed up to muster?
He might even be able to live with that, the idea that he could live out his life a tragically flawed figure, emotionally crippled and bereft of hope. He could fly and fly and fly like that, live, survive, perhaps even thrive – but never have hope for a real life away from the war.
Part of him was worried that he was he becoming a cliché. The disturbed Browncoat vet. He had a marked propensity for violence, and a decided dislike for the Law, as practiced by the Alliance. He wasn’t adverse to the thought of dying in a firefight, on a job. It wasn’t his preferred method of demise, but it would settle the question, maybe even give himself some peace. Once upon a time he could live with that kind of death, one bereft of idealism and noble causes, a mere struggle to survive gone bad. There was something noble about that in and of itself.
But not now. Despite himself, he was starting to wonder if he didn’t have a different path available to him. The subconscious spiral towards death he had taken, this suicide attempt disguised as a criminal enterprise, wasn’t taking him in that direction anymore. He was doing . . . well.
Money in his pocket. Ship getting fixed. Paid and relatively happy crew. He was happy himself, in a way, because people he cared about were prospering. He was prospering, when there were many who couldn’t make that claim. What was he going to do if he did really well? Start hoping again?
He shuddered. He had left hope in the valley, along with the God who betrayed him. He left hope behind in the mud with the bodies of the young boys and girls who had died outnumbered and outgunned, fighting for a lost cause on soil far from home. He had buried hope there.
And then Inara humped things up.
In a way it had been just as hopeless as anything he had faced. She was a Companion, a glorified whore – a highly respected whore, but a whore. She rented her body and her company to men. She collected a fee for the attention that should have been earned on the honest battleground of romance. That wasn’t right, wasn’t moral. It had nothing to do with the Bible. It had to do with how people should behave in regards to each other. Men and women. In love. Loving each other without the cold, passionless vehicle of cash being involved.
That’s how things should be.
Inara was a beautiful person, inside more than out, her compassion and her own morality – minus the whoring, of course – an inspiration to all she came in contact with. She was the kind of woman for whom Empires were forged. She deserved a man – one man – who would return that kind of radiance with passion, a deep and sustaining passion worthy of her.
That’s what pained him so powerful, inside. Was he that kind of man? Did he have the potential to generate and demonstrate that kind passion, one worthy of her love on its own merits? Or did he leave that possibility in the bloody mud of the valley?
As he wandered through the ship, shutting down unnecessary systems and making certain that everything was put in its place, he also wandered through the possibility that Malcolm Reynolds was alive and well. That he had something to aspire to, even if the realization of that aspiration was impossible.
For no matter how great and passionate he might be able to become, she was still a professional woman, a career woman. A whore who loved the high-class whoring she did. Who reveled in the complex interplay of male and female, the expression of sexuality in the social and psychological realms. No matter how brightly his star might burn, he couldn’t lure her away from what she did without unmaking who she was in some way.
But he still wondered if he had it within him. It was a perplexing question.
He didn’t know. It troubled him. It was something worth mulling over. He was due a good mull, and a shuttle flight back would be a good opportunity. As he finished powering down the non-essential systems and checking on the secure areas – armory, smuggling compartments, he started to look forward to mulling, and not worrying about the big stuff for a while. On a beach. With a fruity drink and a cute waitress to entertain his eyes while his brain considered such important and ultimately pointless matters.
He was just preparing to board Shuttle Two when he stopped, hearing a noise. It took him a moment to figure out what it was.
There was a knock at the airlock door.
Friday, September 2, 2005 6:51 PM
Friday, September 2, 2005 7:43 PM
Saturday, September 3, 2005 1:24 AM
Saturday, September 3, 2005 2:39 AM
Saturday, September 3, 2005 8:43 AM
Monday, September 5, 2005 6:57 AM
Monday, September 5, 2005 9:59 AM
Tuesday, September 6, 2005 5:33 AM
Monday, November 7, 2011 6:00 PM
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