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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Return of the "Blue Sun Job"! First of the last four chapters of this story.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2674 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Blue Sun Job, Part 36: One Down
“It occur to you this is one of those ‘I’ll tell you but then I have to kill you situations’?” Zoe murmured close to Mal’s ear as she moved to sit beside him at the long library table. Mal just gave her a long, dark look. It had occurred to him.
It had occurred to Simon, too, if the boy’s level of nerviousity was a thing to judge by. Or he was still scared Zoe was gonna shoot him. Or that Mal would tell her too. She hadn’t exactly put away the gun. Mal didn’t like repeating orders so he hadn’t told her to again. Zoe’d obey the first order when she was good and damn well ready to. Her head was working a helluva lot better than his at this very moment, so best not to try to override any paranoids she had going on.
But, then, it might just could be Simon’s pale twitchies were on account of him having to add Shepherd Book to his oh-my-god-who-are-these-lunatics-I’ve-gotten-tangled-up-with list. Then there were the other creepy guys in Shepherd suits filing in to take up seats around the table.
Well, okay… normally Mal wouldn’t find ‘em to be all that creepy, just annoying and preachery-looking. It was just that whole ‘verse turned on its gorram edge and nothing being what it seemed thing what gnawed at a fella’s peace of mind. His serenity…
Mal took in a big gulp of air and rubbed his temple.
“I could give you something for that, Cap…” Simon began, then chopped it off abruptly when he saw the glare Mal gave him. “Right.” He stared down at the table, blushing again. It was a good color on him. “But I will be needing to run some additional tests later,” Simon said firmly.
Good boy, Mal thought, though he favored Simon only with a “you asshole” scowl. Stick to your guns and don’t back down. Well, you know… less’n someone would shoot you for it and it’s really better to back down. So maybe that whole ‘stick to your guns’ notion as an operating principle wasn’t the most… Mal shook his head and rubbed his temple again. Not quite fully anchored in the ‘verse yet. Zoe shifted her chair back and closer to his--getting a better angle, a quicker path to action if needs be, Mal observed. But it also served to press her leg against his. Warm. Solid. An anchor…
He really had to stop thinking that way. Enough fuses already sizzling down to their ends without him lighting any more. Mal shifted away. Zoe took her eyes off the creepy guys to give him a long, studying examination. It took all Mal’s willpower not to break that long, probing stare of hers. He’d gotten that look more’n once in the past, always when he had done, was doing, or was about to do something monumentally stupid.
Mal’s glance flicked away from hers to take in the setting. Yup. Okay. This did have all the hallmarks of a major stupid waiting to dump a load of 狗屎 all over him. Yet, oddly enough, at times, that could be fun too.
Let’s see, Mal threw a pondery glance around the table, we got us a preacher who was using us to scout out the dregs of the ‘verse, a whole bunch of freaky religious types who fancied themselves a secret society of ancient warrior knights, a basement full of illegal guns, a bunch of criminals with a ship full of stolen platinum… hey, throw in a crazy mind-reading, time-seeing fugitive girl and her asshole doctor brother, a philosophizing mercenary, a jealous husband, and a whore and you got yourself a party. Mal glanced back at Zoe with a faint grin. And he was worrying on how a little innocent comfort-like touching might seem.
It didn’t pass Book’s notice that both Mal and Zoe waited for him to take a drink of the tea he’d poured out before tasting their own. They weren’t exactly subtle about it. While it did faintly amuse him, it also stung, and that surprised him. He’d grown accustomed to their trust.
When had things changed in how he looked upon them? Ah, yes… “It’s good to be home…” The captain had gone to a place he abjectly feared--an Alliance cruiser--to save Book’s life. Then he’d brought Book back home to Serenity and let him remain even with the hanging questions unanswered. Trust. Trust now in the balance. Oh, not that they genuinely thought he’d try to poison them, nor drug them—at least he believed so, uh… hoped so—but they were making a damnably clear statement to Book that Things Had Changed again between them.
While the other brothers settled into their seats, and the refreshments were served out, Book studied the tabletop, phrasing his own thoughts while he analyzed what Mal’s and Zoe’s must be.
“Captain. Zoe,” he said, low, to them. “Whatever happens here, you are free to go as, how, and when you wish. I have absolute trust in your discretion. And you have my word, no repercussions.”
The two shared one of those long, communicative looks of theirs. Almost telepathy between them, Book thought, as he watched them silently speak to each other. Such a long and thorough understanding, each of the other, that words were simply not needed many a time. And yet he now knew there were secrets they did hide from each other, and from themselves.
“All right, Preacher,” Mal answered for them. “We believe you.” He leaned back and sipped the tea more casually, though he still scanned the room with a tense wariness.
Zoe eased up her grip on the pistol, shifting in her seat to a less ‘ready for action’ stance. As she did so, Book noticed she moved her knee so it just barely came into contact with Mal’s leg. Mal gave a barely perceptible sigh and relaxed. “You lead, I’ve got your back,” is that how they had told the tale? Yes… Zoe ordering Mal to lead while she watched his back. Book smiled softly, the puzzle pieces of this pair suddenly slipping into place. Zoe ordered Mal to lead… So that’s how it worked. Zoe wasn’t a blind follower at all, never had been. She recognized and supported Mal’s strengths, while also recognizing and guarding against his vulnerabilities. I’ve got your back…
Book found himself studying Zoe more closely. Hmmm… she might not say a word, but Book suddenly knew that if Zoe went along with it, this little plan might just stand a chance of succeeding.
Simon gulped half his cup of tea before he noticed the little paranoia-play between Mal, Zoe, and Book. He glanced half-panicked into his cup, then he saw Mal and Zoe relax and drink their own. A year as a fugitive, a year on Serenity and Simon still didn’t possess a fraction of Mal’s and Zoe’s level of suspicion. He wouldn’t have lasted a week had he not stumbled into the path of these people, Simon decided.
But what, now, of Book?
Leaning back in the carved seat, Simon sipped his tea more slowly as he contemplated the situation. An intense conversation was taking place between Book, Mal, and Zoe. Naturally, Book appeared to be doing most of the talking while Mal put on a nefariously skeptical air and Zoe wore her blandly unconvinced, but deadly-if-the-wrong-thing-was-said, look. Yet, somehow, the unheard discussion must have struck some positive chord with that suspicious pair for the Captain noticeably relaxed—at least as much as was possible for him while surrounded by this many religious types—and Zoe finally eased her grip on the pistol, laying it on the table in front of her.
Good. Good, Simon thought, feeling his own tension level ease a touch.
And just as everything seemed to be settling into a sort of boardroom type of—well, ‘normalcy’ was a stretch, but at least a type of familiarity that Simon could embrace—a last Shepherd entered the room and the world turned cockeyed in an instant. Punctuating that instant came the loud click of the hammer of Zoe’s pistol.
Zoe’s hand didn’t hold the pistol. Stock still by the door, the late-to-arrive Shepherd stood gazing down the barrel held rock-steady in the captain’s hand, then up to his icy eyes. The Shepherd, Simon noted, did not appear shocked, nor even alarmed, to find himself on the business end of Mal’s gun. Instead it seemed to Simon he looked solemnly sad.
Breaking his eyes from the Shepherd, and the gun, Simon threw a sharp glance at the captain. In an instant the tension had rocketed to full altitude again. Serenity was such a misnomer, Simon thought with a sudden burst of dismay. Now what?!
With Zoe’s pistol in hand, the Captain got to his feet faster than Simon dreamed he could move in his condition. Dead-level aim—and Simon knew how dead-level Mal’s aim could be—square on the last of the Shepherds to enter the library chamber.
Frozen with his hand on the door handle, that Shepherd stared not at the gun menacing him, but at the Captain. Almost hurting his neck as he snapped back and forth between Mal and the Shepherd, Simon could see the Shepherd recognized death as a mere hair-trigger pull away. Even at that, the man looked utterly cool and unafraid. Simon’s gaze darted to Book. Were they all like that? What the good gorram… What the good gosh kind of preachers were these??
Or were they preachers at all? A shiver of doubt went down Simon’s spine.
A string of low cussing, half Chinese, half English, wholly threatening came out of Mal.
“Sir, are you crazy?” Zoe asked flat and low, staring up at him.
“Told me you were gonna be the judge of that,” Mal said evenly, the gun barrel never straying from the Shepherd. The Captain gave a slight jerk of his head, directing Zoe’s attention to the Shepherd in question.
Simon saw Zoe’s eyes go dark with the deadly look that reminded him she, too, was a survivor of Serenity. The other Serenity. The one that scarred deep and forever. If anything the look she fixed on the Shepherd at the end of Mal’s gun barrel was even deadlier than the Captain’s. Deadlier in a far more frightening way.
“You ain’t crazy,” Zoe announced after a span of about five breaths, each obviously forced into evenness.
“If’n you wanna do him slow, I’ll just hobble him a touch,” Mal said. The gun barrel twitched slightly. The doomed Shepherd didn’t so much as flinch.
Like all the others around the table, Simon didn’t move; couldn’t move.
“You won’t kill him, Captain,” a calm voice inserted. Book. It was then Simon managed to focus enough to notice Book appeared utterly unperturbed by the sudden dangerous turn of events. He took a sip of his tea and Simon saw it was with genuine calm, not forced.
Mal didn’t turn from his target yet Simon knew he managed to look at Book at the same time. A warrior skill, Simon decided. “You aimin’ to stop me somehow?” Mal demanded.
“No,” Book said. “But you’re not going to kill him. Zoe isn’t either,” he qualified, “certainly not before you know why he’s appeared at this little gathering.”
Gorramit! The preacher was right. Mal reckoned he weren’t likely to kill this demon in a Shepherd suit outright. At least not until he knew the whys and wherefores of this pile of 狗屎 being at this creepy conclave.
Gesturing with the gun barrel, Mal waved the evil Shepherd to the open seat opposite him. “Sit. Hands flat on the table,” he ordered. Carefully, he eased back down into his own chair. Doc’s drugs and their aftermath had him more than a mite unsteady still. Without losing aim, Mal handed the pistol back to Zoe.
“Talk,” Mal snarled.
A grim smile twitched the Shepherd’s face. “Nice to see you again,” he commented dryly.
“Can’t say the same,” Mal countered. He flicked the briefest of glances at Book. “Care to explain what this… this…” There just weren’t words in the ‘Verse strong enough to say it. Mal filled the gap with gritted teeth and radiated hatred. “… is doing here? And just why it is you are so gorram unsurprised by this development.”
A semi-babbling insert from Simon asked the questions more clearly. “What…?!” Who…?!”
Book began, “Brother Sand…”
“Sand,” Mal cut him off sharply. “As in ‘sinking sand’.”
“Why, yes,” Book answered, raising an eyebrow with a touch of surprise.
“Hmph,” Mal said, rolling his eyes. “Fitin’. On account of he’s going down.”
After giving him a long, disapproving look, Book went on, “Brother Sand came to our Order, as many did, from other lives. Lives we’ve chosen to leave behind. Our belief in forgiveness…”
Leaning forward toward Book to emphasize his words, Mal said, “This 他妈的 混蛋 ain’t left nothin’ behind. Ain’t leaving nothin’ behind. And I don’t believe in forgiveness. Not no more. Not for his kind. You and your creepy lot of secret society preachers can try what you want against us, but that one—” He jabbed his finger at the ‘Shepherd’ “–is not leaving this room alive.”
Very softly, in a voice meant for Mal’s ears only, Book asked, “Then why haven’t you already killed him?” Mal flicked a sideways glance at him. Louder, Book challenged, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God; to draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know that they are doing evil.”
“What…?” Simon inserted again.
A wicked smile crept over Mal’s face. “Best you back up a chapter there, Preacher.”
“You started in with the Bible quoting, so you do it right,” Mal said. “You quote at ‘em a chapter earlier. Go on,” he nudged. “Chapter four, and give ‘em the first three verses.”
Book shook his head with sad dismay, but Mal thought he saw that perverse twinkle of humor in the man’s eyes yet again. “All right, Captain,” Book relented. He quoted, “Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power… And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive.”
“Ain’t that the plain truth,” Zoe whispered.
Finally Mal saw a reaction in this evil excuse for a Shepherd sitting across from him. “Strike a nerve, there?” Mal asked.
“We were following orders.” The evil Shepherd finally spoke.
“What…?” Simon tried again. Mal cast a quick glance at him. None of the other Shepherdy types seemed to be in doubt as to the nature of this little confrontation. They all just waited patiently. Patiently… sure. Mal recognized that type of patience. He’d seen it on battlefields.
“That Shepherd, Doctor” Mal grated, shooting a glance at Simon, “was one of the Fed guards at that prison they locked us up in after Serenity Valley. That Shepherd hisownself, with those oh-so-holy hands of his pulled the trap to drop a young… a little gal…” Why couldn’t he finish the sentence?
Ever steady, Zoe finished for him. “They hanged a young woman, a private, shortly before they finally released us. On the anniversary of Serenity.” Still in a monotone, but measurably more icy, Zoe added, “This one did it. And he looked us straight in the eye when he pulled the lever that ended that girl’s life.”
The 混蛋 had the grace to drop his eyes and shift uncomfortably. Mal and Zoe stared at him, waiting. Finally, he spoke, “There comes to some a moment that changes their life. Changes their heart and soul. I think you understand that. Understand what it is to come to such a point.”
Mal didn’t even blink in acknowledgement. Gorram right he knew. He’d chit-chatted with Book the past couple days about such very things. If this demon in Shepherd’s clothes believed Mal or Zoe would be swayed by the notion he was a changed man… well, he had bigger problems than just deluding himself about God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Mal said nothing. Zoe said nothing. Book said nothing. Simon twitched but said nothing, though Mal could see he was itching to stick his two coppers worth in.
The silence gnawed at the ex-Fed Shepherd, Mal saw with a hint of satisfaction. He only wished he could make the 混蛋 squirm in misery as long as he’d done the same to them and theirs.
The evil Shepherd said, defensiveness crawling into his tone, “That girl was caught red-handed and you know it.”
The silence thickened in the chamber.
“We had no choice,” he said. “We had to hang her.”
Mal only stared.
The defensiveness appeared to crumple and the Shepherd said in a lower voice, “That was my moment of change. My moment of realizing I couldn’t be what I was any longer.”
“Saw the light then, didya?” Mal asked in a flat, black way.
He looked up at Mal. “You don’t know it, Sergeant—“ His eyes flicked to Zoe and the unwavering pistol barrel. “—and you, Private, but we had the two of you dead-to-rights too. I figured you had an escape route—the one you just used to get back in to the Blue Sun treasury—and I also figured you two for that guard that went missing. I knew what he’d done to you, Private,” he glanced at Zoe, “and so I covered up what I suspected, what I knew, as best I could.” He leaned forward. “I was a changed man after that day.” He fell silent.
Mal let the silence hang a long moment. He blinked once.
“You done speakin’ your piece?” Mal asked.
Plainly confused by Mal’s continued coldness, the evil Shepherd nodded.
“Good, on account of I was getting weary of listening,” Mal said. “You got any final prayers you want to say, you say ‘em quick. Zoe…”
Simon burst in with, “For God’s sake, Mal! You can’t shoot a Shepherd!”
Mal threw a brief, dark glance at Simon. “That ain’t no Shepherd.” Turning toward Zoe, Mal spat, “Shoot him.”
Only two jerked at the gun’s report, Simon, and the now-corpse-that-had-been-a-Shepherd.
Taking in the stony faces of the other Shepherds around the table, Mal turned to Simon’s shocked (but not as shocked as he would have been six months ago) expression, to Zoe’s grim but contained look, to Shepherd Book gazing up at him, Mal asked, “So, still want us in your little club?”
Wednesday, October 12, 2005 8:59 AM
Wednesday, October 12, 2005 10:42 AM
Wednesday, October 12, 2005 11:53 AM
Thursday, October 13, 2005 2:35 AM
Thursday, October 13, 2005 7:33 AM
Monday, October 17, 2005 2:13 PM
Wednesday, October 19, 2005 11:11 AM
Thursday, November 10, 2005 7:45 AM
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