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Deep Waters Run Deeper, Chapter 14: Between the Covers, Pt.1
Friday, October 21, 2005

An open-ended adventure. Chapter 14: In which much is said of Shepherd Book's past, which refuses to stay behind him where it belongs (1 of 2)


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His stay with the Brothers of Heavenly Silence had been good for him. Not pleasurable, perhaps, but certainly good. The Brothers had quite different ideas about the details of the dogma of their faith than he did, but it was amazing how much a vow of silence could do to stave off arguments. He supposed there was a lesson in that. Shepherd Book had been glad of the opportunity to spend an extended period of time among his more spiritually inclined brethren. The crew and his fellow passengers on board Serenity were all fine people—or rather, most of them were fine people most of the time—but spiritual, they were not. The truth was that Book was coming to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh a bit too much for his liking. Not the literal sexual act, of course—he hadn’t fallen that far from his oaths. But as for other worldly experiences… He had taken great pleasure in freeing a ship full of poor souls that were being bartered as slaves, but more than that, he had taken pleasure in the *act* of freeing them. In the violence of it. And there *was* a reason he had turned to God and to a less worldly path. Even if he had let himself be convinced to give up his quiet life at the abbey, he would not give up the redemption and the peace of mind he had found there. He could never let things become as bad as they had been before that again. Sometimes he still wondered if had not gotten on the wrong ship that fateful day. He had felt it in his soul, looking upon Serenity for the first time on the Eavesdown Docks on Persephone—that had been his last chance to turn back, to return to the abbey and live out his life in the peace he’d found. But knowing the evil being done in the ‘Verse, what kind of Christian would he have been if he’d turned his back on it? Not his kind of Christian, he could make sure of that.

16 MONTHS AGO

The strawberries. They were coming along particularly nicely this year. He’d pick the first ones in a few days time, and treat his brethren to a feast. A smile spread across Book’s face as a memory suddenly surfaced in his mind. Almost a year ago to the day, after the first strawberries of that season, Brother Devon had chastised him, saying that his vegetable garden was the only thing that kept him from a vow of abstinence. It had been a joke, of course—the brothers here understood that God’s bounty had been given to them to enjoy, not to waste. “Brother Book?” Careful not to damage any of his plants, Book stood up, and brushed the earth from his hands. “Yes, Brother Luxor?” He was wary. The disapproving tone in Brother Luxor’s voice was well-hidden, but Book’s old talents still served him well. “You have a visitor, Brother.” Frowning, Book nodded his thanks to his fellow shepherd, and made his way towards the abbey’s entry hall. Who would visit him here? Who would even *know* to visit him here? Then he pushed open the large wooden door of the hall, and he knew. Of course. “Agent Poole.” “Supervisor Poole these days. Now now,” the man said, apparently still able to read the danger in Book’s eyes, “no violence. This is a house of God.” “And since when have *you* believed in any sort of God, Poole?” “Longer than you have, I dare say. The difference is, my God wants me to do something about the sinful world we live in. *He* never shirked methods that seemed harsh to the innocent, so why should we?” “And since every human being alive was born of Eve’s mortal sin, you are free to kill any of them as you please?” The two men glared at each other across the hall. They had been on the same side, once. Worked for the same people. But they had both changed since then, and only one for the better. “I have a job for you,” Poole said finally. “It seems unlike you to waste a trip like this.” “Not my idea. You’re the best we have still among the living, Pitbull.” “Don’t call me that!” “Whatever you wish. These are orders from on high. I told you a long time ago that no one ever quits the AIB.” “Why am I the best?” “Our primary mandate is to find and put a stop to governmental corruption, Pi… Book. We’ve barely had enough funding from Parliament to pay our electricity bill for years, let alone train any new agents. We have no operatives to carry out our mission, and we haven’t uncovered any scandals big enough to demand respect and attention for years. *This*”—and he held up a palmtop—“this is potentially the answer to both those problems. Do this mission for us, and it’ll never cross our minds again to ask has-beens like yourself for help.” It was more the fanatical gleam in Poole’s eyes than anything else that convinced Book to hear him out. Too many people that hadn’t had to die had already died because of that gleam. “Tell me more,” he said. And Poole did. He told him about the Blue Sun, about the Academy, about the Prodigy program. And he told him about River Tam.

NOW

The others wouldn’t be there, of course—the overhaul was maybe half completed, and the captain and Jayne were still off into the black, for that matter. But Book had learned to appreciate things not for their intrinsic worth, but for what they were to him. Serenity, as much as any place had ever been to him, was home, and even in the true serenity among the Brothers of Heavenly Silence, he had missed her. He would just take a look around inside to see how the work was progressing—perhaps, if the state of the ship allowed for it, spend the night in his own bunk—and then he’d see if he could find the others to share in some of their ideas of rest and relaxation. Kaylee had insisted that he’d come, and as Book had learned, few people could refuse Kaylee anything. Walking into the dry-dock, Book found the cargo bay door of the ship wide open. Someone must still be at work inside, even at that late hour. If it *was* a mechanic. Something felt off the moment he stepped on board. There was a tension in the air—nothing concrete, but enough to alert his well-honed instincts. Silent as the grave, Book put aside his duffel bag with his laundry and his books, and very carefully made his way further into the ship. It saddened him when he caught himself thinking that he wished he had a weapon. But that didn’t make him wish it less. The scream that suddenly rang out from upstairs didn’t help much either.

THREE YEARS AGO

“You *what!?*” Poole demanded. “I quit,” he told him again. “It’s really not that difficult a concept. Nor can it be much of a surprise.” “Do you honestly think the Bureau is just going to let their top agent go? Nobody quits our job.” “And why is that?” Poole paused to look at him. “You know gorram well why. Because we don’t let them. We all know too much. Remember Kittering? He wanted to quit. Grew some morals, like you have been doing, and said he was out. As I recall, he was so ‘out’ that he vanished from the ‘Verse before he even made it back to his apartment that night.” “I know all about Kittering. I was assigned to handle his termination.” That shut Poole up for a minute. “I… That I didn’t know. You’ve had access to files ten times as sensitive as anything Kittering handled—how on Earth-That-Was do you think this is a good idea, then?” “How? Because, as you said, like Kittering, I have ‘grown some morals.’ I have found something that I can still believe in. Something above our world of abominations, of higher goods that turn out to be the ambitions on men as degraded as we are…” “Skip the sermon, *shepherd.* Just answer the question.” He sighed. “Very well, then. I believe I can get away with this because unlike Kittering, I have not let my morals get in the way of my training. Think, Poole. I’ve had access to files ten times as sensitive as anything Kittering handled. If anything happens to me…” “You *niou-fun se duh doo-gway!*” “Goodbye, Poole. May you live in interesting times, and may they be kept far away from me.” “Don’t you walk out of this office! Don’t you *dare!*” And yet, somehow, he dared.

NOW

The years had not neglected to leave their mark on him. Book was no longer the man who snuck in and out of a Browncoat encampment on Battle Alert without them ever being the wiser. But where his body might begin to weaken, his mind was still sharp, and clearer than it had ever been during the war. It was enough to get him in close-by. That, and he had the screams to cover his approach, that also helped. It wasn’t so loud now, hardly more than moaning, but it was still more than enough to cover any sound that Book made. He nearly ruined it all then, but he managed to clamp shut his lips before his curse managed to escape them. His mind raced as he ducked back to full cover. He’d seen who he was facing. Or, perhaps more accurately, he’d seen *what* he was facing. The Blue Sun. Over half his cases at the AIB after the war had involved them. It was only logical, as the corporation ran just about half of the Alliance government. But even the AIB had never yet been able to force the Blue Sun Corp. to officially acknowledge the existence of these men, the blue gloves wearing Specialists. They rarely left traces of themselves, no matter what or who had to disappear in their wake. Book himself had only seen any of them in action once.

FIVE YEARS AGO

“Hey, Pitbull! Weren’t you going to stop smoking?” He held up his hand to Bolton, the cigarette sticking out straight up between his fingers, as if he was giving him the finger. Bolton laughed, and he lit the cigarette. “After this one,” he said. The prisoners were still all securely cuffed in the office room behind them when he checked for the twelfth time in as many minutes. He wished they could have just moved them to a secure location—their easy surrender didn’t sit well with him at all. “Brings back memories, doesn’t it?” Bolton said. “What?” “Browncoats. Bring back memories of the war. I bet you don’t see this sort of action a lot since you jumped ship to the suits. ‘Allied Intelligence Bureau.’ Fighting Whitecollars instead of Browncoats now, aren’t you.” “You’d be surprised,” he said. His work for the AIB was often as nasty and violent as the war had ever been. “Besides,” he went on, “it’s not like we so all that much action on this assignment.” That bothered him. So there was a group of Browncoat terrorists, still fighting their war, striking at civilians now that they were denied a clear battlefield. They claimed they had information about the Allied government that would bring it crashing down, which sounded like talk of corruption, so Bolton’s military were paired up with his Intelligence to handle them. Bolton shrugged. “Independents’ve always been pansies and amateurs. They knew they could never take us.” He didn’t say anything, but in his experience, Browncoats had a tendency not to give up if they were facing an oncoming battalion with their last bullet. So why had they surrendered so easily now, when their strike team had moved in? As Bolton said, the Browncoats couldn’t have won, but they could have caused a lot of damage going down. He had a sneaking fear that they had felt that the information they carried while still alive was worth more than their pride. For once, he was not looking forward to the interrogation and what he’d find out. A good thing, then, that they had been ordered to hold until a third department arrived, that of Health. There had been no threat of chemical weapons that he knew of, but then, he knew that he would not know everything. He didn’t need to. “Gentlemen.” To men stepped up to them, and flashed a Health Department badge. “We’ll need a word with your prisoners before they’re moved anywhere.” He nodded his assent, but not gladly. He was trained to read people, and there was something off about these two—more than just the strange, bright blue gloves they wore with their neat black suits. Still, they seemed extraordinarily calm and in control, so at least they weren’t likely to fly off the handle. They shut the door behind them. “Weird blokes, don’t you think?” Bolton added helpfully. “Gah!” Without warning, his head suddenly throbbed with a stabbing pain right behind his eyes. For a moment, he thought it was the lack of sleep of the last week hitting him, but then he realized that his wince and groaned were being echoed by Bolton on the other side of the door. What was happening? He tried to think, but his thoughts just felt like razorblades in his head. Was that screaming? And just as unexpectedly as it began, it was suddenly over, leaving only a faint, dull ache. He looked over at Bolton, but the man didn’t seem to have noticed that they had both experienced the same pain. He was rubbing his temples and cursing under his breath. He was about to ask Bolton if he’d heard the scream when the door to the office opened again, and the two men stepped outside. They looked grim, although not quite grim enough to convince him. “Your prisoners have committed suicide,” one of them said. “Apparently, your did not search them for suicide capsule, or certainly not thoroughly enough. You will be reprimanded.” Stunned, he looked inside the office. It was true—the prisoners were all dead, blood dripping from their eyes, ears and noses. Blood? From their eyes, ears and noses? Quickly, he ducked back out of the office, but the Health Department men were already walking away. This made no sense. *Something* had happened in that office. But he’d be gorrammed if he knew what.

--------------------------------------------------------------- New chapters (almost) weekly--now previewing on www.BattleOfSerenity.tk, Chapter 15: Internal Affairs. (Chapter 14: Between the Covers, Pt.2 now available elsewhere in the Blue Sun Room.)

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