BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

SCREWTHEALLIANCE

The Treasure of Lei Fong Wu -- Chapter Twenty-Eight
Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Mal tries to pick up this hot little brunette in a bar . . . hilarity ensues.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3472    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

The Treasure of Lei Fong Wu

Chapter Twenty-Eight

The patient was lying handcuffed to the hospital bed, a tracking anklet already snapped around his left ankle. Julian stood at the foot of his bed and shook his head sadly for ten minutes before he spoke one word. When he did, the word was telling. “Idiot,” he swore as he began to pace. He looked up, and there was little reaction. Of course, any reaction would be hard to gauge. The man’s jaw was covered in reconstructive monofilament, knitting the shards of bone that used to be his face back together. In three weeks he’d look – more or less – the way he did before today. They had good doctors here, for a frontier world. His right wrist was in a more old-fashioned splint. The man – Corporal Newton Jaeger, Alliance Special Operations, Retired – was on morphine, of course. He was lucid, but just barely. Julian hated that. He wanted Jaeger awake for the chewing out he was about to give him. “You stupid son-of-a-bitch,” Julian said, disgusted. “Cao ni zou zong shi ba dai! I give you a second gorram chance after the crap you pulled on Hera, and you do this . . . you go and do about the stupidest thing you possibly could. Gan ni lao shi. You tipped them off, when I had people in place to deal with it. You were running surveillance, asswipe – surveillance, not apprehension!” Jaeger flinched, and the keyboard the doctors had placed under his left hand clicked a little. The screen above his bed went blue, and white letters appeared. Tap tap. Sorry. “You sure as hell are sorry,” Julian said, in a low, dangerous voice dripping with contempt. “Sorriest piece of shabi go se . . . but we’ll get to that later. “You got a positive ID. I got that much before you went apeshit. You were ordered to maintain your distance and wait for backup – I know that much. Where it gets fuzzy to me is where you seem to have forgotten that order thirty seconds after you got it, you burst into a shoe shop brandishing a weapon with no appropriate credentials, violating the secrecy of the entire operation and alerting the subjects that we were in the area. That’s where it gets fuzzy.” Tap tap. Sorry! “Shut up,” Julian snapped. “I want to know how two young girls, who were apparently unarmed except for a pair of black leather heels, managed to crush your wrist and turn your face into a convenient sack to hold the pieces of your jaw in.” Tap tap. There was a man. “That’s what the shopkeeper said. A Chinese man, young. Armed with a stick.” Tap tap. It was a bat. Cricket? “Baseball, actually. Any idea who he might be?” Tap tap. Didn’t see his face. “You’re telling me he crushed your jaw and broke your wrist . . . from behind you?” Julian asked incredulously. Tap tap. I blacked out. “Really,” Julian said with icy sarcasm. “So you can’t tell me anything of value except that you’re too stupid to follow simple directions? Hell of a time to tell me that. I wished I had known that before you signed your gorram contract. A dozen kids on Hera would be alive today if I had known that. And you wouldn’t be in a hospital with your face looking like a sack of marbles. You’d be safe and sound as a night security guard in some gorram warehouse full of dog food or discount underwear, where the only threat to your welfare would be the very real possibility of shooting yourself in your gorram foot!” Tap tap. I know something! “You don’t know shit,” Julian spat. Tap tap. I do! She knew! Julian sighed. “Okay. I’ll bite. She knew what?” Tap tap. About Hera. She knew about Hera. That didn’t make sense. “How the hell could she know about that? The only people who knew you were such a murdering chou wang ba dan are on our team. Or on Hera, wondering how come they sent their baby off to school one morning in a sweater and they came home in a gorram pine box!” Tap tap. She knew! I swear! She said something about it! Julian paused. “How could she know that? There ain’t no way. How?” he asked, his mind racing. If true, the implications of that were . . . troubling. Tap tap. Don’t know. She said Hera, said I killed kids. Said I had to pay their moms. Julian’s mind worked furiously with the implications of that. The Hera affair had been hushed up tight: the right people had been paid off, and it had been kept almost completely out of the media. If River Tam knew about it enough to know that Jaeger was the one who had personally made the payments . . . “You know what that means, Jaeger?” Julian said. “That means we got a leak in our operation. That means that they not only know we’re here, now, they gotta know who we are – and I ain’t talking our gorram corporate mission statement. If she really does know about your little faux pas on Hera, then she’s gotta know our gorram personnel files, our gorram classified case files, everything. Which means they know about our government work, and no one is supposed to know that. Which means she knows about our lucrative corporate work. Which means we’re in a world of go se.” He let the man tap out a response while he thought furiously – where was that leak? If the Tams knew about his operation to that level of detail . . . they were in deep, deep go se. He and his people had been involved in a decades worth of covert shenanigans, everything from extra-judicial killings, subverting local governments, kidnapping, and that whole supersecret Pax project that was a death sentence even to speak about. Their Blue Sun and Carlton contracts alone would be enough to see them all hang – and that was their bread-and-butter. He shuddered at the thought of an outsider having intimate knowledge of their work. But how? Only he and Sinclair had full access to those files. They were buried so deep in their system that you needed six separate identity checks to access. The hardware was stand-alone secure aboard their ship. To be able to access that . . . well, that bespoke a level of competency and technical accomplishment that was unimaginable. The Tams, he was starting to realize, weren’t your average run-of-the-mill villains. A genius doctor. A teenaged super-genius researcher whose file was coded black, so secret only Members of Parliament and their Operatives had complete access. A disaffected Browncoat smuggler. An outlaw Imperial warlord-turned-crime boss. And lots of money. And now, to keep things interesting, now there was this unprecedented access to his secret, personal files and God knew what else. What the hell were they planning? When his men had interviewed the cops on Wuhan, they had mentioned a bank robbery on Xiao – that was a feint, of course. Instead, the warlord’s ship had led an Alliance task-force on a merry chase through the backwoods of the ‘verse, disappearing somewhere on the other side of the Boros. Yet the warlord was believed to be here – when it was known for a fact by the Alliance’s best people that he was on his ship. The damn Firefly had made a stop on Madonna, he’d found out yesterday. Owned by a mining corp. Was this a gambit on the part of one of the big corporations? Blue Sun was into the Tams up to their eyeballs – was this all part of a research defection from one corp to the other? Or was it something more . . . sinister? He was starting to lean towards the latter. As much as he would like to believe that the Tams were simply fishing for a better deal than they got from the Alliance, that didn’t fit the facts he had. Not now. Because if the Tam’s gang had access to his files, they could theoretically have access to any secret file in the gorram ‘verse. Which gave them power the likes of which hadn’t been known since the days of the Great Captains of the Exodus Ships. Millions could live or die on a whim, with that power. Governments could collapse. Civilizations could fall. And since the Tams were associating with rebels and renegades, he had to expect the worst. He considered calling for backup, turning over everything he had to the Alliance, let them sort it out. But he didn’t trust them to handle this properly. With all their resources, they were still a bureaucracy. Even if they assigned an Operative – or several – it would take them months to get up to speed. And right now he was sitting not three miles from the greatest threat to civilization in the ‘verse. He would handle it. That’s why he had put together his team, built his organization. They were the best of the best, men with superior skills across the baord. He had spared no expense to get the best – the elite, in all their fields – and the best was what he had at his command. Every one of his men had earned their lucrative place on his team, and all of them could be relied on utterly. With one exception. “Jaeger,” Julian said slowly, “I’ve decided the firm is going to pay for your medical expenses on this, despite your screw up.” Tap tap. Thank you! “But I can’t have this kind of incompetence on my team. You’re a decent tactical operative, Jaeger, don’t get me wrong. You took some initiative, and I can appreciate the value of that. But you have crappy instincts, a reactionary outlook, and a casual disregard for authority that makes you a danger to your team and my organization. I give everyone a chance to screw up. You had yours on Hera. And that screw-up put you in debt to the company close to a million. If you had succeeded here – well, we’d be having a whole different conversation. But you didn’t, and you probably blew our whole op. “So you’re sacked. I’ve sold your debt and contract to a local company – at a loss, mind – which translates into a sixteen-year indenture. After you heal the company will take possession of you. You’ll get tattooed, processed, and put to work – probably something disgusting and back-breaking, I’m sure. Dangerous, too. They won’t let a strong buck like you go to waste.” Frantic tap tap. Wait! No! Sorry! Another chance! “No, I’m sorry,” Julian sighed. “I gave you another chance. I’ll have your paperwork sent over this afternoon. I’d do it myself, but because of your incompetence I’m going to have to try to salvage the op and clean up your mess. Wish it could have worked out, Jaeger.” As he turned and walked away, the blue screen above the bed was flashing, complete with an attention-getting audio signal, over and over. The sound of the tapping keys was desperate, and accompanied by pathetic whimpering from the broken man’s throat. Julian spared one glance over his shoulder before he left the hall. Jaeger’s eyes were filled with hopelessness and tears. The blue screen was throbbing. Tap tap. PLEASE!! Tap Tap. PLEASE!! TAP TAP. PLEASE!!! “Dumb son-of-a-bitch,” Julian murmured to himself before snapping open his phone. “Lewis. Get your team ready. We’re going to have to accelerate things.”

*

*

*

Inara sat in booth in the corner of the club, meeting her potential clients one at a time for ten minutes, the time kept by an ornate hourglass in the center of a table next to a sweetly scented Unity Candle and one of the local wines. It wasn’t unusual for a Companion to interview, of course – before anyone could be entered into the Registry, they had to undergo an interview by a qualified Companion and present their medical record. Some Companions even required their clients to submit to personality tests of one sort or another – Inara preferred to trust her intuition and ability to “read” clients, rather than rely on an objective test. There were some things that tests wouldn’t reveal, but five minutes of conversation would. The gentleman before her was a good example. Sir Lucas Tremayne, a local aristocrat (Knight of the Steward’s Order of Salisbury, his calling card read) who owned a large cocoa plantation eighty miles north of Lincoln, among other interests. Fifty-two years old, robust, good health, impeccable breeding, educated on Ariel, and a prominent business leader. Unmarried. Not likely to be married until he needed an heir. Everything about his record said yes, yes, yes. But . . . In the first two minutes of conversation, Inara discovered that he had a strong dislike of everything Asian – one reason he had chosen here to settle, and this bar in particular to frequent. There was virtually no trace of Chinese, Indian, Tibetan, or other Asian culture here. The signs alone had tiny Chinese subtitles. He was a bigot, an arrogant, sexist letch who saw women as vehicles for his own pleasure and occasional birth canals, nothing more. By the time five minutes had passed, he had confirmed his status by bragging about the six indentured girls who worked his plantation that he knew for a fact carried his bastards. He was not even particularly lusty – a quality Inara could appreciate – but cared for sex only for the power it gave him over those in his control. Inara chatted politely, smiled a lot, and told him that she would consider and let him know when she might become available. Or the dashing young Eric Clydesdale, a solicitor who worked for the Steward’s office, who was very handsome, very well-off, extremely charming, impeccably dressed – and thoroughly sly, to her practiced eye. Yet he would never admit his attraction to men, likely because of some father issues or religious guilt. He sought out Inara, she realized, because of her glamour, not out of any real desire to be with her sexually. Doubtless he would perform in bed, perhaps even do a credible job, but his heart would not be in it. She might keep him in mind for a non-sexual rendezvous, though, if he was amenable. He had kind eyes and a gentle humor she found enchanting. Or Nathaniel “Nate” Kane, a local mercantile agent who vainly tried to hide his wedding band. He was a likeable man who hid his Rim-world drawl admirably behind the derivative Core-world accent in favor among the Salisbury gentry. He was a veteran, she guessed, but not an officer: a non-com, and she doubted he had worn purple during the war. Very serious, prone to temper, she saw, and parts of his psyche were hopelessly tangled by the War. She wished she could help him. Many, many men in uniform suffered from that affliction, and it was one of the most important ancient functions of a Companion: assisting the Warrior in the transition from the brutal horror of war to the gentle needs of a peaceful life among civilized folk. It was the most direct application of her feminine power, her Caritas. Some Companions even made it a specialty, catering exclusively to the military. It was a challenge, getting behind the walls of insensitivity necessitated by military training and providing emotional relief for a man in profound pain from the trauma of loss and specter of his own mortality. It was doubly so if the man’s side in the conflict was not victorious – and Inara could detect enough of that in Nate’s voice to decide with whom he had served – but sometimes victory, too, brought problems. Pain and guilt and shame from the atrocities imposed by warfare. To untangle that knot could take years, if left unquenched by loving Caritas. A man’s mind could harden into vitrified inflexibility, condemning him to a life of suppressed emotion that was a daily torture for him and all who loved him. It could leave him emotionally stunted, spiritually crippled, and often made coming home from war impossible: he would bring the shade of war back with him and live with it every day of his life. His family and friends would know he had changed, but would not realize that he was damaged. They would assume that he was relieved that he survived when he was guilt-stricken for that very reason. They would wonder at his insensitivity and inability to engage in intimacy, and blame it on military discipline and a “worldliness” one acquired in military service. What the actual trouble was, though, was an incomplete transition. There was no time or space for him to alter his psyche from that of an obedient killer to that of a loving husband and father. One day he’s out in a field on some nameless moon, shooting at the enemy and fighting for survival, and the next he’s applying for a job and expected to be proud of what he had done. Some gifted individuals would find a way on their own, of course. Their psychological journey might include several cycles of painful expression, wherein they would communicate their pain through art, or hard work, or sheer force of will. In many cases they would turn to chemicals to numb the pain, hempflower, alcohol, drops . . . if they were fortunate they would find a way out of the dark place. In extreme cases they would be utterly incapable of the transition, and return to the life of violence and chaos they couldn’t leave behind. If they were lucky, they would do so far from their homes. If they were not, then tragedy often ensued. Healing the warrior was an intense, time-consuming process for a Companion. She offered her sexuality in sacrifice to his rage and pain. In the beginning, the journey was passionately sexual and physically demanding. A warrior fresh from battle sees no humanity around him, he sees only foes and the spoils of victory. The Companion must endure his verbal and physical assaults, be willing to abide crude language, rough play and unrefined attitudes until he had spent his emotional energy on raw sexual heat. She gradually took the flame of his embattled soul, bit by bit, and tempered it with the heat between her thighs. She used the cauldron of her vagina to transmute his rage back into passion in an ancient alchemy of love and lust. Then she quenched his soul with the soft water of Caritas – the unconditional love expressed by a mother to a child, reflected in adulthood as the passionate grace a woman bestowed upon a man by her favor. To many women, untrained in the Arts, the needs of lovers who had never been to war were misunderstood and callously handled through their ignorance. They chalked up the implicit difficulties in male/female sexual relationships to the simplistic idea that “men never grow up”, and never progressed from there. They despaired of a man needing her to be his “mommy” when he most needed to be a man, not realizing that it was her love, her Caritas, her unconditional approval and acceptance which enabled his strength. They dismissed their gross misunderstanding of male sexuality by decrying men as insensitive sexual beasts, motivated only by brutish lust and untouched by reason or love. Those poor, untrained and ignorant women had not realized that nearly every man needs the regular application of Caritas in order to feel whole, to feel loving, to be able to feel anything but rage and frustration. They rarely realized that they even had that vital, precious power, much less how to artfully wield it. Instead, they held their sexuality like a crude club, ignoring their own vital needs for healthy sexual expression and using men’s desires as leverage, as a threat, as a bargaining chip in the interplay of a relationship to get what they wanted. Some ignorant few even denied their husbands or lovers out of spite, or out of their own frustration with their relationship, not realizing that a properly nurtured and fulfilled man could well provide the strength, gentleness, and caring that they needed. That punished both of them for the sin of ignorance, and turned many a happy union into a seething hell of emotional despair. And that was just civilian life. The needs of the Warrior were yet more profound. There were few women who understood their role in his return implicitly, without Companion training. There were fewer still who could naturally give so freely of themselves so often, to ease the emotional journey back to a peaceful home with the soft landing of her breasts. The Companions who specialized in such clients were incredibly strong women who had committed themselves to the process, which often took months and was emotionally and physically demanding. But the reward was as profound as the challenge: for a man newly returned from battle and successfully brought back into peaceful family life in this way often brought back the strength forged in war and the mature wisdom of the warrior. Those were rare and special gifts to his family. No, she could not help Nate. She had not the time, energy, nor the strength to do so. But she didn’t think she needed to. He had a woman, she could see, though he hid his ring, a woman who cared for him deeply. She was working loose that knot, a little more every day. He had a child, she could see, for he possessed the maturity that only fatherhood brings. And he had the glow of expectation that made her think his woman might well be pregnant again. She spoke to him kindly, laughed at his jokes, fed his ego without damaging his pride, and when the last grain of sand fell she bade him farewell with a kiss on the cheek. He was surprised at that – a dash of tenderness from someone she knew he considered a cold-hearted businesswoman. But the Returned Warrior needed occasional ego stroking like that, from someone other than his wife. It re-affirmed his desirability and strengthened his self-esteem, which empowered him to strive that much more earnestly, and cleave that much harder to the woman he knew loved him. It was a little thing, but a man so wounded was deserving of a little respect, a token of love from an acknowledged mistress of the Art. And it was her welcomed duty as a priestess in the temple of Caritas. She made a note on the sheet in front of her and awaited her next interview. A burly hand stretched out and flipped the hourglass, and he flopped down into the chair and proceeded to sprawl lazily. “Hey, gorgeous, you come here often?” came a familiar voice. “You!” Her heart sank, then leapt, and then sank again. “Oh, go se. Mal, what the hell are you doing here?” she demanded in a harsh whisper, her shoulders tensing. “Careful, now, little muffin, don’t scare away the customers!” he chided with a grin. “You invited me to stop by, remember?” “Since when do you ever listen to me?” she asked in exasperation, plastering a fake smile on her face to keep the other interviewees from getting the wrong idea. “To be truthsome, toothsome, pretty much only when I feel like it,” he admitted. “But I figgered, ‘hey, how often do you get to watch a seasoned pro at work?’” he shrugged. Then he leaned forward. “Am I coming on too strong?” he asked in a stage whisper. “Look,” she said, her face smiling but her eyes shooting lasers, “this world is virgin territory—” “Been a while since you seen that, I s’pose!” he quipped. “Shut up!” she hissed. “This place is so far from the Core that I’m the first Companion that’s ever been here. A lot of potential clients. You hump this up for me and sohelpme—!” “Calm down, Ambassador, I’m just along for the ride. Just want to have the same opportunity as these other fellas, chat up the new bird, try to get some play . . .” “I don’t service crew, remember?” she stabbed back. “We ain’t on the ship,” he reminded her. “Hey, I just want to go through the process. Get on the Big List of Wealthy Boners. Might could take one o’ your spiritual sisters for a spin some day . . .” This could get embarrassing, she knew. Best to appease him on this one little joke than to risk her professional reputation before it had even gotten established here. “On one condition . . .” she said, iron in her voice, after due consideration. The lasers didn’t leave. “What?” “We can play the game – it might even prove entertaining, in a pathetic sort of way. But you use . . . that word . . . even once, then I jump up and start screaming, and every sword in here’s going to get drawn.” “Well,” Mal said, rubbing his chin, “since you sweet-talked me, I guess I can agree to that.” “Fine,” she said, acidly. “Name, occupation . . . income, or lack thereof, I know these things. Let’s start with . . . your preferred style.” “Like to leave my boots on, if it’s all the same to you.” “‘Brutish,’” she noted on the sheet. “Any preferences for music, literature, or the arts?” “Hmmm. I am partial to the works of Monet, Mozart, and Mao,” he decided. “Mal,” she said with exasperation, “you don’t even know what the Mona Lisa is.” “Oh, yeah. Better put ‘Rim-World cultural barbarian’ down in your notes. Cave painting, square dancing and fart jokes.” “Any personal fetishes? Kinks, fixations, obsessions,” she asked disinterestedly. “Like bondage and discipline. Or bisexuality. Or scatophilia?” “Actually, I do,” he said, fixing her with a stare and that damnably boyish infectious grin. “I like my women to be strong.” “Strong?” she asked with a little more interest. “Physically?” “Well, yes, that too,” he admitted. “Hate to see them come apart at an inopportune moment. But I mean emotionally strong. “I need a woman with the emotional fortitude to behold my passionate nature without flinching,” he said, staring fixedly into her eyes. “One who can recognize my strength of feeling for what it is, and bear the burden of my . . . ardent desire without recourse to mental strategizing in an effort to subvert me from my . . . often intense goals. I need a woman of strong character, one who will tell me what’s on her mind, insist I do the same, and share the natural complexities of deep and abiding adoration. I need a woman who is strong enough to be treated like a goddess, accept it with grace, and yet be soft and supple enough to respond to the lightest of touches and softest of whispers. I need a woman who can master my heart while respecting my innate frailties. Who could see my earnest desire to love deeply, thoroughly, and completely without losing respect for me for showing a core of tender emotion that a lesser woman would mistake for weakness . . . and . . .” he fumbled. “Yes?” Inara asked breathlessly, her eyes wide with surprise . . . and interest. “What is it?” “I liked to have my big toe sucked on a little. Just as foreplay, mind, no need to spend all night about it, but dang it sure gets the lead in m’pencil somethin’ powerful!” “I . . . see,” she said, seething. And breathing a little heavy. “I was thinking more perhaps of your crossdressing hobby. But I’ll make a note. So . . . how big is it?” she asked, returning to disinterest. “You should know that . . . you saw me starkers on Bellarophon, ‘member?” “Well . . . I didn’t see it . . . angry. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and say it was chilly that day.” “Was, a bit,” he admitted. “Stamina?” “Not very good. Can’t go for more’n a couple o’ hours. Four, tops, without rest. And no more than thrice a day,” he insisted. “Not as young as I used t’be.” “Weight?” “A lady never tells,” he said, shaking his head. “Any . . . aversions?” “Jayne Cobb. ‘Part from that, bring on the meatloaf an’ the sticky tape!” “Any allergies? Health conditions?” “Allergic to oppressive government tyranny. An’ I get a little stiff in th’back when it’s gonna rain. Old war injury,” he confided. “Just a little shrapnel.” “Noted. Do you enjoy anal play?” “I pay taxes, don’t I?” “Only when you can’t avoid it,” she said, shaking her head. “Consider that an answer.” “What do you like to do for recreation?” “Harass the tenants.” She made a face. “Last sexual experience?” “With another person?” “Yes.” He looked at her, the game done, suddenly serious. “I think you know the answer to that as well as I.” Neither one wanted to mention Nandy. It was too painful, to close. It reminded him that she had said she’d leave, and reminded her why she’d said it. “Time’s almost up, Miss Serra,” he said in a low tone. “Got one little thing to let you know. Right after you came in another fella did, big man who smelled like a cop. Showed me a picture of River and asked if I’d seen her. That can only mean one thing: there are bounty hunters or Feds skulkin’ about, and unless I miss my guess they’re gonna come a’callin’ on us soonish. We may well have to depart, and since your buggy is still attached, you might want to stick close to the ship. “Or not,” he continued before she could protest. “If things go our way, we might be gone a month or two – and I’ve no clear notion where. No place where you’re likely to find as many well-appointed, well-monied, well-hung gents as these, if I had to wager. And unless I miss my guess by a far piece, I’d say we’re likely to see more lead in the air than is rightly considered healthy. So you may do yourself a favor by stayin’ here. We don’t come back within three months, shuttle’s yours, cause we’re all dead. You decide to go, best stock up on toothpaste and unmentionables. I figure we got at least three hour before they track her back to us, so best have some alacrity to your decision.” “Mal, I—” “Sorry, time’s up,” he said, nodding toward the hourglass. “Hope I made the cut. Things go well, I might could afford a Companion’s rates. See you later. Or not.” He stood, leaving Inara staring open-mouthed. He stopped just long enough to grab the next gentleman in line, a young fellow who was eager and nervous in equal portions. “She’s a mighty fine woman, if you can afford her,” he assured. “Just don’t get her started about her grandkids – won’t shut up about ‘em!” he said, slapping him collegially on the shoulder and heading out the door with a wave, a wink and a shrug – to Nate, of all people. Inara watched him go, and watched the door long after he had disappeared through it. There was a war of emotions bubbling inside her, and she was only brought back to reality when her new potential client gently prodded her elbow. Damn Malcolm Reynolds.

*

*

*

“Wash?” Mal said into the pickup the moment he was out of earshot of everyone. “Wash, come in!” “Wash here,” came the tinny answer. “Trouble, Cap?” “Our stock-in-trade,” Mal agreed. “Kaylee come home yet?” “About ten minutes ago,” Wash said, apparently understanding what he was saying – and not saying. Wash was good like that. Picked up on subtleties that would leave Jayne sputtering and scratching his head. “Said she and Johnny were playing down by the River. But they didn’t get wet.” “Glad they’re back,” he said with some relief. “Tell Kaylee to do her business and keep the stove warm, in case we want to make some tea, later. It looks like rain, so everyone should wear their raincoats. Oh, and tell Zoe she should keep an eye out for salesmen. They’ve been known to knock on a body’s door at the most inconvenient times.” “Uh, yeah, Cap, got it. Jayne and Zoe came back with the party supplies, and I stocked the fridge with the good stuff. We’ll be ready for a really long shindig. Anything else?” “The Ambassador might come home early, so be prepared. And tell Jayne to wake up Vera – you know how cranky she gets if there’s a party and she ain’t prettied up. I’m on my way now, be there in ten. Make it twenty. Gotta cravin’ for some Chinese food. Gotta make a wave.” “Loud and clear, Cap. We’ll leave the porch light on. Wash, out.” He put away the pick-up and looked for a cortex kiosk. He needed to let the General know about these new developments. Just the sort of thing a man in his position would want to know. Mal clapped his hands together in the night’s chill, and felt a little surge of energy. This was starting to get interesting.

COMMENTS

Wednesday, October 26, 2005 5:24 PM

SCREWTHEALLIANCE


This ties the length of Kaylee's Lament -- and I'm only about 2/3 of the way through!

Enjoy! Comments good.

Screw the Alliance

Wednesday, October 26, 2005 7:43 PM

ANONYMOUS


Like I said on my review for Lament, if you could get some sort of deal akin to Expanded Universe, you'd have it made.

-GG Crono

Wednesday, October 26, 2005 8:19 PM

AMDOBELL


I had to chuckle at the Captain's round about way of giving Inara the heads-up. Very interesting and heating up nicely. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, October 26, 2005 8:37 PM

NUTLUCK


So about 14 more to go huh? Thats cool always a fan. Course that just makes me already start to wonder what book 3 will be called. :)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005 11:10 PM

ANONYMOUS


lOL...on the malinara piece. Love your writing style!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005 11:38 PM

ANONYMOUS


An amusing part, hehe. Although, I do still hope to see Inara show up Mal for a change! She's as devious as he is, after all...

Oh, and I wasn't completely comfortable with Inara's thoughts about Caritas and Warriors. In particular as it so clearly divided between men and women, conveniently ignoring that there were probably more than a few women like Zoe fighting in the war, being essentially warriors. It made me uncomfortable, the implication that thousands of women do wrong by their warrior men because they are "untrained and ignorant" without considering their own needs or perhaps questioning war as a whole. It was all a little too black and white for me and didn't quite ring true for my impression of Inara either, this almost judgmental dismissal of women in general.

I did like Mal's semi-serious soul-bearing, though. Considering the news he reveals before leaving this was as good a way to get some things out in the open in case they never see each other again - without having to really admit to anything if they do.
Cowardly lion, that is Mal. *g*

Wednesday, October 26, 2005 11:45 PM

RELFEXIVE


Those bounty guys really know how to make everything seem more complicated than it really is, don't they?

Excellent Mal-Inara scene, brilliant. And the whole Companion/Caritas stuff... deep.

Thursday, October 27, 2005 1:29 AM

SCREWTHEALLIANCE


I can appreciate that some would be uncomfortable with Inara's views on Caritas/Warriors. I think a word of explanation might be in order.

As much as we all love Inara, she has her own unique and distinct point of view, complete with prejudices and personal history, just like anyone else. Just as some people were uncomfortable with how I handled Mal's pro-gun libertarianism and some of the stuff Book has said, I wanted to delve once more into the Companions' deeper philosophy -- a philosophy that itself has a perspective. I didn't handle the issue of Zoe and Warrior women because the conversation didn't start out about a woman. I debated whether to add it or not, and decided against it because the issues involved get more complex when analyzing (from a Companion perspective)the psychological motivations and ramifications of female Warriors.

As far as Inara's views on women in this area, I would imagine that her perspective is as informed, and as jaded, as any seasoned professional's opinion of an untrained layman. She doesn't hold women, in general in contempt; she just appreciates their lack of training in such matters. When I imagine a Companion's training, I see it as much a deep psychological study of intergender relationships as it is music and painting and dancing.

Combine that psychological background with the idea that Inara considers herself a Professional in the technical sense, as a doctor or lawyer, and you begin to see where she might have a low opinion of the way a regular woman handles such complex matters. She does not blame them for their ignorance, no more than a doctor would blame someone who was performing CPR on a victim and fails to save them -- they just weren't trained for that sort of thing. And her ideas on sexuality do differ with the rank-and-file of womankind, at least in the Western world. That could quite easily lead to a jaded attitude, or even a passive resentment for the untrained in the 'verse, those women who were told to "lie back and think of England" as opposed to being given a real education in the intracacies of the male/female dynamic.

They just don't teach that sort of thing in Social Studies.

I appreciate the perspective, though. I suppose I might include a paragraph on women warriors in the second draft. I also appreciate the comments -- gotta hungry ego to feed!

ScrewtheAlliance

Thursday, October 27, 2005 1:51 AM

ANONYMOUS


I suppose we have very different views on Inara and Companion philosophy then. :)

The whole section kind of rubbed me the wrong way since it starts out with the assumption that it is women's duty to heal the broken psyche of men-who-became-warriors without questioning the framework behind it, the rightness of war, the fact that the men are unfit to work in "regular" society not the other way around, and their duty as a person to deal with their own problems and not lay the blame for their troubles at the door of improper care from innocent bystanders.

The whole thing makes me very uncomfortable and it's not something I believe Inara would see that way, as she generally has shown to be motivated by compassion primarily, applied to individuals, not pre-defined groups of people nor rigid codes of prescribed duties or contempt toward others.

The cold professionalism worked well for me with regard to economical issues that you earlier examined so very well. I just don't think she is that compassionlessly high-and-mighty about her own chosen profession nor that she views the universe in such broad-painted lines of "you are supposed to" and "you fail to".

It doesn't work for this particular reader but it's an interesting and rarely explored idea, so don't mind me. *g*

Thursday, October 27, 2005 2:13 AM

ANONYMOUS


Well, the aspect of this -- what led me to expound on these particular subjects -- was the ancient idea of the difference between life energy, as typified by Caritas and womanhood in general, and Death energy, as typified by the Warrior/Hunter ethic. In tribal societies the sanctity of the village community was something kept by the women of the village. When the men of a village went hunting, or worse, to war, they took on personae to attract the "death energy" that made them good at slaying. They took different names, wore distinctive costume, and essentially became a different person.

When they returned to the village there were usually rituals that they had to perform to shed this persona, lest they infect the life(Caritas) filled energy of the village with death energy. These rituals could take days, and eased the psychological transition between the two worlds. My take on it was that Companions saw what they did, in this sense, as part of their "ministry", an essential service to keep the psychosexual dynamic of society from being tainted by the elements of war.

Now, as far as Inara's views on war, her moral stand, we know that a) she is a Buddhist of some variety b) she has no problem servicing members of the military c) she knows how to handle weapons and apprecites the regretable necessity for violence when appropriate and d) she held political views in her past that caused her to support the Alliance on Unification. Taking all of these things into account leads us to believe that Inara's views on such things are complex; it also does not take away from the idea that she is a tremendously compassionate individual.

And Inara may well consider it a woman's duty to heal the wounds of their menfolk; while this may clash with our modern sensibilities, it was the accepted conventional wisdom in most societies for quite some time. As Inara's profession focuses on the interplay between male and female, and claims descent from several different traditions, it is not unlikely that she would hold a view like this. However, she doesn't expect most women to have this attitude -- indeed, if they did, it is unlikely that Companions would be needed. She is not taking the responsibility for their actions away from men, she is treating the after-effects of war as a mental/emotional illness which women are uniquely qualified (in most cases) to treat. This has ample historical and social precedent, even if it isn't a popular view these days. I'm not even saying I agree with it.

That it makes you uncomfortable tells me that I have, indeed, struck a real chord with this, which is good. I hope to do that from time to time, challenging the reader with Joss-like twists. That I could do this with Inara, a character everyone feels they have pegged (Harlot with a Heart of Gold) and bring some added dimension to her is that much more gratifying.

But excellent comment! Thanks!

StA

Thursday, October 27, 2005 2:20 AM

BENDY


Mal and Wash's exchange was so innocuous that it's bound to be noticed.



Thursday, October 27, 2005 7:05 AM

LIBRARIANWENCH


Love it love it love it!

Loved "Kaylee's Lament" too. I've set new records for goofing off at work thanks to this! Can't wait for the next one!

Thursday, October 27, 2005 8:11 AM

ARTSHIPS


Julian's interesting, in that he really should permanently silence Jaeger, yet pays his debts and set's him up in a new job (sorta)!. And otherwise jumps to conclusions just past the truth.

Love how much from outside FF you bring in to your stories.

Thursday, October 27, 2005 10:12 AM

BELLONA


"Cave painting, square dancing and fart jokes"

oh wait, we're talking about mal? i thought i'd just stumbled on another fic about simon...*grins*

love this chapter!!! especially wash and mal's conversation about fridges and parties...pure 'fly - keep 'em comin'!

b

Monday, November 21, 2005 5:51 AM

OLDSOUL1987


Mal and wash's exchange was funny, i thought. I love that mal was devious and kinda soulful al in one leaveing 'nara shocked. I did not much like inaras point of view on those men she interviewed, it reflects a certian sadness about her job i don't think she feels. She is a companion and also a buddhist. She trys to have compasion even for people even those theat cause her pain. Her goal is to reach nervana to do that most of the buddhist folk dont commit sexully inaproprate acts so in that case for her mind and soul to be at ease she could not find her job wrong since it hurts no one and in many cases heals some. The only reason she would see it as wrong at all is because some times some folk might fall in love with her and in that case she might even pass on the client to some one else or something just to keep her job peaceful. Now keep in mind no mater how old inara act she is still young, she is smart and in some cases wise but she is still young and that makes it easier for Mal to get under her skin, since she is used to more 'civil' men that would never actually try to piss her off. Ok well now i am just plain old rambeling! heh but just one more question, do the boy companions have the same feelings about their job?

ok on that note i love how you wrote her reactions although i don't think her thoughts were true to character. anyway good job keep it up!

Thursday, December 1, 2005 1:59 PM

ANONYMOUS


Your fan fic is so addictive! :) Such a great writer!

Sunday, January 22, 2006 6:30 PM

ANONYMOUS


StA on reader protests over the Caritas section: "That it makes you uncomfortable tells me that I have, indeed, struck a real chord with this, which is good. I hope to do that from time to time, challenging the reader with Joss-like twists."

You have not struck the controversial cord of Jossness (ie, killing Tara), which readers may dislike but which serves the story. Instead, you have taken a character that Joss specifically says is a feminist and used her to voice some of your most sexist material. This is why we protest – you are warping these characters away from Joss’s principles. Other commenters have raised issues with: a lack of acknowledgement of female soldiers, the disgusting thought of acceptable sexual violence towards women, and the false-sounding invective of women as ignorant. All well noted. But the underlying sexism that allows all of this is the thought that women have no purpose as human beings in and of themselves - that they should function only to heal men.

Sunday, January 22, 2006 7:33 PM

SCREWTHEALLIANCE


I am truly sorry if this section offends anyone -- I put it in for a couple of reasons, and it does have a place in the larger story arc. And all of those points are well taken. But I would like to remind folks of a few things, at the risk of defending my work too vigorously:

1) Yes, Joss killed Tara, Wash, Book, Buffy's Mom, etc. etc. I respect him for that -- it takes a good storyteller to be able to part with a beloved character and make it serve the story -- it takes a GREAT storyteller to make the audiance feel it like that. What I was doing here was in a way more daring, if I may. It's easy to kill a character. It's more difficult to examine a character's inner psyche and beliefs in ways which we don't anticipate, nor necessarily agree with.

Joss is a feminist, has described Inara as a feminist, and I like to consider myself a feminist, though others may have trouble with that definition. But I was writing a character with a very complex psychology in a very complex profession with an extra five hundred years of societal evolution and cultural sophistication than what we have. Feminism changes, over time, and what a 26th century feminist believe is going to be different than what a 19th century feminist believes. There used to be feminist schools of thought that said there were no innate physiological and psychologlical differences between the genders. Medical science and intense study have proven that wrong, and the ideology of feminism evolved into a slightly more sophisticated mode when that happened. What will we know about gender psychology and neurophysiology in 500 years? What additional historical episodes will inform feminist thought by then?

In this Caritas section I was showing through Inara's viewpoint -- that is, a character viewpoint -- of a PROFESSIONAL perspective on a very complex and emotional subject. Along the way I irritated some people because Inara, the PROFESSIONAL, was musing that most women who were untrained in psychology, physiology, and all the other arts of the Companion were often unequipped, through their ignorance of said knowlege, to handle the intense psychological repercussions of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the violence of war. She was not making a sweeping value judgement on the women in question, she was viewing them (perhaps a bit snobbishly) as AMATEURS in the context of her PROFESSIONAL opinion about their abilities to handle such a complex and intense issue as a returning combat veteran. She also mentions that the the Companions who dealt with these cases were a very select few, extraordinary individuals in a field of extraordinary individuals. And while I did mention violence, in passing, it was in the context of rough sex play -- which some people enjoy, and do not see as an expression of hate. I would imagine these women consider themselves healers, first and foremost, a kind of super-sex therapist willing to make the emotional investment in these damaged men amd accept the risks involved to accomplish this feat. And part of the point of these special Companions was to keep sexual violence from rearing its ugly head in future relationships. Part of that may mean seeing it expressed, controlling that expression, and teaching the man in question to channel his intimate feelings in a more constructive manner. I would assume that if the relationship became too violent, the Companion would end it.

All of that being said, I am not, of course, condoning any non-consensual sexual violence -- such a thought is disgusting and abhorrant. But this is a complex subject, and one that has many sides and perspectives. In ideal worlds there would be no violence towards women -- but then there would be no war to return from, either. I took inspiration for this bit from a relative of mind who returned from active combat and had some severe difficulties re-adjusting to civilian life. The individual in question was male, and the result wasn't pretty. Sudden explosions of violent rage, near-catatonic depression, all sorts of wacko syptoms. This individual acted violently frequently. To my knowlege it was never expressed sexually, but I wouldn't doubt it. With a couple of years of therapy and a wise, loving and understanding wife he has made a better adjustment. That doesn't mean she didn't put up with some shit and be forced to make some tough decisions. A lessor woman would have abandoned him at the first sign of trouble. But she understood the source of the violence and was able to help him work through it.

You bring up the idea that women have no purpose as human beings except to function to heal men. Nothing could be further from my interpretation of Inara in this scene. She is in the business of healing men (and occasionally women). If it was just sex, she would be a prostitute, plain and simple. It's not. The whole tradition of the courtesan is predicated on the belief that an intelligent, beautiful woman with all the powers of her femininity at her conscious control can not just provide a physical outlet for sexual releif, but that she engagges the minds and spirits of her clients, and in many cases that also means engaging their well-hidden sexual issues.

But there is something else that folks may not have considered: we are looking at Inara through the lens of 21st century feminism. But she is a 26th century feminist, and her cultural morays and ideas about gender relationships may be (and, I contend that they are) far outside of what we consider standard or culturally acceptable. It is not a great stretch, therefore, to think that Inara's perspective on this subject would be much different than ours. Nor do I think that such thoughts diminish her character at all -- they merely reflect its complexity.

As far as female soldiers go, there is a discernable difference in the psychology of women who go to war than men who do so. The fact of the matter is, men have a much stronger connection, on the whole, between sex and violence than women do -- testosterone is just like that, I guess. While I don't doubt for a second that women are just as likely as men to manifest PTSD after combat, I would imagine that the symptoms and manifestation of their trauma would be different, on the whole, from their male counterparts, and I doubt the effectiveness of a Companion to shepherd a woman so injured through her pain. I think it more likely that another profession would be better equipped to handle it.

Lastly, please don't think for a minute that I necessarily share these beliefs. I am writing a character, dealing with unknown territory, and trying to examine a woman who makes mysterious allure her stock-in-trade. That ain't easy. And I did want to throw a couple of curves here, and throughout the book, looking at Inara in far more depth than was ever managed on the series. All of these characters are flawed, and likely they are flawed in ways we cannot fathom. Would it be shocking to discover that Simon was a bit of a racist? Yes, but it would be possible. That Jayne was homophobic? Sure, that's not much of a stretch -- and we like Jayne to be bad, anyway, right? What about Zoe -- what prejudices does she hold that we would find socially unacceptable? Joss wrote these people to be real, and real people have all sorts of ideas that we may not agree with. That doesn't make them wrong, us wrong, or keep them from being interesting.

Keep commenting about this, folks. It's important. I've learned a lot in the defense of this passage, and if you were actually so disgusted by it that you don't want to continue, I assure you that you will miss some further developments in Inara's character than may shed further light on this. But you won't find out if you quit reading.

ScrewtheAlliance

Friday, June 9, 2006 12:51 PM

TALYNDERRE


StA -

Bah, don't be in any way bothered by someone attacking your "sexism" in the story. I didn't read it like that at all - instead, you took a complex issue and expounded on it through the lens of someone whose perspective on the issue is centered around her job. Now, I've read some legitmately sexist science fiction - anything by Edgar Rice Burroughs, for example, and some of Heinlen's stuff - and this is not sexist any more than the Firefly show is.

And before Mr. or Ms. Anonymous cares to claim it is in any way degrading to women, I think it is important to remember just what Inara's job is - sex, comfort and spirituality all bound together in one package. I thought you did a perfectly brilliant job of presenting that, personally. It's pretty easy to tell that you are a professional.

Also, I love how you work some hard science (and medicine, and psychology) into your work - it's well researched, and what little bits I know on the subject agree with what you've said. Your approach to PTSD in this chapter, from two different sides, was informative without being boring and insightful without being preachy. I seriously love your work, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series.


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