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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
A long night and cold comforts. Collaborative with smithandwesson, set during Firefly. Link to part 1 inside.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1490 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Nighttime in the desert always reminded Zoe of Serenity Valley. Rim world deserts were all the same, barren and scarred and merciless. Death always waited in the darkness, waited for her to lower her guard so it could reach out and grab her. So she never did.
Still the wind would bite away at her, pinching her ears and burning her cheeks. Every breath would fill her lungs with ice, with air so cold it wasn’t cold anymore, wasn’t anything but numb. And it would spread through her body until the cold and the numb were all that was left, until she clung to the numbness.
Tonight, Serenity Valley was called Braggadocio.
She cursed under her breath. When Jayne shot down Billy Evisse back in town, he had condemned her and the captain to this long night. They had to keep the ship and shuttle near town just in case. So Zoe and Mal had been on horseback since twilight a few hours ago, and there was still a long ride ahead to the rendezvous with their job contact in Kowloon.
Zoe glanced at the man galloping along to her right. Mal’s lips were tight, eyes straight ahead, just like back in the cargo bay when she had tried to talk him out of going. He said they needed the work, and that was that. But she knew that wasn’t that. Mal’s face had slowly settled into this look while Wash waited in vain for Inara’s reply about the booby traps. Zoe knew that what the captain really hoped to find in Kowloon was answers: whether this was all a setup, who was behind it, and how many people they had to kill to set it right. She didn’t expect Mal’s eyes would budge until all those answers – and Inara – were in plain view.
Not that there was much to see at the moment, not much but desert.
Stars are kinda shiny, though, she thought, looking up. Big open sky just about full to bursting. Lately she found herself noticing the stars a whole a lot more. Seemed to start right around the time she met her husband.
And lately she found the deserts weren’t quite so empty anymore.
"Hey," Mal called from his horse. "You comin’?"
Zoe, who had fallen behind staring at the sky, sped up again. "Right behind you, sir," she said, thinking she’d like nothing better right now than to throw her husband onto his back.
Wash’s back cracked onto the table and bounced, his flailing arms and legs sending half-empty glasses in all directions. His momentum carried him backward, and he rolled off the end, landed on his stomach, and crawled underneath the wobbling wooden legs.
The situation didn’t look much better from this perspective. Glass exploded and tinkled down from the surface of the table around his face. Bodies, chairs, and punches were flying. People were firing guns at nothing in particular.
He blinked, confused. How did this happen? The big woman had less-than-subtly encouraged him to have a few drinks. Not the best beer in the world, but he didn’t remember saying so. And Jayne wasn’t even here. But somehow within a few hours the Painted Lady saloon had degenerated – if that were possible – into an all-out brawl.
The table was thrown away. Three men were staring down at Wash, who was still on all fours.
"Just what d’ya think you’re doin’?" one asked.
Wash looked up and sputtered, pointing at the floor. "Thought I saw some change-"
The men roughly lifted him to his feet. He cringed as one moved toward him, but the man’s hand just slapped him hard on the back.
"Relax, son!" the man grinned. "Ain’t nothin’ but a hangin’ party!" The saloon, which all seemed to have stopped to watch, let out a yell at this. Wash winced as more guns fired into the air.
"Hell, son, I run this whole gorram town," the man continued. "I give my word ain’t nobody gonna get hurt. Well... not too permanent-like anyway," he laughed.
Wash searched his face with confused apprehension. "What exactly does that-"
"Now how ‘bout we cause some pain, ride some whores, shoot stuff up, and have a little fun!" the man bellowed. "What d’ya say?"
"Hooray?" Wash managed.
The saloon exploded into whooping violence again. As he was pulled away, the pilot desperately looked for Kaylee. She was gone.
"Ah, this place ain’t so bad," Kaylee smiled in the darkness, taking a swig from the small flask and passing it back through the bars.
"Ain’t so bad?" Jayne yelled in protest. "Damn yokels’re gonna hang me! Maybe it ain’t so bad for you..." He grabbed the flask and took a swig.
"Now, Jayne, ya know that ain’t what I meant," she said. Her forehead wrinkled as her thoughts fought to surface through the warm cloud that had settled over her brain. "S’just... s’just ya gotta see the bright side o’ people." She accepted the flask, then set her chin on her hand and smiled at him. "Sometimes there’s a awful lot t’see. Just gotta know how t’find it s’all."
The mercenary looked away from the smile and leaned back against the wall. The girl always looked so warm, no matter where or when, and for whatever reason that was getting under his skin more now than usual. He shifted uncomfortably under the fuzzy pink blanket Kaylee had brought him. She probably thought it was funny. Yeah, hi-larious, he thought. "Tough to see much bright side when you’re sittin’ in the cold dark waitin’ t’get hung."
When he looked back, she was still smiling. "What?" he demanded.
Her smile broadened. "S’just..." Her mouth did an odd sort of dance as she fought to restrain it, but her shaking back betrayed silent giggles as she fell sideways, an unsteady head coming to rest on the wall. "You been struttin’ around naked as can be all day... and some folk might say... might say ya already hung." At this, she burst into sloppy laughter.
Jayne smiled in spite of himself. "You’re just a little-" She cut him off with a particularly loud guffaw as her head leaned forward onto the bars. "-a little ray o’ sunshine, ain’t ya?" he finished with a grin.
Her laughter melted into weary giggles as she turned and leaned backward against the bars. After a few moments, she fell still.
"Guess you’re right," Jayne said, looking at the blanket. "Things ain’t so bad. Fact is, I was just sayin’ to Mal this place kinda makes ya think about things, ya know? Maybe even... settlin’ down-"
Kaylee’s snore cut him off.
Jayne sat quietly for a few seconds. Then he inched forward and tentatively reached through the bars, his hand brushing past her ear. He reached farther, straining, and his hand returned to the cell with the nearly empty flask.
"Yeah," he muttered, swishing the liquid around. "Things ain’t so bad."
"You’d almost think these folks weren’t happy to see us," Mal noted as their horses trotted through Kowloon.
There wasn’t much to be stirred up in this wood-frame settlement, trouble or otherwise. A handful of modest structures formed a lone street. Nevertheless, the few gaslights to be seen were quickly extinguished as the pair rode past each window.
By far the most remarkable thing about Kowloon was the half-built church that also happened to be the rendezvous point. It was a tall building by rim world standards, tall enough that the beams of its unfinished roof slid past the full moon as the two of them approached, throwing picket-fence shadows across their faces. Mal started to get a familiar feeling of uneasiness.
They slid off their horses and made their way to the open arch that beckoned from where the door would eventually stand.
Inside was a vast open space and a dusty floor striped by moonlight and roof beam shadows. Nothing else.
"We’re early," Zoe said, her eyes sweeping the four bare walls. "Maybe you should get some rest while we wait, sir."
Mal raised both eyebrows. "Hi, I’m Malcolm Reynolds," he replied. "Don’t think we’ve met."
There was a glint of reality winking at Inara as if from some far distant place. She stretched for it, fighting to open her eyes and pushing away the warm perfection that she knew wasn’t real. She wanted cold truth.
Her eyes opened. She was in Mal’s arms, warm and safe, and she smiled.
No, this wasn’t right. Her face contorted as she pushed him away.
Her eyes opened again, just a sliver this time. This was reality – a bedroom seen sideways and a cold, bitter light. She knew it was real because pain throbbed through her head when she saw it.
Inara’s eyelids fluttered as she searched for more truths. There was a man here before, but not now. He had left a wine glass and a vial of something on a nearby stand. Something inside her told her what she needed to do. You don’t have to understand. Just do it, the voice said.
Perspiration shined on her face, and her brow knotted as she made a mighty effort to break the chains of inertia. Her hand moved a few inches then flopped back down beside her.
It wasn’t enough.
A life-or-death resolve filled her, and she tried again. This time the hand landed on the nightstand. It groped at the air for a moment before fumbling its way to the vial.
Reality began to dim. No, not yet, the voice said. The harsh light returned, and she watched her hand tip the vial toward the wine glass. Light and darkness blinked in and out. She could feel her eyes rolling back in her head.
Her captain embraced her again.
Book lifted Simon’s head and rescued the drool-soaked papers underneath. He gingerly lowered the sleeping doctor’s face back to Serenity’s dining room table and watched as the young man swallowed twice before his mouth went slack again. His lips twitched into a smile as his eyes swam underneath the lids.
"It’s Kaylee," said River from the other side of the table. Her cheek was lying on her folded arms, but her eyes were open.
"Excuse me?" Book said.
"You were wondering what he was dreaming about," River explained, her dark eyes fixed on the far wall.
Book’s mouth opened in protest. "I really don’t want to-"
"Right," River cut him off. "I’m pointing. It’s not polite."
The preacher paused in mid-reply, carefully weighing his words, before deciding to let the disturbing subject die altogether.
He returned to Braggadocio’s well-worn and barely legible law records. His finger had slid down yellowed page after page, stopping from time to time at a passage that offered a hint of hope, then shaking his head and continuing. There were few pages left.
"They don’t always mean what you think," said River’s gravelly, sleep-heavy voice.
Book kept reading as she continued.
"Sometimes it’s not manifest, just images… brain electricity shocking reality into whatever it wants. You have to be lucid." Her eyes closed, and her voice was softer. "Have to be lucid."
The preacher’s hand turned another page. Silence settled, heavy and still, as the minutes passed.
Book’s finger stopped. He wordlessly repeated a passage several times.
"Aha!" he exclaimed with a smile.
"Hey!" said the man from the failed raiding party, who was still tied to a chair in the corner. "Do you mind? People are trying to sleep."
The captain was leaning against a wall, chin lowered and eyes closed, as a shadow slipped into the church and quickly advanced on him.
Zoe cocked her carbine and put the barrel to the back of the man’s head. The man raised his hands.
"Evening," Mal smiled, abandoning his feigned sleep. "Or is it morning? Either way I’m just sick o’ tryin’ to puzzle things out, so I’m hoping there’s some light to be shed real soon."
"Malcolm Reynolds?" said the man’s shaky voice in careful, unsure English. "I was to meet – um – with a Malcolm Reynolds."
"Sir, I don’t think that’s the sound of a new day dawning," Zoe said, lowering her gun.
Mal’s face tightened again. "You’ve found him," he said to the man.
"I am Kwa," the man said, nervously extending a hand, which the captain shook. "I have heard you will – uh – take job?"
"Depends on the job, but on the whole," Mal nodded.
"There is a man, a bad man, who angers many powerful people," Kwa said. "He likes to be taking things that are not his. This man, this Mallory Stanton, he has man here who helps."
"You mean on Braggadocio?" the captain interjected.
Kwa nodded. "We wish for you to be killing this helping man. Do this and you will be well paid."
"Who..." Mal began.
"His name-" Kwa was speaking slowly, and it was obvious that he had carefully rehearsed the enunciation of these words. "-is Billy Evisse."
The captain smiled. "Huh."
"Guess Jayne was able to help with the job after all," Zoe grinned.
Kwa looked between them, confused. Mal explained, and realization dawned on Kwa’s face. He, too, began to smile. Then he passed the captain a bag full of coins. All three laughed for a while.
Mal turned, fighting back tears of mirth, and walked out the church door with Zoe.
"Okay," he said, catching his breath. "Okay, so we go back and spring Jayne. Then maybe just set him loose on the next town we see," he spluttered as the laughter returned. "Could be there’s a fortune waitin’ to be made."
"Sir, you still need to check on that missing brain."
"Uh, w-wait," Kwa called, running out after them. "I am speaking other words with interest for you."
"Not to kill and run," Mal said, mounting his horse and still laughing, "But one of ours is gettin’ fit for a noose."
"This Mallory Stanton, he takes something from you."
The captain’s laughter began to subside. "And what exactly would that be?"
Kwa struggled with the name. Mal’s features fell in horror as he watched the man's mouth work.
"Inara," the captain breathed.
The man nodded. "He takes her. I am believing you want to take her back? There is much danger and time is soon gone, as will be woman."
The air was suddenly thick with silence. Zoe watched Mal, whose wide eyes stared at nothing.
Kwa looked to each face in turn. "I am to be leaving now in small ship. I can take you to this woman. But Brag-do-sho... small ship is not to be going there."
"Sir," Zoe said to her stone-faced captain. "We ride hard, maybe we make it back by dawn. Maybe we have time for one rescue. One, dong ma?"
The thick silence returned. After several seconds, her horse snorted and shuffled, oblivious to words and anxious to gallop.
"Sir," she pleaded. "I’m sayin’ we have to choose, and fast."
"I already have," the captain replied.
Click here for the final part
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