Bitter Spice – Chapter Two
Friday, January 6, 2006

Saffron makes a move or three. Makes new friends, meets old ones.


“Won’t be long now,” Jonus Webster promised with a wide smile. There was a twinkle in his eye as he said it, a promise of future mischief. As he turned his gaze back towards the unloading of the cargo, Saffron rolled her eyes.

The sooner I can be rid of this idiot the better.

Her smile came back full-strength as he glanced back her way again, his own smile slipping slightly as he muttered an apology. As the captain of The Merchant Of Verona moved off to direct the port labourers himself, the young woman had to admit he was a handsome enough fellow, if a trifle predictable. He had fallen for her terrible tale of woe hook, line and sinker, believing her when she said the jewellery she had paid for passage with was all she had been able to grab before fleeing her cruel employers.

Freeing a beautiful woman from such a captivity fed the fires of men’s egos, and the heat and flames could also blind them. Playing the noble rescuer seemed to leave little time for other thoughts, such as the kind that made it easy to see through paper-thin, hastily-constructed lies.

A couple of con jobs on the back streets of Bellerophon’s capital had bought her the passage, but guile and seeming helplessness had made the captain her protector and ardent suitor. It also helped that he was very interested in getting off the planet without delay, to save her from her nasty captors, which was fine with her. Especially when his destination was Newhall, which was exactly where she needed to be.

“Carrie, my sweet,” Jonus called to her, holding out a hand. Saffron gave him her sunniest smile and daintily jumped down from the packing crate she had been sat on. She smoothed down the plain grey dress, adjusted the collar, and walked towards him, a demure figure. He cut a dashing figure himself with his dark coat and white shirt, boots shining from their recent polish, hair washed and combed back. He was certainly much better turned out than some captains... Even his ship, a Mustang-class cargo transport, was shiny and polished, instead of rusty and held together by luck and whatever accumulated go-se kept it in one piece from one day to the next.

“Are you done yet, my captain?” she asked as she took his hand. He gave hers a small squeeze. “I am weary of watching boxes without end be stacked atop each other.”

“Just a few more errands, my dear, then we’ll be done,” he told her. Turning to the chief of the labourers, he continued, “I’ll be seeing the dockmaster once I get paid; he’ll see to your pay, as usual.” The other man, large of muscle and keen of gaze, nodded and gestured to his crew. “That’s all that’s left,” Jonus promised Saffron, “honestly it is. Drop off the cargo, get paid, see the dockmaster...”

“...and then we can finally be alone,” Saffron finished. “No crew around, no thin walls, just us.” She glanced around, seeing the dock crew were leaving. She also noticed the usual disapproving look from Clarke, the pilot of the Verona. They had never seen eye to eye, the two of them; the whole two weeks of the journey, Clarke had had his watchful eye on her. The dark-skinned man with his beaded hair just didn’t trust her at all.

Good guess.

“Ah, Carrie,” Jonus breathed into her ear, unmindful of the stares of his crew as he slipped an arm around her waist. “You make me wish there was a way to travel to other stars, so I could show you every one o’them.”

“Now, now, captain,” she reminded him, pushing him gently away. She looked up at him from under her lashes. “Not until we’re alone.” His grin was like that of a farmboy who had just been told it was time to go play in the hayloft.

In truth, it had been the flirting and the promise of time alone together that had paid her way to Newhall. It had been so easy to string him along it was almost ludicrous. He was almost as dim as Reynolds...

“In that case,” the captain announced, “let us be away to our destination.” Taking her by the hand he led her to the first of the flatbed trucks that carried his cargo. Directing her to climb into the cab ahead of him, she found herself sat alongside Deakin, the cargo master of the Verona.

“Are we ready to go, lil lady?” he asked her with his gap-toothed smile. Old, grey-haired and wrinkly, he looked as if he had been flying the black since the Exodus. He had enough stories to make that estimate look like a conservative one.

“Indeed we are,” Jonus replied for her, pulling the door shut behind him. “Onward!”


“Forty five cases, yes,” Old Man Yu agreed. The elderly Chinese man nodded to himself under his little black hat and looked around the cluttered warehouse before making a mark on his tally. “And in good time. Again you work wonders, Mr Webster.”

“Thank you, Mr Yu,” Jonus replied, the captain putting on the full oriental formality act. “And now...” He seemed to stumble over his words a little. “I am almost too embarrassed to ask...”

“Almost, but not quite,” the old gentleman smiled. “Here,” Yu continued, reaching into his silken coat and bringing forth a small pouch. “Your payment for a job well done. Tourists and residents alike will welcome the arrival of more of my fine wines. And I will welcome their custom even more so.”

By the chink the coins within made as the pouch was laid on Jonus’ palm, Saffron guessed there was a substantial bonus in there to go with the actual payment. She resisted the urge to smile, instead keeping back as was required.

“I am glad to serve,” Jonus responded, bowing, “especially such a generous man as yourself.”

“Ai, begone, you flatterer,” Yu said good-naturedly. “I will continue to speak highly of your ship and your manners also. Clear skies, Mr Webster.”

Outside, in the street running past Yu’s Emporium, Jonus swept Saffron into his arms. “With the extra cash the Old Man gave us, I’m going to spoil you rotten. And buy the spares the Verona needs, of course.” He frowned. “Hopefully I’ll be able to get a good enough deal that I won’t have to resort to buying scrap parts to get us that hotel room.”

“Anywhere that isn’t my box room on the Serra Estate will seem like a grand palace by comparison,” Saffron gushed. “A palace with a king of my very own.” Jonus grinned and gave her a quick kiss, or a kiss that would have been quick had Saffron not pulled him tightly to her, not willing to let her ‘king’ go just yet.

If there was one unfortunate thing that Saffron had discovered about Captain Jonus Webster, it was that he was truly awful at kissing. It was only made worse by how often he wanted to kiss her, so she was subjected to his lacklustre skills in that department far more often than was even vaguely pleasant.

I’m glad I’ll never have to find out if he’s as bad in other ways too.

The only good thing about the embrace they shared outside Yu’s shop was that it let her know exactly where the money pouch was secreted on the captain’s person.

Pulling back, Saffron gazed up at the man holding her, her breathing pitched exactly as she had been taught. Just the right amount of breathlessness to suggest arousal, not enough to suggest you are already too worn out to continue.

“I am not sure,” she began slowly, seemingly becoming more bold, “that I can wait for the hotel room.” Jonus’ expression changed from surprise to lust in a heartbeat. As he quickly looked around for whatever secluded place a man like him considered appropriate for a quick grapple, Saffron held on tight to his coat, as if she never wanted to let go.

Apparently, a narrow side street half-blocked by a van and filled with lines heavy with linen was sufficient to cover the captain’s modesty. The small mountain of empty boxes halfway along provided ample shelter from prying eyes, and it was to there that Jonus led her. Classy, Saffron thought with a mental shake of the head.

As his weight pressed her back against the wall, he began to – well, grope her was the definitely the way to describe it. He really had no finesse to him at all. Very disappointing. So it was without any regret at all that Saffron swiftly raised a knee into her paramour’s groin. The groan she got in response was about as pained as she had expected, which gave her some small measure of pleasure.

“Whaaa...” was all Jonus was able to gasp out as he slid to the ground.

“Oh, my captain,” Saffron whispered sadly, sounding for all the world like a woman who had been unable to find a good deal while out shopping. “You’re just not the sort of man I could spend my life with. We really aren’t suited at all. I’ve tried, and I’ve been patient, but you fumble like a boy just out of short trousers. And, even worse, you’re as gullible as one too.”

She reached inside his coat and pulled out the heavy money pouch from Mr Yu, fending off his weak attempts to stop her.

“Look at it this way,” she told him, the smile on her face at odds with the sudden coldness in her eyes, “at least I saved you the cost of room service... especially since I was going to hit you with the wine bottle.”


Some of the shiny platinum coins bought her a change of clothes and some other items. While she was glad to get out of the dowdy dress, Saffron was careful not to draw too much attention to herself by splashing out unnecessarily, attempting instead to blend into the local populace. Then she began to tour the cafés.

It had been a few years since she was last on Newhall. Most of the old haunts had been replaced with newer establishments, tailored to suit the influx of tourists. But a couple of them were left, and it was at Dudsen’s that she found the person she was looking for.

Mai sat at the centre of her circle of friends as she always had, holding court with her wit and encyclopaedic knowledge of local gossip. There was rarely anything that went on behind the doors of the houses of the rich and famous on Newhall that she did not know about. She still looked like a woman in the prime of her life, glowing with health, though she had to be, what, ten, fifteen years past her prime now? The years, and cosmetics, had been kind to her.

The blonde look suits her. It certainly draws more attention from those whose eye she wishes to catch than mousy brown locks ever did. A number of young men sat at nearby tables in the café; even those who had their eyes on another lady in her crowd always found their gaze strayed to the queen of the flock.

Eventually Saffron caught the older woman’s attention. There was a brief second when her shock was written clearly on Mai’s face, and then she caught herself as adeptly as she always had.

“Melissa?” she called in surprise, standing. Around her, everyone turned and craned their necks to see who it was who had interrupted their gathering. Mai put a hand to her scarf-wrapped throat. “Melissa, is that you, child?”

“It is I, Madame Mai,” Saffron replied, taking her cue from the other woman. “I have returned at last, dear aunt, and returned a grown woman.” Mai was pushing her way through the ring of people towards her supposed niece, who welcomed her approach with open arms.

“I can scarcely believe it!” Mai exclaimed happily. “You have changed so much I barely recognised you!” The smiles stayed on as they embraced. “What do you want?” Mai hissed harshly in Saffron’s ear, completely in contrast to their exterior happiness.

“A moment of your time, in private,” Saffron replied coolly, her lips barely moving, her own smile unbroken. She felt something... perhaps regret was the best word for it, although it was barely that. She had given up a good thing when she had left Newhall that last time; those heady days of learning the tricks of the trade, of fooling the foolish and scamming the purportedly wise and definitely rich. Perhaps that was it. Certainly there were no other regrets. Of course there were not.

“If only to be rid of you,” was Mai cold reply. Turning back to her coterie of admirers, she was all smiles and joy again. “I am sorry, my friends, but this unexpected visitor... May I present my niece, Melissa Gillenhall?” The assorted ladies and girls, and more than a few of the men, nodded and bowed their greetings. “We must be away, I fear, for we have so much to catch up on! I shall call you all tomorrow.”

The extended farewells began to grate on Saffron’s nerves after the tenth one, but she did her best to hold onto her temper until her old friend was done.

The journey to Mai’s residence was taken in complete silence. Saffron could see from the windows of the taxi that Mai had done very well for herself, if the houses of her neighbours were anything to go by. Hopefully, none of them would call the Feds too quickly once the inevitable shouting began.

They were met just inside the front door by a servant, who took their coats and retreated at Mai’s firm request. The lady of the grand house then led the way to her study, gesturing curtly for Saffron to go in first. The room was luxurious, decorated with works of art and lushly carpeted. The centre of the room was a heavy desk, looking for all the world like it had been stolen from the office of some corporate director.

As the door closed behind them, Saffron caught the sound of a steely slither a second before a cold blade found it’s place just below her right ear.

“What do you want, Phillipa?” Mai asked brusquely, a hand tight in Saffron’s hair as she pulled her head back. “Make it quick, before I decide I want to you gone again... permanently.”

“Is that any way to talk to an old–“

“No games,” Mai whispered grimly, speaking right into Saffron’s other ear. “I’m surprised you even had the courage to come back here... after what you did. But then you always did have guts, enough for the both of us.” She paused. “I want you gone.” The older woman released her grip on Saffron’s hair, and allowed her to turn to face her. The knife, however, did not waver.

“I had hoped for a better welcome home,” Saffron murmured, putting just the right amount of sadness and dejection into her tone. In any case, it was certainly true, albeit for less than sentimental reasons. She looked at the small knife at her throat, then back into Mai’s eyes. “Aren’t you even a little bit glad to see me?”

Mai stared into her eyes for a long time. Saffron allowed the tiniest glimmer of hope to spark into her eyes.

“That might have worked on me in the past, Philly,” Mai said quietly, “but back then you hadn’t disappeared in the middle of the night with the contents of my safe and one of my favourite young men... who later turned up unconscious in a hotel room.” A slight shake of the head. “And you long gone.”

“Then, in the memory of those times, let’s start afresh.” Saffron took a careful step back into the room, ever mindful of the knife... and of the heavy objects on the desk just behind her, should the need to defend herself become necessary.

“I don’t think so.” There was the barest hint of sadness in Mai’s voice. The old woman was probably trying to play with her emotions, trick her with sentimentality. Huh, good luck.

“We’ll keep it to business then,” Saffron shrugged, then continued briskly, ”a service that I can pay for.” Saffron held up the pouch of coins, now somewhat depleted. When Mai did not speak, Saffron went on. “Do you still have that hack?”

“The hack?” For a moment Mai was confused. Then realisation hit. “The hack. What the diyu do want with that? I’m not sure it even works anymore.”

“I’m willing to bet that it does,” Saffron told her smugly. “You wouldn’t let such a great tool as that go to waste. You probably still use it to steal their clients whenever you get the chance.”

“Not as well as you did,” Mai smiled, a trace of pride in her voice. “I taught you so well...” She shook her head. “And now you want to go back to that, do you?”

“Oh no,” Saffron replied, shaking her head. “It’s not the clients I’m interested in this time. I want to find someone else.”

“You... want to find a Companion?” This time, Mai sounded honestly surprised.

“Your backdoor into the Registry will tell me what appointments your old friends have made,” Saffron explained to her old mentor. “I can use that to work out where this particular person will be in the coming weeks.”

“And what did this... particular person do to you, to earn such attention from you?”

“She... made a fool of me.”

“And you never liked being made a fool of,” Mai chuckled. “You always had to beat them in the end.” The older woman gazed at her old protégé for a long moment. “I’ll help... but if I ever see you again afterwards, all bets are off. I’ll have the Feds on you so fast you won’t have the time to even think of one lie, let alone your customary dozen.” She sighed. “What’s the name of this Companion?”

“Inara Serra.” And wherever that bitch is, Reynolds is not far behind.


Saturday, January 7, 2006 7:33 AM


*grins* let the fun commence!!!



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Bitter Spice – Chapter Two
Saffron makes a move or three. Makes new friends, meets old ones.

Bitter Spice - Chapter One
A story of revenge and deception, starring the woman of many names, Saffron. Or Yolanda. Or Bridget. Or whatever it is this week.

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