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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
What has that lazy crew been up to?
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2381 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Back to Chapter 9.
* * * * *
River sat in the Prefect’s private transport and fidgeted, one hand under her veil so she could chew her thumbnail. The Prefect offered her a chocolate turtle, but she shook her head impatiently. Her eyes flicked from the window to Simon sitting across from her; since they’d left the flowershop she’d wanted to talk to him, but knew she wasn’t allowed.
The ride to Chairman Yeng’s residence took barely ten minutes. River was out of the transport as soon as the door opened, leaving Simon to gather her gifts, murmur an apology to the Prefect, and rush on his sore leg to follow her. She moved amazingly well considering her borrowed high heels were two sizes too big.
The door to Inara’s shuttle was open, and River ran in without pausing. Inara rose from the cortex just in time for the girl to throw herself into her arms.
“It’s okay honey,” Inara said. “We just need to leave a little early.” Inara threw a questioning look at Simon as he followed River into the shuttle.
“What’s happening?” he asked with his own look, noting the tousled bed in an otherwise empty shuttle.
“I was just trying to find you. Apparently the Captain has gotten himself into another mess and they’re leaving already. That man can’t even deliver a few fish without hitting a snag.” Inara looked down at River and lifted the veil off the girl’s face. “What happened with you two? River?”
River was hysterical, eye makeup running in smears down her cheeks. “No knives. Wires. Burn from the inside out. Turn everything bad.”
Simon took River out of Inara’s arms. “She was doing fine and then suddenly…” he shrugged. “…she just said we had to go.”
“She was right about that. I got a wave from Wash not ten minutes ago, they’re leaving the station. In a hurry. We’re to meet them in wide orbit.” Inara turned to seal the shuttle hatch. “Is River all right?”
“She’ll be fine. It’s been a long day. Too many new experiences.” He guided River to the sofa. “You did very well mei-mei.”
River stared at him, eyes wide with horror. “You don’t know what it’s like. You think everything is real but it isn’t how it’s supposed to be.” Her focus turned inward. “Everything goes wrong, exactly how it shouldn’t.”
“What goes wrong?”
“Everything! They want… what they want to know. It’s not there. He doesn’t have it. But they’ll dig up other things.”
“Who?” Simon asked, but River’s face screwed up in frustration. She buried her head in his shoulder.
Simon turned to Inara, who was watching with concern. “I’m not excusing the Captain for getting us into another botched job,” he said, “but I am glad to be getting her back to the ship early. This has been a lot for her to take.”
“He’s lucky I have you two along, or I might just stay here and consider the shuttle payment for all the headaches he’s caused me.” But she didn’t say it meanly, and Simon returned her frustrated smile.
Inara was warming up the shuttle when the comm beeped. A minute later she shut down the engine and returned to the main room.
“I just talked to Wash. We’re not going back to Serenity yet. We’re to stay here.”
* * *
Book stepped inside the ship and shut the hatch in the airlock door with a clang. “Nothing,” he told Zoe. “There could be video monitoring, but there’s no one out there keeping an eye on us.”
“Any sign of trouble?” she asked him.
“I found the stairway door where the Captain must have been when he talked to you over the comm. No sign of any scuffle there. And I had a chat with the folks at platform 26. No one saw anything untoward.”
“Or they saw it but they don’t wanna talk about it,” Jayne said from the crate where he was sitting next to Kaylee.
“Those folks figure what you were askin’ about?” Zoe asked Book.
“No one is surprised at a knock from a clergyman. They make their own assumptions as to why I’m bothering their peace,” Book said with a small smile.
“As long as they can’t trace you back here.”
“He couldn’t a’ just disappeared,” Kaylee said. “Not without any trace.”
“Apparently that’s just what he did.” Zoe said.
“So what’re we gonna do?” Jayne asked.
“Find him is what,” Zoe told him. “Does anyone have any contacts on this world? Old friends?” They looked at each other uncomfortably. “Right.” Zoe took a turn across the cargo bay with her head down. She didn’t look up until Wash came clattering down the stairs from the bridge.
“I waved Inara, she says they’re in a safe spot and she can stay put. Do we have a plan yet?” he asked. Everyone looked to Zoe.
“OK,” she said. “He was most like grabbed by the same Feds that came into that bar. Alliance is new on this world, so could be we’ll get some folks to talk to us about what the Alliance has been up to today. Maybe find out where they hold prisoners. We got well paid today, so there’s bribe money if we need it.”
“What if they tied you and Jayne in with Mal when you were out before?” Book asked.
“It’s been near a half hour since we heard from him. If they were interested in me and Jayne we’d have probably heard a knock by now.” She turned to Jayne. “You saw the fellow that closed the deal with Mal?”
“You heard his name over the transponder while Mal was talkin’ to him?”
“Uh… Kamath. Somethin’ like that.”
“That’s what I heard. Kamath. You need to find him.”
“You think that’s like to happen?” Jayne asked.
“It ain’t that big a station, see what you can do. Start at the place we met the guy. Ask around.”
“I do know how to conduct a search,” Jayne said with injured dignity.
“You better. Ain’t none of us leavin’ this station without the Captain.” Zoe looked around at them all. “Dong ma?”
“I… I can go with Jayne,” Kaylee said tentatively. “Folks might be a little more chatty about a man’s whereabouts with a gal than with, well…” she bit her lip and glanced at Jayne.
“All right. Take a comm unit, stay in contact with Wash and don’t get separated. If you find this guy, call it in but do not talk to him. They came for Mal right after he talked to Kamath. I don’t want the same to happen to you. We need to go at this real careful.”
“I’ll do some walking about myself,” Book offered. “Keep my ears open.”
“All right,” Zoe said. “Everyone check in every fifteen. Wash, if you go a half hour without hearing from someone, you call us all back and we’ll mount a new rescue. Times ’a tickin’ and every minute the trail gets colder. Let’s move.”
* * *
Inara changed the bedding while Simon wiped River’s face clean with a wet towel and a bowl of water that Inara had provided.
“I’ll tell Chairman Yeng our ship is having mechanical trouble. I’m sure he won’t mind hosting us, but I’ll insist on leaving the shuttle for you and River.”
“Sleep will help her. Won’t it mei-mei?”
“I can sleep now,” River said distantly. “I’m not needed yet.”
“Of course you’re needed. But you’re tired.” Simon finished removing her makeup and kissed his little sister on the forehead. Inara offered her a satin nightslip and robe, and River went to the shuttle’s head to change.
“Do you need anything?” Inara asked Simon.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be fine.”
Inara pulled a shawl over her shoulders and walked to the hatch.
“Inara?” Simon called. “They’ll find him.” Her reply was a smile that didn’t conceal the fright in her eyes.
On the way down to the station’s entertainment level, Jayne filled Kaylee in with the ‘Kamath’ guy’s looks. “Might not be hard to spot. Ain’t many Hindu type folk hereabout,” he said.
The place was, amazingly, all cleaned up. The only difference Jayne could see from when he had been there less than an hour ago was the clean floor: recently swept and mopped to get up the glass. The lights were replaced and there were even a few patrons settled like they’d been there all day. Jayne tried to start up a chat with a drinker at the bar, commenting on the ruckus they’d had earlier, but the guy claimed to have just landed and pointedly turned back to his glass.
Kaylee turned on all her charm with the bartender. The man didn’t have much to tell her about the events of the day.
“Raids of this type been happenin’ since the Alliance got here,” he told her. “Guess they want to make sure people learn who’s in charge now.”
“You know who they was after?” she asked.
“Probably some poor fool who don’t know some little bitty law. This one today was pretty excitin’ though. People make a run for it most times, but I never seen someone shoot out the lights before. Not a bad idea. I hope they got away.”
“Ya, me too. Say, I heard there was this Indian type guy in here just before the shootin’. You know, black hair, little mustache. Wearin’ a loose tan robe kind of thing and a little cloth hat?” Kaylee held her hands up as a model of the hat.
The bartender gave her an amused look. “Little lady, I think maybe you got some personal interest in this.”
“I do. Please, it’s important.”
“I didn’t see the fella.”
“Sorry missy. Wish I could help.”
Kaylee shook her head at Jayne and they headed out.
“Nothin’ useful there,” she said. Jayne quickly relayed this to Wash, then put the comm back in his pocket.
“So now we do a door-to-door, check all the eateries. Then we can go down a level and check the shops.” Jayne took a look around the concourse before he continued..”This level’s all arranged in circles. Crappy places inside, nice places toward the outside where the proper folk can look out the window. We start inside, and work our way out. You go in and do the askin’ of the people what work there, I’ll scope the customers.” Jayne narrowed his eyes at Kaylee. “So what’s your story?”
“Yeah, what are you gonna tell people?”
“Um, I’m just lookin’ for this guy…”
“No!” Jayne gave her a look of disgust. “You got no idea how to do this.” He thought a minute as they worked their way in to the most central circle. “OK – you tell them this guy was supposed to meet up with you for a little assig-nation.”
“What? He probably has buddies, and no one’s gonna help us find a guy if they think we’re gonna beat him up or somethin’. But they will help him get hooked up with you.” Jayne raised his eyebrows suggestively. “That story’ll work for these first few circles. I’ll think a’ somethin’ classier once we get out a bit.”
“Jayne Cobb, I do believe you have a talent for this.”
“Glad someone gets that.”
Inara was led to Chairman Yeng where he sat in a dark den with the Prefect. She could tell what they had been discussing from the way they looked at her.
“Chairman, I apologize for intruding -” she began.
“Feihua! No intrusion!” he jumped up. “I was unhappy to lose you so early. To what do we owe this fortunate change of plans?”
“My host ship has had a mechanical problem. I’m afraid I won’t be able to return to it tonight. I can move to a public landing pad, if you could recommend something appropriate.”
“Nonsense! You shall dine with us and you are welcome for as long as you need to stay. Trevor was just telling me about the Novice Daphne.”
“Were you?” Inara resisted the temptation to call him on that. Instead, she inclined her head at the Prefect, whom she hadn’t yet met. “A pleasure, Prefect Marone, I believe?”
“The lovely Inara Serra.” The Prefect kissed her hand gallantly.
“Thank you for entertaining Daphne this afternoon. She would have been disappointed to stay inside and miss seeing the sights.”
“How is she? She seemed quite distressed.”
“She’s resting. It’s best she stay on my shuttle for the night. A world like this is new to her; I’m afraid she was overwhelmed.” She turned to the Chairman. “I would be happy to accept your invitation for dinner. Perhaps afterwards we can continue our appointment where we left off?” The man flushed with pleasure that Inara would make such a statement in front of his friend. An easy one to please, she thought.
Zoe managed to get chummy with a pair of men wearing the light gray suits of Alliance workers. They were nursing their coffee at a greasy spoon diner on the same level as the newly opened Alliance office. It didn’t take them long to start in on their new employer.
“Guess I shouldn’t be complainin’ ‘bout it,” the larger of the two men said. He spoke in a slow, calm drawl “It’s good to have regular pay for a change. But a man’s gotta wonder what they’re up to.”
“How d’ya mean?” Zoe asked from her stool next to him at the counter.
“I mean they’re lookin’ for somethin’. Been takin’ people since the first week they got here.”
Zoe looked at him sharply. “Takin’ people?” she asked.
“Do it planetside too. Purplebellies always out on the prowl.” He sipped his coffee thoughtfully.
“What happens to the people who get taken?”
“Lost someone, did ya?” The other man asked from the far side of the big man. His face was tight and drawn into a perpetual frown.
Zoe gave him a hard look. “Someone I mean to get back.”
“Take it easy, hon.” The big man said. “You’ll get him – him?” Zoe nodded in response. “You’ll get him back. Way I hear it, people turn up a couple days after they get nabbed, lookin’ confused but none the worse for it.”
“You know that, do ya?” The frowning man asked his buddy, then he turned to Zoe. “I heard a lady got taken more’n a week ago and nobody heard a thing since.”
The big man countered: “I know a fella planetside, said his wife’s brother went away for three days, then walks back in the house actin’ kinda lost. Then he goes to bed, and gets up next mornin’ with nothin’ more than a headache and he’s been goin’ ‘bout his business ever since.”
“That ain’t nothin’,” frowning man started in on another tale. “I heard -”
Zoe interrupted, “Do either of you gents know where they take these people?”
Big man answered, “Nah. Ain’t you listenin’? Just sit back and wait, he’ll show.”
“Or could be he won’t,” frowning man said with a look of warning.
“Do you know what the Feds are doin’ with these people?” Zoe asked.
“Just askin’ questions, most like,” big man said patiently.
“Experimentin’ on em, I say,” claimed frowning man. “Doin’ somethin’ unnatural. Somethin’ they can’t get away with in the Core.”
Zoe decided to go with big man’s theory. “What’re they after with the questions?” she asked him.
“Somethin’ or other ‘at pisses ‘em off. Never can tell with the Feds.” big man set down his mug. “Lady, you ought’a leave this alone. Alliance is here now, they’ll do what they do. No good makin’ a fuss over it. Didn’t do no good in the war, won’t do no good now.”
“That is the truth of the matter there,” frowning man agreed.
Zoe took advantage of the their moment of agreement to buy them refills of their coffee, then she moved on.
The Prefect lingered over brandy and a cigar, seeming oblivious to his host’s broad hints that it was time to retire. Inara found her creative skills put to use as Trevor questioned her about the Novice Daphne’s background. The man seemed taken enough to be satisfied with a fairly basic account, but Inara kept track of her story so she could fill in River and Simon later.
…belle of a small town on a backwater world, parents tragically died, her brother came to Inara and begged her to take the girl to be a Companion. Inara was happy to have company, and the girl showed promise, so…
“Do you know how long you’ll be staying planetside?” the Prefect asked.
“I’m not sure. I hope to hear from the ship’s mechanic in the morning, then I should have a better idea.”
“What a fortunate chance that you were delayed. I hope you both can spend a few more days here; there is so much to see.”
“Yes, it is a lovely world,” Inara hesitated to be too chatty. Chairman Yeng had begun to stare at her body and sigh heavily.
“What did you say the name of your ship was?” the Prefect asked.
“Oh… I didn’t.” He was watching her closely, her face, not her body. Inara couldn’t sidestep the question without being obvious. “She’s called Serenity.”
“What kind of ship?”
“A cargo ship. Firefly class transport.”
“Ah yes. Good design.” He sipped his brandy, but his eyes didn’t leave her face. “It’s a strange ship for a Registered Companion to choose as her base of operation.”
Inara felt a pang of alarm, but hid it behind a smile. “One can never guess the path one will tread.”
“Indeed. What does the crew do?”
“Transport cargo, mostly.” Inara glanced at the Chairman as another loud sigh escaped him.
“And they had cargo to deliver here?”
“I believe so. I don’t involve myself in the day to day operations of the ship.” She finished with she hoped he would realize was a smile of dismissal.
“I imagine not. Well,” the Prefect suddenly rose to his feet. “I believe I’ve overstayed my welcome. I’ll be on my way to bed. Arthur, lovely dinner. Miss Serra, truly a pleasure to meet you.”
Inara returned his bow with a smile and a nod of her head, but she didn’t much care for the calculations she could see behind his eyes.
* * *
Four hours after the search had started, the remaining crew of Serenity assembled in the dining room. Wash had prepared a late dinner while they combed the station. They shared the little bits of news they’d heard while they ate.
“I didn’t get anything about Mal,” Zoe said. “Anyone else?” She got a chorus of no’s in response.
“And we didn’t hear a thing about Ricky’s pal,” Jayne said.
“But this ain’t been the first Alliance trouble here,” Kaylee said. “They been raidin’ a lot. Takin’ people.”
Zoe nodded. “Yeah, pretty clear the Alliance is up to no good out here. Could be there’s some information they’re lookin’ for that they think Mal has. But that don’t help us get to him.”
“We could go back to New Melbourne, talk to Ricky,” Wash suggested.
“We do that, we can’t be back for four days, maybe five. Mal could be anywhere by then,” Zoe replied.
“Sweetie, he could be anywhere by now.” Wash laid a hand on her shoulder.
“You been monitorin’ traffic?” she asked her husband.
“I have. Nothing big has left the system, but there’s been all kinds of Alliance traffic between the station, the freighter, the cruiser, and the planetside base.”
“Mal ain’t the first person to disappear,” Zoe said. “Must be a central place they’re takin’ people for questionin’, if that’s what’s happening.” Zoe pushed her plate back and checked her watch. “We can’t go out again now. Everything’s shut down, and we’ve probably already drawn attention to ourselves as it is.”
“I believe no one will be surprised at a preacher wondering the complex during the sinful hours,” Book said. “And you never know what stories come out in the wee hours of the night.”
“Good idea preacher. Thank you. The rest of you get some sleep, I’m gonna comb the cortex. Maybe there’s somethin’ in the news.”
“You get some sleep too, honey. You can’t help him if you’re exhausted.” Wash leaned into Zoe and placed a comforting kiss on her cheek.
“I will. Later.” She left for the bridge.
Inara rose as soon as she heard snores from the Chairman. Thankfully, he hadn’t taken long to finish their appointment, and she wasn’t in a frame of mind to draw out the experience for him. She couldn’t shake her uneasiness with the Prefect’s questions, and she was eager to get to her shuttle and talk to Zoe. Hopefully there would be good news. She wound her way through the rambling house to the hall near the landing garden.
“Miss Serra?” Inara jumped at the man sitting on a dark bench at the entryway.
“You startled me,” she said.
“You were going somewhere?” the Prefect asked.
“Just… to check on Daphne. I was worried about her.”
“As was I. However, she can wait a few minutes. Would you have a word with me?” It wasn’t really a question.
“Now isn’t the best time,” she said.
“I’d like to talk to you about Serenity.”
“There’s no mechanical problem.”
Inara was grateful for the training that allowed her to keep her face calm. “Indeed? Our pilot told me -”
He cut her off. “Your Captain has been taken into Alliance custody.” He took her elbow in a solid grip. “If you don’t mind.” He motioned toward a dark doorway and guided her through it.
On to Chapter 11.
Monday, January 23, 2006 4:41 AM
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Monday, January 23, 2006 5:44 AM
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Monday, January 23, 2006 9:19 AM
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Tuesday, January 24, 2006 1:33 AM
Tuesday, January 24, 2006 2:04 AM
Wednesday, July 12, 2006 5:59 AM
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