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Here Be Dragons (Part IV)
Monday, March 22, 2004

Pilgrims in a Holy Land?


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 4814    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Disclaimer – Everything either does belong to Joss or it should. I’m just borrowing his shiny ‘verse for a while.

The 21st Lancers belong to the British Army so I’m borrowing them too. I hope they don’t mind.

Thanks to my regular readers for making it worthwhile to continue the story and special thanks to my Proof-Reader Landry.

* * *

Transport Ship Serenity – Grounded on Revelation – 2520AD

‘Looks like the landing bay external airlock is sealed properly,’ Wash announced on the intercom. ‘We can open the hatches when you like.’

‘I’d feel happier toting iron,’ Jayne announced. ‘Feels naked being on the ground without a pistol on my belt.’

‘I think the locals would object. It took enough effort to get them to let us land,’ Inara replied. ‘Besides, this is a religious community. I can’t see them being a massive threat.’

‘Have you never heard of the word “Crusade” or “Jihad” for that matter?’ Steven commented. ‘Frankly, the thought of being surrounded by thousands of religious extremists gives me the creeps.’

‘Extremists might be too strong a word. They are more isolationist than they are radical judging from my conversations with their Leadership,’ Book said. ‘In their own words, they came here so they could live according to the rules laid down by God instead of the Laws laid down by man. They are a touch archaic in some of their attitudes though, I must admit.’

‘Not extremist you say? I’ll remind you of that when the local Inquisition is sticking a red hot poker up your… oh, hello girls. Ready to go?’ Steven said as his daughters entered the bay with their mother. ‘Where’s John?’ he asked.

‘He’s with Simon getting a plaster put on his knee. He scraped it going through a duct,’ Jennifer replied. ‘He’s starting not to fit in some of them as well as he used to, which may make Kaylee’s life easier.’

‘Kaylee says chasing John through the ship’s machinery keeps her fit,’ Claire-Marie said. ‘She flushed him out once with a pressure hose.’

‘Well he’d better be on his best behaviour or the local nuts might stone him or something,’ Cally said.

Steven grinned. ‘Always nice not to be the only radical atheist about,’ he said and kissed his eldest on the top of her head. ‘Remember not to provoke them. Getting burned at the stake would be unpleasant.’

‘I’ll vouch for that from personal experience,’ Simon said, appearing with John. He looked down at the little boy. ‘I don’t want to see you in the infirmary for at least a good few weeks. You’re using up all the plasters and I’m running out of sweets.’

John took the lollipop out of his mouth. ‘Yes Sir,’ he said, and hopped over to his mother.

‘Best you go ahead Book,’ Mal told him. ‘I reckon the only reason they let us land at all was because we had a Shepherd onboard. They seemed more than a mite annoyed we’d found them in the first place.’

Book nodded. ‘They were so careful not to let people not-of-their-sect know where they were. I don’t think they counted on someone tracing a single stray transmission.’

‘It was only when we went into geosynchronous orbit over the colony dome they answered the hail,’ Wash said, appearing in the bay. ‘I thought I’d have to fly down and skywrite.’

‘We sure they’ve got something worth trading for?’ Zoe asked.

‘Must have something. Besides, this is our first landfall in a good long while,’ Mal responded. ‘Be nice to stretch the legs properly. Pity it’s only point-six gee.’

‘Can’t believe they don’t use AG in the dome,’ Wash said. ‘On the other hand, we’ll be a lot stronger than the locals if they’ve lived under this gravity for any length of time.’

‘Does kinda put a spring in the step don’t it?’ Jayne said.

‘I prefer freefall,’ River said, arriving with Kaylee, ‘but you could really dance well in this gravity.’

‘Dancing round here probably constitutes a sin punishable by flagellation,’ Steven said. ‘I want to find a place to buy a T-Shirt with the slogan, “I came to Revelation and All I got was this Lousy Horsehair Shirt.”’

Mal looked at his crew. Please oh please, he thought, let us get off a planet without fighting, gun-play, kidnapping or torture.

‘Is Granite Gorge going to be all right?’ Claire-Marie asked. ‘I didn’t like leaving her in orbit alone.’

‘She’s not alone. Laura is still onboard locked in her cabin with a crate of rations,’ Cally told her.

‘Laura doesn’t count. She’s not really one of the crew,’ Claire-Marie replied.

‘Shadow is up there too, watching over everybody,’ Wash said. ‘Our very own Guardian Angel.’

‘Well, I suppose that’s alright,’ Claire-Marie said.

Mal thought about their “Guardian Angel” in orbit. If things went wrong it was under orders to get them the hell out by any means necessary. If needs be, it would threaten to blow a hole in the dome itself.

If needs be, it would actually do it, too.

* * *

‘Everyone is looking at us,’ John said, huddling up to his mother. ‘It’s scary.’

‘They don’t get many outsiders here, so they’re probably scared of us too,’ his father said, as they walked together down the main road that bisected the buildings inside the dome. Book was leading some yards ahead chatting to one of the locals who had greeted them at the airlock and was escorting them from the landing pad to the dome.

‘The fact we haven’t got six fingers on each hand is probably the problem,’ joked Wash.

Zoe shushed him.

‘What?’ responded the pilot, quietly. ‘They do all look a bit alike, don’t they?’ He continued looking at the locals who were all wearing identical white clothes.

‘They think a lot alike too,’ River announced, ‘and they really are scared of us.’

‘It’s the smiling that gets me,’ said Jayne nervously. ‘They’re all smiling, even the ones that are staring.’

‘Gotta admit, that’s just downright creepifying,’ Mal agreed.

‘I had students with that expression on their faces,’ Steven said. ‘They were usually on drugs.’

Inara started laughing. ‘Honestly. I’d swear you are all getting more intolerant of others every day. We live on a spaceship together and don’t talk to another living soul for months on end and you’re criticising them for being insular and closed minded.’

‘At least our family trees have branches. I’m guessing this lot, not so much,’ Wash interjected, ‘but I see your point.’

‘Agreed,’ Mal said. ‘I don’t want any trouble here, so lets all be accepting that our hosts are a bit different but that don’t make them hostile or nothing.’

Cally took her fathers hand and pulled him down to her level ‘Does that mean we have to stand there and take it if we get preached at?’ she whispered.

‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘but if it gets too annoying just bare in mind they’re not bad, just misguided.’

‘Right,’ she said, nodding.

* * *

The town meeting hall was in the very centre of the dome set in a big square with roads running in all four compass directions. The Dome itself was about a kilometre across, which was not a major feat of engineering in an age of advanced materials especially on a point-six gee world.

The crew were met by the rest of the “Community Elders” as the local leadership styled themselves. It was worth noting they were all male, which surprised nobody one little bit.

‘I am Elder Irving, the Chief Elder of the colony,’ said a man who looked to be in his late sixties but who could have been much older, as low gravity is good for preserving the appearance.

‘I am Shepard Book, Pastor to the crew,’ Book replied. ‘May I introduce Malcolm Reynolds, our Captain?’

Mal took a step forward and offered his hand, which Irving shook ‘Thank you kindly for letting us set down. We’ve been ship-bound a long spell.’

‘We reasoned a crew with its own Man of God could not be too much of a threat to our way of life. Besides which, Shepherd Book told us you had children aboard and scripture teaches that children are blessed in the eyes of the Lord.’

Mal hoped Cally wasn’t noticeably rolling her eyes and shaking her head as she was want to do at such moments. ‘Yes. I’ll introduce you to them and the rest of my crew,’ he said.

Irving steeped over to the crew who had presented themselves in a line.

‘This is my Second in Command Zoe and her Husband Wash who is our pilot’

Irving nodded a greeting. The idea of a woman in such a senior position was rather absurd to his thinking, but at least she was married.

‘Our Doctor Simon and his Sister River.’

Family together that is good, thought Irving. Although the girl should be married off by now. Perhaps she could be persuaded to stay?

Not a chance, thought River.

‘Kaylee our mechanic and Jayne our…. Well, this is Jayne,’ Mal continued.

Another woman in a man’s job when she should be baring children, Irving thought sadly. He wondered about the role of the large menacing looking man if the Captain couldn’t explain it.

‘This is Steven, his wife Jennifer and their children Cally, Claire-Marie and John.’

Good. A proper family. The husband was very badly scarred though. Irving wondered how that happened.

‘And, finally, this is Inara my intended.’

The extremely attractive woman, who was wearing too much jewellery and makeup in Irving’s opinion, smiled and looked at the Captain affectionately. Irving noted they were living on the same ship but not yet wed. He assumed however that the Shepherd was keeping them off each other before the marriage.

River was still scanning him and inwardly laughed her ass off.

Irving surveyed the group. ‘We will allow you to stay for a few days as it would be highly unchristian not to offer proper hospitality now you are here. We will examine the list of trade items you have produced and let you know if we wish to barter for them,’ he said. ‘We invite your children to attend our school whilst they are here.’

River felt the wave of horror coming off Cally and nearly lost control barely choking back the laughter.

‘That sounds like a wonderful idea,’ said Jennifer. ‘I’ll deliver them tomorrow morning.’ The children would benefit from interaction with people their own age.

‘We will send someone to collect you,’ Irving told her. ‘In the meantime, would you care to break bread with us? The community eats together in the dinner hall in half an hour. There will be a table laid out for you all. The fare is simple but nourishing.’

Later that evening River found that her crew were starting to think as much alike as the locals. They were all wishing they could be eating those diabolical concentrated rations they usually despised instead of the local food.

They were all still being watched too.

For a brief moment it crossed Mal’s mind that shooting their way out of towns did have its upsides after all.

* * *

Cally was brought to the head of the class to be introduced. There were enough children in the colony to have separate classes by age-group, so Claire-Marie and John were elsewhere in the school. Cally had told them both to find her if they had any problems and she’d look after them, otherwise they’d see each other during recess and lunch break.

Cally looked around at the other children and weighed them up. Jayne had told her that whenever you enter a room of strangers you should determine who the biggest threat was and whether you could beat them in a fight. You could also tell a lot from looking in their eyes. Never break eye-contact first. Establish dominance. Be a good Wolf.

A few of the children met her gaze. She ignored the ones that didn’t. They were sheep. Of the ones that did, the eleven year old decided that in this low gravity with some of the nastier tricks she knew she could take them easily even if she had to take on a few at once.

She smiled.

The teacher was a woman. This was one of the few jobs females were allowed to do in this society. Sociologically, they were really backward, Cally had already decided, and lived according to a lot of Old Testament thinking plus a bit of their own notions of proper society into the bargain.

‘Class, this is Cally. She’ll be staying with us a few days. Say hello, class,’ the teacher said, writing her name on the board in front of the class.

‘Hello, Cally,’ the class chimed.

‘That’s an unusual name. Do you know where it comes from?’ the teacher asked. Everyone here had a biblical name.

Cally nodded ‘Most people think it comes from Callista which is the feminine form of Callistos in Latin. That in turn is a translation of Kallistos in Ancient Greek which is spelled with a K instead of a C and means “most beautiful.”’

‘You say “most people.” Why? Isn’t that true?’

‘Oh, it’s true. That’s where most people called Cally or Callie, with an IE instead of a Y, get their name, but not me,’ Cally said. ‘I was named after the Excalibur Tanks my father used in the war. He was an officer in the Independent Army.’

‘You’re named for an instrument of death and destruction?’ the teacher said in horror.

‘Yes,’ Cally replied, ‘but it’s a really cool one.’

* * *

Mal was trading. The colony didn’t have a lot to offer but there were a few items worth having including raw materials and so he was sitting down negotiating with a number of the local leadership.

River was sitting next to him, supposedly making notes and doing calculations but in reality scanning the other side. It was this advantage that meant the crew always came out ahead in bargaining. She and Mal had a system of surreptitious hand-signals that enabled the telepath to let him know just how good a deal he could get on any one item.

Book might have disapproved but Mal wasn’t the greatest fan of the clergy and this place was just one big religious enterprise. There was so much faith about Mal could feel it closing in on him. He had little room for god. Hadn’t had much since the valley.

The rest of the crew were touring the colony except for the children, who were in school of course. Book was enjoying the opportunity to spend time with the devout, even though they were a somewhat different sect from his own. Most every one else was simply taking the opportunity to walk in a straight line for more than a few yards at once.

A few of the crew were meeting up for a picnic at lunchtime on the lawns that surrounded the Town Hall. One thing Mal did miss was green, so he’d be joining them. It really looked like they might have a relatively uneventful stay, and that was almost enough to restore a bit of faith to the Captain.

Not quite, but almost.

* * *

‘I put money on this,’ Wash whispered to Jayne as they gathered in Serenity’s cargo bay. ‘Wouldn’t have expected it so soon, though,’ he continued.

The crew had been interrupted by one of the town elders whilst at lunch and told that others of their number were no longer welcome. They had returned as a group to the ship and now Steven was explaining why his family were no longer allowed in the colony.

‘Alright,’ Mal said, ‘start from the beginning.’

‘Okay,’ Steven began. ‘Jennifer and I were called to the school because of a problem with Cally…’

‘I can explain everything,’ Cally interrupted, entering the bay hand in hand with her mother and followed by Simon. ‘I’ll tell you what really happened.’

Steven nodded. ‘Well I only heard it second hand so…’

‘Go ahead Cally,’ Mal told her.

‘There wasn’t a problem until lunchtime,’ Cally began. ‘John was playing and one of the local kids who was a bit bigger wanted to take away his toy spaceship, the little model of Granite Gorge Jayne made. Well anyway John wouldn’t let him, so the kid pushed John over.’

‘So you hit him?’ Mal asked. He’d been told by Irving that Cally had been fighting,

‘No, he was only little himself. I don’t hit little kids. So Claire-Marie hit him instead,’ Cally explained. ‘Made his nose bleed. I showed her how to throw a punch the way you showed me, Captain.’

Mal coughed. He had once run into Cally using a pillow case stuffed with clothes as a punching bag and thinking she might hurt her knuckles corrected her technique so she wouldn’t. He’d also thrown in a couple of the best places to hit someone and a piece of advice not to actually do so. ‘Anyway, moving on, what happened then?’ he asked.

‘Well a much older boy grabbed Claire-Marie and twisted her arm.’

‘So, that’s when you got involved?’

‘Yes.’

Steven interrupted. ‘According to the Head Teacher. Another teacher who witnessed the event said that Cally beat the heck out of him.’

‘He was a lot bigger than me. Fourteen at least, so I thought I’d better finish it quickly.

‘What did you do, exactly?’ Zoe asked, intrigued.

‘I kicked him on the back of the knee to buckle his leg then used a sweep to knock him completely off of his feet. Then, when he was on the ground, I dropped on him as hard as I could with my elbow in his stomach to knock the wind out of him. The locals must be wussy because the gravity’s low and I didn’t land very hard at all really but he still didn’t get up again.’

Jayne grinned. Good girl, he thought. He’d shown her a couple of techniques she could use to knock bigger folks down.

‘I was told that when she was dragged off the boy she was sitting on his chest, punching him repeatedly in the face, screaming obscenities,’ Steven said. ‘The Head Teacher was so appalled by the language he wouldn’t say it aloud and wrote it down.’

‘Nobody hurts my sister and gets away without incurring serious pain,’ Cally said bluntly. ‘And I wasn’t screaming. I was being very calm about it. Threats are more menacing if said coldly and deliberately.’

Zoe looked elsewhere. That was something she’d told the girl.

‘I’m sorry, but I’ve got to know what she said,’ Wash asked.

Steven looked to his wife who nodded and then he got out a scrap of paper. ‘If I can quote the highlight it goes, “If you touch my family again I’ll rip off your head and shit down your neck.” I’ll be having words about language by the way Cally.’

Wash looked across to the girl with raised eyebrows. She nodded to confirm that was what she said.

‘I’m guessing the Head Teacher wasn’t too impressed.’

‘No, he certainly wasn’,t but that’s not likely why we’re persona non grata.’

‘No?’

‘No. The reason we got kicked out is that when myself and Jennifer got to the school we discovered that they had taken it into their hands to punish Cally themselves in the way they usually do here, apparently.’

‘What did they do?’ Mal asked.

‘They beat her across the back with what I believe was a leather strap,’ Simon said coldly. ‘I’ve cleaned out the wounds, but she bled quite a bit. I won’t be leaving the ship again. I don’t like the way these people treat children.’

‘Simon said one of the marks might leave a scar,’ Cally said, not sounding too unhappy about it. Her Daddy had loads of scars from burns, bullets and shrapnel, and lots of the other crew had scars too from bullets or knife wounds. There was nothing wrong with scars. They were like medals you always got to wear. ‘Two teachers grabbed me so I couldn’t get away. Claire-Marie and John tried to help but they were too little,’ Cally told everyone. ‘I didn’t scream when they beat me, though,’ she said proudly, ‘but I did cry a bit,’ she admitted.

‘Apparently they were about to spank Claire-Marie for fighting, too, but we arrived before they did,’ Steven told the group.

Jennifer held her arms out for her daughter who hugged her. Jennifer was careful not to touch Cally’s back, but hugged her back as gently as she could.

Mal looked around the crew. The typical expression might best be described as shock or, in Jayne’s case, homicidal. Mal knew the big mercenary had a soft spot for the kids and there was a definite rapport between him and Stevens’s eldest.

‘We’ve never beaten our children’ Steven stated ‘We don’t believe in it. And I can’t say I was happy someone else did, especially without our permission. In fact you could say I was a touched peeved,’ he said in a masterful example of Wessex understatement.

‘You didn’t hit the Head Teacher, did you?’ Mal asked Steve, not that he wouldn’t have raised a fist against someone who beat his daughter, if he had one. Mal had himself been beaten by a strap growing up, and wasn’t against it automatically like Steve and Jennifer, but it was for them to deal out punishment to their children, nobody else.

‘I never got the chance,’ Steve said. ‘When we saw Cally’s back, Jennifer punched his lights out. She was closer to him than I was,’ he explained. ‘I had to drag her off the poor bastard. I thought she was going to kill him.’

Everyone looked at the petite woman who was still cradling her child. It was so out of character it was almost funny. Jennifer usually came across as so kind and sweet, unless she was verbally sparring with Steve or singing obscene songs about miners.

‘We left him on the floor of his office, collected the other two children from class and came back here,’ Jennifer said. ‘Simon was here when we arrived and took care of Cally.’

‘Kaylee and I were with River walking around when she suddenly yelled out and said I had to go back to the ship because Cally was hurt. I got here just before they did.’

‘Where’s River now?’ Mal asked.

‘With Kaylee looking after John and Claire-Marie. They’re a bit shaken up, too,’ Simon told him.

‘Next thing was you lot coming back and saying we weren’t welcome in there any more,’ Steven said, ‘although that was less than a surprise.’

‘Putting it mildly, yes,’ Inara said, having just arrived and catching the tail-end of the discussion. ‘Although they say the rest of us are still welcome because they think it was your atheism that resulted in the problem. Apparently you’re not fit parents.’ She turned to Mal. ‘Book is still talking to Irving.’

‘We don’t mind staying on the ship,’ Jennifer said. ‘Everyone else should go about their business until we lift.’

‘I reckon we won’t be staying much longer,’ Mal responded. ‘Got a couple of trade deals left to make, but we should be out of here by tomorrow at the latest.’

Wash looked over at Steven. ‘You’re just a trouble magnet, aren’t you?’

‘Not my fault,’ Steven replied. ‘In fact, I find it highly comical that of the five members of my family it’s the three females who’ve been hitting people and my son and I weren’t. So much for these people’s ideas on gender-roles,’

Mal turned to Simon. ‘How bad is Cally really?’

‘Cuts were pretty deep. And I think one of them really may scar a little bit even with the medication I applied. It would have hurt a hell of a lot I’ll say that.’

Steven had a wry smile despite his concern for his daughter. ‘When I was carrying her back to the ship Cally told me what she said to them just before they beat her.’

‘Yes?’ Inara asked.

‘Apparently they told her fighting and bad language was forbidden and she was a vicious little animal. Then they said this was a proper Christian community,’ he smiled. ‘She told them if they were really Christians they’d forgive her, so she might be vicious but at least she wasn’t a rutting hypocrite.’

Mal looked Steve squarely in the eye. ‘If you ever leave, I’m keeping your daughter. I hope you realise that.’

‘You’ll have to fight Jennifer for her.’

Mal thought about that one. ‘I’ll get Zoe to do it,’ he said finally.

Part V

COMMENTS

Monday, March 22, 2004 8:45 AM

ARTSHIPS


Utterly, utterly entertaining. You've written fabulous characters and it's good you let'em out and stretch a bit. So much fun. Thanks!

Monday, March 22, 2004 8:51 AM

SEVERA


That Rocked!! The characters are believable and very entertaining!! Thanks and please continue.

Monday, March 22, 2004 9:51 AM

AMDOBELL


Loved it, this was hi-larious fun. Cally is such a character and her logic is pretty damn shiny! *Xiexie ni*, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, March 22, 2004 10:53 AM

MILORADELL


I am so enjoying this! Thank you!!

"if they were really Christians they’d forgive her, so she might be vicious but at least she wasn’t a rutting hypocrite" Oh! That is just toooo good!

Monday, March 22, 2004 3:16 PM

MALSDOXY


this was so good, HP...lol numerous times...i fear for our crew, though on this 'god-fearing' planet...looking for chapter v already


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