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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Things go boom, thuk, and thwack
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1315 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
The explosion was painfully loud, even with his hand over his ears, and Simon could feel the earth shudder.
Did they mean it to be that powerful? he wondered.
He was the furthest away, in the bushes, with the shoulder of the hill between him and the explosion, and still it shook him.
They made a mistake, he thought. He could picture it in his mind, Krak had used a little too much explosive and the lawmen were lying on the ground, dazed and bleeding.
He was supposed to stay where he was until they called for him. “Medic’s not much use if he’s been shot, don’t you know?” Xastare had told him.
“You stay here, where you’ll be safe,” Krak had said.
Simon picked up his medical kit and ran toward the smoke.
He saw three lawmen lying on the ground behind a bush several yards away from the smoldering ship—laughing. So, they’re fine, Simon thought as he dove down next to them. The ship had a gaping hole in it, which Simon realized was the cargo door, wide open.
He wondered if they were going to yell at him, but they were having too much fun for that. “Did ya see that?” Xastare asked him. “Barbara did us right proud, what now!”
“Hey, so,” Krak leaned close to him. “Now, your mechanic said that by hitting the lines I did not only will they not be able to close the cargo door, but they won’t be able to send communications to their buddies, either.”
“Kaylee told you that,” said Simon.
“Yeah,” said Krak.
“Then it’ll work,” said Simon.
“Ooooh, ooh! We got movement!” said Xastare.
They flattened their bodies against the ground and waited, the lawmen with their guns at the ready, Simon feeling suddenly vulnerable with only his medical kit.
The two men burst out of the open door, each with a gun in his hand. They whirled around, looking for targets, then one spotted something, turned to the right, and pointed his gun. There was a thuk and Simon saw a pink mass of brains come out the right side of the man’s head. Another thuk and the second man fell, clutching his shoulder.
“Go!” shouted Krak, and the lawmen sprung up and ran forward. Simon grabbed his kit and ran forward as well—the one shot in the head was a lost cause, but he could probably save the other. He let the lawmen pull the man’s gun out of his hand, then pulled off the man’s coat. It looked like the bullet had gone right through the man’s shoulder. He was still conscious and bellowing with pain—a promising sign that the lungs had not been hit.
“Sir! Sir!” snapped Simon. The man stopped yelling and looked at him with confusion.
“I’m a medic, I’m here to help you,” said Simon. “I need to take off your shirt.”
The man still looked dazed, but he nodded, and Simon began to remove the patient’s shirt. Suddenly Simon heard a thwack and the man began screaming again. He looked over and saw that the man’s left knee was bent up. His left hand had been impaled into his calf with a knife.
“He was reaching for something in his boot,” said Mohammed, who was standing about 10 feet away.
Krak stepped over, reached into the boot, and pulled out a small pistol. He looked at Simon with exasperation. “Could you at least let us search ’em before you try to save ’em?”
“I’m sorry.” Simon stood aside and let Krak pat the man down. “Is there an infirmary in the ship?”
“I don’t know yet,” said Krak.
“Well, if there is one and it hasn’t been blown up, I’d like to move this patient to it as soon as possible,” said Simon, and returned to his patient. Since the patient was evidently uncooperative, he sedated him before offering further treatment.
But treatment of the shoulder wound was interrupted once again when Mohammed came over and put his hand out to the handle of the knife.
Simon slapped the hand away. “Are you crazy?” he asked. “Don’t pull it out yet!”
Mohammed looked taken aback. “But it’s my knife,” he said.
“And it’s in my patient,” Simon replied.
Chantal’s disembodied head floated over accompanied by a rifle. Simon realized that she was wearing one of the camouflage suits and had probably been the sniper. He returned his attention to his patient.
A lawman reported that the ship did indeed have a functioning infirmary, and two of the lawmen transported the patient there. The infirmary was well-equipped, particularly to treat trauma, and the multiple gunshot and knife scars on his patient suggested to Simon that the men on this ship had led a rather rough way of life. In any case, with the right tools, stopping the bleeding was simple—his patient would bear two more scars, and might not have quite the movement in his left hand that he once had, but he would live.
“How’s Mo’s knife?” a woman’s voice asked behind him.
“Bloody, but intact, a bit like our patient,” Simon replied.
Chantal smiled. Oh, hygiene. “I’ll wash it,” Simon said. He washed the knife—it was made out of one piece of metal and shaped like a spade, sharp on both sides of one end. He handed it to Chantal and looked around.
“Where is everyone?” he asked.
She gave a little laugh. “You missed that? They was talking right at you. Well, you was busy. Um, the lawmen took your horse and went to go meet up with the other lawmen and get your doctress back. Mo and I stayed here, but I sent Mo back to the cache to get us some food and the com—he needs to cool off a bit, I mean, that’s his favorite throwing knife and the last feller who came between him and it—”
“We don’t have a com?” Simon asked. “We don’t have any way of contacting the others? What if the rest of the crew comes back?”
“We do have a com. It’s just over in the cache. That’s where Mo and I keep our stuff. It’s in a ship, you probably went by it on your way over here.”
“Ah,” said Simon. “And your com is there? As opposed to, say, being here?”
“Um, yeah. Look, don’t tell the lawmen. We’re supposed to carry the com at all times, otherwise they get upset, they say it’s dangerous.”
“I can’t imagine why. So, when you were keeping watch on this ship, you didn’t have a com. How did you tell….”
“Central, yes, thank you, how did you tell Central that a strange ship had landed?”
“Oh, we was trekking around when we saw it land, so we just trekked on over to the cache, let them know about it, then got the house and came over here. It didn’t make no difference. Besides, coms are bulky and noisy and they tie you down, you know, like living in a ship or a cave or something—not that I don’t love my cave, I do, I love the people there—but some of us, you know, we’re ostriches and so we live with the ostriches and like the ostriches and off the ostriches.”
“Can I see your right hand?” Simon asked.
Chantal showed it to him. Her pinky was completely gone, and her fourth finger had been severed at the first joint. “Hunting accident,” she said, then smiled. “Don’t affect my aim none, as your friend on that table there can testify.”
These people are very unlike the people where I grew up, thought Simon.
“Oh, hey!” Chantal said, clapping her hands together. “Time to pray!”
* * *
Book jumped off the horse when it stopped—the extra weight was doing the animal no good, and this looked like a situation where a shepherd could be of some assistance. In front of him, some of lawmen stood on foot. In front of them were the three kidnappers, also on foot, three motorcycles, and a sobbing Annelore with a pistol pushed up against her neck. In front of them were six lawmen, two of them dismounted, and seven horses. One of the horses was carrying a dead body.
Book walked up to join the posse. He saw Annelore’s eyes fix on his collar with something like hope.
“I’d say you’re in kind of a tight situation,” said Lawman Jude.
“We’ll rutting kill her!” said one of the men. He was wearing green coat and holding the pistol not currently jammed into Annelore.
“Is that body one of theirs?” Book asked Jude, quietly.
“Yes,” Jude replied.
“Look,” Book said to the men. “Look where you are. Whatever you were planning to do, you can’t possibly get away with it now. Be reasonable. Your friend there is dead. Hasn’t there been enough killing?”
“Not enough for me, hun dan!” exclaimed the one in the green coat, pointing his gun at Book.
He didn’t fire. “He’s the one,” Book said to Jude. “Take him down, and the whole operation folds like a house of cards.”
“I think you’re right,” Jude said.
“You’re rutting going to let us go!” said the man holding Annelore.
Jude laughed, long and loud, and many of the lawmen joined in. “Go?” he asked. “Go where? There ain’t no place to go on Glory of God except right back where you nabbed our doctress. And your ship ain’t exactly in top flying condition.”
“Then you get us another, gorram it!” said the man.
That suggestion was also greeted with peals of hearty laughter. The man holding Annelore let his gun drop. At that moment, a strapping young lawman on the other side of the hostage situation pulled up a slingshot and shot a gray wad at one of the motorbikes. When it hit the bike, the wad exploded, and the motorbike caught fire.
The explosion was greeted with oaths by the hostage-takers and hoots and laughter by the lawmen. “Really, Krak, shame on you. We could use those bikes,” said Jude, waggling his finger.
The man in green pointed his gun at Annelore. “We will rutting kill your doctor!” he screamed.
“Oh, and do you really think we’d be treating you like this if we cared what happened to her?” Jude shouted back. “She’s not going to be our doctor for long, no matter what happens here. She’s only here ’cause she’s sick. She’ll get better, and go back to wherever it is she came from. Or she’ll get worse, and be of no use at all. She’s not from here, she’s not staying here, and she doesn’t live here. She’s a sojourner, just like you all. Who’ll mourn her? Not a one of us. You go ahead and shoot her, if that’s what you want. It’s not like we’re going to have to make the trench for your corpses any bigger to fit hers in.”
“Oh, Jesus,” it was Annelore. Her face was contorted and her body wracked with fear. “Oh, Jesus please, I don’t want to die. I don’t know who any of you people are. Why are you doing this to me? My name Annelore Hidalgo, I’m a doctor, I’ve never hurt anybody. Oh, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”
“She doesn’t know you’re bluffing,” Book said to Jude.
“She ain’t gonna remember none of this,” Jude replied.
“Shepherd!” Annelore shrieked. “Dear Lord, you are a shepherd, please, please, please, talk to these people! Don’t let them kill me! For the love of God, please, please help me!”
Book looked at Jude. Jude raised an eyebrow.
Book stepped forward, looking mournful. “I promise you, my child, I will ensure that you receive a proper burial.”
Something snapped in her, and she went limp. It occurred to Book that while he had done some bad things in his life, this was quite possibly the cruelest.
He could see the knowledge that their hostage was worthless ripple through the men. Not entirely surprisingly, it seemed to further enrage the one in the green jacket. He raised his gun toward the lawmen and stepped forward. “Shoot!” he screamed. “Shoot and be damned!”
But they didn’t have to. The one holding Annelore suddenly released her, ran up behind the one in the green jacket, and struck him in the back of the head with his pistol. He and the third man threw down their guns and put up their hands. “We never wanted her dead,” he said.
Annelore lay on the ground, where she had fallen when she was released. She was weeping and shaking, utterly despondent and terrified. But she was alive.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
Xastare and Krak came back just as Simon, Chantal, and Mohammed were finishing their surprisingly tasty ostrich steaks. Ostriches, Simon had learned, had been brought to Glory of God early on in the settlement’s history as a source of meat, eggs, and leather. But they proved impossible for the settlers to domesticate, and they were turned loose. Eventually they became the domain of the huntsmen, who were the people who felt that life in the caves was too constricting.
The lawmen had ridden the outlaws’ bikes back to the ship—their horses and Simon’s were apparently now being used for prisoner transport. Simon considered asking what became of the dead body, but decided he’d rather not know.
The lawmen excitedly reported that Annelore was fine, that Krak got to blow up a motor bike, and that Book had spoken with such spellbinding conviction that he had mesmerized the outlaws into turning on each other. One of the kidnappers had taken a crack to the head as a result, but Xastare fully expected Annelore to be able to tend to him “just as soon as she calms down and forgets a few things, don’t you know?”
There was the ritual Prayer of Thanksgiving, followed by the ritual Looting of the Ship—Chantal and Mohammed were awarded their pick of rations as reward for their service, firearms were appropriated, and the rest was evaluated for later pillage. They found a trailer hitch for one of the bikes, and Simon had to argue the case for bringing his patient back to the caves before any booty. He half-won: They loaded Simon’s patient on the trailer along with a couple of especially choice pieces of furniture, took their leave of the huntsmen, and headed back to what Chantal and Mohammed no doubt dreaded as civilization.
Krak drove the bike with the trailer, so Simon rode on Xastare’s bike. The two were bantering and almost insufferably merry; apparently nothing made them happier than a day spent getting shot at and blowing things up. Simon was more concerned about his patient being bounced around the trailer and having a chair fall on him—half the time he couldn’t even see his patient, and once he almost fell of the motorcycle straining to check.
He was trying to get another peek when Krak shouted something to him about Kaylee. “What?” Simon asked.
“I said, ‘What about Kaylee?’” said Krak.
“What about her?” asked Simon.
“Ah, you’ve been ignoring us, haven’t you now?” asked Xastare.
“Well, I’m a little concerned about my patient,” confessed Simon.
“Well, we are discussing affairs of the heart, which should be a concern of a man your age as well, don’t you know? Now, Krak here is in love with Jian Kang Li—”
“I am not!” Krak replied.
“But he’s in denial, insisting that he wants a woman who is milder. Now I say, were that true, he’d show the least interest in Jing Mei Li, who we both know is just as pretty as her sister but has a more gentle soul. But he thinks she’s boring. So now he’s saying that he is a great admirer of hers. So he was wondering what your thoughts are on the matter.”
“Um, well, I, um—my thoughts on Kaylee?”
“You’re thoughts on Krak pursuing Kaylee,” Xastare said.
I don’t like that much at all, thought Simon. He was briefly tempted to tell Krak about that 14-year-old Kaylee got in so much trouble with, but decided against it. That would be too petty, and River probably shouldn’t have told him about it in the first place.
“I think, if Krak pursues Kaylee, then you should consider pursuing Jain Kang,” said Xastare. “I mean, think—she’s pretty, and you’re very handsome. I’ll grant Krak that she can be a little picky, but you have such fine manners, that shouldn’t be a problem. And then there’s the whole shared-interest-in-medicine thing.”
She was shouting, and Simon realized that this was all being for Krak’s benefit.
“I guess I really do have a shot,” said Simon, just as loudly. “After all, I’ve been sort of mentoring her, and that can easily be the first step toward—”
“You’ve been what? Mentoring her?” Krak interrupted. “What does mentoring mean?”
“I don’t know, but it sure sounds attractive,” said Xastare.
They rode on in silence for a few moments.
“Maybe you oughtn’t to be mentoring her so much,” Krak said to Simon.
Xastare burst out laughing. “I knew it! It’s love! Oh, in the old days we just would have given you two a strong drink of whiskey and locked you in a room together!”
Krak found that comment hysterically funny for some reason. Simon just hoped that his good humor meant that the much larger man wasn’t prone to jealous rages.
They had reached the cultivated areas and drove along paths through the fields until they reached Fortitude. Simon and Xastare dismounted, pulling back the cloth so that Krak could drive the trailer into the tunnel. He drove slowly up to the clinic, and the lawmen helped Simon get the patient settled—if by “settled” you mean “manacled to a bed frame.”
Both Jain Kang and Jing Mei were there; Annelore, they said, was back at the Li household. She had been so upset by the kidnapping that they had slipped her a sedative—in part to ward off another spate of note-writing—and she was now resting and forgetting under the watchful eye of their mother.
Simon was feeling a bit drained as well, and he gladly accepted their offer to take over monitoring his patient. Xastare, who had left, returned with a lawman to serve as guard, so with his patient under the various types of supervision, Simon departed the clinic with Xastare and Krak.
He had planned to take his leave of them and lie down, but Krak mentioned the prisoner who had been hit on the head. He had woken up and was being held with the other men in the local jail. Given the general lack of concern for the well-being of his gunshot patient, Simon felt obligated to look over the one who had been hit.
The prison was practically a dungeon, with the men each being held in a separate, tiny cell carved directly into the tunnel wall. There were benches cut into the wall of each for them to lie or sit on and room to stand, but barely any room to walk. Aside from the three men, there were no prisoners. Simon had to conduct his examination through the bars of the cell, with a guard aiming a pistol at his patient the entire time. The man seemed all right, if there was a concussion it was mild. Simon left a list of symptoms with the guard, with instruction that a doctor be contacted immediately if any arose, but he was fairly skeptical that his instructions would be followed and made a mental note to visit the patient later on.
The jail was part of the lawmen’s office, and as Simon was walking out, he heard Xastare say, “Krak! We got idents on our sojourners.”
“Shiny!” Krak replied. “Let’s see what kind of warrants the Alliance has out on our sojourners!”
His hands went cold. So much for rest.
“Oh, hey,” Simon said, trying to act casual. “You can do that?” He followed them as they walked into a side room, hoping he looked curious and innocent. The room contained a console with a screen that looked both familiar and out-of-place.
“Did you get that off a ship?” Simon asked.
“Oh ya,” said Xastare. “I mean, we don’t want to be making official inquiries just yet. This way we’re just a random bounty hunter looking up some info, not you know, law enforcement seeking the assistance of the Alliance.”
“We generally like to clean up a bit before we have company over,” said Krak with a smile. He sat down in front of the console, Xastare handing him a list, and he began typing.
They were still in high spirits and ooh’d and ahh’d jokingly as the warrants and bounties on each of the men came down. They were, as Simon surmised, old hands at living on the wrong side of the law, although their area of expertise was smuggling—particularly weapons. This led to an excited discussion regarding plunder from the ship—apparently the cargo had included restricted laser rifles, items of little use to the settlers but of great interest to the Alliance. That meant that other items on the ship, plus the disabled ship itself, could in all probability be kept.
“Normally, for kidnapping, they’d all be with God right now,” Krak told Simon. “But they did surrender, so we may just turn all or some of them over to the Alliance.”
“The one who clonked the other I think will wind up with the Alliance,” said Xastare. “But really, it’s up to the elders.”
None of the men had ever been charged with kidnapping or rape, which the lawmen found somewhat puzzling. Simon volunteered the theory that they were looking for someone with medical expertise to staff their infirmary, which they seemed to consider plausible.
“Hey,” said Krak, turning back to the console. “Let’s look you up.”
“Sure!” said Xastare.
Little spots appeared before Simon’s eyes, and waves of hot and cold ran up and down his body.
“What was it again?” Krak asked.
“BettyLu—that’s with a capital ‘l’—McDoogle,” she said.
“M-c or m-a-c?” Krak asked.
“M-c,” Xastare replied, and Simon realized with a sudden jolt of relief mixed with shock just who they were looking up. “What’s it say?”
“Oh, ho!” said Krak, delighted. “It says that you are a burglarious nimster and a devious magsman, a threat to all honest, decent people with your footpaddery and callifudges!”
She looked over her shoulder and clicked her tongue. “You think they’d let at least some of that go by now.”
“Never steal from the rich, Xastare!” said Krak.
“But that’s where the money is,” she said.
“Wait, wait, wait,” Simon interrupted. He pointed to Xastare. “You’re a thief?”
“I was a thief,” she replied.
“BettyLu McDoogle, nimster and magsman, as crooked as an ostrich neck!” said Krak, who was enjoying Simon’s shock tremendously.
Xastare rolled her eyes. “I don’t steal or con anymore. I gave that up that life.”
“And your name,” said Simon.
“Ya, Jude gave me this name, Xastare Baxshesh. It’s Persian, don’t you know?”
“Does it mean something?” Simon asked.
Krak found that question hilarious. “It means that Xastare here is hoping that God’s in a forgiving sort of mood when she finally goes to meet him!”
Xastare shrugged. “Look, it’s not that big a deal. I’m small, I’m nimble, I fell in with the wrong crowd, I got into burglary. A lot of times for the really big scores, you need to do some con work, so I got into conning. I was good at it all, really good, which eventually became a problem, don’t you know? The key to hitting the big scores and not getting caught is, you gotta do people who can’t go to the authorities—their money is from drugs or smuggling or something illegal. But once you start moving up the food chain with those kinds of people, that becomes a problem too, because when those fellows are big enough, they can try to kill you.”
“So she moved to swindling war orphans,” said Krak.
“I did not swindle war orphans,” said Xastare. “On the Core planets, there’s always these society-types who are raising money for various charities, and seriously, about a third of those people are skimming or keeping the money, don’t you see? So since that type seemed less likely to resort to violence, I moved into that line. What I’d do was, I’d set myself up as a laundering operation—hey, you’ve skimmed this money, I’ll make it look legit. But then I’d just take the money and go.”
“But it’s not like you gave the money to the war orphans,” said Krak.
“No, I didn’t, I’d blow it on stupid things or gamble it away—basically I’d burn through it so that I’d have to do an even bigger job the next time. I saw some of my partners into some pretty comfortable retirements, didn’t I? But I couldn’t do that, it wasn’t really about the money for me, and the problem was, these people were too well-connected. They’d lie about what had happened, and the charity would help cover it up because they didn’t want people to know that no one was minding the store, and it all became just: This con artist stole money from war orphans, or whoever.”
“Did you ever work on Osiris?” asked Simon.
“Ya, a few times,” Xastare replied. “Anyway, there were a couple of suicides, and those became all my fault too—not that I wasn’t to blame, I shouldn’t have been doing it, but the Alliance tends to oversimplify things sometimes. So after a while I became red-hot with them. Stealing those suits didn’t help none with that, but some opportunities….”
“So you came here,” said Simon.
“Sort of. I joined a crew with a ship that didn’t care I was red-hot. They claimed to be cons, but they weren’t really. What they were, basically, were killers and scavengers—just one cut above Reavers, truth be told. Once I knew what they were doing, I didn’t want to be with them, but I couldn’t leave because they’d kill me and I had no place left to go. And they landed here, and I was supposed to scope out the settlement, but you know, the choice was just too stark. I felt like I was out of options, that my old life had run out, and here God was giving me a chance at a new one.”
“So she turned them in. And we all trust her with our lives now, but not our money,” said Krak, still teasing. “So what about you, medic? Let’s look you up.”
Simon was a bit more relaxed about it—at least until both their jaws dropped open. Xastare whistled. “Who do you owe money to?” she asked him, incredulous. “Your bounty is bigger than mine!”
“Oh, and look—no actual charge on the warrants. Just pick ’em up,” said Krak. “Typical.”
“Of what?” Simon asked, crossing his fingers.
“Of what?” said Krak. “Of what happens when you piss off some fellow who’s big enough to use the entire Alliance to settle some personal grudge. My ma’s warrant never had no explanation on it.”
“Well, what would it have said?” asked Xastare. “Wanted: For to be beaten and/or killed by wealthy, fixated pervert?”
“Exactly,” said Krak.
And that, to Simon’s surprise, was all the commentary that their warrants provoked.
Well, all at the station. When Simon left to finally get back to the inn and get some rest, Krak tagged along.
Once they were away from the station, his face lapsed into an uncharacteristic grimness. “I noticed something else about the bounty. They want your sister alive. They don’t care about you.”
“You bet her, didn’t you?” Krak asked, angrily. “You bet her, or you offered her as some sort of payment for something. That’s why she had to run, too.”
“I really don’t want to talk about this,” Simon said.
“She doesn’t deserve this,” said Krak. “My ma made mistakes in her youth, sins of the flesh and all that. But she didn’t deserve what that fellow had planned when he bought her. Your sister doesn’t, either. No how.”
“I know,” Simon said, and turned into the inn.
Where Book promptly intercepted him to inquire as to his well-being.
“I’m tired,” snapped Simon, then relented. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that. Are you all right? I understand you did some fast-talking to get Annelore back.”
“Uh, yes,” said Book, looking down, guiltily. There was an awkward silence.
Book has secrets, too, thought Simon.
“Did you, did you know that Xastare used to be some sort of criminal mastermind?” he asked. “In fact, I think she may have been the one who ruined the Lizzuls—they were in our tennis club on Osiris.”
Book looked up and pursued his lips. “I reckoned she was no stranger to criminal activity, yes. You noticed her scar,” he said, putting his hand on his collarbone.
“It’s hard to miss,” said Simon.
“It’s also in the shape of some of the tattoos used by triad members. Fairly accomplished ones. She may have had another on her hand, although that scar could possibly be from an accident.”
“But she could just cover something like that up with dermasheets,” said Simon. “There’s no need to—”
“She could just cover it up,” said Book. “But it wouldn’t be gone. I think that she or someone else removed them after she came here. And I think they used a knife.”
Simon went to their room.
He was so out of it, he almost crushed the gift by lying on it. He pulled the object out from under his shoulder—it was a small bottle, made out of something like grass. He looked closer. The handiwork was remarkable. The grass had been carefully knotted to make a pattern: An elaborate “R” intertwined with a sinuous “S.”
He smiled and fell asleep.
Saturday, March 27, 2004 12:15 PM
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