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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
The eleventh chapter in a Big Damn Sequel series. In this installment: Mal contacts the Baron von Jeffery. Elsewhere, River has run off...
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 814 RATING: 5 SERIES: FIREFLY
Book One – Chapter Eleven
Carolina Novak was Carolina Bueren before the migration to Neo Sombra. She was nineteen years old when she and her older brother, Rex, were evacuated off Shadow. Their parents stayed behind.
The two of them managed to stay on Harvest Moon for over a year, living the best they could manage, and trying to forget everything they could about their homeworld. Just like the rest of Shadow’s former populace. Harvest, being a planet not unlike Shadow, had several opportunities for a farmer like Rex Bueren, but he, not unlike most of Shadow, was unsatisfied with their forced living situations and was unwilling to give up on his planet. Young and stubborn he made a decision, and he brought his sister along with him.
The two Bueren siblings kept their hands off of their reparation accounts, while scrimping and saving every cent they could to pay their passage to a Core Planet, ending up on Ariel, the closest they could get. It was their intention to approach a Parliamentary representative with the unheard of notion of purchasing an exclusively terraformed planet, a feat that had never been considered, especially by two Border Planet hillbillies like Rex and Carolina Bueren. Their only two chances lay with the fact that there were about five more planets and moons on the Outer Rim that had yet to be fully terraformed (and the Alliance generally didn’t care about their fate so much), and with the belief that what little money the survivors of Shadow had, they could pay their way through not only the terraforming, but the legalities of bureaucracy that would be inevitable.
However, as luck would have it, a young man from Shadow named James Novak found the Beurens on Ariel. Though they didn’t know it at the time, James was on the Core Planet for an entirely different reason.
Of course, having the rare similarity of being from the same Border Planet, James and the Buerens instantly connected. As they talked and traded stories about Shadow, James began to become enamored with the prospect of resurrecting their planet, while Carolina, of course, began to become enamored with James. As James spent every penny of his fortune, his late parents’ fortune, and every other fortune he could find for the task of purchasing the Outer Rim Planet, the Buerens reciprocated his good will by doing everything they could to organize a league of Shadow survivors to aid in their quest.
In two years time, the former inhabitants of Shadow had a shade of their once deceased planet back. The anniversary of the historic first landing occurred on 23 October 2514, labeled in the records as “The Umbrianic Landing.”
While the new owners and population of Shadow was large bankrupt due to their efforts, this didn’t stop them from starting their new lives. On the day of the Umbrianic Landing, James Novak proposed to Carolina Bueren for her to be his wife. But since they could not afford a marriage license, much less a proper wedding, Carolina was never legally considered James’ wife by the Alliance. Despite this however, since that day on 23 October 2514, she had been known as Carolina Novak.
“James is powering the CorTex. He’ll jus’ be a second,” Carolina said with a soft smile as she handed Mal his cup of coffee.
Mal noted that it tasted like it was filtered through a burlap bag, but it was still the best coffee he had had in a while. He had to keep himself from complaining, as it was morning, and he was especially quick to do so at that time of day. He was actually afraid that if he weren’t able to control his speech, it would somehow betray the fact that he hadn’t slept at all the night before. It always took him a while to get over the lag of a new planet’s day cycle, but that was only half of it.
“Mm, tastes good,” was what he managed to force out.
Carolina giggled softly at his poor acting job. “I tried to get the machine to work right, but… you know the Rim.”
“Yeah,” Mal said, which was a lie. Mal had forgotten most things about the Rim.
The two sat in silence for a while. Mal normally wouldn’t have hesitated to produce any sort of small talk, but at the moment, he felt that anything he said would come out as inappropriate. Thanking his hostess for possibly incriminating her and her family in criminal dealings didn’t seem like the proper road to take. And Mal wasn’t sure about how he’d be able to take the conversation should it shift to the subject of Shadow.
Mal had thought it best to leave his brown coat on Serenity. There were some things he didn’t want to be rubbing in James’ face, and the past was definitely one of them. He was, however, regretting this decision since he had forgotten how cold the mornings were on Shadow. He then had to, once again, remind himself of the obvious. He wasn’t on Shadow. Old habits always were hard for him to break.
“I wanna apologize for James,” Carolina said, breaking Mal’s concentration on his coffee.
“He’s just not… He wasn’t really prepared for…”
“Yeah. Oh, yeah,” Mal said in an understanding tone.
“He’s not usually so… He’s a good man, Captain Reynolds.”
There was a look in Carolina’s eyes that made Mal feel even more awful for coming to Neo Sombra. Her entire well-being seemed to hinge on Mal’s believing her.
“I believe you, ma’am. It never crossed my mind otherwise.”
“There’s a lot to James that requires a certain amount of understandin’, y’know? Well, of course, I’m sure you know.”
“Yeah,” Mal said quietly.
“He’s not angry at you, specifically, is what I’m tryin’ to say, Captain Reynolds.”
Mal smiled and took another sip from the tin cup of coffee. “That’s a kindness, ma’am, but I’m not sure I agree with you on that one.”
Carolina just stared at Mal for a second with a sad look strewn across her face. She knew as well as Mal did that she wasn’t telling the complete truth.
“He doesn’t like thinking about the things you remind him of. He doesn’t like thinking about the War.” She stirred some milk into her coffee and smiled sweetly. “I think if James wrote the history books, he’d just glaze over the part about the Alliance and Unification.”
Mal clenched his jaw and choked down another gulp of coffee to keep himself from saying anything regrettable.
Carolina grew serious once again and looked Mal in the eyes. “There are a lot of people who never came back from the War, Mal. Not the same anyway. There are times I have to remind myself that James isn’t one of those people.”
Mal solemnly nodded his head, but that was the best he could do. He shifted in his seat, wondering how long this conversation would last.
She inhaled deeply and the color returned to her face. “But those times are few and far between, y’know? And that’s all he’s going through right now. Remembering things that’re best forgotten. Anyway… I just wanted you to know, he’s not always like this. He is happy. It’s just… circumstances.”
Mal could do nothing but nod his head, unsure of what he would say if he opened his mouth. He then stared away, and the two of them remained in silence for a little while longer.
His eyes suddenly and inexplicably focused on the wall of the kitchen. He’d obviously seen the wall before, but looking at after hearing Carolina’s description of James, something was triggered in Mal’s brain. The wall, though plain wood crudely carved and polished, caused something to occur to Mal.
James had built his own house. Just like he always said he would.
Mal found himself envying everything about James in that split second. Envying how he could live his own life far away from the Alliance, far away from Miranda, and far away from the life that Mal had constructed for himself.
For that split second, Mal began thinking the thought that he always tried to push aside. He began to think, what if?
Maybe if he had agreed to join the Neo Sombra group all those years ago, he might have been able to raise a family of his own, in a house that he had built, like he said he would.
Or maybe if he, like James, didn’t have to go Serenity Valley. Or maybe if the two of them had simply stayed out of the War altogether. He wouldn’t have ever known about Simon and River Tam, or Miranda, or the Operative that had killed his friends.
His crew would’ve never met him, and probably gone on to live full, meaningful lives, and never have to run from “The Good Guys.” He’d, of course, have to suffer life without them, but Mal figured that such a scenario was forgivable when compared to their current reality. After all, they could’ve been really happy without him bringing them down.
Hell, Mal thought. The Independents might have even won the War without him. One never knows.
The thought only lasted a split second, for a soon as he focused his eyes on the crudely polished wall, James had appeared in the kitchen.
“Mal,” he said, though it seemed like a shout when it sprung Mal from his daydream.
James said nothing more, except pointed behind him with his thumb to the CorTex console in the other room. He then went over to his wife, kissed her and picked up a cup of coffee.
There was nothing about James that Mal didn’t envy at that moment.
Carolina had offered the night before to make breakfast for Serenity’s crew, but Mal had respectfully declined her offer, wishing to keep as much space between the Novaks and the crew as possible.
This decision to keep food away from Jayne was not one the mercenary took a liking to. He sat hunched over in the dining room of the boat, sadly swirling around his spoon in his bowl of water and oats.
Inara was halfway through her watery meal when she noticed the morose Jayne. She silently nudged Kaylee to direct her attention to the large sulking man.
“Jayne?” Kaylee asked, trying her best to suppress a smile.
“What?” was his gruff reply.
“Jayne, what’s wrong?” Inara asked sweetly. “You haven’t touched your breakfast.”
“Not hungry,” Jayne grumbled.
“Jayne, if you don’t eat your breakfast, you’ll never grow up to be big and strong.”
Jayne glared up at Inara from beneath his eyebrows and tossed his spoon into his bowl.
“Why does Mal get to go over to the Novaks for breakfast? We should’a gone, too. For back-up.”
“He’s not eating breakfast over there, Jayne,” Kaylee said. “He’s talkin’ to the Baron. An’ he’ll be back long before ya even see the bottom of that bowl.”
“Not hungry,” he grumbled again, sitting back into his chair.
“Well then,” Inara said, taking away Jayne’s bowl, and noting his slight protest at the action. “If you’re not going to eat, maybe you should go back to bed and try to get some sleep. You look terrible.”
“I slept fine,” Jayne said indignantly, even though he knew it was a lie.
Simon strode into the dining room, his face still glistening from the splash of cold water he had just thrown onto his face. He was dressed the way he always was when he had no intention on leaving the ship: slacks and a shirt with buttons going down only halfway, both articles made from some sort of scratchy material that could have been used to sand down the edges of wood.
“Good morning, everyone,” he announced in a voice that made Jayne cringe.
He leaned down to the chair where Kaylee was sitting and wrapped his arm around her from behind and kissed her lightly on the cheek.
“Morning, you,” she said, letting her head fall back on to his shoulder.
He shiftily looked at the other two crewmembers before kneeling beside Kaylee to look her in the eye.
“Hey, uh… Do you think we could go up to the bridge?” he whispered.
“Talk louder!” Jayne shouted from the other end of the table, receiving nothing but stern glances from Kaylee and Simon.
“The bridge? Now?” Kaylee asked confused, trying to bring her voice down to the same level. “It’s still morning.” A sly smile appeared on her face. “But it’s fine with me if it’s fine with you.”
“Uh, no, no. Not for… that. Uhm, I actually wanted to talk to you about… something.”
A different kind of smile spread on Kaylee’s lips as she hastily finished her breakfast.
“Okay. Let’s talk.”
As the two of them began to rise to leave, Simon noticed something about the company in the dining room, and his face fell immediately.
“What’s wrong?” Kaylee asked.
“Have any of you seen River this morning?”
“No, is she still sleeping?” Inara asked.
“Her dorm is empty,” Simon said, a look of panic crossing his face.
“Okay, calm down, honey,” Kaylee said, patting him on the hand. “She’s gotta be somewhere in the boat, right?” She called down the two adjoining hallways: “River! River!”
“Probably went to get’er some’a the Novaks’ cookin’,” Jayne said resentfully. “That’s what I would’a done.”
Inara looked up at Simon, seeing the fear enter his eyes.
“You don’t think she’d leave the ship without telling anyone, do you?” she asked.
“Of course, she wouldn’t,” Kaylee said, her face betraying her certainty. “She hasn’t just wandered off like in years.”
Simon felt his heart beating faster and didn’t waste any time before running headlong to the cargo bay, shouting behind him:
“I’m going to find her!”
River found herself out by the pond. The pond was a short distance away from the Novak homestead, and she could even see the back of the house from where she stood.
River could not remember how long she was standing there, since she really didn’t even remember walking to the pond. It was like a dream, where she knew exactly how she got there, but the specifics were all off.
She stood at the bank of the pond, staring down past the translucent liquid. At the dirt. At the mud. At all the lives swimming through the molecules.
Was she called there? Was someone leading her?
The cold morning breeze passed right through her and the frail fabric of her sundress, chilling her to the bone, but not enough to move her.
She was there for a reason. Purpose. Someone wanted her at the pond.
She could not remember how she got there.
It had been a while since Mal prayed. And even though it was a somewhat superficial, “fake” prayer, Mal closed his eyes and muttered one as the CorTex began connecting. He prayed that the Baron von Jeffery was still as paranoid as he usually was. Mal needed security more than anything.
When he opened his eyes, Mal saw the screen blinking with all its lights and its text reading: “Connecting to: Lucky J’s Discount Freighter. Thank you for using CorTex.”
Mal always thought that was a strange sentiment to express, especially since there was no other kind of technology similar to the CorTex in the galaxy. But if they really wanted to thank him he wouldn’t stop them.
After suffering through a moronic “Blue Sun” commercial, he finally connected to the Baron’s base of operations, and the screen was filled with the vid feed of a young, dark-haired man, his hair chopped up into some sort of style, dirty goggles hanging from his neck, and his face covered with grime.
Mal smiled at seeing the face of his friend, since it had been a while since he had last seen one.
“Thank you for waving Lucky J’s Discount Freighter. We got the best—“
The Baron von Jeffery stopped dead in his tracks as he looked at the face of Malcolm Reynolds. Jeffery’s eyes got large and his mouth got dry in an instant.
“Uhmm… Hold please.”
The screen went blank for about a minute, but then the Jeffery’s dirty face appeared in front of Mal once again, the scenery behind him now significantly changed. It was mostly dark except for bluish monitors among monitors being tended to by Jeffery’s workers, most of them his own age, but a couple of them were half his age. The young man had a huge grin.
“Jesus Christ, Mal—“
“Jeff? Are we secure?”
Jeffery checked a control panel that Mal couldn’t see and began typing.
“My friend, this conversation is tighter than a tiger’s cootch.”
“That’s a good thing?”
The Baron let out an exhale of breathy laughter, and Mal could see that the attention of the others behind him were being turned to their conversation. They all had an expression of admiration and marvel that their own boss was talking to the Malcolm Reynolds. Fearing they’d be noticed, however, they all renewed their respective jobs.
“Good thing,” The Baron finally said. “Christ Almighty! Am I glad to see your face!”
“Yeah,” Mal said with a chuckle.
“There’ve been rumors all around here that you’d already been snagged.”
“Well, that somewhat disconcerting, I have to say. That usually means the rumors are just a couple days early.”
The Baron began to type at an oddly rapid pace on a nearby control panel.
“Hey, Mal. I’m reading your wave signal here. It ain’t from Serenity.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“That was smart.”
“I mean, I can hide this conversation like no other, don’t even worry about it, but with the APB on your signal an’ everything… It was smart.”
“You keep sounding surprised when you say that.”
“Where are you waving from?”
“Probably not a good idea to do that. Better safe than sorry.”
“Okay. Customer’s always right. Speakin’ of, how is everything, techno-wise?”
Mal’s eyes flashed with his patented brand of righteous indignation.
“I’ll tell you how it’s going.”
“That new tech autopilot you sold us isn’t doing any sort of piloting that I can’t do on my own.”
“So it keeps crashing?”
“That’s right. Now we can’t even remove the damn thing.”
“Well, did you install it right?”
Mal had to pause for a minute to come up with a satisfactory lie, but none came and he was forced to stick with his original, instinctual answer.
“That might be the problem, boss.”
Mal shifted in his seat, and tried to get more comfortable.
“So… how’s business? Badger giving you guys any more trouble?”
“Nah, not too bad. Still get the weekly death threat, but nothing out of the ordinary. Speaking of which…”
“Let me guess. Badger jumped on the warrants, huh?”
“Like a frog on a pogo stick. One might think he’s got something personal invested in your capture.”
“You’re liking the animal similes today, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, I went to the zoo yesterday.”
“So how many bounty hunters, do you figure?”
“Pretty much every one in the sector. I don’t Badger’s even in the cargo business anymore. Seems bounty hunters and politicians are all he spends his dough on anymore.”
Mal didn’t like the sound of that. Persephone politicians weren’t exactly squeaky clean to begin with, but when a criminal who wasn’t ashamed of the label starts to become in league with them, it was definitely cause for alarm.
“Ya don’t say. Politicians?”
“Yepper. My guess is so he can keep whatever reward there is for turnin’ you folks in without fear of being brought in on any of his many indiscretions.”
“Leave it to the lowlifes to find loopholes for other lowlifes.”
“Uh, Mal? I really hope that you didn’t go through all the trouble of waving me just to talk shop.”
“No, I didn’t, Jeff.” Mal inhaled deeply before continuing. “Jeff, as you can imagine I’m in a bit of a tough spot at present. I’m gonna need to call in a little ‘you own me one.’”
The Baron went back to his control panel and his fingers worked at supersonic speeds, typing excitedly with a huge grin.
“Say no more, my friend. You know me. Mi weapons es su weapons.”
“Uh, probably won’t be needin’ any weapons at this point, Jeff.”
The Baron looked genuinely surprised and a little hurt at this assessment.
“My plan right now is to just get Serenity out of the Alliance’s crosshairs. Whatever supplies you got to spare. We’ll be needin’ fuel cells and food more ‘an anything. We just need to disappear for a while. Until these riots blow over, at least.”
The Baron resumed his rapid typing, but at a slightly slowed down pace.
“So, uh… I guess that means you didn’t have anything to do with the riot on Sihnon then, huh?”
Mal couldn’t help but roll his eyes at the young man and rub his face with his hand. “No. No, Jeff, I didn’t.”
“Yeah,” Jeffery said with an embarrassed laugh. “I wondered how you would be able to orchestrate something like that from so far away, right? But… It would’a been cool if you had.”
His typing ceased, and the Baron leaned back in his chair, a look of disappointment on his face.
“Got good news and the bad kind. Hope you don’t mind.”
Mal sighed. “Go on.”
“I got something you’ll definitely like. We call it ‘The Motherload’ around here. Well, I call it that. The others are ‘too cool’ for that codename. Anyway, it’s got anything and everything you’ll need. I’m talking new idents, new registry for your boat. You could effectively cease to exist if you so choose.”
“Well, there’s a problem.”
The Baron looked directly at Mal. And he looked dead serious.
“It’s on Cytherea.”
Mal felt a little bit of his energy flee from his muscles as he let out another heavy sigh. He stood up to walk around, but realized he had no place else to walk to, so he sat back down.
“You think you can make it?” The Baron asked.
“Yeah, probably. It’ll be close, but… Yeah, I think we can. It’s just…” Mal paused and saw the sympathetic look on his friend’s face. “It’s just I kinda miss going to the safe kind of planets, you know?”
“I’m sorry, Mal. But that’s the reason I’ve got so much out there; no one’s crazy enough to go out and claim it. I got other stockpiles of course, but considering your situation, they’re all just as dangerous but with smaller payoffs.”
“Yeah.” Mal started to drift back into retrospection, so he kicked himself out of it. “Jeff, I really appreciate this. Next time we see each other, or next time I can compensate you—“
“Don’t worry about it, old man. This’ll call us square on the whole autopilot thing that you broke.”
Mal laughed just a little bit and nodded his thanks.
The Baron resumed his typing at the console. “I’m gonna send you some coordinates. Now, it’s best you follow them to the dot.”
“All right,” Mal said, taking out a data cylinder and placing it into the outlet of the CorTex console. “I’m at a really low tech CorTex right now, Jeff, so it’ll probably take a while to finish transferring.”
“That’s fine, Mal. I can keep our cloak up for as long as I need.”
A corner of the CorTex screen sprung to life to reveal the data transfer information. A status bar declared that 1% of the coordinates had been received.
“I got something else to talk to you about. Now, the others here have been tellin’ me that it’s probably nothing, but… since we’re talkin’ right now, I’m sure it couldn’t hurt you to know a little something.”
“Sure, Jeff. What is it?”
James Novak sat in his dining room, drinking his coffee with enough milk and other additives to take away any of the original taste.
“How long has he been in there?”
“I don’t know, sweetie. I forgot to time him,” Carolina said with a smile. She leaned against the table close to James where she could get a good look at her husband. “You know it wouldn’t kill ya, to be a little—“
“Carolina, please, don’t.”
“I’m saying. It took a lot for him to get here and to look at your sorry face after all those years, a little leniency wouldn’t be outta line.” She ran her hand through James’ hair and pulled him close for a kiss.
James smile quickly faded when she let him go. “Did you hear what they’re talkin’ ‘bout in there?”
“No, sweetie, ‘cause I wasn’t listenin’ in like you were.”
“They’re going to Cytherea next.”
Carolina gasped slightly but soon returned to her calm front. “I’m sure they’ll be all right, honey.”
“They shouldn’t even be going,” James said softly.
“They’ll be fine.”
Something out the back window caught Carolina’s attention.
“James? Was that River girl supposed to be here, too?”
River stood at the bank of the pond.
Something was down there. She could just barely see it, but that sense often proved to be traitorous. So she closed her eyes, and focused on the pond.
And she heard it. She heard it whisper.
“Mal,” The Baron continued, “we’ve been getting a couple of weird signals passing through our space the last couple of days.”
“What kind of signals?” Mal asked, eying the status of the data transfer.
“Well, you know that we can track almost anything flying through the skies down here, right? Well, we’ve been intercepting these signals that… They just don’t make sense.”
“Speed this up, Jeff. What’s wrong about them?”
“They’ve all got the earmarks of Alliance signals. Encoded Alliance signals.”
River could hear the whispers. But they wouldn’t speak to her.
They all sounded like words, but River could barely attach any meaning to any of them. She would have to listen harder.
She squeezed her eyes tightly shut so she could concentrate, but the whispers were still indistinguishable. But she could feel them getting louder. Slightly louder. But enough to dig small holes in her brain.
She could feel them now.
Move, they said. Rage. Motion. Always.
“Mal. It’s next to impossible to just find encoded Alliance signals. You have to be looking for them to find them. The only person in history who ever had the kind of technology was Mr. Universe. And we don’t have half the stuff he did.”
“Okay, they’re encoded. Can you break ‘em?”
“That’s the crazy thing, Mal. We can.”
“I don’t follow.”
The Baron got very close to the monitor, enough to fill the screen on Mal’s side of the CorTex.
“Mal. I’m thinking that someone’s out there sending us Alliance stamped signals, completely in a code they know we can break.”
Mal’s stomach started to feel sick and weightless.
“What do they say, Jeff?”
“Gibberish. We can’t make heads or tails out of most of it. The only part we can translate is just one word.”
River could hear him whispering, but she was straining her head trying to listen. She wanted to scream out to him to speak louder, but she found her voice curiously lost.
Please, he said. Don’t. Eyes.
Unbeknownst to River, her heartbeat was quickly gaining speed. And she had stopped breathing.
Mal leaned forward to the CorTex and lowered his voice.
“Jeff? What word?”
Antebellum, the voice whispered.
River’s body suddenly went lax and she drew in a long thread of a breath. Her eyes turned up past her eyelids as gravity took control of her sternum, and as if there was a string tethered to her chest, River was pulled into the grassy liquid of the pond.
She could no longer hear the whispers.
“Did you hear a splash?” James asked, as Carolina rushed to the back window, looking out to the pond where River used to be.
A knock at the front door called James to attention as he tried to ignore his sudden heartbeat. He waited to catch his breath, blinked his eyes a couple times, and then headed to the door.
“Oh. Morning, Sheriff,” James said the best he could without looking behind him.
“Morning, James. How are ya?” Sheriff Fox said, taking off his hat. “You mind if I talk to you a bit?”
Wednesday, May 24, 2006 8:33 PM
Wednesday, May 24, 2006 8:48 PM
Thursday, May 25, 2006 12:38 AM
Thursday, May 25, 2006 6:33 AM
Thursday, May 25, 2006 8:42 AM
Thursday, May 25, 2006 8:44 AM
Thursday, May 25, 2006 8:21 PM
Friday, June 02, 2006 10:57 AM
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