Per Ardua ad Astra [part 2]
Thursday, June 8, 2006

The contents of Cliff's message revealed. The thick plottens for Inara and everyone else.



Change Is only good when it is mutual This life's perpetual I came through grief And I feel you near to me A constant memory Sit by the window Watching summer rain fall down Like April snow I didn't want this pain I never thought it could rain so hard on me Serenity – Change

Mal watched the evidence Cliff had provided unfold in front of him. The lines on the pages etched into his mind and each page falling was like another knife in the guts. His face turned greyer, older and harder. And a small ship full of folk who'd probably follow him to their deaths was unlikely to even make a dent in what had been set up so long ago. River had been wrong way back on Beltane; this was worse than the Reavers, much worse. Because the scheme went bone deep into the Alliance and almost every living human being was tied up in the mess. All Companions, all their clients, every one who knew them or was related to them. There was at least one thing he could do. Inara might hate him to the end of her days for it, but he had to try. Throw away the last tiny vestige of hope he had that there might be a day or a place for them to be together, but at least she might be free. Penniless, but free. Cliff came back at the end. He looked grey himself, “I'm so sorry, mate; but I don't know where else I can bloody turn, eh. Vera and Jayne will know where I'm hiding this; best you don't 'less they tell you. Fly safe and fly far; away from this pile of go se.” Mal sighed and hid the vidpod in the safe in his quarters. Time to get the crew back and show them what he'd found. Then they could think about what the tyen shiao-duh was possible to do about it.

Inara, Vera and Kaylee were poring over the silks and materials in the Dionysian bazaar. Simon was hanging back with Jayne. Zoe stood off to one side, looking at the animals and huge butterflies in the forest. Once the women had chosen stuff, both Simon and Jayne approached the display, looking for all the world as if the silks might bite. Simon found a lovely length of translucent yellow silk with Oriental patterning on it fairly easily. Jayne dug around a bit more and found two pieces. He had no idea how much might be needed, but there was a length of see-through stretchy blue lace with flowers dotted over it and a short piece of rippled blue silk. He hoped Vera would be able to cobble together something clingy and revealing with it. When they all left the room to find some refreshments, Zoe made her purchases. Short pieces of cotton and towelling in a mixture of green and yellow shades.

Mal found them in the tea house some time later. One look at his face had all of them standing up. “What's up, boss?” Kaylee looked concerned. “Not here; in the ship.” “Yes, sir.” Zoe moved over instinctively. “It's not gonna be easy.” Mal was looking at Inara. “Never is, sir.” Inara started to blanch, “Someone died?” He shook his head and tried without much success to make his voice gentle, “Worse than that, Inara.” Mal looked at Simon, “Gonna need your expertise on this.” “Okay.” Jayne's hand went to his pistol, “I'll get my guns and weapons ready.” Mal's lips almost curved upwards, “Thanks; but we need to think long and hard first. Guns will very likely come later.” Vera touched his arm, “Mal...?” “Message came from Beltane, from Cliff; no-one died, but I think some folks somewhere are going to before long. Maybe us with 'em.” Vera shivered, “Run-tse duh fwo-tzoo...” “You got any favours owed by the big guy, now's the time to start prayin'. Not that I'm plannin' on relyin' on any miracles 'bout now. Just my wits, my ship and these hands.” Vera and Zoe spoke together, “You can count on us, sir.” Mal nodded. Two Amazon warrior maidens, one Herculean giant, one doctor, one brilliant mechanic, one psychic and one new Shepherd. And himself as a very beaten up Theseus against a monolithic minotaur. Well, if the people were spinning yarns about his suicidal missions a few thousand years hence, he could live with that; die with it if need be.

Mal plugged the vidpod into Serenity's main console. They sat in silence, watching the evidence Cliff had found. Mal saw that Inara became paler and paler as the evidence unfolded. She gasped a few times; so did quite a few others. Mal turned the vidpod off at the end and there was painful silence. River was staring, her mind probably back on Miranda by what she said, “Wuoshang mayer maysheen byen shr-to...” Simon gently touched her shoulder and she stopped. Kaylee hiccuped and tried to stem her tears. Inara slowly turned her wet face to Mal, “They told me – told all of us – the syringes contained contraceptives, vitamins and essential nutrients, just in case, and medicine to keep us clean from disease. This...this... there are no words...” Mal let out a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding. Inara knew nothing of the matter. He'd stake his life on it. He tried to smile gently at her; it didn't quite work, then turned to Simon, “Can you analyse what's in Inara's 'medicine'?” “Some. But we might have to pull another Ariel-type stunt to check all the ingredients, unless the folks here have got a hospital with something like a spectrometer in it.” Hori nodded upwards in the Maori way, “I'll...erm...say I think I came here with food poisoning or something, eh? See if they can help?” Mal nodded, “That'll do for starters.” Inara took a deep steadying breath, “Shall I get one of my syringes?” Mal nodded, “You want someone to come with you?” But Inara was already leaving, walking steadily and trembling like a leaf at the same time. Vera was crying quietly, “I never read *that* in the bunker, I swear it. But it's how my Aunt Grace died. I'll bet on it. She stopped using the injections.” “Ruttin' hell.” Jayne was looking at the floor, with a strange note in his voice. No-one had the nerve to ask him if he was all right, most of them could tell he was fighting some strong emotion and they could guess from the break in his voice and how they were feeling themselves which one it was.

So Simon gave Hori something to make him ill temporarily and they took him plus most of the rest of the crew to the hospital on Dionysus. Once Hori had been admitted for observation, Simon managed to access an empty lab in the company of Mal, Inara, Jayne, Kaylee and Vera. The others were in the waiting room. Luckily, the hospital had a fairly advanced substance detector. Simon gave the machine some if Inara's medicine and a sample of her blood, then peered at the screen, “Well, contraceptives for sure; vitamins, protein, sugar. You could live on this alone with water for a few days if you had to. Preventatives for all the common STDs. Oh. What's this...?” He turned to Inara, “How old are you, Inara?” “Nearly thirty, Simon.” “And you've been taking this how long?” “Nearly fifteen years.” Mal leaned over Simon's shoulder. The names meant nothing, “Can you explain what you're seeing in layman's terms?” Simon frowned, “Inara's blood has a raised red cell and white cell count, but she's not fighting an infection. Inara, could you let me take some skin cells from inside your cheek...” He did so, put that in the machine and waited.

“Well?” Simon sighed, “Yes; Cliff's evidence was right. There's something in there which slows the ageing process considerably and subtly alters time perception. I'm sorry Inara, but you're a whole lot older than 'nearly thirty'.” Inara gasped, “But that's monstrous!” “Can you do anything?” Mal was still staring at the screen, trying to see if it would start making sense. Simon looked at the screen, “Coming off the time perception altering stuff is going to be like coming off hard drugs,” he turned to Inara, “I can give you something to help with that, but it's going to be painful. The stuff which slows your ageing... Yes, you could do that, but it's a one-way trip. Once your body's free of those chemicals, it has to stay free. You'd start to age normally again just like everybody else. ” Inara was weeping silent tears again, “And stop being a Companion.” “I can give you contraception and STD prevention; that's fairly standard across the 'verse. But the people in charge are likely to notice after a while if you don't send out for your injections regularly, aren't they?” Inara nodded, “Yes.” Vera touched her shoulder, “You could 'die' like I did. That would keep the hwoon dahn off your tail.” Inara looked up at her, “Yes; but what about Sihnon? The other Companions? They're all the same as me, as far as I know. Kept young and docile without their consent!” There was fire in her eyes all of a sudden. Mal cheered inwardly. Inara's warrior spirit was up and it was what he'd been waiting for, “I feel like I want to do something about this. There's no Mr Universe's machine to help us this time. The Operative dismantled both sets of broadcasting equipment. Do you think the people in charge at Sihnon would help; if they're not already in on this?” Inara shook her head, “I'd stake my life that they're not. The medicine comes from Alliance headquarters. We took it on trust.” Jayne gripped his gun more tightly, “Wonder how many other ruttin' go se bastards we have to kill this time?” Mal stood up, “I think you're about to find out, Jayne. I think we're all about to find out.”


Thursday, June 8, 2006 10:56 AM


Ooh, those rotten dastardly Alliance *liumang*! That's just the sort of hideous thing they would do. I have a feeling once all the Companions find out the Alliance is in for one hell of a shock! Both barrels in fact. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, June 9, 2006 6:52 PM


Uh..if the black fluid she takes (think the stuff in the vials was black....) slows down a Companion's aging is Inara anyway? Old enough to be Mal or Jayne's mom? Or their grandmother? :(

Still...really interesting stuff you have here, Vera! Can't wait for more of the lovely fic;)



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