Labyrinth [Part 5]
Tuesday, September 19, 2006

At the end of the tunnels and what that reveals. Given this is Whitefall, you may not be surprised when a familiar character turns up. Trip to big Oriental bath house to clean up after the sewers.



We saw the heavens break and all the world go down to sleep and rocks on mossy banks drip acid rain from craggy steeps Saw fiery angels kiss the dawn Wish you goodbye till further on Will you still be there further on? And further on – Jethro Tull

I will kill you if you don't stay back Don't move a muscle or I will attack I'm sick of your bickering and condescending ways I'll be the one to get out of this maze Give me the gun! Let's not dispute! Give me the gun! I'm not a brute! Give me the gun! Give me the gun! I swear I'll shoot! Give me the Gun – Maze of death * [The bath house is lovingly based on the one seen in the classic Anime film, 'Spirited Away'.] Jayne stomped ahead of Hori through the semi-darkness. He was frowning to himself. Couldn't see why in the name of all gorram he'd spilled so much to the big Maori. Weren't his way, to do that. Still, the Maori was good people; he'd practically bet one of his knives or guns that Hori wouldn't tell. Was kinda like Shepherd Book that way; the sort of silence that practically *made a person share their innermost. Vera could do something similar too, but that was different. For some reason his woman trusted and loved him and in the same instant some inner part of him had risen to the challenge and loved and trusted right back. Still, Hori's words had been...enlightening, kinda. Put a whole slant on love and belief and faith that Jayne was still juggling with. Jayne gripped the metal version of Vera a bit tighter. Here was one of his firm, reliable raison d'etre. And if she jammed or ran out of ammo, there were plenty more strapped around his body he could call on, down to his two big knives and his very own hands and fists, if push came to shove. He was kinda hoping he'd get the chance to let some ammo fly before all this was done. The feel of rounds successfully hitting a target dead on; that was basic and visceral; he understood that. It had meant meat on the table and the difference between life and death more often than he could count since. And the times he'd stood back to back with Vera and she'd been fighting against the odds right along with him; well, that had been damned close to joy. He was glad he'd skirted around how deep his feelings were for Vera. That was private and in the same box as his Ma and Pa and Matty. Mercs weren't supposed to love; wasn't good for the hard man image. But then, Vera was practically a merc – albeit one slightly closer to the right side of the law – and he knew she loved and wanted him. Jayne frowned, trying to get everything straight in his head. * Hori smiled slightly at Jayne's back as the merc stomped forward. The listening skills he'd practised for so long had helped Jayne open up, which is what that crazy merc needed, even if he didn't think so himself. And he'd shared a good slice of his own inner world, to level the playing field. He hoped making himself a kind of brother in arms to Jayne would be helpful somewhere along the way. Certainly provided the opportunity for better working relations. Hori knew about that, building a whanau; a partnership, tribe or family. So, they weren't Maori, apart from Vera's adopted status, he could live with that. Being a second or third to Mal was no hardship either, the man practically had 'boss' stamped through him like a stick of rock. He'd settle further into his role as warrior-priest and see which way the tides took the 'canoe' which was Serenity. * After a few more hours, each pair found that their pipe turned vertical and impassable. Happily, there was a ladder placed just before the bend, leading up to a manhole cover. They all variously picked or shot their way out into corridors which all led to another large circular room, complete with flickering electric lighting. There was one other locked and barred metal door. They were all grimy and dirty, but managing to smile at each other. Jayne aimed his gun Vera at the door. “Hang on!” Simon shouted, “There's an official medical notice on the door!” He bent down and read, “'Complete quarantine. Pneumonic plague viral outbreak. Do not open'.” Mal stepped closer, “Thinking that's bad, Simon.” “Yes; Pneumonic plague is the least common form of plague, but the most rapidly fatal. Primary pneumonic plague can occur when you inhale infectious droplets coughed into the air by a person or animal with pneumonic plague.” “Would it still be fatal now?” Simon shrugged, “Could be. I wouldn't risk it; this plague is one of the worst. It progresses rapidly and may cause respiratory failure and shock within two days of infection. Without major antibiotics, it's fatal.” Mal replied, “Got no wish to die *that way!” Jayne gestured upwards, “There's a hatch in the roof!” So Jayne held Vera while she flipped the hatch; boosting Mal then each one of them up in turn, with Hori leaning down to help pull him up last of all. The crawlspace was probably some kind of metal maintenance duct, about two and a half foot square with a dead end one way, but open the other. Simon projected his voice, “Any of you starts feeling in the slightest bit unwell, like the beginning of a cold, we get the heck out the way we came!” * So, they crawled, trailing one of the bales of twine behind them. Happily the duct stayed fairly level and most of the side turns had dead ends when explored. Eventually, they came to another hatch leading downwards. Mal turned his head, “What do you think, Doc?” “Best I can suggest is that everyone holds their breath and one volunteer takes a quick look. That'll cut down the possibility of any infection.” Mal was nearest, so everyone prepared and Mal put his head through the square gap and back up again after thirty seconds, closing the hole before speaking, “Pitch black. Not going down into that, no matter what's there. If we find controls for lights later, we'll have another go.” They crawled on. More hatches proved similarly pitch black within. Finally the crawlspace ended in a grill and the gentle breeze of outside air. Mal looked back at the group, “Anyone got a screwdriver or something?” Inara passed him one of her hair grips and Mal got the grill loose. It fell down and the clatter as it hit something like rock was several seconds away. Mal had a peek outside. “There's a fifty foot sheer drop here onto a rough rocky outcrop. And no apparently visible way off it. We're going to have to try the first hatch into pitch blackness.” Inara spoke up, “I've got a very small torch, Mal. It's not much, but it might help.” He smiled slightly, “I knew there was a reason why I love you!” * They retraced their path, crawling backwards, to the first hatch. Jayne got passed the torch down the line and had a look. He re-closed the hatch lid. “I can see the floor; s'about seven feet down. Light switch on the wall – and a whole bank of computers to my left.” Simon's voice drifted down to him, “Any medical notices?” “Not that I could see. Reckon we risk it. Mal?” Mal shrugged, “We'll steal a pile of antibiotics as soon as we get out of here, just to be on the safe side. Okay, let's go.” So, Jayne went down first, switching on the light, which flickered into feeble life. One by one they all joined him. Mal and Hori fiddled with the computers which hiccuped and one screen started displaying Chinese symbols, somewhat shakily. A fair bit of hacking and hope produced helpful results after a while. * “Hmm. Project Oracle; bio research division. Simon, understand the medical stuff here?” Simon peered at the screen, “Pneumonic plague, ebola, bubonic plague, couple of nasty retro viruses. Hang on...” He punched some more buttons and some of the in-house security cameras flickered into life and fed their images onto another television screen. “Yes; rats, mice, monkeys. All dead, and I'm guessing from one of more of the plagues. What's this? Tyen shiao-duh...wuh det yen, ah! The bastards had people here!” Jayne frowned, “Course they did, someone had to work here!” Simon gave him a glacial stare, “As subjects. They were using people as lab rats!” Jayne was suddenly comprehending and incensed, “Merciful Yesu... What the ruttin' hell were they doing that for? Was it like on Miranda?” Simon scanned what was coming up on the flickering screen, “No, not exactly. O God, Mal...” He put a hand on Simon's shoulder, “Tell us.” Simon had gone white, “Someone was trying to make the plagues *worse. Bio-terrorism.” Mal sighed. Yet another cause to live or die for, “Can we get a record or print-out of that?” Hori helped Simon get the information onto a couple of memory sticks. * Simon was checking the logs, “It backfired on them. The pneumonic plague got out. Everyone here got sick. Someone closed the door we saw and they barricaded themselves in. I'm thinking the end wasn't nice. It was ten years ago, give or take.” Simon did a quick calculation and let go of the breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding, “We'll be okay. But the animals and dead people; I wouldn't go anywhere near them, just to be sure. Don't cross any medical barrier warnings and be careful; that's the best I can suggest. What's this? One final entry. 'The boy and I got very sick and now we're better. Found a way out down below. Taking him to the...well, the Chinese says 'Chong Ta'.” Mal frowned, “High tower?” Simon shrugged, “Don't know, but someone else might have some clues.” “'Way out down below'?” Vera pointed in the vaguely correct direction, “Could mean the sewers we came in by.” Mal gestured at the screens, “Any floor plans in these computers?” Hori joined Mal in some more hacking, “Got 'em, eh. This floor, living quarters, sewerage system, plan of the duct we came in on, storage. Plans of something else.” He pointed at the screen. Vera recognised the plan, “It's like the Chartres labyrinth on Earth-that-was.” Jayne looked at her, “How do you know that?” “There's a garden labyrinth on Avalon, in the residential home where my mother is. Just there for the residents and visitors, tall hedges, nice love seat in the middle. Didn't think for one moment it's what the lady dwarf and River meant. It's been there maybe 25 years at most. But a government facility near it; no – nothing like that. And no mazes or high towers either.” Mal looked at her, “Betting we'll find one, Vera. Looks like we're heading to the Mythic system to check that labyrinth out unless we get other intel tells us the contrary.” * Everyone climbed back out the way they came, and finally re-emerged from the end of the sewer pipes. Serenity was parked nearby and Zoe plus Sarah waiting at the huge tail gate. Zoe wrinkled her nose, “You smell awful!” Mal managed a crooked smile, “Powerful aware of that. Thinking the Oriental bath house a couple of moons over might use our custom. They wash and clean anyone, no questions asked.” Vera managed a smile, “And we certainly need that!” Jayne was next, “Need to clean our clothes too!” “I know,” Mal replied, “The bath house washes or cleans just about anything if the price is right. It'll cost a bit of coin, but it'll be worth it to stop smelling of go se!” At that moment, as they were preparing to get the heck out of Dodge, a large mule flew down on them. Seated on board were six big guys and a very familiar grey-haired woman. Mal smiled, trying with moderate success for a tone of ingratiation, “Hello Patience, long time no see!” * Patience was toting a big gun. So were the guys with her. Didn't stop Jayne having his very own big gun in his hands, cocked and ready in something close to a nano-second. “Just say the word, Mal.” His tone was quiet, but not so Patience couldn't hear him. Patience ignored him, “See you've been...rearranging parts of my moon. Don't take kindly to that.” Mal went for bravado, “That little old sewer hole there? That's Alliance, that is. Don't remember you taking them over.” “They sure as hell didn't complain when I bought the land.” Mal shrugged, all seemingly nonchalant under the dirt and other substances he was wearing, “You're welcome to take a peek down there. It's nothing special; just an old facility with nothing worth having. You'll come out looking a lot like us, though.” “You taken anything?” “Heck, no,” Mal lied, “but you're welcome to come search us personal like if you want.” Patience fetched out a wooden box about a foot long by six inches wide and deep, putting down her gun as she did so. She turned her attention to Jayne, “Hear you're a merc for hire. Will this coin persuade you to change sides?” She opened the box. Inside was about five years' wages. Jayne couldn't help his eyes lighting up, “You got powerful means of persuasion there.” Mal turned to him, “Has the day come then? You gonna ratfink on me, on us?” Jayne grinned around his cigar and turned to Vera, “Sayanara sweetheart; it's been fun.” Vera looked into his eyes and saw the unspoken message there, “Bye, baby.” * Jayne swatted her on the behind and Vera swatted him right back. His eyes widened slightly in surprise, then he went on over and climbed on Patience's mule. He lifted his gun as if to cover his shipmates and side-swiped the butt right into Patience's face, following that by jumping right back down off the mule and rolling underneath it, firing as he went. The mule thudded into the ground mere inches away as he emerged from the other side, covered in dust. The others were already picking off the shocked and angry occupants of the mule. Jayne saw Vera kick one, then stomp on the man's firing arm good and hard when he fell. Bones crunched, and not just because of her. Vera lifted her skirt high up to flip out a serious looking knife and held it to the man's neck, right by the carotid artery. The man lay very still. Jayne stored the images in his head for later. He was busy helping take out the mule's occupants. In the end, it was down to Mal, who had Patience at gunpoint – again. * “Now you see, your intel was wrong. And we've taken out your boys for the second time and seriously damaged a fine piece of mule. I suggest you go home quietly and think long and hard about how you treat visitors and others trying to make an honest living.” Patience wasn't totally cowed, “You're not honest, Malcolm Reynolds!” “Maybe so; but I bested an Alliance Operative single handed, so I believe some respect is overdue. Now we're gonna leave and you're gonna let us. We ever come back this way, I expect the red carpet, dong ma?” Patience sighed and gave in, “Very well; go.” Everyone who wasn't dead – and that was the Serenity crew, Patience and her one remaining hired gun – got up off the desert floor and went their way. Jayne had his big gun in one hand and the wooden box he'd snagged as 'payment' in the other. Patience looked at him. Jayne glowered, “It's mine. You though you could buy me with this little! My price has gone up a long ways recently! Call this compensation for insulting me.” Vera grinned at him, “That's my merc!” Jayne's eyes heated again, “Oh, yeah!” They all kept their guns on Patience until the flap on Serenity's cargo bay started lifting. Then they dashed inside. Jayne looked at Mal, “Shoulda let me kill her!” Mal managed a small smile, “Thinking that broken face she's got will take a pile of mending.” Simon nodded, slightly queasy from the violence, “Badly broken cheek bone and dislodged teeth, maybe cracked jaw as well. She'll have plenty to keep her occupied for a while.” * A few hours in the air and they were coming in to land at the square near the bath house. Preliminary negotiations had fixed a price and accommodation for all of them, even the mules. The bath house was shaped like a huge pagoda in shades of green and yellow, with at least ten floors and an oriental style roof, complete with red tiles. A cherry tree leaned artistically near the door, with a Japanese maple to one side. There was even a rock garden that they caught glimpses of to the rear of the large building. A round, jolly looking Chinese woman came out and welcomed them. Everyone noticed that she stayed just out of smelling range. She spoke in a fairly heavy Chinese accent, which was probably more to do with enhancing traditional memories than actual authenticity. “Come in, come in. I am Mistress Ho.” Jayne grinned and muttered, “She said 'ho'!” Mistress Ho continued, unaware of the interruption, “Bath rooms ready for all! You have the coin?” Mal threw her a bag of money, “Fine, fine. Please strip off all clothes and leave outside your bath room doors, we will clean them while you clean yourselves!” Jayne frowned slightly, “Is it safe?” He was going to be naked and without guns to hand, he felt uneasy. The bath house madam smiled and clapped her hands. Two big muscled guys joined her, “Here; you are all on the same floor as each other. These boys will guard the entrance and exit. Perfectly safe!” Vera looked at Jayne, “And I'll wash your back if you like.” His eyes heated with unspoken promise, “Now *that I can handle!” “Take as long as you like!” They came to the first bathroom set aside for them, “Sunken bath in the middle, pull this lever for fresh hot water, supply of towels, shampoos and soaps over on the rack. Anything else?” Jayne flipped a couple of extra coins into his hand like a conjurer, “Any chance of some ice cold beers?” “Can do, can do! I'll send some up presently!” Mal fetched some extra coins out of his pockets, “Wine for us, please!” “Any other extras?” Vera produced some of her own money, “Massage oil, please. Unscented if possible.” Simon smiled, “I know she's not that dirty, but can my wife join me?” He paid the extra. “Fine, fine. Anything else you need, there's a speaking tube in your room. Hot water will come into the baths automatically in about five minutes. Happy bathing!” * Jayne and Vera stripped off their clothes, grabbed some washing stuff and jumped into the deep bath. Vera set about tackling her hair first and Jayne helped. Then she washed his. This had the incidental benefit of making their faces clean and they indulged in a few kisses. Jayne picked up the soap, “Wash you first!” Vera could tell from the look in his eyes where this was going and wasn't surprised when his hands lingered longer than was strictly necessary around her breasts and then lower down until she was trembling. “Jayne, please...?” He smiled at her and his fingers continued their magic until she climaxed. She took the soap off him, “Your turn!” He stood up in the shallower part of the water. Vera's stood near him and her gaze dropped automatically, “Wow; you're certainly ready to rumble!. How much of this 'washing' do you think you can withstand?” Jayne chuckled, “My chest and legs need cleaning!” So Vera carried on with that, working down his chest and arms and up the legs. When she got close to where he was very ready for her, she paused, “Jayne?” He looked down, “God; please. Touch me!” So she did and they both groaned. Jayne's hand joined hers and stilled her, taking over. Vera watched, “Damn, that's hot!” He chuckled, “Ya seen me do this for you afore now!” Vera was transfixed, “And it still turns me on like crazy!” Jayne suddenly picked her up and sank with her onto the pile of towels nearby. Vera arched upwards and he slid eagerly home, rolling with her so that she was on top. “Ain't gonna last long, darlin'.” Vera smiled at him, “Thinking there'll likely be more when the massage oil gets used later.” Jayne's chuckle was low and sexy, “Uh-huh. But fer now...” He moved with her and Vera came again seconds before he did. They snuggled for a while. The water in the bath was cooling and already getting dirty, so they called up a fresh supply with the lever. * Simon was tracing patterns on Kaylee's stomach. They hadn't even waited to get clean, the first time and now they were lying by the side of the bath. “How are the babies?” Kaylee grinned, “Feeling just fine. Starting to feel them move a bit more; like bubbles low down.” Simon turned his caress into a medical exploration of her gently swelling uterus, “Yes; I can't feel them by hand yet, won't for a long time, but remember how we heard them, even the heartbeats.” Kaylee nodded, “We used the scanner just after we were wed and that was so shiny! Could see 'em and everything!” Simon smiled, “Fraternal twins; not identical. We'll be able to tell them apart!” “Specially if it's a boy and girl we've got!” “Don't much mind, as long as they're healthy. Delivering twins can be a bit more tricky than just one; might want to think about checking into a hospital. Lots of time to plan that!” * Inara was leaning back in the bath next to Mal, “Ever been to the Mythic system?” Mal nodded, “Done jobs all over the 'verse with Serenity. Don't know it too well, though. Several habitable planets; Avalon is pretty temperate and Narnia has a weird orbit that keeps it in Winter and Summer for decades. I'm hoping it's in the latter phase when we get there. Lyonesse and Ragnarok are terra-formed to an extent, though the latter's climate is pretty harsh. Camelot's got a research base on it. I think that's all the ones that have significant numbers of folk on 'em.” “Mmm, that's about as much as I know. There is – or maybe 'was' now – a mixed Companion house on Avalon. Since our revelations got out, a lot of Companions have given up or gone freelance. The Guild's a shadow of its former self. Vera's late aunt Grace was based on Avalon after her training. I met her once or twice. Wasn't any talk of mazes or labyrinths, though.” “When we get back to the ship, I'll put a carefully worded wave out; see what comes back. If we don't hit pay-dirt, it'll be a month in the black without much landfall to get to the Mythic system. Better check we've stocked up first.” “You saw the huge pile of really good pottery in the hold. We've got stuff to trade back for supplies.” Mal kissed her hair, grinning slightly, “We could always try to trade Jayne!” Inara gasped and then giggled, “Better not; Vera would probably kill you!”


Thursday, September 21, 2006 7:05 AM


Plagues now? Dang...guess the Alliance really doesn't know how to quit messing around with things:(

Still...this was a mighty shiny chapter, Vera! Especially loved Mal and Inara's final lines about trading Jayne for good;)



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