BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

MAL4PREZ

Back Stories II: Chapter 8
Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Inara has bittersweet memories of her first journeys abroad, but doesn't let them distract her from the chase. Good thing, too, because the bad guys are making progress.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3039    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Disclaimer: It belongs to Joss and all those business people. I'm just playing.

Rating: PG to NC17. I will not put warnings on each chapter, because I don't want to give things away. In general, don't be getting into any of this if you're not prepared for adult storylines, violence, explicit sexual content, and - oh my - bad words.

Many thanks: fireflyfans.net members: leeh, leiasky, and nosadseven for beta.

Links: Prequels: The Fish Job (FFF) (LJ), Easy Tickets (FFF) (LJ), and Book I (FFF) (LJ). Timing, pairings, and canon blurbs are in my FFF blog.

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Back Stories, Book II

by Mal4Prez

Chapter 8

Inara has bittersweet memories of her first journeys abroad, but doesn't let them distract her
from the chase. Good thing, too, because the bad guys are making progress.


 

 

Seventeen years ago

Kari wraps her arms around her sides, hugging herself against the chill air of the docks. It isn’t so very cold, but she’s been waiting for some time now, and her blood is running slow.

Mrs. Peterson had wanted to wait with her, to keep the shuttle running so the two of them could sit cozy inside, but Kari had avoided that. She went so far as to resort to trickery, claiming to see her family’s transport down the lot. She gave Mrs. P one last quick hug, then took off at a jog with her trunk squeaking shrilly on its crooked wheels behind her. She even approached a conveniently placed vehicle, smiling and waving at the confused man inside, then circling around to hide behind it until Mrs. P.’s shuttle lifted off.

Kari’s not proud of herself, but what she’s managed to avoid would be worse than having her last words to Mrs. P be a lie. She can easily imagine her mother’s greeting to the poor woman – a tight, forced smile and narrow eyes that keenly watch for any sign of judgement or condescension. Her mother would frown and glance down at Kari, picking up every offending sign that her daughter has grown fond of her foster mother.

No, Kari is right to have avoided all that. The warm air of the shuttle would be more pleasant than the gray dullness of the day, but it wouldn’t be real. None of that is real anymore; she’s back on her homeworld, and she needs to get used to it.

She stops her slow pacing and presses her feet against the solid concrete, feeling the familiar pull of Sihnon’s gravity on her body, then lifts her face to the barely noticable breath of wind and the smells it carries with it. This is her world again, and she needs to forget how different life is on a ship that travels between worlds.

The fore hallway of the Firefly (words like “fore,” “aft,” “starboard,” and “port” quickly become common use for Kari) has four bunks: one for Mr. And Mrs. Peterson, one for Sylvia, one for Sylvia’s older brother Pete, and a fourth which is kept for guests.

“It’s a good thing I didn’t have another child!” Mrs. P says when Kari first boards. “If I had three, two of you would have to share bunks, and I’d hear no end about it!”

Kari has no response to Mrs. P’s light words. She's confused as to her role here – servant or guest or family member. And, to tell the truth, she's ashamed to admit that she’s never had her own room. Maybe if she had, Susan the social worker wouldn’t have taken her away from her home. Maybe if Kari'd had a bigger house and nicer clothes, things her parents often said they wished they could give her, she’d be sad about leaving. Instead, under a blanker of mortification and embarrassment, she's secretly relieved.

Guilt makes her bite down on her excitement when she sees her room – if that’s the right word for it. It’s more like a playhouse than a bedroom, reached by climbing down a ladder. The walls (no – “bulkheads”) are made of sturdy metal and not plain and square like walls in her own house. The side bulkheads have compartments all through them, the catches cleverly hidden in the metal seams, and the surface furthest from the ladder curves from the deck to the ceiling. A panel by the entrance has buttons for opening and closing the door, changing the temperature, and talking to people in other parts of the ship.

Mrs. Peterson assures Kari that this place is her very own. For as long as she stays on the ship, she can keep her things here, arrange them how she likes, and no one else is allowed to come in without asking her permission. She can find quiet and peace whenever she wants it.

It's funny though - in all the months that pass, she seldom chooses to be in her bunk alone.

“Kari. Kari!”

Her father’s rough voice calls from the far end of the lot. When she looks toward him, he raises a hand and beckons her to come meet him. Kari sighs and lifts her trunk by the handle on its end. The sticky wheels sound mournful as they follow her down the cracked sidewalk.

Huān yíng guāng lín!” Her father calls out. He slides her trunk into the back of his beat-up transport, the same one he’s had as long as Kari can remember. It doesn’t look like much, but he keeps the engine tuned so that it purrs like a brand-new Shēchǐ ES, as he so often says. Normally, the large family crowds the thing full, but now it’s empty. Kari slides into the front seat. She can’t help but feel disappointed that it’s only him, and that he’s kept her waiting nearly half an hour. He can't be that excited to see her, no matter what he says.

He doesn’t explain the delay, probably thinks nothing of it. Seven months ago Kari wouldn’t have noticed it herself, because she was used to waiting. But the Peterson’s wouldn’t have left her like that, not without many hugs and apologies and explanations.

“Did you have a good trip about the `verse?” he asks as he powers the vehicle into the air.

“It was all right,” she answers blandly. She wants to say more, but, out of a habit she hasn’t practiced in seven months but now finds inescapable, she waits for him to ask. If she starts volunteering information, he may just interrupt her to change the subject as his mind wanders away from her words and toward whatever is occupying him these days. That’s another thing she’ll go to great lengths to avoid - not being heard.

It dawns on Kari that she doesn’t want to talk unless she’s sure she’ll be listened to. Probably, she’s always been like that, and that’s why she’s so quiet at home. She’s never seen it in herself before.

“Well, we’ve been busy here,” he says, and he goes on to tell why. With cheer and optimistic energy he describes the many successes Kari’s mom has had in vocational school, and the fine new job she’s found. He also details the changes in his own career; he’s gotten certified to work on construction machinery, and that’s opened up countless opportunities to him. More pay, and it’s allowed him to relocate to a much nicer neighborhood. They have a new house and all kinds of plans for the future.

He talks nonstop for the whole ride, leaving only short gaps for Kari to slip in a few Oh?s and That’s great!’s and one You must have been busy. On the inside, she feels an unfamiliar frustration boiling up. He hasn’t changed, not in the way that’s really important. He still doesn't know how to listen.

She looks out the windows at her new neighborhood, what she can see of it. The old transport isn’t permitted to travel in the higher lanes, the ones that the kind of view Kari’d seen on her way down through the atmosphere. He has to wind through the lower routes, staying just above the warehouses and shopping centers that spread between the high rises of suburban business centers.

It’s unmistakably different from the city center where she’d grown up, but also the same. The smell of the air, the ID plates on the transports, the adverts painted on the roofs below – all these are familiar, as familiar as the back of her own hand and the pattern of faint freckles on her arm. For an odd moment, she wonders if she’s been away from herself all this time, if the past months were a dream, and now she is waking up.

She shakes her head – it doesn’t seem possible. Her goodbye dinner with the Peterson’s had only been a few hours ago. But now it feels like it never happened, as if it was just a scene in a book she’d read.

Everyone on the ship is waiting for her, even the two hired men who usually keep to the lower deck are gathered around the table tucked like a café booth into a round alcove of the main hall. It’s a special occasion; after more than seven months, Kari is going home tonight.

She’s determined not to be down-hearted. She’s not going to miss out on her last chance to talk in a loud voice about nothing in particular and get eager smiles and enthusiastic replies. She’s not about to sit still and quiet when she can fold her feet up under her and reach across the table for another bread roll, no matter that it’s bad manners. And she won’t even try to hold back her laughter at jokes that her own parents would think in poor taste.

After helping with the clean-up, Mr.P heads below decks with the hired men (“They do like their liquid dessert,” Mrs. P says with a wink) and the room quiets. Sylvia’s brother Pete slips out of the room; when he returns he timidly offers Kari a flat rectangular box tied with a blue ribbon. He stands with his hands clenched while she opens it. It’s a pack of pastels – a full array of colors, all whole and unbroken, not like Sylvia’s collection of worn old stubs that the three of them have often amused themselves with.

“I just… I thought you make nice pictures…” Pete murmurs. “And you should have your own…”

His face is as red as the reddest crayon, and Kari’s feeling a little flustered herself. But she sees that he’s sneaking glances at her, short and intent, before he looks away again. It’s as if the sight of her burns his eyes.

He thinks I’m pretty, she realizes.

She’s pleased but confused – she never even guessed that he liked her that way. She’s certainly never tried to win his affection, and now that she has it, she’s not sure what to say. She senses that there’s some kind of power here, like having the Cortex controls in her own hands, but she doesn’t know what to do with it.

Sylvia skips by. “Pete likes Kari! Pete likes Kari! Pete and Kari, sittin’ in the shuttle, hopin’ for a kiss and a squeeze and a cuddle …”

Pete turns his flushed face on his little sister like he’s relieved to have the distraction, and he chases her out the aft hatch toward the engine room.

Kari’s father points toward the new house even before it comes into sight. It’s a great improvement, much larger than their old place, and it’s in a quiet neighborhood outside the thick air and noisy streets of the city center.

She’s the first of the children to return, and the house is quiet. There isn’t yet enough furniture to fill it properly, and the empty rooms and open spaces seem to gape and echo. The quiet weighs on her shoulders as she follows her father up the stairs to her new room. He doesn’t leave her time to unpack her trunk, but hustles her back down to where the large dining room table is set for three. That explains why he came to get her alone - her mother had been busy cooking a welcome dinner. Kari is so pleased that she doesn’t tell them that her own internal clock is running on ship’s time, which is several hours ahead. She’s more ready for bed than a second dinner, but she's about to refuse.

Her mother greets her with a hug, and for a second Kari is ashamed of her dark mood. Her mother has missed her, just like Mrs. P had said.

Mr. Peterson needs to take the ship to pick up supplies at an orbital base, so. Mrs P pilots the shuttle down to the surface. Kari sits in the co-pilot’s seat, leaning over the console to watch her homeworld approach. The small craft shakes as they enter atmo, and the black outside the window gradually shifts to blue. Then the flight smoothes out and they’re soaring through towering clouds that turn gold as the ship sinks into the sunset. Kari wonders when she’ll see such a sight again.

Mrs. P leans back from the controls as the auto-pilot takes over, but she’s quiet. After a few minutes, Kari tears her eyes off the heavens outside and finds that she’s being studied.

“Most of them are bitter,” Mrs. P says, her voice thoughtful. “I’ve had fosters hide in their rooms, and not come out except to be sullen and spiteful. I guess it’s not surprising. They’ve been torn from their homes, and they can’t help but blame me for it.”

These words make Kari blush to remember that she hadn’t been so happy herself, not in those first hours. She hopes she hasn’t ever been rude. It must have been strange for the Peterson’s, to have strangers come to live in their home. Especially those who don’t want to be there, who behave badly.

“It must be hard,” she says softly. “For you to take care of us like you do.”

“No – not at all!” Mrs. P says. “I didn’t mean that! It’s rewarding. Have you ever had a cat? But you’ve seen them, right? Well… it’s like getting a cat to love. It may be work sometimes, but it’s the loveliest thing when they finally come around, when they let you take care of them, and you see how they’re happy.” She stops and tuts. “And there you go getting me to talk about myself again – you always do that! I mean to say that you’re not bitter like those others. I could see it was scary for you, those first few days, but then you just settled right in. Sylvia raves about you. She’s going to be crying for weeks! And as for Pete – well, I think you’re breaking his poor heart.”

Kari wants to deny that, out of modesty, but she thinks of the pastels packed carefully in her trunk, and she can’t.

“You’re breaking my heart, too,” Mrs. P says, and Kari sees that the woman’s eyes are sparkling with tears. “I’ve never known a girl to have as much grace as you. You’ve been like a shining light on our ship. You’re always such a joy! I’m going to miss you!”

The words make Kari feel warm and happy inside, but also pained that she may not ever see this woman again. She steps back from the console and pitches herself into Mrs. P’s arms, letting the soft hug engulf her.

“Don’t make me go,” she says. “I want to stay with you!”

Mrs. Peterson draws back and pets her hair. “Oh, honey. You can’t. You know I’d love to keep you, but I can’t take you away from your own family. Just think of how your poor mother would feel. She must miss you so much!”

Kari doubts that, but she won’t admit it. Not ever. She nods and hugs Mrs. P again, trying to stay in that embrace as long as she can.

“So, which worlds did you see?” Kari’s mother asks as she passes a serving bowl.

“Oh… I didn’t go out that much,” Kari replies awkwardly. She’s not used to speaking of herself, not with her own parents, not without any younger siblings to interrupt. Her voice seems to hang thin in the air, to echo off the bare floors and walls, all of which are regular and square and a pale shade of off-white. They look feeble compared to the sturdy bulkheads of a ship.

Her father is surprised. “You mean you stayed on board the whole time?”

“Well, not the whole time.”

He smiles, as if he’s fondly suggesting that she’s silly. “So? Then where did you go?”

Kari opens her mouth but can’t think of how to start. This is her chance – he’s asking. But she just can’t seem to do it; under the critical gaze of her mother everything she can think to say will sound meaningless and dull or – worse – be taken as insolence, disrespect. She can’t think of a story to grab their attention without sending them into spasms of defensiveness. How can she express the joy of her journeys without sounding like she wishes she was still there?

Her mother is tired of waiting. “Was there a lot to do on the ship?” she asks impatiently.

Kari wants to light up, to be the pretty, energetic girl that Pete was too shy to look at and Mrs. P was so fond of. She wants to chatter away like she had just a few hours ago, show her parents what a bright, entertaining person she can be. She straightens in determination. Things can be different now. There’s no reason she can’t be herself – her best self – here in her own home. There’s no reason her parents don’t love her just as much as Mrs. P; they just show it differently, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

She takes in a deep breath, and the words finally come.

“We couldn’t go anywhere most of the time, since we were in the Black, so we had to make up games. Mrs. P was really good at charades. She was really funny too – she’d play at getting mad when Mr. P couldn’t guess an easy one. She couldn’t talk, but she’d turn bright red and jump up and down, and once she even… ” Too much, Kari realizes. Her mother is staring at her plate, her lips pressed together. Kari can’t imagine her own mother throwing a mute temper tantrum in front of a giggling audience. Her mom is probably thinking the same thing, and hearing this as criticism: You're not as good as my foster mother, and in only seven months I learned to love her more.

“I got to pilot the ship once,” Kari goes on, changing the subject, “for just a few minutes when we were way out and there was nothing to run into. Um… Sylvia taught me how to work the Cortex, and how to draw. Pete showed me calligraphy, and I made a banner for over my bunk. I had my own room, and I – ”

“You’ll have your own room here,” her mother interrupts. “And you’ll be going to school. You’ll be able to learn a lot of new things. But we’ll need you home afterwards to make dinner. I’ll be working into the evening most days, and we’ll save a lot of money if we don’t have to pay the nanny to fix meals.”

Kari’s father speaks more gently, but he continues on the same topic. “The school you’ll be going to is a good one. They focus on technical fields – engineering, urban planning, useful types of things.”

Those options, while practical, don’t sound thrilling. “I’d like to study calligraphy if I – ”

“Nonsense,” her mother snaps. “Scribbling won’t pay the bills. Kari, if you ever fall behind in life you’ll get trapped. You won’t have any options, and I don’t want that for you. You can play games once you’re settled and steady.”

Kari nods and looks down at her plate. Her father must see that she’s bothered; in an attempt to cheer her up, he goes on about her new school, about how he made sure the teachers were good and the graduates were apprenticed to respectable employers. His effort to cheer Kari is misguided - she’s not ready to hear about that. The untold stories of her months of travel, of the person she can be and the strong support a family can offer, have been pried loose and pile up in her mind.

All through the meal, she feels like a hand is pressing her chest. She feels like she’s suffocating. She doesn’t feel pretty now, not like a shining light. She feels small and unimportant. Invisible. The energy of the other person she’d been – the pretty, bright, likable girl – drains out her, leaving a numb, quiet shell.

After dinner, she goes to her room to unpack. The pastels are still in pristine condition, and she sits on the floor while she opens the box, remembering the care Sylvia used in packing them. She looks about her room. Her very own room. She wishes she wasn’t alone in it.

But it isn't her own parents she wants, and it isn't her younger brothers and sisters either. Before long, they'll be crowding her again with their demands and expectations, as if they have a right to take up every minute of her life without giving anything back. No, her family are not the people she wants with her. And the Peterson's - no matter how fond of her they are, and much as she's grown to love them, they don't belong to her. A person can only be born to one family - you can get lucky, or you can get trapped.

She wipes her eyes in frustration. She can't live this way. Seven more years of school, and then she'd be an apprentice in some trade she hardly cares about. And maybe along the way she'll meet a nice boy like Pete, someone who thought she was pretty, and he'd take her on dates and want to kiss her, and then maybe someday they'd get married and she'd start having babies of her own...

The feeling that wells up in her stomach can only be called revulsion. That life is not the one she plans to live. She has to find another way, her own way. She has to do something.

Sylvia's words repeat in her ears: “See – it says here that you have to start at the Academy before your twelfth birthday or they won’t let you in.”

Kari feels determination replace the dread in her stomach. She's eleven years old; she doesn't have a lot of time.

* * *

Landsdowne Docks, Persephone

“It is as you told me,” Lina said. “Two men attempted to sell selesta in Eastbourne on Londinium, and were very nearly detained by House security. I am sending you the capture.” Her voice took on a teasing tone and her eyes sparkled on the cortex screen. “I am surprised, Inara. I thought you would only form connections with skilled criminals.”

Inara ignored Lina’s playfulness; she was too high-strung to return it, too focused on the attachments that Lina had sent with her wave.

“Marone has been given this information as well?” Inara asked.

Lina shook her head. “Your friends qualify for the protection we offer all our clients. You will hear no sound with the capture, but one of the men – the big one – requested our services. If ‘request’ is the correct word...”

Despite her trepidation, Inara couldn’t hold back a smile. She had no doubt as to who the big one must be, and Jayne’s behavior in a Companion House wasn’t hard to imagine. “That’s not surprising,” she said, “but it is fortunate.”

“Very much so. Sheydra made it clear to Marone that these men are under our protection as Guild clients. But you must tell me – which of the two is your pirate?”

Inara sighed. She should correct Lina of the notion that any man was hers, but her friend’s mood was comforting and she didn’t want to ruin it. It also cheered Inara – in a fluttery, nervous way – that she’d be seeing Mal, even if it was only in a capture.

“It’s certainly not the big one,” she muttered, then she tapped the screen to play the video on the console’s second screen.

She had to swallow back disappointment that neither of the men was Mal, but she couldn’t suppress a fond smile at who she did see. The capture had been taken from a cam concealed over the doorway of a small sitting room. Jayne, wearing a familiar but highly inappropriate Shepherd’s frock, sat in a high-backed chair with a teacup in his hand. He sniffed at the tea and attempted to sip it delicately, but he was sitting with a slouch and his legs were flopped wide open. His posture screamed: Dress me how you like, I’m still a bad, bad boy.

Wash, on the other hand, looked small and nervous. Simon’s vest might have been fetching on the pilot if he’d sat up straight, but he was hunched over and fidgeting nervously, his head turning from Jayne to the doorway under the camera and back. His body language begged: We’re harmless, really we are. Please please please don’t arrest us!

Inara shook her head sadly. Why had Mal sent these two to a Companion House? He could have done a much better job if he’d gone himself. Buddha knew, Inara had never able to read him; all her training had availed her nothing with Serenity’s captain.

“Marone hasn’t seen this, you say?” Inara murmured.

“No. But I doubt it will stop him for long,” Lina replied. “Sheydra said he seemed quite determined, and not a man to be discouraged.”

Inara didn’t immediately reply; her attention was caught by the video. The field of view didn’t include the doorway, but it was clear that someone entered and briefly spoke to Wash. The pilot looked worried for a few seconds afterwards, tapping his foot nervously, then he exchanged inaudible words with Jayne. Whatever the merc said didn’t calm Wash; he jumped up, grabbed a box from the coffee table, and left in a hurry. Jayne stayed seated for a few seconds, then his head tilted and his face twisted – a few very bad words being said, Inara guessed – and he stood and stalked out of the room with an angry set to his shoulders.

So Wash was the one who’d gotten them away in time. Inara hoped that she’d have the chance to congratulate him on his escape.

“So… which of them is it?” Lina asked.

Inara forced her eyes back to the screen showing Lina’s bright eyes in her dark chocolate face – her friend had been watching her this whole time, and had surely read a full novel of emotions crossing Inara’s face.

“Neither, I’m afraid,” Inara said, unable to keep the disappointment from her voice.

“Then I suppose I will have to wait to meet him later.”

“Yes… I suppose. ” Inara meant to say more, but words escaped her. Why indeed hadn’t Mal gone to the House himself? He would only stay out of a job if he had something more important to tend to. What could that be?

“There is more,” Lina said into the lengthening silence. “I have captures of Marone and his colleagues. It took some doing to put this all together for you, but I hope it will help. I only regret that I cannot do more.”

Inara forced herself to focus. Seeing Wash and Jayne, even on video, scrambled her senses. It’d been only a matter of weeks since she’d lived on Serenity, but it felt like years. Her life in the Black, her life with the Guild, the life she’d lived before… all were jumbled together in her mind.

Lina broke the silence again, her tone more sober than it had been, her playfulness fading.

“Inara, as much as my curiousity begs for answers, we must use care. Some of the things I have seen in the past day worry me, and I do not think it is wise for us to talk often. This matter is growing bigger as time passes. The less connection between us, the less likely they will find you through me.” Lina’s eyes showed regret. “I begin to understand your warnings to be cautious. I feel a weight in these matters, as if there is an urgency to it, and a power behind it, that I do not wish to provoke.”

“I understand,” Inara said. “You’ve done a great deal, and I owe you plenty already. More than I can ever –”

“None of that,” Lina interrupted. “As long as I may meet your smuggler someday, all will be balanced between us.”

Inara smiled. “I’ll do my best.”

“I hope that the information I have gathered will bring it to pass.”

“I hope so, too.”

“Take care of yourself, Inara.”

“I will,” Inara said. “You do the same.”

Then the connection was cut.

Inara sat frozen for some time. She understood her new reality well enough: she could contact Lina if she needed to, but doing so too often would draw attention, and it was unclear how much more she could learn from her friends in the Guild. If at all possible, she had to make progress on her own from now on.

She roused herself and looked over the other attachments to Lina’s wave. There were several, though they were short in duration. Inara watched each one, taking notes as she went. The clips were taken from a collection of surveillance cameras, and breathed hope into her. Much could be done with this.

But not by her. Hacking wasn’t taught by the Guild, and Inara didn’t have the authority or skill to access the kind of databanks that would be needed. She needed help. She needed someone who could poke their electronic fingers into every part of the `verse.

Inara smiled. She knew exactly who to talk to.

* * *

Eastbourne Landing Docks, Londinium

Trevor Marone poured a few fingers of scotch and switched on the large wall-mounted viewscreen before he settled into a soft leather recliner. He had to smile at his setting; if he’d known that military leaders lived like this, he might have chosen a different career.

Of course, he quickly amended to himself, he didn’t mean that. His civic duties on Oeneus had gotten him more involved in Alliance government business than he’d ever imagined – or wanted – and he didn’t plan on this being a permanent thing. In fact, it couldn’t end soon enough for him.

The information he was gathering from Londinium was a large step in the right direction. The visit to the Companion House had been frustrating; Sheydra had been holding back information, of that he had no doubt, but her lack of cooperation was turning out to be only a minor setback. He wouldn’t need to put any more pressure on the Companions. The one thing he had learned was that Reynolds’ crewmen had indeed been to the House, and that was enough.

Though Marone didn’t know the exact time of the visit, it hadn’t taken long for his staff to find a spike of activity within the House: communications, encoded, but attention grabbing. Guild security being summoned, he supposed, because at the same time city surveillance of the streets outside recorded two men fleeing the House. Neither was Reynolds, but Marone didn’t lose heart. This was it, this was the right trail. His staff was currently following up, like bloodhounds tracing a scent to its source.

In the meantime, Marone had a second clip of video that was more promising. He’d suspected that Captain Reynolds would be having problems by now, so he’d had his staff check in with medical facilities in and around Eastbourne. It hadn’t taken long to hear back about the unauthorized use of a university’s holo-imager by persons unknown.

It’d been clever of Serenity’s crew to use the place; security was minimal, and no one monitored the cameras in real time. But recordings had been made and, at Marone’s orders, the university security staff had spliced together video of the intruders and sent it over for his viewing pleasure.

He sipped his drink as he watched a capture of three EMT’s entering wide, sunlit glass doors. Despite the relatively poor quality of the video, two of the faces peeking out from blue caps were immediately recognizable to him. Marone had met and worked with them on Oeneus. The younger woman – Kaylee – had been the friendlier of the two by far, although he believed that he’d won Zoë Washburn over in the end as well.

The view cut to the inside of an elevator for a moment, and Marone leaned closer to the screen to study the man he’d seen only in file photos.

“Captain Reynolds,” he murmured softly. “There you are.”

The trio left the lift, approached the imager room, and passed inside. Marone reclined again and watched impassively; he didn’t expect to get much out of this video, besides verifying that his quarry had indeed been on Londinium on the day in question. The footage of the three leaving the hospital was the most vital information to be had, and that was being checked by underlings he had assigned to the task, specialists connected into all the information lines of the Alliance.

But his interest was piqued but what happened in the imager room. Reynolds appeared to have a breakdown, collapsing next to the patient bed. There was no sound with the capture, but Marone could see that the man was yelling as he rose to his feet and pushed his second in command’s offered help away.

Marone sucked in a surprised breath when Washburn punched her captain. He was still agape, watching the two women struggle to lift the unconscious man onto the scanner bed, when an incoming wave interrupted the viewing.

Marone paused the capture. The call was from the young tech officer in charge of tracking Reynolds and his crew.

“What?” he asked shortly.

“We’ve nearly got them, sir,” the young woman said with a note of pride in her voice. “The two men who fled the Companion House returned to a Firefly transport. The three who left the hospital took a shuttle back to the same ship. I can patch in recordings –”

“Never mind,” Marone interrupted impatiently. “Where did they go?”

“Out of local space. Given the vector they departed on, I checked with monitoring buoys and was able to track the Firefly until it passed out of regulated space a day and a half ago. It’s possible that they disconnected their pulse beacon after that, because they haven’t been detected since, but I can make some guesses as to where they were heading.”

“Where?” Marone demanded.

“Given their course, I conjecture their destination to be St. Albans, Muir, or Highgate. The first is the closest– ”

“Which of these planets have medical facilities?” he demanded.

“Sir?”

“It’s not complicated,” he said, the words coming out sharper than he’d intended. “Find out what kind of medical facilities these worlds have, and get back to me immediately.”

“Yes, sir,” the woman responded, looking downhearted. Marone felt a little ashamed; having this level of military authority was a strange thing for a lifelong politician. He was accustumed to using charm and charisma to get his way, a method he greatly preferred. He didn’t enjoy verbally beating people into submission.

“Oh, and Corporal?” he added.

“Sir?”

He pulled out his old persona and smiled. “Nicely done.”

The woman almost returned his smile – almost – before she cut the connection. Marone sighed. The military just wasn’t his place. The sooner this chase ended, the happier he’d be.

But he couldn’t leave Londinium, not yet. More needed to be worked out with the OPR as the official side of this business moved forward. Someone else would have to go after the Firefly. At least the search was narrowing: St. Alban’s, Muir, or Highgate.

He dialed the code to Will and Ginger’s transport.

* * *

Translations

Huān yíng guāng lín: welcome
* * *

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COMMENTS

Wednesday, November 14, 2007 5:37 AM

MAL4PREZ


OK, and now I’m going to do what a writer probably should never ever do...

I just have to admit that I don’t like this chapter very much. By which I mean the Kari flashback, the rest is fine. I like the idea of it, and a few little things here and there, and what I’m showing is important in the grand scheme of things for my version of Inara. But I think it could use another year or two of pecking away to smooth it out. It probably could do what it needs to do in much fewer words. But I’m sick of working on it and I really want to move on!

It feels like Mal and Zoë and Book have been stuck on their little moon forever. If I was posting regularly it wouldn’t be such a long stay. I swear, if you go back and read Back Stories after it’s fully posted, the plot’ll move along much quicker, and the rest of the crew won’t feel so completely absent.

Anyhow, yay for the reposting being done and may Reavers search out the evil hackers who targeted our harmless little site! I put up all the feedback I could recover – all I lost was the comments on the past chapter, which is a shame. That was an unpleasant one to write, which made the feedback especially rewarding. I tell you, I don’t plan on reading the end of that chapter again for a long, long time, because I find the bullying situation hard to take. It makes me really mad!

One more thing – in posting all your comments on the past 8 chapters, I was again impressed with the amount of thought that went into them, and how many things you say make me smile. Thank you so much!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007 7:40 AM

LADYSAGE


I really enjoyed this chapter, despite what you say about it. As a bit of writer myself I can sympathize with just wanting to get beyond something!

Oh, and just for pure silliness, I really liked the sing-song, "Pete and Kari, sittin’ in the shuttle, hopin’ for a kiss and a squeeze and a cuddle …"

Thanks for sharing this!

:-)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007 8:18 AM

LEIASKY


>It feels like Mal and Zoë and Book have been stuck on their little moon forever.

It DOES feel that way! But that's just because you're not posting frequently. I'm going to lock you in our Cruise cabin and force you to write in a few weeks damnit! LOL!

I really like the history that you've developed for Inara and how she has to hold back with her real family is so sad.

And I really like how you're showing a bit about what the rest of the crew is doing. Even if it was through a video feed, its good to see them coming back into the story a bit. I've missed reading about them!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007 8:25 AM

EMPIREX


Eeeeeeeeeyeah! What a wonderful surprise! Haven't read it yet - gotta go to work, but this is at the top of my list for tonight.

Mal4Prez, I can't tell you what a joy it is to read your fic. I've had a crappy two weeks, but knowing I've got this nice little suprise waiting for me when I get home puts a smile on my face.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007 10:40 AM

MISSWHATSIS


I think you're right, that the Inara childhood needs work -- BUT, I love the idea of her inability to fit into her own home. I think most interesting characters (meatspace and virtuaL) have that sense of not matching their original families -- that's what drives them to go on a journey. (There are only two plots in the whole 'verse: a stranger comes to town/someone goes on a journey)

Keep it up -- I'll go back and repost my comments on the last chapter; which I liked enormously although it wasn't what you would call fun.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007 4:44 PM

KATESFRIEND


After way too long a day, what a delightful surprise to see a new chapter!

After all this time and all these chapters, I still can't decide if Marone is a friend or foe. And you don't seem to be giving out any hints one way or another. He could have just levelled with Inara at their first meeting, but he seems to be following his own agenda. And not very sympathetic to Mal's breakdown. Any hints?

I think you picked the most logical backstory for Inara and her known motivations during the series. The unknown ones will have to wait for the sequel. I liked what you did, it said enough, and it typifies how a motivated person got that way from a painful childhood. I wouldn't change it, but I won't read it very often either. It makes me want to run away from home, too.

I agree with Leiasky. Write faster. This story is too good not to share.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007 8:38 PM

PLATONIST


I have to agree with your interpretation of Inara's childhood. It couldn't have been all sunshine and rainbows, she is too jaded and there is sadness behind those big orbs. And you've given us a good explanation of her attraction to the Companion lifestyle and the lack of emotional attachment it provides. If you stay unattached you won't be disappointed when things go pear shape and we know how wrong things can go (HOG).

I've always thought her claim on the shuttle and Serenity as her "home" was the most consistent attribute in her character (and her love for Mal, which is really the same)...that plays out well here.

Anyway, I'm not sure about the other characters either, but I'm waiting for more.

Thursday, November 15, 2007 7:31 AM

EMPIREX


"She's eleven years old; she doesn't have a lot of time." Wow. I find it heartbreaking that a child would be made to feel that way. I love how Inara has decided to take her future into her own hands, here, even at such a young age. Awesome!

I'm not sure what Marone's true motives are, but I'm getting the sense of menacing urgency that's growing and growing... Very suspenseful! Highly entertaining! Two thumbs (and two big toes) up!

Friday, November 16, 2007 4:22 AM

DESERTGIRL


Dispite what you say, I really liked the backstory about Inara.

The contrast of Inara's down and out family being so haughty and demanding of certain manners and certain appearinces, against the Petersons who are definatly better off in the world, yet their life is more casual and more free of social taboos. This contrast is Inara to the core. She lives one yet surrounds herself with the other.

Great job

Sunday, November 18, 2007 3:36 PM

NBZ


I will be honest and admit I skippen half of the backstory. Well written, but I just needed to get to the present day part, which was really good.

(I did go back to read what I missed the first time round though. I would have found it easier if it was broken up into to separate bits, but that is me. I can lose concentration in the middle of a sentence!)


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