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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE
Mal and Inara try to settle their unfinished business, but the welcome Mal gets on Boros is a distraction.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 788 RATING: 0 SERIES: FIREFLY
"Hmm." Jayne tasted the food that had been placed in front of him with all of the seriousness of a connoisseur or a gourmet. "Yeah, not bad - I like that. Who fixed it up, anyway?"
"A pretty big group effort, actually," River admitted. "Simon, Kaylee, Inara, and myself."
"Yeah, it's good stuff, and thanks," Zoe added. "Might as well use the real stuff while we can, since the yeast rations don't spoil."
"And maybe by this time tomorrow night, we'll getting feasted by the Boros provisional government!" Jayne enthused, and took another big forkful.
"Not bad," Mal said, trying his food a little more cautiously once the rest of the table had tucked in. "What's it called, anyway?"
"You're kidding, right?" Kaylee asked him, "Just macaroni in spaghetti sauce." Mal's face remained a little blank. "Well, I guess it may not have been typical ranch food back on Shadow, but I'd figured you'd have run into Italian at *some* point in your travels."
"I've had eetalion food," Mal insisted, mangling the pronunciation a bit. "There was one time, before you signed up, when we ended up on Beylix, with some money to spend but no way off because..."
"Because of Bester, yeah," Zoe agreed, smiling at the thought. "Pretty good italian cook in the town there - introduced us to pizza, and catch-a-toree roasted chicken, and a few other things."
"Like, real chickens that used to cluck?" Jayne muttered, more than a little impressed. Mal nodded.
"We had pasta there, come to think of it," Mal muttered. "Spaghetti, which is a bit like these things." He poked at some shell-shaped pieces of macaroni. "But never a sauce like this."
"I'm not sure if you'll ever come across a sauce quite like this again, considering the effort we put in to making do with it," Simon admitted. "Half of the meat is yeast-based, and a lot of the 'vegetable' chunks. The other half of the meat was dry preserves. But the tomatoes and carrots are real - canned, but made from vegetables that grew in the ground, I'm pretty sure." After a bite, he reconsidered part of that statement. "Okay, maybe they grew in a test tube, but they were still real vegetables."
"Can we talk about something OTHER than the food now?" Inara asked. There was an awkward silence following that request. "Umm, River, have you given any thought to, umm, to what else you want to do with your life, now that you've, umm, figured out some of the issues that were occupying you when you first arrived here?"
River beamed. "Not so much, I admit - still getting used to being sane again, and what I can do when I put my mind to it. And... and there are some things that they did to me back in the Academy that haven't gone away, just because I got the demons inside of me out."
"Like the Amidala thing?" Jayne said absently, scarfing up macaroni.
"Amygdala," River corrected sternly. "Yeah, like that. And - well, I'm home here, I've known that for a long time. I've got a couple of different hats that I can grow into right here on Serenity." She sighed. "There... there are still things that I'd like to learn, though - subjects that I can't find out about just by tapping into the public Cortex. That, that drive to learn more was what drew me into the Academy, but none of what has happened has driven it out of me, just provided an object lesson in the value of caution."
Simon idly reached up to stroke a hand through the edges of River's hair in a comforting way. "Well, we'll see what we can do. Maybe we'll be able to get you some good books, or a self-contained educational computer system, so that you can learn without leaving the ship - and the rest of us."
"Maybe this is an unfair question," Kaylee put in. "But if you knew that Serenity was where you belonged for so long, why didn't you... um, I mean, say something to try and smooth things over when - um, when Simon and Mal..."
"I wasn't exactly good at 'smooth', back then," River joked, and even Simon had to laugh at that line. "And... well, I was worried about some of you being hurt when the Alliance finally caught up to me. Of course, even I couldn't have guessed what would really end up happening."
"What kind of job brought you to Beylix, Mal?" Simon asked, and he and Zoe started telling the story, which involved the smuggling of high-quality seed grains, and an almost absurdly complicated dog-and-pony show that developed, bit by bit, out of an effort to persuade the lackeys of a local crime lord that they were just performers out to entertain the folk of a poor moon village and collect whatever gifts the locals could offer them.
Zoe and most of the others went down into the cargo bay to swap more stories after dinner was finished, (including vacuum-packed pudding substitute for dessert,) but Mal stayed behind, cleaning some dishes off the table. Inara stood up and went over to him.
"Forget that for now - you owe me a drink, remember? Any notion what's the best place to not be disturbed??"
Even though he should have expected that, Mal nearly dropped a few plates. Inara was looking much more like her usual self, though not completely elegant perhaps - her hair was curled out and pinned up into one of those waterfall 'dos in back, and she was absolutely the lady in red - a thick red skirt that almost reached her knees, a red shirt with short sleeves, a shallow scoop neckline and about two inches of bare stomach showing all the way around. Oh, and also pale rose-red slippers of the sort she often liked to wear.
Mal shook his head and tried to evaluate possible venues for this encounter. The shuttle? No, he wouldn't feel too comfortable there, even if all of her furnishings that made that vessel Inara's space had been taken down - and if she had refused to move back in, maybe she wouldn't like it either. Her room? Possible, but a bit presumptuous, and they'd have to slip through the back of the cargo deck, at least, without being seen - at least, Mal wasn't sure that he wanted all of his friends to see what might be happening.
The ship did not have that many good locations for such a rendezvous, and so after a moment, Mal decided to gamble. After all, he did want to send a strong signal to Inara, and this might do. "Howsabout my bunk? I do have a bottle of Sihnon Maotai Baijiu hidden away in a secret compartment. Might be a little taste of home for you."
"Well, that I did *not* expect," Inara admitted, walking over with a subtle sway to her hips that Mal couldn't help but be hyper-aware of. (Was she doing it intentionally for his benefit, or was that just the mood of the evening amplifying the way Inara usually moved?) "Come on, let's make our getaway before anybody else comes back up." Mal grinned. Inara reached out to pick up a few packages from the kitchen counter. "Snacks to go with the drinks."
"Okay, alright." Mal led the way up into the forwards hall and pushed the angled metal plate aside revealing the ladder down into his quarters. "After you, m'lady??"
"Really?" She made a cute face at him. "So you don't want to be beneath me on the ladder and sneak a look up my skirt?" Mal sighed. "Of course, this way offers some peeking opportunities too, I guess." She started to climb down, and Mal tried to avoid looking down the neckline of her top as it sank through the best viewing angles. He mostly managed to keep his willpower in good shape, at that.
Once they were both down in the bunk, with the entrance closed again, Mal could fend off the bothersome sensation of bugs in his shoes by distracting himself with retrieving the bottle from its hiding spot, (which Inara was watching for curiously,) pouring two small glasses, and putting each one in the little cheap flash-freezer that he had picked up back on Greenleaf, hoping that it wouldn't blow one of its microfuses. Once all of that was done, he felt much less nervous.
"Okay, so what shall we toast to?" Inara asked, taking her glass when he offered it, and sitting on the bed right next to him, her leg pressing against his. Mal tried to speak, but couldn't think of anything to say, gorram it. "Okay... to the majestic night that is eternal between the worlds, and the simple joys of finding a safe place to land for a while."
Mal thought about that, and a smile spread across his face. "Sounds pretty nice." They clinked glasses, and drank, and the chilled clear liquor seemed to freeze and burn his throat at once as it went down.
"Okay, so, your turn to tell me what I missed first," Inara insisted.
"No," he protested. "That... that's not really why we're here, is it? I mean..." Mal struggled to think, and having Inara so close to him was making that harder than the drink did, as near as he could reckon. "What we've both been missing, neither of us really knows yet, and telling stories isn't going to help us figure it out."
"Maybe," Inara said. "But there'll be time for that later." She took another long sip. "When we're both drunked-er, yep. Stories first!"
Mal considered that plan, and couldn't see anything wrong with it. "Well, let's see... Mingo Rample, he shows up in the middle of clear deep space between Beaumonde and Georgia, saying that he's got a sweet deal that any other crew would kill for, and he wants to give us first crack at it..."
Kaylee yawned sleepily, and nudged Simon, who was lying next to her in the narrow space afforded them by her single bunk. "Okay, let's do it. Let's move you in here, tomorrow."
There was no reply from Simon for a long moment, and she wondered if he'd already drifted off into sleepland and hadn't even heard what she'd said. "Why tomorrow? Might be busy, what with getting ready to make planetfall and all."
"Nothing too big's up," she added idly. "Serenity's engines are all ready for the drop, and we don't have any cargo to prep - except Jayne's rail gun I s'pose."
"Don't let him hear you call it his," Simon warned, and Kaylee laughed in reply. "Hmm, I wonder who else is up?"
"Mal or Jayne, I think," Kaylee replied, after cocking her head at the sound from outside her small room. "No big."
"Actually, I was thinking that once we got to Boros, maybe I could take you to stay somewhere else."
"Like what, a hotel?" She sighed. "I dunno, I'm used to bunking down at Serenity even when we're landed. And any hotel nicer than here would be REALLY pricey..."
"Which is part of the fun," Simon said, laughing. "Well, it was just a thought."
"Hmm - well, maybe," Kaylee said. "Just for a little while - so we can get away and hardly even leave the room, if you pay so much for it." Simon chuckled appreciatively about that.
"By the way, why did you decide on here?" Simon added after a moment. "River will be disappointed."
"Oh, I guess I knew as soon as you brought it up that I didn't want to be the one to move," she said, "but I wasn't sure about sayin' that straight out." She sighed. "Part of it is, in a weird way, I never really thought of this bunk as somethin' that was mine, from the start. Maybe because I spent so much time in the engine room, even sleepin' in the hammock there a lot of nights, close enough to reach out and touch the side of the stator if I felt like it. But..." She took a deep breath. "You remember the first time we - we were here together? After the fight at Mister Universe's place, limpin' back to Haven to... to put Wash an' him to rest next to the Shepard..."
"Yes, of course I remember," Simon assured her. "Felt a little uncomfortable about what we were sneaking off to do, but - but between those terse words we'd said to each other right before the shooting started, and the impulse to affirm life and passion after all of that death, there was no way to resist it..."
"Yeah, I felt the same way," she agreed. "But - but after, you were holding me, just like this, and strangely enough it occured to me that - that maybe the reason this bunk never felt like mine was that it was waitin' to be OURS. I hadn't really thought about you moving in here for good, at that point - I didn't know how much more you wanted than to be with me once, and that woulda been enough - or it would've been if you hadn't been so damn good at this..."
Simon chuckled. "Okay, well... that's a sweet notion, and I like the thought of making this 'our' bunk, too. So if you want, I'll start moving my stuff in tomorrow." He considered, and shifted himself around. "Might want to see if we can arrange for a slightly wider mattress, though."
"Oh, what's wrong?" Kaylee turned and pressed her naked self tightly against him. "You don't like being squeezed this close to me?"
"Not when you're in this mood, no I don't," he admitted, and started to let his fingers over everry part of her skin that they could reach. Kaylee wondered to himself whether it was really anything to do with Simon being a surgeon, that he had such talented hands.
This time, when Jayne came up to the cockpit in the middle of Serenity's night shift, he saw someone much shorter, skinnier, and busier in the pilot's seat. "Oh, hello River. How's the course going?"
"Easy enough," River mentioned offhandedly. "Simple elliptical approach to Boros, nothing to it. I was just entertaining myself by working out a hypothetical route to Higgins' moon in under twelve days."
"Fay-fay duh pee-yen," Jayne opined succintly. "There's no way that we could - well, not on our available fuel, at least..."
"Nah, it's doable," she assured him qucikly. "You have to cut through the center of the system at unsafe relative velocities, and pull a kind of a slingshot maneuver to save fuel on the deccel side, but I've got it down to eleven days, ten hours, and a few-odd minutes. Wanna see?" She moved aside from the computerized flight console, where a very rough diagram of a trajectory was displayed in various flat perspectives.
"Ehh, I can never make much sense of those things," Javne muttered. He could make out well enough that the yellow line connected Serenity's present position with a large planetary system on the other side of the sun, but if there was any clear way to interpret how long it would take or how much power was required to drive it, they were just geek to him. He did realize that not many of the course graphics that he'd ever seen cut through the heart of the system so directly, as far as that went. "Sometime if we actually get a chance to try a course like that, maybe I'll believe. I'd kinda like to see my town again, if the coast is clear."
"Okay, I'll call that a rain check," River replied. "So, it's a pretty quiet night, huh. Zoe's finally getting some decent sleep."
"How... how did you figure - oh." Jayne sighed. "Guess it's a bit of a foolish question to ask Reader-girl."
"I'd rather you didn't call me that," River said. Jayne shot her an odd look. "For one thing, I don't think my telepathic abilities are terribly advanced. Obviously, I've got something - there's no other way to expalin how I knew about the Miranda thing, after all. But I've always been highly intuitive, and there are strong indications that Alliance authorities have been able to impart exceptional skills in the interpretation of body language and tone of voice which can yield results capable of fooling the standardized parapsychology tests for..."
"Okay, okay," Jayne grunted. "I... I won't say it anymore if you stop yattering at me like you just did!!"
"That's why I did it," she said smugly.
"Hmm, what's that?" Jayne asked. River shrugged at him. "Somebody out in the corridor I guess. Heading aft." He shrugged.
"So, what does it feel like to be the odd guy out?" River asked after a moment.
"Whatchoo mean by that?"
"Well, there's only three of you men left on the ship," River started. "You, my brother - and Mal. Simon and Kaylee are a thing, and I think that Mal and Inara are finally trying to sort it out."
"What, really?" Jayne snorted. "Captain Independent and her ladyship?? I mean, she's pretty enough, I doubt that any man wouldn't have thought of it, but... come on, they're just too different. He's dirt-poor and she's a - well..."
"Bureaucrats of the heavens above," River swore in a very old Mandarin oath. "Only as big a putz as you could possibly have missed spotting the sexual tension oozing and glurping around between them. I spotted it the first time I saw them in the same room." Jayne looked pointedly at her. "And so have plenty of other people who don't have special perceptive powers, as far as that goes."
"Hmm." Jayne still felt uncertain about accepting what River was saying. "Well, be that as it may - I'm not sure how it affects me. Never really been one to go lookin' for tail... er, I mean, for companionship of the womanly persuasion..." River laughed out loud at the fact that Jayne had felt he had to rephrase himself. "Err, in the team where I work and make my livin'." Reconsidered that. "Not that I was often on a crew with any gals on, before this."
"No interest at all, then?"
"Well... I was actually telling Zoe the other night that I wouldn't have minded having a shot with Kaylee, but as you say, that doesn't seem like to happen right now. No real interest in pursuing Inara, even if what you said about Mal were off in left field."
"And then - well, Zoe's quite a lot of woman herself... probably don't want to give her the idea before she reckons she's ready, but..."
"Oh, you're interested in her?" River checked the console one more time and stood up. "Well, maybe I should make a move of my own if I don't want to be the old *girl* out." And with a look on her face that Jayne was pretty sure that he'd never seen before, she stepped towards him.
All of a sudden he felt nervous. "What... what exactly would you be meaning by that, little girl?"
"I'm not THAT little a girl," River insisted. "I... I'm old enough to know my own mind, make my own choices... and there's no denying that you're pretty handsome and all muscular, Cobb." She stopped right in front of him, only inches between them. "What with one thing and another going on lately, is it so surprising that I feel curious enough to try getting some, umm, first hand experience??"
"Oh, *I* get it," Jayne declared a bit too loudly. "You been spying on your big brother and Kaylee - we all knowed that much. Didn't figure it'd get you quite this riled up, and... and you figure that I'm the only available guy to start experimenting with??"
"Well, it's not JUST about my brother," River insisted, "but there's some truth to that." She backed away slightly to strike a pose. "Am I not sexy enough to meet your standards for a tumble partner?"
The denial that Jayne had been about to make automatically got pretty well stuck in his throat. Young River Tam, (and it was true, she wasn't a child anymore, hadn't really been even when she first woke up in the cargo bay, but the craziness had made her seem more childish,) was definitely a pretty sight at the moment. She had started to give up her traditional dresses and skirts after the epiphanies of Miranda, and was wearing some kind of tight, stretchy dark blue trousers, along with a looser floppy ice-green tee shirt that was thin enough to just hint at the slender feminine figure underneath instead of make it completely obvious. Between that, Rivers long dark hair, her compelling brown eyes, and the quiet symmetry of her face, Jayne felt an impact like a kick to the center of his chest. She wasn't a bit like the ladies he tended to seek out when he had a chance to - but there was something bewitching about River now that she was concentrating on making an impression.
As if she could tell the silent decision he'd come to, (and, of course, she probably could,) River slunk close again. Eagerly, one small hand pressed against the front of Jayne's pants, where a beast was beginning to stir with its approval. "Mmmm, nice man parts. Jayne definitely *ain't* a girl."
A smile finally broke out across Jayne's face. After checking the cockpit door to make sure that nobody else was about to come in, he blurted out, "You show me yours and I'll show you mine?"
River apparently had to mull over that for a long time, and then sighed. "We were doing so well, and then you had to go and ruin it all, Cobb. If I was six, I'd have been all over playing doctor with you. But I'm eighteen now, so you're going to have to grow up a bit if you're really interested." And she turned around and exited the room, leaving behind a fairly puzzled guy.
Mal came to and figured out that he was sprawled out on his bed, still about half dressed in the clothes he'd been wearing yesterday, feeling very dry and thirsty, a little queasy in his guts, and without much energy. Yeah, that would be the Maotai. He made an effort to look around, found that he couldn't see much in the darkness, flipped on a light and had to shut his eyes against the sudden brightness. Finally got the dimmer set to what seemed like an appropriate level, and located the bottle. More than three-quarters gone, and from the way Mal felt, he probably had at least half of it. Which would seem to indicate, if he had done his math right, that Inara wouldn't be feeling as lousy as he would at this point.
Inara, right - he'd been drinking with her, and swapping stories. That was the last thing that Mal had forgotten, and he swore under his breath against the smooth and beguiling liquor, whether it had managed to forestall the much hoped for conclusion of the evening, or simply blotted out his memories of what had happened. Inara herself, quite obviously, was no longer within Mal's room, and the only obvious evidence of her presence were the apparently empty snack bags sitting on the dresser top. Crunchy rice puff treats and Blue Sun Irresistable Prenguhl snacks, a kind of flat algae disc that tasted vaguely potato-like. Groaning, Mal downed a bit of distilled water, stripped, scrubbed himself a little bit closer to clean, threw on some fresh clothes, and headed up the ladder to see what was going on. He noticed just before leaving the room that the chronometer at his bedside read 0720 ship's time - pretty early, but he wouldn't be able to get back to sleep yet anyway.
Mal took a look in the cockpit - nobody around, though things seemed to be all going alright there, and as he headed back through the forward hall Kaylee climbed up out of her own room, nodded a 'good morning' to him, and headed back towards the engine room with a purposeful air. Probably she wanted to check on something to do with the landing today - she'd better make sure that NOTHING would fall off the gorram ship while they were flying through atmo this time...
Zoe was in the mess, spooning dry wheatie-squares into her mouth with a grim determination, and sparing him one brief and grim look. Jayne was down in the cargo bay when Mal tried there, pressing bench with a truly astounding collection of weights added to the bar, looking like he had all the frustration in the 'verse to work off on his exercising.
As he headed across the bay, Mal realized with an odd sensation that a small part of him deep down was looking for Wash - a part down deep enough that it hadn't yet learned that Wash would not be found. Kaylee had been helpful with the actual advice earlier, but this was a time when Mal would rather have the sympathies of another male than get insights into the female psyche. Jayne would never be someone in whom Mal could confide about his love life, partly because he'd only see sex instead of anything else passing between two people. And though Simon was a mighty decent fellow, Mal had never really been able to understand him on a particularly deep level, so that was out too.
He'd never tried talking on this sort of thing with Wash, but he would have been Mal's choice now that he had something to say. Beneath his joking exterior, Wash understood this kind of thing - that was part of what Zoe had seen in him, he knew. And though he never much thought about it, going through torture together had established some kind of bond between them...
"Oh, what the gorram hell," Mal muttered, and headed towards Inara's room once again. Might as well get whatever it was over with quickly.
He had to knock twice before she answered, (had to stop himself from just barging in too,) and when Mal opened the door, Inara was standing still in the middle of the small room. "I was meditating," she said, telling him a simple piece of information.
Mal thought about that. "Aren't ya supposed to sit cross-legged when you meditate?"
"Okay, if you're so smart, then tell me - have you ever tried to sit cross-legged in a skirt like this?" She had a point. The black sheath surrounding Inara's legs almost all the way to her ankles was narrow enough that Mal suspected he'd be surprised at how well she'd be able to walk in it, or something like that. Over that she was wearing a kind of purple cloak or robe that fell just a little way past her hips, and her hair was straight behind her today.
"I suppose that's a point." Why she hadn't worn other clothes for meditating was a question that Mal decided not to bring up. "Umm, well, I guess you're wondering why I was here." Inara nodded calmly. "Just sort of wondering what happened last night, actually..."
Inara opened her mouth and seemed about to say something to him with a bit of vehemence, but then she stopped without actually starting, and gave him a very long, pensive glance, her gaze sweeping Mal up and down. "You... you mean that literally, right? Drank enough that you can't remember too much?"
"I remember a fair bit, but not the end," Mal admitted. He looked over at a small chair in the room, and Inara nodded princessly permission back. "Dinner, a'course, and heading off to my bunk together. The start of the drinkin', some snacks, and plenty of tales told. But..."
"But not either how you passed out or when I left?" Inara filled in. Mal nodded. "There's not too much to that, I suppose. You were already out of it when I headed off. Wasn't any fun after that, you know."
"And you didn't undress me to get me more comfortable?" Inara shook her head. "Then who took my shirt off??"
"Well, you did, of course." Mal raised his eyebrows at that. "Not specifically for my benefit, though I might have taken advantage of that a little before you went all unconscious on me." Inara sighed. "Bottom lime - neither of us said much to compromise ourselves. Admitted some mutual lust, and we kissed - that was about it."
"Hmm." Mal fought off a bit of a wave of disappointment that he'd kissed Inara and didn't even remember it. "So you kiss me, and then I pass out. That's starting to seem a bit familiar - are you *sure* that..."
"Oh, that is just too rich, coming from you!!" Inara snapped, sounding really upset.
"What... what do you mean by that?"
"Umm... that it's time to come clean about that sequence I guess. NO, Saffron did *not* kiss me. Can you work out how else I ended up passing out in your quarters, on that occasion?"
"Huh?" Mal frowned at the sudden declaration. "Umm... okay, well... you *didn't* get your head knocked hard or anything, right?" Inara murmured a 'no' of agreement. "And, well... I don't imagine that you accidentally put her goodnight kiss stuff on without being prepared for it or something..."
"Not really, no - not directly from her source, I mean."
Mal thought hard. "Did... did you get tagged secondhand, from me?" Inara managed to shake her head, shrug, smile, and nod all at once, and surprisingly it wasn't a confusingly mixed signal. "Umm - just how did that happen, if you don't mind my asking?"
"Well... I was with - with Saffron when Zoe sounded the alarm," Inara said softly. "Won't go into a lot of details at that point, but she called herself as 'Mal Reynolds' widow.'" Some sort of surprise must have been clear from Mal's face. "Yeah. I... I don't think that she really believed that she'd killed you - she said it to upset me, and that worked all too well. After a little bit of unarmed combat we split up - she went for the spare shuttle to getaway, and I... I looked for you and quickly found you, crumpled up on the floor of your room, looking VERY dead."
Mal waited a moment, and then said, "Go on."
"Well... I was so afraid for you, but automatically I managed to rush over and check you. There was breath in your chest and a pulse beating in your neck. Ragged but strong - very much like you yourself." Mal chuckled. "So overcome with relief, I impulsively kissed your lips, as if you were the slumbering lovely and would awake from the touch of my lips. And then I called for help, for the doctor."
"And then you realized that it would work the other way around," Mal guessed. "That kissing me would send you to sleep too."
"Yes," she agreed. "There's a moment when you can realize that something is wrong." Mal nodded. "You caught that too? I realized what she must have done, and I... I called you a rather rude thing in the moment before I collapsed next to you, I'm afraid..." That sentence made Mal burst out laughing.
"I only wish I'd had the presence of mind to cuss HER out before I went. Yo-Saff-Bridge I mean. Tried to draw on her, but I never stood a chance of that."
"Yeah, I guess not," Inara said. "I mean... most people probably couldn't shoot in that space of time, even if they knew what was happening to them. You went with your instincts in that moment, I guess."
"Hmm." Mal considered. "And... and Simon found you there, and you fed him the bumped head line when he brought you round?" Inara nodded. "And since you'd had a secondhand dose, it took less time for you to wake up?"
"Umm... something like that," Inara said.
"One thing I must admit I'm curious about," Mal said, "And this is not to be taken as a criticism in any way - after that little scuffle you mentioned, did you let Saff go because you were worried about my own self?"
"I... I thought that we were well rid of her!" Inara flared. "It didn't occur to me that we might need to capture her - that she'd have disabled the steering and all. And - and I don't think that I *could* have restrained her if I'd tried - she pretty much had the edge on me at hand to hand..."
"Hey, it's okay," Mal insisted, as Inara carefully sat on the edge of the bed. "As I said, it was just an idle wonder - not placing any blame." He reached out for Inara's hand, and she offered it for him to hold, "Well - drinking maotai doesn't seem to have done that well as far as sorting out our unsettled affairs."
"Well, it broke the ice," Inara pointed out, possibly just because she wanted to be contrary. "More than anything else has managed to do, I think. Maybe we can try again on Boros or somethi--"
Just at that point, the scene was interrupted by a tinny voice from the vicinity of the infirmary area - an old tannoy speaker. "Hey, Captain Mal, you'd better get up here - somebody from Boros orbital control is asking for you."
Mal stood up and sighed softly. "Hold that thought."
In the mid-afternoon of ship's time, Mal waited near the cargo bay airlock and cast his mind back over the events of the day since his talk with Inara early in the morning. There wasn't much to stand out against the tedium of a fairly dull day in space. Simon had pestered him into helping move some stuff down into Kaylee's bunk, and that task had apparently been keeping him busy all through the lunch hour. Jayne had been very busy as well, exercising, going over the rail gun and examining its parts in minute detail for what reason Mal wasn't sure he wanted to know - and then disappearing into his bunk. Zoe's black mood hadn't lifted all day - maybe that was because the impending landing had reminded her of who wouldn't be guiding the ship safely back down to surface.
Apparently Boros' sudden re-embrace of Independence principles hadn't extended to abandoning the elaborate Alliance orbital control network, but Mal was very nervous about the news that an inspector would be docking with them before they would be allowed to land. They couldn't be doing this to every ship now, could they? Either answer, that yes they were being so paranoid, or that their vessel had been picked out for special attention, made him feel equally queasy. (It was the same feeling he'd had from the Maotai when he woke up - hmmm...)
Even though it was what he was waiting for and brooding over, the soft clang of another ship docking at the airlock surprised him. When the doors opened, he could see a small one-person ship beyond, and a young pup in a brown uniform waiting silently for permission to come aboard. "Alright, what's this about?" Mal asked gruffly.
"A message that couldn't be sent across on a wave," the other ship's pilot said, stepping nervously across. "Mal Reynolds? I'm Deputy Zeffen, of the new Boros Provisional authority. Although the public is still unaware, we have accessed Alliance information to the effect that you were responsible for... for the signal."
Mal smiled a little bit tightly. "And why haven't 'you' released that information to your adoring public? Wouldn't they like to know?"
"Umm... there were reasons to be cautious about such an announcement, sir. Even many who have joined in action against the Alliance of Worlds might have reasons to be angry enough at the disruption of the status quo to, umm, to shoot the messengers. And then, there are still those who might secretly harbour allegience to the old Parliament still..."
"Yes, that makes sense," Mal agreed evenly. He'd worked that much out for himself. "Okay, so we'll keep mum about our part in the revolution - I'll insist on that, though some of my crew might wish to tell a few who could be trusted with discretion. Is there anything else?"
"Not for your gallant crew, Reynolds, however, the Co-ordinator authority would like to speak with you in person. Is this acceptable?"
"Umm... I suppose, so," Mal said, wondering what that would be about. "We've been through a lot over the past few weeks..."
"Understood. Land your vessel at the Assama city-center port. A credit fund has been arranged as a token of our esteem." He passed over a small magnetic tile. "This concludes my business here."
Mal was so confused by this point that he didn't even see Zeffen leave.
"Wow," Kaylee breathed as they stepped off of Serenity's ramp to the small landing field surrounded by city buildings. "Never thought I'd be standing in here..." They had been to Assama city, of course - but landing at the much larger spaceport on the edge of the city limits... or at more discreet sites even further away, depending on their business. "Oh, hello?" A girl with pale hair, around River's age, had stepped up to them.
"Captain Reynolds?" Mal waved vaguely at her. "If you'll follow me to the Admin building, please."
"Alright I s'pose." Mal looked around at the group for a moment, and his gaze settled on Kaylee. "Here you go." He passed over a small flat square to her. "Have a good time, and be *careful.*" With that, he hurried away after the gofer-girl. Inara raised one eyebrow at the choice of messenger that Boros admin had sent.
"Credit tile?" Kaylee muttered, turning to Simon and lifting the object in question. "Wonder where this came from."
"Try it in the terminal over there," Simon said, pointing at a small kiosk machine beside the arch that led out of the field. So she did, and the rest of the group that remained clustered around her. Zoe hadn't left the ship - maybe Mal would have entrusted the tile to her if she had.
"Government issue, it says," Kaylee read, mystified. "Nothing else."
"Canya get me some cash?" Jayne asked. "I'd like to strike out on my own for a bit."
"Umm, sure." Getting paper money seemed like a good deal. If Mal hadn't told them where the tile had come from, then probably it would be better not to flash it too many places. Using cash wouldn't attract as much attention - apparently even though Boros was rebelling from the Alliance parliament, they were in no hurry to get rid of Alliance money, which underpinned the economy structure at this point. After a moment, she had the tile back and a surprisingly thick sheaf of bills, each with a tiny nanocircuit built in to prove its authenticity - and to track the movements of cash.
"Oooh!" Just before Jayne managed to snatch away most of the wad of cash, Kaylee managed to pull it back, extracted a few of the higher denominations which seemed like most of a fair share, and offered them to him. Jayne considered just a moment, then grabbed what he'd been offered and hurried out, to join the crowd. Kaylee turned to Inara and River.
"I... I'm good - I don't need any of Boros' money," Inara said softly. "Time to check in at the local guild headquarters."
"Okay," Simon said.
"And... and I'm none too eager to go out exploring by myself," River admitted, looking around at the crowds. "Especially considering the kind of trouble I sometimes get into. D'you mind?"
"You wanna tag along with us?" Kaylee said, and shot a look at Simon, who was trying not to smile too wide. River was a good friend, and one of her brother's two favorite people in the 'verse, and nobody seemed to mind the notion of staying together in a group of three, though Kaylee did hope that at some point she'd be able to spend some romantic time in the city alone with Simon. They walked out into the street, after Kaylee had taken one last fond look back at Serenity.
"Okay, where to?" Simon asked after a moment. "We've got enough money that we don't need to worry about - making my pickup. I don't feel that hungry yet..."
"No, me neither," Kaylee said. "And it's a bit earlier in the day here than it was ship's time." That was definitely true. Kaylee's wrist chrono read 1752, but here it was still midafternoon, and the city streets looked busy and cheerful. "We can find someplace to grab some eats and maybe a brew when evening starts to come on."
"Sounds good to me," River agreed. "Just explore until then?"
"Or shop," Simon said, smiling a little smile.
"Ahh, not yet honey," Kaylee told him. "I can go looking for spare parts in the morning."
"I wasn't talking about buying spare parts," Simon insisted, and pointed at a small boutique across the groundcar avenue and down the sidewalk. "Was wondering if the prettiest girl in the whole 'verse wanted to try on some pretty things."
Kaylee's face lit up, speechless with wonder. "Oh, you bet I do!!" River enthused, and dashed out into the street, nimbly ducking through a gap in the traffic.
"Oh, come on!" Simon called after his sister, trying to follow her, and then looking for a safe-walking indicator.
TO BE CONTINUED...
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