BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

MAL4PREZ

Back Stories II, Chapter 10
Thursday, December 13, 2007

Young Kari gets a new chance at life, Inara asks for help, and the bad guys get closer to finding Serenity. (warning: NC17 for pseudo non-con)


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3178    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: 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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Fifteen years ago: House Medrassa, Sihnon

The wisp-thin woman is old. Her age can be seen in the deep lines on her face and the color of her hair: silver-gray broken by a few tasteful hints of what may have been her original blonde. But she lowers herself onto a wing-backed chair across a tea table from Kari with the dignified grace of a much younger woman, settling so lightly that her weight doesn’t seem to bow the chair’s gold-yellow brocade.

She’s holding a sheaf of papers in one hand. Kari recognizes them – her application to the Guild. The pages are filled with all the required personal information and essays, meticulously written out by Kari’s own hand over the past year. It’s more than a document; it’s a work of art. Kari’s paid loving attention to every detail of clarity and visual appeal as well as content. Perhaps the claims regarding her education and life experience are more fiction than truth, but that’s only what’s needed. This opportunity will surely never come again, and she has to be an exceptional candidate on paper as well as in person.

Kari’s pretty sure that she’s accomplished the former, and is ready to use that as a springboard to the latter. But the aged Companion doesn’t even look at Kari’s application. She rests the pages across her knees like they’re nothing but a bit of half-finished tatting that she might take up if the conversation proves dull. Her light brown eyes – keen eyes that shine with wisdom and insight – are directly focused on Kari. A long, uncomfortable moment passes before the woman says in a firm voice:

“It is our policy never to admit children past their twelfth birthday.”

And there it is. Just a half hour into Kari’s visit to the Guild House, the culmination of months of careful planning and a morning of nerve-wracking trickery (a tale of errands complicated enough to explain her day-long absence to her parents), the retired Companion’s one short sentence has dashed Kari’s hopes. She’s been twelve for more than half a year, a fact that she has no hope of hiding. Her birth date is clearly printed on the ident card she had to show at the door to this House.

A weight settles into Kari’s stomach, but she staightens in her seat, lengthening her spine in an attempt to match the posture of the regal woman who’s watching her so very closely. This is no one less than the House Priestess, and the fact that she’s chosen to meet with Kari herself must mean something.

Kari lifts her chin high. “I was unable to apply before now,” she says calmly.

“Why is that?”

“I was living abroad. When I returned I was very busy.”

“Doing what, exactly?”

“Studying. I’m very dedicated to calligraphy and drawing, and right now I’m reading about the economic policies of the Sihnon settlers during the Hegemony era. It’s all there, in my application.” She nods to the papers in the woman’s lap, hoping the conversation will go that way, but the Priestess’s eyes don’t waver.

“You must indeed be dedicated to your schooling, if you placed it above meeting Guild application guidelines.”

This flusters Kari. “Oh! I didn’t mean …”

The Priestess doesn’t speak, but her raised brows ask the obvious question: what exactly do you mean?

“It’s just that… missing a half year of Guild training can’t be so very bad if I’ve spent my time in a worthwhile way. Can it?” Kari’s voice shrinks in that last small question – she realizes that she must sound like a scared, whiny little girl.

The Priestess hears it and doesn’t approve. “That remains to be seen,” she says coldly. “But let’s move on. Tell me, Karida, why do you want to be a Companion?”

The use of her unabbreviated name catches Kari by surprise. She’s never liked it, and broke her parents of the habit years ago. But she certainly won’t be correcting the Priestess. She takes a deep breath to compose herself and focus her mind.

This question has to be answered perfectly – the course of her entire life depends on it. She’s not unprepared. She’s spent countless hours studying the Guild’s information pages on the cortex, starting on the Peterson’s Firefly with Sylvia, and continuing at the public library near her parent’s house. She’s read every detail she can find about the Novice Companion’s life, every quote from trainees and registered Companions throughout the Core. She’s composed this essay on her application, and has another version ready to present aloud.

Kari clears her throat and recites her answer in a strong, professional voice, “I have always wanted to learn the arts that the Guild teaches: the tea ceremony, music, calligraphy, the arrangement of flowers. I also want to study politics and economics and ways of the Alliance government, so I can understand the `verse I live in and be better able to hold my clients’ interest. And I wish to be educated about love, about sharing my body with those I choose, so that together we can become more aware of our minds, bodies, and feelings, and achieve the samma sati – ”

“You are a Buddhist?” the Priestess interrupts.

Kari falters. She’s done some reading about Buddhism because it’s widely practiced by those in the Guild, but it’s nothing she actively pursues.

“Well, I…. No, I’m not. Officially. But I’ve read a lot about it.”

The Priestess’s face holds something sour and disapproving, and it’s hard for Kari not to squirm and stutter a confused apology. She’s not nearly done with her speech, but she senses that the Priestess wants to hear nothing more of it. So she sits still, holding her hands tightly folded in her lap to stop herself from plucking nervously at the fabric of her dress.

Finally, the Priestess glances down at the application in her lap. She places a hand over it, then meets Kari’s eyes again. “You do a great deal of lying,” she says, her casual tone not fitting her words.

“I… I’m not lying,” Kari says, but she feels her cheeks reddening.

“Do you feel all that you just said? Do you feel it deep in your heart?”

Kari’s aware that her voice rises defensively, but she can’t help herself. “I feel… I very much want to be a Companion. I feel that down to the tips of my toes. I swear I do!”

She feels some relief when the Priestess’s eyes glint and her mouth stretches, although the expression fades before it can become a full smile. But then, to Kari’s horror, the woman tosses the pages of the application onto the tea table, her wrist flicking in a haphazard way, as if the paper can scatter to the four winds for all she cares.

“You’ve written an interesting fable,” she says, “and it is just that. A background check was run as soon as you told the greeter why you were here. What we found out has little in common with what’s written here and what you’ve just told me.”

She doesn’t sound angry, but her words make Kari collapse, slouching forward and staring blindly at her hands. She should have known she’d be found out so quickly. “I’m sorry,” she says softly.

“You’ve hardly been to school. You started this past year, but dropped out.”

“I had no choice.”

And that was the truth. The changes her parents planned didn’t last very long. Her mother quit her job after only a handful of weeks, claiming in dramatic tears that her supervisor was a power hungry tyrant. Kari thinks it more likely that having a boss was simply too stressful for her mother to bear. The social structure of the workplace, the need to compromise and befriend strangers with coarse habits, was beyond her mother’s abilities.

No matter the reason, the result was the same: the family couldn’t afford to keep the nanny, and Kari had to stay home.

“And yet,” the Priestess says, “you’re very well spoken, and can write exceptionally well.”

Kari looks up hopefully at the unexpected compliments. “I go to the library a lot, and my mother teaches me at home. She’s highly educated.”

“She’s done well with you. Do your parents know you’re here?”

Kari sighs in resignation and shakes her head. “They would have stopped me.”

“You can’t become a Novice without their permission.”

“I know. I was just... I was hoping there’d be some way… if you liked me enough…” She stops, feeling incredibly silly that she’d hoped for special treatment.

The Priestess’s voice is firm. “Karida, there is a time to tell people what they wish to hear, and there is a time for veracity. With me, you must not ever lie. Do you understand?” Kari nods.

“So, tell me – and no standard form answer this time, but the truth – why do you want to be a Companion so badly?”

Kari swallows hard. The truth is a dangerous thing; the act she’s put together was designed to be as fine as this polished room, but the truth inside her is as plain and ugly as the life she’s led. It’s something she wishes to escape, not to bring with her. She doesn’t want this woman to know. But then, the Priestess probably knows it all already. What can be lost?

“Can I ask you something first?” Kari asks softly, and the Priestess nods. “Why did you come to talk to me? When you knew I was a liar? You could have sent someone else…” She raises her eyes and catches the Priestess smiling at her.

“I’ve had plenty of falsified applications cross my hands, my dear. Yours was one of the more creative. And here’s a thing that much of the world denies aloud though they know it to be true – lies are like anything else. They can serve a purpose. If they are built with good intent and respect for the the greater truth beneath, lies can hold great power. One could say that we in the Guild use lies in this way. It’s necessary for a Companion to have talent for it.

“I have seen your lies, Karida. Now I need to see your truth.”

Kari sees some sense in that. She’s done more than her share of fibbing in the past year, and though she feels she should be ashamed, she’s not. Those lies served a purpose. They’ve gotten her here, and as much as this interview is far outside anything she expected, she’s suddenly feeling hopeful. All her work may pay off in the end, if she has the courage to carry this through.

“I saw a Companion once,” she says softly. “Years ago. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.”

“There are other, easier ways to be beautiful.”

Kari shakes her head – that’s not what she means – then continues explaining, her voice cool and calm. “She was beautiful because she was compassionate and sympathetic, and she was real. She was… present. She looked at the people around her, and she saw them. Really saw them, and understood how to… how to reach them.”

“Did you talk to her?”

“No.”

“And yet you believe this of her?”

“I could tell. She would have talked to me. She would have been kind to me. Even though…” Kari looks down.

“Even though you were poor?”

“Yes. And plain.”

“You’re anything but plain.”

“I know... now. I didn’t know then.”

“Where did you see this Companion?”

Kari describes it – the mysterious party, the arriving transports, the polo player and the woman with red hair and a green and white silk gown.

“And you think you can be like her?” the woman asks when Kari finishes. “That’s why you’ve come here?”

Kari’s answer is firm. “I am like her. I know it. I’ve always understood people. I didn’t know it until I went away from home, and saw what I can do, how I can make them happy and it makes me feel good too. It makes me feel important and special. And maybe that’s selfish, but it’s the truth. It’s just that… ”

“What?”

“I wish that I knew I was appreciated. Not like at home. I want to matter, to make a difference. Me, not just the chores I do, but the words I say and the things I can see in people that they don’t even see in themselves….” Kari looks away again, unsure of how to finish.

The Priestess doesn’t seem to mind Kari’s loss for words. In fact, she looks pleased. “That, Karida, is your truth: compassion and the desire to comfort and share joy. That is our truth as well. We may use lies to achieve it – the Companion you saw may have feigned more interest in the sport of polo than she feels, for example, so that she could make Adolfo’s evening more enjoyable. Do you see?”

Kari nods – she sees that very well. She learned about that very thing with Sylvia and Pete and Mrs. P, about taking up their interests as her own for the good of them all. And now she fervently wishes she’d written about that in her application, instead of all that lavish and grandiose nonsense she’d come up with.

Suddenly, the Priestess rises to her feet. “I have some business to see to, Karida. I’ll send in tea.”

Kari can’t move for a few moments after the Priestess leaves the room. She’s never told anyone as much about herself as she just did, and now she feels numb, oddly absent of both hope and despair. It’s truly out of her hands.

She rises to study the art pieces placed about the space, just to occupy herself, but hardly makes a circuit of the room before the door opens and a woman enters with a tea service. Kari instantly recognizes her, though she’s wearing plain beige linen and not green and white silk.

“Aileen?” she asks in disbelief.

The woman smiles as she sets down the tray. “The Priestess thought you might like to talk to me.”

“I never… I didn’t use your name. How… ?”

Aileen laughs softly. She’s much less severe than the Priestess, and when she answers, her tone is teasing. “If Adolfo ever led another red-haired Companion down a red carpet, he’d have much to explain.” She holds a hand out. “Come. Have a seat.”

Kari feels her face color as she takes the invitation and returns to the settee. Aileen is both plainer and more beautiful than she recalls – plainer because she is here next to Kari in the bright light of the room and the normalcy of everyday clothing, and yet more beautiful for the same reasons. She is human and real and her brilliant smile isn’t faded by distance.

“So you want the exciting, glamorous life of a Companion?” Aileen asks, seemingly unfazed by the fact that Kari is completely tongue-tied and very nearly gaping.

Kari’s not up to returning any kind of humor, so she just shrugs. It’s not excitement and glamour she wants, not exactly, but she’s nowhere close to being able to explain.

“You should know that it’s not like that,” Aileen says. “If you become a Companion, you have to give up many things. For instance, it’s very unlikely that you’ll have a family of your own.”

On that subject Kari doesn’t hesitate to reply. “I don’t want one.”

Aileen smiles, a knowing smile, and Kari steels herself to hear what adults always tell her when she lets it slip that she doesn’t want to marry, doesn’t want children: You’ll change your mind when you’re a grown woman, they say. Or: You’ll meet the right man someday, and then you’ll understand. But Aileen says neither of these things. Instead, she reaches out and pats Kari’s arm lightly.

“As the oldest of eight,” she says, “I imagine you’ve done all the child rearing you need for a lifetime. Yes, the Priestess told me about you, and the lengths you’ve gone to come here. You are nothing if not creative. In fact, the Priestess thinks you could be well suited to this life.”

“You mean… ?”

“You will have a trial session – one term only. But if you do well, you’ll be invited to stay on a permanent basis.”

Kari has to swallow down the flood of hope that threatens to bury her. “What about my parents?”

“The Priestess is contacting them, to invite them here to discuss your future.”

“They’ll never agree. You don’t know what they think of all this.”

“Don’t worry so much; she can be quite convincing. I imagine she’ll offer some aid with your seven siblings, which will come out of your trainee’s allowance until you come of age. After that, you will be your own woman, and what you do with your life will be for you and the Guild to decide. That is… if you complete your studies. It won’t be easy.”

“I wouldn’t want to do it if it was easy.”

Aileen reaches out and pushes Kari’s hair behind her ear. “You are something, Karida.”

“No one calls me that,” Kari says softly.

Aileen only smiles. “Karida means ‘untouched’ in Arabic. Did you know that?”

Kari nods. “My mother told me.”

“Your mother gave you a lovely name, but she couldn’t have known the young woman who would come of the babe she birthed.”

“I suppose not.”

“Now you have the opportunity to choose something more fitting, if you’d like.”

Kari nods wordlessly, and Aileen motions her toward a cortex screen just showing between draped white curtains. She touches it to summon a menu, and after a moment some sort of list is displayed. Kari sits down and looks closer; they’re names. Hundreds and hundreds of names, each with their meaning and origin shown.

“We are going to make you into the best woman you can possibly be,” Aileen says, standing behind Kari with a hand on her shoulder. “You may choose a new name, if your own is not to your liking. There’s no need to decide now, but look the list over to pass the time. There will be business to sort out when your parents arrive.”

Kari turns and looks up. A meeting with her parents? She dreads that.

Fàng xīn, I’ll be with you, and I’ll explain how very proud they should be. Their little girl is going to be highly respected and very powerful someday. The skills you learn here will enable you to make a real difference in this `verse; many Companions become involved in politics or business when they retire from taking clients.”

Aileen’s words make Kari realize that this is real, this is happening. And then she begins to feel like she glows, just as Mrs. P had said, just as Aileen did on the red carpet years ago. She feels herself shimmering in gold light that comes from nothing but joy. It could be that she’s never going back. She’s never going to ask for handouts or make dinner from scraps or settle fights between her younger brothers and sisters. She won’t be forced to learn to a dull trade, to apprentice to a worker’s guild and follow in her father’s steps, or go her mother’s way and become beholden to a man who doesn’t understand her and a flock of children she doesn’t know how to care for.

She turns to the screen, eager to take the first step into her new life. By the time Aileen returns a half hour later, Kari has chosen her name.

Inara,” Aileen says with a smile. “Arabic for: ‘Ray of light, Heaven sent.’ Yes, it suits you.”

* * *

Persephone High Orbit

“A friend of Wash’s is a friend of mine!” the curly-haired young man on the screen claimed with magnanimous enthusiasm. “Especially one so ambrosial to the eyes. Inara, you said?”

She smiled. “Yes.”

“Well, Inara, you’re enough of a friend of Wash’s that he told you how to find me, and yet we’ve never been properly introduced. How is that?” His admiring eyes showed that the question was meant as a compliment.

“Well… it seems that we were generally in a hurry when we needed your help.”

The man’s eyes narrowed. “That’s not it, I’ll bet. Wash always keeps the good ones to himself. First Zoë, now… Inara.” He turned to the side for a few seconds, his hands busy and eyes elsewhere, as if he was too short of attention span to focus on one screen for more than a half minute. “So, how do you know the wacky pilot and what kind of lies did he tell you about me?”

Inara hesitated – the stories Wash had shared about the presumptuously named Mr. Universe had been entertaining, but not anything she wanted to bring up now. This young man’s energy seemed to drive him in odd directions, and she imagined that bringing up Wash’s tales of flight school hijinks would send him spinning off wildly, sharing his side of things. She had no time for that.

“Wash explained that you’re very talented and well-connected,” she said, then went on without acknowledging Mr. Universe’s look of doubt. “That’s why I’m contacting you, because I need some help myself. You see, I flew with Wash on Serenity until just recently, and –”

“On Serenity? With Mal?”

“Yes.”

“Say no more. If you’re on Mal’s crew, I’ll guess that whatever you’re needing involves crime, destruction, and oodles of tasty chaos.” He rubbed his hands together joyfully.

“Well… not quite…”

“Fool-hardy errands for crime lords? Dead-end jobs on dried up worlds?”

“No – ”

“Then, something on the valiant side of stupid? A heroic rescue? A damsel in distress?”

This was somewhere close to the truth, but the image of Mal as a damsel in distress threw Inara for a moment. “I suppose… It’s something like that, but I guess I mean to… Well, you see, Mal’s in trouble.”

“The fine captain? In trouble? Slap me and call me in shock.”

Inara went on, barely hearing him. “And I need to find him. Before others do.”

Mr. Universe leaned back in his chair. “A race? Now, that sounds like a chance for entertainment. Nothing like a good dash for the tape to fire the synapses. Who’s the competition?”

Inara had heard plenty of tales of Mr. Universe from Wash, but she wasn’t sure the man was stupid enough to take on the whole system-wide governing body as a favor to someone he didn’t know. So she felt a twinge of nerves as she admitted, “The Alliance.”

His mouth dropped open in shock. “Are you asking me to break the law?”

“Not… actively.”

“A real bona fide Companion is asking me to break the law?”

That certainly surprised her, and she found herself staring at the screen, momentarily dumb-founded. “I’m… I’m not…. ” The young man grinned knowingly, and she saw that there was no point in denying her identity. “How did you know?”

He smiled and leaned toward her, explaining his cleverness with obvious relish. “I see everything. I connect into everywhere.” He eyes wondered to the side, to what must be another screen. “Miss Inara Serra, you made some news a few years back. Something of a scandal. Not enough violence to make the front page, but –”

Inara wanted to hear nothing of that. “I’m sorry, but I really am in a hurry,” she said, trying to get him back on track.

“Right – that race thing.” He sat back and folded his hands over his stomach, his thumbs twiddling eagerly as he studied her. “Tell me this, and if I’m overstepping my bounds and causing offense, please pretend I’m not. Are you jumping to the captain’s aid due to, shall we say, the softer kinds of feelings?” He narrowed his eyes at her, watching her reaction closely. Clearly, this man enjoyed drama.

Inara drew back from the screen. A denial sat on her lips, as well as pert words telling him to mind his own business, but all she said was: “Yes.”

The young man’s full mouth drew sideways into a dreamy kind of grin. “Ahhh… the warmth of affection and adoration. This I appreciate. You see – I’m recently in love myself.”

“Oh?”

“You should see her.” His eyes rolled up in a show of bliss. “An angel from the highest peak of Heaven. She’s not here now unfortunately – down in the shop. Hydraulic problem with her left elbow.”

Inara frowned. “That’s… a shame.”

He shrugged. “Easily fixed. My point is – at the moment my foolishness for love spurs me on, tells me that I must help the heroic lover of Wash’s dear captain. The Alliance you said?”

“Yes.”

He leaned forward, his chin resting in both hands and his eyes as wide and eager as toddler at storytime. “Tell me all about it.”

* * *

Muir orbital platform

“That was a big, fat waste of my precious gorramned time,” Will said as he pushed the hatch of the ship open, his normal cheer worn down by a long day’s frustration.

Ginger couldn’t agree. They may not have found any tracks of Reynolds and his ship, but she’d come across something that was far more important to her own dire needs.

This station handled all the traffic that visited Muir, including ships that came and went from the finest hospital in the quadrant – the place Marone had told them to focus their search. She and Will had just spent many hours beating every corner of the place for signs of a Firefly, and found nothing.

But the group they’d questioned a few hours ago had seemed promising in another way. One of a group of men who worked the fueling dock had caught her eye, a thick-waisted fellow with a wiry black beard and sardonic black brows. Certainly not a looker, but it was funny how things like that worked. Maybe there really was something that moved through the air, some chemical that searched out compatible types, but it had found her and set her body to warming.

Whatever it was, while Will’d asked his questions and looked over records on the cortex, Ginger’d been painfully aware of every shift of the stranger’s stance and of the growling sound when he cleared his throat. It’d burned right into her. And then the man had ambled over and made some clumsy small talk. Before Will was through, he’d let her know the time his shift ended and the place he went for happy hour, and his wandering eyes had filled her in on the rest of his ideas.

She stood now, one foot inside the small ship and one hand holding the hatch open so she could slip right back out and make her date. “Well then,” she said to Will. “I’ll be back in a few.”

Her partner’d plopped down in the pilot’s seat, but when she spoke he spun back toward her. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Needin’ some supplies.”

“Hardly. We’ve got plenty to eat.”

Of course he’s going to be difficult, Ginger thought to herself. She’d have to be creative. “Supplies of a female type,” she said. That ought to shut him up. Men hated to hear anything about that.

But Will only gave her a suspicious look, then told her in a this-is-an-order voice to shut the hatch and wait up a minute. There was an urgent message on the cortex. He tapped the console and stared at the screen. The message was in text and had to be short, because after no more than ten seconds his hands started flying over the controls. Rods in the bulkhead behind her clanged – seals in the hatch locking down – and the engines fired up.

“What is it?” she asked. “We’re goin’ now? But I just need a little while…”

“Yeah, I know how long you’d need. I saw that ape making small talk with you. Sorry, dear, you’ll have to have to keep your pants on. We’ve got new orders.”

Ginger stalked over to the console to see for herself. He was making this up, he had to be. But what she read confirmed it:

    Agent Cantone,
           An unidentified Firefly was seized on Highgate by local corporate
    security forces, though no arrests were made. I have reason to believe
    that the crew of this ship was visiting a woman running a medical clinic.
    This is your target. Proceed to Highgate immediately. Colony omega-E16
    on the northern hemisphere. Indentify the ship, locate the crew, and report
    your findings to me ASAP.
                                  Trevor Marone

When Ginger looked up, Will was grinning at her. “Guess you’ll have to go it alone again,” he said. “Although you must getting tired of that by now.”

Ginger balled her hands into fists. She couldn’t reply, because if she did she might just lose it. She might scream and hit things. She might even pull her gun out and put holes in places she really shouldn’t, like Will’s head.

This was too much, just too damned much. Ever since that day on the cruiser orbiting Niflheim, the day when Will had told her that he’d canceled her transfer request and that she’d be working this mission with him, she hadn’t gotten one break. Not one minute when she could be herself and get away. She’d been trapped on this little ship, or in meetings with Marone and whoever Will was charming, folks who didn’t see the reality behind him. Her few short encounters with her own kind of people – locals who might provide five minutes of sympathy if she could just have some privacy with them – weren’t near enough. She just needed one break, a few words and hard screw so she’d burn herself out and wouldn’t have to lose her mind in this little can.

The ship shuddered; they’d left the station. She wouldn’t be making her date. No relief today.

“How long to Highgate?” she asked in a tightly controlled voice.

Will turned toward her – the course was set, the ship flying itself now, and he could ignore the controls. “Five hours.”

That wasn’t too bad. She could do that. She could stay in this high tech little tin can for that long without her brain exploding.

“Hey,” Will said. “Don’t look so busted up. It’s not the end of the world.”

She turned away from the console, but he stuck a leg out to block her from leaving.

“You’ll get other chances,” he said, his voice suddenly sympathetic. “To tell the truth, I’m not surprised at what happened with you and that fella. I’m not surprised at what he did, coming on to you.”

She folded her arms and glared at the deck. She couldn’t take this. She couldn’t take whatever it was he was playing at now.

“I mean it – you look all right. Almost fine. The time in the cruiser gym did you good. And I even think this new attitude of yours has made a change for the better – I do believe you’re standing up straight, you’re got your head up and the tired gray hair pulled back. The mug of yours ain’t half bad when it can be seen.” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him tilt his head and let his eyes roam. “And that ain’t the only thing. You definitely lost some kilos.”

“I ain’t interested. Get out of my way.”

“`Course you’re interested. Why else were you gonna go ball with some sleazeball in a dark corner of a station? Every lady needs a little sugar to make her feel sweet, and you ain’t got a bit a’ that lately. It’s got to make you feel all dried up and shriveled. That ain’t how any woman ought to feel.”

She shook her head in disgust. He was definitely playing her – aping her accent, talking at her level. But she wasn’t going to be taken in. She met his eye. “A ‘woman like me’? Care to explain that in a way that won’t make me draw my firearm?”

Will didn’t take the threat seriously. He smiled and pushed up out of the pilot’s chair. “You won’t be needing any weapons. Not with me. We’re partners, Ginger. Partners. We ought’a take care of each other.”

She stepped back until she hit the bulkhead, and he followed. Thing was, the fire in her veins was still burning, burning so hot that she couldn’t separate it from the urge to do this man harm. And, even worse, memories of times they’d had were flying up out of nowhere, fluttering about her like little demons tempting her to sell her soul for a moment’s release.

He put a hand on her upper arm, resting his fingers loosely, but she knew he’d grab tight if she tried to slip away. “You can’t keep to yourself all the time,” he said, “waiting for some dockhand to give you an invite. That’s no kinda life.”

She turned her head aside as he leaned into her. “This ain’t life,” she said stiffly. “It’s a mission. That’s the only thing I’m here for. The mission.”

He didn’t answer with words, just hands, hands landing on her body and sliding around, and what he did raised the heat even higher, no matter the loathing in her mind. She’d thought she despised him as much as she was able, but a whole new store of hate got loose when he made her react like that. It wasn’t fair how his hands knew her body. It wasn’t fair how good he smelled – musky and dark and masculine – or how the self-assurance of his touch couldn’t be easily dismissed. It especially wasn’t fair how he moved, the pliant way his torso bent and swayed as he stretched his arms to extend his reach.

“Will, I’m through with this,” she said, bracing her arms against his chest. Her fingers spread on their own, thrilling at the warm, solid muscle under his black cotton shirt. She couldn’t move away from him, and he didn’t budge.

“You sure?” he asked. Ginger bit her lip to hold back words that wouldn’t do any good, but inside her head she chanted them: Damn his chest and the way it felt under her palms. Damn the hard thigh that slid between her legs, and damn the hand that roamed to cup her backside and hold her against him.

She damned herself too, because she knew full well that Will was only doing this to show his upper hand, to keep her in her place, and she was letting him anyway. After all, her place could be here, with this cruel, arrogant, lying, shī of a man, or it could be in the shadows, alone and unimportant, hoping for a wink from a random unkempt stranger to prove that she wasn’t invisible to all the `verse.

In the end, which was worse? At least with Will, in this moment, she felt something.

It was like he could read her mind. Just as soon as she thought that, he laughed and pushed her to the deck, then folded her legs up toward her chest and pulled her pants down off her hips. She didn’t resist, didn’t even move while he opened his pants, didn’t fight it but let him go at her, right there in the corridor, with the metal rails biting into her back. Her hands still clutched his chest to hold his body and face away, but her hips pushed up to meet his thrusts, because the bastard worked her body just right. And then she finally let herself swear at him aloud, telling him exactly what she thought of him and of this thing they were doing. His reply was to laugh darkly and shift a bit, shift just right so he got her to her edge and past, then he shoved her arms out of his way and crushed her beneath him, squeezing the air from her lungs as he finished up for himself.

“It’s mighty fine to be workin’ with you again,” he said before she’d even started catching her breath. “The way you were acting for a while there – you had me thinking you didn’t like me anymore. That hurt my feelings.”

He rolled away and fastened his fly, leaving her lying cold and empty on the deck. Ginger pulled her pants up enough to cover herself, not wanting to be naked in front of him, but she didn’t get up and didn’t answer. The only words she had now were for herself.

He stepped over her and left her alone in the small cockpit, still laying on the floor with her arms limp beside her, and she had to ask again: which way was worse?

* * *

Translations

ān xīn:be at ease
shī:shit
* * *
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COMMENTS

Thursday, December 13, 2007 5:14 AM

MAL4PREZ


Thanks for the encouragement after the last chapter. Life is just too stressful sometimes, and that does lead to occasional whining. ;) But I’m moving along now! My funk actually led to some productivity, and now I have the next 5 chapters almost set. Then there’s a bit of a gap and a bunch more done-ish. So I hope to post once a week for a while, as long as I can keep up the pace.

About this one: again, these Kari chapters are not my favorites, but they serve their purpose. The whole issue of lies and the Guild I find interesting; it wasn’t something I planned but the Priestess just went there. And it makes sense to me, that they have a culture of embracing emotional dishonesty, and would be open about it to a young applicant.

Icky ending, huh? Sorry about that, it’s another thing that just happened.

As to the future: only one more chapter of young Inara, and two more chapters on Highgate’s moon, then we’re off to new things. It’ll be time to hear about the crew, finally. Yay!

Thursday, December 13, 2007 6:09 AM

2X2


It's so interesting to me that you don't like the Kari chapters as much, and yet I love them. I can really see Kari as a young Inara, and this background shaping her. Maybe it's just my personal bias for Inara that makes me enjoy these parts so much, that and the fact that I just enjoy your writing so much... but how great are you that your least favourite parts still ring so true?! Brava! I for one await the final chapter of young Inara with great anticipation, as well as the rest of it, of course ;o)
And you have to love it when things just happen like that when you're writing, don't you? Takes you places you don't expect, happpy or otherwise, and presents interesting opportunities to write.

Anyway, enough blathering on from me... I'm sure you don't need me telling you how wonderful you are all over again ;o> And you need to include these author notes over on your LJ!! ;oP

Thursday, December 13, 2007 7:48 AM

LEIASKY


Like 2x2, I really like the back story you've come up for Inara. It fits so well into what little we do know about her.

And Ginger really needs to go elsewhere to have her needs met and end Will's life very painfully!

And nack to posting once a week? Ohh, yay!

Thursday, December 13, 2007 2:05 PM

PLATONIST


Ditto on liking the Back-story for Inara. It is well developed and plausible. The emotional dishonesty card, promoted by the Guild, plays out nicely here. At least they are up front about it, like you said.

I can't help feeling bad for her, though...twelve is a young age to make a monumental life altering commitment.

And as we see, in her HOG breakdown, it starts to take its emotional toll in regards to her relationship with Mal, who is demanding nothing less than emotional honesty, when her true feelings are revealed to him, via a mutual friend, Nandi.

It would make sense that she would find no other recourse, but to RUN AWAY, like a scared bunny.

But she does come back, confusing us even more. Now my head hurts.



Thursday, December 13, 2007 7:28 PM

MISSWHATSIS


The Inara backstory is very good and totally plausible. That urge to escape a family life that doesn't fit will drive people a long, long way. I thought that business with the priestess calling her bluff and then acknowledging the truth of lies was very nicely done. Exploring the ways that a character's lies illuminate their truth is a terrific technique.

Good work with Ginger -- that scene with Will playing her was very nicely done. She is not-so-sympathetic yet you have given her a real set of guts and brains; so we care when Will works her over mentally.

Keep it up -- can't wait for more.

Thursday, December 13, 2007 8:53 PM

DESERTGIRL


It seems like I am going along with ther crowd, but I also really like the Kari chapters. I think you are doing a wonderful job shaping who she is by where she came from.

I love that you brought back mr. universe. Do we know why he lives alone on his private moon? He seems to enjoy people so much? The love bot being down for repairs, was hilarious.

Poor Ginger, I keep expecting her to flip and save the day. Maybe shoot Will in the head. I probably owuld have in this chapter.

But oh dear our hero's are in trouble on Highgate, with noone but Inara to save them. Oh the tension......

Saturday, December 15, 2007 5:48 AM

KATESFRIEND


So glad to see more so soon. And everyone is entitled to a good funk when therapeutically needed. I am really enjoying the back story on Kari. It makes so much sense to see Inara's actions through Kari's eyes. The part with Mr. Universe was a classic! I really hope to see more of him soon. I hope Will meets his demise soon. You're right - icky. Please have fun with this - we are!


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Zoë nodded. “I’ll bet there’s a little committee of suits back there trying to figure out how best to lie.”&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

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