BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

MAL4PREZ

Back Stories II: Chapter 14
Friday, January 18, 2008

Kaylee meets a much altered Mal, then does some explaining as to what she’s been up to on Highgate. (She doesn't quite tell all...)


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3067    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

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

Many thanks: fireflyfans.net members: leiasky and nosadseven for beta-reading and mphillips for the artwork.

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.

Added link: You may need a refresher. This chapter takes up Kaylee and Simon's situation as of the end of Book I.

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Highgate’s second moon

“Who are you people?”

Kaylee stood dumb-founded. The moment of heart-warming greeting, of Zoë and Wash kissing like they didn’t need air, had passed. Now the couple only stood as still as Kaylee herself, all three of them frozen and near to gaping at the captain’s question.

“I’ve never seen this place,” Mal said as he stepped away from them and looked the dull hillside over. He shook his head and muttered to himself, “It shouldn’t be this cold. It can’t be so cold, not at high summer…”

“You ain’t on Shadow,” Zoë said firmly, finding her voice at last. “You’ve… you’ve gone travelin’, Malcolm. I know that seems odd, but –”

“Odd – just a bit!” he said, turning back to her. “You know me? You know how I got here?”

With that, Wash took himself right out of the situation. “I’ll just go pack,” he said, pointing a thumb over his shoulder toward the campsite.

“Yeah,” Kaylee added. “We’ll be... we’ll be getting all the…” She turned her back and followed Wash across the rocky slope, moving away from the captain and Zoë as fast as she could.

Mal didn’t know Zoë? How could it be, that he didn’t even know Zoë? Kaylee knew full well that he was losing his memories. For the past few weeks, starting the day Inara left the ship, he’d woken up every morning with new gaps, times of his life he couldn’t recall. And it had seemed to move faster as time went on, till he forgot how Simon, River, and Book had come onto his ship. A few days later he didn’t know Jayne, then Kaylee herself was lost (and she tried hard not to let herself recall that day, the moment the captain looked on her as a stranger).

Three days ago, Serenity had left Zoë and Book on this moon to care for the ailing captain while Simon and the rest went looking for a cure. Mal’d still recognized his ship then. Barely. In his mind, Serenity had been not much more than a shell, newly purchased and awaiting all the work of fixing her up and filling her with crew. But in the three days since…

Kaylee wrapped her arms around a roll of bedding that Book held out to her. She took it from him blindly, not even meeting his eye or nodding hello, and turned back toward the borrowed transport that she and Wash had flown over from Highgate.

They didn’t have Serenity. The ship had been taken from them, and that was a problem yet to be solved. But Kaylee couldn’t think on it; all she could see was Zoë, talking and talking, the captain standing in front of her but leaning away like he was thinking of maybe turning and running. Confusion and bewilderment were easy to read on his face, and that wasn’t usual. The captain wasn’t one to let his feelings show like that.

How could he have forgotten so much? If he didn’t know Zoë, he didn’t even know the war…

Kaylee dropped her head as she passed Mal and Zoë by, but she could hear them talk.

“I’m just tellin’ you that you’re sick, Malcolm,” Zoë said. “You hit your head. Right there… ”

Kaylee couldn’t resist sliding her eyes to the side to see how the captain reacted. He raised his hand to his forehead; a little bandage was stuck over a bump above his eyebrow. Nothing serious. Certainly nothing big enough to cause what Zoë was suggesting, but he accepted it – although in a way Kaylee would never have expected.

Hú chĕ!” he said. “ I got amnesia? Like in some kind’a spy vid or mystery book?”

Kaylee stopped to stare at him in surprise; he didn't look near as alarmed as she'd have expected. In fact, there was an edge of something like humor in his face, like he was more than ready to find a light side of all this.

“That’s right.” Zoë glanced at Kaylee, then put a hand on Mal’s back and led him aside. “Your momma called on me to get you some help `cause she knows how I travel. She knows I got contacts a’plenty.”

“You know Ma? How’s that?” Zoë glanced at Kaylee again, and the message was clear: Move. Pack up. Leave. Now.

Kaylee hurried to set the bedding in the ship.

The next time she passed the two by, Mal was laughing. “I can’t believe you know `bout that! I don’t recall meetin’ you at all!”

Zoë was smiling too. “Well, you had to be maybe… maybe six years of age at the time. I only visited for a few days, long enough to have a look at the land your mom was considerin’ to buy.”

Kaylee studied the captain, shocked again that he only nodded and listened raptly. Did he really believe he was so much younger than Zoë?

“Wish I’d given her better advice on how to use that field, though,” Zoë went on. “She must’a put so much work into growing that corn – ”

Mal finished for her. “ – when lettin’ it go wild for grazin’ was easy and paid off better in the end. Yeah, she used to complain about that stretch of land all the time, till we changed it over.”

Kaylee shook her head after she passed them by – Zoë sure was smart. She’d never met Mal’s family, that much Kaylee had gathered from the few things she knew of Mal and Zoë’s past, that they met in the war. But Zoë had to know plenty about his childhood home. He’d surely told her about it himself.

And it looked like the stories were enough to win his trust; when Kaylee came back toward the transport with a box of leftover food, there was nothing more to overhear. Mal and Zoë were heading over to join with the carrying. That sped things up. It took the five of them two more trips each, and then Kaylee found herself standing next to the Mal and Book inside the transport, passing a minute while Zoë and Wash strapped things down.

“You’re a preacher?” Mal asked Book. His voice didn’t sound like it ever had, not that Kaylee could recall. There was eagerness and respect there. For real, too, not like he was making a joke, playing up an admiring awe that he didn’t feel.

Book handled it well; he didn't hesitate to smile and offer a hand. “My name’s Shepherd Book. I’m from Southdown Abbey on Persephone.”

“You make a home with these folks? Carry on service and all?”

Book glanced at Kaylee before he answered carefully. “Yes, but… the captain who generally runs things on our ship prefers for worship to take place privately, if at all.”

“Huh,” Mal grunted. “Sounds like a jerk.”

“I guess... he’s been through a lot. Um, Malcolm, this is Kaylee.”

“I’m the ship’s mechanic,” Kaylee said, trying to sound as natural and friendly as the preacher. “And don’t you worry about a thing. We’ll take good care of you.”

Mal nodded and shook her hand, then stared at the deck. He suddenly seemed a bit flustered.

“Is it… is it weird?” she asked.

“What’s that?”

“Not having your memories? Are you worried or… scared? At all?”

He shrugged and flashed her a little smile. “Ain’t no use wasting worries, as Ma says. I’m sure it’ll work out.”

“But… you don’t know any of us.”

His smile got wider. “I guess I’ve met Zoë there before, I just don’t recall. And here you got a man of God with you, and that says a lot. Anyway, Ma wouldn’t have sent me along with you folks `less she knew I’d be all right.”

“Have a seat, travelers!” Wash suddenly announced. The packing was done and he was moving toward the cockpit. “This bird doesn’t fly as smooth as our usual ride. It’ll be bumpy till we leave atmo.”

“We’re going into the Black?” Mal asked. He sounded excited.

“You ain’t never been?” Kaylee asked.

He shook his head, looking sheepish. “We never had a ship that could break atmo.”

“Go on up with Wash, then,” Zoë said, and she waved toward the cockpit. “Take in the sights.”

Mal nodded eagerly – there were no viewports in the main hold – and went to the co-pilot’s seat. Kaylee settled back on a bench and watched; the captain looked thrilled, chatting with Wash while the pilot fired things up. Mal turned back once and caught Kaylee staring at him. He flashed another quick smile, but his face reddened. Kaylee dropped her eyes quickly. She had a bizarre and discomfiting feeling that he thought she was meaning to flirt, staring at him like that.

The engines powered up with a rattling roar as the transport lifted off, and she could no longer hear Mal and Wash talking. That meant they couldn’t hear what was discussed in back, either.

“All right,” Zoë said firmly, leaning toward Kaylee as far as the safety belt around her waist would allow. “Where’s the damned ship?”

“Uh… we can’t get to her right now,” Kaylee replied.

“Can’t get to her?” Book asked.

“I guess… it’s complicated.”

Zoë glared. “So – simplify.”

Kaylee took a deep breath. “I’d best start at the beginning,” she said. And leave out some details, she added to herself. What had passed between her and Simon wasn’t important to the captain’s business. Still, she had to take a minute to smile as she remembered…

* * *

Sixty-one hours ago; Firefly Serenity

Kaylee carefully slid open the door of Simon’s bunk. The room had a warmth and a scent that didn’t visit this ship often. She sniffed and smiled – maybe she was only imagining a lingering steaminess in the air, but the faint musky smell of sex was unmistakable.

She stepped inside and pushed the door almost closed behind her. One thin beam of light remained, falling across the bed to show rumpled sheets and a pale strip of white skin. She carefully stepped over scattered clothing and sat on the edge of the bed, then ran a hand lightly over Simon’s partly illuminated chest. Even in the dim light, she could see little red marks; she might have done a tad too much with her teeth. She didn’t feel a bit bad about it though – these things tended to happen when two people put off bedding each other as long as she and Simon had.

He didn’t respond to her touch at all, just laid limp and still like he was trying to show what dead to the world meant. It made her cluck sadly to herself. He shouldn’t have to wake up yet. The poor doctor needed a whole lot more rest, but that would have to wait. There was business to be done.

“Simon. Hey – Simon,” she said softly. Too softly. He didn’t stir a bit.

She raised her voice. “It’s time to wake up, Simon.”

That got a mumbled reply: “Can’t be.”

“`Fraid so. We’re all landed, and found the clinic your school friend runs. It’ll be openin’ in a’ hour, so we got to get ready.”

He didn’t reply. She poked at his ribs with a fingertip, but that only got a disapproving groan out of him. So she raised her voice more. “Simon! You got to tell me how to get the thingamajig for the captain!”

She sighed when he rolled away and folded an arm over his head. It wasn’t that he didn’t care, she reasoned. He was just sleepy. After all, he’d spent two days staying up to study the imager results of the captain’s head while they traveled to Highgate, and then his five hours of downtime had been interrupted more than once by some hard sexin’. Any man out there would get worn down by that. So maybe he needed something especially tempting to get him out of bed…

Kaylee smirked as she leaned in close to his ear and whispered, “If you get up right now, I’ll make ya pancakes.”

After a short delay, Simon rolled his head back to her. He opened one eye to give her a bleary but hopeful look. “Pancakes?”

“Well, if you took pancakes and mixed `em till they were mushy goop, and then you sucked out all the flavor and colored `em gray, that would be about what I can make for breakfast.”

Simon smiled sleepily, and he looked so gorramned cute that she just had to lean further forward and kiss him.

When she pulled back, Simon had both eyes open and was watching her closely. He looked almost awake, but confused.

“We, um… did I dream, or did we…?”

Kaylee felt half tickled that he’d think it a dream, and half concerned that he didn’t recall. But she didn’t let herself start fretting. She wasn’t going to do that unless she had a gorramned good reason. She’d made up her mind about that several times in the past few hours, and she meant it. She’d told him beforehand that this wasn’t going to get all complicated and messy, and she’d have to make sure it didn’t.

So she made herself grin. “Yeah, we did. We did and did… and did.”

“Oh.”

He wiped at his eyes and gave his head a shake, then dropped back to the pillow. Kaylee felt just a little more temptation to worry over how long it was taking him to sort this out, but she stubbornly refused to give in.

A long minute passed, long enough that she thought Simon might have fallen asleep again, but then he suddenly propped himself up on his elbows and looked straight at her. She recognized the blurriness of his eyes – she knew what it was like to wake after not enough sleep, to feel your tummy sitting heavy like a ceramic weight and your thoughts not able to connect up to your mouth. But Simon’s eyes had a heart-warming realness, like being so tired had turned his outsides to glass and she could see all the way into him.

“Is it… is it okay?” he asked.

She knew what he meant, but he looked so serious that she had to play it different. “Well, if you have to ask that, I guess next time I got to be more vocal.”

Her words caught him be surprise – he snorted and looked away, and bless his heart if he didn’t blush. “Vocal? More vocal? If you get any more vocal, we’ll attract an audience.”

Kaylee grinned; in truth she was a little relieved that he recalled that much. Simon’d seemed near out of his mind during the act… well, the acts… like he was so exhausted and so engrossed that he wasn’t even aware of the details. Not that his state had bugged her any; when it came to the important parts, she’d gotten all she wanted out of it. In truth, she’d been like a barrel of gunpowder herself, finally touched by a spark and flashing too hot and bright for rational thought.

Except that she hadn’t quite burned herself out. Even now, it wouldn’t take much to have her tumbling Simon again, maybe pushing him off this bed right onto the floor where he wouldn’t have any covers to hide his fine body under.

“But that’s not what I meant,” Simon said. “Are we okay? Are you?”

He sat up fully, taking some care to hold the sheets across his lap. His modesty was silly after all the night just passed, but his serious words made Kaylee set her humor and her TNT ideas aside and take another long look at his face. He was definitely awake now, and the machine in his head was doing its thing, just like the rotors and cogs in the engine room, clicking and turning and whirring. Simon was such a smart man, with such a gift in his noggin, but sometimes it worked overtime.

“Doctor Tam, you think too much,” she teased. It occurred to her that she’d spent much of the past five hours trying hard not to do the same, but there was no need to tell him that. “Can’t you just be happy `bout it?”

“I just… I thought you didn’t want to. I thought –”

It was her turn to feel heat flood her face, and she looked down at her hands. “Oh. I’m sorry `bout that. I’m sorry I kept puttin’ you off like I did.”

“What made you change your mind?” he asked softly, then added as an afterthought, “Is it all right if I ask? I mean… I don’t mean to pry…”

He looked downright sheepish. Kaylee smiled; he was still trying to be all proper. “It’s all right,” she said. “I don’t mind. I’d like to tell you all ‘bout it. I’ve had a pile of things on my mind – don’t think I’ve thought so much in my whole life as I have in the past few weeks. And it all got so crazy and I wasn’t sure what to do…”

She stopped to ponder; she did want to explain, to tell him everything, but where to start? Wasn’t easy to sum up, and once she got going, she might not stop for a good long time.

“I think maybe we ought to leave this for later,” she told him. “We ain’t got a chance now – we got to get that thing to help the captain.”

While she'd talked of things being crazy, Simon had started leaning toward her in a way she liked, but now he fell back onto his crumpled pillow. She watched, fascinated. There was a shift in him, like someone had reached into that complicated head and switched a lever. It was in his face; his focus changed as his brain kicked into a different mode. It took his body with it. Never mind that he was still lying bare-chested right in front of her eyes, and just as invitingly pretty as he’d ever been – now there was nothing sexy coming out of him. His mind was completely focused on his business. Any play she made at him now would probably get batted aside in an absent-minded way.

“How long did you say?” he asked.

“Your friend’s clinic opens at 8 am, local. It’s just `bout 7 now.”

Simon’s eyes flicked side to side, moving across the ceiling though he surely wasn’t seeing it. The plans in his head were all he was considering – that’s probably how he was so smart, because he could think so deep as this. Kaylee took the chance of combing her fingers up the side of his neck into his hair, and he let her. She liked seeing this. She liked seeing how he worked, and not having to be shy about staring. About touching.

“We done all we could to prepare,” she told him. “I cleaned up so I can pass as classy, and Jayne’s gettin’ ready to start with his sellin’. We landed right in the middle of town, close to everything. I was… I was trying to get stuff done, so you could get as much rest as –”

She was interrupted when Simon sat up. She felt his hand on her chin, and looked up to find his eyes right in front of hers.

“Thank you,” he said, and then he kissed her. It wasn’t a sleeping, half-aware fumble like when she’d given him that first good morning kiss, and it wasn’t the heated, desperate tongue-tangling that’d been going on the night before. It was… neat. Tidy.

She was still puzzling over what that could mean when Simon finished, parting from her with his face all bent up in a grin. Maybe it wasn’t seductive and heated, but his expression and his kiss still made her glow inside. As did his words.

“I’m really glad,” he said. “I’m glad you, you know…”

“Had my evil way?”

“Yes. I’m very glad.”

* * *

Borrowed transport, en route to Highgate

“Kaylee?” Zoë asked.

Kaylee started. “Oh – right.” She chewed the inside of her cheek for a second – she wasn’t about to go into explanations of all that had passed between her and Simon. Zoë’d figure it out before long, for sure, but that could come later. Best to stick to basic facts at the moment.

“After we left you and Book and the captain on the moon,” she said on a firm tone, all business, “Simon got himself some rest. But he woke up in plenty of time to get me all set. Wasn’t much to do, I just needed to plan the right words to say to his doctor friend.”

“You went by yourself?” Zoë asked.

Kaylee couldn’t help but get annoyed at that. Why did everyone think she wasn’t able to handle a job? It wasn’t even crime. Well, it hadn’t started out as crime, anyway.

* * *

Sixty hours ago; Firefly Serenity

River interrupted Kaylee and Simon as they finished off their planning. Kaylee wasn’t happy about it – Simon was standing right by the stool where she sat, touching her cheek and saying something very sweet about how he wished she didn’t have to go and do this all by her lonesome. Kaylee liked that; she liked to know that he didn’t want her out of his sight and his reach.

Apparently, River thought differently of the suggestion. “Kaylee definitely shouldn’t be alone,” she said as she stepped in through the hatch. “Wash could go, watch over her.”

“River, we’ve been through this, “ Simon said as he stepped back from Kaylee. “Wash needs to stay with the ship. No one else can fly it, and we can’t just sit here if company security asks questions.”

“But I’ve watched!” River said heatedly, though it wasn’t clear why she was so upset. “I can learn a lot by watching. Can learn everything.” She leveled a seriously meaningful look at them. “I can do lots of things.”

Kaylee was lost as to the girl’s meaning, but Simon sighed. “River, you do not know how to fly this ship.”

River folded her arms and angled her head in a challenge.

“Well, we won’t be finding out anytime soon,” Wash said from the common room. He slipped through the hatch and around River. “And sorry, River, but now that I know you’re interested I’ll be watching the bridge like a hawk. A protective hawk. A protective hawk who fears for its life. If Mal comes to and finds his ship’s been wrecked… well, you do the math.”

River dropped her eyes. “No math needed,” she mumbled testily. “Wouldn’t wreck anything… ”

“Sorry, Kaylee,” Wash went on. “You’ll have to go it alone.”

He did look genuinely sorry, but Kaylee only found it insulting. She was about to say a word or two about how people need to have a little faith in her, but then River piped up again. “I’ll go!”

Now Kaylee couldn’t hold back her impatience. “Criminy yesu! I don’t need anyone with me!”

“But I can help!” River said. “I can do… intel. You know – information that no one else can see.” She wiggled her eyebrows in a suggestive way that Kaylee might have found funny, but at the moment she was too bothered. She hopped off her stool.

“Would you all just relax? This ain’t no big thing. I’ll be back in a’ hour. Worse thing is if Simon’s lady friend wants a lot of money for what we need. That case, we’ll just wait for Jayne to get back, and then we’ll pay her. See? Easy.”

Wash and Jayne looked a little sheepish, but River still stood tall. “But I want to help!” she said. “I can help! I can’t just sit here… and do nothing. I have skills. Use my skills!”

“You have skills and the face of a fugitive,” Simon said firmly. “A very wanted fugitive. You won't be leaving the ship while we're here. At all. Understand?”

River glared for a second, then she was gone, whisking away in a swirl of dark brown hair and powder blue skirt.

There wasn’t any more preparing to be done, so Kaylee left the ship a few minutes later, all by herself, and hurried from the landing pad through the small settlement. Actually, it wasn’t so very small. It stretched for at least a dozen fair-sized blocks in each direction, larger buildings of businesses near the landing area in the center of town, and rows of little wooden shacks that served as homes further out. For some reason, the clinic was near the edges too, on the northern side of town.

The route Kaylee took was slightly uphill, toward highlands that rose in the distance. There was green on those hills, tended fields with the plants all in neat rows, but the street she walked was dead and dusty. It was an odd mix, and made her wonder why folks had chose to live here.

She reached the clinic at five minutes to eight. It was a tidy building, only one floor and looking as dull and plain as everything else around. Except that it was fairly new, she noticed as she got closer. The walls were solidly built, the siding not a bit chipped or faded. The door was metal and had a few heavy locks on it, but was sitting propped open.

Kaylee went in, and was surprised at what she found.

The place was packed. Folks filled the chairs and the floor, waiting. Families sat in groups, parents holding glum and feverish looking children against them, women running hands over big pregnant bellies, folks of all ages worrying over red and brown stained bandages.

She got in a line at the main counter. It wasn’t a comfortable wait; she’d made an effort to look respectable, since this was an old schoolmate of Simon’s she’d be meeting with, a doctor trained at the MedAcad on Osirus. But the clothes she’d put on – a brown tank top with only a small edging of lace, a dowdy off-white blouse she hadn’t pulled out of her clothes bin in at least a year, and her best pair of black cargo pants – drew curious eyes. Weren’t many folks here dressed up in clean clothes. In fact, most of them looked to be covered in white dust. There was dust in the air too. It had a tang, a taste that sat faintly on her tongue, but she was too preoccupied to figure out what it was.

It was twenty minutes before she got her turn at the desk. “Name and ailment,” the man behind it asked.

“Uh… I’m Kaylee. I gotta talk to Tori.”

The worker raised his eyes and gave her a close look; he was an older man with thin hair, pale pink skin, and glasses that perched on his flared nose. He squinted at her over the frames, deliberately taking in her outfit.

“You know Dr. Zhou?”

Kaylee swallowed down her doubt and stuck her nose right up in the air. “I do. It’s important business I got. Someone’s life depends on it.”

The man wasn’t impressed. “You’ll have to wait your turn like everybody else.”

“But – ”

“You see that one there?” He nodded toward a child sitting off behind Kaylee’s left shoulder. The boy’s cheeks were shadowed and hollow, and the woman clutching him in her arms had something in her eyes that drove right into Kaylee’s heart – a mix of grief and dull, unwilling acceptance.

“Is your friend more important?” the man asked.

“I guess… I…” Kaylee wanted to say yes. The captain was more important to her than this boy, but how was she to say that when his mother’s eyes were like that? So she took her number and sat.

It was four hours before she was called in. During that time, she stepped outside to make two waves to the ship, just to let them know what was happening. Simon replied with a voice so tight that she knew he didn’t like the delay, but what could she do? She couldn’t see any choice but wait for her fair turn.

When it finally came, she was taken to an examination room where another painful half hour ticked by. When the door finally opened, it was with a sudden briskness that was a bit confounding after all the empty time that had dragged by so slow. The woman who entered was tiny, with short black hair sticking up all spiky and a brisk air of haste. She glanced at Kaylee once, but didn’t hardly focus. She was busy. She had her nose buried in a paper chart, and she scribbled notes on it even as she asked, “What’s the problem?”

Kaylee had to give herself a shake to get herself moving at this woman’s pace. Simon’s words playing in her mind: Be quick – there’s no time for wasting words. You have to win her interest and her trust as quickly as possible. If Tori dismisses you, it’ll be hard to win her back.

“Uh… I ain’t the sick one. I need somethin’ to fix someone else. Special request, I guess you could say.”

The doctor flipped the file in her hands shut. “Well, don’t waste my time,” she said bluntly. “Out with it.”

“I’m sorry I can’t give you a whole lot more info, but I need one of them generators to help my friend. One of them good dream things. You know, that one that fits over your head.” Kaylee lifted her hands up to demonstrate, though she still wasn’t quite sure what this thing was.

The doctor slapped her files down on a counter, then turned to lean her back against it and folded her arms. Kaylee may not have been a reader like River or a trained Companion like Inara, but she wasn’t blind. She saw two things – this woman knew exactly what Kaylee meant, and she didn’t like being asked about it. She didn’t like it so much that when she spoke, she lied.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said in a fake, plasticy tone. “If you have a medical emergency, please tell me. Otherwise – ”

“He’s losin’ his memories,” Kaylee said. This wasn’t at all Simon’s plan; he’d wanted to be secretive. He’d wanted to keep it business: money in trade for hardware, and no story told. But Kaylee didn’t have it in her to lie, not in a pinch like this when so much was at risk and the doctor was being all hard to talk to. Weren’t doctors supposed to be nice?

“My friend,” Kaylee went on, “he’s had his head messed up, and the only way we can see to help him is with this cap. I know you used it once. I know you know what I’m sayin’.”

Tori’s jaw bent sideways, and for a second Kaylee thought back to Simon, to the way his face changed when the wheels in his head got to spinning. Guess it was just how smart people in the Core did their thing. Must be the schoolin’, Kaylee thought distantly. She learned to think the same way as Simon did.

“You’re asking for something to play with the human mind. That’s not ethical. That goes against the standards of this clinic.” Kaylee had never thought herself a big girl, but she was felt huge and brutish next to this delicate woman. And yet, somehow, she still felt like the weaker one. Maybe it was because of how Tori – Dr. Zhou – stared at her, her eyes smart and sharp. It scared Kaylee, to tell the truth. Maybe that’s why she spoke harshly like she did.

“I don’t give a good gorramn about ethical!” she blurted out. “I need your help. You want pay? I’ll get your pay together. Just tell me how much.”

“You think I’m here because I want money?” the doctor asked. “Do you really think I’d be on this world, working with these people, if I was trying to put money in my pocket?”

That flustered Kaylee. “Look – I ain’t no expert. But I care about my friend, and as I understand it, if we can just give him good dreams, he might get his memories back. That’s all I know. I ain’t tryin’ to convince you of nothin’ else.”

“Who told you?”

“Pardon?”

“Who told you I have that kind of mood altering equipment? I’m a respectable practitioner of medicine. I don’t deal with anything like what you’re describing.”

This was not going well at all. Kaylee took a deep breath – for some reason, the lady had gotten all defensive, and was unmistakably hostile. That wasn’t going to work. Maybe Kaylee just had to be friendlier. She took a deep breath and made herself smile.

“Look, Tori, I ain’t tryin’ – ”

That failed. The doctor straightened and interrupted quickly. “Who told you to call me Tori? I haven’t gone by that name since medical school.”

Kaylee froze, her mouth hanging open. She might have just made a big mistake.

“Nobody. I just… I just… ‘Tori’ is short for ‘Victoria’ sometimes, so I guessed…”

Under the glare of those black eyes, Kaylee couldn’t think of a better thing to say, so she leaned back against the examination table and stared down at her hands. After a few seconds that felt much, much longer, the doctor picked up her files.

“We’ll talk later,” she said, her voice as firm as if it was an order. “But not here. There’s a bar right near the Drop, in the southeast corner of town – it’s called the Salty Tongue. I’ll meet you there after the clinic closes. Eight o’clock.”

Kaylee looked up hopefully. “You’re gonna help me?”

“I might.” Tori moved to the door. She paused there, and without looking back said, “Bring Simon.”

* * *

Borrowed transport, en route to Highgate

“She knew about Simon?” Book asked.

“How’d she know?” Zoë demanded at the same time.

“Look, we’re about landed!” Kaylee said, glad of the interruption. She wasn’t especially proud of how her visit to Dr. Zhou’s clinic had gone, and she’d prefer to hand things off to someone else to tell. Besides, they needed to get the captain to his help as quickly as they could.

Zoë wasn’t about to give up. “Kaylee, how did she know? Did she tell anyone?”

“Best we get the captain plugged in,” Kaylee said. “Then Simon can fill ya in on the rest.”

Zoë’s face twisted with impatience, but she had to hold on to beams in the bulkhead behind her as the ship rocked; Wash set them down with less than his usual grace.

“It’s not me!” the pilot called out as he shut things down. “I don’t know where Jayne got this thing, but –”

“And you’ll be explainin’ that as well, I take it?” Zoë asked.

“All in good time, dear. Shall we?”

Book looked to the gear. “What about our things?”

“We can come back for it,” Wash said as he opened the main hatch. “I’ve set down right next to our… um, lodgings. See, right here.”

Zoë followed her husband, stepping out into the night and taking in the large green building and its pink curtains. She looked back to Wash, then Kaylee, with something like disapproval on her face. Despite the fact that they’d landed on the back side of the building and she couldn’t see the sign over its main entrance, she’d clearly figured out what kind of business this was.

“And you’ll be explainin’ this too?” she asked.

“Course!” Kaylee said, trying to put a cheery face on the situation.

The captain was looking a little confused, but not at all distressed. “This is excitin’,” he said. “I ain’t never been off world before. I mean, not that I recall. This is where we’re stayin’? Looks nice!” He headed up the walk with a game smile on his face.

Kaylee blew out a quick breath – this was going to be interesting, for sure – and followed with Zoë, Wash, and Book at her heels.

* * *

Translations

Hú chĕ: Get out
* * *
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COMMENTS

Friday, January 18, 2008 6:49 AM

MAL4PREZ


So, life brings many changes lately. Mainly, I got recruited into a dance group that'll be performing in New Zealand in March - yes, New Zealand! I'm sooo stoked! I'm also rehearsing 4 nights a week now. Yikes! Lots of time, lots of energy - physical and mental. It's not easy stuff! (If anyone knows modern dance - I'm learning pieces by choreographers Laura Dean and Twyla Tharp. Fantastic, but demanding as hell.)

So, I hope to get Book 2 out in a somewhat timely fashion, but Book 3 will likely be long in coming.

And may I say that the length of this fic is just ridiculous LOL! Thanks for following as long as you have. And be assured - I do have an ending planned. Things will be resolved eventually! It's just this damned crew keeps doing stuff, inserting more little subplots. They won't behave and stick to the outline! :)

Friday, January 18, 2008 10:44 AM

HOMESPUN


Ah, I have already told you at length how emotionally gratifying this latest installment is. So here I'll congratulate you on your dance success! We'll try to get on without Book 3. As for the amazing lengthening fic, I know what you mean, and I only have about 1/8th the number of your work. :) We're always happy to see more.

Saturday, January 19, 2008 5:19 AM

KATESFRIEND


Why would you want to go to New Zealand-aka paradise on Earth-when you could stay in the frozen North and write fic for us? I don't understand...

Hava a wonderful time being creative and inspired and artistic and all. Just be sure to publish your completed chapter outline before you go so we know exactly what's going to happen next AND NOT BE LEFT HANGING!

I loved this chapter and loved how far back you took Mal in his memories. I always wanted to see this part of him, before the war changed him so much. And in light of so many Iraqi vets coming home now so altered, it is very bittersweet. Sigh.

As far as the length of the fic, I don't think it's nearly long enough for all the cans of worms you've opened up along the way and that I'm hoping for resolution. So hurry up and get your creative juices recharged - you have more fic to write!

Saturday, January 19, 2008 11:24 PM

PLATONIST


Congrats on your dancing, what a great experience and opportunity and you get to go to beautiful New Zealand, I guess you'll be writing Tolkien Fanfiction now!

A few questions before you go; Is Mal’s memory loss due to a virus, a drug, an implant, or did having sex with Inara simply blow his mind (no pun intended)?

Is Simon going to fix him, and will Inara ever get to see him alive again?

We’re addicted, please post more!


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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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