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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. Post-BDM. Mal learns about the job, but is unaware someone is looking for him. NEW CHAPTER
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1747 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
“I feel naked,” Freya complained, for at least the fifth time in the last hour.
“You look beautiful,” Mal assured her, walking close beside her.
”No, I don’t.” She glanced down at herself. “This feels wrong.”
Mal hid the smile that wanted to bloom, as he looked her up and down. “It’s fine.” She was wearing one of the dresses Dillon had bought her while she and Mal were quarantined on Persephone, this one a burnt orange with red trim. As suggested, she’d cinched it in with a belt, and it flowed prettily around her knees. “It’s very pretty,” he added quickly at her look.
“I'm getting a breeze where’s there’s no right to be one.”
“At least you’re armed,” he pointed out, nodding towards the black, waist length jacket she’d topped the outfit off with. Hiding underneath, snug against her chest, was her shoulder holster and snub-nosed pistol, a gift from Mal. “If anything, I feel more naked than you.”
“I'm just glad you listened to reason and didn’t try to wear your brown coat.”
He chuckled, tugging briefly on his own grey cord jacket. “You think they might have objected?”
“I think there might have been a riot.” She looked at their surroundings. “Particularly here.”
The main campus of Ariel University looked like something out of an old vid, squatting on the landscape like it did. None of the buildings were more than three storeys tall, and they spread out across several acres.
“It was designed by Ferrinaci,” Simon said as they walked through grounds maintained to within an inch of their life. “He was inspired by the great universities of Earth-that-was, and attempted to make it as conducive to learning as possible.”
“Sure looks out of place here,” Mal responded. “And how come nobody’s smiling?” he added, watching the students hurrying past them, heads down, books clutched to their chests.
Simon’s own lips quirked. “You have an odd idea of the Core, Mal. Not everyone’s happy, not by a long chalk. Otherwise people like Sam wouldn’t be able to make a living.”
“And university can take a lot out of you. There are such high standards to reach and maintain, and if you slip, just once … well, it can bring disgrace to the whole family.”
Mal thought back to his own schooldays in the small building next to the church on Shadow, Mrs Gingrich at the front, trying to force some sort of knowledge into kids who only wanted to be outside. He’d enjoyed learning, more than he sometimes admitted, but sometimes even he had to heed the call of the wind whipping past the windows, or the sun beating down. And playing hooky on days like that made weeding the garden as punishment worth it. “I'm kinda glad I’m uneducated,” he said softly.
“Don’t kid yourself,” Freya said, looping her arm casually through his. “You’ve got more intelligence than most people I know.”
“Nah,” Mal grinned. “Low cunning, that’s about all.”
Simon was glancing behind him. “Is Jayne still with us?”
Mal nodded, not even needing to look. “I told him to keep his distance, but he’ll be there.” He eyed the students again. “Although it’s a good job there seems to be a fashion for camo gear,” he observed. “Otherwise he’d stand out like a sore thumb.”
“Maybe you should have had River come with –“ Freya began, but both men immediately spoke over her.
She narrowed her eyes at them. “It was just a suggestion.”
“It’s bad enough the doc coming with us,” Mal said firmly. “Not having her in any danger too.”
“You think it’s dangerous?” Simon asked, trying hard not to look around to see if there were Feds hiding in the bushes.
“A turn of phrase, Simon. Calm down. And no, I don’t think it’s dangerous, but I'm not putting anyone at unnecessary risk.” He caught the look on Freya’s face. “No more than they are.” He paused at the bottom of the steps leading to the main doors. “Well, here we are.”
Inside the large main hall it was cool and dimly lit, with a huge double staircase winding upwards at the back. A small desk was situated dead centre, illuminated by the sunlight shafting through a glass dome above, and for a single moment Mal wondered if a magician was going to appear and the show was going to start. Exactly the impression the architect had aimed for, he decided. Make everyone in awe and you’ve already won half the battle. He strolled across the marble floor, towards a bored young woman sitting gazing at a screen.
“Morning,” he said, smiling.
She dragged her eyes off whatever she was watching, and gazed at him instead. “Yes?”
“Name’s Reynolds. I’ve got an appointment with Dr Bell. He in?”
The young woman looked him up and down, apparently not too impressed by what she saw, then back to her screen. Tapping at the keyboard with electric blue nails, she didn’t even bother looking round again as she said, “First floor, room 15. You can walk up or there’s an elevator over there.” She pointed into a dark corner.
“Thank you kindly, ma’am,” Mal said, his smile still warm, if unappreciated. Turning back to the others, he nodded. “First floor.”
Heels echoing hollowly in the suddenly empty hall, they walked towards the stairs.
“Their security’s pretty lax,” Simon commented quietly as they started to ascend.
“Not that lax.” Freya nodded towards the small cameras sitting discreetly in each corner and above every door. “There’s not a dead spot anywhere.”
The young man pulled his hat a little lower over his eyes.
Kaylee had been adamant about that.
“You keep that on,” she’d said, placing the trilby firmly on his head. “No knowing who’ll be looking, and I don’t want anyone to recognise you.”
“Of course.” He let her fuss around him as they stood in the cargo bay. Ever since Mal had let slip that he wanted to meet Dr Bell and was going to accompany them, she’d been the same. At least it was better than the arguing.
“And you’re to do what the Cap’n tells you. If he says run, you run. No trying to play heroics.” Kaylee adjusted the collar of his jacket.
“I’ll be careful.”
“And if anyone asks to see your ID, just smile and hand it over. We paid good coin for that, and it should pass inspection.” Her brown eyes were troubled, but she was hiding it well.
“I know.” He saw her mouth open again, and he put his finger across it, stopping her from speaking. “Kaylee, I’ll be fine.”
“I still say you shouldn’t go.” Kaylee brushed an invisible piece of lint off her husband’s jacket. “You just don’t seem to be taking this seriously.” She stepped away from him. “What Theo said, about someone wanting you, you seem to think it’s a joke.”
He shook his head. “Not a joke. Never that. But I can’t live my life hiding my face under a cushion. I tried that, and it didn’t work.”
“I know, but –“
He moved closer to her. “Kaylee, I’ll be sensible. I’ll do whatever Mal tells me. I won’t wander off and follow someone who says he has puppies to play with.” He laughed as she punched him lightly. “I'm a grown man, Kaylee. It’s not like I haven’t been a fugitive before. Still am. Things like that just don’t seem to change. But life goes on.”
“Here we are,” Mal said, interrupting his reverie. “Room 15.”
River sat on the bridge, her feet drawn up on the seat. Caleb was in a small carrycot Jayne had devised on the floor next to her.
“You okay?” Hank asked from behind her.
She turned the chair to look at him. “Trying to think.”
“Oh. Well, if you want I can go away again.”
“No.” A sudden smile flashed across her face. “I’d like the company.”
“Good.” He grinned back and crossed to the co-pilot’s seat, dropping into it and leaning forward, looking into the carrycot. “You know, I’m sincerely hoping that seeing this little one is gonna make Zoe come over all broody again.”
“She will,” River promised. “I see more children.”
“Yeah?” He sat back. “Lots?”
She seemed to count, her fingers dashing over each other for maybe fifteen seconds before she looked at him. “Yes.”
He laughed. “So long as at least one of ‘em’s mine, I’ll be happy.”
“Be happy,” she assured him.
“Okay!” He slapped his hands together. “She’s out picking up those supplies but soon as she gets back, maybe we’ll get started.”
“So what’re you thinking about?” he asked, swinging round to idly scan the dials.
“I’m … not sure.” She bit her lip.
She immediately had his full attention again. “Something bad?”
“I’m not sure,” she repeated, shaking her head. “Caleb is making things woolly.”
“Is he … I mean, if he is –“
“No. Not psychic.”
Hank breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s good.” Then he realised what he’d said. “I mean, as long as you think it’s good. Otherwise I think it’s bad. Unless –“
“It’s good,” River reassured him. “He won’t miss it.”
“Then I'm glad. But how come you’re … woolly?“
“I’m his mother,” she said simply. “He’s part of me. I worry.”
Hank smiled. “I guess. But that doesn’t make me feel any better about what’s troubling you.”
“Nor me,” River agreed. “But I’ll keep trying.”
The door to Room 15 was open a little, swinging silently on well-oiled hinges as Mal knocked. “Dr Bell?”
“Come in, come in. Put it down by the window.”
“Well, I would, sir, but as I don’t have it …”
Mal stepped into the room, trying to find the source of the voice. “My name’s Malcolm Reynolds, sir. I was led to believe you were expecting us.”
A head poked up from behind a wall of books on an ornately-carved wooden desk. “You don’t have the scanner I requested?”
“Damn.” The head disappeared again, and there was a click and a hum. “Dixon, where the hell’s that scanner?”
A disembodied voice floated up. “I told you already, Dr Bell. Dr Jackson’s got it first. As soon as he’s finished we’ll be –“
“That’s not good enough! I have a number of items I need to examine closely, and it’s imperative I have use of that equipment immediately! Jackson’s pet project will just have to wait.”
The man on the other end spoke soothingly, and it was obvious he’d had this conversation a number of times. “Dr Bell, let me speak to Dr Jackson again. Maybe I can persuade him to let you have it for a few hours.”
“A few … I need it for at least a week!”
“That’s the best I can do. But I’ll get back to you.” There was an audible click and the hum ceased.
“Young whippersnapper,” Dr Bell grumbled.
“Uh, sir?” Mal said again.
The head appeared. “What?”
“Sam Nazir said you needed a ship.” Mal decided bluntness was probably more efficient than honey in this case.
Dr Randolph Bell stood up, revealing himself to rival Jayne in height, if not in build. He was thin, his clothes hanging off his frame as if he’d been dieting and hadn’t bothered to buy new attire. According to Simon, he was in his seventies, but that wasn’t obvious, as despite the mass of wild grey hair framing his head, his face was unlined, almost childish in aspect. His eyes, though, peering out from behind small, old-fashioned spectacles, were bright and full of intelligence. “Captain Reynolds?”
Mal smiled. “That’s me.”
Dr Bell came out from behind his desk, holding out his hand. “Do forgive me. Dealing with the bureaucracy in this place tends to make a man occasionally insane.”
“I know the feeling.” They shook, and Mal was surprised at the strength in the older man’s hand. Letting go he nodded towards the others. “This is my wife, Freya.”
“Ma’am.” Dr Bell bowed a little, a twinkle now in those eyes. “If I were a decade or so younger I might be chasing you myself.”
She smiled. “And I think I’d have to run fast, wouldn’t I?”
He chuckled. “I admit I had rather a reputation with the ladies.”
Mal only raised an eyebrow, but said, “And this is Simon Mara. He’s a long-time admirer of yours.”
Simon stepped forward, his own hand out. “Dr Bell, this is a great honour. I've read most of your books, and it’s a privilege to finally meet you.”
Dr Bell smiled, even as Mal hid his own at the gushing by the usually very self-contained young man. “That’s nice to know. Always makes a man feel appreciated when a boy like yourself feels the need to compliment him.”
“My sister and I used to argue about your conclusions all the time.”
Now Dr Bell laughed. “Healthy debate, that’s what I like to see.”
“Yes, well, as amusing as this is to see my medic here get all juiced up, I think we’d better get down to business,” Mal put in quickly. “This job. Sam wasn’t specific as to the task, though, except to say it’s a retrieval.”
“Yes, yes.” Dr Bell moved towards the door. “But shall we go and talk outside? It’s far too nice a day to be hiding away in these dusty rooms.”
Mal glanced at Freya, who nodded very slightly. It certainly didn’t look like this was going to be anything legal, after all.
Jayne leaned against a tree and sighed. Given the quality of his day so far, and the amazingly small likelihood of being able to shoot something any time soon, he was bored. He’d spent a few minutes successfully creeping out a group of students until they moved away, but that was just small time.
Still, there were the two girls over by the fountain, watching him. Pretty admiring glances, too, he noted. He stood a little straighter. Just ‘cause he had a kid, and was married to a woman who’d render him soprano if he even considered being with anyone else - not that he would - didn’t mean he couldn’t appreciate being looked at. In a casual, entirely non-sexual kind of way.
Made a change from trying to figure out how to make the Cap’s party a surprise.
A flash of orange at the front doors made him take notice again as Mal, Freya and Simon stepped out into the sunshine, a tall, skinny man at their side. “Heads up,” he murmured to himself, his hand resting nonchalantly on his hip, close to the gun stuck into the back of his pants.
Dr Bell led the way towards a circle of concrete seats, with no bushes or trees too close for anyone to hide behind. He sat down and indicated the others should join him.
“Doctor, much as I appreciate the fresh air -” Mal began.
“It’s just a precaution,” Dr Bell insisted. “Walls have been known to have ears.”
“You’d be amazed. Please, sit, sit.”
Mal reluctantly did as he was asked, nevertheless seeing Jayne lurking out of the corner of his eye. “Dr Bell, can we get down to business?”
Finally satisfied, the old man nodded. “Sam says you’re trustworthy.”
“You’ve known Sam a long time?”
“A number of years. He treated my wife.” Dr Bell half-smiled. “And I notice you didn’t answer my question.”
“Never realised you’d asked one.” Mal leaned forward. “So just what is this item you want us to retrieve?”
Dr Bell gazed at him, as if he was coming to a decision. Eventually he lifted his chin. “Do you know Aegis?”
Mal nodded. “Third moon of Lian Juinn. Just outside the orbit of Londinium.”
“There’s a rock temple, and information has just come into my possession that tells of something hidden there so precious as to be … well, priceless.” He adjusted his glasses. “It was brought from Earth-that-was, and may well be several thousand years old.” His eyes glittered with avarice behind the steel frames.
Freya spoke. “So why hasn’t anyone found it before?”
“The temple has been studied for years, but my information leads me to believe, however, there is a secret chamber, unknown to anyone.”
“What about traps? Deadfalls?” Simon asked, his face eager. He looked at Mal. “Secret chambers are meant to be just that - secret. The builders would create elaborate and usually fatal snares for anyone trying to break in and rob it.”
“My information shows all of them, and how to avoid them,” Dr Bell said quickly. “That’s why I’m offering you this rather handsome amount to get it for me. It will offset any danger you might -”
“Whoa, there, doc. You saying you’re not coming with us?”
Dr Bell shook his head regretfully. “I’m afraid that isn’t possible. I have classes to teach, papers to grade … and my health just won’t allow it. I don’t travel anywhere nowadays.” He fumbled at his pocket and pulled out a pill bottle, flicking the top open with his thumb and shaking two small pink tablets into his palm. Tossing them into his mouth he swallowed, sliding the bottle back, but not before Simon had got a quick look at the label.
Mal was about to complain but felt Freya’s hand on his. Instead he said, “Okay. I understand that. But I think this means we should get a little extra payment, don’t you? If it’s as dangerous as my friend here suggests, and as valuable as you say, I conjure you can go a mite higher.”
Dr Bell glared at Mal, then nodded slowly. “I can go another hundred. But that’s it.”
“Two hundred and fifty,” Freya put in, surprising them all. “In advance.”
Mal managed to resist staring at her by a hair. “As my wife says. An extra two hundred and fifty.”
The professor scowled at her, taking in the pretty dress, the sandals, then really looking at her face. There was steel in those brown eyes, as well as understanding. “Two hundred and fifty,” he reluctantly agreed. Glancing around first, making sure no-one was watching, he dragged an envelope from inside his waistcoat. “I assumed you’d prefer cash.”
“You assumed right.” Mal checked inside before tucking it into his own jacket. Frey was right. Two hundred and fifty extra. “And the information we need?”
Bell held out a data tab. “It’s all on there. Maps, instructions, including a description of the piece.”
“Good.” Mal stood up. “And we deliver it back here to you?”
“No, no!” Bell said urgently, climbing to his feet. “Not here.” Again he glared about. “I have a place, by the ocean. The address is on the tab. Meet me there and I’ll give you the rest of your money.” Now the deal was sealed he seemed embarrassed, anxious to get away. “Good day, captain,” he said, shaking hands quickly and hurrying off.
Mal looked at Freya. “How did you -”
“He knew as soon as he told you about the job you’d ask for more. He was just trying to get away with as little as possible.” She looked slightly abashed. “It was at the forefront of his mind.”
“Why, that miserable, cheap -”
Freya laughed. “What, did you think all people in the Core were honest and law-abiding?”
Mal smiled. “No. But it kinda makes me like ‘em a bit more.” They began to walk back towards where they’d parked the old mule, picking up their shadow on the way. “So, is he paranoid?” Mal asked Simon. “’Cause he sure as hell seemed like it.”
The young man shrugged. “It’s a cut-throat world in academia,” he admitted. “Well, not necessarily actually … although I do recall an incident I heard about once over a particular translation … but usually there’s no blood spilled.”
“Sounds like civilisation is anything but, Simon.”
“Occasionally it has its excitement.” He shook his head. “Still, he isn’t wrong about being too sick to travel. He’s taking Phynotriaxin.” The others looked at him blankly. “It’s an experimental drug - at least it didn’t have full Elect approval when I was at the hospital.”
“What does it do?” Mal asked.
“Stops a man’s body ingesting itself.”
“It what?” Jayne exclaimed.
“You saw how Dr Bell was so ill? His clothes?”
“He was thin, surely,” Mal said, getting uncomfortable.
“Did you notice the colour of his eyes? The whites were very white, almost bluish, while his fingernails were thick, grooved? I’d say he has Kobe Syndrome.”
“Is it contagious?” Mal glanced at Freya, wishing he hadn’t brought her now.
“No. It’s genetic, almost exclusively confined to inhabitants of the northern continent of Sihnon.” He took off his hat to run his fingers through his dark hair. “Fortunately for them, many of the families affected have a great deal of money and influence, so a cure is being sought quite actively.” Placing the trilby back on his head, he went on, “It causes the body to, well, turn on. All the fat-burning cells work all the time, and a patient literally starves to death even as he gorges.”
“Treatable?” Freya asked.
“Controllable. If the drugs don’t kill you first. Although I’ve heard good things about Phynotriaxin.”
“Well, let’s hope he stays alive long enough to take delivery and pay us our due,” Mal put in.
“We haven’t got it yet, though,” Freya commented. “And I get the feeling it’s not going to be as easy as it sounds.”
“They were on Ariel.”
“A few hours ago.”
“Get us there.”
“Calm down. They’ve booked a slot back in three days.”
“Can we get there in time?”
“It’ll be a push.”
“Try. Burn out the rutting engines, I don't care. Just get us there.”
to be continued
Friday, March 21, 2008 4:38 AM
Friday, March 21, 2008 5:40 AM
Friday, March 21, 2008 11:33 AM
Saturday, March 22, 2008 2:42 PM
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