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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
"Inara plays a careful game in search of the truth. Paul Rinkman is subjected to several methods in an attempt to extract what he knows and Simon contacts his father."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1985 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: Zoe/Wash. Kaylee/Simon.
STATUS: Sequel to "LAYERS".
ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where.
WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at Fireflyfans.net
SUMMARY: "Inara plays a careful game in search of the truth.
Paul Rinkman is subjected to several methods in an attempt to
extract what he knows and Simon contacts his father."
The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly'
are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.
No infringement of copyright is intended.
Written by Alison M. DOBELL
* * * * *
Margueritte Santana was no longer a Companion though she had remained with the Guild longer than Nandi, Carolina and Carlita. Her road, unlike Nandi's, had not involved staying in the same profession but outside the Guild. She was no whore, at least not in the sense of selling her body for money, position or favour. Some were the dedicated believers like her friend Inara but others used their Companion skills to gain access to information and power or to wield it through those they contracted to have sex with. Margueritte was used to all the permutations of her former craft and was not above using her skills when needs demanded.
For the last ten years she had been freelance, a term her friends assumed was a polite word for whoring without the backing or protection of the Guild. How wrong they were. How simple their lives were in comparrison to her own and yet Margueritte - the passionate, hot blooded and fiery tempered former jewel in the Guild crown - did not envy them. Neither did she pity them for clinging to the falsehoods of a system that pandered to the excesses of the Alliance. It was not their fault nor their blindness but the deep invasive teachings of the Guild, the genteel distractions of learning every subject deemed useful and necessary to augment their own position in the totem pole of their Houses. It was a finishing school of the most accomplished kind, creating a veneer of respectablility that turned many a harsh preformed opinion into surprised acceptance. The Guild had the best PR team in the 'verse but they also kept fingers in every pie, eyes and ears in places both High and Low and all parts imbetween. Even isolated from them Margueritte was not so foolish as to imagine she was no longer on their radar. And now. After all her careful work and attention to detail a problem was arising though it was one she had been expecting and was ready for.
The polite knock on her door put her on notice to end her wool gathering. Straightening her bodice, Margueritte made sure her dress hung correctly, the creases where she had been sitting brushed out as she came to her feet and faced the door. "*Qing jin*!"
Her aide Edmundo opened the door and politely inclined his head towards his Mistress but did not announce her guest. Inara Serra swept passed him with a tremulous smile on her face that even at twenty paces Margueritte knew hid a flood of barely contained emotion. *Zhe zhen shi ge kuai le de jin zhan*. She had hoped that Inara would be showing more composure than this but then, given the news she had been given, it would have been surprising to see her calm at such a time. Immediately, Margueritte became the perfect concerned host and friend. "Oh Inara, I've missed you, *mei mei*."
Inara, for her part, did not have to pretend the emotional roller coaster that seeing her dearest friend in the flesh after all this time produced. As the two women embraced, Inara let the tears fall that would hide a multitude of sins and hoped that her fears about her friend would prove unfounded. Remembering the House Mistress's advice Inara kept to the script. "*Wode duibuqi* for not coming sooner but..." She broke off and took a moment to compose herself.
The show of emotion pricked Margueritte's gentle heart. No matter how necessary the deception had been she had to keep reminding herself that more important things were at stake than hurt feelings. At least the lie had brought the desired effect and Inara was no longer tied to that ship of doom. It made her task both easier and harder but at least now there would be no emotional distractions. "You have nothing to apologise for, *bao bei*. I only regret that I was the one who had to tell you such tragic news."
It was the perfect lead-in. The opening Inara had been waiting for yet she did not take it. Mistress Barbette's advice was still ringing in her ears. Too eagerly embracing the chance to pump her friend for information would undo the image she was projecting and might arouse suspicion. She must let Margueritte do the explaining in her own time. Be the passive recipient, too traumatised with grief to do more than accept whatever her friend told her. "I can't believe it, Margueritte! And to think I stayed on that ship all this time not knowing..."
"Hush, Inara." Margueritte engulfed her friend in her arms, rocking and trying to soothe her as she cried. "You weren't to know, *mei mei*."
Inara pulled back. "I knew he could be callous, harsh even, but never thought he could be so cruel, Maggie."
It was tempting for Margueritte to tell her the truth, to ease her friend's obvious distress but that could backfire and send Inara running back to Serenity before destiny had run its' course. The use of Inara's childhood name for her made her swallow and inwardly recite over and over again the mantra that had kept her sane and strong for these last few years. "You must not dwell on it, Inara. The past is past."
"How can you speak so calmly? It was murder! Cold blooded and without excuse. I saw the wave you sent, Maggie. The War was over!" She cried out, the last sentence seeming to take the last of her voice with it, her eyes wide with horror. Margueritte did not know that the betrayal she saw mirrored there was her own and not that of Malcolm Reynolds. If the plan worked she would have time enough to lay many ghosts to rest afterwards and then throw herself on the mercy of Buddha, for she did not expect her friend to allow her such largesse.
"Come," said Margueritte tightly "you need to rest, then we will eat and discuss this further."
Inara nodded. Compliant in a way she had never been before. Relieved that her friend was not hysterical with grief, Margueritte led Inara out of her study and towards the formal dining room while inwardly her mind raced with all that still remained to be done.
"I told you, I don't KNOW anythin'! How many more times do I have to tell you?"
The Operative was maddeningly calm, his voice mild and pitched conversationally as if they were doing no more than passing the time of day. The torture chamber belied his words. "Until I believe you."
Rinkman closed his eyes, the sweat running down his face. He was in a truly ancient looking device but appearances were deceiving. Hundreds of years ago a similar contraption had been used throughout what had been called The Dark Ages back on Earth-that-Was to extract confessions and information from those reluctant to talk. The rack had been made of wood but this one was of metal, the mechanical operation replaced by a computer able to target the application of pain much more efficiently. Stretched out at he was, Paul could find no ease, no escape from the slow inexorable torment of being torn limb from limb. The Operative watched him without emotion, a tiny flicker of frustration on his face. There was a popping sound, Paul cried out in pain and anguish and the Operative stopped the machine. The man's left shoulder had been pulled out of its' socket. With just a press of a button the right shoulder would follow suit but the button was not pressed,
"Why do you defy me? You must know that certain death can be your only reward?"
Crying, Paul ignored the tears running down his face. The veins standing out on his neck as he strained to form words. "I can't tell you what I don't know, *dong ma*?"
The Operative gave him a thoughtful look then indicated for Rinkman to be removed from the rack. The man passed out almost immediately and passing the officer who had released him, the Operative manouevred the unconscious man until he could apply the correct pressure and manipulation to jerk the shoulder joint back in place. The officer raised his eyebrows, surprised that the Operative would bother. Ignoring the look the Operative gave a new command. "It is time for the serum. If pain will not loosen his tongue perhaps that will."
Simon was nervous but determined. Oddly enough River was calm, serene even. It put Simon more on edge than if she had been throwing an hysterical tantrum. There was something very wrong with his little sister quietly accepting what he was having such a problem coming to terms with. Crawling back to his father was the last thing he ever wanted to do.
"It isn't *ruo*, Simon. The wisdom of experience is knowing when to bend and when to stand firm."
"My father said he wouldn't come for me again, *mei mei*."
River nodded. "*Wo dong* and he will too."
"Will he?" Simon was frowning, his introspective thoughts much darker than a simple yes or no. "What if he turns us in, River?"
She shook her head, this time adamant. "He won't."
"*Weishenme bu*? How can you be so certain?"
For a moment River just looked at him, a dozen emotions morphing one into the other on her face like a light show on canvas. "He's sorry but he can't say the words." She said quietly.
He wanted to scoff but the words wouldn't form without threatening to choke him. He wanted so much to believe her. Longed to be able to see his parents without being afraid. And now the well being of another lay in his hands, in his ability to not let the past rule the present. To go beyond the bad feeling between himself and his father and reach out. River touched his arm, her small hand so tiny yet so strong. Her eyes pleading and offering him a glimpse of something he could not let himself want except that he knew his sister wanted it too. "I'd better get ready."
River watched him go then jogged up the stairs to the bridge. Wash had the co-ordinates for the Tam Estate but River knew the best place to land Serenity once inside the grounds. Zoe had wanted to go down in the shuttle but River had been insistant. Her parents would not turn them in. It was safe. Or as safe as anywhere in the 'verse could be.
"What d'you bleedin' want?"
He was screaming himself hoarse, not that anyone was gorram listening. Badger hated the cell he was in. The open side controlled only by an invisible forcefield giving the illusion of escape without the possibility of it coming true. It was driving him *shenjingbing* and turning his fear into anger. He had no idea how long he had been there and no one bothered to bring food or water or even come to sneer at his incarceration. Must be hours at least but nothing altered. With no windows and no change in the artificial lighting it was hard to keep track of the passage of time.
Badger stopped pacing and sat on the floor, shoulders slumping. All the swagger drained out of him as his worry deepened. What in the nine hells did they want with him? And why had most of his contacts met swift and violent deaths? The two things had to be connected and it was terrifying the gorram life out of him. Added to that his mother knew and wasn't that a turn up for the books in the unlikely department? What twisted little plot was unfolding and what did his dear and deadly mother have to do with it? What puzzled him most of all wasn't the fear that she was involved up to her shiny neck but that she had taken the trouble to warn him. Not soon enough but still. It was more than he would have expected and that raised his level of fear off the chart.
The look on Gabriel Tam's face was almost worth all the worry and soul searching that Simon had done before making the decision to contact his parents. Although he could not see his mother with his father blocking the doorway, Simon could hear her excited response and fought to keep a smile off his lips. His father opened and closed his mouth but nothing came out. After the third fish impression Simon began to worry that his father was going to refuse to let them in, instead something glinted suspiciously in the corner of his eye before Gabriel Tam found his voice.
"*Dang ran*, Simon, this is your home. It always has been and it always will be. As for the way we parted," his father paused, a brief haunted look coming into his eyes "I haven't slept well since. It's good to see you, *erzi*."
His mother managed to elbow in front of his father, her face a wreath of tear stained smiles as she threw the door open. "Oh Simon, you don't know how happy you've made us! We've been so worried, *xin gan*. We didn't know whether to laugh or cry when we got your wave. I kept praying it wasn't going to turn out to be some cruel joke."
Then she was hugging him and Simon felt tears prick his eyes, not realising how much he had missed her until that moment of reunion. He could hear River babbling excitedly to their father but detected a wariness in her joy that put him on alert that as well as things were going the past still hung over their heads like a veritable sword of Damocles. Carefully he extracted himself from his mother's embrace and gave her a reassuring smile as Regan reached out a shaky hair and brushed back a lock of his hair. It was growing long but for once she didn't berate him on not tending to his appearance, too grateful to have him home to start finding fault.
His father cleared his throat and watched River and Regan hugging each other and crying, his eyes narrowing slightly over their heads as he mentally replayed Simon's wave hours before they landed. "This favour you need..."
Regan had sharp ears for all that she was crying with joy as she hugged her daughter. "Gabriel, don't start."
"I wasn't but Simon had something he needed to ask."
Before Simon could answer his mother wiped the tears from her face and began to herd her children towards the kitchen. "Where are your manners? Let's go into the kitchen and have something to eat and drink, then you can tell us all about it."
Simon wished he could fast forward to the part where he needed their assistance to get treatment for the Captain but knew he couldn't afford to rush things. First he needed to feel his way, make certain that he could rely on his father and mother to support their decision. As they walked through to the kitchen it occurred to Simon to wonder where the servants were. He could only recall a couple of times in his whole life when his mother had actually made their meals or a hot drink herself but the hustle and bustle of being home chased it from his mind. Laughter coming unexpectedly to his lips as River recalled childhood memories and had both his parents joining in bringing a bemused smile to his lips. It felt odd. Home and not-home. Alien and familiar. As the front door shut behind them Simon prayed they were doing the right thing.
They talked long into the night, Inara letting her emotions run riot so that Margueritte could comfort and console her. Slowly allowing control to seep back in. Her friend exuded genuine warmth and concern but there was also a subtle distance that troubled Inara. What did it mean? When it became obvious that Margueritte would not open up to her Inara decided to ask some tentative questions.
"How did you come by the information, Maggie?"
Her friend did not answer right away and Inara wondered whether an excuse would pop out of her mouth and almost showed her surprise when it did not. "Through a contact."
That was not an answer she expected. "*Wo bu dong*, what contact?"
While she had been calming Inara down Margueritte had mentally reviewed her position. Knew that opening up would be dangerous but Inara was her childhood friend and as they had been talking through the night she deemed it was now safe to speak out. Whatever Inara did now would not affect the outcome. "Someone I trusted."
Inara frowned, picking up on the past tense. "What do you mean, trusted?"
"I have since learnt that the information I passed on to you was not what it seemed."
Inara's heart began to speed up. She knew it! Margueritte had been duped too.
"You must understand, *wode pengyou*, that the footage was a great and terrible shock. Knowing that you were on the same ship as Malcolm Reynolds threw me into a quandry. What should I do? To tell or not tell? Yet I feared what might become of you on that ship and knowing what I thought I knew my conscience would not allow me to keep quiet."
"Are you telling me the wave was a mistake?"
"Not in the way you might think, Inara. I'm saying that someone manipulated the footage to show what you were meant to see. To jump to a terrible conclusion and act accordingly."
"The man I saw was definitely Malcolm Reynolds and I would recognise my brother anywhere."
Margueritte nodded and looked away for a moment. "I fear that what you saw was taken from different pieces of film, Inara."
"Who killed my brother if not Malcolm Reynolds?"
Slowly her friend turned her head and looked her in the eye, her expression as serious as Inara had ever seen it. If Margueritte were acting she deserved the highest accolade for her performance. "I do not believe he is dead."
For a long time neither spoke. Inara staring at Margueritte as if she had been turned to stone. Margueritte leaned forward and patted Inara's hand, "*Duibuqi*, Inara. It must have been a terrible shock to you and I can only apologise for my part in it. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?"
"Who gave you the footage, Maggie?"
Margueritte shook her head, a look of regret on her face. "I can't tell you, Inara." When Inara opened her mouth to protest Margueritte held her hand up. "No, don't ask me because I will not be able to break that confidence."
A very real anger began to seethe through the Companion. "*Weishenme bu*? What possible reason could you have for protecting the person responsible for this dreadful ruse?"
"If I told you that you would never speak to me again."
Inara sprang to her feet, her face flushed with fury but her eyes turning a deadly cold. "What makes you think I will forgive you if you do not?"
"You must do what you must do, Inara." Said her friend sadly.
"How can you not want me to know? What possible reason could..." Inara's voice trailed off and a look of slow dawning horror stole across her face. "Oh no, you set me up didn't you?"
"*Bu qu*, I would never do that."
"No," said Inara in an emotionless tone, her voice flat and almost lifeless "you set up Captain Reynolds."
"It isn't what you think."
Fury flashed in her eyes. "Then what is it, Maggie? *Qing*, tell me, I am curious to
know how far thirty pieces of silver will take you."
"I did not betray anyone, Inara."
"Tell me the truth and I might believe you."
Margueritte looked at her sadly but said no more. Her silence was answer enough to Inara even though the knowing of it broke her heart.
He was so weary and in so much pain that if he had been offered a firing squad Paul Rinkman would have gladly paid for the bullets but fate was never so kind. Soaked in sweat and splattered with blood he was barely conscious, his mind rolling about inside his head like a marble in a barrel. No connection to the sides and unable to stop. Who would have thought he would end up the epitomy of the notion of perpetual motion? The slap to the face never registered, his head snapping back at the force of the blow but it was hard to feel the difference in a world made up of meaningless images propelling through his senses too quickly for him to gain the slightest grip on equilibrium. He had been sick more times than he could count, the serum producing long rambling monologues that meant nothing.
The Operative was frustrated and disgusted. Not with Rinkman but with himself for allowing his irritation to show. Not that the man knew. Straightening up he turned to the doctor. "I was led to understand that this was a truth serum?"
The man nodded. "It is, sir."
"He has said nothing but gibberish."
The doctor nodded, his look thoughtful. "We got to him too late."
Frowning, the Operative took a step closer. "What do you mean?"
"The only possible reason for this reaction is if someone got to him first and already extracted everything from his memory."
"They left an idiot in his place."
The doctor shook his head. "*Bu qu, shifu*. They wiped his mind and then planted simple linear memories. False but just enough to give a semblance of normalacy. Not enough to inform or allow him to make more than the most basic of decisions."
The Operative glanced at Rinkman. He was sitting upright in a chair, his arms and legs bound to it, his head lolling to one side as if none of the muscles in his body worked any more. The blood was a smattering only, no real physical damage. The harm was to his mind not his body and the poor man did not have sense enough to know it. "Why bother leaving any kind of memories at all?"
"They needed to make sure we would take the bait."
"If he had been too obviously tampered with we might have realised there was nothing to extract and killed him outright."
"We still might take that option."
"It would be the most logical next step."
Something in the doctor's normally emotionless tone caught the Operative's attention. "You do not think we should kill him?"
"It is not my decision to make, sir."
"But if it were?"
The doctor hesitated. When he finally spoke the words came out reluctantly as if he was afraid of swapping places with their victim if the words displeased the Parliamentary Operative. "I would wonder why someone would go so far, sir." He paused and whet his lips, an unconscious gesture indicating the strain he was under. "I therefore suspect that whoever did this to him hopes to retrieve the subject at a later date."
"It seems a lot of trouble to go to for someone with nothing in his head."
"Unless..." The doctor trailed off, unwilling to continue. His expression was fleeting but clearly indicated that he thought he had already said too much.
"You have been a good and loyal supporter of the cause." The Operative said mildly, his quiet polite voice sending chills down the doctor's spine. "I would be most disappointed in any sudden fall from grace."
Swallowing heavily the doctor managed to get his heart to beat slowly enough to allow him to speak without running out of air. "It is purely supposition, of course."
"Of course," murmured the Operative encouragingly.
"He may mean something to whoever did this. Extracting the information but wanting to cause no permanent harm to the mind or psyche, the idea possibly being to reintegrate what was taken back into the subject once he had been retrieved and was deemed safe again."
"Who do you think is behind this?"
"*Wo bu dong*."
"They must know that we are just as likely to kill him."
"Yes, sir, but the risk is not theirs."
The doctor looked pointedly at Paul Rinkman drawing the Operative's eye to the man in the chair. It was obvious that Rinkman had passed out. For a long moment no one spoke then the Operative gave the doctor an assessing look. "Perhaps we should give them what they want."
The doctor stared at him. Slowly a shadow of a smile flickered over the Operative's face. A smile completely devoid of humour.
"He will be followed, discreetly of course."
"And if no one comes for him?"
The Operative shrugged. "Accidents happen all the time."
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*qing jin* = come in *zhe zhen shi ge kuai de jin zhan* = blessing on you, dear sister
*mei mei* = little sister *wode duibuqi* = I'm sorry *bao bei* = precious/treasure
*dong ma* = understand? *ruo* = weak *wo dong* = I understand
*weishenme bu* = why not? *shenjingbing* = crazy *dang ran* = of course
*erzi* = son *xin gan* = sweetheart *wo bu dong* = I don't understand
*wode pengyou* = my friend *duibuqi* = sorry *bu qu* - no (lit. no go)
*qing* = please *shifu* = sir *shenme* = what *wobu dong* = I don't know
Monday, July 7, 2008 6:19 PM
Tuesday, July 8, 2008 5:51 AM
Tuesday, July 8, 2008 7:04 AM
Wednesday, July 9, 2008 5:20 AM
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