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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. Post-BDM. After an unwelcome intrusion into the pre-wedding party, Jolene makes a decision, and something else comes to light. NEW CHAPTER
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1741 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
“Jayne, River,” Mal ordered, and the big man and his wife ran outside to make sure they weren’t going to be interrupted by anyone else, guns and other weapons at the ready.
Dan Jefferson pushed his way through the crowd. “Trouble just seems to follow you around, doesn’t it?” he commented.
“You have no idea.”
Simon went down onto his knees next to the fallen man, feeling for a pulse in his neck, his free hand checking for other injuries as the Sheriff dropped to his heels beside him.
The young man looked up, a hint of surprise on his face. “He’s dead.”
“Any idea how?”
“Not a clue. I can’t see any blood, and there’s no broken bones so far, but … help me turn him over.”
“Okay.” Jefferson threaded his hands under the body, and between them they rolled him carefully onto his back.
Staring eyes greeted them, wide and bulging, the skin taut over the planes of the skull, and sporting an unnatural redness that contrasted with the faint blue tint to his lips. His clothes, while originally expensive and probably made to measure, were now a mere shadow of their former selves, torn and encrusted with dried mud.
Jayne and River came back inside. “No-one out there, Mal. Looks like he might’ve walked in from the desert, ‘cause there’s no vehicle in sight.”
“That would explain the sunburn,” Simon murmured, and Jefferson nodded.
“Got any better reason why he’s dead, though?” the Sheriff asked.
Simon looked back down at the body. “Without an autopsy it would be difficult to –“
Running experienced hands over the corpse, Simon detected no internal damage, nor bullet holes, stab wounds … “There’s borderline malnutrition, and possibly severe sunstroke due to dehydration … no pitichial haemorrhaging, so I doubt he was suffocated or strangled –“
“Since he walked … well, staggered in here under his own steam, I kinda doubt that too,” Jefferson said dryly.
Simon fixed him with his blue eyes. “You asked for my opinion, Sheriff.”
“’Cause you seem to be the closest we got to a doc in these parts, least at the moment. And since we’re bonding over a dead man, I think you’d better call me Dan.”
“And you’re right. I did ask for your opinion. Go on.”
Returning to the body, Simon carried on. “From the colour of his lips, the texture of his skin, and the way his hand is clawed like that, I’d probably have to say it was a heart attack.”
Dan Jefferson raised his eyebrows. “Natural causes?”
“Unless it can be proved differently. Of course, if you want a second opinion, or –“
“No, no, don’t want to be cutting on a man, even a dead one, unless we’ve got some reason to think he’s been murdered.” Dan leaned forwards, closing the unnerving eyes, then moved round on his heels to look at the rest of the party goers, who – unlike Serenity’s crew – were gathered as far away from the body as possible. “Anyone know him?”
There was general shaking of heads and murmurs, all negative.
Then Jason Gilford stepped forward, and coughed slightly. “I … might. The way he looks now … well, if it is him, he didn’t look like that then. But something like three or four weeks ago a man came into my store, bought a load of supplies. Said he was going camping in the desert, needed to stock up. I told him he was feng dian, ‘cause our desert don’t look kindly on fools, but he was insistent.”
“How did he pay?”
“Give a name?”
Dan faced the body again, and started to go through what remained of the pockets. After only a few moments he grunted, then stood upright. He had one of the new IDent cards in his hand, and Mal felt a frisson of surprise. This was the second time he’d come across one of those in only a few months. The dead man must’ve had money. Or connections.
Dan held the card to the light. “Looks like we might be finding out who the deceased is after all.” He activated the chip and his eyebrows raised. “Well, maybe someone must be wanting to know where he is after all. According to this, his name’s Ephraim Ingleby. Appears he’s a curator at the Ariel Museum of Antiquities.” He looked around the crowd again, but all the faces were surprised but nothing more. “Well, I’ll have to contact the Alliance, let ‘em know we’ve found him, and they can decide what to do with the body.”
Judge Jefferson moved into the empty space. “You sure it’s natural? Wouldn’t want to be telling ‘em one thing and then finding out we’d misread it.”
Dan glanced at Simon, who climbed to his feet.
“I could do some tests, see if he’s been poisoned,” the young man offered, “but I stand by my original diagnosis. More than likely just a heart attack. If he worked at the Museum, he’s unlikely to have been used to hard labour, and from the state of his clothes I’d say that’s what he’d been doing. A sedentary lifestyle, too much rich food, add into that unaccustomed physical exercise … and we don’t know how long he’d been walking.”
The Judge looked satisfied. “Fine. Dan, do what you have to. Terry, Brian, you take this man down to the undertaker’s office. He’s the only one can keep him on ice until we find out what we’re supposed to do with him, but I wouldn’t mind betting we’ll end up burying him, and pay for the privilege. If he came out here prospecting, not only was he crazy, but I doubt there was anyone at home trying to stop him. Likely he’s got no close relatives.”
“But Judge –“ Terry began.
“But nothing. You do like I say. Just ‘cause this ain't a courtroom, don’t mean you can stand around lollygagging.”
The two men detailed to remove the corpse glanced at each other, but walked forward. With great reluctance that bordered on revulsion, they picked Ingleby up by his shoulders and feet, and manoeuvred out of the door. It swung to with a click after them.
“Is that what you think he was doing, Judge?” Mal asked. “Prospecting?”
“Don’t see another reason,” the elder Jefferson said. “We’ve got the mines, a’course, and it ain't the first time some fool’s believed he knows where there’s a new vein. Have to say, though, ain't never had a Core man do it.”
“This is crazy,” Jolene muttered. “First Matty gets bound, now a dead man falls into my party …” She wrapped her arms around herself. “Maybe it’s a sign. Maybe I shouldn’t be getting married at all.”
Deirdra, standing next to her, moved closer. “Now, you don’t mean that. It’s just a coincidence, is all.”
“Coincidence?” She whirled on her friend. “I don’t believe in coincidences like that! Something’s saying if we go on this way it’ll be one of my friends or family that’s lying on the undertaker’s slab!”
Matty, hearing her voice clearly in the quiet, started towards her. “Jo, you ain’t making sense. It’s not –“
“Me not making sense?” Her eyes were full of fire. “You spent all day yesterday working off a debt, and you talk about me not making sense?”
“Calm down,” he pleaded. “You know you don’t wanna call off the wedding. Not after all the hard work you’ve –“
That was obviously the wrong thing to say. “I do! I do wanna call off the wedding!” She waved her arms at the crowd. “And you can all go home. This ain't a party no more, it’s a wake, and I ain't having this!”
There was mutterings, and not a few echoes of nervous laughter, but nobody moved.
“You heard me!” she said, getting more and more agitated. “Go home!”
“Jolene.” Matty tried once more. “Please. Let’s just talk about this.”
Her face took on an obstinate look that made his heart sink. “No. Done talking. Everybody leave, right now.”
“I think it would be better if we made this another day, don’t you?” Freya said, her voice cutting across the murmur behind them, her gun put back into its place, out of sight. “Deirdra, can you and Carmen deal with the food? It would be a shame to waste it.”
The two friends nodded firmly. “A’course we can. No problem,” Carmen said. “I got a big enough freezer for most of it.”
“I’ll take the rest,” Deirdra offered.
“Come on, Katie,” Carmen added. “You and Zach can give us a hand.” She picked up a platter of sandwiches in each hand.
A boy in his early teens did the same. “Sure thing, Auntie Carmen,” he said, his open face showing a willingness to help.
Katie rolled her eyes at her brother, but grabbed two jugs of fruit juice and stomped towards the back entrance. Deirdra followed, her arms also full.
As the door closed behind them, Freya went on, “If everyone else would just head on home, I'm sure things will soon be back to normal.” She stood to one side, smiling in a friendly fashion, but no-one was in any doubt she was quite serious.
Mal couldn’t help the curve to his lips, feeling a certain amount of smug pride that it was his wife taking charge.
Judge Jefferson was the first to move. “Quite right. Better we reconvene this another time. Come on, girls.” He swept out, his wife and daughters at his heels, twittering and chirping behind him like a flock of brightly coloured birds.
The rest followed suit, until only the crew, Matty, Dan Jefferson and Jolene were left.
“And I pretty much think this is my cue to skedaddle,” Dan said, straightening his jacket. “You folks ain't leaving any time soon, are you?”
“Not yet,” Mal said. “We’re still booked for the wedding. If it goes ahead,” he added quickly, seeing Jolene’s glare focus on him. “Although why you’re still wanting the pleasure of our company is a mite cloudy to me.”
Dan smiled. “I got the feeling this isn’t over. And if I need someone to blame, you’re likely candidates.” He chuckled and strode out.
“You know, maybe you should leave,” Matty suggested quietly to his brother. “I don’t want you getting into trouble.”
The corner of Jayne’s mouth lifted. “It ain’t like it’s the first time.”
“Yes, but –”
“We ain’t going nowhere, Matty. Not leaving you to have to deal with things if we run out. And I’m best man – I can’t go.”
Matty had to grin, and the thought flashed across his mind that he might have missed out on this, having someone like Jayne to lean on if he’d given in to his first impulse that day and just shot him. He turned to his erstwhile fiancée, quickly wiping the smile from his face. “Honey?” he began somewhat diffidently. “Are you feeling better now?”
She glared at him. “No, I'm not.”
River touched Jayne’s arm, and he nodded, saying quickly, “Matty, you wanna give the girls a hand with that food? Otherwise they’re gonna be marching backwards and forwards with it all day.”
“I don’t –“
“Matty, you pick up something right now, or we’ll be finishing that fight we started a while back. ‘Sides, I’ll be right there with you so they won’t be able to pick on you.”
“Fine, fine.” The younger Cobb gave in, grabbing a handful of small sausages which he thrust into his mouth before carrying the platters out, adjusting his opinion about shooting his brother.
Jayne grinned, growled a laugh as if he knew exactly what Matty was thinking, and followed, a small keg of beer under each arm.
“Now,” Freya said, her voice calming, gentle. “Jolene, you, River, Zoe and me are gonna all go back to the house, and we’re going to sit down with a cup of tea, and you’re going to relax.”
“I don’t need to relax.”
“Oh, I think you do.” She wound her arm through Jolene’s, River taking the other side. “And I, for one, could do with a sit down. I'm getting too old for this kinda thing.”
Between them the two women steered the bride-to-be out, Zoe falling in step and trying hard not to grin.
“She ain't too old for anything,” Mal muttered, then turned to the others. “We’d best head back to Serenity. I think that Sheriff was joking about making us take the blame for whatever happens next, but I can’t help feeling he ain’t wrong about this not being over yet.” He took a deep breath. “’Sides, if the Alliance come calling for the body, I’d like to be a better distance from here.”
“Amen to that,” Simon agreed.
“Wait a minute.” Kaylee was looking around the room. “Where’s Hope?”
“What?” Simon stared at her, then at the small huddle of children by the empty fireplace.
“She was … I …” Feeling her heart beginning to pound, Kaylee started searching, pulling out the chairs against the wall, leaving them to tumble where they fell.
“Do you think she left with everyone else?” Simon’s face had paled.
“We’ll go check,” Hank began, glancing at Mal, who wished fervently that his two Readers hadn’t just walked out. He glanced at Bethie, about to ask her where her sister was, and why she didn’t seem to be worried, when he was interrupted.
“Momma?” A little voice, high and tremulous, sounded from under the erstwhile gift table.
Kaylee fell to her knees, ignoring her burgeoning belly, and lifted the curtain of white linen. There, amongst the boxes knocked from above, sat Hope, clutching her knees to herself, her face pale, her body trembling. “Oh, baby.” Kaylee reached out, and the little Tam scrambled into her embrace.
“Ben was getting food,” she explained, tears running down her cheeks. “I was waiting.”
Kaylee hugged her tightly. “I shoulda known. You’re always doing that.” She blinked hard, then looked into her daughter’s face and smiled. “’Spect you’re still hungry, too, ain't you?”
Hope sniffed, wiping her nose with the back of her hand. “Little bit.”
“I am too, Momma,” Bethie said. “And Ethan. And Jesse. And –“
“Okay, we get that,” Mal interjected. “I think maybe some food might not be a bad idea either. For all of us. In fact time we all went,” he added, and led the way out into the hot sunshine.
“Bao bei, give her to me,” Simon said, holding out his hands.
Reluctantly Kaylee handed her over, aware that in her current condition she wasn’t the best person to be carrying her. Simon lifted Hope onto his hip, and she snuggled into his shoulder, feeling safer, neither of them noticing the little girl had something clasped tightly in her hand.
As Jayne walked up the stairs towards the kitchen, he could hear the murmur of voices. Reaching the doorway he could see Mal leaning on the counter, coffee in his hand, while Simon, Kaylee and Hank were sitting at the table, the remains of a scratch meal in front of them. The children were in the alcove, Fiddler at their feet and Maoli stretched out along the top of one of the easy chairs.
“I'm fine, Simon. Don’t fuss.” Kaylee reached out and picked up another bread roll, munching happily on it.
“Well, you certainly seem to have got your appetite back.”
“Must be River’s potion. It just seems so long since I’ve been able to look at food without feeling the urge to chuck it all back up again.” She looked up and saw Jayne stepping into the galley. “Everything squared away?”
“Yep. That Carmen made something of a pass at me, but I declined.”
“Good thing too. One dead body a day is enough.” She shivered slightly, but didn’t stop eating.
Jayne walked around the counter and poured himself a mug of coffee. “The girls not back yet?”
“Not so far,” Mal said, watching his ex-mercenary as he headed for his seat. “I don’t doubt Jolene’s pouring out all her troubles to the receptive ears of our wives as we speak.” His eyes narrowed slightly. “Although the fact that Matty ain’t with you is something of a worry.”
Jayne chuckled. “He decided he really wanted to be married, and went round to talk some sense into Jolene, and damn the traditions.”
“She won’t see him,” Kaylee pointed out. “Not the way she was talking.”
“Then he’s gonna camp outside. When Matty gets something into his head, there ain’t enough dynamite in the world to shift it.”
“It seems all the Cobbs are the same, then,” Hank noted, a grin on his face.
“Pretty much. We want something, we go for it.”
“And that’s caused most of the trouble you’ve ever found yourself in.” Mal pushed himself away from the counter, then noticed the children were engrossed in something shiny on the table. “What’ve you got there?” he asked, smiling at them.
Hope picked it up quickly and thrust it into her pocket. “Nothing, Uncle Mal,” she said, turning big innocent eyes on him.
“Nothing, eh?” He crossed to the alcove. “Then why won’t you show me?”
“It’s just … nothing.” She tried a smile, but she wasn’t as good at dissembling as her older sister, and she started to squirm under his gaze.
Mal put his cup down on the table and went down onto his heels. “Hope, I’m not cross. No-one is. But if it’s something you shouldn’t have, then –“
“I found it!” she blurted out, then went pink.
“Don’t you think you’d better let me see it? Just so’s I can make sure it’s all right?”
“No.” She crossed her arms tightly, her face set in a stubborn look Mal recognised from certain other Tams.
“Hope.” Simon had stood up. “Whatever it is, give it to Mal.”
“No!” She looked like she was going to cry.
Ben leaned over and whispered in her ear, holding out his hand. She glared at him, but then sighed heavily and pulled something from her pocket. She placed it into his palm.
“Here, Uncle Mal,” the little boy said.
“Thank you, Ben.” Mal took it, and his eyebrows raised. “Hope, where did you get this?”
“Found it.” Now she’d been forced to give it up, the little girl was sullen and unresponsive.
Mal got to his feet, still staring at the object.
“Mal?” Simon moved closer. His breath hitched. “My God. Is that what I think it is?”
“Cap’n?” Kaylee was trying to see without having to lever herself out of her chair, and Hank was already pushing his chair back.
“What’s going on?” Jayne wanted to know.
“Not entirely sure,” Mal admitted, crossing to the big table. Reaching out he placed a coin in the centre of the old wood. About two inches across, the side facing up had the design of an eagle on it, wings spread, as if about to leap off and attack.
“Wow,” Kaylee breathed, intoxicated by its gleam.
“Seconded.” Hank leaned forward. “Is that … gold?”
“Sure as hell looks like it.” Mal sat down, resting his chin on his crossed arms, staring at the coin.
“Hope, honey, where did you get it from?” Simon asked, glancing at his youngest daughter.
The little girl sniffed. “I found it. S’mine.”
“Where we were. After that man …” She stopped, her hand reaching out for Ben, who took it and held on tightly. “He dropped it.”
“Ingleby?” Mal looked over. “Today?”
He shook his head. “Maybe the man did find something after all,” he said softly, turning back.
As they all stared at the coin, Bethie felt Ethan’s eyes on her. She looked at him, raising her chin in defiance. She knew what he was telling her, that she had to show them the other one, the one from Uncle Jayne’s box. But that was hers. Uncle Jayne gave it to her.
Ethan mouthed something, and although she tried to ignore it, she knew what he’d said. Have to.
With a sigh dragged deep from the soles of her shoes, she slid from the chair and ran out of the galley towards the stairs.
“It kinda looks familiar,” Jayne was saying.
“If it is gold,” Hank hefted it in his fingers, feeling the weight before placing it carefully back down, “I’d say you’ve got an affinity for it.”
“We all have,” Mal agreed. “Kinda makes life run a bit smoother if you’ve got any.”
“It just don’t look like much.” Kaylee leaned forward as far as she could. “I mean, it’s pretty n’all, but it kinda reminds me more of that chocolate money covered in foil we got once in a while.”
“You had that too?” Simon looked at his wife in surprise. “We always used to get some on holidays, birthdays, that sort of thing.”
“Christmas.” Kaylee absently patted her belly, her face taking on a dreamlike expression as she remembered. “A little bag, right at the bottom of the stocking, just when you thought it was all gone and ... there it was.”
“We had pillowcases.”
“Figures,” Jayne muttered, but the other two ignored him.
“I used to keep the foil,” Kaylee went on. “I’d cut out circles of wood, make ‘em back into coins.” She smiled. “Took ‘em to the store once, tried to buy ... I think it was a do-it-yourself necklace kit. They called my Dad, and he had to come get me. Seem to recall him paying for the kit himself, then explaining about real money.” Shaking her head slightly, she added, “Always had to be making something. Or fixing it.”
Simon put his hand on hers. “You haven’t changed, bao bei.”
She looked at him with adoration in her eyes.
Mal coughed. “Well, as sweet as this is – and I’m planning on throwing up pretty much immediately – it ain’t getting us any closer to finding out where Ingleby found this. Or if there’s any more.”
“You think there might be?” Hank asked.
“Might be.” He looked up at Jayne. “Could you track Ingleby back to where he came from? Out in the desert, I mean.”
“I doubt it, Mal,” the big man had to admit. “There’s a dry wind out there, and it’s like to have blown away any sign by now. And it ain’t rained in a month of Sundays, so there’s not gonna be any wet prints or such.”
“And we don’t even know the direction he came from.”
“Oh well. Looks like maybe this is the only –“ He froze as a small hand reached over the edge of the table and placed an identical coin next to the first. “Bethie?” He looked down at her.
“S’mine,” the little girl said quickly. “But it looks the same.”
“Where in the hell did ...” He stopped, then lifted Bethie onto his knee. “Short stub, where’d this come from?”
“Uncle Jayne’s box.” She began to fiddle with his suspender. “It was wedged in the corner, and I thought it was pirate treasure.” She looked up into his blue eyes. “Did I do wrong?”
“Bethie, you’re wasting some perfectly good puppy dog on me, ‘cause no, you didn’t.”
She sighed in relief. “Good.”
Mal turned his cobalt gaze onto his ex-mercenary instead. “But it does kinda leave the question open as to where he got it from. Jayne? You got any light you wanna shed on this development?”
Jayne had been staring at the two coins, wondering if that blow to the head had made him develop double vision. At Mal’s query he lifted his head. “Uh ... no?”
“Not the answer I was looking for there.”
“I don’t rutting know, Mal!” he began to bluster, then wilted slightly from his captain’s glare. “Honestly, I ain’t got any idea. I said the other one’d looked familiar, so that’s prob’ly why. But I don’t know where I got it. Hell, Mal, it was thirty years ago since I looked in that damn box last!”
“What’s going on?”
Everyone turned to see Freya standing in the doorway.
“How’s Jolene?” Mal asked in turn.
“Wondering whether she’s doing the right thing in marrying Matty, and he’s trying to persuade her she is, while Zoe and River are playing referee. I said I’d come back and let everyone know.” She stepped down into the kitchen. “And you didn’t answer my question.”
“Well, it’s a mite complicated.”
She sat down next to him. “I’ve got time.”
to be continued
Thursday, February 5, 2009 8:05 AM
Thursday, February 5, 2009 1:41 PM
Thursday, February 5, 2009 2:57 PM
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