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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
"Inara returns to Serenity and while Cyan Barbette panics over the fate of her son Inara is more concerned about a certain Firefly Captain."
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1692 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
TITLE: "ACCEPTABLE LOSSES"
AUTHOR: Alison M. DOBELL
PAIRING: Zoe/Wash. Kaylee/Simon. Mal/Inara.
STATUS: Sequel to "PLAYING WITH FIRE".
ARCHIVE: Yes. Just let me know where.
WEBSITE: None. All Firefly stories archived at Fireflyfans.net
SUMMARY: "Inara returns to Serenity and while Cyan Barbette
panics over the fate of her son Inara is more concerned about a
certain Firefly Captain."
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
* * * * *
The master control room was heavily shielded and had more failsafes on it than the central economic repository that the Alliance had hidden on Ita Moon. Not that you could find it without very specific instructions, your own individual air supply, and access to the deepest drop elevator in existence. Add to that the knowledge of some very heavily encrypted codes and a DNA and retinal scan to confirm identity and access clearance. Even those with legitimate access didn't always gain entry. Authorisation changed from day to day, sometimes hour to hour. Then there was this surveillance control room. Situated in an isolated pocket of nowhere, inside a specially terraformed piece of rock called A-24870. It had once been an asteroid and with the use of some very advanced technology still looked and acted like one except for one salient fact. It was no longer in an asteroid field.
Marty Carlson and Ivan de la Ware had the donkey shift, so called because they ended up with the bulk of the workload. While the black of space was all around them their own time keeping mechanisms aligned the monotony of space with the time on Osiris. They worked, ate, slept according to the arbitary increments of time. The changeover complete, Marty watched the night crew leave their little piece of rock and knew he and Ivan would be alone in the deep black for the next 12 hours. It was often mind numbingly boring but he didn't mind. Marty was a collector. Information and technology his drug of choice. By contrast Ivan just worked here. He didn't get a kick out of it and had learnt early on that what they saw, recorded and sent to High Command never got mentioned off this rock.
The latest batch of vid feeds were a mixed bunch but viewed as part of the overall surveillance strategy disturbing correlations were making Marty less than thrilled. The trouble was this was one of those occupations you didn't retire from. The Alliance was beyond paranoid and sometimes with good reason. The biggest bully in the 'verse wasn't above torturing and disposing of its' own if they proved too curious or troublesome. So you didn't talk, pretended you had gone blind and deaf until you were well away from the facility and then you embraced the mundane with all the fervour of a drowning man reaching for a life jacket. Marty wasn't afraid of the brass but he was wary. Smart enough to know that his own expertise and intelligence had backfired on him. Now, recruited into upgrading and monitoring the whole high tech system he found himself torn. He liked knowing things as much as the next man, probably more, but what the Alliance were doing with the information sickened him.
"*Wei*, Marty! You asleep over there?"
Marty shook himself out of his reverie. It wouldn't do for Ivan to get suspicious. Any deviation in an operator's demeanour or efficiency had to be reported to High Command and Ivan would report him as soon as pour him a coffee and not think anything untoward about his actions. It was his job. End of story. But Marty had another story, one being woven with all the intricacy of a new and elaborate piece of technology. "*Bu qu, wo hen mang*. Just wonderin' how to give the external feeds a little boost."
His colleague laughed. "You tweak this stuff any more an' it'll become ruttin' sentient."
Marty said nothing as they lapsed into the familiar. Over the last few months Marty had been working on fitting another networking system inside the existing one. A ghost system that wouldn't show up no matter how hard anyone looked for it. It was complicated and sensitive but nothing he could not handle. His only fly in the ointment was Ivan because when he made his move he could leave nothing behind. This had to work first time and sadly he couldn't trust Ivan to keep his mouth shut if he let him in on what he was doing. The stakes were too high and Marty had invested too much time and effort into his plan to allow sentiment to derail it. He waited until Ivan got up to refill his mug, watching him turn his back as he walked over to the coffee machine. Marty had rigged it up to take one single command, the system would act as if there was a fault and from there on it would have a cascade effect before overloading. When the system blew Ivan was thrown back, his mug shattered in his hand. Marty watched the shards of pottery spin, some flying back towards Ivan's hand and burying into his palm startling a cry.
The explosion was controlled at the inception, the outer systems taking the main damage, the progression intended to give Marty the chance to get away before everything else was destroyed. He saw Ivan turn, his eyes wide and full of fear, his mouth flapping with horror as he tried to grasp what the *diyu* was happening. Marty didn't move, made no attempt to reassure him, but watched dispassionately as if he were running a simulatation. Clinical interest only, no emotion invested. Everything around him happening in slow motion giving him all the time in the 'verse to make sure it went like clockwork. Marty quickly unbuttoned his shirt and tore stips off his work trousers, then put on his hazmat jacket and raised the hood just in time to protect himself from shattering glass and panels, bits of metal flying through the air as if they'd been shredded, showers of sparks, fires breaking out, the high keening terror in Ivan's voice lost among the flying shrapnel.
Marty crouched down on the floor and covered himself with the jacket. It was large and big enough to allow him to crouch under and protect his body. Ivan had no such protection and no idea that he would be needing it. The spit and hiss of his body burning and popping as he screamed made Marty glad he could no longer witness the inevitable. He waited until the concussion abated into a cold dark silence, every panel and system in the place fried including the hapless Ivan. Slowly Marty stood up, a hanky over his nose and mouth, his eyes watering from the smoke and stench of burnt flesh and smoking circuits. Marty knew he didn't have much time before the Alliance sent a team of soldiers and technicians over to find out what the *guai* had happened. It would be the first thing they did.
Staggering upright, Marty put a hand in his mouth as he slowly turned around. Not so much noting the damage or being horrified at what he had wrought as judging whether he had done enough. His fingers fiddled with a loose tooth. It was an incisor and he had been working on it for weeks to get it loose enough that with one hard tug he could pull it out. His eyes smarted with pain as the tooth came away, bloody but whole. Marty dropped it to the floor along with strips of his clothing which he made sure landed on smouldering units so that the cloth would burn but not enough to completely be destroyed. After all, he had to leave enough trace behind to convince the brass that he had died with Ivan. A terrible accident. Nobody's fault. He was hoping to use the enquiry that would follow to cover his escape. Misdirection of the most necessary kind. He could no longer work for these people and he knew they would never let him leave. He knew too much. Had too much expertise to be allowed to live his life without the Alliance controlling every second of it. And he had finally had enough.
The Alliance had used him. Blue Sun funded his research. Now that he had seen how far and invasive the surveillance was and what they were using it for he no longer wanted any part of it. He still loved seeking out information, extracting secrets from the unlikeliest corners of the 'verse, but his vague stirring of conscience was beyond sickened. Bad enough that they had him sterilised he was also unable to go out into the real world, meet people and form relationships like even the lowliest of people on the Rim planets could do. Never in his life had he envied them before. The high life he was able to afford meant little when he could not invite a pretty girl back to share it with him, or gather interested groups around him with tall tales that had more in common with the truth than any of them could ever guess. The sterilisation looked more like spite than a necessary measure but the Alliance took no chances. The watchers being watched just as keenly as those they spied upon. That was all going to end and with his freedom restored the system he had created for them would vanish as well.
Wiping a hand across his face Marty turned and looked for the knife he had hidden in the top drawer of his desk. It wouldn't open. The desk was metal and had melted. Frustrated he rumaged first through his pockets then through what was left of Ivan's. He tried to avert his eyes so he wouldn't have nightmares about the state of the man he had shared bad jokes, bad breath and body odour with for the last eight months. The crews never lasted long but the wise ones hung on, knowing it was a one way engagement. Some niavely thought that the Alliance would never harm their own but Marty was the one who watched the feeds. Recorded and sent them on to his bosses, the faceless bureaucrats and too powerful political and military mandarins who ruined lives at the stroke of a pen. Finally his fumbling fingers found Ivan's knife. It was the folding kind. It took a couple of attempts to open it, his hands shaking so badly but knowing he didn't have time to give in to the shock. Bracing himself, Marty slashed the blade along his arm and muffled a cry, his eyes smarting. Again and again until the cloth on his sleeve was soaked red, then he ripped the sleeve off and dropped it, making sure he smeared his blood on the console and seat where he had been at the controls.
One more careful look then Marty rose to his feet, picked up the small box he kept with him when he huddled under the jacket and let himself out. Once in the narrow hallway he burst into a run and got to the docking area. Panting, he paused to catch his breath then turned to the little grey box, punched in a code and let it scan his iris. The box whirred quietly and it opened in the middle exposing a more complex control panel inside. There was nothing else. Marty carefully input a long code then typed in a command. He watched the light blink from red to green and sighed with relief. All he had to do now was wait for his ride and hope it came before the first wave of Alliance marines descended.
"She's cryin', why's that?"
Shepherd Book had tried to console and reassure River but she ignored him so he turned his attention to the groggy Captain. "All children cry."
The Captain blinked. "No child of mine cries, Shepherd. Least not like that."
River felt something swell inside. A warming of a heart that had been cold too long. The glow of belonging. Not that the Captain noticed, he was fighting to stay conscious, his eyelids too heavy to stay open. The Shepherd talking softly now, his voice soothing as he encouraged the injured man to let sleep take him. Just as it looked as if he had succeeded the Captain's eyes jerked open and his breath stalled. Alarmed, Book moved alongside the bed and put a hand on the Captain's shoulder, hoping to ground the man in reality.
"*Rongyi* Captain, everything's alright."
The Shepherd nodded. "*Qu*."
"Thought I heard cryin'?"
River wiped her eyes but didn't say anything. The Captain was flagging again, his eyelids drooping. Book patted his arm and murmured for him to go back to sleep just as Simon came into the infirmary, Kaylee no more than a half step behind him. He quickly checked on the Captain and found him sleeping again but frowned at the raised heart rate.
"He woke for a moment or too. Was a mite disorientated." Book explained.
That was when Simon noticed his sister looked upset. "*Mei mei, ni hao ma*?"
"I'm not the one screaming, Simon."
"*Shenme*? Who's screaming?"
She looked up slowly, her eyes sad and slowly returning to focus on where she was. "Gone now."
"River, are you feeling alright? You look upset."
"Not my tears."
Simon gently wiped the tears from her face. She stared at his wet palm then looked up into his eyes.
"Not mine. Sympathy. Empathy. Gone now."
He wanted to ask her what she meant when Kaylee spoke. She was standing beside the Captain's bed, one hand tugging at the edge of the sheet. "Cap'n don't look so good Simon, why don't he look so good? You said he was gettin' better."
Shepherd Book gave Kaylee a gentle smile. "He was badly injured Kaylee but he will recover, *dong ma*?"
She stared at him then looked at Simon for confirmation. The doctor nodded. "It just takes time, *bao bei*."
The endearment brightened her mood a moment until she glanced at River then back down to the Captain. The bruises had darkened and one side of Mal's face was a mite distended where it was swollen. The bandages on his wrists were stained with blood and would need changing and she hadn't been able to speak to him or hear his Captain-y voice telling her everything was going to be alright. Oddly enough, even when they were up to their ears in *shen goushi* with the purplebellies on their tail his reassurances were all she needed to knuckle right back down and concentrate on keeping Serenity flying. With the Captain silent it didn't feel right, her world was off kilter and she didn't like it.
Zoe poked her head through the infirmary door. "Gotta wave from 'nara."
Kaylee's head jerked up. "Inara's here?"
"Not yet but soon. Seems she didn't need rescuin' after all."
Book frowned a little. "She didn't?"
Before Zoe could respond Simon spoke. "That's a good thing, *dui*?"
"Depends on if she's alone."
Kaylee's eyebrows rose in alarm. Simon opened his mouth to query her comment but found himself staring at empty space. The first mate was gone. Shepherd Book gave Simon a nod and excused himself, Kaylee hurrying in the Preacher's wake. Simon was tempted to go after them but his patient was not out of the woods yet. Giving a little sigh he continued his medical checks, one eye on his sister, the other on his most frequent and troublesome patient. It was probably a perversion, but he found that he missed the Captain's prickly banter. To see him so silent and the worse for wear felt all manner of wrong. A tug on his sleeve caused Simon to look round and find his sister staring at him, her eyes wide and unblinking.
"Need to scrub up, Simon."
He smiled. "I'm not dirty, *mei mei*."
"*Bu qu*. Another patient."
She shook her head. "Have to hurry - *mashang*."
A slight metallic shudder told them that the shuttle had docked. Puzzled by his sister's words but knowing better than to waste time questioning her Simon soaped up and began to scrub his hands. Better to be prepared just in case his genius mind reading sister was right.
Rosenbaum listened to the wave in silence, letting the General finish before saying anything. "You found nothing at all?"
General Frost shook his head. "Nothing but small shards of metal and what could be bone. Scattered over more than a mile of terrain."
"I want samples taken." Frost nodded and Rosenbaum knew it had already been done. The General anticipating that when information was scarce you hunted for whatever scraps you could find, even if it was microscopic. The Minister of Internal Affairs leaned forward. "There must be some trace of the control device."
Frost shook his head. "It must have been destroyed, *shifu*. We've combed the area inch by inch, scanned it with every piece of equipment we possess. *Yiwusuoyou*."
"Very well. Extend the search parameters and question everyone you find. You know what to do to clense the area when you have finished."
A tight nod confirmed that Frost understood his orders only too well. Jacob Rosenbaum leaned back in his chair and spent a few minutes deep in thought. Rousing himself he activated his com and waited for his aide to knock on the door. "*Qing jin*."
The lean young man who stepped into his office was tall, just over six foot, and had just turned forty though to look at him he could have been in his mid-twenties. Rosenbaum always thought of him as a boy but when you looked into those solemn grey eyes you realised the illusion of youth was just that. Those eyes had seen and lived through more in his forty years than most men went through in a lifetime. And Jacob Rosenbaum had been the architect of most of it. "Sir?"
"Inform the good doctors to proceed to the next phase with our 'guest'."
The man did not blink. A quick nod and he was gone, the door whispering shut behind him as if unwilling to draw attention to itself. Rosenbaum gave a cold twisted little smile as his mind raced over various possibilities, determined to dig out whatever tiny fragment of information Niyan Shair had hidden in that devious little mind of his. Little, because not much of it was left still functioning. His smile thinned into nothing, no trace of remorse or regret evident. There was something he was missing, he was sure of it, but who was hiding the information he sought? Not for one moment did he think the control device had been destroyed. He knew not only what it was made of but who had crafted the sphere and nothing short of activating the self destruct could unmake that devil's device. He knew Shair had no connection to the device but the man was hiding something and in his current mood he was willing to burst every blood vessel in his body and reduce him to a lacklustre pulp to get it. If nothing else it would redirect his frustration at the current impasse. After all. Everyone needed a hobby.
Mistress Barbette found herself drawn to the commotion on the catwalk. Before she could ask what was going on Jayne and Shepherd Book pushed passed her from the direction of the second shuttle carrying a limp form between them. Inara Serra appeared soon after with Kaylee hanging on the Companion's arm and actually impeding her progress, so happy was she to see her friend again.
"*Zenme hui shi*?"
Inara looked flustered then stopped dead in her tracks when she saw Mistress Barbette. Her mouth opened and closed but no sound came out. Concerned, Kaylee took a step back the better to look at her friend. "Inara? You okay?"
The Companion ignored Kaylee, her eyes fixed on Mistress Barbette. "It's Badger... your son."
A look of alarm washed over her face. "Stephen?"
Inara nodded. "Don't ask me what happened to him because I don't know. After I escaped from House Kermos and got to the shuttle, I was taking off when I realised I wasn't alone."
"Are you saying Stephen was in the shuttle?"
"*Qu*. Before I could ask him any questions he collapsed. I got here as soon as I could."
The House Mother turned and practically ran towards the infirmary. Inara sighed and turned her head to look at Kaylee when she realised the girl was still clinging to her arm. "Kaylee..."
"Why'd they stop you leavin', 'Nara? What's goin' on?"
"*Wo bu zhidao, mei mei* but I intend to find out."
As ever it was the voice he recognised first.
"Are you *shenjingbing*? What do you think you're doing here? You have to go, get away, if they catch you..."
The smile was as old and familiar as time. It brought heart aching comfort even as he feared the cost "Yes, it is *weixian*." The deep voice rumbled, the sound resonating with every cell of his body. Warming his memory even as he worried. "But how could I leave you here, old friend?"
Shair's eyebrows rose in disbelief, followed closely by alarm. Bad enough to be incarcerated himself without his childhood friend following him all the way to damnation. "*Qing*, you can't be thinkin'..."
Again he was cut off. "No, no." Book soothed. "I'm not here to break you out."
Niyan Shair frowned a little at that. His muzzy brain wasn't functioning too well but that didn't sound quite right. If he hadn't come to rescue him why was he here? Or had the Alliance bully boys caught up with Book too? Was the best friend he had ever known about to pay for that fact with his life? Shair couldn't speak, emotion robbed him of words and his sluggish thoughts had difficulty finding the words he wanted to say. For a long time neither man spoke, the two friends lost in their memories, enjoying the brief reunion despite the circumstances. Niyan felt peace and calm fill him with a quiet almost ethereal rapture. He ascribed the other worldy sensation to the presence of his friend. The calm becoming so profound it gave him a sense of equanimity. His torture and predicament momentarily forgotten.
He rose to his feet awkwardly, shuffling forward in his chains until he was close enough to kneel before Shepherd Book. Shair had never been a religious man but he had never mocked the faith of others. Now he was ready, willing to embrace the concept in a way he had never done in life. Niyan bent his shaven head and lost himself in a ritual newly learnt. "Forgive me father for I have sinned."
Book's rich deep chuckle was soft with apology not humour. "*Bu qu*, old friend. It is you who must forgive me."
The blow was mercifully swift and deadly accurate. The Shepherd knelt to cradle the body as it pitched forward and allowed himself a moment of luxury to hold close his childhood friend for the last time. Carefully he half lifted and half eased the limp body back onto the wooden shelf the guards laughingly called a bed. The slim mattress and paper thin blanket and sheet did not matter any more. Shair was beyond feeling anything now. Book arranged the body in repose, pausing to pray over the dead man and administer the last rites. He had lied to Shair when he said he hadn't come to break him out. In a way he had gone one better for now at least one of them would forever be free.
In the observation room the technicians watched the doctors' actions with a dispassionate eye. Niyan Shair was not in a cell but strapped to a table. The drugs in his system robbing him of reality while his memories were skillfully manipulated by the doctors in the room. Yet Rosenbaum was not happy with the result. The illusion of using Book to hear Shair's last confession had revealed no secrets, no information useful to the Alliance. Nothing but words of regret for a path taken that could not be undone. The man would not regain consciousness for hours. Irritated, the Minister instructed the doctors to take him back to his cell. He would give Shair time for the drugs to work their way out of his system then try again. Sooner or later they would find the correct trigger to unravel whatever was most precious to the man. Then he would take him apart piece by piece.
Mistress Barbette was beside herself with distress. Simon was calm and patient with her, his words pitched to reassure as best he could while his mind raced to come up with answers. "I need to run some tests, *dong ma*? Find out what drug was administered to him."
The House Mistress was hanging on to one of Badger's hands so tightly he wondered that she did not cut off his circulation. Inara watched the startling outpouring of emotion and for a moment did not notice the infirmary's other patient. When Simon launched into an explanation for Cyan, Inara turned her head and noticed the Captain and gasped in shock. Hurrying over to his bedside she had to fight back the threat of tears, one hand going up to her mouth to hold back a cry. Then Kaylee was there, her warm hand gripping Inara's, half the words spilling out of the young mechanic's mouth lost as the Companion stared in shock at the sorry state of Malcolm Reynolds.
"What the *diyu* happened to Mal?"
"It was Burnt Cross, 'Nara. Simon said there was Alliance sympathisers there an' some of 'em took a dislike to the Cap'n an' him. Called up some other folk who took 'em away. Was gonna sell Simon..." Kaylee had to break off as her voice hitched on his name. She swallowed slowly to get herself back under control for her friend. This time it was Inara who squeezed her hand. "They was beaten up, 'Nara. Mostly the Cap'n but Simon got punched a time or two as well."
The Companion dropped into the chair beside the bed before her legs gave way, Simon and Mistress Barbette's voices a distant murmur that barely registered. All her attention on the Captain. "*Weishenme*? Why would anyone want to hurt them?"
"They didn't wanna hurt Simon too much on account of they was sellin' him. Reckon for that Alliance reward but there wasn't no reward for the Cap'n so..." She swallowed hard and forced herself to go on. "Simon says they was just playin' with him, hurtin' him for fun an' such."
Inara closed her eyes, a couple of tears squeezing out of her closed lids and rolling down her cheeks. Kaylee pushed her own upset to one side and hugged her friend. "He's been given blood an' Simon sewed him back up."
Kaylee waved a hand at the sleeping Captain. "His wounds had reopened, that's why he lost so much blood."
"*Renci de Fozu*." Inara let go of Kaylee's hand and reached out to gently touch the unswollen side of the Captain's face then notifced his heavily bandaged hands. The Companion gently lifted the hand nearest to her and cradled it in her own as if she needed that physical contact to reassure herself that despite what had been done to him he was still alive. It hurt to see him like this especially as he had gone to Burnt Cross with Simon to recover while everyone else headed off into danger. It was as if Serenity's Captain was a lightening rod for trouble.
Vaguely Inara grew aware of Simon shooing everyone but her out of the infirmary. Kaylee gave her a hug and left. Zoe had a quiet word with Simon then coaxed Mistress Barbette to leave and let the doctor do what he could for her son. Wash hung about on the catwalk, wanting to know what was happening but not wanting to get in the way. Jayne looked like he wanted to kill someone but allowed the Shepherd to set up the weight bench then spot him. Natalie and Paul exchanged sorrowful looks then followed Zoe and the others to the common room. Kaylee put the kettle on and tried to hide how much her hands were shaking, hoping she hadn't spilt more water than she put in the kettle. No one noticed. An air of depression hung over them all, silence locking each and every one of them in their own dire speculations. When River joined them it took a moment for Kaylee to even notice. Her bare feet made no sound and it was only when River pried Kaylee's hand off the kettle and pulled her over to sit on a chair that the mechanic acknowledged her friend.
"It ain't fair." She wailed softly, her words meant for River but clearly heard by everyone in the room.
Zoe's lips soured, her words bitter. "Alliance don't care 'bout who they tread on, Kaylee. Should know that by now."
Wash took the seat next to his wife, his expression puzzled. "Yeah, but why would anyone wanna poison Badger?" Seeing the look on Zoe's face, Wash flicked his eyes towards Mistress Barbette and back again. "I mean, I know he rubs everyone up the wrong way, *bao bei*, but it's like the Alliance've got some kind of vendetta against him."
The House Mistress raised her head, her expression anguised but thoughtful. "Maybe they have."
Wash looked surprised that she was agreeing with him. He honestly hadn't been expecting any reaction. "They have?"
"Not now, *zhangfu*."
Mistress Barbette's look sharpened. "I think you're exactly right. What I want to know is who stands most to gain by destroying my son."
No one answered. As the silence widened like an overflowing pool, Natalie looked across the table and locked eyes with River. Watching their faces, Paul had the sinking and disturbing feeling that the two readers knew.
CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)
*wei* = hey! *bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wo hen mang* = I'm busy *diyu* = hell
*guai* = devil/ghost *rongyi* = easy *qu* = yes (lit. go) *mei mei* = little sister
*ni hao ma*? = how are you? *shenme* = what *dong ma* = understand?
*bao bei* = precious/treasure *shen goushi* = deep crap/dog shit *dui* = correct
*mashang* = at once/on the double/immediately *shifu* = sir *yiwusuoyou* = nothing
*qing jin* = come in *zenme hui shi* = what's the matter? *shenjingbing* = crazy
*wo bu zhidao* = I don't know *weixian* = dangerous *qing* = please
*weishenme* = why *Renci de Fozu* = merciful Buddha *zhangfu* = husband
Sunday, February 22, 2009 4:25 PM
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