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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. Post-BDM. Zoe and the pre-election public meeting ... NEW CHAPTER
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1765 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
”Ladies, it’s time.” Cromwell stood in the open doorway, something of a smirk on his face. “I hope you’ve all made friends, because I have to say, I don’t like the look of the crowd outside.”
Sarah Cordell snorted. “They can’t be as bad as the last lot.”
The smirk became something nastier. “I wouldn’t like to say.”
Zoe stood up. “Better get this over with.” She patted her pocket. Inside was the script, in River’s very best handwriting, since she’d announced Simon’s was like trying to read an inebriated snail. It was logical, coherent, and totally without any jokes – Freya had seen to that, having to battle hard against Mal and Jayne in the process.
Mercy nodded, getting to her feet. “They’re not bad folk, Zoe,” she said in a low aside. “Just … unenlightened.”
“Are they likely to get enlightened?”
“By election day?” Mercy chuckled. “I doubt it.”
“Then we’d better see what we can do.” Zoe smiled and wrapped the other woman’s arm over hers.
Startled, Mercy stiffened for a moment, then relaxed. “Yes. Let’s.”
Zoe noticed, but didn’t comment on, the look that passed between Sarah and Bea, while Polly merely tutted.
They all followed Cromwell down the maze of corridors again, ending up outside a green baize covered door.
“Stay together,” the man instructed. “I will introduce you, then you come onto the stage and sit down.”
“Just like before,” Bea said. “Just get on with it.”
Cromwell glared at her, then led the way into the backstage area. He stepped through the curtains and they heard his voice. “Good citizens of Jericho Wells, please take your seats. We are about to begin.”
There was the sound of feet stomping on wooden floor, chairs being pulled into position, then relative silence, broken only by the odd cough and sniff.
Cromwell spoke again. “This is the last but one meeting to enable you to put your questions to the candidates for campaigner for women’s rights. The last will be held the night before the election, so if you haven’t made up your mind by that time, make sure you attend.” He paused. “If we’re ready … the first nominee is Paulette Adams.”
Polly pulled her dress straight and stepped up onto the stage. There was some desultory clapping which soon faded away.
“Next is Sarah Cordell.”
The same thing occurred, although the clapping was slightly longer and louder. He quickly introduced Mercy, then Bea, but only the former got any more appreciation.
“And finally, we have a fifth candidate. I know this is the first time you’ll have been able to interrogate her, so make sure you have some hard questions. An off-worlder come to show us how it’s done, Zoe Mills.”
Zoe stepped up onto the stage, wondering if she shouldn’t bow or curtsey after that decidedly lukewarm introduction, but she decided sarcasm of her own wasn’t an answer to his, and just sat down next to Bea. She looked around the audience, easily seeing Mal and Freya about five rows back, Jayne on the outside of them. They looked expectant, and she felt her tension ease a little. Freya nodded at her, and she had to suppress a grin. The psychic had probably read her mind.
Her eyes settled on Hank, right at the front. He was smiling slightly, that oddly worried one he used when he was afraid perhaps he’d done something wrong and she was going to be mad with him. Not your fault, baby, she thought, trying to make him understand. I blame River.
Freya coughed suddenly, covering what sounded suspiciously like a laugh.
“Damn,” Mal muttered.
Don’t tell me, he heard without benefit of using his ears. You seeing Zoe in that dress has made you change your mind and you want her now and not me.
Absolutely. He moved his foot quickly out of the way before she could squash his toes. “I just ain’t used to seeing her like that,” he said softly. “All … feminine.”
“In those boots?”
Mal shrugged slightly. “True.” His lips twitched. “But there are some people who like that kind of thing.”
“Reckon they pay extra,” Jayne put in.
Cromwell hadn’t quite finished. “As usual you will have the opportunity to ask any of our candidates questions, then they will put their case as to why they think you should vote for them.” He stepped back, his hand up, indicating the ladies sitting behind him. “First of all, your questions for Paulette.”
“That ain't the way things should be done,” Jayne grumbled. “Ain’t that the wrong way round?”
“I agree,” Freya whispered. “But then I don’t think anyone here on Jericho does things the way we expect.”
The first woman stood up, coming to the front of the stage.
The audience, split about fifty-fifty between men and women, seemed more than disinterested, and a deep, dark, angry blush was starting to colour Ms Adams’ face.
“Woman’s gonna have apoplexy ‘fore they’re through,” Mal muttered, getting to his feet. “I got a question,” he said, his voice easily carrying to the corners of the hall.
“Go ahead,” Cromwell said.
Mal nodded down at Freya. “Me and my wife are newcomers to this town, and I guess I’d like to ask just what you think Jericho Wells has to offer us.”
Polly cleared her throat. “We’re clean, and respectable. I'm sure you’ve seen how many of the other moons and planets in this system are just havens of vice and iniquity. I like to think Jericho is a shining beacon in an increasingly wicked ‘verse, and Jericho Wells is the light that beats back the darkness.”
Jayne’s mouth had dropped open. “People actually talk like that?” he stage-whispered, then grunted as Freya’s elbow caught his ribs.
“And how do you think Jericho Wells should be lighting the way in women’s rights in this sector?” Mal went on, ignoring the by-play next to him.
“By encouraging all women to be church-going and God-fearing, to believe in the sanctity of marriage, and in supporting their husbands in their every endeavour.”
Mal stared at her for a moment, then said, “Thanks,” before sitting down, noting one or two of the men nodding their heads.
“I trust that answered your question?” Cromwell inquired from the side of the stage.
Mal waved his hand. “More than enough.”
“Good.” He looked around the audience. “Next?”
Someone at the back stood up and asked something, but none of Serenity’s crew were taking much notice.
“Is it just me, or are they crazy here?” Mal murmured.
“Crazy, Mal,” Jayne concurred. “Told you. No whorehouses.”
“As much as I wish I could disagree, I don’t,” Freya whispered.
“Permaybehaps it’s something in the water,” Mal said, lowering his face so only she heard.
“Better stick to beer, then.”
He smiled at her, and turned his attention back to the matter in hand. Apparently it was obvious there weren't going to be any other questions, because Cromwell invited Ms Adams to give her speech, which seemed to be pretty much on the same lines as the answers she’d already given.
“Thank you, Paulette,” Cromwell said as she sat down, a single person clapping, quickly stifled. “And now Sarah Cordell.”
A tall, thin woman got to her feet, looking at the crowd as if they were an enemy to be defeated.
“And who has a question?”
People looked at each other. A woman went to stand, but her husband pulled her back into her seat, glaring at her for even attempting to put herself forward.
“Well, this isn’t going to take long,” Freya mused.
“Mmn,” Mal responded.
Unfortunately, it took long enough, with many of the people getting restless by the time they got to Zoe.
Cromwell clapped his hands together. “Well, I’m sure Ms Jarvis here got her message across.” He smiled, putting Mal in mind of a snake oil salesman he’d met once on Tiberius. “And finally, we have Zoe Mills.”
The audience suddenly took notice. This was obviously why they’d turned up.
Jayne reached for a gun that wasn't at his hip, and soothed himself by leaning harder on the chair so he could feel the sheath of his knife at the small of his back.
“As you’ll have seen from the flyers at the entrance, Zoe is a war veteran, and I’m sure you have some interesting questions on that very subject,” Cromwell said.
“Mal, can I shoot him later?” Jayne asked.
“I’ll keep it in mind.” Mal turned to Freya. “And what flyers?”
She sighed, holding out a flimsy. “I hoped you wouldn’t see this.”
He took it from her and scanned it quickly. “Gorramit,” he swore. “You think Zoe’s read it?”
“I don’t think so. The man’s still in one piece.”
“Not sure about Hank, though.” Mal had seen the pilot perched on the edge of his seat, and from what he could see of his face the man wasn’t exactly happy.
Zoe had stood up and approached the front of the stage, her hands loose at her sides. She appeared relaxed, but it was the kind of relaxed that could change sides at any moment.
Several hands had gone up, and Cromwell almost grinned. “Ah, that’s more like it.” He pointed at a man in the second row. “Feargal, what do you have to say for yourself?”
The man got up, grinned at his cronies. “Well, I was wondering if Zoe here is married.”
“In which case, that’s a pity. ‘Cause she’d surely warm a man’s bed for him.”
There was general laughter, mostly from the men in the audience. Hank was almost on his feet, but suddenly sat back, glancing sharply at Freya.
“Did you do that?” Mal whispered.
Freya nodded. “I told him to settle down,” she admitted. “I think I shocked him.”
“Don’t doubt you did, ai ren. Hearing voices like that.”
“Just the one, zhang fu.”
Zoe had settled herself, her gaze unblinking. “He does fine,” she said clearly. “If he’s been good.”
This time the laughter was from the women.
“So you withhold your wifely affections if he don’t give in to your wiles?” Feargal asked.
“I would, but being as I'm a red-blooded woman, that wouldn’t be fair on either of us,” Zoe replied.
More laughter, and Feargal sat back, knowing he’d been beaten.
Cromwell had a face like thunder. “Yes, well,” he said. “I hope some of you have more serious questions.”
“What does your husband think of this, you standing for election?” This was from a man about half-way back, a small dark-skinned woman at his side.
“Why not ask him for yourself?” Zoe said.
Hank stood up slowly and cleared his throat twice before being able to say, “I'm behind her, all the way. Just like she is for me.”
“Don’t that make you a wimp?”
“Ain't you master in your own house?” His wife was trying to make him be quiet, but he shook her off.
“We’re equals,” Hank said, his voice strengthening. “Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be? Why we’re all here?”
“A woman’s got her place, and it’s not in politics,” the man said. “We all know that, and anyone who says otherwise is either a fool or looking to be walked all over.”
“Oddly enough, I wouldn’t have married a fool,” Zoe interrupted, her voice suspiciously calm. “And I didn’t want a man who wouldn’t stand up to me. But I don’t get walked over either.” She smiled at Hank, who sat down.
Mal could feel Freya’s tension through where they touched. “Breathe,” he urged.
“They’re all so cai bao zi,” she said quietly.
“I know it, Frey. But you still gotta breathe.” He took her hand. “At least they ain’t asked anything really stupid yet.”
“I think you might have spoken too soon.” Freya half-turned in her seat.
Cromwell pointed to a man by the windows, a couple of rows behind them. “Gilbert. Go ahead.”
Gilbert, almost as wide as he was tall, managed to get to his feet. “You were an Independent.”
It wasn't a question, but Zoe nodded. “I was.”
“Got scooped up at Serenity Valley.”
“How do you justify killing good Alliance soldiers?”
Zoe paused for about half a millisecond. “Well, they were trying to kill us.”
There was another wave of laughter, mostly feminine by the sound, but it was shushed by all the menfolk.
“I'm asking you a proper question, girly,” Gilbert said, stabbing a pointed finger at her in emphasis. “I’d appreciate a proper answer.”
“Girly?” Jayne repeated, seeing the possibility of violence on the far distant horizon.
Zoe nodded slowly, as if agreeing with Gilbert. “I believed in freedom. Still do. I guess that’s why I’m standing for this position.”
“And that’s why you turned coat?”
The pause this time stretched until it was so tight it could have snapped with an audible sound. “Turned coat?” Zoe asked finally.
Gilbert waved the flyer. “Says here you were in the Alliance army. But you deserted, joined the other side.” He looked around at the rest of the audience. “What makes you think we want your kind around here?”
“Oh oh.” Mal tightened his grip on Freya’s fingers.
She looked around at him. “What?”
Mal knew that look. He’d seen it on Zoe before, although the majority of people wouldn’t have noticed anything different, just her usual stoic, implacable gaze. But there was a whole wealth of meaning in the slight tightening of the skin around her eyes, the tiniest thinning of her lips …
“Zoe, no,” Hank murmured, recognising the signs himself.
“Is she likely to …” Freya didn’t need to finish.
Mal nodded. That look usually meant trouble. Actually, what it usually meant was someone was going to end up dead, or at the very least severely inconvenienced. “You know, maybe we should –” But it was already too late.
Zoe had taken a deep breath, releasing it through her nostrils very slowly, her fingers touching the speech in her pocket, and knowing she wasn’t going to be using it. Now she spoke clearly, every word carefully enunciated.
“I fought a war on the principle that all people were equal, whether they lived in the Core or out on the Rim. That nobody had the right to tell them what to do, what to think, what to say … And then I come here and I find that’s exactly what you’re doing with your womenfolk.”
She looked around the hall, making eye contact with each and every male resident of Jericho Wells.
“What side I was on is irrelevant, at least in this case. It ain’t what colour you wear that makes a person act any particular way. Even the Core planets don’t treat women like you do. Now I'm the last to say they’re at all open-minded, but compared to you they’re as wide as the Osiris Canyon.”
Cromwell moved forward, but met with the thousand-watt glare that had bigger men than him quaking in their boots.
Zoe turned back to the crowd. “Your women are afraid of you. Afraid to be who they are. Afraid that if they say or do the wrong thing, you’ll throw them down the stairs.” She could feel her heart beginning to pound, her fingers itching to wrap around a trigger. “Well, that’s gonna stop. Right here. Right now. Women’s rights are what they say – the right for a woman not to be beholden to a man unless she wants to be, unless it’s a mutual decision. And I plan to win this election to make sure of it.”
She turned around and went to sit back down, barely acknowledging the stunned looks on her opponents’ faces as the audience erupted, the men all trying to complain the loudest, the women taking surreptitious glances at each other.
Cromwell held up his hands, trying to stop the ensuing uproar, but it was like trying to put out an inferno with a sieve.
“Well, he did ask,” Freya said, shaking her head.
As Zoe stepped back on board Serenity, she was ambushed by two women, one of them heavily pregnant.
“I'm so proud of you!” Kaylee gushed, hugging her friend as tightly as her belly would allow.
“Standing up to those jing tzahng mei yong duh idiots!” She grinned widely at Mal. “Ain’t she great?”
“I conjure, on that showing, I’d have to agree, xiao mei-mei,” Mal said, his own lips curved.
“How did you …” Zoe caught sight of the look on River’s face. “Ah.”
“I told them,” the young psychic said, smiling widely. “Blow by blow.”
“She didn’t hit anybody, River,” Freya put in.
“I would have.”
“I think it was pretty close,” Jayne added, stepping up to his wife and putting his arm around her waist. “And I’d’a held her coat.”
Simon, standing in the background, shook his head, grinning nevertheless. “And after all our hard work on your speech.”
“I’ll save it,” Zoe promised. “For next time.”
Hank laughed. “Somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
“Have to,” River said, planting a kiss on the pilot’s cheek. “That’s when we become bad guys again and break into the Election offices.”
The pilot looked surprised. “I’d almost forgotten.”
“But first, we have step two.”
“We go and take a look around the building itself. To get a look at the layout, and see how I will get in.”
“Now, albatross –” Mal began, while Simon’s raised voice spoke over him.
“You’re not going to –”
“Yes, I am,” River interrupted. “Zoe’s doing her thing, and I’ll do mine.”
Jayne chuckled as the captain and the brother did their best to remonstrate. “That’s my moonbrain,” he said proudly.
to be continued
Wednesday, June 3, 2009 2:37 AM
Wednesday, June 3, 2009 2:49 AM
Wednesday, June 3, 2009 6:28 AM
Wednesday, June 3, 2009 9:28 AM
Wednesday, June 3, 2009 12:33 PM
Wednesday, June 3, 2009 2:00 PM
Friday, June 5, 2009 4:19 AM
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