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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. Post-BDM. Zoe, River and Kaylee wait to get near the database, while Mercy Fischer comes calling. NEW CHAPTER
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1673 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
They’d been waiting for over an hour, sitting in the side room staring at the portraits on the walls.
“Who’d you reckon they are?” Kaylee had stage-whispered after five minutes.
Zoe shrugged. “Mayors, or suchlike. Maybe Parliamentary representatives.”
River studied one of the pictures close up, her nose almost touching the canvas. “Founding father. Willikins O’Toole. The first man to discover the water that gives Jericho Wells its name. Born –”
“You can figure that out from looking at the brushstrokes?” Kaylee asked, as always slightly in awe of the younger woman’s abilities.
“No.” She moved to one side so they could see a small plaque on the bottom of the frame. “I read it.”
Kaylee laughed a little ruefully. “More fool me.”
River sat back down next to her sister-in-law and gave her a hug. “No. But in this case the simplest explanation is the right one.”
Ten minutes after that …
“No-one ever has.”
Zoe looked around in surprise at River, as she answered a question nobody had asked. “Has what?”
Zoe shouldn’t have been surprised that the young Reader had been listening in to her and Mal’s conversation. “Were you …?” She touched her temple.
“Heard with my ears. I was outside the door.”
“You mean you were eavesdropping.”
“Everyone on the crew does it. It’s traditional.” River leaned over, saying very quietly, “You were thinking about how to go about it.”
“Maybe I was.”
“Nobody has ever campaigned in Jericho Wells.”
“No? Why not?”
River shrugged. “It’s always been a foregone conclusion. One candidate is very like another, with nothing to choose between them.”
“More variables.” She smiled. “Not to win, but … I’ll have to consider.”
“What’s this?” Kaylee asked, looking from one to the other, her eyes finally lighting on Zoe. “You gonna campaign?”
“I've been thinking about it.”
“Good.” The young mechanic smiled. “Don’t wanna waste that speech.”
“We’ll help,” River promised.
“Um … thanks.” For once Zoe wasn’t sure whether that was going to be a good thing or not. “Is it in the rules?”
“Yes. You can set up a booth in the town square, with banners, leaflets, all sorts of things. I'm sure Kaylee can make a loudspeaker for you.”
“Sure I can,” Kaylee said, already beginning to plan the equipment.
“You read them?” Zoe asked. “The rules, I mean. All of them?”
“I was wakeful last night,” River admitted. “Jayne was asleep after sex so I looked them up.”
“They were quite interesting.”
“Of course they were.”
A quarter of an hour later …
“I gotta pee,” Kaylee said, fidgeting in her chair.
“Not sure they’ve got facilities.” Zoe was sympathetic, though, remembering her own pregnancy. “Can you hold it?”
“Do I have to?”
“Think about deserts,” River suggested. “Lots of sand. Desiccated trees. Hot sunshine on the back of your neck.”
“Okay, now I'm thirsty too.” Kaylee struggled to her feet. “But I still need to pee. I’m gonna have to find someplace.”
“First on the left, then the second right.”
Kaylee narrowed her eyes at the young psychic. “Don’t tell me, you saw a sign.”
“No. I saw someone just going in there.” She placed emphasis on the word ‘saw’, knowing they would get her meaning, but that nobody else would if they were listening.
“Oh.” Kaylee smiled. “Shiny.” She waddled to the door then looked back at her sister-in-law. “You comin’?”
“I don’t need to go.”
“Think of seas. Oceans. Rainfall pitter pattering on the bridge windows and slip sliding down towards the ground …”
River shifted uncomfortably. “That’s low,” she said accusingly.
“Fine.” She got up. “I don’t understand why women have to go to the toilet in convoys anyway.”
Kaylee linked her arm through River’s. “It’s traditional,” she said, grinning as they left the room.
Zoe shook her head, an indulgent smile on her face.
After another twenty minutes had dragged by …
“This is getting ridiculous.” The smile had gone, and her friends knew the look in her eye. “I'm going to find –”
At that moment the door opened, and a familiar figure bustled through.
“Yes?” Cromwell asked peremptorily. “I’m very busy. What do you want?”
Zoe got to her feet. “I’m sure you remember me.”
He looked closer and his face soured. “Of course. Ms Mills.”
“It’s Mrs Zoe Mills.”
“What of it?”
“Never mind.” She moved closer. “I’ve come to take up some of my rights as an official candidate in these elections.”
“What?” He realised he was sounding stupid, because he glared at her, saying, “What rights are these, in particular?”
“I believe it’s my privilege to check over the database of electors.”
His mouth dropped open. “That’s … nobody’s ever done that.”
“But it’s in the regulations.”
“Well, yes, but –”
“Any person standing for election can request to see that list, yes?”
“Well, I'm asking.”
It was like watching a poker game, Kaylee decided afterwards. Each of them not wanting to back down, to lose their stake, but neither knowing the strength of the other’s hand.
Cromwell tried to gather himself. “Well, I suppose … if you’d like to come back tomorrow –”
River stepped forward, raising the ante. “The Union of Allied Planets Rules for Parliamentary Elections, Article 22, section 2, sub-section 15, paragraph 8, sub-paragraph 1d states that –”
“I know the law!” Cromwell was almost beside himself.
“Then you know Zoe is well within her rights, and if you refuse she can complain to the Parliamentary Overseer, who in turn will sever your tenure, and quite possibly have you bound and sent to a penal colony of his choice for an indeterminate length of –”
He glared at this slip of a woman in front of him. “Don’t you go telling me what I can and can’t do, young lady.”
“Then I’ll fetch the local Alliance Commander, and we’ll see what he has to say.”
Kaylee held her breath as River bluffed.
Cromwell glared. “He’d be behind me, as a duly appointed official of the Election.”
“Do you really want to test that?”
The man didn’t speak for a long moment, although his jaw was working as if words were trying to come out, but he was holding them back. Eventually he threw up his hands. “Fine! It will take some time, but I’ll have a print-off prepared and –”
“No,” Zoe put in, dragging the pot towards her. “On screen. In the main office. As is my entitlement.”
Kaylee had never seen anyone die from an aneurysm, although in one of his less romantic moments Simon had explained that people could, particularly if they had raised blood pressure, but it seemed like the odds were coming down in favour of that happening right now.
Cromwell’s lips tightened until they looked like they were going to snap. “All right.” He turned on his heel. “This way.”
Mal sat in the open entrance to the cargo bay on one of the ever-present crates and watched as the kids played what was probably a game of tag amongst the stacks and cages, although from the noise they were making it could have been war. At one point Ben tackled Ethan and took him down in a tangle of arms and legs, and for a moment Mal held his breath until his son got up, laughing, pulling his friend with him.
Simon smiled. “They won’t get hurt, Mal,” he said, leaning against the wall. “And if they do I’m here.”
“Still rather not have you having to patch any of ‘em up.”
“All children get scrapes and grazes.”
“Oh, I know that. When I was their age there didn’t seem to be a day went by when I wasn't wearing a weave on some part of me or other. My Ma must’ve gotten fed up dispensing first aid all the time.”
Bethie tagged Hope, who squealed and turned fast enough to tag her back, then ran straight into Jesse, both of them ending up on the floor.
“It doesn’t help much, though, does it?” Simon asked, watching them climb back to their feet just as Hope got tagged again.
“Nope.” Mal laughed quietly. “I guess it’s what being a parent’s all about.”
“Excuse me?” A voice carried in from outside.
Mal stood up. A young woman was standing in the sunshine, her features and curvy shape somewhat familiar. “Can I help you?”
“I was … I was looking for Zoe. Zoe Mills, that is.”
Mal stepped onto the ramp and smiled. “You’re Mercy Fischer, ain’t you?”
“Yes.” Mercy was biting her lip. “Is Zoe around?”
“Not at present.”
“But I'm expecting her back any time now. She’s just gone to take care of a little … business.” He walked out, feeling the warmth on his face. “You can wait for her, if you like.” He grinned. “I don’t bite. Well, not much. Just ask my wife.”
“I ...” For a moment he thought she was going to bolt, but she seemed to find some courage from deep within. “If you don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind.” He put his hand under her elbow. “Might as well make ourselves comfy while we do.” He urged her up into the shade of the bay.
She was studying him. “You were there. Last night.” Mercy blushed. “You asked Polly that question.”
Mal chuckled. “Well, I was kinda afraid she was gonna spontaneously combust, the way she was looking.”
“Hardly anyone’s ever asked her a question.” She smiled tentatively. “Hardly anyone asks a question at all.”
“How are they supposed to find out who is the best person to vote for?” Simon asked, stepping forward out of the shadows.
Mercy gave a start.
“Don’t mind him,” Mal said quickly. “That’s Simon. He likes to jump out at people. Something to do with his sadistic nature, seeing as he’s a medic.”
Simon sighed, and the look in his eyes promised volumes, mainly in the aspect of wait until you’re under my knife again.
“Mal, don’t tease.” Freya spoke from the top gangway, walking down the stairs towards them.
“Where else am I gonna get my fun if I do that?” Mal countered, grinning up at her.
Freya shook her head slightly and paused by the children, who had stopped playing, and were staring at the newcomer. “Why don’t you all go and find something quiet to do for a while?” she suggested to them.
“Can’t we stay?” Ethan asked, looking up hopefully.
“Not this time.” She added mentally, Mercy is a bit nervous. She needs some space, okay?
Ethan sighed. “Yes, Mama.”
Bethie took his hand. “Come on,” she said. “I’ve got an idea for a new game we can play.”
“What’s that?” Ben asked, his coffee-coloured face screwed up a little.
“’Lections.” She strode into the common area, the others having to follow.
Freya tried to stifle the grin, failing miserably. She’d had an inkling, and it looked like perhaps she’d been right.
Mal narrowed his eyes at her, but didn’t comment further.
Freya smiled as she walked towards them. “Hello, Mercy.”
“This here’s Freya. My wife,” Mal explained.
“I remember.” Mercy blushed again, making her even more apple-cheeked than ever.
“I'm sorry you’ve found us at our worst today,” Freya went on. “We normally make visitors a lot more welcome than this.”
“Hey, I was welcoming!” Mal protested. “It was Simon here near scared her out of her drawers.”
“Mal!” Freya slapped his arm.
Mercy giggled, quickly covering her mouth with her hand.
“Well, that’s better,” Mal said, perching on the crate again. “We’re not that bad. Well, most of us.”
“Hey, visitors!” Hank hurried out of the common area. “Hi, there!”
Mercy was coming over all anxious again. “Um … hi.” Then she recognised him. “You’re Zoe’s husband.”
“That I am.” He grinned. “I know you too.”
She looked down at the ground. “Mercy Fischer.” She almost bobbed a curtsey.
“No, don’t do that.” Hank shook his head, tucking his fingers under her chin and lifting so she had to look at him. “Nobody’s got the right to make you all meek. You stand straight, then spit in their eye.”
Mercy couldn’t help it. She smiled, and looked around at them all. “Are you always like this?”
“What, you mean handsome and smart?” Mal asked in turn.
“No, I mean all … this.” She didn’t quite know how to describe it.
Freya understood, though. Just a single touch of her mind on Mercy’s made it perfectly clear. “You’re not used to men and women being friends, are you?”
“Because on Jericho, the men take what they want and the women let them.”
“It’s not as bad as that!”
Mercy rolled her lip between her teeth, then said quietly, “It’s not the done thing.”
“What isn’t?” Simon asked.
She looked into his face, seeing only genuine concern. “Friendships. Not between men and women. Women stick to their own kind, their own circle. If one of them dares to try and be different, to even talk to a man outside of the house or the church, especially if they’re on their own, not married … well, it means that woman is a … a whore.”
“That’s crazy.” Hank crossed his arms, his normally ebullient personality tinged with annoyance. “How do you get to meet boyfriends, husbands?”
“There are socials, events. Any man looking for a wife goes to one of them.”
“It makes Jayne’s whorehouses sound civilised.” He shook his head. “I seriously thought we’d got past that kind of thing.”
“It’s how we do things on Jericho.”
“Well, not no more,” Mal said firmly.
Mercy turned her violet eyes on him. “That’s … that’s why I wanted to talk to Zoe. What she said last night, about changing things, I wanted to know if she really believed it.”
“Oh, she does that.”
“That men and women are … are equal.”
Mal took a deep breath. “Mercy, there are a few women I know think they’re better than us menfolk,” he confessed. “Better than because they were born into higher circles. And maybe there are some who are more intelligent than me – hell, that wouldn’t be difficult.” He saw her lips twitch, and went on, “I ain't been over-endowed with brains, not like some on board, but I’m still Captain, and this is my boat. But the point I’m making is that it ain't really about being equal. Not like that. It’s about being able to say what you think, regardless of what sex you are. To have your own opinions, and to be listened to. To be able to say no, and not have someone try and make you.” His voice became quieter. “It ain’t about men and women, Mercy. It’s about freedom.”
Freya rolled her eyes. “Mal, do you want to wait a while and I’ll find you a soapbox?”
He glared at her, then the stern expression on his face dissolved into something much more tender. “Yeah, I was, just a bit, wasn’t I?”
“Maybe you should have stood for Parliament.”
“Me?” Mal managed to look scandalised. “Can you imagine me in a suit, sitting in that rarified atmo? I wouldn’t even give it a day afore I was pining to be out in the Black again.”
“You in a suit …” Freya put her head onto one side, contemplating him, her eyes half-closed. “I don’t know …”
“Least, not unless we were getting married again, ai ren.” Mal put his arm around Freya’s waist, pulling her in close to him.
Mercy blinked. “Oh.”
Mal didn’t need to be psychic to see what was going through the young woman’s mind. “Frey said folks hereabouts don’t do affection in public,” he said, shaking his head slightly. “Looks like she was right.”
“Actually, I don’t know anyone who loves their husband enough to want to do it,” Mercy declared, then blushed again at the admission.
“That’s okay,” Freya said gently. “Just realise that there are a lot more people like us out in the ‘verse than not.”
“I hope so.” Mercy smiled.
“You know, it could be there are men here who want to be more civilised, but feel constrained by convention,” Simon said.
“He means they’re afraid to show they’ve got feelings,” Hank interpreted. “Only we do, you know. We cry, and everything.”
“Was that the sound I heard coming from your bunk last night?” Mal ribbed on his pilot.
“I believe there was some calling out to a particular deity, too.”
Hank stared. “What were you doing, listening at the hatch?”
“A man has the right to wander his own boat,” Mal pointed out.
“And I don’t recall you being all that quiet yourself,” Freya said, leaning down to kiss him lightly on the lips.
Simon shook his head. “Can you not do that in front of everyone?” he implored.
Mal grinned. “Just ‘cause your own wife’s getting too round to get this close to you.”
“I’m going to tell her you said that.”
He held up a hand. “No, now, that’s not nice.”
“And that’s my son she’s carrying.”
“Not saying she isn’t. Although if he comes out with a goatee and smoking a cigar, I think maybe you should have words with Jayne.”
Mercy was listening to the banter, the verbal sparring, and Freya could feel her relaxing. Seeing people like this, so open with each other, was something so rare she wanted to revel in it. A thought crossed her mind, bright and loud enough for Freya to read without even trying. This is what it’s supposed to be like.
“Don’t take any notice of them,” she said, smiling at Mercy. “They don’t mean it.”
“So you don’t fight?”
“Oh, we do,” Freya conceded. “So much that we have to replace all the breakable plates about once every six months.”
“It’s true, we do,” Mal agreed. “But it’s the making up after that’s worth it.”
Mal looked up, seeing Zoe striding up the ramp towards him, surprise on her face. “We were just entertaining your friend here,” he said, getting to his feet. “She’s been waiting for you.” He looked past her, not seeing River or Kaylee behind. “Did you … get what you needed to done?”
Zoe nodded. “The others have gone to see Leo. They think he might have what we need.”
Mercy looked from one to the other, not understanding that a whole other conversation was going on at the same time.
“They’ll be along shortly,” Zoe added, then turned to the young woman. “I have to admit I’m kind of surprised to see you here, Mercy.”
“I … wanted to talk.”
“Last night.” She heard Zoe sigh. “No, not like that.”
Mercy bit her lip again. “Is it true? What the leaflet said?” She touched her pocket, indicating she had a copy inside, but didn’t draw it out.
“More or less.” Zoe had picked up one of the flyers before she’d left the hall, her teeth grinding as she read the details Cromwell had picked off the Cortex about her.
“Pretty much more. It got the basics right.” With one part of her mind Zoe noticed Freya ushering the others away towards the common area, leaving her and Mercy alone in the cargo bay, but most of her concentration was on the woman in front of her.
“You were an Independent.”
“Nobody was here, not on all of Jericho.”
“So I gathered.”
“Was it hard? Being a woman, I mean, being a soldier.”
“Well, the Alliance didn’t care what sex I was, as long as I did what I was told. Then becoming an Independent … they didn’t have the manpower to complain.”
“So what you said … about nobody having the right to have that kind of sway over another person … did you really mean it?”
“Because nobody’s ever done that before. Actually come right out with it.”
“Then it was time.”
“And you were so strong, so determined.”
“It’s my way.”
“Can you show me how?”
Zoe shouldn’t have been surprised, but she was. “You want to be like me?”
“Oh, I know that isn’t going to happen. I'm me, and for the most part that isn’t going to change. But I’d like to be able to put into words what I think, and not be scared of the men talking loud.”
Zoe couldn’t help it. She put her arm around Mercy’s shoulders. “I think we need to talk. Properly. In comfort.”
Mercy had to smile. “I’d like that.”
Serenity’s first mate looked towards the common area. “Yes, Bethie?”
The little girl swung her arms behind her back. “Auntie Frey says to come to the kitchen. She’s making coffee. And Uncle Mal says he knows where Momma’s biscuit tin is.”
“Good idea.” Zoe looked down into Mercy’s face. “And we can talk about an idea we had for a proper debate, not one of those vanilla evenings.”
Mercy was trembling, a little, but nodded enthusiastically. “That would … that would be good.”
“And Kaylee’s cookies … well, you haven’t tasted heaven until you eaten one of them.”
Mercy giggled, allowing Zoe to lead her inside. As they reached the stairs, though, she paused. “Oh, and I think I should let you know … keep an eye out for Bea,” she said quickly, as if afraid if she didn’t get the words out fast enough, they’d run and hide. “She’s … not known for her tact.”
“Something on the physical side, I’m guessing,” Zoe replied.
“Pretty much. Her heart’s in the right place – but then it’d have to be, else it wouldn’t get the blood round her body.” She grinned briefly at her own joke, then her face was serious again. “But I’ve heard rumours. Stories about people who slighted her, or just got on her nerves … she’s always been too anxious to solve things with her fists, is what I’ve been told.”
“And you think I might have rubbed her up the wrong way?”
Mercy laughed. “Think? Zoe, after you left last night, she was promising all sorts of things.”
“Why? A strong woman like her, she should be standing up for others weaker than her.”
Mercy shook her head. “That’s not what she’s like. She’ll do things underhand, but in public she tries to be the meek little person all the men want.”
“But Jericho men aren’t like your friends here.”
“Some of them are. They have to be. It’s the law of averages.”
“Then there’s some place out in the ‘verse where there’s a whole planet of nice men.” She sighed. “Because it isn’t here.”
to be continued
Friday, June 12, 2009 6:00 AM
Friday, June 12, 2009 6:39 AM
Friday, June 12, 2009 6:46 AM
Friday, June 12, 2009 8:08 AM
Friday, June 12, 2009 8:17 AM
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