BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JANE0904

Jericho Wells - Part XX
Monday, July 20, 2009

Maya. Post-BDM. Just a little fluff with Simon and Bethie, then on to the main event of the evening. NEW CHAPTER


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1854    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Eighteen. Check. Just to prove it he put a tick beside the item on his list underneath the entry for sutures. Eighteen packs of swabs, ready for use. And more in the small storage compartment at the rear of the cargo bay. Not that he considered it likely they’d be needing swabs, let alone that many. Mal had promised there’d be no bloodshed. Still, what Mal promised and what ultimately came to be were often quite different.

Simon sighed. There wasn't one of the adults who didn’t have scars, some more than others. Even he’d got a few, and he didn’t consider himself to be an action man at all. Luckily the children had escaped serious … although Ethan had the scar down his chest, and there were … Maybe he did need to count the swabs every so often, after all.

Besides, it calmed him. With River out doing God knows what, the others all at the meeting, he felt the tension like a wet blanket wrapped around his shoulders, occasionally being zapped by some friendly person with an electric cattle prod. Or at least how he thought that might feel. Not that he actually wanted to try it. But counting supplies helped, took his mind off the images that played on the back of his retinas, of bodies lying on the ground, of blood, of …

“Daddy?”

He turned his head towards the doorway and smiled at his daughter. “What is it, sweetheart?”

Bethie rolled her foot. “Wanted to apologise.”

The smile faded a little. “Why? What have you done?”

“Nothing!” the little girl insisted. “Much,” she added, feeling the need to be scrupulously honest. She looked down at the deck plating. “We were playing ‘lections, and …”

The smile returned. “I know. Your Aunts told me.”

She glanced up, an expression of annoyance crossing her face but quickly gone. “Well, I … we …”

Simon lowered himself to the infirmary floor and held out his arms. “Come here,” he said, and Bethie ran to him, sitting on his thigh. “So what do you want to apologise for?”

“I did it because I wanted to tell people what to do.”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“’Cause it’s fun.” She picked up a strand of her long, honey-coloured hair and began to chew on the end. “Being the boss.”

Simon sighed, just a little. “I know. And on the odd occasions when I get the chance, I enjoy it too.”

“You do?”

“Of course. Everyone does.”

“But I want to do it all the time.”

“You mean you want to be a politician.”

Her eyes widened. “I do?”

“Pretty much.” He snuggled her closer so she could rest her head on his shoulder. “But River also told me she explained why it wasn't a good idea.”

“Mmn.” Bethie closed her eyes, enjoying some time with her father just to herself.

He pulled her hair from her mouth, sliding his fingers down it and finding the inevitable tangles. “And you did understand.”

“Mmn.”

“Then why should you apologise?”

She looked up at him, and he could see she was beginning to wish she hadn’t started this particular line of exposition. “Well ...”

“Bethie, whatever it was you’d better tell me so I can put it right before your mother gets back.”

“Well, like I said, we was playing –”

“Were playing,” Simon corrected absently.

Were playing,” she amended. “And we were talking about something or other, and I asked Ben to get something for me, and ... well ... he wouldn’t do what I wanted.”

“Oh?” Simon perhaps wasn’t paying as much attention as the situation warranted, concentrating instead on teasing out the slight knots, because it took a moment for her next words to sink in.

“So I punched him.”

“What?” He stared at her.

“I … um … punched him.”

“You punched Ben?” He knew he sounded ridiculous, but he was trying to get it straight in his head.

“If he’d done what I wanted I wouldn’t have had to.”

“Bethie, you can’t go around punching people just because they don’t agree with you.”

“But Uncle Jayne did. When those men attacked Auntie Zoe. He hit them.”

“Yes, but –”

“He went back for a second go, too.”

For a moment Simon was stumped. How was he going to explain the fact that real life was an almost infinite variety of shades of grey to a six year old who only saw things as black or white? But he had to try. “Bethie, Jayne is a grown man. What he chooses to do is ... up to him. But there are a lot of people who’d say he was wrong to do it.”

“To beat them up.”

“To remonstrate with them,” he said firmly. “And it doesn’t matter the provocation ... you shouldn’t hit anyone at all.”

“But –”

“Not at all, Bethany.”

She knew by the usage of her full name that this was going to be his last word on the subject. “Okay, Daddy,” she said, laying her head back against his shoulder.

He looked down at her, at the impression she gave that butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, that she was the sweetest little thing in the ‘verse while bordering on the genius level of intelligence, and yet was still capable of being, well, a child. Maybe Kaylee would have some idea of how to punish her.

Except she hadn’t finished. “Only … his nose is bleeding.”

“Oh, diyu,” Simon swore, putting Bethie to one side and scrambling to his feet before grabbing his medical bag and a packet of swabs. He'd been wrong. There was blood after all, and now he’d have to start counting all over again. When he got back from dealing with the aftermath of his daughter’s tendency to megalomania.

---

“No.”

“Miss Mercy …” They were standing outside the Town Hall, around the side away from the main entrance. The clock above had just tolled half-past seven as Jayne tried to persuade her that he should accompany her inside.

“No.” She wasn't going to be moved on this, not even by this big man with the unusual name. “I'm fine now. And you can go and join your friends.”

“What if someone decides to try something?” he asked, his mind wandering over the many options, and almost felt ashamed that a lot of them he’d had personal experience of. Not against women, not much, anyway, but too many had ended in a dying gasp.

“What if they do?” She lifted her chin, staring into his face. “You’re going to stop them?”

“Yeah.”

“And when you’ve gone. When all this is over, and your ship takes off for the Black again. Then what?”

“Well –”

She put her hand on his arm, a smile catching at her lips. “Jayne, I know you’re just concerned for me, and I do thank you. But Zoe, and the rest of you, have shown me I don’t have to be scared all the time. And I want to tell other women that too. All the women of Jericho. But I can’t do that if I have a guardian angel watching me all the time.”

“Ain't no angel,” Jayne growled, but he knew he wasn't going to win this one.

“Maybe not. But pretty close.” She patted him. “Now, I have something important to do.” She nodded towards people around the corner. “And you’ll be standing if you don’t hurry up and get seats.”

“Not ruttin’ likely.” He grinned suddenly, leaned down and put a kiss on her cheek.

She coloured, a pink blush running up her face from her chest all the way to her hairline. “You’re a bad man,” she said, still feeling his goatee on her skin, and she hurried away through the side door into the interior.

“Yeah. That’s what my wife says,” he called after her, chuckling, a deep sound from the base of his belly. Waiting until she was safely inside, he turned back towards the main entrance, using his greater bulk to push through the people milling about outside the Hall. She was right. It looked like it was starting to fill up, much more so than before, and as he got inside he could see a couple of Cortex crews had already set up their equipment at the back. It looked like there was going to be quite a crowd. He grinned. Maybe he should’ve sold tickets.

-

The lamplit streets were comparatively quiet, and although the mule’s engine was muffled as much as Kaylee could manage without it being in danger of stalling, the sound still seemed to bounce from building to building.

“Where is everyone, albatross?” Mal whispered as he steered the ATV into a dark alleyway at the side of the Election offices. The rest of the crew – barring Simon, of course – was already on their way to the meeting, and he’d drawn the short straw to accompany their young psychic assassin. Well, not drawn it. Demanded it, if truth be known. If he wasn’t going to be the one going in, he was sure as ru gou going to be the one checking she was okay before she did.

“Watching.”

He waited for her to be more forthcoming but that appeared to be all she had to say. “Watching what?” he prompted.

“Zoe.”

As he pulled the vehicle to a halt, he suppressed a sigh. “River, you and me both know you’re capable of doing maybe thirty things at the same time, so while I’m aware you’re thinking about the job ahead, I’ve got the notion you can be a bit clearer in your answers, dong mah?”

She didn’t correct him, didn’t tell him only thirty was a serious understatement. Instead she turned to look at him, her pale face solemn in the ambient light. “The majority of the population of Jericho Wells is at home watching the local Cortex which is about to transmit coverage of the final public meetings. Another large section is waiting at the Town Hall to see the final showdown in person. Some eight percent who are not interested in politics are eating their evening meal, five percent are engaged in alcoholic activities, one percent is having sex, although not necessarily with their own partners, one half of one percent –”

He held up a hand. “Okay. I know. I asked for that.”

She smiled suddenly. “And one half of a percent are currently going about illicit and illegal activities.”

“That include us?”

“It does.” She climbed from the mule and stood looking up at the building, her hands on her slim hips.

“But I figure that still means there’s a fair number of folk breaking the law elsewhere.” He grinned. “And I always thought that wasn’t how they did things here on Jericho.”

“It’s how they do things everywhere.” She glanced over her shoulder at him. “And it’s time to be bad guys.”

-

“Zoe.”

“Mercy.” The dark woman smiled at the comparative formality. “Jayne eat you out of house and home?”

Mercy giggled. “Near enough. I never knew a person could put quite so much away.”

“He probably is exceptional in that regard, but to tell the truth all the men I know do seem to enjoy their food.” She reached towards the back pocket of her pants. “You’d better let me –”

Mercy held up a hand. “If you’re going to offer to pay me, I’ll be insulted,” she said firmly. “It was a pleasure to watch.”

“Really? Because people have died in the fallout on occasion.”

“Luckily I kept well back.”

They laughed together, then Zoe glanced around the room, the same one they’d been in before. Her eyes alighted on Bea Jarvis, standing by the ornate fireplace, staring at them. “Excuse me for a minute, will you, Mercy?” she said. “I just want a word with someone.”

Mercy nodded, understanding immediately and getting out of the way.

Zoe moved forward, but Bea turned on her heel and left the room. Lengthening her stride she followed her out. Bea was nowhere in sight but the door to the ladies room a little further down the corridor was swinging. Zoe pushed it open and stepped inside.

Bea was at the sink, washing her hands. She saw movement in the mirror in front of her and lifted her head, her eyes widening as she realised who it was and turned abruptly, her still wet hands coming up into fists.

“Planning on finishing what your pals started?” Zoe asked, letting the door close silently behind her.

“No idea what you’re talking about,” Bea stated, but the look in her eyes belied her words.

“Really.” Zoe crossed the small room until she was barely an arms length from the other woman. “So you didn’t pay Jarrett Stout, Virgil Peters and their friends to teach me a lesson?”

Bea went pale. “You’re crazy.”

In answer Zoe pulled a handful of IDents out of her pocket. “You might want to be giving them back,” she said, almost conversationally. “Seeing as they won’t be able to vote without them.” She tossed the cards Jayne had collected during his ‘words’ onto the counter, one of them skittering into the sink. “And you can explain to me how I got those if I’m crazy.”

Like many people who saw violence as a way of getting what they wanted, Bea was a coward at heart, and even though she was a similar height and outweighed Zoe by about twenty pounds she could tell by the look on the other woman’s face that there was no denying anything. She let her hands drop and leaned against the wall unit. “Now what?” she asked.

“Well, that’s kinda up to you.”

Bea’s eyes narrowed. “You want me to back out of the election.”

“No. That ain't it at all.”

“Then what?”

“Leave Mercy alone.”

“What?”

“Leave her alone. I’ve got ways of knowing, and she even gets a head cold I’ll hear. And if anything untoward happens to her …”

“You’ll get one of those men who hang around you to beat me up?” Bea suggested, a flash of contempt mixing with the anger making her cheeks flame.

Zoe smiled coldly and closed the distance between them. “Oh, no,” she said quietly. “I won’t need to do that.” She let the unspoken threat hang for a moment, then turned on her heel and walked out, not even taking a backward glance.

Bea watched as the door swung to, then slumped back against the sinks, her heart pounding in her chest, uncomfortably aware she’d only avoided the frying pan to jump straight into the fire.

-

River had skirted the base of the Election offices, noting the only illumination coming from inside was on the ground floor, throwing a square of light onto the ground. Inside she could feel a guard, settling back with a mug of cocoa and a magazine, having taken his turn around the building and now preparing to … Her nose wrinkled at the type of reading matter he’d chosen and easily slid by.

At the far side, opposite where Mal was still waiting with the mule, she looked up, her mind checking everything for the ten thousandth time. She reached into the small bag at her waist and withdrew something that resembled a gun, but more bulky under the trigger guard. Resisting the temptation to close one eye, River aimed the small contraption, knowing exactly the right angle, the wind velocity, the possibility of a low flying bird interfering with her computations … and pressed the trigger. A tiny spear flew from the barrel, trailing a fine line that disappeared into the night.

Mal was staring up, but even then almost missed the line coming down, except that at the last moment it passed through a patch of street light and the metal glittered. He heard it fall, and ran to it, careful not to tug too hard as he picked it up. This was the most delicate part of the operation, and although the line attached was strong, there was no guarantee that it hadn’t caught on something on the roof.

Hurrying back to the mule he attached it to the winch now adorning the underside of the chassis, and started the motor. Slowly, very slowly, only the vibration telling him that it was working, he let his hand run along the line as it moved, checking for nicks, anything that might indicate it was rubbing where it shouldn’t. But it seemed to be fine, and when the join to the slightly thicker cable came, he let out a relieved breath and paused the winch.

River?

Yes?

You attached?

Ready.

Shiny.

He restarted the winch, and the note changed as something heavier was dragged up the other side of the building. In the darkness he could see the two side wheels of the mule begin to lift from the ground, and quickly sat on the edge, adding his weight to stabilise it. It was enough, and the winch continued to reel the cable in.

River felt the line attached to her belt tighten, and her toes left the ground. Leaning back a little, she walked up the building, her dark, skin-tight clothes making her one with the shadows. She smiled a little as she considered what anyone still working might have thought if they’d looked out, but there was no-one to burn the midnight oil.

At the top she merely walked over the edge onto the roof, mentally saying, Stop.

Mal quickly flicked the winch off, watching for movement above. After only a few seconds he could see something outlined against the sky, just a darker area cutting off the few stars that had managed to get through the atmo.

Catch.

The cable snaked down and landed at his feet.

River. That could have hit me, he thought, allowing a touch of irritation to cloud his mind-speak.

Sorry. Only she didn’t sound it.

He raised a mental eyebrow and got a mental laugh back. River …

Time for you to go, jia yan, she interrupted.

Keep tellin’ you, I ain’t your Pa.

And one day I may believe it.

When’s that likely to be?

When the stars grow cold.

That’s what I figured. He had to smile. You take care, you hear?

I know what I'm doing.

Mal looked up, saw the slip of a figure on the edge of the roof. She waved at him, then fell forwards, and his breath stopped, ears straining for the sound of a body hitting the ground. But there was nothing, no bone-crunching thud, and as he stared he could see she was hanging on by her toes, her fingers working at something he couldn’t see. Then there was a darker patch and she had slid inside through the window that had faulty security connectors.

“Kaylee, you’re gonna be getting a bonus,” he murmured, his lungs working again as he started the mule's engine. “Your scan worked a treat.”

He couldn’t see River at all now, just the bare expanse of building, but in his mind he heard, She will like that. Time to go.

I wasn’t thinking at you, he chided, but nodded unnecessarily and accelerated away, leaving his albatross to get on with her part of the plan.

-

“It’s time.” Cromwell glared at Zoe, taking in her refusal to be dressed appropriately, but didn’t say anything. With a crowd like they had out in the hall, he considered this woman was just itching to lose, and that might be interesting to watch.

“Come on then,” Mercy said, surprising all bar one as she walked past Cromwell, her head high.

Zoe followed, not even bothering to hide the smirk on her lips, aware the Election official was staring at the still swollen eye, the bruises, the cut … Good.

Filing onto the stage, knowing the other three candidates were behind her, she looked out into the hall, noting that every seat was taken, and all standing room was filled. This time, a lot of the audience were women, and she felt the calmness that normally denoted battle-readiness take hold. Not that she was going to kill anyone. Not really. Maybe just injure their pride a little.

Her eyes searched out Serenity’s crew, finding them at the back of the hall, Hank sitting forwards on the edge of his chair. There was a space at the end of the row that Jayne had kept by the simple expedient of sitting across two seats, but even as she watched Mal slid into place. She saw him blink once, and knew it meant River was doing what she did best.

Cromwell stepped to the front and coughed to get everyone’s attention. Not that he needed to. A distinct hush had fallen on the crowd as the candidates walked out, and now everyone was waiting on tenterhooks to see what would happen next.

-

Inside the Election building River stood for a long while in the dead spot by the window as the miniature recorder in her bag took a broad spectrum capture of the apparently empty corridor, just listening to the walls, letting them tell her where everything was, who had been by last, what they had touched.

It was entirely logical, she’d always considered. A memory wafer, that was little more than a layer of plastic with molecular coating, could contain an entire library of books, and the delicate piece of microcircuitry in a capture maker could record a life from birth to earth as long as the chip was big enough. So why not walls? Floors? The air? Maybe that was what made her a Reader, the ability to see the recordings, to be tuned to the broadcasts. She knew, if she opened her mind up fully, she could hear every single person on Jericho, but that would be very painful and unnecessary. Besides, it might also fry her brain, so she kept focused.

There. Enough time.

Taking the tiny box from her bag she set it to send instead of receive, knowing that no matter what she did now, the security cameras on this floor covering this particular corridor would see nothing.

-

As before Polly Adams had the chance to speak first, at least this time making more of a showing, even if it was at Zoe’s expense.

“This woman …” She paused, pointing behind her. “This person comes into our town and proceeds to tell us how we should live … What right does she have?”

“You think it’s even occurred to her that she’s ranting against the very thing she’s standing for?” Hank murmured to Freya as the diatribe continued.

“Probably not. I imagine she saw what happened yesterday and decided to try it for herself, only she’s not Mercy.”

“Thank God,” the pilot said fervently, watching his wife for any signs of imminent violence.

Freya smiled and went back to listening, although half of her mind was on what River was doing.

-

It was a ballet. That was the only way to describe it. At times she was almost up on points, then leaping and flitting between the security beams, not one of them touching her. As she danced, she wished someone could be watching, who could appreciate the skill, the lightness on her feet, but there was no-one but the blinking cameras, and they were blind. At the end, as she reached the door to the computer room, she stopped and took a little bow, before slipping inside.

-

Of the other candidates, only Sarah Cordell made anything like a decent showing, perhaps aware she needed to leave them with a good impression if she stood any chance at all. She too attacked Zoe’s war record, but at least it was only in passing, pointing out that as Jericho had come down staunchly on the side of Unification, it would be unheard of to have anyone in a position of power who had fought on the other side.

“She’s taking it real well,” Kaylee said, and they knew very well it wasn’t the speaker she was talking about. “I’d’ve hit someone by now.”

Hank put his arm around the young mechanic and hugged her shoulders.

Then it was Mercy’s turn.

“I’d like to thank my estimable opponents,” she began. “Without you I wouldn’t have grown, learned so many new things. I wouldn’t have come to see just what needs to be done here on Jericho, that the way we do things needs to change. Not overnight – that won’t happen. It can’t happen, and I don’t propose that it does. But a small step in the right direction is still a step, and each step becomes a journey, and together we can make Jericho a planet to be admired, to be looked up to, to be held up as a shining example to the future of the Alliance.”

“Not bad,” Mal said quietly.

“Ain't heard Zoe yet,” Jayne muttered back. “But she’s a good woman.”

Mal didn’t bother to hide the smile.

At Mercy finished there was a burst of applause that filled the room for minutes, and every time it looked like it was dying down a young man in the front row kept it going.

“Who’s that?” Mal asked Freya.

“Another possible future,” she answered enigmatically as Cromwell tried to quell the audience.

“Huh?”

She didn’t answer, just sat still again as Bea Jarvis spoke, or at least tried to. She seemed ill at ease, her eyes constantly darting from one side of the hall to the other, and sat down much quicker than anticipated.

Hank leaned over a little. “Zoe?”

Freya nodded. “I imagine she had a word.”

“Anything like Jayne’s?”

“I wouldn’t think she needed to be …” Freya sat up straighter, her voice dying away.

“And finally,” Cromwell was saying, “our last candidate. And remember, you will be able to ask any final questions at the end.”

He moved to one side, and Zoe stood up.

to be continued

COMMENTS

Monday, July 20, 2009 7:55 AM

WAKEUPSOON


Nooo! I was looking forward to what Zoe had to say! I love Bethie at the beginning of this, when she said she'd punched Ben I actually LOL'd at the idea of it. Ah, she is a little monkey at times.
Anna.x.(:

Monday, July 20, 2009 2:54 PM

MAINEAXE


AHHHH!!! No way did you stop before Zoe had her say!!! Unless.... the next chapter is full of mirth and violence a la Zoe... Rivers dance of the Heist, and Bettie's Illinois thug tactics are a hoot!

Yes Please.. May we have another???

Monday, July 20, 2009 6:42 PM

ANGELLEMARCS


Good all the way through....especially Bethie and her 'doin what Uncle Jayne does'. Kids will be kids...anyway, let's hear what Zoe has on her tongue already. ;)

Monday, July 20, 2009 11:32 PM

AMDOBELL


You are really teasing us by not giving Zoe's speech but leaving us hanging until the next part. I *loved* Zoe having her quiet word with Bea in the ladies room and the River and Mal scenes were outstanding. And knowing that River is inside gives our heroes the edge they need. I'm glad that Bethie confessed about punching Ben, she needs to learn that might isn't right. After all no one likes a bully. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 2:44 PM

KATESFRIEND


What IS the fascination people have with writing cliff hangers? You as writer know what's gonna happen. Us as readers are stuck WAITING .... when does that get fun? Well it is in a way - like waiting for Christmas to come when you're young.

Sigh. Loved all the personal interactions. I could so see Simon in this conversation with Bethie. And River was delightful in her role. Looking forward to more. Soon.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 6:35 PM

SLUMMING


Just caught back up with this story, and as always, you've done a great job of it! Very much enjoyed the River-dancing scene. Touch of sadness there that she will never dance for a larger audience because of her peculiar set of circumstances, but at least her feet still feel the music! :)


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