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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. Post-BDM. A little seasonal tale for Hallowe'en. Kaylee wants a party, but River has a job to do first. STANDALONE but fitting more or less into current Maya timeline
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1941 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
“You can’t fix faith …”
“And we shall call it, this land …”
“There’s only the truth of the signal …”
River stood in the middle of the old saloon and turned slowly, listening to the voices coming from every corner, some familiar, others strangers.
“Help me …”
“They’re breaking through …”
“Mother of God …”
She wasn't surprised. It wasn't the first time the dead had come to visit, but generally she’d put it down to the fact that she was crazy. Although now, after having that conversation with Kaylee …
“Do you know what day tomorrow is?” Serenity’s mechanic had asked, tucking the blanket around David Gabriel as he took his afternoon nap.
Days are a vestigial mode … “No,” River admitted. “I don’t keep track.”
“You’re as bad as Jayne.”
“My Jayne.” The psychic smiled indulgently. “My rock.”
“Yeah, he’s kinda built like one, isn’t he?”
“In every way.”
“I used to wonder ‘bout that.” Kaylee blushed lightly, just a hint of warmth across her cheekbones. “You know, ‘fore I met Simon.”
“I'm not jealous.”
“Good.” Kaylee coughed. “Anyways, it’s a kind of holiday. Tomorrow, I mean.”
“Used to be called Hallowe’en.”
“Festival to encourage the spirits, to remember those gone before.”
“You’ve heard of it?”
Kaylee slapped her arm playfully. “Shouldn’t be peekin’. More fun for me to tell you.”
“Then tell me.”
“Me and my brothers, we used to go trick or treatin’ – nothing bad, a’course, and mostly we’d get treats from the neighbours. Although there was a time …” The blush deepened as she remembered a long-ago mischief, and River smiled secretly. “Anyway, my Ma and Pa always decorated, putting out pumpkins with candles in, and if there was the cashey-money to spare we’d have real apples in a bowl, and …”
River let the words wash over her, knowing she shouldn’t have lied, but it was such a smallness to allow Kaylee to enjoy telling her something, and the real truths behind the tricks and the treats and the pumpkin heads would stay unspoken.
“… so I was wondering if the Cap wouldn’t let us do something for the kids,” Kaylee finished, almost out of breath.
“Do you want me to ask?”
“No, no, I’ll ask. I just kinda wanted someone to back me up. You know, do the puppy dog eyes with me.”
River smiled. “I can do that.”
As it happened, they didn’t need the eyes.
“Don’t see why not,” Mal had said, sitting back in his chair after supper. “Got that job to do first, then we can stop by the Skyplex on the way out, pick up a few bits. Might not run to much, but enough probably for a good time.”
The children were all beaming, looking forward to the idea of a party even if they didn’t necessarily understand why. Jesse clapped her hands and Freya smiled, running a loving hand down her daughter’s long brown hair.
“Did the rest of you celebrate Hallowe’en?” Hank asked, chewing the last piece of bread. “Only my Gran’d not allow anything like that in the house. Said it was the Devil’s work.”
“Well, that kinda explains why you’re the way you are,” Jayne said, chuckling.
Stuffed apples and fruit bread and painted masks.
The laugh turned to a cough, and the big man glanced at his wife, who smiled sweetly at him.
“We didn’t,” Simon said, missing the byplay. “I don’t think anybody on Osiris actually keeps up with the old traditions, not like that.”
“All Hallow’s Eve,” Mal said, surprising everyone. He shrugged. “Back on Shadow, we had a big bonfire on the edge of town, and everyone baked potatoes, marshmallows, pretty much anything you could cook out in the open. The men’d bring out a barrel or two, the women’d be in their best dresses, and none of us’d go home ‘til the sky was lightening.” He smiled, even though there was sadness there as he looked back across the years. “A’course, the parson’s sermon the following Sunday would be all about how we were all gonna end up in Hell, but that didn’t stop anyone. And I don’t doubt that more than one indiscretion needed to prayed over.”
Freya reached out and took his hand, stifling a sneeze as she squeezed it. He pulled a hankie from his pocket and handed it over, the sadness turned to sympathetic love in his eyes as she wiped her already red nose.
“Sorry,” she said, her voice oddly blocked.
“Not your fault.” Mal declined the return of the linen square. “But I'm thinking it’ll be an early night for you.”
“I don’t mind.”
“Ain’t that the case,” Jayne put in, a wide grin framed by his goatee, then wincing as his wife looked at him, other words dropped into his mind.
Kaylee was almost bouncing around in her seat, ignoring the big man. “It’ll be fun,” she burbled happily. “Might even be able to pick up a pumpkin so we can hollow it out and make a face in it.”
“Can’t afford to waste food,” Mal added quickly. “No matter how pretty it might be.”
“Wouldn’t be wasted. I know the recipe for the pumpkin pie my Ma used to make.” The young woman licked her lips. “It’ll make your mouth water.”
Jayne looked like he was already drooling.
Mal schooled his face not to laugh. “Okay, little Kaylee. We’ll see what we can find, make a party of it.”
She was out of her chair in a moment, around the table and hugging him. “I love my captain.”
“But job first,” Mal had warned, this time unable to hide the smile.
And now they stood in the saloon, empty and abandoned, in an equally empty and abandoned town, populated only by memories of the people who left when the water ran out. And the ghosts.
“I don’t care what you believe, just believe in it …”
“When your miracle gets here, you just pound this button once …”
River watched them move around the room, not disturbing the sun-dappled motes because they weren’t there.
“I imagine Frey wasn’t happy about being left behind,” Zoe was saying, watching the street through the swing doors.
“Nope,” Mal agreed. “Threatened me with the couch for the foreseeable. But I ain't having that cold of hers turning into pneumonia. Only just got her broken in – I’m not intending to go through the process of finding somebody else right now.”
Zoe’s lips twitched. “Of course, sir.”
He shrugged out of his coat and laid it carefully over one of the chairs. “And you can keep that tone of voice off your face, too.”
River walked the room, stepping delicately over a broken broom, no longer capable of keeping the dust at bay, and running her fingers along the edge the gaming tables. A small piece of wood lay on the floor and she leaned over, picking it up, leaving a perfect circle pristine and clean behind. According to the design, it was worth ten credits, and she placed in on the roulette board. As she turned away she could hear the phantom turn of the wheel, and the croupier call “Zero!”, and she smiled as she collected her non-existent winnings.
Mal lowered himself gingerly into a chair, waiting for it to give way beneath him. It creaked a little, and settled, but it held. “Okay. If this Varley is on time, we’ll be away from here in an hour, more than a tad heavier in the pocket.”
“What did he want to meet here for, Mal?” Jayne asked, watching as River wrote in the dust on the bar, moving an empty bottle so she could continue.
“No idea. He said it was quiet, seeing as what we’re delivering ain’t quite legal.” He glanced at the small metal box Jayne had carried. He hadn’t asked, and they hadn’t told, but when Simon scanned it – something they did now on a regular basis, on account of being duped before – it appeared to be high tech computer parts.
“Live with a man 40 years, share his house, his meals, speak on every subject. Then tie him up and hold him over the volcano's edge …”
“I'll read a nice poem at the funeral. Something with imagery …”
Something in the voices made River walk to the doors, her eyes narrowed against the sunlight. Leaves drifted from dead trees in the breeze, and a chill meandered around her ankles.
“We’ll meet him in the street. Jayne, you keep to the left, out of the sunlight, in case you need to … do something. It’s not that I’m expecting trouble, but you know how it seems to follow us sometimes.”
“You wearing your armour?” the big man asked.
“I am.” Mal adjusted the collar of his shirt, as if something was chafing. “Frey said I had to, otherwise she was gonna get out of her sickbed and walk in front of me.”
“Your own fault, getting shot all the time.”
“Not all the time.”
River listened to the argument, knowing it wasn't really going to get heated. If that were the case, no matter how fast the Captain was on the draw, he’d be bleeding before Jayne was done. And they’d changed … they all had. Death of friends can do that. And now, after the years, they were closer, tighter, more a family than before.
“It is, however, somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps …”
“I’m a leaf on the wind: watch how I –”
“No,” River said firmly, making the others turn to stare at her.
“Albatross?” Mal asked, the faded light from the dirty windows giving his face a gloom like death.
“It’s a trap,” she said, not wanting to explain the voices.
“Figured as much,” he sighed, contradicting his words of a few minutes before, only this time being more truthful. “Ain’t no point in making a meeting here otherwise.” He stood up and settled his shoulders, hands on his gunbelt. “They in place already?”
“You know, just once, I’d like to meet reliable, trustworthy folk who ain’t looking to separate me from my life. Or my money, for that matter.”
“Are there such people, sir?” Zoe said dryly.
“Not sure. I’ll let you know if I ever do.”
“I’d take that as a kindness, sir.”
Mal nodded, then looked at River and Jayne. “Can you take ‘em out so the others don’t know?”
River let her mind wander through the town, lifting old curtains and looking in empty cupboards. “Yes,” she said succinctly.
“Then do it. We got ten minutes ‘fore the time arranged.”
Jayne grinned, his eyes feral. “No problem.”
“And no killing. Not unless you have to. It’s a vanishin’ maybe that River ain’t right, but I’d rather we gave ‘em the benefit of the doubt.”
“And if they’re the treacherous, lying scum that she says?”
“I don’t wanna get shot. Don’t think Frey’d be too pleased about that, even wearing my armour.”
“We’ll try and keep you in one piece.” Jayne looked at his wife then loped towards the back of the saloon, out of sight of the waiting gunmen.
River looked at Mal, her dark eyes serious. “I will keep you safe, jia yan.”
“I ain't your father,” he responded automatically.
“Keep telling me. I might one day believe you.”
“Nope. Can’t say I'm holding out much hope of that.”
She smiled at him, then followed her husband.
It wasn’t hard, because they weren’t very good. They thought they were, but they hadn’t planned on a psychic and an ex-mercenary, both of whom could sneak up on a fly.
River felt Jayne dispatch his, perhaps hitting harder than strictly necessary. The man might, or might not, wake up. Hers was as easy, a pirouette and a foot to the jaw doing all the work.
“Trick,” she said into his face, no matter that he was unconscious, before dropping him back onto the dirt. A tiny puff of dust rose from where his head made contact.
Eight minutes later and she was walking behind Mal and next to Zoe, her blue dress floating around her knees.
Ten men appeared at the end of the street, six walking and four in a hovermule not unlike their own.
“Just a mite overkill, don’t you think?” Mal muttered.
“A mite,” Zoe agreed.
As they got closer, the leader, a man in a red vest and low-slung double gunbelt, moved ahead. “Reynolds?” he asked.
“That’d be me. And you’re Varley.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
They lie, Mal heard in his mind, and he nodded, barely. “Lot of men to take one little box,” he said, his eyes scanning the other nine, his mind working on which to take out first.
“And I suppose this your idea of a reception committee?” Varley asked, his eyes flicking from Zoe to River, a look that made both women feel dirty.
“My wife couldn’t come,” Mal said, his thumbs resting on his belt.
“Just the three of you.” Varley shook his head. “Always did wonder about your rep. Looks to me like it maybe ain’t deserved. Maybe they’re the brains of the operation.”
Mal refused to be drawn. “As much as I'm enjoying this chitchat, I’m kinda tired. Old man like me, I need my afternoon nap. So how about we finish our business and you ride out of here?”
“They ain't to be trusted …”
“Sniper on the street … V18 assault rifle … for rabbits …”
She barely turned her head, seeing the glint of sunlight on metal.
Jayne. 11 o’clock.
The big ex-mercenary lay on the floor of the abandoned whorehouse and barely moved the scope of the man’s rifle he’d taken. Looks like we missed one, moonbrain.
Well, he ain’t gonna get old.
“So where is it? My goods.” Varley looked pointedly at Mal’s hands. “’Cause it don’t look like you’re carrying it.”
“That’d be because I ain’t. And they’re not yours, not until I see the money I was promised.”
Varley grinned, showing he had gaps in his tombstone teeth. “Ah, see, there might be a problem with that.”
There was the distinctive sound of weapons cocking.
Mal sighed, shaking his head. “What is it with people?” he asked of nobody in particular. “What’s wrong with folks just being reasonable?”
That was it. The code word. River felt Jayne take a breath, then exhale halfway, holding it as he focused his entire body. The sound of the first rifle shot coincided with the men in the hover mule opening up their handguns. Mal and Zoe threw themselves to the side, firing accurately, even as River ran forward, leaping up and striking Varley in the throat with her foot. In the same movement she twisted in mid-air and landed like a cat, her knife buried deep in the chest of the man behind.
After that it got confusing, but only for a minute, at the end of which she stood in the centre of a circle of dead men, their voices added to those still chattering at the edge of her hearing. Only Varley was still breathing, or at least gasping for air that was flavoured with gunpowder.
As Mal got to his feet, checking the ammo in his gun, she crouched down, looking into Varley’s eyes. “Trick,” she whispered, even as the light died, and his essence drifted away.
Jayne hurried out of the whorehouse, phantom women dragging scented fingers cross his clothing, trying to hold the flesh and blood man in their embrace. “You okay?” he asked her, the rifle over his shoulder.
She wrinkled her nose. “Shiny,” she said, leaning down and pulling a bag heavy with coin from Varley’s pocket.
He nodded. “Glad o’ that, Riv.”
She smiled for him and tossed the bag to Mal.
“Jayne, you wanna get our stuff?” he said, tucking it into his shirt and glad to be feeling the weight.
“I’ll do it,” River offered, running quickly back into the saloon, her bare feet not touching the ground.
“That girl ever gonna slow down?” she heard her captain ask, before the other voices drowned him out.
Dust swirled, and it might have been a brightly coloured shirt moving towards the swing doors.
“I miss her.”
River half-turned, the light catching on blond hair that no longer shone. “She’s happy.”
“Oh, I know that.” Wash sighed heavily. “I just wish it was with me.” He absently touched the front of his flying suit.
“A time to be born, a time to die …” White collar, grey hair thankfully handcuffed into corn-rows and not escaped.
“You think I could do that? Be reincarnated?” Wash looked at Book as the man moved from the shadows into the shade.
“You’d like Zoe to be your mother?”
For a moment it looked as if he was honestly considering it, then he shuddered. “Nah, too creepy.”
“She misses you too,” River whispered.
“She does? That’s nice.” Wash would have sounded pleased, if he could have spoken.
“Come on, albatross,” Mal called from the dusty street. “We’ve got those supplies to get for Kaylee, for the party. I ain’t gonna be the one to tell her we’ve not got the time to pick ‘em up.”
“Party?” Wash asked, his transparent eyes lighting up.
“Hallowe’en,” River explained.
“Ah. We used to go around and toss eggs at people’s windows. You know, if we didn’t like ‘em.”
“That explains a lot,” Book said.
Wash coughed. “So … is there going to be snap-apples and ice-cream?”
Wash looked longingly at Zoe as she checked her Mare’s Leg before sliding it home. “Wish I could be there,” he murmured. “Just to celebrate, you know.”
River understood. She crossed to the bar and picked up the empty bottle, tipping it over the dusty glasses as if it held the finest whiskey in the house.
Wash grinned. “Thanks,” he said, his spectral hand lifting the metaphysical drink to his lips.
“I shouldn’t,” Book said.
“Why not? You only die once.”
“That depends on whether you go to the Special Hell,” the older man pointed out, but lifted the second glass in companionship.
River had the third, and as she opened her mouth and tipped the thick glass over it, she could almost feel the alcohol burning its way down her throat, and she had to stop herself from coughing.
“Ah.” Wash smacked his lips in satisfaction. “That hits the spot.” He grinned. “Thanks, kiddo,” he said, his Hawaiian shirt glowing as brightly as his grin. “See you next year?”
“Next year,” she agreed, then poured another pair of empty glasses before walking out of the saloon into the dry sunlight. “Treat …” she whispered onto the breeze.
“You comin’?” Jayne called, waiting at the end of the street for her.
She smiled and started to run, Mal’s coat flapping over her shoulder, the box of computer parts they would be able to sell somewhere else in her arms. As she jumped the body of one of the dead men, the words of an old Hallowe’en song echoed around her.
One for Peter, two for Paul, three for them who made us all. Up with the kettle and down with the pan. Give us good alms and we’ll be gone …
Saturday, October 31, 2009 4:09 AM
Saturday, October 31, 2009 5:53 AM
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Saturday, October 31, 2009 1:48 PM
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