BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JANE0904

Masks - Part XII
Sunday, January 3, 2010

Maya. Post-BDM. Mal and one half of the crew have seen off the convicts attempting to take over Serenity, while the girls on The Empress of Sihnon head towards their first stop point, Delphi, and meeting with a possible bodyguard. Sorry for the delay, but I'll try to update at least a chapter a week from now on. Enjoy! NEW CHAPTER


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1851    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

“Ouch.”

“Sorry.” Dr Gerald Barkin shifted his grip slightly on Zoe’s shoulder, lifting her arm and checking the range of her extension. “You know, you have excellent muscle tone,” he said appreciatively, gently manipulating his fingertips. “But that doesn’t mean you can ‘will’ yourself better.”

“I know. Our ship’s medic said the same.”

“And I imagine you listen to him about as much as you’re likely to listen to me.”

That morning at breakfast Freya had told Zoe, in no uncertain terms, that she was to get herself to the hospital and follow Simon’s orders, and accompanied her to the infirmary door just to make sure.

On the way down the corridor, the ankle-deep carpet muffling their footsteps and while the rest of the girls were off exploring the boutiques on the third and fourth levels, Freya’d also told her what Mal had finally deigned to tell her about the trip from Aberdeen – her words – but between them they decided not to inform the others: there was nothing any of them could do but worry, and this was supposed to be a holiday.

“’Sides, we both know that if Kaylee finds out her husband has been a little bit shot, nothing in the ‘verse is gonna stop her marching straight to the bridge and demanding the captain turn the liner around,” Freya had added.

“That would be fun to see.”

“For us, maybe. I think the captain might not find it so amusing.”

“Pity.”

She’d stopped outside the door that announced, in discreet gold lettering, that the doctor was in. “No more procrastinating.”

“Not sure I shouldn’t be taking offence at you suggesting I am doing any such thing.”

Freya grinned. “Get inside.”

“You’re not my sergeant.”

“In absentia …”

Zoe had glared at the other woman, but Freya didn’t back down.

Now only the tightness of the skin around her eyes showed Zoe’s discomfort. “I need to exercise. Otherwise that excellent muscle tone you like so much will go to pot.”

Barkin tutted, rotating her upper arm. “And if you’re not sensible you might end up never being able to lift your arm above your shoulder ever again.”

Zoe had to smile. “It took Simon a week to tell me that. It’s taken you all of ten minutes.”

“He knows you.” The smile was reciprocated. “I expect you’re more likely to threaten him more readily than a stranger.”

“I could make an exception.”

“I’d rather you didn’t.” He chuckled, low and throaty, not stopping the simple movement. “Do you mind if I ask where you’re from? You’re not one of the usual sort we get in here.”

“Usual sort?”

His brown eyes twinkled. “Paper cuts from too much canasta. Strained eyes from the Cortex halls. And the perennial stomach problems from too much food.”

“Sounds exciting.”

“Oh, you should be around when we hit a planet. Occasionally someone actually sprains their ankle.”

“So many years of medical school and it comes to this, eh?”

“Sometimes I wonder if I can stand the excitement.”

She laughed at his dry humour. “You remind me of our medic.” And not just in manner, Zoe added silently. There was something about his looks that seemed almost familiar. Maybe it was the way his dark hair fell over his forehead, like Mal’s did on occasion when it was longer than usual and before Freya gave it a trim, or perhaps it was the sparkle in his eyes when he looked at her like that.

“Your notes say he’s Simon Frye. Where did he learn the trade?”

“He didn’t.” She fell back on the usual white lie. “Well, not for long. Family troubles.”

“Pity. He’s very thorough. He’d have made a good addition to the medical fraternity.” He paused. “This might hurt a little.” He twisted something.

Zoe managed to suppress the gasp. “It did.”

“Sorry. But you had a small adhesion. It should feel better now.”

“I believe you.”

He smiled. “But I meant what I said about your medic. His notes are very good.”

“I’ll be sure to tell him. Where did you go?” Just making conversation, anything to not think about the pain.

“Medacad. On Osiris.”

Zoe didn’t jerk in his hands, but only because she again had herself under iron control. “Really. Supposed to be good,” she said slowly, her mind running ahead of the conversation. Barkin looked the same age as Simon, so there was the distinct possibility that they had known each other. It certainly appeared to be lucky that their doctor was still on Serenity.

“The best. I loved it there. Oh, it was hard work, of course, but I never felt so supported and cosseted as I did there.”

“And then you come out to the real world and find yourself dealing with canasta cuts and stomach upsets.”

“It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.”

Zoe shook her head. There was something very attractive about this doctor, and not just his looks. “I’m sure the captain thinks you’re worth your weight in gold.”

“Only because I have the secret recipe to his skin crème secreted about my person.”

“That’s way too much information.” She laughed. “So how did you come to be stuck on a wreck like this?”

“I like to eat. You can get dressed again, by the way. I’ve done.” He turned away, ostensibly to wash his hands, but Zoe got the feeling there was a lot more that he wasn’t saying.

“Not from a wealthy family, then, eh?” she asked quietly.

“No.” He took a breath and faced her again, the warm smile back on his face. “Not me. And I didn’t always talk like this, either. But I discovered pretty early on that if I didn’t sound like I came from the Core, nobody was going to hire me, let alone train me.”

“So where are you from?”

“Oh, nowhere special.” He clapped his hands together. “Well, at the moment all I can suggest is that you keep up with the routine you’ve already been prescribed. I can give you a massage each morning, which will at least loosen things up, and a little light physio in the afternoon.”

“Is that what you call it?”

He chuckled. “It might ache for a while but I think you’ll find it improved. I can get you a painkiller if you’d like.”

“No, I think I’ll be okay.” Zoe climbed down from the examination couch. “And I don’t want to take up too much of your time, Dr Barkin.”

“Gerry. Call me Gerry.”

“I don’t think so, Dr Barkin.” She spoke firmly.

“Ah.” He gazed at her. “Was I coming on a little strong?”

“A little. And I am married.” She held up her left hand.

“I noticed.” He shook his head. “And I suppose it’s pretty solid.”

“That it is.”

“Oh, well. Can’t fault a man for trying.”

“I think my husband might disagree.” She adjusted her shirt as best she could with one hand.

He chuckled again. “But I still prescribe the massage and physiotherapy.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“I’ll see you at three this afternoon.”

“I said I’ll think about it.”

He walked to the door and opened it for her. “Three o’clock.”

“Maybe.” She strode out before he could say another word, determined to go and take a long, hot shower to ease the ache in her shoulder muscles.

---

Two hours and a nap she’d never admit to later, Zoe found Freya in one of the swimming halls, sitting on a lounger with a tall glass of something containing at least eight different pieces of fruit on the table at her side, and a book in her hand. She was amused to see it was one of Hank’s trashy novels – Freya had got a taste for them when she was pregnant with Ethan, and Simon had insisted on complete bed rest for several months. She swore they were the only thing that kept her going: that and the ubiquitous soaps on the Cortex.

“Enjoying yourself?” Zoe asked, looking down at the reclining woman.

“Hating every second,” Freya joked. “I mean, this place ... you’d think they would have spent just a little money on it, don’t you?”

Zoe looked around at the palm trees and hibiscus bushes lining the walkways by the pool, making the artificial daylight dapple across the water. Above it appeared as if the sun was shining through the curved glass roof that dipped to join the low wall opposite, with blue sky all the way across. What with the soft sound of birdsong and the background hum of insects, she could almost believe it was real, and she could step outside into a jungle instead of the coldness of space.

“Yeah,” she agreed. “They could have made it pretty average.”

Freya smiled. “That they could.”

“So where are the girls? Still shopping?” Zoe lowered herself onto the next sunbed, her shoulder feeling surprisingly more comfortable than it had done in a while, even under Simon’s gentle care.

“No. I think they got bored.”

“With spending money?”

“Had to happen sometime. Right now the twins are in the sauna. I thought I’d go back in about a while, see if they’re cooked yet.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t join them.”

Wrinkling her nose Freya said, “A little too claustrophobic for my taste.”

“What about Kaylee?”

The smile expanded into a grin. “Oh, I think she might have gone to find the engine room.”

“Two days. Just two days with all this and she has to go and get greasy.” Zoe laughed. “Although I think she did well to manage as long as she did.”

“Oh, I don’t think grease comes into it. Not in a place like this. Way too bright and shiny to have anything as lowly as grease.”

“So we expect to see her escorted back any time now?”

“I’m thinking more that she’s probably being given a guided tour, having wrapped them around her little finger.”

The two women shared a grin.

“Talking of bright and shiny, where’s Inara?”

In response Freya pointed. “In there.”

Zoe followed her finger, and her eyebrows raised. “That’s her?”

“That’s her,” Freya confirmed.

They both gazed at the woman in the pool, swimming an elegant breaststroke, her head up, her dark hair covered by a lime green bathing cap adorned with pink flowers. As she kicked and pulled, she left barely a wake on the surface of the water, moving through it with surprising efficiency.

“Full make-up,” Zoe observed.

“Of course.”

“It’s been a while.”

Freya shrugged. “It’s this place. Being here, amongst this level of luxury, makes her more aware of who she was.”

“An ex-Companion.”

“Mmn.”

“Does she miss it?”

“No.” If Freya’s voice was firmer than it needed to be, nobody was going to remonstrate. “If she was still what she was, she could never have Sam, and what they have is far more important to her. It’s just ... memories.”

“She could always share some with us.”

Freya’s lips twitched. “You mean give us some of the juicy stories?”

“Blow by blow.”

Sometimes it still surprised Freya that her friend had an impish side. All through the war, and for some time after, Zoe had been the sensible one, curtailing Mal’s wilder excesses, counselling him and reining him in at the same time. Maybe it was Hank’s influence, although in all honesty it was Wash who’d started it, showing his dark Amazon of a wife that there could be fun in a life out in the black, even if it sometimes came with dinosaurs.

“Maybe after dinner.” Freya seemed to take an inordinate interest in her book again. “Oh, and ... um ... by the way, someone was asking after you.”

Zoe grimaced. “Let me guess.”

“A certain rather handsome young doctor.”

“He’s going to be a nuisance, I can tell.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Freya put the novel down on the table, a sure sign she was about to stir things a little, particularly with that twinkle in her eye. “Like I said, he’s quite good-looking. And Hank’s not here. Besides, you’re on holiday. A little flirtation, perhaps just the taste of romance …”

Zoe dropped into the chair next to her. “You like him that much, you take him, then.”

“Thanks, but I’m married.”

“Me too.”

Freya grinned. “Does he know that?”

Zoe ran her finger over her wedding band. “It doesn’t seem to matter. If Simon hadn’t been so insistent, and you nagging if I didn’t, I wouldn’t go back.”

“I don’t nag. Much,” she added out of a sense of honesty. “Do you want a chaperone? It’s what I'm here for.”

“Maybe I’ll call on your services.”

“Well, we arrive at Delphi tomorrow morning, so if this potential bodyguard’s okay, I’ll be free to make sure the good doctor doesn’t molest you.”

“More likely you’ll be stopping me from shooting him.”

Freya’s laughter rang out over the water, causing the swimmers to look at her curiously. “That might be fun too.”

“Anyway, I don’t want a holiday flirtation,” Zoe said, laying back and returning to the other matter. “I don't feel like it.”

“Missing Hank?”

“Perhaps. But don’t you go telling him I said so.”

“Why not? He’s your husband. You’re allowed.”

“I have a reputation to uphold.”

“Warrior woman?”

“Exactly.”

“Who’s let two men inside her armour?” Freya paused. “Okay, that sounded a lot less kinky inside my mind.” She shook her head. “If it helps, I miss Mal too. Oh, I know I get to talk to him, but that’s actually getting more difficult the further away we get. And with that cargo, they can’t match our speed. I think they’re going to find it hard going to get to Persephone on time.”

“Not that anyone can tell how fast we’re going.”

“No.” Freya gazed out over the water. “You know the clocks aren’t right.”

“What?”

“I think they’re doing it on purpose, so when we get to our various destinations, local time agrees with shipboard time.”

“Is it making you itchy?” Zoe asked astutely.

“A bit. And for the record, I'm blaming that for feeling ...”

“Bereft.”

“Mmn.” Freya smiled, a little sadness tinting her eyes. “You know, I never used to be like this. Before I came on board, stopped chasing Mal long enough for him to catch me, I could probably count the number of times I’d cried on the fingers of one hand.” She sniffed. “Now I do it all the time, at any provocation. And I used to be such a ...”

“Warrior woman?”

“Exactly.”

“Well, as a certain person told me, not so long ago, it’s only a few days. Then we’ll be back in the bosom of our family.”

“I feel the need to make some comment, something Jayne-like, about you using the word ‘bosom’,” Freya said thoughtfully.

Zoe grinned as Inara climbed elegantly from the pool, the flowers on her ridiculous swimcap vibrating slightly. Picking up a towel she began to pat her skin dry.

“Am I missing something?” she asked.

“Oh, nothing much,” Freya said. “Only ‘bosoms’.” Then she caught Zoe’s eye.

Inara looked from one to the other as they both burst into gales of laughter. “Honestly,” she muttered, stepping into her fluffy high heels. “I can’t take you two anywhere.”

---

The next morning the shuttle was beginning to fill with people just itching to go and see the wonders of Delphi, but as the time came to start down to the planet’s surface, Freya was surprised to see that a fair percentage of the passengers must have stayed behind.

“I can’t see the point,” she muttered.

“What?” Zoe looked at her.

“Staying on board the ship when you could go and get some good fresh air.”

“And have to leave that twenty-four hour food?” Kaylee puffed her cheeks out. “I’m gonna be huge by the time we get back home.”

“Some people only go on cruises for the service, and not to actually go anywhere,” Inara explained, patting the mechanics arm.

“Still seems odd.” Freya looked up as a voice spoke over the tannoy, all silk and promises.

“Welcome to the beautiful world of Delphi. We will shortly be landing at the port of Oracle City, from where you will be transported by carriage to the Sapphire Falls, at which time you can partake of the hot springs, and the famous volcanic beauty ritual.”

Zoe glanced at Freya, one eyebrow raised.

“Mud baths,” the captain’s wife interpreted.

“Ah.”

“It’s supposed to be excellent,” Inara added.

“Haven’t you been there?” Freya teased. “I thought you’d been everywhere.”

“Not quite.” The ex-companion gave her a cool look, making her friend smile.

“Oh, I can’t wait,” Phoebe said, staring out of the porthole at the green planet rushing up to meet them. “Although I have heard you’ve got to strip naked for the mud baths.” Her nose wrinkled. “Doesn’t that mean it gets everywhere?”

“Phee,” Valentia admonished, glancing around to see if anyone had overheard. “Keep your voice down.”

“Why?”

“People might be listening.”

Phoebe looked her sister, honestly not seeing the problem.

“You’re not the only one,” said another voice, young and female. “Looking forward to it, I mean.”

They turned.

“Sorry.” A girl, probably only a year older than the twins, grinned. “Can’t keep my mouth shut at the best of times, according to my Pa.” She bounced up to them. “I’m Joy. Joy Danette.”

Inara had to smile, her eyes running up and down the girl’s slim figure, adorned in clothes she didn’t seem quite at home in, her red hair cut in a fashionable bob that skimmed her chin. “I think the name suits you.”

Joy laughed happily. “My Ma said the same. She can’t decide, though, whether I’m the way I am ‘cause of my name, or she somehow knew what I was gonna be like anyway.”

“I’m Inara Serra, by the way. And this is Kaylee Frye.”

For a moment Kaylee wondered who she was talking about, then remembered that, after the fight on Hera and the death of Mara Tam, he’d decided to call himself Simon Frye. She smiled widely. “That I am.”

“And this is Zoe Mills, Freya Reynolds, and these are Valentia and Phoebe Reilly,” Inara said, completing the introductions.

Joy nodded. “It’s so nice to meet you all. I mean, I like everyone here, a’course, but no-one wants to talk. Not, you know, real friendly talk.”

“I know what you mean.” Kaylee dropped her voice conspiratorially. “If I didn’t have my family with me, I wouldn’t have said a word to anyone. They all look like they … bu zan cheng.”

“It’s not that they disapprove, Kaylee,” Inara said quietly. “But a lot of people in the Core are reserved.” She shot Phoebe a warning glance.

“Dillon and Breed ain’t. Neither is Sir Warwick.”

“Dillon and Breed are … different. And they were Freya’s friends long before we ever met them. And Sir Warwick had to get to know us.”

“I guess.” Kaylee sighed, but her brightness won through as always. “Still, they could smile occasionally.”

“S’true,” Joy said. “Most of ‘em look like they’ve got a stick up their pigu.”

Inara tried not to smile. “And young ladies don’t say things like that,” she admonished gently.

“Good job I ain’t a young lady, then.” Joy laughed. “Oh, you know, I’m sure we’re gonna get along like a house on fire.”

“Are you planning on burning something down?” Freya asked.

Joy blushed. “Well, that was only the once, and I was six.”

Freya raised her eyebrows. “Really.”

“Only the doghouse. I wanted Kilo to sleep indoors with me, only my Pa wouldn’t let him on account he thought dogs should be outside, so I figured if we didn’t have someplace to put him …” The blush burned brighter in her cheeks. “I got my backside tanned for that, and Pa built a new kennel. Only by that time everyone’d got used to Kilo being inside in my room, that nobody mentioned it again.” The grin was back as the red receded.

“Member of the family,” Kaylee said stoutly.

“That’s right.” Joy giggled. “And the truth is, only reason we’re here is ‘cause my Pa won the lottery.”

“Lottery?”

“Yeah. Don’t you play?” She was so enthusiastic it was impossible not to like her. “It’s Alliance, a’course, but Pa says that don’t matter when it’s cash. He’ll take it off anyone. See, you have to pick a series of numbers and letters, and if yours gets picked out, you get a prize.”

“How big a prize?” Kaylee wanted to know.

“Well, this was the first, so it was pretty big. Pa won’t tell me, says it’d only put ideas into my head, but I said, if we’re goin’ on a cruise, I’ve got an idea already.”

“Where are your parents?” Freya asked.

“Oh, they stayed on board.” Joy shrugged. “Ma said she was too tired, and she wanted to rest for a while, and since they’re looking forward more to the Core, they said I probably couldn’t get into too much trouble going down to Delphi on my own.” A mischievous look flashing through her eyes suggested they were probably wrong.

“Well, you can stay with us if you like,” Inara suggested.

“Ooh, can I?” Joy seemed to be on springs. “I mean, I like doing stuff by myself, but all of this, all these stuck up folks ... it’s kind of intimidating, you know what I mean?”

“I know exactly.” Inara hooked her arm through the girl’s. “Freya and Zoe have a few errands to run in the town, but the rest of us can go and have a good time at the Falls.”

“And the mud baths,” Phoebe put in.

“We are preparing to land. Please make sure you are seated. Thank you.” The voice again.

They could feel the engine cycling back, the faint vibration clear to the handful used to living on a ship. Outside the colour of the sky changed from black to red to bright, bright blue.

“Hold onto something,” Kaylee muttered. “We’re going down pretty fast.”

The others did what she suggested, grasping the strategically placed handrails as a sudden decrease in acceleration made all their stomachs flip. A moment later and a shudder through the elegant interior announced that they were down.

“Hank does it better,” Kaylee stage-whispered to Zoe.

“I kinda agree with you, mei-mei.”

“Do you think the pilot’s still learning?” Freya asked.

She was saved from anyone responding by the tannoy announcing, “Welcome to Delphi.”

---

The bar looked like a million others on a thousand different moons and planets, and the scent as they pushed open the double doors was as familiar as Jayne’s perfume.

“Do you think they’re going to be okay?” Zoe asked quietly, glancing over her shoulder towards the Empress’s shuttle.

“Inara will keep an eye on them,” Freya said, stepping into the slightly gloomy interior. “It’s the first stop. They’re all going to be far too excited to find trouble quite yet.”

“You have a lot of faith in them.”

“Hope, Zoe. Hope.” She smiled, then crossed to bar, a long strip of wood intermixed with chrome. A mirror filled the wall, shelves of fancy coloured bottles ranged across the front, while a Cortex sat in the corner, the sound turned off.

A man in a striped shirt and tight buttoned waistcoat turned, smiling at her. “Ladies,” he said. “Welcome to Terpsichore.” He indicated the same word written in bright red neon across the top of the mirror. “What can I get for you this fine morning?”

“Hi.” Freya nodded warmly. “We’re looking for a man, name of Will Everett.”

The barman shrugged, seeing some profit disappear over the horizon. “He’s up in his room. You the people wanting to hire him?”

“Thinking about it. Got any observations on the matter?” Zoe asked.

“He’s okay, I guess. Been here a coupla weeks, paid his rent on time in cash. Spends the evenings playing cards.”

“Did he win?”

“Some.” The barman grunted. “Not sure if he’s sly, but he didn’t partake of the girls, least not here.”

“Which room?”

“Nine. First floor.”

“Thanks.”

The two women headed for the stairs. At the first landing Freya nodded at the sign on the wall. “This way,” she said, turning left.

“Think he’s going to be okay?” Zoe wanted to know, glad she had the pistol Jayne had given her tucked into the back of her waistband under her short jacket, ready for her to draw left-handed if needed. When Freya didn’t answer, she looked at her friend. “What is it?”

“Not sure.” Freya paused outside a door prominently declared as number nine. Something was ticking her senses, a feeling she recognised, perhaps even someone ...

“Trouble?”

“No, I ... don’t think so.”

“But? There’s a but in there.” Zoe slipped her hand around her waist.

But I don’t know what the problem is.”

“Well, no time like the present to find out.” She tensed slightly.

“Yes.” Freya raised her hand, knocking loudly.

“Coming,” said a man from inside, other noises suggesting movement. After only a few seconds the door opened. “What can I do for ...” His jaw dropped. “Cao.”

Freya stared at him. “Flynn?”

to be continued

COMMENTS

Sunday, January 3, 2010 10:23 AM

BRIGLAD


Excellent as usual Jane! And with the obligatory cliffhanger....

Sunday, January 3, 2010 10:24 AM

WAKEUPSOON


So, she knows him from somewhere else?? INTRIGUED :)
Anna.x.(:

Sunday, January 3, 2010 11:43 AM

ANGELLEMARCS


Not sure I like Freya knowing this chap. Here's hoping he's a friendly or he might just meet the barrel of Zoe's Mare's Leg. After all, Mal ain't there to defend and threaten! ;) Always on spot good stuff! :)

Sunday, January 3, 2010 1:37 PM

KATESFRIEND


Wow, I had a long review, saw it posted, and now it's gone. Huh. Gotta love a Mercury retrograde. Just when I think I understand the parameters of your story, you expand the boundaries. Very interesting!

Monday, January 4, 2010 8:57 AM

FREEVERSE


Squee! New chapter! I'm intrigued by the three new characters.

Monday, January 4, 2010 12:26 PM

AMDOBELL


Uh oh, who's Flynn? It was all going along so nicely something had to throw a spanner in the works. Hope it isn't going to end up causing too much trouble. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, January 10, 2010 8:00 AM

BYTEMITE


I'm going to go with Flynn as a friendly, but conspiring secret evil dastardly plans, because that's always fun.

And because I felt like Freya was having a bit of intuitive warning there in her initial sense. She says she doesn't think it's trouble, but doesn't know what the problem is. That says to me there's still gonna be trouble. So does narrative law.


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Monied Individual - Part XI
Freya felt flustered, as if her world had been turned upside down, black was white, and Jayne was the President of the Alliance.

[Maya. Post-BDM. Mal and Freya go to church, Hank doesn't go ice-skating, and maybe it's hinting at the calm before the storm. An extra long chapter to make up for the delay - enjoy!]