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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
A lovely day in the mountains: friendly locals and fresh air under a clear blue sky. What could possibly go wrong?
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1108 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
The Fish Job, Easy Tickets,
BS Book I, BS Book II, BS Book III, Chapter 1.
Timing, pairings, and canon blurbs are in my FFF blog.
Many thanks to desertgirl for the beta read.
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Living on Serenity taught a person to maintain a certain attitude in the face of imminent danger. When every day brought hazards in spades, a man had to learn when to let it all go. A breath of clean desert-mountain air, a puff of breeze to lift one’s hair, a peaceful blue sky over a quaint valley of tall pines, gold-green aspen, and solidly build wooden homes: these things Wash could pause to enjoy, though all the hounds of hell may very well be nipping at his heels.
Kaylee also had a talent for basking in a convenient moment. She took to the clean, warm air and cheery, bright sun of Oeneus as if she’d never known anything less. Serenity’s mechanic stood next to Wash at the edge of the fueling station, a wide stony platform carved into the rock at the side of a low valley. Her eyes climbed the show-topped grey mountain peaks to the west before returning to the town before her, and she drank in the scenery as if she was parched for such innocent, natural beauty.
“How d’you think all them rocks got to be how they are?” she asked.
A string of half-remembered geologic terms passed through Wash’s mind before he dismissed them. The sharp ridges and precarious boulders of red-gold sandstone jutting up in lines across the small valley seemed as comfortably at home as the buildings and trees nestled between them. They needed no technical explanations.
“The gods and goddesses of Oeneus must have wanted it this way,” he finally replied.
“Yeah, must have. Right cute town, ain’t it?”
Kaylee fidgeted while she talked. Wash could see that her feet were itching to explore this place, and he could sympathize. Between them the fence opened on an inviting flight of stairs leading down to the village where, not much more than a hundred meters away, a handful of flat-topped roofs rose above the trees. The town’s center, though rough-hewn, surely held some attractions: shops, cafes with homemade sweets, possibly an inn with a comfy dining room. Nothing polished, but all of it built and run by locals who, Wash mused, likely took more personal pride in their business than the head manager of the most exquisite resort in the Core.
Kaylee thoughts must have mirrored his own. “Not many places like this left in the `verse,” she said wistfully.
The sounds of a fuel pump finally powering up called Wash’s attention aside. The black-skinned, strong armed woman who ran this station was moving fast and sure. She stood before a large steel panel set into the chiseled back wall of the platform, adjusting unlabeled knobs and levers with a practiced hand. When the machinery was idling to her satisfaction, she hoisted a thick fuel line over her shoulder and trudged toward Serenity. The hose unreeled from the wall behind her as she went. Wash hurried across the platform to help her, but she waved him off.
“I told you that I got it,” she said cheerfully. “Pleased to have the opportunity to practice my trade, if you’ll stand aside and let me.”
Kaylee had followed Wash; she met his eye with a smile and they stepped back.
“You’ll be staying to see the sights I take it?” the woman called out.
Kaylee looked over the valley again, her eyes lit with yearning, but Wash replied first. “Sadly, no,” he said. “We’re in a bit of a hurry.” He scanned the clear skies around the town and, as his full awareness of the reunited crew’s situation returned, his enjoyment of the day diminished. The pure blue of the horizon could reveal an approaching ship at any second. It might be the Alliance, it might be Kamath’s gang of vengeful terrorists, it might be local sky cops investigating an unauthorized landing on the world. Any of these possibilities would be disastrous to the crew of Serenity.
“That’s a shame,” the woman said as she yanked at the line, getting some slack before she made the connection to the fuel intake valve on the ship’s underbelly. “The sights are surely worth seein’.”
“I bet they are,” Kaylee said. “You got yourself a pretty little town. Here, let me hold that open for ya.”
This time, the woman made no complaint about the offered aid. “I won’t disagree with you about my home,” she said with some pride. “I been here since the main road was cleared of pine. I seen this place flooded clean with spring run-off twice in the decade since, but nature ain’t never hampered progress for long.”
“Twice?” Kaylee asked, providing the opening the woman seemed to want.
“Och! That first time was the worst, seein’ as we had no expectation of it. But since then…”
Wash saw that the stories would be coming out while the ladies took care of the fueling, but his own attention was pulled aside. Inara had appeared on the ramp, making herself visible in that tactful but impossible to ignore way she had. She’d managed to outfit herself in a full skirt and fitted top; neither were up to Core world standards of fashion, but on the back side of a rough Border world she would stand out as a woman of means. She looked toward Wash with the air of one with business on her mind, so he left the two mechanics to their small talk.
“Do you have an amount yet?” Inara asked as soon as he joined her at the bottom on the ramp.
Wash shook his head. “Won’t know until we’re tanked up, but it’ll be pricey. We were running completely dry and fuel doesn’t come cheap out here.”
She looked aside, her expression one of worry. “I see.”
“Do you have enough?”
She nodded, though her eyes were doubtful. “Probably. But there won’t be very much money left and we have no idea where we’re going. How long will it take to finish here?”
“At least an hour. Probably more.” He lowered his voice so he wouldn’t offend the woman running the station. “This equipment isn’t the newest. It’ll run slow.”
“Then I have time. This village is a tourist destination of sorts. They must have a bank with access to Core systems.” She took in Wash’s warning look and reached out a placating hand. “It’s all right. I have anonymous accounts. No one will be able to trace it.”
With a warm smile and a few friendly words, Inara interrupted Kaylee’s conversation to ask the local woman about banks in the village. Directions to the town’s center were promptly given, as well as a detailed recommendation as to which bank and even which bank employee was the best to deal with.
Wash followed Inara across the platform toward the stairs leading to the settlement. He found himself nervously scanning the empty skies again; he wasn’t fully comfortable with Inara’s plan. It held too many chances for delays.
“Um… Inara?” he called after her. She paused just as she stepped onto the stairs, but Wash was prevented from sharing his fears. A livelier presence drew Inara’s eyes away from him.
“Ah, blue skies and fresh air!” Malcolm said as he strode down the ship’s ramp, a blissful smile on his face. “I don’t suppose we’re staying here long?”
“Not at all,” Wash called out firmly. “And I’m pretty sure that you should—”
Malcolm’s voice rose over the pilot’s. “Course it don’t make sense to stay. We got to get our business done as quick as we can.” He nearly broke into a jog as he passed Wash. “Hey there, Miss! You off into town?”
Inara nodded. “Actually yes. Errands to run.”
“You ought not go by your lonesome.”
Inara’s eyes flicked toward Wash; she had to know his opinion of this shift in the crew’s arrangements, but she didn’t seem to share the pilot’s worries. She smiled brightly at Malcolm and held out an arm. “Are you offering to accompany me?”
“My pleasure, ma’am.”
Wash frowned after them. “Be back in a half hour!” he yelled like a nervous father. “No later!” Their linked arms and retreating backs showed no sign of concern for his advice.
Wash turned to find Kaylee watching with a very different expression than his, something hopeful and so close to joy that she had to hold a hand over her mouth to stop her happiness from bursting out. She watched Malcolm and Inara disappear into the trees below, then her eyes sparkled at Wash for barely a second before she turned back to the ship’s business.
The fuel lady wasn’t at all interested in the relationship dynamics of the ship’s crew. The line was firmly connected by now and the fuel was running, leaving her free to express her full pride in her hometown.
“It really don’t make any sense to come clear out this side of the world without spending time,” she said, standing with arms crossed and eyes cast over the small valley. “Ought to spare an hour for the caverns at least.”
“Caverns?” Kaylee asked.
“Didn’t you know? They’s the reason this place went from a few shacks to the thrivin’ town it is now. Took some doing, too. Used to be you had to crawl through some damned tight spots to get down to the clear pools and glowing white walls, but now we got a big opening built. It’s just up the valley there, on the far side of the creek.” She pointed, but the direction wasn’t necessary. A large, rough-hewn sign advertising tours of the cavern was mounted on the far rise of the valley, though trees and brush hid the actual entrance from view.
“We got a ramp down into the main tunnel,” the woman continued. “I helped build the roadway, made nice smooth pavement so visitors like yourself could have a comfy ride while lookin’ at the shiny formations.”
Kaylee was delighted at the idea. “They got a tram goes through?”
“Had to have one, since walking the length would take some time. It’s a big bunch of tunnels and halls and what-have-you, all full of strange-looking rocks just as otherworldly as can be. Some are like taffy pulled till it shines, some are as frail as lace on a ballgown, and some are big and solid as pillars of marble.”
“I’d like to see that!” Kaylee called out, not in a plaintive whine like she’d used if she really wanted to go—she knew the crew’s situation, after all. But she was polite enough to let the women know how very tempted she was by the local attraction.
“We got a bit famous even,” the woman went on. “Used to be we had a steady stream of visitors comin’ through town, staying up at Harrison’s Lodge there.” She nodded at the town again, this time indicating one of the few multi-story buildings showing over the trees. “But we ain’t had many visitors of late, given the problems on the far side of the world. Now, don’t you worry. We’re plenty safe from that kind of in-fighting and mischief over here. But people from the civilized worlds ain’t comin’ to Oeneus anymore and that’s hurtin’ us as much as it is them in the big city. We sure could use all the business we can get.”
Kaylee looked at the sign across the way mournfully. “It would be a good time goin’ someplace cool and dark and exotic, especially as I ain’t ever seen a big cave like that, and double especially since y’all need the business.
“If you had a full day you could go further up the valley to the hot springs, have yourself a soak in the best steamin’ spring water this side of the system.”
Wash was genuinely tempted by that idea. “I will do my best to find a way to get back here,” he promised earnestly. He held up a hand, palm out. “Pilot’s honor.”
“But today ain’t the day,” Kaylee finished for him. “Sorry, but we just ain’t in a situation where we can linger. We got lives depending on us moving quickly. Can’t be letting anyone down.”
The woman clucked in disappointment. “Ah, well. Guess I’ll have to be glad enough to do this much business with the bunch of you.” She checked the connection with the ship, then returned to the back wall of the platform to monitor the flow of fuel.
* * *
The landing hadn’t disturbed River’s sleep, or so Book had reported, but Zoë thought the girl didn’t seem restful. The teenager’s frail body wound through the sheets on her narrow bed, as if something deeply buried in her mind wouldn’t leave her at peace. Zoë looked on but stayed back in the shadows until Simon quit his place by his sister’s bedside. The doctor quietly slid the door shut, then turned and started to find that he was being watched.
“She all right?” Zoë asked in a low voice.
Simon recovered his wits, and his sharp tongue, quickly. “Yes. Unfortunately, Will’s was far from the first dead body she’s seen while living on this ship.”
Zoë left the criticism alone. “You need anything for the infirmary? We got a bit of time while we fuel up. I can send Jayne in to town to get supplies if you need `em.”
“Thank you. That’s thoughtful…” Simon started, but he was interrupted.
“Send Jayne?” the mercenary himself asked. “Jayne’s a bit busy, if you two ain’t noticed.”
Busy was a relative term. Jayne had pulled a chair into the dorm hallway and was sitting in it as if he meant to never leave, but he was doing nothing but staring into one of the cabins. Zoë glanced through the open door; inside, Ginger was bound to a rickety chair. Jayne seemed to think the ropes weren’t enough, that the woman would only be properly held in place by the darts shooting from his eyes.
“The doc and the preacher can watch over her,” Zoë said. “I need you out looking at the skies, in case any of the multitudes on our tail find us.”
“Multitudes don’t worry me none,” Jayne said. The glare he continued to aim into the cabin completed the second half of his statement.
Zoë stepped in front of the mercenary to give him a taste of her own evil eye. “Check your hardware,” she ordered, “then get your ass out on the ramp where you can be some use to me.”
Jayne’s lip lifted in an unwilling sneer, but after a tense, rebellious second he gave in with a barely perceptible nod, then rose and dragged his unwilling feet toward the cargo bay.
Zoë turned and caught sight of Book; he was hovering in the lounge. She tilted her head toward Jayne and the preacher nodded back, showing that he’d overheard and understood her need. He’d do what was necessary to get Jayne moving.
Outside the ship, in the bright sun and warm air of a mid-summer noon, Zoë found Kaylee being chatty with the lady running the fuel station. Wash, however, was standing at the edge of the platform, scanning the skies with a worried frown. Zoë got out from under the ship to join him and share in his jittery nerves. At least there were no clouds to gum up the view. Any approaching ship would be seen well in advance—unless it came in low from behind the mountains, that was.
The Alliance would indeed make such a stealthy approach if it knew that Serenity was here. The thought sent an itching through the back of Zoë’s neck, and a heavy foreboding settled in her gut: a fleet of the Alliance’s finest could be gathering even now behind the most prominent gray and white peak to the west. The more she thought about it, the more she believed it possible. She could almost feel the distant rumble of their idling engines.
“How long?” she shouted toward Kaylee.
“Just barely got started,” was the reply.
“Can’t speed it up?”
“You folks sure are in a hurry, huh?” the woman with Kaylee asked cheerfully. “Don’t you worry. The fuel’s running and I’ll have you outta here in no time.”
Zoë tried to force herself to relax. She dropped her hand from the carbine on her hip and told herself that the humming noise feeding her fears was nothing more than the purr of the fuel line.
Kaylee smiled and spoke quickly, as if to head off any impolitic cutting remark from Zoë. “This here is Ells,” the girl said with a casual wave at the fuel lady. “She’s been tellin’ me about her home town. I guess they’re having hard times, what with all the mess goin’ on back in the ‘civilized’ side of this world.”
“And it ain’t just that,” Ells said.
A small frown made a line down Kaylee’s forehead. “How do you mean?” she asked.
“Well, let me tell you. Folks have been shy to visit our side of the globe for some time, longer than the mess that’s been happening where the Alliance set down in the city. Ain’t nothing that gets talked about, except in private, when no prying ears can hear.” Ells lowered her voice, though one set of prying ears had already caught on. Wash left his sentry post at the edge of the platform and came nearer so he could hear her warning.
“I’ll tell you this much on account of how you’re set on leaving soon anyhow,” Ells said, her voice now barely above a campfire whisper. “You seem like good people. Hate to see you find a bad end. And, no offense, but you also seem the type to need aid in avoiding trouble.”
“You speak nothin’ but the truth,” Kaylee admitted.
Ells frowned at the interruption; she wanted her audience rapt. She stood solemn and still until she had their ears focused, then lifted her gaze, staring far off as if she might make out the place where blue ended and emptiness took over. “I don’t go outside the sky myself, but I hear tell once in a while—not at all often, but once in a while—of a ship out there goin’ missing.”
“No disrespect, Ells,” Zoë muttered, “but that kind’a thing ain’t exactly rare on the Rim.”
Ells went on with hardly a pause to stare her disapproval at the interruption. “There’s some kind of highwaymen up there. The lawless type, but not in a good way. And these road thieves don’t like to be seen. They come out’a the Black, then disappear again before anyone can figure who they are. They go after the weak ship that’s out on its own, the one strayin’ too far from our world, or them that don’t follow the main route from the Core. The ships separated from the herd, if you will. Which is why I’m telling you—I take it you ain’t the type to stay with the herd.”
Zoë nodded, suddenly very interested in what this woman had to say. “You got that right, Ells, and we’ll keep our eyes open. You know about the kinds of weapons these folk use? You know their methods?”
Ells dropped her eyes, then shook her head. Her reply was soft-spoken and grim. “What they leave behind ain’t fit to be talked of under such a sun as this.” She suddenly brightened. “But what the dìyù am I worrying you about? There aren’t nothing to fret over now, not down here planetside. You just stick to the main travel corridors on your way out, and you’ll be fine.”
The woman turned away and Zoë stared into the empty sky. A shiver ran up her spine. “Zhòu mà, where’s Jayne?” she asked herself.
A man’s choice of weaponry wasn’t ever an issue to be taken lightly, and being fooled and betrayed by an agent of the Alliance could leave one feeling especially picky. Jayne huffed and threw the rifle in his hand back into an open locker, then stepped to his left and opened the next door over. A short perusal ended with another snort of disgust.
“Ain’t no guns here worth seein’ the light of day,” he muttered.
“It’s not your prom date, Jayne,” Simon said dryly from the hatch by the infirmary.
Book was also watching, frowning down from a perch on the aft stairs. “You’d better take what you can find and get out there,” he advised. “Zoë’s not to be kept waiting.”
“Waste of gorramn time,” Jayne replied. “The danger we should be frettin’ over is the one on this ship, not anything out there.”
“The woman is bound and unarmed,” Book said.
“And not really that scary to start with,” Simon added.
“I ain’t scared!”
Simon shrugged his doubt.
“I ain’t! I’m mad is what I am.”
“And why is that?” Book asked. He gave Jayne a keen look.
Jayne cleared his throat uncomfortably. “`Cause she’s a Fed and she’s a liar and she’s out to do us harm. You mark my words—she’ll find a way, if we leave her breathin’ much longer. You better keep a close eye on her. If I had just half the chance I’d gut her myself!” He turned back to the locker and began sorting through the larger guns, ignoring the silent burdens of Book’s impatience and Simon’s disapproval. He opened another locker, intent on trying every weapon for balance and inspecting each shell to be sure it could be trusted.
Just then a low cry came from the dorm rooms. Book rose to his feet and Simon turned quickly, but Jayne shoved the doctor aside and got down the hall first. He looked into Ginger’s room; the woman hadn’t budged, and looked as impassive as ever.
The cry had come from River.
“Nothing but more bad dreams from the moon brain,” Jayne muttered. He stood aside so Simon could hurry in to comfort the girl.
Zoë tapped her foot impatiently. Despite Book’s promised help, the mercenary hadn’t found his way off the ship yet. She wanted the man out here with her. The low rumble she’d imagined was back, though distant and tinny this time. She wasn’t so sure that this sound was a trick of the flowing fuel and her overactive fears.
She turned as she scanned the sky, then stopped facing the low plains to the east. What she saw made her sigh in relief.
“It’s all right,” she mumbled to herself. Her husband was gotten himself busy under the ship. “It ain’t Alliance. Feds would’a come over the mountains, all sudden. These folk are probably just…”
She looked out again; the dark spot skimmed low and slow over the plains, as if it wasn’t sure where it was heading. It veered north, then a bit west, briefly receding before it turned to meander toward the mountains again.
Suddenly it powered up, its nose aimed directly at the town nestled in the foothills.
River sat up, her blankets clenched to her chest. Her hair was damp with sweat, her breath came fast, and her eyes echoed whatever nightmare had disturbed her sleep. Simon sat beside her and reached a hand toward her shoulder; when he touched her, her wild eyes finally snapped into the here and now and settled on his face.
“Hungry!” she told Simon.
“But River, you ate when you… ”
“Not me.” Her eyes turned toward the cargo bay. “Them.”
When the approaching ship surged ahead, dark gray-black clouds billowed from its firing engines. The sight made Zoë’s breath catch.
“Wash!” she called out. “Wash! We gotta run!”
Wash had busied himself checking various fluid levels in the ship, but Zoë’s tone made him jog out of Serenity’s shadow, passing Kaylee and the local woman on his way. “Who is it?” he asked as he lifted one hand to block the sun from his face. “Who found us? There’s just so many tempting possibilities that I can’t… possibly…” His voice trailed off as his eyes found what Zoë was looking at. He immediately paled.
The mechanic also emerged from the shadows and took to scanning the eastern sky.
“How much we got?” Zoe demanded of her.
“Near a quarter full,” Kaylee replied softly. “Is that… ? Is that what I…?”
“It is,” Zoë replied, and she disappeared into the cargo bay.
Jayne left Simon, his sister, and her nightmare behind him. Abandoning the question of additional arms, he decided to stick with the handgun on his hip and a basic long-sight sniper rifle, and he finally started out to take his post as Zoë’s watchdog.
He made it barely ten steps across the bay when screams rose in the distance, the sounds blending with the growing rumble of an engine. Jayne looked toward the open cargo bay doors and could just make out the belly of a ship lowering toward the town. Its engines ran rough enough to set off a low reverberation in Serenity’s hull.
Heavy footsteps joined the din; Zoë’s boots on the ramp. “Pack it up!” she yelled. “We’re gone!”
“Gone?” Jayne asked. “But I’m just ready—”
“Reavers,” Zoë said flatly.
Jayne eyes snapped back to the shadow that now hovered a mere hundred meters away, dropping black smoke like an oily dew on the treetops.
“You mean… ?” Book asked from behind Jayne.
Zoë barely paused. “I mean that if we ain’t off the ground in—”
“No!” a shout rang out from the cargo bay behind Zoë. “No we can’t go!” Kaylee protested. “The captain and Inara, they’re out there, in the town. We can’t leave them!”
Zoë didn’t stop; she trotted toward the fore stairs. “And they’ll get back quick as they can. Meantime, we got to prep.”
“But we can’t—” Kaylee went on.
“We really can’t,” Wash finished for the mechanic. He was barely up the ramp. “We can’t move, Zoë. They’ve got a grapple, and they’re using it. Look!”
Jayne forced himself a few steps closer to the open doors so he could catch a glimpse of what Wash meant, and he stared out in open-mouth paralysis. A small craft had lifted off from the town, only to be harpooned by a cable. The snared ship pulled sideways, then its engines overheated and blew. It fell toward the ground.
“Shàng shēng dì yù,” Zoë whispered. Jayne started at the words spoken beside him; Zoë had come back down the stairs to see the mayhem in the sky for herself.
“If we take off, we’re dead,” Wash said.
But it wasn’t over so quickly. The captured ship was immediately reeled back up to meet a worse end than a crash of flames. Jayne had heard what the captives of Reavers faced; just a bare second of imagining it made him break out of his freeze to yell at Zoë, “We’re worse `n dead! No way in hell I’m going near them things!”
“You wanna stay on the ship, Jayne?” Zoë interrupted abruptly, “you go right ahead.” She was seeing and hearing the same things he was, but somehow she stayed frosty. She strode past Jayne and went to the open weapons lockers. “Give `em a nice welcome. Make tea.” She raised her voice yo call toward the dorms, “Doc! Get your sister out here!”
Jayne followed after Zoë, sputtering. “Make tea? Are you kidding me? You ain’t thinking… I know you ain’t at all thinking about goin’ out there and fightin’ them things...”
“What’s happening?” Simon asked. He appeared through the aft hatch with his blanket wrapped sister under his arm.
Zoë’s visit to the lockers took only ten seconds, but she turned away with a weapon tucked into every part of her outfit that could hold one. She took care of her husband next, flinging guns and explosives his way as she barked orders.
“We’re leaving the ship, doc. Don’t ask. Jayne, if you feel like maybe you’d prefer not to play host to a bunch of rape-hungry murdering monsters, I got another idea. That fueling lady said something about caverns.
“Caverns?” Jayne asked, his voice rising near hysteria. “Caverns? How the hell are we gonna get to some gorramn caverns?”
“The usual way. One foot in front of the other. You take the Shepherd, the Tams, and Kaylee. Hole up. Go in deep. Don’t you dare come out till everything’s quiet. You wait days if you have to. Wash is with me.”
“Where are you going?” Simon asked. He’d turned even whiter than usual, and his sister cowered into his side, holding the blanket tightly about herself as if it could protect her.
Zoë yelled over her shoulder. “We’ll get Mal and Inara and meet you there. Now, go!”
Jayne stood paralyzed for another short second, then turned and ran to the weapons locker. The Shepherd had beat him to it; the preacher fumbled a bit but managed to find enough handguns for all, even tossing a pair to the Tams. River lifted her head, dropped the blanket, and stepped in front of her brother to catch the first pistol. She stared down at it in horror, then let go of it as it was a giant spider.
Jayne ignored her; either she’d get with it or she wouldn’t. The rule of “survival of the fittest” was in full play now. He reached over the preacher’s shoulder for as many grenades as he could carry, then a thought came to him.
He ran past the infirmary to the dorms, to the room holding the fed who’d made a patsy of him. One look at Ginger’s wide eyes and open mouth made it clear: she’d heard the news. She was struggling against the ropes that bound her, and though she didn’t speak, her plea was all over her face.
Jayne scowled, then made his choice. He turned away and left her.
* * *
dìyù : hell
zhòu mà: damn
Shàng shēng dì yù: ascend to hell
Wednesday, August 25, 2010 6:49 AM
Wednesday, August 25, 2010 7:01 AM
Wednesday, August 25, 2010 8:36 AM
Wednesday, August 25, 2010 8:39 AM
Thursday, August 26, 2010 2:43 AM
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