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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. Post-BDM. At last, the long-awaited next story. Serenity visits Wayborn Skyplex, but there are dangers in some very unexpected places.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1988 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
“Okay.” Mal clapped his hands together, getting everyone’s attention. Well, nearly everyone. The children were gathered together, still discussing what they were going to do. Mal coughed. Twice.
“Sorry, Mal,” Hank said, laughing. “A visit to Wayborn’s far more interesting than listening to you.”
The rest of the crew, gathered as they were in the cargo bay ready to disembark at the Skyplex, appeared to concur.
“Fine,” Mal said. “Only it means they ain’t going.”
There was sudden silence as every person under four feet tall stared at him.
“Uncle Mal?” Ben asked.
“Daddy?” Ethan put in.
“He doesn’t mean it,” Bethie said, then glanced up at her mother.
“Cap’n, don’t tease,” Kaylee said, feeling her daughter’s hand creep into hers. “You know you ain’t gonna stop ‘em going to that new playing level.”
“Maybe I will, and maybe I won’t. ‘Less they listen to what I’ve got to say, we won’t know for sure.”
“We’re listening, Daddy,” Ethan said, hitching his thumbs in his own tiny suspenders.
As always Mal felt a swell of pride fill his chest, not only at being Daddy in the first place, but seeing the miniature version of himself standing there in front of him. It was like looking in a mirror that showed the long ago past.
Freya chuckled lightly, and he knew he’d been caught out. Tossing her the look that said you shouldn’t be peeking, he continued with what he had planned to say.
“We’ve got but a day here, and chores to be done first before anyone plays. And I mean anyone.” He glared at the kids, but they just grinned back. “I know there’s replacement shoes and the like to get, so just bear that in mind. And no running off. Jayne, River, don’t spend what you don’t have to on ammo. I know we’ve got some cash ready for a rainy day, but I don’t want to hear the thunder rollin’ quite yet. And that means no Protolluvial rounds.” River pouted but he ignored it. “Zoe, you’re helping Kaylee with those couple of parts we need – although why we need ‘em is a mystery to me.” He held up a hand to forestall his mechanic’s explanation. “Just make sure she don’t come back with so much we’re having to share our bunks with hardware.”
“As if I’d do that,” Kaylee said, trying to stop herself from grinning, looking as innocent as a woman could with a baby in a sling around her chest.
“What’ll you be doing, Mal?” Jayne asked, adjusting his gunbelt.
“Picking up any post then going to Delmonico’s.”
The big man grinned, something like the one he used to use when presented with the possibility of going to a house of ill-repute. Unlike its Earth-that-was namesake, Delmonico’s was a bar with naked dancing girls and rooms out the back. “Something maybe we should be knowing, here?” he teased.
“Frey’s coming too, in case you were wondering.”
“Nope. Just makes it that much more interesting. You know, all girls together.” He glanced down at River, who rolled her eyes at him.
Mal internalised the sigh, and made a mental note just who was going to do the septic vat next time around. “I’m meeting a contact, maybe with a job at the end. And if he wants to meet there, that’s where we meet.”
“So naked women don’t come into it.”
Mal glared at him, then turned back to the others. “Simon, you’re tagging along with Hank to make sure Bethie doesn’t persuade him to buy something entirely unsuitable.”
The doctor nodded. “I have a list.” A very careful list, prepared by the various mothers on board Serenity.
“Sounds almost like fun,” the pilot said, Caleb sitting on his hip sucking loudly on a small fabric book.
“Shiny. You all know the combination to get back in, but make sure she’s locked up tight if you leave again.” Mal clapped his hands together. “Okay, I think we’re done. As a final word, don’t make trouble, ‘cause I’m not going to bail you out.” Glancing down at the children, who were now almost vibrating with anticipation, he added, “And if everyone gets done early, we meet at the entertainment complex, ‘fore the kids self combust.”
Freya looked through the door at the women gyrating on the stage and shook her head. “I think I’ll sit out here,” she said, indicating one of the empty tables on the concourse.
“Fine by me,” Mal agreed. “Ain’t that fond of non-wifely flesh at the best of times.”
She smiled as she sat down. “You know the right thing to say.”
“Practice, xin gan.” He settled next to her, close enough that their knees touched, and put the post they’d collected on the table. “And a hell of a lot of saying the wrong thing. I kinda know the difference now.”
A waitress, dressed in a skirt so short it was little more than a deep belt, and a flounced top that dropped off her shoulders, meandered out to them. “What’ll it be?” she asked in a bored tone.
“Does it have to be anything?” Freya asked. “Can’t we just sit here and watch the world go by?”
“Cover charge,” the girl said shortly. Probably no more than eighteen years old, her thick makeup and jaded air added at least another ten to her age. “Gotta buy a drink or go someplace else.”
“Fine,” Mal said. “Two beers.”
“Nope, that’ll be fine.”
“We got a special on laps at the moment. Two for one. One for each of you.”
“Laps?” It took Freya a moment for her mind to catch up, then she coloured, very slightly.
Mal did not laugh, but it was a close run thing. “No. Thanks. Just the beers.”
“Don’t you dare,” Freya said after the girl had headed back inside.
“Wasn’t gonna say a word.” Mal had his lips firmly closed, but then his sense of humour intervened before his brain could stop it. “Ain’t you ever getting over that prudish streak?”
“No.” She crossed her arms.
“Good.” His fingers touched her thigh, caressing gently. “’Cause I wouldn’t want you any other way.”
Her face softened. “Sweet talker.”
“Just telling the truth, Frey.”
She leaned in and brushed her lips with his.
He groaned slightly. “Behave,” he murmured. “It ain’t like I can do anything about it right now.”
“And Serenity being empty, too,” she teased.
“Makes it even worse.” He grinned. “But I'm taking a rain check, dong mah?”
“Fine by me.”
The girl came back out with their beers, and Mal paid the exorbitant amount. “Bigsby’d better have a job for us,” he grumbled. “Or I'm gonna make him reimburse us for these.”
“Knowing him he’s inside right now, tucking a credit note somewhere it really doesn’t belong.” Her face screwed up, looking just like her daughter’s.
“Now, you’re wishing you hadn’t thought of that, aren’t you?” Mal teased in return. “That mental image something you’re gonna have to wash out?”
“Then let’s take your mind off it. I reckon there’s at least one letter in this pile with your name on it.” He started to sort through the envelopes and small packages. “Here.” He held one up. It was a box, wrapped in brown paper, cunningly folded so that there was only one corner on the bottom, held down by a wax disc. “Looks like your bro’s cipher.”
Freya took it, studying the wax. It was impressed with a seal made up of the letters AR curlicued together. It looked old-fashioned, but she knew it also contained an anti-tamper device. “You’re right. It is Alex.” She shook it delicately, but nothing rattled. “I wonder what he’s sent.”
Mal plucked it from her fingers. “Nope, you don’t get to see, not yet.”
She glared at him, affronted. “It’s my mail.”
“And you know Kaylee’ll never forgive you if you open it when she’s not there to ooh and aah at whatever comes out.”
“I can tell her after.”
“Not the same.” He put the package back with the others.
“No point taking that tone with me. I signed for these, and that makes it my decision as to when they get opened.”
“Are you callin’ me crazy? Only I’d kinda like to know.”
“Well, if the cap fits …”
He grinned, knowing he’d successfully derailed her train of thought from the performances going on inside the bar. “And there you were just telling me how much you loved me.”
“Did I say that?” Freya asked, seeing a figure meandering towards them, stick thin with a burst of blond hair on top of his long, lanky frame. “And Bigsby’s coming.”
“Good.” Mal quickly drank off half his beer. “He’s buying the next round.”
“He’ll plead poverty. As usual.”
“If it comes to that I’ll turn him upside down and shake his pockets until they rattle.”
That mental picture made her laugh. “Just don’t think you’ve got out of the other conversation,” she warned, though.
“What other one would that be? You likening me to River?” He rested his palm on his gun as Bigsby approached, slouching as always, both hands in his pockets. It always paid to be careful, even with contacts they knew and trusted.
“Crazy is as crazy does.”
He stared at her. “What?”
She smiled, but it wasn't at him. “Bigsby,” she said, pushing a chair out with her foot. “Take a seat. Next to me.”
Bigsby blushed beetroot red, as always somewhat overawed by her.
You carry on like that, he’s gonna take a runner, Mal thought pointedly.
Me? Even in thought she sounded so innocent, but the look in her eyes said otherwise.
“Bigsby, ignore my wife,” Mal said. “And sit down.”
The tall man complied, keeping as far away from the disconcerting woman as possible. “Mal. Freya,” he said, his voice squeaking slightly on the second name.
Can I help it if I’m so attractive to the opposite sex? Mal heard in his mind, and he had to keep a straight face as he said, “Now. This job.”
He lifted his hand and snapped his fingers to get the waitress’s attention, and from being the same colour as a tomato Bigsby felt all the blood leave his face as he foresaw leaving this meeting with his pockets considerably lighter.
There was always an odd look when one of the Firefly’s crew happened to mention that they had children on board, but it wasn't really as strange as all that. Zoe herself had been born in space, on a freighter plying the route between the outer planets and Persephone, not leaving until the accident that had claimed her parents. With space travel still taking weeks rather than hours, particularly along the Rim, it made sense to keep families together.
Of course, some travellers preferred to leave their loved ones at home, giving them the opportunities to philander at will, or at least get drunk without accusing eyes on them, but anyone in a stable, caring relationship wanted their family around them.
The new level at Wayborn seemed planned entirely to take advantage of this, and Serenity’s children stood outside the entrance and stared, each pair of eyes wider than should have been physically possible.
Gaming Zone, the neon sign pronounced. Come on in! the bright red, blue and green neon flashed. Let us entertain you! Fun for all ages! Images continually formed and dissolved of children playing in holochambers, swimming in zero-g waterless pools, having pillow fights, eating huge ice planets …
“It looks expensive,” Simon said doubtfully, considering three exclamation marks two too many.
“Daddy?” Bethie looked up at him. “Please?”
She was doing the look, and he considered it had to be genetic. Her mother could get him to do almost anything with that look, and Bethie had been begging to go ever since she’d found a flyer on the Cortex announcing the Zone’s recent opening. Hank had taken their clothes purchases back to Serenity, and now Simon was on his own with five of the seven children on board, each of them gazing at him. His resolve was starting to waver.
“Daddy,” Hope said, taking his hand. “Please?”
Okay, not genetic. Maybe nurture rather than nature, but it was effective.
“Uncle Simon?” Ben added in his own brand of manipulation, while Ethan played a stand-in, Jesse’s lip beginning to quiver.
Simon knew when he was beaten. “Okay,” he said on a sigh. “We’ll go in.”
The barker at the entrance grinned widely at them and waved them through.
“Simple pick-up and drop off,” Bigsby was saying, although half his attention was on the serving girl who’d just brought their next round of drinks. She was weaving back through the tables towards the entrance to the bar, and his eyes were fixed firmly on her backside.
“Nothing’s ever simple where you’re concerned,” Mal pointed out. There was no response, so he rapped loudly on the table. “Bigsby.”
The man jumped. “Wha … what?”
“Concentrate. Or I’ll be thinking there’s something you’re not telling me and double the price.” Mal glanced at Freya, but she shook her head minutely.
“Aw, Mal, you know I wouldn’t fleece you,” Bigsby complained.
“Only ‘cause you know what I’d do if you tried. I’d set Frey onto you.”
Bigsby swallowed, his prominent Adam’s apple bobbing like it was trying to get away.
Freya didn’t say a word, just sipped her drink and trying to ignore the taste.
“Like I said, simple job. And decent money, too.” Bigsby ran a finger around his collar. “The only reason it’s still available is ‘cause the guys who were gonna work it ran into a little trouble.”
“Purple trouble?” Mal asked.
“Kinda. So they’re spending the next coupla months breaking rocks, while I’ve got a buyer anxious for his goods.”
Mal nodded slowly, considering. He knew he was going to take the work, just for something to do, but it was merely a case of how much in the way of cashey-money he was going to be able to get out of Bigsby’s pockets. “Where’s the drop?”
A planet in the Red Sun system. “When?”
“That’s pretty much up to you. As long as my client knows the stuff’s on its way, he’s not too fussed when. As long as it isn’t, you know, years.”
Mal was calculating, but Freya got there before him. Three weeks if we take the long way round and go via Lazarus, she dropped into his head. Two if we don’t mind crossing Alliance space.
Why would I wanna go via Lazarus, xin gan? he queried.
I just thought you might like to see Inara.
He narrowed his eyes at the sheer casualness of her answer, but decided not to respond. Yet. He looked at Bigsby. “Four weeks. And that’s from picking it up, wherever it is.”
“Oh, it’s here,” the man said quickly, seeing a resolution to his dilemma in sight.
“On the station?”
“Yeah. It got dropped off about eight days ago, and I've been worrying myself bald wondering how I was gonna get it to Jubilee.”
“As much as I don’t mind hearing about your hairdressing problems, what’s the fee?” Mal asked.
Bigsby named a figure. “Half now, half on delivery.”
It wasn't bad, not as far as the current rates seemed to be, but Mal was in a playful mood. “Nope. I reckon you’re more anxious than that.” He settled back, taking amusement from the look of horror on Bigsby’s face. “Now, let’s get down to some serious negotiating.”
Ben was staring at the holoimage of a ship rotating above him. It was a Cornucopia, one of the new ones that were only now beginning to roll out of the Utopia shipyards. He might not have a hope of being able to spell it yet, but he knew it had an enhanced radion accelerator core with supercooled magnetic drivers and prototype conversion buffers. It was, as far as he was concerned, one of the most beautiful things he’d ever seen in his very short life.
“Wow,” he breathed.
“Head on in,” the man outside said. “Just strap yourself down, put your hands in the control yoke, and see what you can make her do.”
It was said a Cornucopia had a range further than any spaceship on the market, and could go months without needing to refuel. Then there were the recyclers and rebreathers –
“Ben, come on.” Bethie took his hand, trying to pull him away. “Let’s go play with the dinosaurs again.”
He stood solidly, his little feet planted on the deck like he was glued to it. “No. Want to play this.”
“It’s okay, little lady,” the man said, smiling at her. “You can have a go. See if you can’t beat your bro.”
Bethie was biting on her bottom lip, worrying it between her teeth. “No,” she said, hanging back.
“It’s not dangerous,” he assured her.
Ben glanced at her. “’S’only a flying sim,” he said. “Says you get a print of what you’ve done.” He looked back at the hologram back, his coffee face shining. “I can show Daddy.”
“No,” the little girl repeated, then whispered, “Not good.”
Ethan, more in tune with her due to his own empathic abilities, touched her fingers. “What’s up?” he asked quietly, his blue eyes suspicious.
“Not sure. Just ... wrong.” She was trying to read the men who were calling, enticing people in, particularly people with children. They seemed okay, normal, but under that normality there was a darkness she really didn’t want to touch. She pulled her mind back, but not before the barker at the entrance glanced at her and she realised she’d been staring. She gave him a grin, a little wave, but couldn’t stop herself from shivering.
Simon walked over from where he’d been surreptitiously checking out the surgeon’s game, where any aspiring doctor could remove an appendix against the clock. “Honey?” he asked, going down onto his heels in front of her and brushing her long brown hair from around her face. “What is it?”
“Want to go home,” she said, trying to keep the whine out of her voice and failing. “Please, Daddy, I want to go home.”
“But you insisted ...” He couldn’t understand it. “And everybody else seems fine ...”
“Daddy, please.” Tears were starting to fill her brown eyes.
Simon looked at Ethan, perhaps hoping the little boy would calm her as he could often do, but felt a chill settle over his heart as he saw the same worry reflected in those familiar features. “Ethan?”
“Have to leave,” the eldest Reynolds boy said. “Now, Uncle Simon.”
The big man, engrossed in bargaining the lowest price possible for rounds for Vera, nevertheless turned his head at the sound of River’s voice. She was standing in the doorway, facing away, staring into the crowds but not seeing. And the way she’d spoken … this wasn't cajoling, or complaining, or any of the several other dozen emotions she could get into that one word. This was ... danger.
“Where?” he asked, thrusting the bag of credits back into his pocket.
He nodded. They ran out, leaving the astonished owner alone in the shop.
Thursday, August 26, 2010 2:53 AM
Thursday, August 26, 2010 4:01 AM
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Thursday, August 26, 2010 7:23 AM
Friday, August 27, 2010 4:41 AM
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Monday, August 30, 2010 8:51 AM
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