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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Mal's journey begins.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1428 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Staring out into the black, through the window of the transport, Mal realized that he was making an effort not to catch his own eye. He stopped then, and stared at his reflection. He broke away, tuned into the conversations around him. Two girls – teenaged sisters, from what he could tell, who had been seated away from their parents – were giggling over some capture.
“That’s plush!” one of them said.
Mal smiled, remembered right back to when his mother had derided him for using the word ‘shiny’. When ‘shiny’ was as normal as ‘good’ these days. Without meaning to, his thoughts went from his mother to Godfrey, her head ranch hand, who had been Mal’s go-to for advice about how seriously he should take his mother’s criticisms.
“On that one, I agree,” Godfrey had said, which had chastened Mal, as ‘shiny’ was by that point an integral part of the vocabulary he used when he was with his friends. “It’s just – it’s just – well, it doesn’t make sense,” Godfrey had explained. “Not everything that’s good is shiny.”
Mal had laughed with him, joked with him about it (‘not everything that’s shiny’s good!’). And all the time that he was doing it – smiling the smile, laying on the charm, bantering the banter – he was learning: he was the apprentice, Godfrey was the master. Godfrey, with his dark black face and even ivory-coloured teeth. The lean body and long, long legs. The man with the bandana tied around his neck just so and the fan of feathers in his hat. He had an elegance of mind to go with his appearance. He’d put himself through all sorts of on-cortex education – anything to do with any aspect of running a ranch, from animal husbandry to taxes. And he knew poetry, the kind that was useful to a thirteen-year-old ranch heir in desperate need of impressing a pretty neighbor.
Before he could stop himself, Mal found his mind coming to rest on the last meeting with Godfrey. At the kitchen table, sitting quietly beside his mother while she berated him for failing the WT-III’s; quietly, but still managing to add to her reproaches by his failure to temper them. The memory of flunking that exam, and his mother’s words, filled Mal with dread; but painful, infinitely more painful than that, was recalling the moment when he had realized that they were together. Godfrey and his mother. A great rush of realization. Godfrey was no longer on his side; he had probably never been on his side. He spent nights here, in this house, in his mother's bed. Taking advantages of Mal's Bible study nights and other activities. Which transformed Godfrey's friendship, in Mal's barely-adult mind, from real to false.
He’d cursed at them, which they both hated, made vain threats as he left the house. And he’d been off-world on a cultural trip his mother had refused him permission to attend, when Shadow was hit, and he never saw them again.
Mal felt himself starting to sweat. Wondered for a second if that always happened, when he remembered. Looked about him: window, reflection, back of the seat in front of him, couple laughing over there. He pulled himself up from his seat a little clumsily, with the intention only of not remaining there until it had all gone away.
Further down the gangway, outside the bathroom door, he put his hand into his pocket. Felt the rings: his, Inara’s, Zoe’s, Wash’s, Book’s. It wasn’t safe to have them; something would happen and he’d lose them all. Again.
At the next transit station he waved Zoe. At least, he waved the address for Wash’s parents that he’d looked up before leaving Highgate.
He knew he was pulling a Godfrey when the line went live – no visual, just audio: the smile in the voice that spoke immeasurably good intentions. Wasn’t Zoe that answered, that was for sure; sure hoped it wasn’t Wash’s ma. Hoped so much it wasn’t Wash’s ma.
“Hello there Ma’am. I’m wondering if I might speak with Mrs Zoe Washburne?”
A pause. Long enough to get the adrenaline pricking. “There’s no Mrs Zoe Washburne here.”
Did she think he was a cold caller? “Uh. Is this the Washburne residence?”
Another pause. A downright unfriendly tone: “It is.”
“Uh. Might you happen to know, Ma’am, where I might find Mrs Washburne?”
If there could have been static, there would have been, so fierce was the reply: “I’M Mrs Washburne, you nincompoop!”
Mal was speechless, confused, heard a noise, an intercession: “Now Birdy” –
And Christ, it was Wash’s ma, and that had to be his dad in the background.
The female voice continued: “And if you’re who I think you are, Mr Captain Reynolds, you’d know that Hoban’s wife never called herself that!”
The cortex screen flickered to life; Mal cringed – not even Godfrey’s ivory-toothed smile would have finessed this situation. There stood Wash’s parents, his dad holding his wife’s shoulders, trying to get her to look at him. “Now Birdy,” he was saying.
“I’d be mighty appreciative of having some words with Zoe, if she’s there,” Mal ventured quickly, lest the conversation be suddenly terminated.
“Now, that’s fine, young man,” said Wash Sr, at the same time as Mrs Washburne spat: “I daresay you would!” Which was – Mal blew out a quick breath – of course just the kind of thing Inara would say.
“And after you’ve had some words with her, maybe you’d like to have some words with me, namely why you couldn’t even get a death certificate!” – and then, horror, she burst into loud, aching sobs. Wash Sr tried to hug her, called Zoe’s name over his shoulder, tried to reassure Mal, called Zoe’s name again, eased Mrs Washburne out of sight of the screen…
…and Zoe stood before him, that expression of utter equilibrium masking – what? Hostility? Impatience? Or disappointment?
“It’s good to see you,” she said.
“Wash’s ma – ‘s she going to be okay?”
“She hasn’t cried for a few weeks. She probably should.”
“And uh – you, you um” –
“Ah. Um. That’s good. I’m told. They say it’s – important” –
“It’s good to see you.”
“Good to see you too, Zo.”
They looked at each other, each finding a smile tugging the lips upwards.
“You still flyin’?” she asked, finding, as she always did, the fewest number of words to express the deepest layers of meaning.
She watched as Mal tried on a series of expressions, settled finally for: “Serenity’s gone.”
“Serenity’s – blown up.” He pressed his lips tightly together, as though suppressing the urge to laugh, or cry.
He explained as briefly as he could what had happened. He’d understand it if, in the light of her own losses, she didn’t feel the demise of Serenity as he did: there was some headshaking from him, some shrugging, some nodding, as she told him how sorry she was but without giving away too much of how it actually affected her. What if she’d been there, on Highgate? – they would have taken the loss together. It reminded him of how it been between them, after he’d found her, after she’d been a Dust Devil. It seemed impossible that they would ever share that much again.
“You got a plan?” she asked. Those layers of meaning again.
“Going to Persephone,” he replied. “To the Abbey.” She raised her eyebrows. “Got my own reasons besides, but the people from Pity, they gave me a ring.” He rummaged for it, held it up: “A ring for Book, by way of thanks.”
“That thing made of bicarium?” Mal nodded. “Better keep it safe then.”
“Yeah, I um, safe, and keeping things ‘t are precious safe, that’s what got me to waving.” He rummaged again, opened his hand to show Zoe two more rings. She looked at them. Didn’t move for a stretch, then welled up with tears. “’re for you and Wash,” Mal said simply. “And I was thinking on – keeping ‘em safe. Getting them to you in one piece. Well, two.”
It was Zoe’s turn to nod.
“I’m putting them in a safe box. Should get to you in a couple months.”
Zoe nodded again, still tearful.
“Costs'll have to be paid your end though,” he said with his charmer’s smile. She, at least, knew when he didn’t mean that smile to be taken seriously.
“Got some money comin’ in,” she whispered without meaning to; repeated it, stronger this time.
“Done some training. Runnin’ a bit of haulage around here.”
“Got yourself a ship?”
“Rings might help.”
“Could well do.”
When it was time to say goodbye he was amazed – that was the only word for it – when she said: “You know where to find me.” Just like Inara had. They were all further apart; but they were still together.
He had to get a shave; it’d been five days since the last touch-down and he wasn’t one of those that could do it in the pokey sink of a not-always steady transport. This station, Green Ring-X8, was your typical dump, but had to be he’d find a barber. He asked at Information, followed some signs seemed designed to be plain unhelpful, found himself in a dusty, rusty back corridor, a vendor selling brown bananas and some bright pink juice kind of beverage, a shoe-shine stall and a dark cubby hole where you could buy cortex bites to suit all tastes. Next to an ad screen flickering the red and white stripes of the gentleman’s coiffeur was a solid metal hatch-type door, barely ajar. Mal pushed against it, saw a row of empty barber’s chairs, called out. A man appeared from the right, at the back, wiping his hands on a grubby apron – his chair was round a corner in a small alcove.
“Was just closin’ up,” he said to Mal.
And Mal knew then – he knew, the way the barber’s eyes flickered over his body, that there was danger.
“S’okay then,” Mal replied. “’ll come back in the morning.”
“You hold on,” said the barber, stepping forward. “Customer’s a customer, no matter the time.”
Mal hesitated, breathed out, smiled, found himself reasoning that his suspicion was bad habits wouldn’t do any harm changing.
He sat back in the chair, felt the metal through the scarcity of padding. The barber was heating water, rinsing his blade.
“And now I got to apologise,” he said, “that I ain’t got nothing to protect this fine brown coat of yours.” He tipped Mal’s face away from him, ready to start. Mal looked at him in the fragment of smeared mirror in front of him, caught the smiling sneer.
“Sure is a fine brown coat,” the barber said, after a few scrapes.
“’s a coat. And it’s brown,” Mal replied.
The barber smiled, broke off from his labour, held up a finger. “Only some people would say it was a heap more’n that. Some people would see it as a – symbol.”
Mal said nothing.
“You the type as would, y’ know, see it as a sort of, y’know, symbol?”
And right there, there was the challenge; the moment of rising to it or of ducking it following straight after. Didn’t take much to see what Book would’ve done. And he was on the way to the Abbey, wasn’t he, following the Shepherd’s footsteps? As surreptitiously as possible, Mal moved the three remaining rings in his pocket to his closed fist.
“What kind of symbol’s that?” he said.
The barber looked hard at him in the mirror. Wouldn’t be long before that smile fell away altogether.
“Y’know. Freedom. Or some such.”
“’s that right.”
“Sure is. Come across them all the time, in my line of work. Folk as think th’ Independents had a righteous cause.”
“Yeah. Heard that myself.”
“Heard that yourself.” The man scraped lower. “Fought for it?”
Mal smiled. “Ma always told me – keep off religion ‘n politics.”
“Wasn’t talkin’ about yer ma.”
There was a whining note in that reply; made Mal hazard a guess: “You fight for it?” he asked.
The barber wiped the blade on his apron. “That I did, that I did,” he replied with a profoundly disagreeable expression.
Mal didn’t know where to go. “Didn’t turn out so well, huh?”
The barber wiped more slowly, almost as though he was slipping into a daze. “Depends how you look on it, though, don’t it?” He started shaving again, on the other side. “I mean, if you was a major verse-wide corporation that just decided on startin’ a war so’s to give folks somethin’ to think on, somethin’ to distract ‘em like, you might think it turned out pretty good.”
Mal held still. He’d heard these ravings before, but not from some crazy fellow that was holding a blade to his neck. Question was, how crazy that fellow was.
“Yeah, I know as some folk who hold to that opinion.”
“Ain’t no opinion!” the barber snarled fiercely. “And at least I got the guts ta say as what I am! Don’t display my brownness all over my body and deny it when things get tight!”
“Things gettin’ tight around here?”
The hand holding Mal’s head seemed to tighten. “You a Browncoat or not?”
“This here blade’s got me wondering real hard what kind of answer you’re lookin’ for,” Mal said, looking down at where it nicked his neck.
“The truth! The gorram truth!”
Truth junky then. “Serenity Valley was the last action I saw. Acquired this coat some time after that.”
The man swore in Chinese under his breath. “You was at the Valley?” Mal considered his chances of making it out of the chair but the man was almost gripping his hair now. “Then you should know!”
“Er – might do, if you could specify.”
“The med crates! You know they was contaminated! By Blue Sun!”
“Er – okay!”
The man laced his fingers into Mal’s hair, jerked his head sharply. “Don’t talk to me like I’m crazy! Wiped out my whole battalion! I was there! I saw it!”
Mal’s head was pushed down at an awkward angle. “Thing what really stuck in my mind was our own ships disappearing over that red horizon.”
“Then you’re a gorram fool! They sucked you in, just like everyone else!”
“Believe me,” Mal said, “ain’t the first time I heard this go-se.”
And why did he have to say that? Wasn’t the kind of thing that Book would’ve been saying at all.
“You gorram brown-hearted blind piece of shit!” the man snarled, yanking Mal’s head again.
They were both – Mal and the barber – startled when two men appeared at the entrance to the alcove. One look at them told Mal that they were not the cavalry he might have hoped for.
“Wha’s goin’ on, Dex?” one of them asked.
Dex made no effort to gather himself; if anything, the audience seemed to encourage him. He brandished his blade in the air. “Got myself a Browncoat,” he said, with bitter satisfaction. The two new arrivals gawped and gargled at each other.
“Take his coat!” one of them suggested, with that dull but happy-looking face that spoke of past mental trauma.
“This your proof?” Mal asked. Weren’t no point in trying to avoid a fight was nigh upon him. Dex frowned. “These two got too much of what was in them contaminated crates?”
That brought the first punch, right to the gut. One of Dex’s friends pulled him out of the chair, pulled his coat off of his shoulders. Seemed the ‘take his coat’ plan was panning out. Mal held his fist around the rings; he had to fight enough that they didn’t know he was putting it on, keep them distracted from what he most wanted to keep.
“Take his pants!” Dex’s friend urged, once the coat was removed. Again Mal kicked and fought, his whole intention focused on the rings.
They were stripping him now, kicking and beating him the while. He curled up, his fist underneath his hip.
“Dex, we gotta get him outta here,” one of the goons complained. “Else they’ll be thinkin’ you did it!”
“Just drag him to the door,” said the other one.
Concurrence was immediate; they dragged him towards the door, Dex still moved enough to continue with his curses, and let him drop to the ground.
“Ain’t so brown now!” said the first, with another kick. Mal curled up again; seemed like they hadn’t finished. He said Inara’s name to himself as the onslaught continued.
Do I need to say it? - thanks to all at ficforum. You may find traces of your ideas everywhere!
Saturday, June 30, 2012 4:59 PM
Saturday, June 30, 2012 5:00 PM
Sunday, July 01, 2012 6:03 AM
Sunday, July 01, 2012 9:01 AM
Sunday, July 01, 2012 12:55 PM
Monday, July 02, 2012 11:21 AM
Tuesday, July 03, 2012 9:00 AM
Thursday, July 05, 2012 4:24 AM
Thursday, July 05, 2012 5:31 AM
Monday, July 09, 2012 6:26 AM
Monday, July 09, 2012 12:35 PM
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