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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
The man gazed at her as if he could read the truth off the inside of her skull, and she began to get even more uncomfortable. Finally he nodded, just once. “Shiny.” The word sounded foreign in his mouth, as if he wasn’t really used to saying it. [Maya. Post-BDM.]
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1923 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
“Can I come in?”
Inara half-turned from where she was fixing her hair in the mirror and smiled at Freya. “Of course.”
“Do you need some help?” Freya watched her friend fiddling with a gold comb.
“No, it’s ... I think I’ve ... yes.” She sighed and relaxed, her hands dropping back to her side. “Sam usually does this for me, but I must have been ... it’s fine now.”
“Are you okay?”
Inara gave something of a shaky laugh. “I am now. It’s just ... I was ... waving my mother.”
“Your ... you have a mother?”
“Freya, close your mouth. Of course I have a mother. We all have mothers. Except perhaps Mal, whom I suspect was grown in a testtube.”
Freya did as she was told, but couldn’t stop the smile. “I only meant that you’ve never spoken of her.”
“We’re ... not close.”
“When was the last time you waved her?”
Inara shrugged, even managing that elegantly despite being five months pregnant. “It’s been a while.”
“How long, exactly?”
“Well, I can’t be exact.”
“We don’t talk very often anyway. The last time I told her I was leaving the Guild, and she hasn't spoken to me since,” Inara admitted on a huge sigh.
“Is she a Companion?” Freya was surprised, knowing that women in that profession weren’t allowed children.
“No. But on Sihnon it’s a great honour to have someone from your family in the Guild. I think she dined out a lot on my reputation, and when I told her I was leaving ...”
“Did you tell her why? About what they did to you? About Colm?”
“It wasn’t worth it.” At Freya’s disbelieving look Inara went on, “Honestly, it wouldn’t have made a difference. She’s not ... maternal.”
“I used to think that about my mother,” Freya pointed out. “And look at Simon’s relationship with his parents.”
“It’s not the same.”
“It’s not. Your parents, Simon’s ... they changed. I doubt my mother would even under pain of death.”
“So why did you wave her just now?”
Inara dropped to the bed, her composure for once cracking a little. “To tell her about this.” She stroked the bump of her baby. “Sam said I had to.”
“Is that ...” Freya exhaled loudly. “Is that why you’ve been anxious?”
“I ... yes. I didn’t want to.”
Freya sat next to her on the bed, feeling intense relief that she hadn’t peeked. “Will you tell Sam that?”
“He asked me to talk to you, find out what the problem was.”
High colour appeared in Inara’s cheeks. “That’s ... he shouldn’t have done that.”
“He was worried about you. Tell him about your mother and put the poor man out of his misery.”
“He was worried?” Inara couldn’t help the shy smile. “That’s nice.”
Freya took her hand. “Inara, he loves you. Of course he was worried.” She squeezed gently. “So was your mother pleased?”
“Hard to say. If they gave prizes for inscrutability she’d be at the front of the queue.”
“I’m sure she’s not that bad.”
For answer Inara reached into the bedside table drawer and took out a capture. “This is the only picture I have of her.” She pressed the button.
An image of a tall woman appeared, who Freya would have taken for Inara at first except she was even more upright, if that was at all possible. She was scolding the person taking the capture, but the sound was turned down so it was difficult to quite get what was being said. There was blurred confusion for a moment, then the picture steadied and a young girl ran into view.
“What’s your mother’s name?” Freya asked.
“Amita. Amita Amyan.”
“She went back to her maiden name after my father died, but I kept it.” Inara shook her head. “Another thing she wasn’t very keen about.”
The girl, obviously Inara, tried to hug her mother, who let her for about two seconds then pushed her away and lifting her chin and wagging her finger in the child’s face.
“My last day at home,” Inara went on wistfully. “Just before I started at the Training House.”
“I had one of those, except it was just before I went away to school. Milk and cookies.” Before it all went to hell.
“Cookies?” Inara made a sound that in a less elegant person would have been a snort and switched off the capture, thrusting it away again out of sight. “My mother would never have allowed that. A Companion shouldn’t be fat, that’s what she always drummed into me.”
“One cookie wouldn’t have hurt.”
“Not in my mother’s eyes. The sorry and very slippery slope to destitution, as far as she was concerned.”
“I’m surprised she didn’t become a Companion herself.”
“She tried, but when she was young they were a little more ... selective.”
“Excuse me, but I was going to go to the Guild.” Freya managed an impressive amount of affront.
Inara laughed. “I’m not saying they wouldn’t have wanted you even when they were so heavily oversubscribed – of course they would. With your skills they would have been begging your family to release you. But the fact that they turned down my mother made her even more determined that her daughter would get in.”
“So it wasn’t your choice?”
Inara pulled at a strand of hair, and Freya wondered if it was all going to come tumbling down again. “It was, but ... I don’t know what else I would have been. Nothing was ever presented.”
“Didn’t you ever have ambitions? Something you wanted to be?”
“A princess.” She shrugged. “Or a cowboy. But mother squashed the latter and made the former into a Companion anyway.”
“Do not tell Mal.”
“Oh, please, let me.”
“Spoilsport.” Freya glanced at the drawer. “She looks like you.”
“I suppose. She was always known as a beauty.”
“Inara, modesty doesn’t become you.”
The ex-Companion realised how her words could have been interpreted and coloured slightly. “I didn’t mean that. And I’m nothing like my mother.”
“From what you’ve said, no, you’re not.” Freya stood up and cocked her head. “Sounds like the kids are back.”
Indeed, drifting in through the slightly open window were noises like a herd of elephants were outside, with occasional screams and yells mixed into the laughter.
“Do you think they’re going to be dirty?” Inara asked.
“It’s not a good day playing unless they are.” Freya ran her hands through her own short hair. “Coming?”
“In a minute. I just need ... talking to my mother … you know.”
“Take all the time you want.” Freya smiled at her friend, then bent down to put a gentle kiss on her head, like a mother to a child, before striding out of the room.
Inara watched the door close then shook her head. She’d have to be more careful, she knew. If Freya got any inkling of the real reason ... She took a deep breath, trying to settle the butterflies in the region that used to be her stomach but was now occupied by a small person.
“I won’t risk you,” she whispered, stroking her belly. “Not for anything.”
The sounds from outside suggested that, far from being like her own mother and scolding grubby children, Freya had joined in the game, and she had to smile. Perhaps that’s what she needed, some silly fun, to take her mind off everything.
She stood up but dropped immediately back again, dizziness having overwhelmed her. For a long moment everything seemed to recede, blackness threatening her vision as her heart pounded and her ears buzzed loudly. Then just as suddenly the world snapped back into focus, and childish laughter filled the room again.
“Too soon,” she murmured, feeling tears trickling down her cheeks. “Not yet, dear Buddha, not yet.” For perhaps thirty seconds she sat, trying to calm everything, then she tried again to stand up, gingerly getting to her feet. Nothing happened, and she exhaled in relief.
Quickly repairing her make-up with minimal strokes, she hurried out of the room, her mental walls high and tight.
”That there’s the one.” Kaylee pointed up to the top shelf in the general store. “Can’t believe they’ve got it.” She already successfully negotiated a good price on the two Jacksons on account of Sam’s presence, and her own winning personality meant they were going to be delivered to the ship later that afternoon. Now she’d persuaded Zoe to accompany her to do a little extra shopping while Sam got a couple of things for Inara.
“You really need it?” the first mate asked.
“Gorram hard to get, ‘specially out here. I’ve traded some decent bits for a tube before, but –”
Zoe’s quick ‘Kaylee’ hushed her to silence.
“Seen anything you fancy?” the storekeeper asked, coming around the end of the aisle.
“We’re looking for engine grease,” Zoe said before Kaylee could weigh in and push the price up. “Nothing expensive. How much is that one up there?”
The man peered into the gloom. “That one?” He sucked his teeth. “Well, it’s been here a long time. Swapped it for some dry goods one time when a ship landed. Big feller, huge beard, had a place not far off.”
Zoe’s eyebrow twitched. “Name of Monty?”
“Yeah, I think that’s him. You know him?”
“He’s not been around for a long time, and nobody’s shown the slightest interest in that stuff ‘til now ...”
“I expect you’d like to clear the space.”
“’Spect I would.” He sucked his teeth again, obviously something of a habit when thinking about money. “I can do it for ...” Another suck and he named such an outrageous price that even Kaylee’s mouth dropped open.
Zoe wasn’t even phased. “That was fun. How about we go back to being realistic now?”
After five minutes spirited discussion they finally agreed on a price so low that Kaylee was almost drooling and Zoe got her outside as quickly as possible.
“I can't believe that.” Kaylee finally got her vocal chords working again.
“I take it that was a good price.”
“Zoe, if you can find it outside the Core, if someone don’t try to stiff you ... I’ve never seen it go so low.” She sounded shocked but there was admiration there too. “I like how you kept your hand on your gun at the end.”
Zoe laughed throatily. “I wasn’t sure you’d noticed.”
“He did. I saw how pale he went. And the back of his neck was mighty red in contrast.” Kaylee lifted the box of purchases into the yellow hovermule. “I wonder what he gave Monty in exchange.”
“Probably nowhere near what it’s worth, so don’t go feeling sorry for the guy.” Zoe moved the large can so she could read the label, but it was faded and dirty. “What is it, anyway?”
“Lubricant. But not like anything you’ve ever seen. You only need a drop of the stuff and it’s like two pieces of metal are gliding on nothing but air. In fact, you gotta be careful where you use it.” She smirked.
“I take it you have.” Zoe waited for the story.
“Well, Pa had some he’d got off a wreck when he was young. There wasn’t hardly any left, so he let me experiment with it.” She chuckled. “Took it right back after the … uh … incident.”
“Do I want to know?”
“Let’s just say it had something to do with the teacher’s swivel chair.”
Zoe had to smile. “Then I think I can imagine.”
Kaylee giggled. “You’re probably right, too.”
“No wonder you fitted right in with this crew.”
The giggle turned into a happy sigh. “Absolutely.”
“So ... is there anything else you were needing?” Zoe asked, her eyes ranging up and down the street and settling on a small men’s clothing store.
“Nope. I think that’s it. Probably a good idea if I come back with some coin.”
“Probably. Well, Sam hasn’t come back yet from his shopping, and I have a couple of things to buy, so will you be okay here?”
Kaylee nodded. “A’course. I’ll just sit in the sun and get a tan.” Her natural curiosity took over. “What’cha buying, anyway?”
“Oh, nothing in particular.”
“So it wouldn’t be because of Hank’s birthday coming up?”
Zoe shook her head. “Just stay here.”
“Oh, that kinda thing.” Kaylee nodded knowingly.
“Stay.” With a jerk of a straight finger Zoe headed for the clothes shop, her gait as smooth as ever.
Kaylee couldn’t help laughing. She already had a small gift wrapped up, ready to give Hank on the big day. It wasn’t much, just a tiny recording device she’d picked up in a junk place ages ago and taken apart to find out what was wrong. She’d upgraded it with a few minor bits and pieces, and now he could record all the novels he was working on and see it magically transform into text on the small screen. She was sure he would find it fun to play with when he was on bridge duty.
She climbed into the mule, moving things around so that there would still be enough room for them all to sit.
Kaylee looked down from the mule, seeing a man standing next to her. “Oh. Hi.”
“Ma’am.” He touched his hat in salute, but the gesture seemed condescending. Tallish, lean, handsome in a hard sort of way, he wore a long dark duster coat that was scuffed and dirty around the hem, but had once been of an expensive cut. He didn’t appear to be armed, but that was no guarantee.
“Morning,” Kaylee said in her brightest tone. “And ain’t it good after all that rain? I truly thought we might be washed away.”
“Yes.” He didn’t seem to want to get to the point.
Undaunted Kaylee went on, “A’course, Lazarus is known for its weather. Have you ever been here during one of the storms? Now that’s bad. Thought the house was gonna end up matchwood.” She took a breath and glanced around quickly, but there was no sign of Sam or Zoe. “So what can I do for you? ‘Cause if you’re looking for work I don’t have any to offer.”
“Looking for a couple of people, actually. Man and a woman.” His accent was faint, but suggested he had been born closer to the Core than his current location.
“Oh?” Kaylee’s mind immediately tripped to Simon and River and she got ready to … well, fight, if necessary, or more likely yell for Zoe and run.
“Husband and wife.” He took a picture from his coat pocket, printed on old fashioned paper rather than film, but held it away from her view. “Got some good news for them.”
“What’re their names?” Maybe she could hit him with the grease can – that was heavy enough to do some damage.
“Well, it’s the wife who’s the lucky one, and I’m not sure of her married name, so why don’t you take a look and tell me if you’ve seen them?” He held out the picture.
Kaylee was amazed her hands weren’t shaking as she took it, but she had to physically swallow the sigh of relief when she realised it wasn’t her husband and his sister. Still, the couple did look familiar. “Good news, you say?”
“They’ve been left an inheritance.” He didn’t seem to want to elaborate. “Do you know them?”
“No, I don’t think …” Suddenly something in her brain clicked and she knew where she’d seen them before. Younger here, yes, but there could be no doubt. “They look a lot like a lot of other folks, don’t you think?” she went on quickly, hoping he hadn’t noticed. “And it’s a big ‘verse.”
Perhaps he had. “Ma’am, take another look. Just in case.”
“Well, I guess maybe they look like a couple I met on Wayborn, but it can’t be them. They were older.”
“This picture isn’t up to date. On Wayborn Skyplex, you said?”
“I think. If it’s who I think it is, then we just got talking. Chatting, you know. ‘Bout nothing much.” She knew she should stop talking, but it seemed easier to fill the gap with lies, even though she knew she was no good at them. “Kids, travel, places we wanted to see, that kinda thing. Just passing the time of day.”
“Did they say where they were headed?”
“Uh …” She plucked a planet out of mid-air, something a distance away. “New Hall, I think. But I can’t be sure – it was a while back. And I can’t promise it was them anyway.”
The man gazed at her as if he could read the truth off the inside of her skull, and she began to get even more uncomfortable. Finally he nodded, just once. “Shiny.” The word sounded foreign in his mouth, as if he wasn’t really used to saying it. He held out his hand for the picture.
“C’n I keep this?” Kaylee asked quickly. “Just in case? And I can show my husband, see if he thinks I was just leading you on a wild goose chase.”
“I’ve got more.” He gestured to the paper with his right hand and she noticed his ring finger was missing the first joint. “It’s got my details on the back – wave me if you think of anything.”
“Money, you say?” Kaylee tucked the image into her coveralls.
“There might even be a reward in it.”
Now he was trying to bribe her. “Must be quite a lot, if you’re out looking.”
“It’s my job.” He touched his hat again and walked off, his long coat flapping around his boots.
“Kaylee, who was that?” Zoe melted out of the shadows.
For answer Kaylee dragged the picture back out of her pocket and handed it out. “Look.”
It took Zoe only a glance to recognise the couple, and a whispered curse slipped from her lips. “Where’s Sam?” she asked, keeping her voice low, but there was an urgency about her now.
“Still in the drugstore, getting that stuff for Inara.”
“I’ll get him. You fire up the mule. I think we need to get back, mah shong.”
Kaylee nodded and began the start-up sequence while Zoe strode back across the street.
Two minutes later and the mule pulled away, Kaylee biting her lip nervously as she sat next to Sam in the back, and the man in the long coat watched thoughtfully until they were out of sight.
“I had no idea children could get so dirty,” Inara said, holding up a small t-shirt and staring at the mud encrusting it.
Freya laughed. “This is nothing. You should see Bethie when she helps Kaylee in the engine room. It has to be genetic, but she’s a magnet for grease, and it somehow gets transferred to everyone else.”
“Well, Mrs Boden will be able to get these spotless, I’m sure.”
“That’s not necessary. I can put these through our laundry a couple of times and –”
“I won’t hear of it. They’re here, and you would not believe the stains she’s successfully dealt with.”
“Not sure I want to hear about that.”
Inara swatted playfully at her friend but dropped the top back. “And I insist.”
“Then there’s not much I can do about it, is there?” Still, Freya picked up the basket so Inara couldn’t. “Shall we?”
Inara smiled and the two friends left the bathroom, passing the nursery where the now clean children were playing quietly, reading books or – in Caleb’s case – building piles of coloured wooden bricks and then knocking them down again to delighted chuckles.
“He’s a very happy child,” Inara remarked of the small Cobb as they paused at the open door.
“River’s very careful to keep it that way.”
“And he shows no signs of …”
Freya understood. “No. There seems to be no psychic ability whatsoever.”
“Does she mind?”
“River’s ecstatic. After all she went through she’d rather kill half the ‘verse than put him in the way of it. I think he’s going to be intelligent, though.”
Inara watched him knock down a tower taller than he was, making David Gabriel gurgle with laughter from his position on a blanket on the floor, then begin again. “Really?”
“Stop it. You know, I’ve always thought if Jayne had had access to really good schooling …”
“Yes? Do you want to finish that sentence?”
“Okay. But River’s a genius, so somewhere in the middle is a smart man.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” They continued to the stairs and started down. “Are you going to continue lessons while you’re here?” Inara asked.
Freya shook her head. “I thought about it, but decided not to. Unless they get too unruly, I think a break is just what –” She stopped as she felt a tug on her arm and looked down. “What is it, Bethie?”
The little girl was obviously worried, biting on a strand of hair. “Auntie Frey, it’s …”
Freya put the basket on the floor and went down onto her heels. “What is it?”
Before Bethie could answer the front door slammed open and Kaylee ran in, seeing them at the turn of the stairs. “Frey, where’s Mal?”
“Out the back with Mr Boden. Why?”
Zoe appeared behind the mechanic, followed by an equally worried Sam. “Tell him to get in here. And bring both of the Bodens. It looks like they’ve got serious problems.”
to be continued
Monday, April 1, 2013 10:42 AM
Monday, April 1, 2013 12:29 PM
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