BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

JANE0904

Secrets - Part IV
Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Hank looked at Zoe, who nodded fractionally, then pulled a miniature Cortex pad from his pocket. Switching it on he did something complicated with the control buttons and code began to flash across the small screen, faster than could be read. Glancing up he realised everyone was watching him. “What? You carry guns, I carry this.” He went back to inputting his request. [Maya. Post-BDM. The mystery deepens.]


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1302    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

Mal straightened his back and wondered about the twinges he felt in his lower regions. Time was, when he was still back on Shadow, he could help fence half a mile before breakfast, and still have the energy after to go chasing the cattle who’d got through the break and into the stinkweed. It hadn't hurt them, of course, but they would surely have had a few bad days getting over the hangover. Stinkweed sap might be tasty, but that was only because it was constantly fermenting.

Then during the war he had existed on nothing much more than iron rations and the occasional plunder of a downed Alliance supply craft, picking over the bones after the purple-bellies had air-lifted out what they could, before going on to be a thorn in their side for days on end.

Now, though, just giving Mr Boden a hand erecting the posts around the kitchen garden and he felt like an old man. And that was all the while ignoring the ache from the virtually healed wound in his hip.

Of course, he was older, although not necessarily wiser, than he used to be. He ate better than during the war, that’s for sure, and certainly more tasty since they figured out Simon could cook as well as work miracles over the various slings and arrows that life threw at them, and if he’d had to give up wearing the tight pants of his youth, well, a man likes to be comfortable in his advancing years. His face in the mirror when he shaved was a little fuller too, less lean and mean than before, but that could change if they had a few bad months. The kids would get fed no matter what, but he wouldn’t be surprised if the adults would be going to bed hungry once in a while again.

He didn’t talk about it, at least not to the rest of the crew, but the nights when he took the late watch he would randomly surf the Cortex, picking up on little things going on in the ‘verse, the tell-tale signs of the Alliance tightening its grip, and maybe squeezing harder than before. Life might seem good on the surface, but he could see a day when he’d have to make the decision to put down somewhere and pull the blankets over his head, just so he could keep everyone safe. And if ... when that day came he’d be mighty glad he had that nest-egg settled securely in the Frye’s basement.

“Penny for them?”

He looked up into Mr Boden’s kindly but slightly amused face. “Sorry?”

“Only that there post-holer won’t work by itself.”

Mal smiled. “Just thinking.”

“It takes a man that way sometimes, doesn’t it? Manual labour, something repetitive, and a mind has the chance to wander off, contemplate the wonder of everything.”

“Well, mine was contemplating whether I could get my wife to give me a massage later on.” He eased his back again.

“I’m sure she will, sir.”

“Mal. Please. Call me Mal.”

“That wouldn’t be appropriate.”

“Hell, we’re out here, working as equals. I think we can make an exception just this once, don’t you?”

Mr Boden gazed at him, then nodded. “Okay. Mal. And it’s Jacob.”

“Jacob. Good.” He glanced towards the foothills. “Is this gonna be enough?”

“The big cats don’t come down very often, but they can make a mess, trying to get at the chickens.” The gentle clucking in the corner seemed to get a little louder, as if they knew they were being talked about. “If they really wanted to they could climb over, or jump, but sometimes just the deterrent is enough.”

“I know the feeling.” Mal smiled. “And you’re right. The work won’t do itself.” He lifted the post-holer, ready to take out the next clutch of soil when he paused, something tickling his senses just before he heard Freya in his mind.

Mal.

Ai ren? He looked towards the house.

We have a problem.

---

Mrs Boden sat on the smaller of the couches in the yellow drawing room, her husband next to her, holding her hand. Everybody else, except the children, were utilizing the rest of the furniture. Only Zoe stood by the open French windows, her eyes constantly scanning the horizon, and Mal, who was in the centre of the room, holding the picture Kaylee had brought back.

“I’m thinking saying you don’t know anything about this just isn’t gonna cut it,” he said slowly. “This is you. Maybe from a few years back, but this is you two, and if there’s something that’s likely to come threatening me and mine, I need to know about it.”

Jacob Boden looked up, his face grim. “There’s no need to worry, sir. My wife and I will be gone in half an hour. As soon as we’re packed –”

“No!” Inara exclaimed. “I won’t let you do that!”

“Madam, we won’t put you in danger.”

“Then tell us what the diyu is going on.” Mal crossed his arms, a sure sign he wasn’t moving until he got the truth. “Why is there a bounty hunter after you?”

“Are you sure that’s who he was?” Simon asked Kaylee, who nodded miserably.

“I’m sure.”

“Couldn’t it actually be an inheritance?” Hank asked, then coloured slightly as all attention focused on him. “Well, it could be.”

“Different names, same folk …” Mal shrugged. “You do the math.”

Kaylee shifted slightly. “I’d swear it wasn’t about money coming to them, no matter what that feller said. I didn’t see no guns but …” She couldn’t help shuddering slightly, ancient memories assaulting her, then heard River’s voice unexpectedly in her head.

Jubal Early is dead. He will never threaten another soul.

Kaylee looked at her sister-in-law, at the external fragility that hid so much steel, and allowed herself to smile a little.

Better.

“So we’re back to a bounty hunter coming to Lazarus with your likenesses.” Mal exhaled heavily through his nose. “Care to enlighten us?”

Jacob stood up. “Captain, I can assure you this has nothing to do with you. My wife and I will take our leave, and we do apologise for leaving you without help, madam …” This was to Inara. “But I’m sure you will find someone suitable, and in the meantime –”

Bizui!” Mal’s command wasn’t loud, but it silenced the room. “’Nara’s right. You ain’t going anywhere ‘til we know what’s going on. And before Frey says it, you’re like family. How often have you looked after the kids, given ‘em hot chocolate and cookies? So pretend like I’m your long lost brother and tell me the truth, man.”

Jacob’s mouth stayed a tight, closed line.

Mal sighed heavily. “Fine.” He turned to his pilot. “You got that doohickey you always carry?”

Hank tried to look bright, ignoring the ache in his belly. “Which particular –”

“I’m wanting you to check something for me on the Cortex.”

“Oh, right. What, exactly?”

“If there’s an official bounty, I want you to find it.”

Hank looked at Zoe, who nodded fractionally, then pulled a miniature Cortex pad from his pocket. Switching it on he did something complicated with the control buttons and code began to flash across the small screen, faster than could be read. Glancing up he realised everyone was watching him. “What? You carry guns, I carry this.” He went back to inputting his request.

“This likely to be traced?” Mal asked.

“No. I run everything on this through half a dozen feeds, three blind alleys and a duck pond.”

“Duck pond?”

“A DCKPND filter that ... you really want me to explain?”

“No. Just so long as it isn’t gonna come back and bite us in the pigu.”

“It won’t.” Hank glanced around at River who had sidled up behind him to look over his shoulder. “And you start breathing down my neck and I’ll be a lot slower.”

“I can help.”

“Honey, this comes under the why keep a dog and bark yourself thing we’ve talked about.” Hank’s thumbs were flying over the keyboard all the while. “This is what I do.”

“What are you doing?” Simon wanted to know. From where he sat he could see pages of text and images exploding over the screen.

“I … uh … don’t think you want to know.”

“Is it illegal?”

“Pretty much.”

Jacob Boden was getting more and more agitated. “This really isn’t necessary. As soon as we’re gone –”

“Please,” Inara interrupted. “Sit down. And if you’d only tell us …”

Jacob lowered himself slowly to the sofa next to his wife again, but neither of them spoke.

“Mal, I can’t believe they’re wanted for anything,” Simon said.

“Doc, we ain’t exactly law abiding ourselves,” Mal pointed out. “It doesn’t take much for a man to be detained by the Alliance.”

Freya, who had joined River and was watching the information intently, put her hand on Hank’s shoulder. “There. Go back.”

Hank paused the images. “You think?”

“Yes.”

He hit another button and the pictures flowed backwards, much slower this time.

“Even Mr Universe coulda done it quicker,” Jayne grumbled. “And he’s dead.”

Zoe glared at him, but Hank just said, “Heard of him, never met him. And yes, you’re right, but he had a whole moon to use as an antenna. I’ve got this.”

“Yeah.” It was as close to an apology as the big man was likely to make.

Hank fiddled for another minute, then ... “Aha!” The screen flickered and settled. “You were right,” he said to Freya. “It’s a private warrant.”

“Where from?” Mal asked.

“Looks like Greenleaf.”

“Can you get to the details?”

The Bodens looked at each other, the unspoken conversation of the long-married passing between them, then Jacob sighed. “Stop, please. You don’t have to go any further.”

Mal turned around. “Well?”

“It’s Molly.”

“Molly?”

“Our daughter.”

“She’s working on Greenleaf, isn’t she?” Inara said, glancing at Sam.

“She was.”

Mal went to speak, then just as suddenly jammed his mouth closed as Freya moved to sit next to Mrs Boden. Nobody was in any doubt that she’d told him to shut up, possibly adding something to do with getting more with honey than vinegar. She took the older woman’s free hand in hers.

“What happened?” she asked.

“She was in service,” Mariah Boden said, for once her calm exterior cracked and leaking. “What we thought was a good family. The Lecombs.”

“Harper Lecomb?” Sam interjected then wished he hadn’t as he became the centre of scrutiny.

“You know him?” Inara asked in surprise.

“Well, Dhira lives on Greenleaf …” Sam was backtracking and knew everyone else realised it.

“I suppose it’s not all that unusual,” Inara said quickly. “Greenleaf society probably isn’t all that big.”

“Ain’t just society,” Mal put in. “We’ve done a job or two for the Lecombs over the years, mostly hauling goods under the radar ‘cause, no matter what the powers that be say, old Harper couldn’t do without his fine brandy and cigars.”

“What happened ... it wasn’t the father,” Jacob said, his lips tight and bloodless. “It was one of the sons. Randall.” A tremor ran through his wife, and his grip on her hand visibly increased, leaving his knuckles white.

“Best you get on with the story, then.” Mal’s tone had softened a little.

Jacob nodded. “He said he … said he loved her. That he wanted to marry her, only his father wouldn’t allow it. Talked her into letting him bed her.”

“And when she’d given everything to him, she found out he was engaged to someone else.” Mariah was obviously angry. “She told him to leave her alone, but he … he forced himself on her.”

“Rape?” Mal asked quickly before anyone could stop him.

Freya shot a glare at him, but said quietly, “If someone says no, of course it is.”

“Wasn’t saying it was anything different, ai ren.”

Freya nodded, just once.

“Molly isn’t like that,” Jacob went on. “She wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true. She honestly fell for him, and it broke her heart when she found out.”

“And just because she was working for the family shouldn’t mean they own her,” Mariah put in.

“So what happened?” Freya asked.

“She knew he wasn’t going to leave her alone,” Jacob said. “She packed her bits up and ran. Caught the first ship she could off-world.”

“She didn’t kill him?” Mal couldn’t stop himself. Sorry. The apology was to Freya for interrupting yet again.

Mariah’s look should have frozen him solid. “Of course not! Molly’s a good girl!”

“Then why’s she got a bounty hunter on her trail?” Mal wanted to get back to the heart of the matter, not knowing what this might mean for his family, and this time ignored the annoyance radiating off his wife.

“She … uh … might not have left empty-handed.” Jacob sighed, his face a mask of shame.

Mal relaxed, but only a micron. A little larceny he could understand. “What’d she take?”

“Some … jewellery. Just a handful of things. In lieu of money they owed her.”

“And the inconvenience, I’ll be bound. ’Cept a couple of trinkets don’t explain –”

“They’re antique,” Jacob interrupted. “She had no idea when she took them, but the man she tried to sell them to knew their true value.”

“And the Lecombs want them back.” Mal unwrapped his arms and hitched his thumbs into his pants pockets. “Still, a bounty hunter is a pretty big step.”

“Uh … Mal …” Hank looked up from the tiny Cortex screen, his face worried.

“What?”

“This warrant says it’s for murder.”

“That doesn’t –” “She didn’t –” The Bodens spoke over each other, each trying to explain.

Mal turned instead to Hank. “Anything else?”

“No.” The pilot narrowed his eyes as he searched the information again. “It’s very vague, but that’s definitely the gist.”

“Can you find anything on the Cortex about a death on Greenleaf to do with the Lecombs?”

“No. And I’ve been looking. The private warrant is all there is, nothing on the Alliance networks either.”

Mal took a deep breath, exhaling slowly, his eyes falling on Zoe. For once she wasn’t looking outside, but gazing steadily at him. “Not exactly likely, is it?” he said quietly. “A murder that hasn’t been notified to the Feds but a private warrant’s issued on it?”

“No, sir.”

“Sounds to me like they wanted an excuse to chase the girl.” He turned back to the Bodens. “Where’s Molly now?”

They didn’t look at each other, but it was by sheer effort of will. “With friends,” Jacob finally said. “On Mead.”

Mal.

I know, xin gan. Mal nodded, though. “Shiny. Long as she’s safe. And I’m presuming the jewellery’s with her?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Well, Kaylee here sent the feller off with a flea in his ear, so I doubt we’re gonna be hearing from them again, so no more talk of you leaving, dong mah?”

Maria Boden looked relieved, although her husband was still troubled.

“Sir, it really isn’t –”

“You’re safer among friends, anyway.”

“It’s not our safety we’re worried about.”

Mal waved away his objection, and ostentatiously looked at the delicate ormolu clock on the mantle. “And I don’t know about you, but I’m getting kinda hungry.”

Mariah shot to her feet, her natural inclination to feed everyone coming to the fore. “I’ll get back to the kitchen.” She hurried towards her domain.

Jacob followed a little slower. “Better go,” he muttered. “She’ll be needing me to peel things.” He walked out, his head dropped low.

Mal waited until the door had closed before turning to Sam. “So?”

“Excuse me?”

“You’ve obviously got some kind of prior knowledge of the Lecombs, better than us. Want to share?”

“Not really.”

“Don't look on that as a request.”

“I’m not part of your crew, captain.”

“Sam.” Inara spoke, her voice dropping into the sudden tension. “Please.”

The counsellor bristled but finally nodded, knowing the two psychics in the room could pick the information out of his head if they wanted to, whether he said yes or no. Not that he felt they had at any time, but he wasn’t sure he could tell.

“Fine.” He sat back, crossing one leg over the other so his left heel rested on his right knee. “The Lecombs are an old family. They can trace their lineage directly back to the ark ships from Earth-that-was, at least according to tradition.”

“So that makes ‘em better than anyone else?” Mal was feeling belligerent, and this supremely confident man in front of him could make itch like almost nobody else, except perhaps a certain doctor not a million miles away. Then he felt Freya’s touch in his mind, barely more than a butterfly’s wing, but it was enough. “Anyway, like I said, we’ve had the occasional dealing with old Harper. Tell us something we don’t know.”

For a long moment Sam was obviously considering, then he said, “I treated their son.”

“Which one? Randall?”

“No. The younger boy, Mitchell.”

“What for?”

“I can't say.”

“Look, if it has anything to do with –”

“It doesn’t. And I’ve probably broken every oath I took just by telling you that.”

Mal glanced at Freya but she shook her head fractionally. Unsure of what she was trying to tell him he turned back to Sam. “Then be more general.”

“I doubt I know any more than you do.”

“Humour me.”

Sam paused for a moment then said, “My overall impression was of wealth.”

“They’ve never been without the cash to do what they wanted,” Mal agreed. “And to pay your rates –”

“No, you don’t quite ... I mean, it’s their abiding interest. Not honesty or integrity, but the acquisition and keeping of money.”

“Might explain why they’re after the jewellery.” Mal didn’t sound convinced. “Still say a bounty hunter’s over-reacting, mind.”

“Harper Lecomb has some influential friends,” Sam went on as if Mal hadn’t spoken. “Not just in Greenleaf’s legislature, but higher up.”

“Alliance?”

“From what I can recall he went to school with a couple of Parliament members, and his brother occupies a minor position.”

“Sam, as interesting as this is, it still don’t explain anything. Except to make me wonder why he’d bother with smuggling Achaeon cigars.”

“I imagine it tickles him.” Sam sighed. “Mal, honestly, there’s little I can tell you. I have no idea why there’s a private warrant, when with his connections Harper could have had Lazarus turned upside down for the Bodens quite officially.”

“I for one am glad he didn’t,” Inara put in, standing up and smoothing her dress down over her bump. “I’ve had soldiers parading through my house before, thanks to you, and they leave a mess.”

For once Mal didn’t rise to the bait. “’Nara, ain't you in the least bit curious?”

“No. And if Sam says the Lecombs are just being heavy-handed, then I believe him.” She patted her hair. “Now, I have an appointment with the doctor tomorrow, and there are a few things I need to get ready.”

“Inara –” Simon was on his feet in a flash.

“Dr Farlow is my physician of choice, Simon. I've already told you.” She swept out, and the elegance of the room seemed to diminish with her leaving.

Sam sighed audibly. “I’m sorry. But when she’s in one of these moods there’s little I can do to persuade her differently.”

“You could always try withholding sexual favours,” River put in. “It works with my Jayne.”

“Sure does,” the big man grunted. “If I don’t get some regular –”

“Jayne.” It wasn’t clear which of the half dozen voices was the first, but Freya’s certainly came close to the top.

“Well, I’d better go see ...” Sam gestured feebly and walked slowly out.

“Looks like he’s going to his execution,” Hank commented.

“The way Inara’s acting, it could be.” Mal shook his head.

“I really don’t understand,” Simon said quietly. “I’m here, I’m an excellent doctor ...”

“Maybe ‘Nara’s got the hots for you and don’t want you to see her stretchmarks.” Mal half-smiled at his medic’s expression. “Kaylee, I take it you’ve got the part you wanted. Best get putting it in.”

“It’s coming later.”

“Are you ready for it?”

“Well ...”

“Don't fret. We’ll call when food’s up, hopefully ‘fore Jayne here eats it all.”

“Hey!”

Kaylee smiled, only a half-measure of her full wattage, but still more than most. “Xie xie, cap’n.” She jumped to her feet. “Hank, think you can give me a hand? Be quicker with the two of us. You can lie down on the trolley if you like.”

“Lie down.” The pilot contemplated the idea. “Might not be able to get up again, though.”

“Then I’ll help you.”

Hank laughed. “Honey, you pull a muscle lifting me and nobody’s gonna be pleased. But sure. Long as I can use the wheels.”

“I’ll even push you back to the house in time for dinner.”

She fairly skipped out, Hank following a lot slower, muttering, “Cao, why can’t I bottle that?”

“Me too,” Mal agreed.

“I think we should be with the children,” River announced, unfolding to stand and dragging Jayne with her. “They need a story.”

“They do?” the ex-merc asked.

“With noises.”

“Hell, moonbrain, I can do them for yah.” He grinned and followed his slip of a wife from the room.

Mal turned to his wife. “Frey, how about you and me taking a pre-food stroll?” He smiled at her and crooked his elbow.

“Sound shiny.” She hooked her arm through his.

“Zoe? Care to join us?”

“No, thanks, sir. There’s a couple of things I think I should be getting on with.” She vanished out into the sunlight.

“Looks like it’s just you and me, xin gan.”

“I don’t mind,” Freya said, pressing against him, just a fraction.

He smiled lovingly and led her from the room.

Simon, left alone and feeling like a fifth wheel, sat back on the striped sofa and wondered what it was they weren’t telling him.

---

“Well?” Mal asked once they were a distance from the house. “What ain’t you telling me?”

Freya shrugged. “I'm not sure.”

“You’re a Reader. You saying you didn’t peek? Not once?”

“I don’t do it all the time.”

“’Cept I think this time it’s warranted.”

“As it happens ...” She sighed. “I didn’t get much. Sam’s mind is very disciplined, probably because of his profession. I think he was telling the truth, but if there’s anything more, I couldn’t be sure.”

“And Inara’s pregnant.”

“I don’t ...”

“Frey, honey, I remember when River was expectin’. And little Kaylee. You had problems peekin’, didn’t you?”

“Hormones do seem to interfere somewhat,” she admitted.

“Good to remember if we need to use it sometime against the Alliance.”

Her eyes widened slightly. “Are you planning on carrying a pregnant woman around with you?”

“If it was you, sure.” He grinned. “What about the Bodens?”

“They’re definitely not telling us everything. Something about their past, before they started to work for Inara, but mostly because their daughter’s here on Lazarus.”

He wasn’t particularly surprised. “Close?”

“Very.”

“No wonder they’re scared.”

“Are we going to help them?”

“I don’t know.” He pulled her around to face him. “I can see trouble on the horizon, and the way it’s galloping towards me doesn't make me feel secure.”

“Poetry?”

“Common sense. And responsibilities. One of which is saying I should get Kaylee fixing my boat soon as she can so we can be ready to leave.”

“Do you really think Inara would let you take her away? Because that would be the only option.”

“I know.” He exhaled heavily. “And Sam’s right – in her mood she’s just as like to snap my head off.”

“I think you’re right about the trouble. But we have to stay.”

“Yeah.” Another sigh. “Better we get our guns, then.”

I’ll get them,” Freya said pointedly. “I know you and me on an empty ship.”

“She ain’t empty. Kaylee and Hank are there.”

“That’s never stopped you.”

He chuckled deeply. “I remember a time once in the cargo bay with Jayne and River up in the shuttle –”

“You know she complained about the noise.”

“And I’m planning on having her continuing that complaining streak for a long time to come. In fact ...” He whispered in her ear, and her cheeks tinged pink. “Still a prude.”

“Am not.” She pushed him away. “I’ll get our guns.” She began to walk back towards Serenity. “But keep that idea in mind for later tonight.”

He grinned and watched his wife’s backside until she had disappeared into the trees, knowing he should probably wait until certain stirrings in other portions of his own anatomy had calmed down. Going down onto his heels he plucked a long strand of green grass, placing it carefully between his thumbs and the pads below. He blew on it, trying to make it vibrate and sing out like he used to when he was a boy, and a mournful sound sneaked eerily through the orchard, startling a small flock of birds searching for late insects.

Well, so far it had been an interesting day. Ms Gingrich, his old teacher back on Shadow, always had something to impart about days like this. She’d peer around the classroom over the top of the spectacles perched on her hawk-like nose, then say, “Interesting doesn’t always mean good. Remember the old curse – may you live in interesting times. Interesting can mean dangerous, maybe even deadly. Far better to aim for boring and ordinary – you’ll probably live longer.” Then she’d tell them stories of excitement and intrigue, of independence, truth and justice. Not one kid came out of her class feeling anything less than fired up for the interesting.

It’s about to get a whole lot more so. Freya’s voice in his mind was calm, but there was a flavour of something else.

Frey?

Company’s coming.

She’d barely finished before he was up and running.

to be continued

COMMENTS

Thursday, April 18, 2013 3:03 AM

BLUEHANDEDMENACE


Fantastic as always. I can just see the master weaving of the tapestry coming together, this story seems to have a lot of great buildup and potential.

Greatly looking forward to more!

Thursday, April 18, 2013 11:25 AM

AMDOBELL


Holy crap, it really IS true. Only the depth that varies though I am a mite annoyed with the Bodens not being honest. I hope River picked up from Frey that warning too, I'm thinking Jayne needs to get Vera ready. Ali D :-)
"You can't take the sky from me!"


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“His name’s Jayne?”

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He slammed the door behind him, making the plates rattle on the sideboard. “It’s okay, girl, I ain't gonna hurt you.” The cook, as tradition dictated, plump and rosy cheeked with her arms covered to the elbows in flour, but with a gypsy voluptuousness, picked up a rolling pin.

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“Did we …” “We did.” “Why?” As she raised an eyebrow at him he went on quickly, “I mean, we got a comfy bunk, not that far away. Is there any particular reason we’re in here instead?” “You don’t remember?” He concentrated for a moment, and the activities of a few hours previously burst onto him like a sunbeam. “Oh, right,” he acknowledged happily.

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“Did we …” “We did.” “Why?” As she raised an eyebrow at him he went on quickly, “I mean, we got a comfy bunk, not that far away. Is there any particular reason we’re in here instead?” “You don’t remember?” He concentrated for a moment, and the activities of a few hours previously burst onto him like a sunbeam. “Oh, right,” he acknowledged happily.

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Monied Individual - Part XII
Hank had to shake his head. In this day and age, when the entire output of every quill, pen and two-fingered monkey thumping on a keyboard was available on the Cortex, this statement of wealth and power was way over the top. He loved the feel of paper himself, turning the pages to get to the next twist, scanning the print to try and guess the next turn, but even his collection wouldn’t fill more than a shelf here.

[Maya. Post-BDM. Hank thinks about Zoe, Zoe thinks about Hank, while Freya and Mal have lunch. Read, enjoy, review!]