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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
"Perhaps you want to think on this. Lecomb sent a bounty hunter – several, in fact – to find some jewellery and kill a girl on the quiet, so nobody knows he lost them in the first place. Perhaps you should consider whether he might not employ someone else to kill you, just so you can’t tell anyone either.” [Maya. Post-BDM. Simon finishes the job, and Mal talks to Philo again.]
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2081 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
It was well gone midnight, but nobody had retired to bed. In the infirmary Simon, Kaylee and Hank were gathered in a tight huddle, a soft murmur of voices breaking the silence.
Outside in the common area Inara and Sam had the couch, where he was sitting at one end and she lay flat, her head in his lap. She had her eyes closed, but it wasn’t clear if she was asleep, even though Sam was absently playing with the short hair just above her ear.
Mal and Freya had finally come inside, and now she was sitting in one of the armchairs, her shawl wrapped around her shoulders to warm her up, while he perched on the arm. Zoe was reading, sitting on the stairs with one of Hank’s lurid novels in her hands, occasionally turning a page for verisimilitude, while Jayne lounged in the doorway to the cargo bay, his attention mostly on his wife who still perched in her crow’s nest atop the house.
“How much longer?” Inara asked finally, showing she was in fact wide awake.
“As long as it takes,” Zoe said, not looking up from her book.
Inara sighed and sat up, manoeuvring herself awkwardly so she was upright next to Sam. “How did you do it?”
“Do what?” Freya asked.
“The waiting. During the war. All those times, waiting to go into battle.”
She chuckled, but it was without humour. “It wasn’t always like that. And you get used to it.”
Mal glanced at Freya, but his wife seemed content to take control of the conversation.
Freya sighed. “You can’t live on your nerves all the time. You’d be ill. Or worse.”
“I think she means dead,” Sam said softly.
At Freya’s nod, Inara shook her head. “I couldn’t do it.”
“Except there must have been times, as a Companion, waiting for a client …” Freya said.
“It’s not the same,” Inara insisted. “Yes, there was waiting. But there was anticipation as well, looking forward to the encounter, to learning about a new person, to … well, to everything.”
“I conjure you’re talking about the sex,” Mal said.
“Yes.” Inara’s chin came out defiantly. “But as I’ve always told you, the sex isn’t the important part of what a Companion does.”
“Yeah, but I can’t say I’ve ever believed you.”
“That’s because you’re a Philistine.”
“Is she insulting me?” Mal asked Freya.
“Just so’s I know.” He smiled slightly.
“You are impossible,” Inara said, exhaling heavily.
“I doubt that’s gonna change, not now.”
“I’m surprised Freya puts up with you.”
Freya opened her mouth to respond, but realised Simon was standing in the doorway to the infirmary. “Mal …” she murmured.
He was on his feet in a moment. “Doc?”
Simon’s face was drawn and tired, but he said, “I’ve finished.”
Mal glanced at his first mate who put her book down slowly. “It’s done?”
“And I think it worked.” Simon ran his hands over his face and through his hair, leaving some standing on end.
“Someone who’s cleverer than I am might be able to uncorrupt it.”
“Top one percent you mean?”
Simon smiled sketchily. “Well, maybe top two.”
“But there wouldn’t be many? And it’d take a while to find one of ‘em?”
Mal took a deep breath and released it slowly, a familiar expression on his face. “Then that’s as good as it gets.” He looked at Zoe. “Wave Philo. Tell him I wanna meet in the morning.”
Zoe stood up. “He’ll be in bed.”
“I think he’s probably sitting up waiting to find out what’s gonna happen next.”
“What time tomorrow?”
“Early. Before breakfast.”
“I always thought things like this were done around noon,” Hank noted from where he stood next to Simon, scratching the emerging beard on his cheeks.
“Well, maybe I prefer spending my day without worrying I’m gonna get shot.”
“In town again?” Zoe asked.
“Nope. Not this time. Somewhere open …”
“Nice spot.” Philo Cobb looked out across the lake at the purple smudges of mountains ringing the world. “Still feels like I’m in someone’s crosshairs, though.”
“It’s possible. I conjure I feel the same.”
“We could have met at my ship.”
“Nope. Although I’d have been happy if we’d met at mine.”
“I’m sure you would. And I’d be feeling all the time as if your crew was just itching to put me down.”
“Then we understand each other.”
“I guess we do.” Philo glanced down towards the small strip of beach a hundred yards away where Freya was standing at the water’s edge, trying to make stones skip and failing, as usual. “Your wife keeping an eye on us too?”
There was a long pause as Mal stood perfectly still, his thumbs hitched in his gunbelt. From a man like him, whose childhood on Shadow had instilled in him a slight tendency to use four words where two would do, it was disconcerting to see him silent, waiting, and Philo fell into the trap of speaking first.
“Well, I’m here. Your first mate said you had something to deal.”
Mal relaxed, just a shade, in control. “That I do.”
“Only it don’t look to me like you’ve got the Grogans in your back pocket.”
“Like I said, they ain’t the reason you’re here.” He lifted his left hand. “Just gonna get something out.”
“Slowly,” Philo advised.
“Wasn’t planning on anything else, not and have either of us perforated.”
Philo smiled slightly. “I’m guessing it might be my kin you’re talking about.”
“Kin?” Mal reached into his shirt pocket, very carefully, and withdrew a small pouch.
“I took the time last night to do a bit of research on you, Captain Reynolds. And what I’ve heard is you run with a Jayne Cobb.”
“He runs with me.”
“I daresay he does. Some kinda cousin or some such. Half a dozen times removed.”
“He’ll be glad to hear it.”
“Always had a yen to meet him, see if he’s as much of the bastard as they say.”
“Maybe we can have tea and crumpets some time.”
“That’d be shiny. Unlikely but you never know.” Philo seemed to shake himself. “Okay, let’s get down to it. Show me.”
Mal nodded and undid the thin strip of leather holding the pouch closed. Without it the pouch opened fully into a flat piece of fabric, and the Culver diamond was revealed, glowing in the morning sunshine.
“It’s supposed to be in a setting,” Philo objected mildly.
“The bits are there,” Mal said. “It was a shade delicate and it broke. Sorry.”
“Well, it makes no never mind.” He stared at the red stone. “Looks like a big hunk of nothing. Not worth the trouble.”
“Funny what some folks consider valuable,” Mal agreed.
“Me, I always went for cash.” Philo lifted his own hand. “Just getting a doohickey,” he explained.
Philo grinned. “Right.” He pulled his jacket open and lifted a small box from his inside pocket. It had a toggle switch on one side and a row of tiny lights along the top. “Nothing to worry about.”
“What is it?” Mal felt the urge to take a step back but held his ground.
“Something my employer … Lecomb gave me. To check this is the real deal.”
“You think I’m trying to con you? That this is just a bit of glass?”
“Honestly it could be, and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. This will.” He held it up and Mal reluctantly held out his hand.
Philo didn’t touch it, just put the box over the top and pressed the switch. A faint hum setting his teeth on edge, Mal felt his pulse start to quicken.
Simon knew what he was doing, he heard in his head. Relax.
Easy for you to say, ai ren.
Freya coughed and tossed a stone as far as she could into the lake, and the plop as it broke the surface coincided with a beep and the lights on the top of the box glowing yellow.
“Looks like I don’t have to shoot you,” Philo said, tucking the box away again.
“Kinda glad about that.” Mal wrapped the stone up in the pouch and handed it over. “So. We good?”
“Well, there is the matter of a little thief.”
“You’ve got the diamond. And I’m sure Lecomb will pay handsomely to get it back.”
Philo shrugged. “It’s a matter of reputation.”
“And without that we’re nothing,” Mal said witheringly.
If the other man recognised sarcasm he didn’t rise to it. “’Xactly. And I’m not in the mood to just walk away.”
Mal shrugged. “Up to you. But a man in your position must be ready to take the easy option once in a while.”
“Man in my position can’t be seen not to fulfil his obligations.”
“And they are?”
For a long moment Philo considered, then said, “Yeah, you’re right. Find the jewels and kill the girl. The Grogans too, if they made any fuss.”
Mal wasn’t surprised. He wished he could be, but … “Why kill her?”
“She’s just a kid. Do you know the background to what happened?” When Philo shook his head, Mal continued, “Lecomb’s son, Randall, took advantage of her youth and trusting nature. And when she said no he raped her. She ran, taking those bits of frippery with her as payment in lieu.”
Philo’s eyes tightened minutely. “That the case.”
Mal knew he had recognised that odd streak of honour, something he’d seen in his own ex-merc. “So why don’t you take the diamond and tell Lecomb you managed to catch up with Molly before she could find her kin. You’ve got what he really wants – he ain't likely to demand to see her corpse to prove she’s dead.”
The other Cobb chewed the inside of his lip in thought. “I guess maybe I could,” he finally admitted. “Lot less hassle than coming and trying to take her from you. Not that you could stop me if I wanted to.”
“Well, I’d have to take issue with that, and so would my crew, but you’re right – a lot less hassle.”
“Thing is, what’s my motivation?”
Mal internalised the sigh, especially when Freya’s mental voice said, Told you. “Then what about the rest of the folderol?” he suggested, looping a string from his pants pocket and withdrawing a second pouch.
Philo held his hand out and Mal dropped it into his palm.
“It looks a little light to me,” Philo observed, testing the weight.
“The girl mighta had to bargain a few bits and pieces, and you know what crooks the folks she’d be likely to be dealing with can be.”
Philo shrugged, but whether it was in agreement or not was debateable, although he then allowed, “Prob’ly not a tenth what they’re really worth.”
“If that. Enough to get her off Greenleaf, maybe as far as somewhere like Persephone.”
“And she left these with you on the way.”
“S’pose she must’ve.”
“Maybe.” Philo gazed at him. “You play poker, Captain?”
“You win at all?”
“Less than I’d like. I prefer Tall Card.”
“If we come across each other again, I’d like to take you on in a game or two.”
“You never know.”
Philo sighed and pocketed the leather bag. “Well, it was a pleasure doing business with you.”
“Any deal where I don’t get shot is a good one.”
“That happen a lot?”
“More than I’d like.”
Philo chuckled. “Why ain’t I surprised?”
Mal decided it was a rhetorical question. “So we’ve come to an understanding?”
“You know, I’d heard about you, before I did my little bit of research. Captain Malcolm Reynolds. You and that deathtrap of a ship of yours. You’re pretty famous in some circles.”
Mal bridled at the insult to Serenity, but kept his face open. “Sounds ominous.”
“There’s talk you maybe had something to do with the Miranda broadwave.”
“That was half a lifetime ago.”
“Yeah, but the ripples are still moving. And the hero of Serenity Valley ain’t likely to be forgotten too soon.”
“Not a hero. I just survived.”
Philo chuckled again, then tipped his hat back on his head with his forefinger. “I know what I am, Captain Reynolds. But time was I had sympathies with the Independents. I ain't exactly got me a love for the Alliance, and I know old Lecomb is bedded in with them so far he can’t see daylight. So yeah, we have an understanding. Of course, if’n I get another job to come find you, there won’t be a hole deep enough for you to hide.”
Mal smiled slightly. “Understood. ‘Cept you didn’t ask him why.”
“Man in my line of business doesn’t need to know.”
“But didn’t you wonder? All this cloak and daggery? Chasing down folks for a handful of pretties?”
“I get paid. That’s all I care about.”
“And I’m thinking you ain't cheap. Not with the crew you’ve got with you.”
“I’m good. And you get what you pay for.”
“Hmmn. But then perhaps you want to think on this. Lecomb sent a bounty hunter – several, in fact – to find some jewellery and kill a girl on the quiet, so nobody knows he lost them in the first place. Perhaps you should consider whether he might not employ someone else to kill you, just so you can’t tell anyone either.”
Philo stared. “Captain, you have a hard view of people.”
“Tell me I’m wrong.”
The other man laughed unexpectedly. “Can’t. And I’ll be careful to look over my shoulder for a while.” Something occurred to him. “You know, I’m surprised you haven’t told Jayne to take me down. End the problem right here and now.”
“Don’t think he didn’t suggest it. But it wouldn’t end anything, would it?”
“Nope. Reckon it wouldn’t.” Philo took off his hat and settled it again more firmly on his head. “Well, like as not we won’t be seeing each other again.”
“It’s a big ‘verse.”
“And pass on my good wishes to that wife of yours.”
Philo went to hold out his hand but decided against it. Instead he raised it in a sort of salute. “See you in the world, Captain Reynolds.” He turned on his heel and strode off back towards where his hover was parked. A minute later and Mal was alone above the small stretch of beach.
“You think he’s trustworthy?” Jayne asked, melting out of the trees and shouldering Vera.
“He’s your kin, you tell me.”
“I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him, but it’s a kind of trustworthy untrustworthiness, if you get my drift.”
“I think maybe I can see what you’re trying to say.”
Jayne caressed Vera. “You know, I coulda taken him down.”
“I know. But it’s better this way. Maybe he owes us now.”
“Mal, you’re a sneaky bastard sometimes.”
“I hafta ask why, though.”
“Maybe I was just feeling like stirring things up.”
“Nope. I know you. You’ve got something planned.”
“Not … planned. Just an inkling like maybe we need to garner a bit of goodwill at the moment.”
“So you weren’t thinking of saving him just ‘cause he looks like me?”
“Jayne, as pretty as you are, no. Two of you in the ‘verse is probably two too many, but in all honesty I can’t rightly say why I warned him off trusting Lecomb.”
“Because Lecomb is a double-crossing turncoat with no more conscience than a turd?”
Mal considered the image. “Yeah, that’d be it.”
Jayne thought for a moment, then said, “Good job Hank’s in town, though, making sure he takes off.” He glanced around. “Better get back to the house, see he doesn’t double back.”
“Good idea.” As his public relations officer loped off, Mal turned back to gaze at the mountains ringing the horizon, his hands resting lightly on his gunbelt. After a moment he said, “You think we’re out of the woods?”
Freya smiled. “I think we’re lucky.” She hooked her arm through her husband’s.
He put his hand on hers. “When you’re around, I lean that way.” He looked at her. “But? I can see by your face that there’s a ‘but’ hanging around somewhere.”
“No, no, everything’s shiny.”
“I’ll feel better when we know Philo Cobb and his men have left Lazarus.”
“You’ll be back to your usual, bouncing self?”
“I don’t bounce.” She glanced down at her full chest. “Well, not that much.”
“There’s a hammock still up in the orchard.”
Her eyes narrowed. “So?”
“I was just making the association. Bouncing, swinging …” He grinned.
“Yeah,” he agreed happily, wondering vaguely what this woman had done to him to stop him being the grumpy old man he tended towards. When a tinge of pink touched her cheekbones, he knew she’d read his thoughts, and grinned even wider.
Hank watched Cobb’s ship take off from the small dock, observing critically that whoever was flying was wasting good fuel in making adjustments too soon, instead of doing it right, doing it properly. Honestly, some folk shouldn’t be pilots. As the vessel vanished into the clouds Hank lifted his comm. to his mouth. “Mal.”
“All of ‘em?”
“Far as I could tell. And from the trajectory I’d say –”
“They have broken atmo.” This was River’s voice. “They’re not turning back.”
Hank sighed, imagining the young woman in his chair, playing with things.
“Am not,” she added reproachfully.
He grinned. “You can say that …”
“I was being helpful.”
“And you are, honey. ‘Cept if I was someone sneaky I’d wait for a while before doubling back and finding someplace to put down nobody’s gonna see me.”
“Philo Cobb was content.”
“Still, might not be a bad idea to rig an automatic check every so often for their beacon. Just in case.” He paused for a second. “But you’ve already done that, haven’t you?”
There was nothing over the ether for a long moment, then River said, very quietly, “Possibly.”
Hank heard Mal laugh. “Looks like I’ve got one pilot too many.”
“Only one?” Hank shook his head, even though he knew neither of them could see him. “You know, I saw a sign for a farm being for sale, not too far out of town. P’raps I should persuade Zoe to put down some roots.”
“Good luck with that,” Mal grunted. “Anyways, you heading straight back?”
“I’ve got a few bits to get. Why?”
“I don’t want you to get lost.”
“Me? Lost?” Hank drew himself up to his full height, even if two inches of that was untidy brown hair. “I would take umbrage at that. If I knew what umbrage was, or where to take it.” He strode towards town, head held high, whistling tunelessly.
The man in the shadows watched him go, and smiled coldly.
Philo spun the lock on the safe in his bunk then headed towards the bridge. His pilot, a thin, dour individual by the name of Leo Horg, with more than a little Chinese in his background, turned to look at him.
“Where to, boss?” he asked, his demeanour suggesting whatever their destination was likely to be just as bad as anywhere else.
“Greenleaf. I’ve got an appointment to get paid.”
“Whatever you say.” Horg turned back to his instruments, setting a course with a slump to his shoulders.
A short man, long brown hair caught back in a leather thong, stuck his head through the door. “Philo, you seen Linc?”
Philo shook his head. “Not for a while, Ike. Why?”
“Only he ain’t in his bunk, and his stuff’s gone.”
Philo bristled. “That hwoon dahn. Looks like he jumped ship. Well, more fool him. Lazarus ain’t exactly on the major trade routes.”
“He didn’t tell you he was leavin’?” Ike asked.
“He plays his cards close to his chest, and I for one am not gonna mourn his loss. Least he didn’t ask for his pay first.”
“You want me to tell Billy to cook less food?”
“Good idea. And see if either Monk or Bingo wants to change bunks, seeing as they’re doubling up at the moment.”
“Will do, Philo.”
Philo watched the stars outside the window for a long moment without really seeing them, and the idle thought crossed his mind that maybe he should let Mal Reynolds know Linc was still on the ground. Then he dismissed it. It that man couldn’t look after himself, being told a stone cold killer was hanging around wasn’t likely to help.
to be continued
Monday, February 17, 2014 8:52 AM
Sunday, March 9, 2014 6:43 PM
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