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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
“Pleased to meet you,” Hank said, having to stop himself from wiping his hand down his pants. The touch of the other man’s hand had been like old paper, dry and brittle. It reminded him of one of the vids he’d watched recently, about a mummified corpse coming back to life. Except that was ridiculous.
[Maya. Post-BDM. It's time to meet the enem- sorry, family.]
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 786 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Between them Clive and Crispin Foster would have made two normal people. One was tall and stick thin, his expensive clothes cut to suit but unable to disguise the scrawniness of his wrists. His brother, on the other hand, was short and corpulent, his waistcoat straining across his stomach as it tried to escape. Their faces, though, left no-one in doubt of their familial relationship, although the fat one wore a scowl. He didn’t rise from his chair next to the roaring fire, but the other stepped forward, his hand out.
“Welcome, welcome,” he said, forced bonhomie oiling his voice. “I’m Clive Foster, and this is my brother, Crispin.”
“Th … thanks,” Hank stammered, wishing he hadn’t worn his long johns as he felt sweat spring out on his forehead.
Clive had noticed. “Yes, it’s rather warm in here, isn’t it? Moggridge, open one of the windows, will you? Just a little. We don’t want a draught.”
The butler pulled aside one of a heavy set of curtains as Hank and Clive shook hands, and opened the window a crack.
“There, that’s better.” Clive turned to the two women sitting together on a damask-covered couch. “This is my wife, Demelza, and my daughter Cora.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Hank said, having to stop himself from wiping his hand down his pants. The touch of the other man’s hand had been like old paper, dry and brittle. It reminded him of one of the vids he’d watched recently, about a mummified corpse coming back to life. Except that was ridiculous. He shook himself internally, and managed to smile at the two women.
Demelza Foster, a good twenty years younger than her husband, stood up and took his arm. “The pleasure is all mine,” she said, squeezing his bicep in reassurance.
Cora just nodded, muttering something that sounded like “Hi.”
“And these are?” Demelza asked, turning to the others and making her mass of flaming red hair twist in the pale draught from the window. “My, we haven’t had this many people in the house for I don’t know how long.”
Mal stepped forward. “Captain Reynolds, ma’am. Hank’s my pilot, least that’s what I pay him for.”
Demelza smiled. “I’m sure that’s not all he does.”
“Sometimes I wonder.” Mal quickly made the rest of the introductions, starting with Freya before going on to Simon and Kaylee then Inara and Sam before ending with, “And this is Zoe Mills, my first mate and Hank’s wife.”
“A wife?” The glance exchanged between the two brothers was over before it began, but Mal was sure he’d seen it. “A wife wasn’t mentioned.” Clive lowered himself into an armchair.
Hank grinned. “I know it doesn’t seem possible, especially when you look at Zoe then at me, but we are married. Got the certificate at home to prove it.”
“How lovely,” Demelza said, then tutted. “Clive, where are your manners?” She smiled. “Do please sit down.”
Kaylee sank into a small sofa, Simon at her side, while Mal and Zoe each took an armchair, Hank being drawn down to sit between Demelza and Cora. Sam accompanied Inara to a small couch away from the heat of the fire, making sure she was comfortable with various cushions before sitting next to her. Only Freya remained standing, wandering from small table to nook to cranny, taking in but not quite touching several hundred years-worth of knick-knacks and gew-gaws.
Clive watched her for a moment, then visibly decided she wasn’t worth worrying about. “Captain Reynolds, I see you’re all armed.” He gestured towards the gun strapped to Mal’s thigh. “I assure you, we pose no threat.”
Mal gave one of his self-deprecating little smiles, designed to make the other man think he was just a poor, honest worker with no thought of murder on his mind. “Oh, I know that. But it’s kinda habit. Some of the places we have to do business would think nothing of inviting you to supper then slitting your throat for the change in your pocket.”
An expression of distaste crossed Clive’s face. “That is hardly likely to happen on Persephone.”
“You’d be surprised the depths some of the low-lifes we’ve encountered can sink to, even on Persephone.” He sat back. “I understand you know Dillon Malfrey?” He saw Freya glare at him, and had to steel his lips.
“I know … of him.”
“Then perhaps you could enlighten me as to his past. He’s an acquaintance of my wife’s, but she’s told me little to nothing about how they met.”
Freya stopped under a huge painting on the wall, the spitting image of the one in Pike’s office, though this version was hidden in a dark corner rather than on ostentatious display. Is this going to be your persona for the evening?
What’d that be? Mal sat on the impulse to look at her.
Hill-billy good ole boy.
Hey, I’m just being friendly!
Clive, in the meantime, had carried on speaking. “He is wealthy, influential and has friends in high places. Of course, how he came by that wealth and influence is the subject of a surprising number of rumours that I could regale you with.”
“Yes, do,” Freya added in a sweet tone, moving to sit on the arm of Mal’s chair.
Demelza picked up on it. “No, no, I don’t think so. This promises to be far too enjoyable an evening to bore everyone with idiotic gossip.”
“As you say.” Clive gave in, more or less gracefully. “Then what shall we talk about?”
“How about the reason we’re all here tonight?” Hank asked before anyone else could speak. “My inheritance.”
Clive laughed. “Yes, of course. Straight to the point. So refreshing.” If he could have sounded less sincere while still smiling it would have been a miracle. “Of course, nothing is certain, not yet. I understand from Pike that you have a strong claim, but until we have that all-important proof that’s all it is – a claim.”
“What do you need?”
“Some blood. Only a very little, but enough so that it can be tested against the –”
“DNA profile on the family server,” Hank finished. “I know.”
“So you do.”
“Then go ahead.” He pushed up his sleeve. “Test away.”
“Not before dinner. That would be –”
Clive got no further as the door to the room slammed open, banging into the sideboard and making all the glasses shiver. A dark-haired young man stood in the opening, shaking snow from his coat.
“Evening,” he said, smiling. His eyes widened as he took in the assembly. “We have guests?”
“Luke.” Crispin waved a hand languidly. “The prodigal cousin returns.”
One of the maids fluttered behind him, and Luke took off his coat, handing it to her. “Thanks, Dottie.” He bestowed a warm, winning smile on her and she retreated, giggling.
“Really, Luke, do you have to?” Clive complained.
“What? Be nice to the servants?”
“We probably won’t get a lick of work out of her for the rest of the evening now. And her name’s Dorothy.”
“I prefer Dottie. So does she.”
“I don’t want to know what she prefers.” Clive appeared to be winding himself up for a full-fledged argument but remembered they had company just in time. “Anyway, as you say, we have guests.”
“From that Firefly out there?” Luke continued the smile, now at Serenity’s crew. “It’s good to see one still flying. My father had one for a while, before the accident.”
“Your father was a reprobate and a crook.” This was from Crispin.
“That he was,” Luke agreed. “But he knew about ships.” His eyes fixed on unerringly on Mal. “She’s yours?”
“That she is.” Mal stood up and held out his hand, noticing that closer to he had to adjust his guestimate of the other man’s age, probably closer to his own than he’d first thought. “Captain Mal Reynolds.” They shook. “And this is my wife, Freya.”
“The pleasure is all mine.” Luke took her hand and dipped low, just brushing the back with his lips. “Luke Brookner. At your very dear service.”
Freya’s expression was amused, with a hint of exasperation as she looked into his hazel-bordering-on-green eyes. “I think you’re a bad man.”
“And I think you’re right.”
Freya took her hand back and Mal said, “I conjure the rest of my crew will introduce themselves ‘fore too long.”
Clive coughed to get the attention. “But this is the guest of honour. Mr Hank Mills.”
Luke turned to the man in question. “Ah, the heir apparent.” Again he held out his hand.
“Pleased to meet you,” Hank said. “Only if you start kissing my hand I think my wife might object.”
“I might at that,” Zoe said.
“Tell me, how did you manage to acquire such a beautiful creature?” Luke asked in a stage whisper. “And are there any more at home like her?”
“Sir?” The young maid was back, peering around the door.
“Yes, Dorothy?” Clive said pointedly.
“Cook says dinner is served.”
“Ah, good.” He clapped his hands. “If you’ll all follow me …” He held out his arm to Demelza, who took it and stood gracefully, then to Cora, who ignored it, getting to her feet by herself and heading for the door.
Not that she was first through it. With a turn of speed that surprised most in the room, Crispin had risen and was heading out of the door at a turn of speed.
“Hate to be between that man and his food,” Kaylee whispered to Simon.
“I agree.” He glance around then leaned closer. “I almost wish Jayne was here. It might be interesting to watch the pair of them fight it out over the last entrée.”
“People could die in the fall-out,” Inara murmured, making Kaylee giggle.
They all headed back into the blessed coolness of the hall, following the others deeper into the house.
Hank hung back, checking the comm in his pocket was still turned on. He became aware of someone at his side and looked up. “Oh, hi.”
Luke stood next to him. “Not hungry?”
“Just … bit too hot.”
“I know what you mean. The trouble is the generator isn’t what it once was, so in order to have the lighting they have to cut back on heating.” Luke looked up into the rafters. “And most of that goes straight out through the roof. So they use the fireplaces instead and burn wood from the estate.”
“Ah.” Hank thrust the comm back into his pocket. “You know, Kaylee’s a wonder with mechanical stuff, and I’m not bad. We could take a look, if you like. At the generators. At least make this place more liveable.”
Luke looked surprised. “Thanks. Even if it’s only in the gatehouse.”
“It’s where I live.”
Hank grinned. “We’ll see what we can do.” He was silent for a moment as they walked down a long corridor. “He called you a cousin?”
“Who, Crispin? Yes. With as much venom behind it as he could. I suppose I am, in a roundabout way. I’m descended, in something of a circuitous manner, from Uther’s wife. Not close enough to be blood, but enough to leech off the rest of the family.” Luke seemed unconcerned.
“I didn’t say that.”
“You didn’t have to. My cousins tell me all the time.”
“You know, Ben would love this place,” Hank commented as they passed another suit of armour, this one decorated with a long strand of cobweb. “He’d be playing pirates and treasure hunts all day.”
“My son. Mine and Zoe’s.”
Luke looked around quickly to make sure nobody else had heard, and held the pilot back. “Don’t tell anyone you have a child. Tell your friends as well.”
“Just … trust me. There’s more going on here than you can imagine, and …” He smiled, but it was very serious. “Hank, humour me on this.”
Ahead of them Freya had paused, and now looked back from the doorway to the dining room, an odd expression on her face.
“Uh, sure, okay. I mean, it’s not like I bring him up that often in normal conversation.” He turned back but then jumped. “Oh, hey, Frey.”
She’d walked up on silent feet. “I don’t know about you two, but I’m hungry.” She slipped her arms in theirs. “Care to join me?”
Luke laughed. “I could never say no to a beautiful woman.”
“You know, you and my husband have quite a lot in common, not least of which is your appallingly bad eyesight.”
The house might be falling down in places, and need serious work in others, but the Fosters didn’t stint on food.
“You know, the amount I’ve eaten over the past few weeks, you’re gonna have to let my pants out,” Mal whispered to Freya.
“You know where the needle and thread is.” She smiled at him as she absently rearranged the cutlery by her plate.
Inara was doing the same.
“Isn’t it right?” Sam asked softly, amused.
“No. And there’s no excuse for it.”
He chuckled. “I know it annoys you, what with all your training. But why do you suppose it matters to Freya?”
“I don’t think she knows she’s doing it.”
“Displacement?” Sam studied the other woman more closely.
“Something’s on her mind, I told you.”
“And that means she needs to put the knives and forks in order?”
“I imagine the Rostovs had the right utensil for every possible option.” Inara laughed. “It’s something hidden deep in her psyche.”
“Well, I promised to do some mining, and I will.”
“Thank you.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek.
“In public, Inara?”
“You’d be surprised some of the things I’ve done in public, Sam.”
His laughter made everyone look their way, and he dropped his head to hide the grin.
The conversation was sporadic and mundane, as each dish was tried, commented on or complimented before the next arrived. Dottie and another young woman were kept on their toes, going backwards and forwards to the kitchens, while Moggridge poured wine or whisky, depending on taste.
“Yes, just the one,” Demelza was saying as the dessert finally arrived in the shape of a pink confection surmounted by cherries and cream. “Cora is my darling, but I wasn’t blessed with another.”
“I thought that was gonna be the case too,” Kaylee said. “I mean, I had Bethie, then Hope came along, but I really thought that was it, least until David Gabriel.”
All other conversation ceased.
“You have children on board?” Clive asked.
“That we do,” Kaylee said. “I’ve got three now of my own, well, me and Simon a’course, then there’s … there’s …” She stammered to a halt, her eyes flicking to Freya. “Well, you don’t want to hear about them. I’d rather you told us about life here on Persephone. Is it all balls and such?”
“Not particularly. There are a few, in some of the better houses, even some in the family name here a few years ago, but people don’t seem to have the money to throw around these days.” Demelza sighed. “It’s a pity. I recall there being some wonderful events when I was a girl.”
“That can’t be too long ago,” Mal said gallantly.
She reached over and patted his hand. “Oh, I do like you.” She laughed. “Longer ago than I care to remember, actually.”
Clive wasn’t going to be put off, though. “I’m surprised you allow this, captain. Children on board a working vessel. Surely it isn’t safe.”
“Well, I’d have to put my own off if I didn’t.”
“Really. And how many are there, exactly?”
“You know, I believe I went to a Triskelion ball, once.” Inara’s cultured voice cut through the growing tension. “When I was a very young Companion.”
Crispin’s spoon stopped halfway to his mouth. “You’re a Companion? So he is –”
“My fiancé.” Inara laughed. “At least, I hope so.” She smoothed her dress over her pregnancy. “And I’m not a Companion anymore.”
“What was it like?” Cora asked, the first full sentence to come out of her lips, and finally some life in her green eyes. “Being a Companion. I’ve often wondered.”
“Some of it was wonderful. Hard work, too, even if some people never believed that.” Her gaze rested on Mal for a moment, who rolled his eyes. “But I met some interesting people, saw a wide variety of planets … all in all, I wouldn’t have missed it.”
“Then why did you leave? Because of …” Cora nodded towards Inara’s stomach, her own red hair bouncing.
“No, no, it was long before that. There were other reasons, things I didn’t agree with. And perhaps I grew up.”
Sam put his hand on hers. “Not so much that you didn’t fall for me, my darling.”
Mal shook his head and took another mouthful of wine.
Hank, meanwhile, having been emboldened by the alcohol, spoke up. “Can I ask … why haven’t you done something about the house?” He looked around. “Mended the roof. Put in better lighting. Hell, fixed the heat!”
Luke laughed. “When it might not be ours?” He gestured to encompass the surroundings. “Nobody has spent a cent on this place since Peder died.”
“Now, that’s not quite true,” Crispin said. “But a major work like renewing the roof … well, since we can’t touch the capital it would have to come out of our own pockets.”
“No, it wouldn’t.” Freya spoke. “You have the interest.”
Clive exchanged a glance with his brother then smiled condescendingly. “I’m afraid you don’t quite understand the complexities of high finance, my dear. But then I wouldn’t expect a woman to be able to grasp the details.”
“Oh, my,” Inara breathed.
The crew of Serenity held its collective breath.
Freya didn’t shout, didn’t shake her fist, or even grab the steak knife and carve her initials onto the man’s chest. Instead she raised an eyebrow and said, “I spent something of an informative hour on the Cortex this afternoon. Looking into those very finances.”
That what you were doing, ai ren? Mal’s mental voice bathed her senses, amusement flavouring the words.
I thought you were asleep.
Just resting my eyes.
Her lips twitched but she went on, “From the public records Triskelion Enterprises owns a number of factories, as well as several haulage companies and a string of rather well known restaurants. That’s apart from the actual money sitting in the various banks and interests in some very large going concerns closer in to the Core, the annual income from any of which would have paid for the necessary repairs a thousand times over.”
“None of which is available.” Crispin crossed his hands over his expansive stomach.
“No. But the interest is, and has been for fifty years. You should know, you’ve been spending it.”
A laugh very like pebbles on a coffin lid came from the doorway, and they all turned to look. “She’s got you there, boys.”
Clive stood up. “Father, should you really be out of bed?
John Foster laughed again. “I’m fit as a fiddle, you know that. And I wanted to see the new member of the family.”
“Of course.” Clive crossed the room and took the old man’s arm.
“I’m not an invalid,” Foster snapped, pulling away.
“No. But you had that fall …”
“Last year. Gorramit but you can be so damn annoying sometimes.” He looked around. “So? Which one of you is it? The one’s going to throw me and mine out of our home and onto the streets?”
“Father …” Clive murmured.
Hank stood up. “Me. At least, I’m Hank Mills. And I’ve no intention of throwing anyone out.”
“Good to know.” He held out his hand. “John Foster. I don’t mind what you call me, as long as it’s not late for dinner. Although it looks like you did, at that.”
Hank laughed dutifully, although his sons just exchanged exasperated glances. “It’s nice to meet you, Mr Foster.” They shook.
Mal looked the old man up and down, wondering if the stories he’d heard could possibly by true. Medium height, his neck seemed to have receded into his shoulders to make him look shorter than he was. His hair was silver, still so thick and lustrous that Mal wondered if it was a wig.
Not a wig.
And he’s old. Very old. Older than you.
Are you pissed at me?
His birthday was last week. There were 10 candles on the cake.
That doesn’t help, xiao nu.
There should have been 93, but they were afraid they’d burn the rest of the house down.
Mal couldn’t help the twitch of his lips. He looks pretty good for his age.
At least he doesn’t have to wear glasses.
Oh, definitely pissed.
He stepped forward. “Mr Foster, I’m Captain Mal Reynolds. For lack of a better title Hank’s my pilot.” He held out his hand.
“Good to meet you, son.” Foster reached out, but instead of shaking he snagged one of the cherries from the leftover dessert. Putting it into his mouth he sucked the juice from it before chewing with evident enjoyment.
Mal raised an eyebrow but dropped his hand.
Perhaps he wasn’t as well brought up as you. This time it was Freya in his mind.
With his money?
Rich people are rude, too.
“Are you going to join us?” Demelza asked, signalling to Moggridge to bring an extra chair.
“No, no.” Foster waved the butler away. “Just wanted to come down, say hello to everyone. And I’ve eaten, by the way, in case you were wondering. Dottie brought me up a tray earlier. Although I can’t say I had any of this.” He picked up another cherry.
“It’s too rich for you.” Clive made a ‘tsk’ sound behind his teeth. “But I suppose just this once won’t hurt.”
“Sit here, sir,” Hank said, moving back from the table.
“Thank you, my boy.” Foster sat down and accepted a bowlful of dessert from Demelza, who had skilfully managed to spoon a little of the confection with all the remaining cherries.
Crispin look scandalised, as if he had been counting on that last scraping to ward off imminent starvation.
Clive, on the other hand, just sighed. “Well, it looks like dinner is over, so perhaps we should get down to the matter in hand.”
“Which would be?” Mal asked.
“Proving that Mr Mills is indeed the Triskelion heir.” He nodded at Moggridge, who went to a large bureau by the fireplace and took a small box from the drawer. “Luke, since you’re here, perhaps you would do the honours.”
“Sure.” Luke took the box and opened it to reveal a set of hypodermics.
Hank swallowed. “Blood. Right.”
“You know, I could do that,” Simon suggested, knowing how the pilot felt about needles.
“Are you a doctor?” Clive asked.
“I’ve … had some medical training.”
“So has Luke, and if you’ll forgive me, I’d rather he took the sample. I’m not suggesting you might substitute one for another, but for the sake of due process …”
“Of … of course.”
Luke had meanwhile fitted the needle to the syringe and stood up. “Just one should be enough.”
“Shiny.” Hank rolled up his sleeve, letting Luke clean the crook of his elbow with a mediwipe.
“Best not be holding that close to any naked flame,” Mal commented. “The amount he’s had to drink this evening it could be pure alcohol.”
“Oh, very funny.” Hank shook his head then winced as the needle penetrated his skin.
“I think it’s got colder.” Simon huddled deeper into his coat. He didn’t like getting rained on, but was seriously considering adding getting snow inside his shoes, too.
“You’re just a little miffed that they didn’t trust you to take Hank’s blood.” Kaylee ran her hand along one of the mounds at the side of the drive as they walked back to Serenity, watching the snow crystals glitter as they cascaded to the ground.
“What did they think I was going to do? Did they think I’d managed to palm a vial of blood that I’d magically created out of thin air?”
“Look at it from their point of view. They’re seeing Hank as someone who could, if he took a mind to it, throw ‘em out on the street. If it was me I’d want to be gorram sure he was who he said he was.”
“He doesn’t say he’s anyone. And none of us think it, anyway.”
“Shh,” Kaylee hushed, glancing back to where Hank and Luke were walking at the rear as the latter kept them company, at least as far as the gatehouse. “Just ‘cause we think it’s fishy, don’t mean it is.”
“For once I agree with Mal – this isn’t just fishy, but it stinks to high heaven.”
“You agree with the Cap? I’m gonna have to put that in my diary.” Then she yelped as Simon scooped a handful of snow and thrust it down the back of her coat.
Luke watched the young couple dancing ahead, then looked back at Hank. “I envy you.”
“Your family. Having them around you. It must feel … safe.”
“It feels crowded, sometimes, I’ll admit to that. But you’ve got family. Back there, in the house.”
“Not so’s you’d notice.” He leaned forward a little. “And don’t trust him,” he added quietly. “John Foster. He’s not the kind old gentleman he appears. Not unless they’ve rewritten the dictionary entry on kind.”
“Really? I mean, I know some of the stories …” Hank stopped, aware he was about to admit he knew the rumours about John Foster being responsible for wiping out the Triskelion bloodline.
“Are probably true.” Luke tightened the collar of his coat. “Don’t trust anyone.”
“Even you?” Hank joked.
“Me most of all.”
He looked quite serious, but Hank laughed anyway.
They’d reached the entrance to the drive, and a small gate that led off towards a small house. The others were waiting for them.
“I’ll get this tested first thing,” Luke went on, patting his pocket. “I’ll have to let the others know first, but as soon as I can I’ll give you the good news.”
“You’re sure of the result?” Mal asked.
“If’n I was being honest, no.”
“Well, I am. And even if it’s bad news, I’m glad to have met you all.” Luke sounded sincere.
“Hey, anyone who recognises a Firefly can’t be all bad.”
“Oh, I think they can.”
Into the slightly awkward silence Hank said, “And Kaylee and me’ll be by tomorrow. To take a look at the generator.”
“Generator?” Kaylee’s ears pricked up.
“There’s actually two, one for the main house and one for this,” Luke explained. “Originally, when Uther built the estate, it was too far from the main power grid to be linked up easily, and he wasn’t about to spend money on getting it done himself.”
“Like you said, ai ren,” Mal commented to Freya. “How rich folks stay rich.”
Luke laughed. “You mean by not spending money? Certainly true in his case, although he had funny ideas about that. Essentials like heat and lighting weren’t needed, but bribery and corruption … well, he spent a lot on that.”
“So we’ve heard.”
“Anyway, the generators are old, and not very efficient. As you’ve probably noticed.”
Hank looked at Kaylee. “So I said we’d take a look. See if there isn’t something we can do.”
Kaylee’s eyes gleamed more than the snow. “I’m fair sure we can.”
to be continued
Sunday, March 20, 2016 5:27 PM
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