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Antebellum - Book I: Chapter Seven
Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The seventh chapter in a Big Damn Sequel series. In this installment: No one's sleeping on the Road to Neo Sombra, with vague sprinklings of M/I and S/K added for good measure.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2102    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Book One – Chapter Seven

Mal looked at the ETA panel again. Twelve hours, forty-three minutes, twelve seconds. Eleven seconds. Ten seconds.

Stop counting seconds, you jackass, Mal thought.

He couldn’t sleep. He tried, but it did no good. So he sat up on the bridge, watching the stars drift by, occasionally flipping several switches that had no purpose. During the installation of the new-tech autopilot, several bypasses were made so that many of the buttons and switches on the control panel were made pretty much unnecessary. Now, they were mainly just for show.

Mal had never actually been to Neo Sombra, but he knew the way like the back of his hand. He found it odd the things his mind instinctively logged into his memory plate. He honestly had no intention to ever go to that moon, but nevertheless, he knew the way. In fact, he knew the quickest way, and he had no idea why.

“You still awake?”

Inara’s voice broke through Mal’s thoughts like they usually did when she spoke. It didn’t shatter his reverie, only sliced it cleanly in half.

“Yeah. No rest for the weary, some man said.”

Inara gracefully floated over to the co-pilot’s station and sat down. Mal was genuinely amazed to see how well she sat in the chair. It wasn’t an action that took a lot of work, but somehow Inara seemed to be the best at it.

“Others still awake?” Mal asked.

“Most have already gone to bed. Simon and Kaylee are in the infirmary.”

Mal sighed and put a hand to his forehead. “如果他们拧紧…”

Inara laughed softly. “She’s getting inoculated, Mal.”

“I don’t even wanna think about what kinda euphemism that could be.”

“Have you gotten inoculated yet?” Mal raised his eyebrows. “In the non-creepy-euphemism way.”

Mal flipped a few more switches. “Naw. I’ll probably wait ‘til we’re landing. Simon hates it when I do that.”

Mal felt Inara’s soft gaze fall upon him, and he tried not to look up.

Inara breathed in deep before speaking. “Mal. I didn’t… When I said we should go to Neo Sombra, I…”

Mal managed to look up, effectively silencing her.

“It’s a good plan, ‘Nara. The Baron an’ all. Not an easy one, but… nothing is nowadays.”

Inara smiled somewhat nostalgically and stared at the metal floor. “’Nowadays,’” she said quietly. “When was it easy, Mal? Before the renewed warrants? Before Miranda? Before Simon and River? Before the War?”

Mal sat quietly. Even after knowing him for more than four years now, it couldn’t be said that she knew a lot about the man. She did, however, know him better than he did himself on certain subjects. She wanted to reach far across the way and put her hand on top of his, to comfort him, even though he didn’t ask. But she stopped herself. He was too far out of her reach at the moment.

“We don’t really talk much anymore, Mal.”

The statement caught Mal off guard and he couldn’t concentrate on his switch-flipping anymore. “Uh, no, I don’t suppose we do. Running for our lives pretty much takes the flavor out of conversation, I guess.”

“We never talk, in fact. Not since we left Auguine.”

“Well, if you wanna pinpoint—”

“I do.”

Mal looked at Inara and all the air left his chest. He honestly wanted to avoid that topic altogether, but he didn’t want it shown, obviously. He was going to have to do several uncomfortable things in his near future, and this wasn’t going to be one of them. So he tried his best to pretend that the conversation ended and that he was fine with it. He was, however, failing.

“Um, ahem…b’duh…” Mal tried licking his lips to allow the words a smoother exit, but it only made his stuttering more slurred.

“Mal, I didn’t mean to…”

“Yeah, I know. I mean, what? You’re not doing nuthin’. I’m just…”

“Mal?”

“Yeah?” he said abruptly.

“Thank you… is what I was trying to say.” She smiled again. “Thank you.”

“For…?” Mal asked, letting the question loiter.

“For…” She sighed. “For offering me the chance to rent your shuttle. For letting me stay despite inconveniences and discomforts. For saving my life. For saving my friends’ lives. For saying… For saying certain things. And for not saying other things. Thank you.”

“Well,” Mal said, his eyebrows rising slightly. “That just covers a whole gang of things, don’t it.”

“Yeah.” Inara turned to the co-pilot’s console and began pressing buttons that served no purpose. “You know what the others have been saying about us?” she asked with a smile.

“Pfft. Don’t remind me,” Mal sighed tiredly. He looked over to Inara who was now looking at him with a small smile. It was the smile she had when she wasn’t actually flexing her cheeks. It was the smile she had when her face was relaxed. It was small, but it was Mal’s favorite.

“You’re a good captain, Mal. Whether you want to be or not.”

All Mal could think to do was smile.

“That’s a kindness, thank you. You’re pretty… uh, good, yourself.”

She breathed in slightly and rose from her chair. “I’d better get to bed.”

“Yeah, that’s a good idea. We only got twelve hours, sixteen minutes, and two seconds. One second. Okay, twelve hours, fifteen minutes—”

Inara chuckled and absentmindedly placed her hand on Mal’s shoulder. “Good night, Mal.”

Her hand lingered there and Mal met her eyes for about a second. “G’night, ‘Nara.”

After she left the bridge, Mal stayed for another ten minutes. He then felt himself dozing off a bit, so he got up and went to his bunk. He slept soundly the whole night through.

***

“’Nara’s up on the bridge with the Captain,” Kaylee said, a satisfied smile across her lips. “I wonder what they’re talking about.”

“Sports and politics, probably,” Simon answered with a smirk as he meticulously picked out the correct medications and dosage for Kaylee’s inoculation.

“You don’t have a single romantic bone in your body, Simon Tam.”

He turned around to smile at her. “It’s all part of my devious charm.”

Simon pulled up a stool next to the chair on which Kaylee was half-lying down, half sitting. He turned on his “doctor” voice and sat down, preparing the inoc-syringe.

“Well, Ms. Frye, you have the pleasure—”

“Like the sound of that.”

“You have the pleasure of being my last patient for this landing.”

“Well, I prefer you have a li’l bit of experience so you know what you’re doin’. The Captain’s got his done?”

“No, we don’t count him, remember? He waits until we’re landing. Or crashing, case may be.”

“Right. ‘Cause you hate it when he does that.”

“That’s right. And I don’t think this particular landing has him all too eager for preparations.” He rolled up the sleeve on her right arm to about the bicep.

“Yeah, well, I don’t think he ever really planned on going to Neo Sombra. Captain’s complicated that way. An’ he an’ James have a whole mess of history.”

“Small pinch,” Simon warned, injecting the medication into Kaylee’s arm. He put a cotton swab against it and reached for a bandage. “They were in the War together?”

“Yeah, but b’fore that, they grew up on Shadow.”

Simon’s stared at Kaylee in disbelief. Mal, as it happened, was the only person he had ever met from Shadow, and he knew instinctively that there were few people from that planet Mal would like to cross paths with. Simon never understood why but, as Kaylee said, Mal was complicated.

Kaylee picked up on Simon’s interest and settled more comfortably in her chair.

“Y’see, James was a pilot out on Shadow. Grew up an’ worked right ‘long side the Captain on Mrs. Reynolds’ farm, crop dustin’ and such. They signed up for the War together too, an’ even though he pro’ly should’a been in the Air Division, James trained for infantry so he could fight side by side with his friend.

“An’ then, somethin’ happened. He got injured… or got the post-traumatic stress… I can’t really remember, but anyway… Captain’s superiors said he couldn’t fight no more. So he got flown up and off of Hera a week b’fore the Alliance landed.”

“A week before Serenity Valley.”

“Mm-hmm. Then all’a sudden, James wakes up in a hospital bed one mornin’ and half his friends are dead, the War’s damn near over with him on the losin’ side, and his home planet’s been officially certified as a Black Rock. Uninhabitable. Needless to say, he was a bit angry. Got caught up in a downward spiral, but Cap’n and Zoe were there to help him up. But somewhere… I think during the time James was helpin’ to set up Neo Sombra for colonization, he an’ the Captain had words with each other… and they never spoke together since.”

Simon held the story in his head. He could understand Mal’s apprehension, as well as Inara’s plan. Even if the Alliance knew who James Novak was, the chances were incredibly slim that they would know his wave signal and be able to pick it out of the hundreds that entered Persephone space each day.

However, given James’ newly discovered history with Mal, the chances of them being able to use the Novaks’ Cortex outlet were equally slim.

“Well,” Simon said slowly. “This will be an interesting outing.”

“All right, you next,” Kaylee said, springing from the chair and snatching the inoc-syringe from Simon’s hand.

“Beg your pardon?”

“You haven’t been inocced yet,” she said, motioning to the chair with her new toy.

Knowing that Kaylee was likely to inoc him whether he was standing or sitting, Simon moved uneasily to the chair.

“You sure you know how to handle that?”

“Sure, I’ve watched you hundreds a’ times. How hard can it be? Find the vein, pull the trigger. Simple.”

Simon wanted to lecture Kaylee on the complexity of inoculations, but truthfully it really was that simple. His realization of this fact, however, did not fix his discomfort.

Kaylee laughed. “Oh, relax, doctor. You never had a nurse you were sleeping with give you your medicine?”

“What?” Simon laughed. “I never slept with nurses.”

“Small pinch,” Kaylee warned, repeating the same actions she had seen Simon do. “Why the hell not? Out in the Core, aren’t all the women all… enhanced?”

“The nurses didn’t like me,” Simon said with a smile. “I was never really good at casual conversation.”

“Oh, thank God. I thought that it was just with me. So you never had sex in the hospital. Or did you get it on with any patients?”

“I was a trauma surgeon, Kaylee. Most of my patients were usually bleeding profusely.”

“Really? Doesn’t sound like you were very good.”

They laughed together softly as Kaylee began to stroke his arm.

“Okay, fine, then. How many people have you slept with at your work?” As soon as the words left his mouth, Simon knew he was heading into painful territory.

Kaylee’s eyes got large trying to suppress her laughter. “How many people in Serenity?”

“You know what? Hearing it out loud, I don’t really want to—”

But Kaylee cut him off. “First, of course, there was Bester.”

“Ah yes.” For the first month and a half that Kaylee and Simon were dating, Mal made it a top priority to constantly remind Simon of how he had met his second mechanic. It was a story that got old after a while.

“Dumb as a loaf of bread, but it was when I had first seen Serenity, so really it was just because he was the closest thing at the moment.

“Then there was Kaleb, the son of a crime lord on Boros. He was very enthusiastic, but I found out after the fact he wasn’t really experienced in the bedroom area. Spent a half an hour crying which made it real awkward for the second time around.”

“I see.” Simon hated his inquisitive mind sometimes.

“Then there was Freddie, who, after the act was done an’ I was sleepin’, stole most of my clothes and pretty much everything that he could get his hands on in the dining room. He wasn’t exactly a cat burglar, though, so obviously Cap’n and Zoe caught him ‘fore he got off the ship. And so the Captain said I wasn’t allowed to have male callers on the ship no more.”

Simon paused, hanging in the air.

“Three? Huh.” That was relatively painless, he thought.

Off the ship, on the other hand…”

Simon instantly thrust his fingers into his ears.

“我拒绝再听!” he shouted.

Giggling, Kaylee pulled his hands from his head and tried to speak over his outburst.

“But then! But then, there came the fateful day…” Kaylee moved to the front of the chair Simon was still sitting in, and she began to climb on top, her knees nestling beside his hips. “When this handsome… genius… mysterious… funny doctor with red glasses…”

She reached down for the chair controls on the side of the seat. She held down the button and the chair began to slowly unfold into a more horizontal position, as Kaylee and Simon followed suit. Simon laughed out loud as mechanical hum of the motor filled the room, until she was lying on top of him.

He kissed her softly. “Hmm. Sounds like quite a catch.”

“Oh, yeah. You’d like him.”

Kaylee loved it when Simon smiled. She loved kissing him while he was smiling.

“And I knew, I knew at that moment that this man… he would be the one… that I would screw while Serenity was in the air.”

Simon cocked his head ever so slightly. “How is it you don’t write for greeting cards?”

Kaylee giggled and began to squirm at the feeling of Simon’s fingers gently poking her ribs as they simultaneously lifted her shirt to expose bare skin.

She ran her hands through the patch of Simon’s hair on the back of his head. As she looked into Simon’s face, however, her smile disappeared.

“What’s wrong?” Simon asked.

“You’ve got a scar on your cheek.” She put her fingers to the small, silver sliver. "I never seen it before.”

Simon began to get embarrassed and felt blood rushing to his head. “Yeah, I know. I just… I just found it too.”

Simon would have given anything to avoid the look of fear and sadness that lingered in Kaylee’s eyes, but now it was engrained into his memory.

“Tell me we’ll be all right,” she said softly, her eyes reacting to the chill of tears. “If you say it, I’ll believe you.”

Simon didn’t have to think too hard for an answer.

“We’re… we’re going to get into bad things, Kaylee… but we’ve made it this far. We’ll be all right. You know we will.”

Her soft lips met his, and then she nuzzled her face into the crook of Simon’s neck.

“I love you so much,” she whispered. “I don’t want…”

“What?”

“I… I don’t want you to leave me, Simon.”

“Kaylee?” He pulled her up so he could see her above him. “I’m staying here. There’s no place I’d rather be.”

Kaylee smiled wearily despite the wetness on her cheeks. Slowly she managed to climb off of Simon and felt a bit dizzy when she stood on her feet.

“I’m going to bed. You coming?”

“Sure. You want to help me up?”

***

But Simon couldn’t sleep. Kaylee was fast asleep in no time, which amazed him. Every night she managed to get to sleep within fifteen minutes of trying. But something kept him awake. All he could do was stare up to the grated ceiling above the bed and listen to the turning of the engine that resonated throughout the entire ship.

Soon, he found himself sitting alone on the bridge, a place he didn’t go very often if he didn’t have to. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the bridge; it was similar to how no one ever went into the infirmary if they didn’t have to. The bridge just wasn’t his workplace. Also, staring out into the blank starfield made him queasy.

There were all sorts of panels and screens that to Simon didn’t serve much purpose. Sitting on top of all the technological blinking lights and monitors were a couple plastic palm trees that stuck to the dashboards with a couple pieces of double-sided tape. And, of course, completing the diagram, there were a couple plastic dinosaurs. A tyrannosaurus rex, a stegosaurus, and a triceratops, even though Simon knew that tyrannosaurus rex and triceratops were from the Cretaceous period and the stegosaurus was from the Jurassic period.

Simon always thought that the dinosaurs were strange ornaments in a cargo vessel, but somehow they seemed as in their element as they would have in a ten-year-old’s room.

The rest of Wash’s stuff had since been sold. It wasn’t a happy decision for the crew to make, but they couldn’t use it anymore, and they all knew Wash would’ve sacrificed it all anyway if he was still alive. But the dinosaurs remained. Some would call it a memorial. Simon just knew that it made the cold view of the Black seem a little more like home.

He turned the tyrannosaurus rex around in his hands. He grinned at the comically fierce expression the toy had. He eyed the obviously docile stegosaurus. Wash had tried to explain the relationship between the two a couple of times to Simon, but Simon never was able to suspend his disbelief of a T-rex and a stegosaurus interacting together.

Nevertheless, the lateness of the evening was having an effect on Simon, and, at that moment, the concept became a lot more plausible and clearer as to why Wash loved it so.

Simon took the stegosaurus in his other hand, and tried his best to imitate the accent he had heard Wash give the creature. He hesitantly shook the toy to the beat of his voice.

“You, uh… You aren’t welcome my village any longer… Mr. T-rex.” Simon wasn’t very good at making up names.

His voice changed for Mr. T-rex as he shifted to a more comfortable sitting position. “Oh yeah? And… uh, and who gives you the authority to say that?”

“The authority of, uh… um…” The stegosaurus was stumped.

“Enough of your extemporization! You’ve been stealing the gold from my temple for far too long! Now die!”

All of a sudden the T-rex lunged for the throat of the stegosaurus. The cries of anguish and pain were silenced abruptly by the presence of a third voice.

“Actually, the T-rex doesn’t know big words like that,” Zoe said.

Simon jumped from the pilot’s chair, dropping the feuding dinosaurs to the ground and knocking his knee against the metal console. He winced at the pain, but tried to cover it up to spare further embarrassment.

“Z-Zoe. I was just—”

“I’d give it an overall B minus. The plot was a little thin for my liking, but it had a nice twist toward the end.” Zoe walked onto the bridge wearing a red nightgown that had several airplanes and bulldozers on it. Wash had gotten it for her for their two-year wedding anniversary.

Simon scrambled to pick up the memorial that he had just knocked to the ground. “I-I’m sorry. I couldn’t sleep, so I—”

“Simon, relax. You think I’m upset that you were playing with Wash’s dinosaurs?”

“Uh, well, I…”

“Why do you think I was coming up here?” she asked with a smile.

Simon forced a breathy chuckle. “I, um, I couldn’t sleep,” he said with a slight smile.

Zoe returned the kind smile. “Me neither.”

Once Simon had managed to arrange the dinosaurs into their original positions, he tentatively sat down again. Zoe did the same on the other side of the bridge.

He half-heartedly motioned to the dinosaurs. “They’re, uh… cute little things…”

“Wash had them all through flight school. He attached at least one of them to every cockpit he had flown in.”

“I wish I had known him,” Simon said quietly. Noticing a question in Zoe’s eyes, he elaborated. “I wish I had known him better, that is.” He distractedly played with one of the plastic trees.

“It’s strange,” he continued. “When you’re a child, you never think that someday you’re definition of a family will be ‘a group of people living in close quarters, all trying to run away from the same thing.’”

“He liked you. I know he did.”

Simon smiled wearily. “Thanks.”

Zoe looked over at the dinosaurs and got a strange look in her eye that Simon couldn’t define. “Truthfully, it took me a while to know him too. I didn’t really like him.”

Simon couldn’t help but smile. “Really? I didn’t know that.”

“Well, keep in mind I had spent most my life around six-foot tall army career types. Wash didn’t exactly fit into that mold. Also, he had this hideous fur patch above his lip, he looked like a walrus.”

Simon laughed at the mental picture. He looked out the window, but quickly took his eyes away when he felt nauseous.

“But after a while,” Zoe continued, “He started to grow on me. He shaved his moustache for one.” Simon noted as she started falling backward into her memories. She touched the necklace around her neck softly. “He always said he liked my necklace. My grandmother gave it to me when I was born. I think it went through our family since Earth-That-Was. But, leading the life we do, I lost it. I was devastated.

“Then, one day, Wash came to me and gave me this necklace,” she said, indicating her own jewelry. “He tried his best to make it resemble the one my grandmother made, but Wash, he was better at piloting than he was at leather work, so I kind of had to redo it for him. But when it was finished, I remember distinctly the moment he put it on me. Then… he asked me to marry him.”

Simon smiled softly once again. “Wow,” was all he could say.

“Is Kaylee asleep?” she asked.

“Yeah. Pretty heavily, too.”

“How do you two sleep in that crowded little bunk?”

“Well, we manage…” Simon’s eyes shifted about the room. “Listen, Zoe, I’m not very comfortable talking about Kaylee and me…”

“I understand.” She waited a beat. “You two are having sex again, right?”

“Okay, then.” Simon through his hands onto his knees in preparation to get up, but was stopped by Zoe’s laughing petition.

“No, Simon. I was kidding. Sit down.”

The day Simon disobeyed an order from Zoe would either be the day before or after all his limbs were broken, so he complied.

“Seriously, though, I was asking because I heard she wasn’t too happy when we were leaving Three Hills.”

“Yeah.” Simon hung his head. “I, uh… Jayne told me to… We stole some fruit.”

“Right,” Zoe nodded understandingly. “And Kaylee didn’t take to that.”

“Which I don’t really understand,” Simon burst out. “It’s not the first time we’ve stolen things we need. I mean, we’re thieves!”

Zoe’s eyes narrowed gently at Simon. “That’s an interesting pronoun you used there, doctor.”

He stopped in his tracks.

“Huh?”

We are thieves. You’ve helped us do that these last three or so years, but you’ve never been a thief, Simon. You’re the decent one. The civilized one. I can’t imagine a reason why Kaylee wouldn’t want that part of you.”

Simon’s brow creased together. It never occurred to him. He had noticed that he had changed since he first step foot on Serenity, but it never occurred to him that Kaylee, possibly the one person who had been on his side from the beginning, would care so much.

“I got her a necklace on Three Hills,” he said quietly, his head still hanging. “It’s blue. She likes… She likes the color blue…”

Zoe slowly blinked her eyes, knowing the rest of the story even before Simon said it.

“You couldn’t afford it, could you?”

Simon shook his head. “And gauging her reaction from the fruit, I don’t think she would like it. Or at least how I got it.”

Zoe smiled her kindest smile at Simon, got up, and placed a hand on his knee.

“Don’t throw it out just yet. Someday… when you two are ready… That day will be a good time to give her that necklace,” she said with a hint of meaning to it.

Simon looked up at her, unsure of what she was implying, but still having a decent idea. The corners of his mouth twitched upward at the unspoken prospect.

“Get to bed, doctor,” Zoe said, exiting the bridge. “We’ve got a big day tomorrow.”

Left out on the bridge of Serenity, Simon looked out the window and saw the mesh of stars before them. For some reason, he didn’t feel all that queasy anymore.

“Yeah. Big day.”

COMMENTS

Wednesday, January 25, 2006 1:03 AM

TAYEATRA


So... How did I never discover this series before?
I had to go back and read all the others.
Your character voices are spot on.

I particularly liked this line:

"The day Simon disobeyed an order from Zoe would either be the day before or after all his limbs were broken, so he complied."

Keep them coming!
Taya

Wednesday, January 25, 2006 1:04 AM

TAYEATRA


Ohhh shiny!

I got first feedback!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006 8:34 AM

AMDOBELL


Great to see another part up at last, and very much enjoying it. Have to say I'm feeling a might wary about the job on Neo Sombra too! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, January 25, 2006 4:57 PM

OENONE


My Gosh, Kaylee is horny.... I love it! Great chapter, loved the Simon/Zoe interaction, not something amazingly explored in the series or the movie, expect, of coarse, for that awesome line in 'The Message', "Why? Is there someone you are good at talking to?"
Anyway, great chapter can't wait for more.

Tuesday, February 7, 2006 12:22 AM

BELLONA


my favourite lines:
“And I knew, I knew at that moment that this man… he would be the one… that I would screw while Serenity was in the air.”
Simon cocked his head ever so slightly. “How is it you don’t write for greeting cards?”
my computing class now think i'm a complete loony as i'm grinning like a moonbrain at a screen that's supposed to show how LANs work...

b

Saturday, May 6, 2006 6:47 AM

LEIASKY


Oh the Simon and Zoe conversation was so excellent! The compariosn between the necklaces was great.

I hope Simon gets his chance to give Kaylee that necklace - and ask her to marry him . . .

The conversation with Kaylee and Simon was just funny and wonderful as usual.

Saturday, May 6, 2006 11:34 PM

LEIGHKOHL


Everything in this chapter was awesome! I am running out of complements! The Simon and Kaylee was my favorite but the scene between Mal and Inara was especially toching! And I too loved the scene between Simon and Zoe-
“The authority of, uh… um…” The stegosaurus was stumped.


“Enough of your extemporization! You’ve been stealing the gold from my temple for far too long! Now die!”


All of a sudden the T-rex lunged for the throat of the stegosaurus. The cries of anguish and pain were silenced abruptly by the presence of a third voice.


“Actually, the T-rex doesn’t know big words like that,” Zoe said.

I was laughing so hard at how into it Simon had gotten, just to be shut down by Zoe at the exact perfect moment! So wonderful!!!

Sunday, May 7, 2006 5:51 PM

LEIASKY


One more comment....

>Kaylee smiled wearily despite the wetness on her cheeks. Slowly she managed to climb off of Simon and felt a bit dizzy when she stood on her feet.

Dizzy? A - pregnant kind of dizzy by any chance?


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