Derrial heard her before he saw her. That was curious as she was often silent as well as graceful when she moved.
"I just saw Ray's new papers." Inara tapped her foot and crossed her arms. "No one does work that good except…"
Derrial was expecting this, he closed Yelena's message. "You're compromising your cover, my dear."
Inara sputtered to a halt.
Derrial hid a smile. "Don't worry, I'm the only one who knows and I'm content to keep it that way."
"How long have you known?" Inara demanded.
"That you're a SCI agent?" Derrial looked up, mouth under control, but eyes dancing. "Since we first met. My office estimates two thirds of all registered Companions report to Sihnon Central Intelligence. I have long suspected the numbers to be considerably higher. Any Companion traveling as you do on a ship such as this is unquestionably an agent."
Inara snapped her open mouth shut.
"Quite a good cover, by the way. You almost make it seem as if you left home in disgrace." Derrial smiled kindly.
"You're with ANS, aren't you?" Inara accused, trying to turn attention from how correct he was.
"How flattering that you think that possible." He was a master at evading this sort of question. "You know, it wouldn't compromise your cover to become physically intimate with the captain, Pamela."
All color faded from Inara's face. "Where did you hear that name?"
"Records are kept after all." Derrial shrugged. "Whatever I once was, I am now retired."
"Someone in your office doesn't think so." Inara countered.
"Perhaps." Derrial agreed. He was enjoying this conversation. Perhaps too much.
"What is that?" Inara pointed to the folded sheet of paper in his hand.
"Knowing my contact it could be either a personal letter or a coded message. I haven't had more than a look at it." He looked down at the flower scented paper.
"May I?" Inara's eyes held a challenge.
Derrial hesitated, then handed it to her. Inara would be hip deep in anything involving Serenity. She might as well see.
I hope you are well. I'm afraid I
need to ask a favor of you now that
you have given me your direction. It has
come to my attention that you haven't been to
see my mother since you last saw
me. Please, I beg you to take the time
soon. She hasn't much longer.
"It couldn't be simpler." Inara said. She pointed to the first word of each line. "I need you. Come see me soon." Inara turned the paper over. "Huh. This is from someone who should know better, isn't it?"
"Most assuredly." Derrial agreed. "She even used her real name. Or at least the name she goes by behind closed doors."
"That means she was sure the package would reach you and not anyone else."
"Because the postmarks were forged." He realized. "She's the expert, that would be simple for her. She brought it as far as the post office herself and waited until it was picked up." Derrial headed for the door leading to the airlock.
"Shepherd, we've already left the station." Inara caught his arm.
Derrial turned away from the door to the cargo bay and started up the stairs instead. They had to go back for her.
"Looking for someone?" A familiar, teasing voice asked.
Derrial turned slowly. When he saw her standing near passenger country he was sure his eyes were deceiving him.
It was Yelena, but not the girl he knew. This woman was soberly dressed with her long brown hair pulled tightly back on her head. Her lightly bronzed skin was scrubbed clean of all cosmetics.
"You wouldn't come to me." She arched an eyebrow at him.
"Gorramit, woman, I'm supposed to be retired." Derrial growled. Things must be really bad if Chimera was back in the field. When they split she swore she was never leaving Londinum again.
Yelena laughed. "You're obviously somebody's handler."
"Not exactly." Derrial rolled his eyes. "More like a contact point for a limited number of people."
"Hello." Simon said, coming down the stairs. "I didn't realize we had taken on more passengers."
An instant of recognition crossed Yelena's face, but she composed herself quickly.
Derrial sighed. Things were suddenly complicated.
"Inara, Ray, this is my niece, Yelena. Sweetheart, this is Inara Serra, registered Companion and Ray Wong, medical student."
"Pleased to meet you both." Yelena smiled, showing off brilliantly white teeth.
"Please excuse us." Derrial descended the two stairs and took Yelena's arm. "I need to speak with my niece privately."
"Right." Inara said, ironically. "Clear the room." She took Simon by the arm and led him away. "Lets go have some tea, shall we?"
"That boy isn't an agent." Yelena's eyes were narrowed.
"No, just a deserving young man who ran into serious trouble of the difficult to escape kind." Derrial steered Yelena towards his room.
"Not a bad place." She looked around, noting his personal touches. "Bare as a monk's cell and you've been here how many months?"
"Yelena…" He said warningly. So many things were coming back to him.
There was a smattering of grey in her hair now. The radical colors she preferred masked that very well. How long had it been since he last saw her natural coloring?
She turned to him, amused. "Your niece? I don't look that much younger than you, even with your gene-mod. What if I'd already given a different cover?"
"After mentioning a mother I've never met in your little note?" Derrial gave her a Look. "I'm a celibate preacher to them. Our old cover isn't a possibility."
Yelena stepped towards him and tucked herself against his chest. "I like the hair. Old suits you. Very distinguished."
His arms came up of their own accord and wrapped around her. She belonged in his arms.
"I've missed you." Yelena said softly.
Derrial swallowed. "You didn't leave your posh lab because you missed me."
"No." She looked up into his face, not moving away. "Phoenix has gone missing. Suspicious circumstances. I was hoping you could help me."
Having his old lover back in his arms wasn't worth hearing that one of his best friends was in danger.
"Tell me everything you know."
"I was looking for you, Inara." Simon admitted once the kettle was on. He sat at the table, stood to pace the room, then forced himself to sit again.
"Oh, what for?" She smiled smoothly, not revealing how off balance she still was from the shepherd's accurate assessment of her intelligence gathering role.
Truthfully, even the stupidest Companion was a trained spy, it was part of the basic underlying purpose of the Guild. The yearly physical exam also involved a complete debriefing under hypnosis.
"I have a delicate favor to ask of you, Inara, I find myself in need of the services of a mei ren. I was wondering if you would consent to fill that role." Simon blurted the words out in a rush. He winced. Perhaps he had practiced that too much.
Inara was stunned speechless for the second time that hour.
"I know I'm not a full doctor again yet. However, I have steady employment here on the ship. I am also once again a full member of society with the documentation to back that up." Simon wanted to impress on her his suitability as a husband before she could think up his flaws.
"Stop." Inara raised her hand. "I assume you intend for me to mediate between you and Kaylee?"
"Well, yes." Simon blinked.
"Ray, have you stopped to consider that her people don't use matchmakers?" Inara frowned. "She…"
"I require it." Simon said firmly. "Without a proper mei ren the marriage could be contested on my home world. Think of the suffering…" He trailed off. "She would feel so betrayed."
Inara took a deep breath and dredged up memories of the Osirian laws he was referring to. He was right.
The kettle whistled and Inara took preparing the tea as an opportunity to think. Osiris had some odd customs. Well, every society had its quirks.
On Osiris, there was no social stigma for sexual relations with any partner you chose. However, formal marriage was necessary for rearing children. There was a whole book full of laws and customs. To avoid difficulty, a professional matchmaker was required to prepare and notarize all marriage contracts.
Without that sort of contract, a marriage could be dissolved by his parents. It was practically as easy as declaring aloud that they weren't married.
"I'll speak with Kaylee." Inara promised. "Have you discussed this with her at all?"
Simon felt a pained look cover his face. "No, I wasn't a desireable match until I had my papers. Should I have…"
"I'll speak with her first." Inara promised, shaking her head. Sometimes the doctor was completely hopeless.
Jayne was a good tracker. Part of that skill included the laying of tracks.
This particular false trail was the most elaborate one he'd ever felt the need to lay. Especially since it deliberately didn't lead anywhere.
He surveyed his handiwork. The clearing looked like it had been occupied for weeks. The little lean-to was watertight, much better than his first effort. The fire area had layer upon layer of use, including charred animal bones.
Most heartbreaking was the cairn of stones, built just like he would build a grave out here. It even had a cross at one end. Yup, exactly what he would do. Hopefully, nobody would think to check for a body.
The clearing told a particular story to those astute enough to read it. A shuttle landed here recently, but most of the broken brush was long cleared away.
Two people had lived here, they survived by hunting and foraging until one of them had died. The other person buried the first. Then he left, taking most of their initial supplies with him.
His work here was done. All he needed now was for time to wear away at the signs until nothing was left.
Jayne turned away from the clearing where they'd been dropped of for the last time. Santha was waiting for him back home.
Derrial looked up from Yelena's data reader and rubbed his face. He felt as old as he looked, even though he was several decades younger. Amazing how ageing grey hair could be.
"Do you know where the ship is headed now?" He asked.
"I booked a passage to Belix, Ben's last known location." Yelena said. "So? What are you thinking?"
Derrial sighed. "I'm thinking we need Inara to help with this."
"The Companion? She's SCI?" Yelena raised her eyebrows.
"Have you ever met one who wasn't?" He responded wryly.
She laughed. The musical sound took him back in time.
"Whatever happens, the three of us deal with it. Preferably away from the ship." Derrial smiled ruefully. "Did you ever think I'd get tangled up with a bunch of Independents?"
Yelena blinked in surprise. "Independents?"
"The captain and first mate are as browncoat as they come. Hence the name of the ship." He laughed at her startlement. "Try not to step on any toes, please."
"Huh, thanks for the heads up." She shook her head. "No, in the war I never would have believed it. I guess we've both changed."
Derrial nodded jerkily.
mei ren matchmaker
Thank you to silentphoenix for the translation.