The Alliance Spins, Part 8
As Shuttle One flew off from Serenity, Zoë kept her thoughts firmly focused on her destination. Rashly, she had decided to shuttle over to Puerto Clarito. Wash had once casually remarked his desire to visit the new seaside resort town on the southern hemisphere of Persephone. Her plan was to blow her and Wash's Lilac earnings on the biggest and fanciest hotel in town but upon setting foot in the opulent, marble covered floors of La Belle Reve, she promptly turned around and headed out. She couldn't feel Wash in a place like that.
For an hour, she wandered along the hotel zone hating every place she saw. A long-unfamiliar feeling swept over her. Lonesome is what it was. How long since she'd been truly alone? Right after the war, during the Alliance's reintegration program, she'd been alone for the first time in her life. At first she hadn't minded, the prior six months spent wall to wall with Independent POWs, but as time moved on, her aloneness unsettled her. Unsettled her to a point that she found joining a group of troublemaking Browncoats a good idea. Then Mal found her and pulled her out of the destructive path she'd found herself drifting toward. And then she found Wash who pushed her to walk a path with him she never envisioned herself traveling. Now, here she was, alone. She resisted the urge to return to the public lot where she had parked the shuttle and fly back to Serenity. She had planned to get gone and getting gone was exactly what she was going to do; there was serious thinking to be done and she needed to be away to do it.
She sat on the side of a low wall and vacantly watched the people going about the cheery business of vacationing. Most of the people seemed to be honeymooning newlyweds. Their happy faces shined with the promise of a long life together. The longer she sat watching the crowd the more she understood the enormity of her mistake. This was not the place for her.
Her gaze turned to a group of hotel workers, housekeeping and maintenance crews from the looks of them, waiting at a transpo stop. On impulse, she made her way to the stop and joined them. They looked at her curiously but sensing she wasn't a gawking tourist intent on patronizing their quaint village, they directed no hostile glances her way.
Not caring about the destination, she boarded the pleasantly run down bus. The bus meandered past the opulent hotels stopping to pick up more workers until it left the resort area. As the bus went on, an elderly man walked up the aisle singing in an unknown language holding out his hat hoping for a few coins. Soon the bus was filled and the man sat next to Zoë. Out of respect, she absently smiled at him and moved closer to the window to give him more room. He fell silent and the bus was quiet; everyone tired after a long day of honest work.
Zoë looked out the window not seeing the lush greenery that bordered the increasingly narrow road. Her thoughts traveled back to Serenity and to Mal. Mal. Captain really went and did it this time, she thought bitterly. Zoë was in her blaming mood. Well, she was always in a blaming mood but the target waffled between Mal and herself. She sighed wondering for the hundredth time how she could go back to Serenity and continue following Mal. She thought of Wash and couldn't envision living on Serenity without him.
After about an hour, the bus reached its last stop and Zoë disembarked with the few remaining passengers. The bus drove away and she realized she was stuck. What madness had prompted her to end up here? Where the hell was she? She looked around seeing various buildings and a small store but nothing that looked particularly inviting to travelers. Zoë asked a young woman if there were any hotels about. The woman looked as if it were an odd question but directed Zoë to what looked like a house.
Knocking on the door, Zoë was greeted by a pleasant, older woman wearing a vibrant red but shapeless dress. With an accent Zoë couldn't identify, the woman cheerfully described the room for let. Her smile became even broader when she learned Zoë would be staying for several weeks. Zoë paid up and with a curt nod took the key and walked through a courtyard to her isolated room.
Opening the door, Zoë walked directly to the open shutters and, pointedly not looking out the window at the lovely view, closed them plunging the room into darkness. She sat on the bed but realized that she had left the door open. For a moment, she gazed at the courtyard through the open door knowing that when she closed it, that would be it, she would be alone, truly alone. She got up and walked to the door knowing that the act of closing the door was the signal to break down. Resting her hand on the knob, she paused to take a deep breath then shut the door.
Returning to the bed, she sat down and dropped her bag on the floor. It made a thud and she began to sob. The emotions she had contained for the last two weeks rushed out of her. Her body shook, tears poured from her eyes, snot dribbled from her nose, drool from her mouth but lost as she was she never noticed. As her grief consumed her, she carried on not aware of anything but her pain, carried on until sleep overcame her.
When she woke, she woke…barely. Stumbling to the bathroom, she splashed water on her face and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She looked into her own puffy, red eyes. Look at her. Ain't got him now. No more. Her gaze traveled down and focused on her necklace and she closed her eyes, dissolving again.
Eventually, she realized she needed to eat. With the shutters closed, she couldn't determine what time it was. She had no idea how long she had slept but the rumbling in her belly indicated she had been out longer than she thought. She opened her door and saw that it was full night. She was about to close it again when she noticed a tray with cantaloupe, ham, and bread. Without a thought to who left the food, she picked up the plate and softly shut the door.
She didn't register the passage of time. Her waking hours were devoted to crying, staring, and raging. When her sobs were spent she lay on her side staring at the wall. When she was hungry, she opened her door to always find prettily arranged food on her doorstep. But mostly she slept; sleep lured her like no drug ever had.
Days passed thus until she was awake enough to want a shower. Another day passed before she found her courage and threw open the shutters. As she had suspected, the view was breathtaking. The clear blue ocean met pristine white sand. Tall palm trees hardly cast any shadow indicating to her that it must be noon. The beautiful simplicity before her eyes saddened her so she closed the shutters and went back to sleep.
The next time she woke, she again opened the shutters. This time it was dark but the fading dark of dawn. Her eyes were drawn to some activity on the beach. A young man was rubbing down a surfboard. His head bobbed in time with some music she couldn't hear but she could see the pride and love in his task. Suddenly, she couldn't bear being shut up in this room another day. Donning one of Wash's shirts and a pair of his loose fitting shorts, she ventured down to the beach.
It wasn't really a lounging and tanning kind of beach. As the sun began to rise, she watched the locals preparing for a day of earning a living. Fishermen set off with farewells from their families. One young man was sweetly kissing his very pregnant wife. Feeling mocked, Zoë went back to her room and barely had time to shut the door before she dissolved again.
Never one for cowardice, the next day, she returned and spent the day sitting on the sand watching the waves roll in. The following day she did the same. Sitting in the same spot, looking at the same point on the horizon, the only change was which of Wash's many festive shirts she wore.
"It's a beautiful sight, isn't it?"
Zoë curled her toes in the hot sand and took a moment to register that someone was actually speaking to her. She'd been here almost two weeks and hadn't spoken to a soul since she first checked in.
"I've lived here my whole life and I never get tired of it."
She didn't look up at the person who dared talk to her. "Scram."
"Hey!" The young man raised his hands to show his innocence. "I'm not here on a datey thing. I just see you sitting here for the past week staring at the ocean. Just thought you might appreciate the company of a human being."
Zoë quickly glanced toward the friendly voice and saw the surfer kid. His black hair was cut in a fashion that some young men favored but she thought was fairly ridiculous. One side of his head was shaved but the other was longish, sweeping his left shoulder. At least he kept his color natural. But she remembered him - hair like his stood out. Every morning at dawn, she watched him riding the waves. Never had she observed one as free as this kid here.
"You're renting a room from my parents," he said sitting down next to her. He ran a hand through his hair lightly sprinkling Zoë with ocean drops. "They appreciate the income. We don't get as much now with the big hotels around."
Never one for small talk, she looked away from him and back at the ocean. They sat together in silence; Zoë thought if she ignored him long enough he would go away but he didn't. He seemed content to sit quietly next to her and take in the beautiful view. Zoë's gaze was drawn to the encroaching surf and she soon forgot about the young man seated beside her.
Before she knew it, he rose to leave startling her. How could she have forgotten a stranger sitting beside her? The position of the sun and the closeness of the surf told her it was late afternoon. This losing track of time had to stop, she told herself.
He looked behind him. Zoë looked back to see what he was looking at. An old, heavyset woman with graying black hair stood near the door to the house. Zoë had seen the woman several times, hovering in the background, watching her.
"My grandmother," he explained. "She is worried about you. She doesn't speak English and wanted me to sit with you."
"She the fruit lady?"
"Nothing." Zoë looked back at the woman again. She gave her a nod and the woman smiled.
He asked if she would have dinner with his family. She shook her head no but gave him a small smile showing her thanks for the offer.
"Ok. I'm Mufi, by the way. See you tomorrow!" He picked up his board, flashed her some kind of sign with his hand and bounded away.
The next day, she wasn't surprised when Mufi again sat next to her.
"I can't remember your name," he said.
"Didn't give it." She waited awhile before elaborating. "Zoë."
"I like your shirt, Zoë. It's very happy looking. Like, what could possibly be wrong if I got a shirt like this?"
"It was my husband's."
He must have noticed the 'was' because he didn't ask about the shirt any more. They sat looking at the sunset until someone from the house called him to dinner.
"Why are you so sad?"
At that, she laughed. Bitterly. She was about to tell him to bugger off but when she glanced over to him she saw nothing but innocent concern on his face. His honest worry shamed her - kindness from a stranger? Not in her line of work. But her voice softened as she spoke. "Sweetie, I don't even know where to start."
"Come have dinner with us," he said shaking the sand out of his clothes. He smiled at her and she smiled back - but mostly at his silly hair.
" 'Preciate the offer, but I'm fine here."
He waved and set off. She remained until the sun set and the evening turned too cool to remain outside dressed as she was. She walked to her room glimpsing the family gathered around a big table. Reaching her room, she found her a plate of food waiting for her. The difference was that today, there was a small vase with a big pink flower. Zoë held it to her nose breathing in the sweet fragrance. When she finished her supper, she put the vase on the nightstand next to the bed.
The next morning, Mufi waved at her as he paddled out to the ocean. Wash would love this. Love this peaceful moment watching some kid hot dog on a board with a gorgeous sunrise at his back. Wash would be out there talking the kid into teaching him some moves. For the first time, thoughts of happy Wash moments didn't have her breaking down.
"You're quite the surfer," Zoë remarked later as Mufi sat beside her. "Popular sport around here?"
"It's not a sport, Zoë!" He said with exaggerated indignation. "It's a way of life."
"That way of life gonna fill your belly?" Zoë asked but soon regretted her question. Mufi deflated a little at the question.
"Maybe not. Maybe so," he said then looked around to make sure no one was close. "Don't tell anyone but there's a haole surfing contest that some of the resorts are sponsoring. The prize is one thousand credits."
He looked at Zoë expectantly. She couldn't figure out what he was waiting for so she arched a brow in question.
"I'm going to win it!"
Naturally. Zoë nodded her head in understanding but looked closer at the kid. He was still a teenager with his whole life in front of him. She suspected the kid hadn't a moment's heartache in his entire existence. If he had, it hadn't touched his soul. Hadn't changed him. She couldn't imagine how it would be to view life as this kid did. To be touched by beauty everyday. Be enveloped by the love of a family…
"Tell me about surfing."
"It's my life - who I am. I get out there and imagine I'm surfing the ancient waters of my ancestors. Water that is a million years old. Water that absorbed the blood of dinosaurs."
She watched him as he talked and felt her heart stir. His love of his family and his way of life, his optimism, his hope, reminded her of a young man she knew in the war. Mal. Mal before he had lost all the qualities that this young man possessed. In that moment, Zoë loved the young man next to her. For reminding her why she loved Mal.
A beep in her bag startled them.
"My ship," she explained. "Zoë here."
"Zoë! It's Kaylee!"
"How are the repairs?" Zoë said wincing slightly as she realized how abrupt she sounded.
" 'Bout done. Uh…"
Zoë smiled at Kaylee's uneasiness. "I'm alright, sweetie. Gettin' through some things but I'll be there."
"I never doubted you, Zoë." But her voice indicated otherwise. Did Kaylee think she actually wouldn't go back to Serenity? Did Mal?
"When we headin' out?"
"Gotta go through inspection."
"Inspection!" Zoë's first mate frame of mind came forefront at this bit of information.
"Don't worry. Mal and Harvey got us a fine fellow who don't look too close at what he can't see."
"Well, uh, he ain't been around much."
Sir, what are you doing over there? "I'll be there tomorrow." She commed off and looked at the water again. Talking to Kaylee had been good - reminded her of her other self. The one with responsibilities. The one with family waiting.
"You have a ship?"
"Ain't mine." Not entirely true. She hadn't bought the thing but it was her home. As much hers as anything else in this 'verse.
"You can go anywhere then? See the universe? You ever been to the central planets."
"Ain't much for the Core."
"Me neither," he confided. "Too many people. And I've never heard of any good surfing over there."
"You ever get the itch? To leave and see the 'verse?"
"No, I love it here. The ocean, the beach, my family. I can't imagine ever leaving."
She nodded in perfect understanding. But for her it was the Black, Serenity…her family.
"We are having a Lu'au in honor of my cousin's first birthday. My family would be honored if you would come eat with us."
She looked at him seeing his hopeful expression. "That sounds nice."
"Good, my grandmother likes you."
Funny since she and the woman hadn't exchanged a word or stepped within a dozen feet of each other.
Zoë sat next to the grandmother who tried to foist mounds of fresh food on Zoë. The woman pinched Zoë's arm communicating she thought Zoë too thin.
"She doesn't speak English. Or Chinese," Mufi explained. "My grandmother is very traditional. All our people are. After the great move across the black ocean, our people lost ourselves. Became part of the greater culture. One hundred and fifty years ago, my great, great grandmother and others left Londinium and found this place. We reclaimed our ancient way of life. The older ones clung to our language and refused to speak or learn any other."
"You speak well."
"Times change," he said wistfully. "We can't keep apart like we were once able to." He shrugged in calm acceptance. "Can't hold on to something if in the end it destroys you."
Zoë looked at Mufi marveling at his innocent philosophizing that resonated so deeply with her. Such a clever kid, too bad about the hair.
The meal was delicious. Cousins and in-laws were all in attendance. Zoë overheard scraps of conversation. "They're going to lose it all!" "… ocean front licensing fee." "Outrageous!" "The family's been there for years."
The next morning, she packed her few belongings. After the meal, the Mufi walked her to the transpo stop. She saw the bus approach and turned to him.
"Gonna lose your place here?"
He looked surprised. "No. It will never happen. The contest, you know."
Mufi looked like there was no way he could lose. His absolute faith in his abilities affected her; Zoë had seen that look before and never wanted to see this boy lose that. She handed over her bag with the rest of her Lilac earnings. "I forgot to leave a tip in my room. Give this to your parents."
He looked inside the bag then back at her in alarm. "We can't take this!"
She looked at him steadily. "If you don't, I'll toss it in the ocean." She may regret handing over this much money to a stranger…No, she realized, she wouldn't regret it at all.
"Then you'll miss your bus."
"There'll be another."
"We can't take charity, Zoë."
"Ain't charity. I'm buying something with that."
She just smiled and got in the transpo.
Three days later, Serenity was once more in the Black. The first dinner went better than expected. Most of the talk around the table centered on the upcoming speech from the president of the Alliance. They were finally getting around to officially speaking on the Miranda situation. Leaving the dishes on the table, the crew headed down to the common area to watch the broadwave.
--OFFICIAL ALLIANCE TRANSMISSION--
And now, may I present the President of the Allied Planets, Madame Eugenia Yamamoto-Fields.
"My fellow citizens. As you know the universe has been thrown into upheaval with the disclosure of the Miranda broadwave. One week from today, there will be a memorial service honoring all those who died on Miranda. All planets in the Alliance will honor this day. From this day forward, we will honor the victims on an annual basis. Using the day, in quiet reflection."
She looked down at her notes and appeared to be taking a deep, steadying breath.
"Our investigation has finally yielded solid results. There have been some who have been critical of the Alliance for not responding earlier to this situation but we felt it was prudent to wait until we had all the facts before rushing to judgment. For the past six weeks, our investigators have diligently sifted through mounds of evidence and the results are conclusive. I am pleased to tell all of you that the Alliance was not at fault. The Alliance has never supported research or experimentation that would weed out aggression and make a society more passive. Our stance has always been education, social services, community care – not biological coercion. As for the woman in the broadwave, she was an ardent supporter of the man behind the terrorist plot against Miranda.
"It is with a heavy heart that I must disclose the name. We have tried so hard to put the war behind us and forgive those that caused it. But the truth remains, General John Wilkes, whom you may remember for his extreme pro-secession views prior to the war, formulated an evil plan to plunge the universe into war. His plan was to unleash the Pax and frame the Alliance. This was a play to win supporters in the Central planets to his cause.
"In their continuing efforts to prevent war, the administration in power at the time, hushed the story. They believed that public outrage would force the universe into a war they were so desperate to prevent. But as we all know, Wilkes was finally able to have his war through the taking of Hera.
"I want to say that this is not a time for blame. The war is long over and the factions that fought in the war are doing their best to integrate back into Allied society. Our findings of who is the cause of the Miranda tragedy may open old wounds but, and I cannot stress this enough, it is crucial that no one take action against any former Independent supporters. How could they have known the depths this man would sink to achieve his agenda?
"I entreat you, fair citizens, to be sensible; the vast majority of Wilkes' followers had no idea of the evil he was capable of. If anything, they are to be pitied as they now realize how misguided they were to follow such a man.
"This shocking tragedy has affected all our hearts and our minds will never be free of the haunting images of the millions who perished. Nor should they be. We must not forget those who died but we must find it within ourselves to forgive the misguided who followed a mad man."
--OFFICIAL ALLIANCE TRANSMISSION--
Everyone stared unbelieving at the screen. Two commentators appeared eager to discuss this latest development but the crew didn't hear whatever nuggets of insight they might have offered. Mal yanked the newly installed vidsceen from the wall and hurled it into the cargo bay. Without a word, he stalked out and up the stairs to his quarters. Zoë sat unmoving staring at the new hole in the wall.
"They can't say that!?" Kaylee.
"They just did. Stupid of us to think they'd just say whoops, sorry folks!" Jayne leaned forward resting his elbows on his knees. He looked at Zoë.
"John Wilkes was a hero of the Independents. He was a guiding force in the--" Inara started.
"Should've known better," Zoë murmured shaking her head. A bitter smile appeared. "Looks like my husband died for nothin'."
A/N: So here I am, finally at the end of the BDM!! Thanks to everyone who kept reading this out of control fic. Honestly, this was just supposed to be a little filler fic to bridge the gap between the end of the BDM and another series I've got in the works. Wow, did this thing go way beyond what I intended.
Very, very big thanks to GillianRose for all her help.
Hopefully, I'll be posting the new series soon. Things will not be all rosy for the crew and I'll be picking up on some threads I've left dangling.