Ships That Pass in the Black
Bad writer. Dallying on two stories. No biscuit.
To further that dallying, here's a notion I randomly had occur to me! There may be more on this eventually, but that plot bunny hasn't finished hatching yet, to mix a metaphor. And yes, I'm aware that I'm leaving a lot of unanswered questions, but never fear, there are more chapters to this tale impending. Enjoy!
" 'Nara, we're going to be in range of New Melbourne in about two hours!" Kaylee chirped brightly as she passed by the entry to Inara's shuttle on her way to some arcane mechanical duty or another.
Inara smiled pleasantly to Kaylee. "Thank you, sweetie." Inwardly she was seething, but it wasn't anything Kaylee had done. This was something that had to be the doing of one Captain Malcolm Reynolds, (the only way Inara would refer to Mal in her mind when she was angry with him, which was a good deal of the time.)
Once again, Mal was taking Serenity
to a border planet where the likelihood of finding a respectable client for her to be employed by was exceedingly un
likely. This was the third planet in a row that he'd done such a thing and Inara was more than a little tired of it. But that's how these things went sometimes. Or so Inara tried to remind herself when she became impatient. A self-employed ship had to travel where work was to be had. And it wasn't as if Inara was in a bad way, financially.
Inara moved over to her lounge area and sat down, lighting a stick of incense and clearing her mind of her less-than-charitable thoughts about Mal. They were headed to New Melbourne, fine. If that's what she had to work with, then at least she could check the Cortex for possible (if exceedingly unlikely) clients of her own. What couldn't be changed, must be endured. But after Serenity
was ready to go again, she and Mal were having a discussion.
After some time had passed, Inara felt centered once more and rose gracefully from her sofa to her Cortex terminal, which she had concealed by elegant silk drapings. Moving them aside, she logged into the Companion registry and began to scan for client prospects in New Melbourne.
As Inara suspected, Companion requests were fairly thin on the ground there. There were always the hopefuls that wanted to see if they could request one successfully, but Companions always chose their clients carefully. By and large, those clients tended to be well-to-do. A little known fact however, was that Companions actually did service regular people and scaled their rates down accordingly. But that was done on a strict case-by-case basis.
There were a smattering of moderately well off merchants that had submitted a Companion request as well as a few supervisors from the planet fisheries. Brief viewings of their video petitions made Inara decide not to accept any of those offers. Most were simply awkward and didn't strike her as having the sort of appreciation for the highly formalized rituals that time with a Companion entails. One had filmed himself while clearly drunk and had some very definite and bluntly honest declarations of what he expected of a theoretical encounter. And one man had a way of speaking and carrying himself that set off every alarm in Inara's head, warning her to stay away from that man. She made a note in the registry, viewable only by other Companions, that the last one was best left avoided.
Finally, Inara came to the last offer. This one was from a maintenance foreman. His still video showed that he seemed to have a kind face, although some rather bad luck. One eye was covered by a cloth patch. Inara was mildly incredulous. Who got injured like that and didn't simply have the missing part replaced? She made an absent mental note to ask Simon about that sometime. Intrigued, she reached out to touch the 'play' option on the Cortex screen.
The small still image grew to fill the monitor and the recording began. "Uh, hello there," he began, giving a sheepish, disarming smile. "I guess I don't have to explain why I'm asking for this, er, meeting. At least, not parts of it. I did a lot of reading about Companions, what it means to be one, what it's about, before I even thought about placing a request. And I guess the thing that sold me on it is the dedication and the way you do it." He blinked and blushed charmingly, teasing a smile from Inara. "Oh, no! I didn't mean 'it' as in, 'It!' Just the way you, y'know, Companion."
It was a shame Inara wasn't permitted to discuss clients with anyone. Wash would be tickled about how this man had joined the ranks of those to use the word 'Companion' as a verb.
"I'm not even really looking for the usual sort of thing," the man continued. "More than just being... close to someone, more than scratching an itch. I guess the thing of it is this: I'm kind of alone. I have friends around here and all, but they're really just casual acquaintances. One of the things I read about Companions was that they all had the ability to listen without reservation or judgment. So mostly, I guess I'd just like someone to talk to for a while." He sighed and then gave the recorder a forlorn smile and wave. "Hope to hear from you soon. And if I don't, well, I hope someone else needed you more, and that you found a way to help 'em." With that, the image froze with the man's face set in that sad, wistful smile.
Inara stared at the Cortex screen, fingertips delicately covering her lips. She had been very nearly physically struck with just how lonely
this man seemed to be. How much he seemed to need some comfort and, for lack of a better term, Companionship. Before she could be overcome by emotion, Inara pulled a silk handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed at the corners of her eyes, saving herself from needing to reapply her makeup.
Features set in a kindly resolve, Inara tapped two of the icons on the screen so she could read the man's profile more closely. She nodded once to herself and tapped the icons on the screen that initiated the acceptance response from her.Xander Harris, why are you so sad?
, Inara wondered sympathetically.