BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

GUILDSISTER

Truthsome, Part IV: Darkness
Monday, March 29, 2004

Part IV: Mal learns his home world is gone.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 8026    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Truthsome, Part IV: Darkness



Part I: Shadows (follow link)
Part II: Blood (follow link)
Part III: Confessions (follow link)

“Shadow was gone.” It appeared to require repeating. Uncomprehending expressions met him on every face. All except Zoe and the Shepherd. Both had heads down in an almost identical prayerful manner with hands folded. It was a mite unsettling.

“Gone?” Jayne, of course. “How can a planet get gone?”

“Still a rock there, spinning in space. Nothing else.” Mal stopped. He'd never said that out loud before. The words rested strangely on his ears. Unreal. We're all dreaming.

The Shepherd stirred. “I'll tell it, if you want, son” he said softly. Mal shrugged and refilled his cup with whiskey.

“Shadow was the only terraformed moon of a gas giant,” Book said. His voice sounded to Mal like a school teacher talking about something from the ancient past, not a place he could see in his head as bright and alive as the day he'd left. “Tide locked so the days and nights were about sixty hours each.” He glanced at Mal for confirmation. He nodded.... days of light with the shadows of twilight long and deep. Endless nights of stars stretching on and on...

“The sun...” the Shepherd hesitated.

“Go on,” Mal murmured.

“It flared. Not quite a nova but incredibly hot for days on end. Burned that world. I recall it said that the oceans reached the boiling point, and the sand on the shore fused into glass. There were,” he paused, his analytical tone shaky, “no survivors.”

Mal nodded. “No survivors,” he repeated. “Except for the entire Alliance garrison, which had pulled out a week earlier.”

“My God,” Book breathed. Mal felt the Shepherd’s shock like a physical thing, like the preacher had just taken a slug between the eyes. “You blame the Alliance for the disaster. You think they caused it. Destroyed your home world.”

Mal stared hard into the Shepherd's stunned face. “No, Shepherd,” he said coldly, his words carefully and measuredly enunciated. “I honestly do not believe the Alliance caused it. I believe it was a natural disaster.” He locked eyes with the Shepherd. “An act of God.” Let the Shepherd work on that for a while. Turning away, Mal drained his cup, refilled it and took another gulp. He turned back to the Shepherd. The preacher’s expression would have struck him funny at any other time.

“I do, however, think the Alliance saw it coming. Pulled their people out. Left mine there to burn.”

The stirring around the table was audible. Somehow Mal could read each of their expressions without even looking up at them. And he didn't--couldn't--quite meet their eyes just now. Inara would be looking all doe-eyed and sad, like she was gonna cry on his behalf. Kaylee would be crying, those little tears that always tried to rip a man's heart out of him running down her face. Wash just looking shocked and full of the not-funnies. There seemed to be an awful lot Zoe hadn't told him. Probably too busy with all the humping to chit-chat.

Simon, shocked and more than a bit disbelieving. That boy thought he knew so damn much that anything he didn't know just couldn't be quite real. And, sure enough, it was Simon who first spoke up.

“How is it we never heard about this? A whole world, an entire colony wiped out like that?”

Zoe took up the tale. “It was as the war was ending, in the time after Serenity. The news was all of the war. The last battles. The last conquests. The last stands. The last defeats--defeats to us. Glorious victories to them. The news about Shadow was reported. It just... got lost, didn't make the headlines. Wasn't big news to the Alliance.”

“But, why?”

Mal shrugged. “There were millions dead on dozens of worlds. Twenty thousand or so settlers dead just weren't much of a thing. And Shadow was one of the first worlds to revolt, and one of the first suppressed. Half the population had already gone to war, or been exiled or killed. Twenty thousand more dead Independents is all it was.... Just didn't mean a damn thing. None of it means a damn thing.” He fell silent, concentrating on drinking.

“When did you hear about it?” Shepherd Book asked.

Zoe answered as Mal didn't appear to be up to talking any more for a bit. It had taken years before he spoke about Shadow at all, and then it was only rare little comments about the before time, about the ranch or the land or the stock. Home that was.

“We'd hadn’t been in the prison long,” she said. “At first it didn't seem too bad there. We got to be clean for the first time in ages, and they treated our hurts, and fed us. And no one was shooting at us. Well, mostly. As long as we obeyed their rules and didn't say or do anything they didn't like. We were just so numb. In shock. I still recollect that time like it was a strange dream. Didn't really notice how completely our freedom had been snatched away and those that done it were our keepers.

“News we got was censored, of course, all if it going on about the mighty Alliance and their victories. Would like to say they were exaggerating, but they weren't. They were annihilating our people on every front. We heard about what happened to Shadow a couple days after U Day, from a news sheet weeks old. It had happened while we were still at Serenity.”

Mal read the short column again and again, expecting each time that the words would be different. It wasn't real. It couldn't be real. He looked up at Zoe standing over him.

“I'm sorry, sir,” she said, her tone distant, the words a mere formality. Her expression was calculating, gauging his reaction. Would he hold or would he break? Maybe she could be sorry for the family he'd lost later, sorry for the ever more bodies of the dead piling higher and higher until it didn't seem there could be any more. Ashes to ashes. Only Mal mattered right now.

Sighing, he said, “I'm all right, Zoe. You can stop fretting over me” He tossed the news sheet aside and rubbed his face. “I'm just tired. I never expected I’d make it back there alive no how, but I always thought it would be there waiting if I ever did.”

Mal lay back down on his bunk, arm flung over his face. Zoe watched him a minute longer. No tears. No anger. No nothing. Shock and numbness. Loss. Loss. Everything lost. His face registered complete and utter defeat.

Zoe slowly turned away, returning unsteadily to her own bunk, closing her eyes. She felt poorly. One of the endless string of sicknesses that went around the crowded prison. She had her own memories of the ranch on Shadow and the folks on it, when they landed there for trade. It had been a fine place. Shiny.

A hand sliding up her thigh startled her. Mal? If he needed her like that, today of all days, she certainly wouldn't refuse him. But the touch rapidly turned rough. Zoe's eyes snapped open to see a hwoo-dahn Fed groping her.

In a flash the guard was off her, slammed into the wall, Mal's fingers wrapped around his throat. Again and again Mal bashed the guard's head into the concrete wall. In Mal's eyes Zoe saw an entirely new thing--murder. She'd seen him kill more times than she could count, but she'd never seen this before. Launching herself at his back, Zoe pulled Mal off the guard.

The clatter of Alliance slung gear chilled her. A half-dozen Feds ran in, billyclubs in hand. Zoe backed away with her hands up. Mal held his ground defiantly, daring to take on them all. They grinned and raised their clubs, but the senior of them mercifully dropped him with a burst from a sonic rifle. Mal slumped to the floor and surrendered to the darkness.

“Did you kill him? The guard?” Simon asked.

Mal shook his head. “Nah. I just damaged that one a bit. Would have killed him if Zoe hadn't stopped me--right smack dab in front of all the security cameras. Getting caught killing a guard earned you a hanging,” He chuckled, not even remotely a humorous sound. “Earned a few hangings, by and by. But not so many as Zoe. Never could step as quiet as her.” Zoe raised her eyes to meet his. Simultaneously they lifted their cups in a silent toast. Only when he lowered his cup and looked around did Mal notice how unaccountably creepified the others at the table appeared. Except Jayne, who looked like he was hearing a right funny story.

“What did they do to you?”

“A sound thrashing, then tossed me in the Hole.”

“What's that?”

Mal waved his hand dismissively. “Just like it sounds. A hole.” He cleared his throat and took another drink. It didn't numb near enough. “Punishment cell. Under the prison. Not half the size of this table. Cold. Filthy. Dark. Pitch dark. Not a shred of light in there. And not much air pumped in so you always felt kinda light-headed and sick. And dead quiet. Only sound was the sound of your own breathing. And after a while you couldn't hear that anymore. Quiet as a grave. 'Bout as close to being buried alive as you can get.”

He fell still.

A touch on his hand made Mal jump. River had crept her hand near to his. She rested two fingers lightly on the back of his hand. The girl's gaze turned deep inwards.

“Darkness,” she said, tilting her head as if listening to something. “Staring into the darkness. The place of nothing. Becoming the nothing...”

Staring into the darkness. Endless time. Time without measure. Darkness filed with ghosts. Bleeding. Rotting. Dust. Burned. Crisping blackness. Ashes. In the darkness, a place of nothing. No shadows. No blood. Just nothing. He embraced the nothing, drew it closer. Trying to become it.

Mal grasped her hand and moved it firmly back toward her. River looked at him, startled and puzzled. “Stay outta my mind, little girl. It ain't a fitting place for a youngun.” And yet he left his hand resting over hers for a minute more, looking into her eyes, wondering what it was he was seeing there, what she was seeing when he looked back. He released her hand and eased his away.

When he spoke it was toward River. “That's what it was. Staring into the darkness for endless time. Into the nothing. Worked out a few things. Not necessarily for the good”

Mal shook himself, stepping back from the memory, from the darkness, to Serenity's dining room, filled with people he cared about, people who cared about him. Warm light. Outside, the stars. The nothing pushed back a ways.

“I'm not even rightly sure how long it was...”

“Three months,” Zoe inserted quickly. Tersely. “Eighty-seven days.”

Mal nodded slowly. “The night they finally let me out of there, I was laying in my bunk, staring up. There were these little high windows all around. Couldn't see nothing out of them but a tiny slice of sky. So I was laying there staring at that slice of the stars out in the Black, thinking that was the one thing that was still there, the one thing they couldn’t take. And I wasn't sure it was enough.

“Then Zoe come over to my bed. And she climbed in and she wrapped herself all around me. Tight. Not a word passed between us. Just holding, the whole night long. Feeling her breath on my neck and her body all around me. And I knew that there was one being in the 'verse that still mattered.”

He thoughtfully embraced the memory. “Only time we ever spent a night together that way.”

Mal looked up at Wash. “No sex,” he said, with a hint of a smile. Judging from Wash's expression, at that very moment he wouldn't have minded if there had been. But sex never could have made he and Zoe any closer and it might just have split them apart.

“From that day to this, there's never been a word spoken about it between us.”

Part V: Freedom (follow link)

COMMENTS

Monday, March 29, 2004 2:26 PM

AMDOBELL


Excellent! Very much holding my gorram breath for the next part. "Xiexie ni", Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Tuesday, March 30, 2004 7:18 PM

NEROLI


Oh, you can feel Mal's pain seep right through this, excellent job Guildsister.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004 7:13 AM

FIREFLYWILDCARD1


This is an awesome series so far. Excellent writing, Guildsister! I love how you portray Mal and Zoe and the rest of the crew. :) I also like your backstory for Mal and Zoe.

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 4:49 AM

SITTINGDUCK


I assume the fate of Shadow was inspired by the line from the theme song that goes, "Burn the land and boil the sea."

Saturday, October 2, 2004 11:09 PM

MAI


This just gets better with each chapter. This line nearly made me cry

"I never expected I’d make it back there alive no how, but I always thought it would be there waiting if I ever did.”

You have a great talent for writing. Keep it up. I can't wait to read the next part. Mai

Monday, January 30, 2006 12:48 PM

LEEH


Okay, you are prophetic:

Simon, shocked and more than a bit disbelieving. That boy thought he knew so damn much that anything he didn't know just couldn't be quite real. And, sure enough, it was Simon who first spoke up.

“How is it we never heard about this? A whole world, an entire colony wiped out like that?”

It's like you saw the plot of the BDM coming.


I have to say--I can't imagine Mal telling the others about Zoe and him in bed like that. Too intimate. I can see it happening, and him thinking it and NOT including it in his story, because it's so intimate that he feels like he has to hold that detail back.

Otherwise, this story is really well written and compelling.

Thursday, September 29, 2011 8:43 AM

SHINYZOEKAYLEE


Mal nodded slowly. “The night they finally let me out of there, I was laying in my bunk, staring up. There were these little high windows all around. Couldn't see nothing out of them but a tiny slice of sky. So I was laying there staring at that slice of the stars out in the Black, thinking that was the one thing that was still there, the one thing they couldn’t take. And I wasn't sure it was enough.
Perfect tie in with Mal for the whole series!!! He and Simon in Serenity the pilot, Simon:" that's not much" Mal:"it's enough"
Burn the land and boil the sea, You can't take the sky from me! Shiny Perfection!!!


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