C.C.M Ch 8
Wednesday, August 23, 2006

They have the salvage. And a little bonus with it.


Takes them a while to separate the two craft. Means that Tyler gets an impromptu lesson with the cutting torch, too. Jayne’s taking his role as guardian and instructor right serious. Impact has buckled the cargo-hatch to the point where they need a can-opener rather than a keypad.

River has found herself a perch up on the walkway, and Mal ain’t sure whether she’s watching the ship or Tyler. He’s a little twitched. Got kinda used to the fact that when he’s flying, his li’l co-pilot will be curled in the other seat. Been a few nights when she’s gone to sleep there. But now, when he needs her good and focused, she’s sittin’ down in the cargo hold makin’ eyes at some boy...

Zoe and Ilargia are moving and stowing what they can of the cargo. Kaylee is already earmarking parts from the drone, but her eyes keep straying back to the shiny heap of trouble they got.

Mal decides to get the pilot out of the ship. The warmth of the cargo bay is beginning to have an effect, and whilst half the crew are no stranger to bodies, the other half are looking a little green. The Doctor swallows a little, but climbs nimbly up to do his duty. Leaves Mal free to supervise. Still an odd sight, a smaller version of his mercenary, barely old enough to shave, and still flushing every time he uses a cuss-word.

“Captain.” Simon has an odd tone to his voice. “I think you should look at this.”

Mal cranes over. The body ain’t pretty. The whole dome of the cockpit has gone, and the pilot looks exactly like somebody who has been rapidly decompressed, flash-frozen and then sat out in a rockstorm. Male is about as identifiable as it gets. The Doctor points to the back of the head, where it...he still rests against his chair. Mal looks again. More than rests. There are cables.

“I think he was dead before he crashed. This man has...had - cerebral implants of some kind, and they are all...burnt out.”

“Took a trip, and blew his mind.” River says, from above. Clarifies. “Bio-electrical feedback cauterized his synapses.”

“Captain, I would advise pushing the whole thing back out of the ship and getting a long way away from it.”

“I’m inclined to agree, Doctor.” Mal looks at the body. “And this man?”

“We leave him in it.” It costs Simon something to say that, Mal knows. This was a human being. But there’s a stink coming off this thing from more than the corpse, says ‘military’ to both of them.

“They wired him into the ship, didn’t they? Like a VR Simulator.” Ilargia has walked up behind them, makes them both jump.

She’s standing back, arms folded, an abstracted look on her face.

“I‘ve got a...friend called Gib, used to claim he got signals through his radio, conspiracy theories and such.” Mal and Simon exchange a look. She catches it. “Yeah, I thought he was a nut, too, until Jayne told me about Mr Universe. Well, one theory was a black op, taking the brains of captured Independent pilots and putting them in stealth ships.” Gestures. “Wind down the weird a ways, and I think we’re looking at the origin of that.”

“This was precision work. There’s nothing experimental about the surgery, only the usage.” Simon examines the body more closely, fingers careful, competent. “They diverted the neural impulses used for certain motor functions. It’s an advanced form of the technology used in prosthetic limbs.”

“A ship that flies by thought?” Mal snorts. “That’s...” Looks at River. “Huh.”

“This is a high-end military application.” Ilargia is still frowning. “They don’t normally test outside of the Kuang Zone.”

“That’s dead space, nothing but blackrock.”

“That’s the reason.” It’s a mirthless smile. She looks again at the pilot, then looks away hastily. “Poor sod is a very long way from home.”

“Reckon someone will come looking for him?”

“Bound to. Grunts are cheap, but his shiny little rocket cost someone some credits. As you said, Captain, it’s a short-range craft. I’m with the Doctor on dropping it out the hatch again.”

“Ain’t no way for a man to pass on.” Jayne rumbles uneasily. He’s conscious of Tyler’s eyes on him. You don’t leave the dead to drift; it ain’t right.

“This ain’t a package we want to be caught holdin’.” Mal flicks his eyes up to where River is hanging over the rail. Jayne sighs.

“I know it. Guess I’d better get suited...”

“Too late.” River stiffens, her face confused. “Being followed.”

She turns and heads up the stairs at a pace that makes Tyler stare.


They know their business, hanging back on the very edge of the scope, matching course and speed. Staying out of the way of the Belt. Too small to be anything official, but big enough to be worrisome.

“Reckon that’s another crew after this haul?” Zoe asks.

“May be so.” Almost certain to be, in fact. This is so far off what remains of Reaver space, that no-one doubts that the minds on that ship are sane, if probably unpleasant.

Ship has realised that it’s been seen. Speeds itself between Serenity and open space, leaves them pinned above the Belt. Ugly, blocky thing, but fast, and there is a cannon mounted on the hull. It swings round with clear intent, and the comm chirps.

It’s not a face Mal is pleased to be seeing. Clean-shaven, narrow eyed, bald skull patterned by the comm lights. Tattoos on his jawline move unpleasantly when he smiles, showing a gold tooth in place of the one Mal knocked out.


“Mal. How like old times. You do the work, and I reap the reward. I want that cargo.”

On the tip of Mal’s tongue to ask which one, but he keeps silent.

“I bested you last time, Mal. You will keep backing yourself into a corner.”

“Got nothing on this ship worth a quarrel...”

“Oh, this isn’t a quarrel, Mal.” The smile snaps off. “It’s an execution. I just wanted you to know who was shooting you out of the sky.”

“Captain...” A quiet moment, dark eyes meet blue. “Trust me.”

“We’re in your hands, li’l darlin’.”

Only one place for them to go.

“Kaylee, engine room. Take whoever is helpful. Rest of you, strap in tight.”

“Sir,” Zoe takes a breath. “Can she do this?”

Mal’s jaw tightens.

“You best pray that she can, or you’re gonna be meeting your man real soon.”

‘Cos if Wash was here, she’d be behind his chair, willing him on, and they’d be home free. If Wash was here, she wouldn’t be trusting to a half-grown child with a broken mind. A child who can walk into your mind.

River’s eyes, dark and fearful, and full of pain.

“Don’t want to be him, Zoe. Want him to be here, but he’s not. Just me.”

He ain’t here. He’s left pieces of himself, reminders and memories. Memories...

Zoe steps right up, puts her hand on River’s shoulder.

“You fly, baby.”

Strength and belief. Flowing down that arm like fire in the blood.

~Whole place is a gorram mincer, gonna be tight to fly...but my girl will keep us safe...engines ain’t designed to take that kinda thrust...nobody flies like my mister...~


Synergy. Knocks down the walls between, spins fragments of time into a cable that binds past and present.

She can see all four dimensions before her eyes, input fast and raging, but hands hold her in place. Their thoughts race past her and she dips into them, River become river, torrent of memory and experience. Through them, she sees the Belt as it is, as it was, the engines and how they turn, glimpses of hands not hers on these controls, what happens if you push this button, flip this switch, and spin the wheel. Takes what she needs, and becomes.

Wind catches the drifting leaf, spins it into a dance of joy between the stars...

Albatross stretches wings and catches a current of time...

Serenity obeys.

Port engine off-line, starboard engine fires down. Under her hands, Serenity is a living thing. Flips end over, and dives backwards, sharp left.

Has the gunner’s mind now, a sharp cruel mind of angles and blades, something that tastes of metal in the edge of it. Part woman, part machine, stitching the sky behind them. But Serenity is too fast, too free...

There is no sound here. Nothing but objects in space, and she moves between them. She dances with them, time somehow suspended as the ’Verse unfolds itself before her. This is what that poor soul within the wetware sought. Speed and freedom, and that state of absolute calm as the spirit of the ship moves within you. Can’t be found with wires and needles, only with love...

Serenity bursts out of the debris field. Every proximity alarm screams, calm announcements in English and Chinese drowned out by yells and curses in the same. Too fast, too close to bring the cannon to bear, shot raking empty space. And the whirlwind passage brings a comet’s tail of debris with it.

Ott’s ship has none of the extra shielding. The last they see of it, is the craft tumbling away, leaking parts and oxygen, desperately trying to evade the rest of the rubble.

River slips out of the chair, a huddle of bones. Mal catches the yoke, and swears madly, unable to let Serenity veer out of control, and unable to get to River.

“River...River! Zoe, is she breathing?”

“She is.” His First Mate hits the comm. “Doctor, we need you up here. River’s fainted.”

“No need to fuss.” River says weakly, struggles to sit up. Holds her head. “Oooh. Too many voices all at once.”

She’s never tried to do that before. She can feel them in her head, concern and confusion, but she can feel herself in there, too. Greets Simon with a slightly cross-eyed smile as he comes hammering in.

“Frying pan dealt with. Just the fire, now.”


Mal leans on the table, regards his crew. They all know that they have a cargo-bay full of bad news. But then, that’s pretty much a given in their line of business.

“Reckon Bernoulli set us up, sir?” Zoe won’t look at River. Still a deal to process there.

“Unlikely. We done business with him for years, and never a worry. He just sent us after a crate as didn’t turn up where it should have.”

“An’ the reason it didn’t ain’t one we want hangin’ round our necks.”

“Can’t we just drop that thing out where Ott can get it, leave him with the trouble?” Ilargia puts the suggestion forward diffidently. She’s sitting next to Jayne, but perched on the edge of the group. Mal considers it.

“Could work, I’m thinking.” A nasty grin. “Ain’t the cargo he’s expecting, I’ll be bound.”

“Can’t just tip that poor man back out into the Black.” Tyler shakes off his uncle’s hand. “It ain’t right.”

“Son, that man volunteered to fly. He was a soldier.” Mal narrows his eyes.

“Still a man. He’s got kin someplace as will want to be knowing what happened to him.”

“So have you.” Mal lets the words fall heavily. Tyler goes white, then scarlet, pushes away from the table and stumbles out. Jayne wipes his mouth, curses uneasily, but it’s Ilargia who puts a hand on his shoulder, and stops him.

“Boy needs a few minutes alone, I think.”

“So...” Mal pulls their attention back. “Jayne, you get back to separating them two wrecks. Doc, we’re gonna have to put our...guest in a bag for a while. Reckon you can...detach him?”

“I can try. It’s not like I need anaesthetic or anything.” He catches Kaylee’s look. “What?”

“Dope enough, I think.” Ilargia murmurs.


River is deep in thought. Mal approves. Good to see that she’s settling in, has a feeling for the job...

“Am I pretty?”

Mal chokes.

“What kinda question is that to go askin’ me?”

“Adult. Experienced. Have a standard on which to judge.” She tilts her head, and regards him, slight frown of worry.

Mal’s mind has gone into a spiral of panic. Tinged with pique. So he’s the responsible adult here, is he? The gorram babysitter. So, being Mal, and in charge, he does what he does best. Makes a mess of it.

“Can’t rightly say I’ve given it any thought, li’l one.”

River’s frown crumples further.

“So I’m not.”

“I didn’t say...” Mal begins to panic.

“Just a brain, is all. Fly your ship. Your guiding star - what’s of use.” Shoves back from the controls. “Kaylee’s right. Mean old man.”


But she’s gone. Mal stares at the stars in bewilderment. They got a cargo bay full of contraband and scary-ass military go se, a shipful of pirates looking to give them a bad case of dead, probably a military ship the size of a small city hunting after ‘em, and she‘s frettin‘ about her looks? ‘Course she’s pretty. Anyone with eyes is gonna think so.

That young idiot certainly thinks so. His turn to frown.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006 10:43 AM


I contionue to be awed by your eloquence and character voicing, by how you always carry me right into the middle of the action, and leave my heart both full and haunted. Wonderful stuff here, woman.

I especially loved this part:

<<River’s eyes, dark and fearful, and full of pain.

“Don’t want to be him, Zoe. Want him to be here, but he’s not. Just me.”

He ain’t here. He’s left pieces of himself, reminders and memories. Memories...

Zoe steps right up, puts her hand on River’s shoulder.

“You fly, baby.”

Strength and belief. Flowing down that arm like fire in the blood.>>


Friday, August 25, 2006 3:39 AM


I wondered when Mal was going to really notice River noticing Tyler... I like how you got him there.

Also enjoyed the description of what River saw and felt as she flew. Lovely.

Sunday, August 27, 2006 10:47 AM


Man...Mal just can't catch a break with talking to women, can he? Cuz he can't talk with Inara without breaking out the W-word, Kaylee gets the "I hired ya to keep this here boat runnin'" spiel that gets her upset rather than encourages her, and now he's gone and offended River? Yep...he's worse than Simon when he's in the zone;)

Amazing stuff here, SpaceAnJL! Definitely interested in the pilot being directly interfaced with the ships control system and how that knowledge means the BDHs have a bigger problem now than Ott trying to nab their take again:(



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