Wish I Was Somebody Else, 2/26
Sunday, January 14, 2007

After Miranda, the crew tries to find an explanation for Wash's betrayal.


2. We Should Call It, “Your Grave”

After Miranda

“Tell me again why we’re doing this?” Simon asked, watching from the cargo hold while Mal and Jayne lugged the dirt-crusted coffin to the med bay.

“Because Wash was acting strangely just before he died. We’d like you to try to find out why,” Zoe said.

“Strangely, how?” Simon asked, for at least the third time.

Zoe fixed him with her give-it-up gaze. “Strangely.”

“I can’t really give you a differential diagnosis based on the adverb ‘strangely,’” Simon said.

Zoe looked at him darkly for several seconds longer, then said, “He gave up boxers and started wearing briefs.” She turned and stalked off in the direction of the common area.

“Of course.” Simon stared after her, disbelieving. “Who needs a better reason than that to go back to a planet we only just left, dig up a dead guy and do an autopsy?”

Mal and Jayne re-emerged from the med bay. “There’s your body, doctor,” Mal said. “Let us know what you find.”

Simon shuffled unenthusiastically toward the med bay. Jayne and Mal went in the opposite direction. Zoe had arranged herself at the table, where she was cleaning her weapons; Mal retrieved a few of his, and joined her. Jayne, Kaylee, and Inara hovered nearby for a little while, but when it became evident that neither Mal nor Zoe was going to shed any light on why they’d returned to Haven to do an autopsy on a guy who’d pretty clearly died of a Reaver harpoon through his sternum, they slowly dispersed. Kaylee wandered to the engine room, where she puttered about, accomplishing little more than to keep her hands busy. Inara retired to her shuttle and accomplished much the same by re-folding all of her scarves. Jayne stomped off to his bunk and put on one of his porn vids, but even that failed to lift his mood and after a few minutes he turned it off and sulked in silence.

River curled herself up in the airlock on top of the ship where Jubal Early had come, and gone, and sang nursery songs to try to drown out the anxiety radiating from everyone on the ship.

Eventually, Simon made his way wearily to the common room, clutching a small plastic bag.

River was there before he was, waiting.

When Zoe saw Simon enter the room, she laid the piece she was cleaning carefully on the table and placed her hands, palms down, on either side of it.

“Well, doctor?” Mal said.

“How did you know?” Simon asked.

“Know what?” Mal replied.

River already knew, of course; already knew what Simon had found. Already knew which of the shattered-glass possibilities that had presented themselves to her was confirmed. But she sat in silence. Simon would be slower to come to the point of it, and they would digest it better that way.

“I found this,” Simon said, holding up the plastic bag. Inside was a small piece of metal and ceramic, no larger than a fingernail, that looked like a cross between a computer chip and a fine-tooth comb. “In his throat.”

“What is it?” Zoe asked.

“It’s a voice changer,” Simon said.

Kaylee slipped in from the engine room and stood behind the sink, wiping her hands with a rag.

“A voice changer?” Mal said.

“Yes,” Simon replied. “It made me suspicious, so I did some tests I wouldn’t normally run during an autopsy. And it seems that . . . well . . . the guy who died who we thought was Wash . . . the guy we buried . . . the DNA doesn’t match. Blood type doesn’t match. Dental, oddly enough, does match. Nonetheless,” Simon drew a shaky breath, “that body is not Wash.”

Zoe’s hands slid loosely from the table into her lap.

“He looks like Wash,” Simon said quickly. “That’s for sure. Same height, coloring, build – whoever fixed him up even matched up scars. And with this,” he indicated the chip, “he would have sounded like Wash, too. But . . . it’s not him.”

Inara reappeared, slipping around the edge of the room to perch lightly on the arm of the couch.

“A doppelganger,” River said, stepping forward.

“But,” Mal protested, his voice just a few notes high, “I don’t care what he might’ve looked like, how is somebody who’s not Wash going to get by Zoe? And River? How does that happen?”

“They’re very good,” River said.

Jayne thumped in from the crew’s quarters, dragged a chair from under the table and seated himself. His eyes never left River.

“When I was at the Academy, some of the students were being prepped for this kind of work,” River said. “They used me to test some of them. They tuned the technology very fine.”

“Neural overlays,” Simon guessed.

“Yes,” River said. “When he was with us, even he didn’t know he wasn’t Wash. He wouldn’t have known everything Wash would have known, so he wouldn’t have stood up to a detailed interrogation, but we never got suspicious enough to interrogate him. And the behavioral conditioning – he would have responded to their codes, just like I did on Beaumonde. He would have told them anything they asked about; found out anything they wanted to know. And then forgotten the conversation completely when it was over.”

“So, who was he?” Zoe asked.

“Alliance pilot named Damien Van Soren,” Simon said. “That’s what I’ve been doing most of this time, actually – trying to find out who he really was. He was about five years younger than Wash, a top gun pilot out of the Alliance Flight Academy. He served three years, had a couple of promotions and a raft of commendations . . . then he disappears. No obituary, no discharge – he just vanishes from the public records.”

“He had to be a pilot,” River said. “Instincts. Reaction time. Muscle memory. Can’t fake those.”

“So if he hadn’t died, and River hadn’t gone through the archives,” Mal said, “We might never have known we had this imposter on our ship?”

“We would have known,” River said. “The overlays are very good. But they break down, starting after about three months. The person’s original personality begins to show through. Within six months, only the appearance would have remained.”

“What in the chang qian yu are you all jawing about?” Jayne demanded. “I hear you right, that Wash who died wasn’t Wash?”

“He was an Alliance plant,” Zoe said dully, staring at the table; at the pieces of her guns.

“It doesn’t hurt them,” River said. “The person who’s copied. The process itself doesn’t do them any harm.”

“Still,” Mal said, “Why copy a guy, and then keep him around?”

“So, Wash wasn’t really Wash, but he’s probably just as dead as we thought he was anyway? That’s what we had to go out of our ruttin’ way and dig up a ruttin’ corpse to find out?” Jayne said.

Zoe stirred. Slowly, she turned her head, and looked right at Jayne.

Jayne backpedaled quickly. “Well, that’s a fine thing. I mean, it’s great we know that Wash ain’t Wash even if he was probably dead already. I mean, that’s a real good thing to know –“ he swallowed, his eyes still locked with Zoe’s, and stood up. “I’ll be in my bunk.” As he thumped back toward the crew’s quarters, he said “You all just call me when it’s time to go dig more graves. Or whatever.”

Zoe looked back down at the table.

Kaylee came around the kitchen island. She was trembling so badly she could hardly stay on her feet. She made it to the nearest chair, pulled it out, and collapsed into it with her elbows on the table and her face in her hands. “When?” she said, barely audible. “When did . . . he . . . come aboard?”

Mal thought about the first ‘wave. River had said there weren’t any earlier ones. “Beaumonde, most likely. While me and Zoe and Jayne were setting up the job with Fanty and Mingo. You and Wash went hunting ship parts, right?” Kaylee nodded. “You stay together?”

“No,” Kaylee said miserably. “Get more done if we split up and meet back later. That’s when they grabbed him. Wasn’t it?”

“Be a good place to start looking,” Mal said.

Kaylee looked up, her face ghastly. “He nearly got us killed!” she said. “Fancy-pants top gun pilot near killed us all!”

“What’s this?” Mal prompted. “What do you know?”

Kaylee moaned. “We went to the scrapyard. They had an aught-three Firefly sitting on the lot, a ways out, hadn’t been there before. Said the accelerator core was fried, but the rest was fine. So since I couldn’t get engine parts off her, I went th’other way and Wash said he’d go out and see what else he might pick up useful off her. And I said ‘Don’t forget, we got to have new entry couplings’ and he said ‘Yes, Kaylee, I know.’ And off he went.” She drew a shaky breath. “We was supposed to meet back up in an hour, but Wash was late. Half hour late. I didn’t think nothing of it; sometimes stuff just takes longer than you thought, you know? He had a box of parts. I didn’t ask what was in it. We come back to the ship and started working.”

She stopped. Simon stepped over and laid a hand on her shoulder, and Kaylee reached up and laid her hand over his, glad of the support.

Mal said, “Go on.”

“Well. So. Over Lilac, right after that, what happens? We lost the entry couplings on the primary buffer panel. Near to crashed. And you all went off to do the job, and me and Wash went up on the nose to do a patch and I said ‘Wash, didn’t you put those new entry couplings on that we got on Beaumonde?’ and he just looked at me all blank and says ‘Well, I guess I just forgot.’ And that ain’t the sort of thing Wash would just forget. And after that, well, ever’thing just happened so fast, and it never seemed time to say nothing, and everybody makes mistakes sometimes, right? But it’s because he weren’t Wash. He mighta been some fancy Alliance pilot but Wash knows this ship, and Wash wouldn’t have ‘just forgot’ those entry couplings. That Alliance man nearly got us killed.”

Mal was, in that moment, rather forcibly reminded of the time River’d got her hands on a gun – right before that bounty hunter snuck aboard – and Kaylee’d remembered, sudden-like, to tell them that when they stormed Niska’s skyplex to rescue Mal, River had shot three men with her eyes closed. It will be a fine day indeed for Serenity, the day that Kaylee puts two and two together before the fact instead of after. But that wasn’t really fair. Not fair to chide Kaylee for failing to catch what had got right past Zoe and River, too.

“Thank you, Kaylee. That’s good to know,” he said. “That helps us know for sure when and where we lost Wash.”

“Cap’n,” Kaylee pleaded. “We’re going to look for him, ain’t we? For Wash? I mean . . . he might be dead, but we don’t know that, and if he ain’t dead, well, he needs us, right?”

“I do believe you’re right about that,” Mal said. “River, get us ready to go. We’ll make for Beaumonde. Simon, anything else you need off that body, you get it now, and then it’s going back in the ground. Zoe. You come with me.”

He led Zoe into the foredeck corridor, to the hatch that led down into Jayne’s bunk. Mal pushed the hatch open. “Jayne? Got to talk to you.”

Mal climbed down the ladder, followed by Zoe. Jayne was lying on his bunk, hands behind his head. Mal and Zoe stood looking down at him.

“We’re going to Beaumonde, because we figure that’s the last place we had Wash with us, and not some Alliance imposter,” Mal said. “You think you can find him?”

Jayne blinked. “Who? Wash?”

“I got five thousand cred, between my personal funds and the ship’s fund, and you can have every nickel of it if you find Wash for me.” Mostly, of course, that was ship’s fund, and it was supposed to go for fuel, and for some replacement parts they hadn’t been able to get from the Sanchez’s; Mal’s own share had been earmarked for ammunition. But they were full up on fuel at the moment, and some to spare. And this was for Zoe. Mal held nothing back.

Jayne sat up. “Five thousand?”

“Make it twenty,” Zoe said. “Everything Wash and I got left, too.”

Both men goggled at her.

“We were saving,” Zoe said with a shrug.

Jayne nodded. “I’ll find him,” he said. A grin spread slowly across his face. “For twenty thousand cred, I’ll work you a gorram miracle and bring him back to life, if he ain’t alive when I do find him.”

“Just do the job, Jayne,” Zoe said.

“I will do that,” Jayne said. “Bet on it.”

“Well. Come on then,” said Mal. “Right now you and me got a body to put back in the ground, and that has to get done before you can start earning your money.”

Jayne didn’t need any more coaxing than that. He beat Mal up the ladder.

------------- chang qian yu everloving universe


Sunday, January 14, 2007 5:47 AM


Wowza. Sneaky Alliance moles and their darned...moley-ness.

It makes total sense that the Alliance would would try for a plant to track the crew, or more specifically Simon and River, when they knew that she would be triggered. The easiest way to track a teensy spaceship in space, I suspect, is to be on it.

Headed for Beaumonde? They should get a nice warm reception....

Bring on part 3!

Sunday, January 14, 2007 7:05 AM


Excellent, but I have to worry. Once they have their mole successfully impersonating the real Wash, why in the nine hells would they keep the old one alive? I'm hoping that he is being held in a prison or lockup and that Jayne can really earn his money. Just hope he is okay. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, January 14, 2007 9:16 AM


Oh my god! That was... exciting! Thank you for posting so soon! I really hope they find Wash alive. I can't wait for the next chapter!

Monday, January 15, 2007 3:04 AM


“I can’t really give you a differential diagnosis based on the adverb ‘strangely,’” Simon said.

Brilliance! Have I mentioned that I love this story? :)

Monday, January 15, 2007 8:57 AM


Wow, I did not see that twist coming - but I like it! I think it's fairly plausible!

I thought Mal's thought about Kaylee not putting two and two together was a tad harsh - and if Jayne does find Wash and takes that $20,000, I will hurt him ... he better do it for free!

Monday, January 15, 2007 9:37 AM


I'm flabergasted by your ability to capture each character so well!!
Keep it up!

Monday, January 15, 2007 4:24 PM


Thanks, all. Glad you're enjoying the story, and I hope I can satisfy everyone's speculation with regard to the direction the plot might take!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007 4:07 PM


Ya's funny. This plot line works rather well with a bunny that's been hopping like made 'round the inside of my brain for a while...mostly about why they would choose Wash to double and infiltrate with;)

Still...this is brilliant writing you've done here, nauticalgal! Definitely can't wait to see how the crew just goes balls-out to find Wash. Though I hope Jayne grows over the lenght of the story to turn down the offered pay to find Wash. For some reason, I just can't picture Jayne taking that much cash off his fellow crew...


Saturday, May 21, 2011 8:43 AM


I'm reading this now! Very intriguing turn abouts and twists on what we think we know. :)


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The Four Winds, Epilogue
The end...or maybe just another beginning.

The Four Winds, Chapter 25
The rest of the crew return home.

The Four Winds, Chapter 24
Me and Elwood, we're puttin' the band back together.

The Four Winds, Chapter 23
Inara investigates matters; Mal discovers that the impossible has been done in his absence.

The Four Winds, Chapter 22
River needs Mal to solve her problem; Mal is forced to provide information to the Alliance.

The Four Winds, Chapter 21
When Mal tries to recover the cargo, will he lose more than he stands to gain?

The Four Winds, Chapter 20
Mal makes changes to his plan; River puts her plan into action; Inara decides on a plan of her own; Wash finds something he'd lost.

The Four Winds, Chapter 19
Simon gets an alias; Mal gets a look at his client; Wash gets a shock.

The Four Winds, Chapter 18
Our Heroes - and Our Villains - try to figure a way out of the mess they're in.

The Four Winds, Chapter 17
River finds out what's really going on; Simon and Zoe fall into the wrong hands.