Wish I Was Somebody Else, 8/26
Sunday, January 28, 2007

Coles decides to lay a trap for Serenity.


While I have a minute, here's chapter 8. For Jetflair, who has seen this before: I've revised this version just a little from the one you saw.

8. What the tyen shiao duh is going on in there?!

After Miranda

For two days after the Miranda broadwave, Coles could find out nothing. Everything was shrouded in high-level security. All he had to work from was what he already knew, and what he could guess: there had been an operative-level operation involving Serenity, and it had gone terribly wrong. The Miranda broadwave was how wrong it had gone; that information had never been meant to be public.

After two days of fruitless and frantic attempts to discover what might have happened to Van Soren, Coles received a terse message from one of his friends at Intel. It read simply: “KIA.”

Coles stewed. He’d invested a lot in that operation, and it had been pulled out from under him and botched. Right thoroughly botched – his deep-cover agent was dead, and Serenity’s crew, Coles guessed based upon the fact that their faces were all over the Cortex with the word “Wanted” underneath, was not in custody. Botched. By a Parliamentary operative. Coles fumed. For two days after the message from Intel, Coles could not focus past his anger.

Then one morning he woke with the memory fresh in his mind: he had not ordered Serenity’s pilot killed, but held. The man was still alive somewhere. And on the heels of that memory came a notion: perhaps he could accomplish what Parliament’s own operative had not. And what a career coup that would be.

Coles rose, dressed, and ordered an aide to ‘wave the local thug who had assisted him on Beaumonde.


It took longer than it should have for Coles to secure a ship to take him to Haven. No one was forthcoming as to why, but the implication seemed to be that pretty much every ship assigned to that quadrant had suffered enough damage to make them unsuitable for his purpose. Recently. Coles finally called in enough favors and pulled enough strings to have the destroyer Polyphemus brought from just outside the quadrant for his use.

So it took far longer than he wanted to arrive at Haven. But he was finally in orbit, and had confirmed with the Foreman of the mine that Prisoner 8366B27, Hoban Washburne, was present there. He walked with his aides to the shuttle that would be dispatched to retrieve the pilot.

“Do you want us to secure his cooperation, sir?” one asked; a euphemism for beating the man half to death prior to questioning.

“No,” Coles said. Washburne surely knew what the Alliance was capable of; Coles wanted to see if he could ‘secure’ the man’s cooperation without beating him bloody. One short broadwave, sent from the Foreman’s office on the mine, by a hale and unmarred Washburne, would be less likely to tip Coles’s hand to Reynolds than a communication that showed obvious evidence of coercion, in the form of cuts and bruises and that haunted post-torture look. “But put a tray of instruments in the room, just to remind him what we might do.”

“Sir,” his aides said briskly, and stepped into their shuttle.


“Professor? Got visitors,” Balch said, and he didn’t sound happy about it.

Wash looked up from his datapad to see Balch flanked by two men in Alliance uniforms.

That couldn’t be good.

“Come with us,” said one of the Alliance men.

Wash looked at Balch, but saw that he’d get no assistance there. Balch looked displeased, but resigned. So Wash rose and followed the two men through the mine, up to the landing pad, where a small Alliance shuttle waited. They ushered him inside, where he took the seat they indicated and wondered whether they were taking him to be tortured. Or executed. Or worse.

The shuttle lifted toward atmo. It was a nice shuttle; Alliance short-range, but short-range in this ship was long enough to get from one inhabited world to another, in the hands of a skilled pilot. And Wash just happened to know one of those.

They hadn't bound him; out of arrogance, carelessness, or even because, perhaps, they meant him no harm, Wash didn't know and didn't care. He might not get another chance like this.

The fire extinguisher was along the baseboard, next to his seat. The officers were chatting blandly in the two cockpit chairs, paying him no heed. Wash reached down with his right hand, and popped the straps that held the fire extinguisher loose, grasping it around the neck.

They were leaving atmo. The pilot would be occupied for a minute or two, unable to leave his post unless he wanted to crash in pieces. Drawing a deep breath, Wash pulled the extinguisher free and rammed it around the seat in front of him, into the Alliance man's head.

The pilot swore, and the ship rolled as he reacted to the surprise. Wash and the other officer tumbled into the aisle between the seats, and Wash lost his grip on the extinguisher. It rolled to the back of the shuttle.

The officer he'd knocked in the head grabbed him by the ankle. The pilot had regained control, but was swearing and shouting at the other officer. "Folson! Lock him down! He'll crash us!"

"Working on it!" Folson shouted, struggling to get at Wash. Wash kicked Folson's hand loose, and scrambled onto his hands and knees, going after the fire extinguisher. Folson landed on him from behind, knocking him flat and kidney-punching him with one hard fist. Wash kicked again, trying to roll over, get loose, get an angle in the narrow confines of the aisle, but they were out of atmo now, and the pilot had come to Folson's aid.

Wash heard the click and whine of a gun. "Give it up," the Alliance pilot said. Folson's grip loosened, and Wash rolled onto his back, to see the man standing over him and Folson with his pistol drawn.

Folson struggled to his feet. Wash was momentarily pleased to see the bloody imprint of the fire extinguisher cylinder just above Folson's temple, but only until the man reached down and grabbed him by the collar, slamming him against the bulkhead at the back of the cabin.

"Coles said not to hurt him," the Alliance pilot warned.

"I ain't gonna hurt him anywhere that shows," Folson growled.

Somehow, Wash didn't find that reassuring.


Coles stood in the anteroom, staring through the one-way glass at Washburne, strapped in a chair, rigged with electrodes. Slumped. Dull-eyed. Casting occasional miserable glances at the tray of medical instruments set up just out of arm's reach.

"I said not to soften him up," he growled at his aides.

"He attacked us, sir," Folson protested, touching the bandage above his temple. "All I did was get him back under control!"

"He was able to attack you even though you followed standard operating procedures for prisoner transfers?" Coles demanded. "He was able to attack you even though he was fully secured?"

"Never can tell what these criminals are capable of," Folson protested.

His other aide, Coles noticed, said nothing.


Wash sat slumped in the chair the two Alliance officers had strapped him into, casting occasional glances around the room. Besides the chair he sat in, it was plain; about two steps away was a rolling cart which constituted the room’s only other furnishing; laid out on top of it were lots of pointy things, and lots of electrical things. Wacky fun. Wash shuddered. For all its antiseptic appearance, this place put him in mind of Niska’s skyplex, where he’d had the worst beating of his life -- worse even than Folson's bare-fisted workover -- followed by what had seemed like hours of electrocution torture. It had taken a long time for the nightmares to subside, after that incident. The nice clean tray of pointy things seemed to suggest that he might be in for similar unpleasant treatment here.

If anyone ever showed up, that is. Wash waited in silence for what seemed like a very long time, and finally said “Hello? Is anybody there?” To his surprise, the door slid open and an Alliance commander carrying a datapad stepped into the room. He looked Wash over with distaste, then consulted his datapad.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Well, the mine Foreman calls me Professor,” Wash said. He wasn't feeling especially cooperative. “Although I’m not, actually. A Professor, that is. It’s just a nickname he uses so that he doesn’t have to call me 27. Either they don’t tell him the names of prisoners, or he’d rather not know, I guess.”

The officer glared at him. “What is your given name?” he repeated. Wash sighed. “Hoban Washburne,” he said meekly. “Although, I bet if you run a search on the Cortex, you’ll find hundreds of guys with that exact same name, so are you really sure I’m the one you want? Because I could probably make a pretty convincing case for being somebody else entirely, right now, if I tried. I’m fairly highly motivated in that direction.”

“What is your occupation?” the officer asked, ignoring Wash’s suggestion.

“Well, right now I seem to be a number-cruncher, although I doubt that’s what my official job title would be, if they bothered to give me one,” Wash offered, drawing another cold glare from the commander. “I dunno . . . actuary? Auditor?”

“You’re a pilot,” the commander said. “Just say so. What is your occupation?”

“Why do I need to say so if you have all the answers already?” Wash asked.

The commander stepped forward and backhanded Wash across the face. “I do not have time for stupidity,” he said. “I am going to ask you some very simple questions, and you are going to give me some very simple answers. Or I can invite Ensign Vlad in to play with his toys a while, and then we can try this again. Now. What is your name?

Wash tasted blood in the corner of his mouth. “Hoban Washburne,” he said dully.

“What is your principal occupation?”

“I’m a pilot.”

“Who was your most recent employer?”

Wash debated how to answer that one. The man seemed to be asking questions he already knew the answers to, so likely he already knew the answer to that one, too. “Captain Reynolds,” he said.

“Of what ship?”

Again, Wash hesitated, but finally said, “Serenity.”

“What is your wife’s name?” the Commander asked

Wash looked up sharply. “My wife?”

“You’re married,” the Commander said. “Your wife’s name is Zoe Alleyne Washburne. Answer the question: What is your wife’s name?”

If his hands hadn’t been strapped to the arms of the chair, Wash would have thrown them in the air in frustration. “Zoe Washburne,” he said. “What is the point of asking me a bunch of questions you already know the answers to?”

The Commander gazed at him levelly. “How far would Captain Reynolds and your wife be willing to go to get you back?” he asked.

Wash blinked at the man. The game had shifted, he understood that. This was not a question whose answer was already in the officer’s datapad. So the point of making him answer a bunch of questions they already had the answer to was . . . what? To convince him that they already had all the answers, so that he’d answer questions they didn’t have the answers to more willingly?

Then the pieces came together in his mind, with a click that was almost audible. The Alliance wanted to lay a trap for Mal and Zoe and Serenity, and they wanted to use him as bait. How far would they go? indeed. The answer was easy enough, with Mal – Mal had gone straight to an Alliance cruiser to get medical help for Book, after all. And from there they’d gone straight back to a town full of crazed hill folk who’d been about to burn Simon and River at the stake – and Book, Simon, and River weren’t even members of Mal’s crew, on anything more than a temporary basis at least. When it came to his crew, Mal had a singleminded all-for-one attitude. If he knew the Alliance was holding Wash, he’d likely walk right up and demand him back.

And risk the ship and everyone on it in the process.

Well, Wash wasn’t Serenity’s captain, and Wash didn’t think in those terms. Wash thought largely in terms of Zoe; viewed through that lens, the choice being offered to him was to risk Zoe’s life in the hope of saving his own. Maybe Mal or Zoe wouldn’t see it that way, if they were in his situation. Undoubtedly, Mal or Zoe would, through cleverness or strength or Mal’s peculiar brand of lunacy, manage to stay alive and warn the others and get rescued. But Wash wasn’t clever, and he wasn’t strong, and he wasn’t the same kind of crazy that Mal had shown him at Niska’s skyplex. What Wash was, was concerned about Zoe walking into an Alliance trap from which, in all likelihood, neither one of them would emerge alive. I won’t be bait for your trap, Wash thought. And realized that if he managed to convince the Alliance that he was worthless to them as a hostage, they would probably go ahead and kill him.

He drew a deep breath, knowing that it would probably be one of his last. He wished, sadly, that he could have seen Zoe at least once more, if just to say goodbye. But better that she be free, than that he should bear some guilt in her capture. “Hell, Mal’s probably already got a new pilot,” he said; he didn’t have to fake the bitterness in his voice. “And Zoe, hey, she’s probably in our bunk right now humping Jayne.” He’d meant that last as bravado; he wondered if the fact that he choked on the words even as he said them would make them more, or less, convincing.

The Alliance Commander stared at his datapad, his nostrils flaring slightly. Wash wondered if the man would just pull his sidearm and shoot him on the spot. Or invite this Vlad fellow in to play with his toys. Wash’s gaze was drawn involuntarily to the tray of pointy things, and his skin prickled with gooseflesh. If they were going to kill him, would they torture him first just for fun? Or practice? Or spite? Please, God, just let them shoot me.

But all that happened immediately was that the Alliance Commander turned sharply, and walked out of the room.


In the anteroom, Coles paced. His datapad was tucked under his arm, but he didn’t need to consult it again. The readings had been clear enough.

Washburne had lied.

The implications of that were staggering to Coles.

It implied, first of all, that the man was, to some extent, loyal to either his wife, or his crewmates, or both. Honor among thieves? Coles marveled. Also, it implied that Washburne believed they would, to some extent, be loyal to him. He didn’t really believe they would have replaced him; he didn’t really believe his wife was already sleeping with another man.

But why lie? Unless he was a complete fool – which, Coles acknowledged, was a possibility, but not one he thought highly likely now that he had questioned the man – Washburne had to know that his principal value at this moment was as a hostage. And that if he had no value as a hostage, there was probably no reason to leave him alive. Had the man been aware of that particular implication of his lie?

Coles had looked in Washburne’s eyes; he had seen comprehension there, and resignation, too – that Go ahead and kill me, I won’t cooperate with you look Coles had seen during the war, interrogating Independent prisoners. Yes. Coles believed that Washburne knew the score. That he had lied deliberately, to protect his crewmates. That he was aware, in doing so, that he risked forfeiting his own life.

Courage and loyalty. In a petty thief. Wonders never ceased.

So. Washburne wasn’t going to cooperate. Put him on a ‘wave to Serenity, he’d likely say outright “Don’t come. It’s a trap.” A man who couldn’t be threatened with his own life wasn’t going to knowingly set up his friends. But his lie also implied that Washburne, at least, believed they might come for him. Which meant he wasn’t entirely lacking in value as a hostage. It just meant he wouldn’t help to lure Serenity in.

Of course, Coles could take the vid of Washburne’s interrogation, and send it to Reynolds, and Reynolds might come – but he’d know he was walking into an Alliance trap, then. He’d be prepared.

A direct approach wasn’t going to work, in this instance.

The indirect approach would have to start with letting Reynolds and his crew know that Washburne was alive. And then letting them know where he could be found. And ensuring that they wasted no time in getting to him.

Coles called his aides. “Put him back on the mine,” he said. “Tell the Foreman to leave him alive until further notice.” Then he went to make contact with the toothless man on Beaumonde.


Sunday, January 28, 2007 1:05 PM


Brilliant! Love Wash and how you have portrayed him. He might not think of himself as a Big Damn Hero but he is, just hope Mal and Co get to him before Coles gets his evil plan off the drawing board. Can't wait for the next part, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Sunday, January 28, 2007 2:32 PM


Hurrah I love how this is unfolding keep it up!

Sunday, January 28, 2007 6:10 PM


Oh...this was some mighty shiny work, nauticalgal! Between Wash's internal monologue during his prison transfer and his schtick to Commander Coles? I honestly thought I was reading an adaptation of something Joss had written for small or big screen:D


Wednesday, January 31, 2007 7:59 PM


So far, soooooooooooo shiny!

Saturday, May 21, 2011 11:00 AM


Interesting. Alliance is still trying to decide what to do with him, but unfortunately, they haven't realized they set things right up for the crew to steal him back.


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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.