The Losing Side, Chapter 38
Thursday, March 1, 2007

Ghosts from the past come back to haunt Mal as he's brutally attacked by one of the guards in the cafeteria.


New: I now have all chapters to date of The Losing Side archived on my website for easy reading (black font on light text, easy navigation, etc.) at - the best place to go if you missed a chapter (or just started reading) or want to re-read stuff.


“Not – that I was aware of,” said Mal, his grip tightening on the chopstick in his right hand. The guard noticed the movement and slammed the side of his fist down on Mal’s hand, smashing it into the table and shattering the flimsy chopstick. Mal grunted in pain, glaring up at his attacker.

“Now that was plain uncalled for,” said Mal. “I was just gonna offer you some delicious-“

“Shut up,” snapped the guard, twisting Mal’s wrist painfully and keeping him bent forward over the table. “Now, back to you bein’ dead.”

“Not – my most beloved topic of conversation,” said Mal.

This time the guard was too busy formulating his menacing speech to retaliate. “You killed a friend of mine, got some others banished into a little place we’ll call hell. A Browncoat prisoner murders two guards and he’s sitting here as casual as you please eating dinner? Something wrong with that picture, if you ask me.”

“I’m okay with it,” said Mal. “Or – I would be if I knew what you were talkin’ about, that is,” he added hurriedly, acutely aware of the concerned stares of his fellow prisoners and the questioning looks they were sending his way.

“What do you take me for, an idiot?” asked the guard. “I was there, I pretty much know what you look like.” With his free hand he hit Mal under the chin, forcing his head up and studying him. “I like you better when you’re screaming. Missed my chance before, what with tryin’ to keep my best friend alive despite all the bullets you put in his chest. You ever watched a friend die, scumbag?”

Mal’s eyes went dark as he replied, “More often than in your worst nightmares. By Alliance fire, I might mention. And wasn’t one of them tried to murder folk locked in a prison.”

The guard looked directly into Mal’s eyes with grief and loathing written on his face. “When you killed those men, you didn’t take into account they had family. Us. We stick together and we give a damn when someone like you kills one of our own.”

Tell that to Khiloh, thought Mal. You bastards don’t make much of a family for him. “And I give a damn when someone locks prisoners in a building and tries to burn them alive,” he replied fiercely. “Any prisoners. But when they’re people fought on my side of the war, you’re gonna see the lethal sort of giving a damn.”

“Oh, mine’s lethal too,” said the guard, speaking with a chilling softness. “It’s just going to be the exceptionally painful sort of lethal. I may go to jail, but you won’t be walking away from this one.”

Mal recognized serious trouble when he saw it and tried to wrench free. He felt something in his wrist pop, and a yip of pain escaped his lips. The guard smiled in pure enjoyment, twisting harder as Mal struggled. “Sometimes dreams do come true,” he said affably. You’re gonna pay for them, an-”

“What – were they expensive?” asked Mal innocently, with a grin on his face despite the pain shooting down his arm. He glanced over and addressed Wash, who was watching with much of the color gone from his face. “Taunting sadistic idiots is a painful hobby, but so very – satisfying,” he said cheerfully.

A flash of rage crossed the man’s face, and maintaining his grip on Mal’s arm, he yanked him forward over the top of the table and dragged him onto the floor along with a collection of food and dishes. Mal froze momentarily, but quickly reconsidered that particular option when he saw a boot headed rapidly for his face. He rolled away and scrambled to his feet, raising his hands and backing just out of range.

The officer knelt and grabbed a broken half of a heavy ceramic plate, hefting it momentarily in his hand and sizing Mal up with a malicious gleam in his eyes. Mal stepped back from his advance, still keeping his hands in the air as he tried to dodge the officer’s assault without doing anything that might get him killed at a later date. He was furious at being unable to defend himself, but he had exactly no desire to relive the wrath of these people when one of their own was attacked.

“Um – help?” called Mal, looking around the cafeteria for other guards who might be less eager to kill him. His distraction was his undoing as he backed unawares into another table and stumbled back, half landing on it. For a split second he lay there, looking up at the high, domed ceiling and hearing the echoing commotion of hundreds of people reacting to the sudden activity.

The attacking officer seized his opportunity and slammed the broken edge of the plate brutally into Mal’s face. Mal felt a sudden burst of pain in his forehead, and moments later his eyes started filling with blood, obscuring his vision. He threw himself sideways out of range and stumbled to his feet. The officer had dropped the plate, and as Mal retreated he withdrew his club.

Mal cried out, a yelp of surprised pain as his attacker slammed the club across the back of his shoulders. Choking back his rage and fear, he forced himself to ignore the powerful urge to jerk the gorram club out of the officer’s hands and beat him senseless with it. It took all the self-control he had to simply turn and run, but the blood streaming down his face kept him from seeing the chair blocking his path. He tripped and landed hard on the ground, the cafeteria wall preventing any further escape.

The heavy thud of polymer and metal across soft flesh aroused sickening memories in Mal’s brain even before he registered the pain of the three blows the guard directed to his upper arm in rapid succession. Fight. You’re not restrained. One against one, you can take him. With a deep breath, he gathered his legs under him and launched himself with determination at the hazy red figure.

Another blow to his aching arm was followed by a startling convulsion of pain as the guard activated the shock function on his baton, dropping Mal to his knees, and a kick to the chest knocked him to his back as the blood in his eyes blinded him completely. Stepping on Mal’s stomach to hold him down, his attacker pressed the tip of the baton hard into the wound in his forehead and held down the shock button.

Mal screamed as his entire head exploded in fiery agony, and he convulsed so violently in a desperate and successful struggle to free himself that he almost jerked the attacking guard off his feet. As the man fought to regain his footing, Mal curled himself into a ball, trying to protect his head and stomach and wiping the blood momentarily from his eyes.

His whole body was shaking; what Mal was feeling went beyond fear and into simple devastation and horror. The knowledge of just how deeply vulnerable he was to these men, how unblinkingly they could plunge him into unimaginable pain, had never left. Months of gentle treatment by Khiloh and the other decent guards vanished in that moment, leaving Mal trapped in a state somewhere between sickening panic and complete apathy.

The guard brought his club down hard on Mal’s upper leg, forcing a stifled yelp from his lips. He glared up at his attacker. “Didn’t I already do this the once?” he asked through teeth clenched in pain, trying to fight a crippling absence of hope. Enraged, the man raised his club again and Mal braced himself. He was screaming at himself to move, to fight, but to his own inner fury he remained frozen in place.

The blow never came: through a blur of red he saw the officer’s arm stop in mid-swing as his body lurched backward.


Wash had been watching in shock as his friend was attacked and tried doggedly to escape the beating this psychotic officer was so determined to inflict, his stomach giving a sickening lurch as he saw the blood streaming across Mal’s face and chest. He followed the officer at a cautious distance, watching as Mal continued to struggle to get away. Two pairs of guards were fighting their way through the crowd from opposite ends of the room, and he knew that if Mal could fend the guy off until they arrived, most likely they’d step in and stop the attack.

Then it all changed. He saw his friend Mal, the Mal he knew had been beaten nearly to death, on the ground crying out in pain as a club smashed against his body. Crying out like he had in his nightmares. Wash’s muscles tightened in empathy and rage, and he felt tears suddenly sting the backs of his eyes when he heard Mal’s bitter “didn’t I do this the once?” He resolved right then and there that Mal was not going to take one more blow, consequences be damned.

Wash stepped forward and grabbed the officer’s arms firmly, yanking him back and halting the next blow in its tracks. He twisted the loose material of the man’s uniform and jerked back as hard as he could, almost making the guard fall, dragging him back, trying to keep him off balance without hitting him.

Absorbed in the struggle, Wash didn’t notice the approach of the other guards until he was hit sharply across the back with an electrified baton. He fell to his knees with a startled scream, and another blow knocked him to the ground. Wash took a deep breath and bit his lip as his arms were forced roughly into handcuffs behind his back. ~~~~~

Chaos was erupting around Mal as the world faded into a bloody red blur. People running, yelling. Wash’s startled cry of pain. Footsteps all around him, echoes ringing through the building. He braced himself as he heard people kneeling beside him and felt strong hands flip him on his stomach and force his arms behind his back.

He didn't plan the terrified yelp that escaped his lips; he heard it as though it was coming from someone else. It was that exact sequence which preceded his excruciating beating after the fire, and it took him several seconds to realize that he was screaming: screaming not in pain but in the primal fear of a man reliving a nightmare.

"Wait!" he heard a firm voice command. "Take it easy, this guy just got ruttin' attacked."

"Like hell! He attacked me, you -" the voice of his attacker protested.

A third voice cut in. "Attacked YOU? I saw you drag him across the table and start beating on him, don't recall him making so much as a -" A scuffle broke out as the man who'd attacked Mal lashed out at him once again, but the attempt was blocked by more officers.

"Arrest him," ordered a commanding voice. Mal’s stomach tightened, but the indignant cries of his attacker told him who the voice had been referring to. Mal's arms were released, and the man who’d been holding him spoke. "Sorry, sir. I couldn't see what happened, hope I didn't hurt you."

"Wash?" yelled Mal, trying to scramble to his feet. A hand pushed him down and held him, firmly but not unkindly. He was allowed to roll over onto his side, and he listened worriedly for his friend's voice in the chaos. Mal relaxed when he heard a familiar voice reply a little breathlessly.

"Right here, Mal."

"You okay?” asked Mal.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Wash replied. The voice was coming from ground level, and he sounded stressed.

Mal tried to look at the man holding him down, worried. "Don't hurt him, sir. He wasn't attacking your man, he was just trying to protect me is all. You all feelin' bloodthirsty, you can beat on me some more if you like."

He was released, and someone gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder. "Don't worry, he's fine. Nobody’s beating on anyone – at least not any more, that is."

Mal took a deep breath, relaxing. His heart was pounding from fear and adrenaline, but he was slowly coming to the realization that nobody was hurting him. He raised his arm to try to wipe the blood from his eyes, but a firm order stopped him. "Hold still."

He obeyed, lying still on the floor with his eyes closed and his head throbbing. Someone slid a hand under his head and held him gently, supporting his still-shaking frame. “You’re okay, sir,” said the man holding him. “I’m sorry that happened to you. We’ll take care of you, you’re gonna be fine.”

Unable to see, in pain, and surrounded by people he didn’t trust, he was as isolated in his body as he had been during the last agonizing attack, but something was far different. It was mercy. It was rescue and a kind touch, a reassuring voice talking to him. His breathing steadied and he relaxed against the hands holding him, reaching out from that isolation and allowing himself to feel.

More officers were kneeling beside him, and he felt a touch on his shoulder. “How badly are you hurt, sir?” asked another voice. “What happened?” The man holding Mal answered for him, letting him lie still.

He felt someone carefully wipe some of the blood from his face, and tried to blink his eyes open. “Best keep those closed, sir,” someone said. He felt a hand turn his head and a pad was pressed firmly over the wound on his forehead. He let out an involuntary whimper of pain. “Sorry, sir,” said a gentle voice, accompanied by a steadying hand on his arm. “You’re losing a lot of blood; need to keep pressure on that wound.”

“S’okay,” murmured Mal. They didn’t know his history, couldn’t possibly how good it felt inside, being cared for instead of hurt. He was intensely grateful for that comforting touch, and he could feel months of nightmares melting away. In that moment, lying on a concrete floor with his head and his arm throbbing, covered in his own blood, he felt safer than he had for one second since the attack.

It was everything he’d cried out for so desperately as he was being beaten: for someone to simply stop and listen to him, to display a modicum of humanity and have the compassion to see what agony he was in. That evening, he’d screamed in vain until unconsciousness had claimed his broken soul; this time, someone listened.

“We need to be takin’ you to the hospital, sir. You want for us to call a team out with a stretcher, or you up for walkin?” asked the officer supporting his head.

Mal wanted to stay right where he was. His stomach had lurched slightly at the mention of the hospital. “Sir?” the guard prompted.

“Just call for a stretcher,” said another voice.

“I can walk,” said Mal. “Don’t so much fancy bein’ lugged about.”

“Okay. Let’s start real easy and have you sit up.” Mal obeyed the direction, and someone wrapped gauze around his head to secure the pad over his forehead. It also had the effect of blindfolding him, and he resisted the urge to shake his head to rid himself of the annoyance; he didn’t figure his ringing head would appreciate that move. You couldn’t see anyway, moon brain, he chided himself.

Two men helped him to his feet, supporting him until his head stopped spinning. “You all be rememberin’ I can’t see,” said Mal, sensing movement, but unsure where to go and less than anxious to be kicked around any more. They took his arms carefully and led him forward.


Friday, March 2, 2007 12:26 AM


Good gorram, this was painful but entirely imaginable. So vivid I almost felt the blows my own self. Very happy that viscious pyschotic guard got stopped and arrested and that Mal is going to be treatment for his wounds. I just hope he is treated properly and not beaten on again once they have him away from the eyes of the other prisoners. And Wash, dear sweet Wash, hope they take the cuffs off him. Really proud of him for trying to stop his friend being slaughtered. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, March 2, 2007 2:19 AM


I'm reminded of a particular Mal quote. "I didn't come here lookin' for a fight. Always do seem to find one, though." Mal is just a veritable black hole of bad luck.

Hell, if Mal beat on every man who'd killed one of his friends, he wouldn't sleep for a year. Nicely handled. I'm glad our favorite "large, semi-muscular man" stepped in before Mal's face was rearranged further. Keep up the good work.

Rob O.

Friday, March 2, 2007 7:31 PM


I'm so glad you're continuing this series, jetflair. I like how you're exploring the idea of mental trauma being even more severe than physical trauma in a person who is made powerless. I'm still dying to know where you are going with the list from Chapter 36 though. Keep it coming!

Saturday, March 3, 2007 8:02 AM


Ohh...this was just all kinds of brilliant, jetflair! Between the vicious beating and the surprisingly humane treatment Mal ticker was getting tugged every which way;D

Gotta wonder how this episode will spin later, cuz I get the feeling that Mal and Wash will be needing to testify to someone like Lee about their version of what happened. And that's not gonna be easy...


Saturday, March 10, 2007 12:56 PM



Thanks for sticking to your guns. I know I wanted a more violent Mal, but as you have shown, I would have been wrong. Can't have a dead Mal can we? ;)

Is that a reverse emotional breakdown I am sensing?


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The Losing Side, Chapter 68 - Farewell to Bars
Mal is finally released by the Alliance, and says his goodbyes to friend and foe before being assigned a job in stapler quality control. In the meantime, Wash rebels against the perfection of his new job by buying dinosaurs and loud shirts. This is NOT the end of the story! :)

The Losing Side, Ch. 67 - Bombshells
Everything changes in the space of minutes when Mal is taken to Lee's office and confronted with two very different shocks to the emotions.

The Losing Side, Ch. 66 - Nature of the Beast
A long chapter full of conflict, trust, and musings....and a cliffhanger! An evil, evil cliffhanger.

The Losing Side, Ch. 65 - Trouble in Paradise
Wash wants to strangle the captain of the shiny new luxury cruiser he's flying, and Mal learns that something dangerous may be afoot....with his name on it.

The Losing Side, Ch. 64 - How to Win a Losing Battle
It's a tricky tightrope between trauma, rage, and finding yourself....but Mal is learning to walk it.

The Losing Side, Ch. 63 - The Art of Insanity
Mal may have more then he bargained for in Cody Patton, the mysterious and potentially deranged artist in his housing unit. Is the one real war criminal among them a threat, an asset, or just a damaged young soldier?

The Losing Side, Ch. 62 - Aiding the Enemy
Mal saves the life of an Alliance guard, and starts having serious doubts about his own mental state.

The Losing Side, Chapter 61 - Juggling Frustrations
Mal keeps on finding new and disturbing facts about one of his fellow prisoners, and Wash learns to juggle (and smuggle) goslings.

The Losing Side, Chapter 60
Wash gets a job, and Mal perfects his Alliance-taunting skills while developing an unlikely fondness for getting shots. Oh, and there's an artist who's a mite off.

The Losing Side, chapter 59 - Sharing the Night
Mal, Wash, and Zoe spend a sleepless night together, and Wash experiences some of the first joys of freedom.