Wish I Was Somebody Else, 22/26
Friday, April 6, 2007

In this chapter: the Big Damn Plan falls completely to pieces.


AN: There's more than one way to name a very small planet; I've used Isaac Asimov's terminology because I thought it appropriate.

22. If Everybody Could Just Be Quiet a Minute

Serenity quickly outdistanced the obdurate Lemon, in spite of Wash’s efforts, cutting everything except his own wrists in an effort to coax more speed from her. River kept a close eye on the upgraded scanners Kaylee had installed, and wished that Mal would calm down a little bit. His bad case of nerves was making her jittery.

“Passing the lawforce post,” River reported, and Mal looked over her shoulder at the screen. The free-floating police station was the only permanent Alliance presence in this area. Shouldn’t be a problem. Probably didn’t have much in the way of resources; just a small patrol cruiser docked alongside, total personnel complement of maybe a dozen officers and supporting crew.

“Just keep us out of sight,” Mal said, and River nodded.

Not far beyond the lawforce post was a small, undeveloped mesoplanet. Mal pointed it out to River. It was plenty large enough to hide an Alliance destroyer.

“I see it,” River said. “But I have no way to see through it.”

“Go around it,” Mal said. “I want to know there’s nothing back there.” So River altered course and slewed them around the rocky world. They found nothing beyond it but the usual vasty nothingness. Mal stood in the middle of the bridge and stared into the reassuringly empty black.

As they came around the far side, though, a telltale lit on the pilot’s console. “Captain! Polyphemus!” River cried.

“Where?” Mal was at one shoulder in an instant; Zoe hovered anxiously over the other.

“Behind Wash. I think they’ve spotted him, sir; they’re altering course and accelerating to intercept.”

“Nee ta ma duh tyen-shia suo-yo duh run doh gai si.” Mal hit the comm. “Wash, you’ve got company.”

“Where? I don’t see ‘em.”

“Alliance destroyer Polyphemus, with our friend Coles. Coming in high on your port quarter astern. They’ve spotted you.” He looked down at River. “Have they seen us?”

“Not yet,” River said.

“Hold us out of their range,” Mal said.

“It’s not an exact science,” River told him. “What do you consider an acceptable margin of error?”

“Margin of --? Just keep us where we can see them and they can’t see us!” he demanded. “Wash, abandon ship! Take one of the shuttles, get out of there. We’ll pick you up somewhere.”

“Oh, sure, and lead them straight to you,” Wash replied. “That’s a brilliant plan.”

“Wash,” Zoe said, “That ship is not mechanically sound.”

“Yeah. Bummer,” Wash said. “Mal, if they see two ships the game is up.”

“Take a shuttle. Run for it,” Zoe insisted.

“If they don’t see you, they might well hear you,” Wash said. “Mal, get the hell out of here!

Wash cut the comm.


Wash prayed that Mal would have the sense not to let Polyphemus see Serenity. If anyone but Coles knew about the second ship, their plan couldn’t work. Nevermind that Coles’s presence here, now, boded ill for it in the first place. There was still no reason he could see to sabotage it themselves.

The Alliance destroyer appeared on his monitors, and Wash glanced at the readouts. They were moving to overtake him, but he still had some distance on them. What he needed was a chance to get off the ship and away without them seeing him. If he could get away unseen, maybe the plan could still work. And if he couldn’t . . . well, the plan might still work, there would just be an unintended casualty. Happened sometimes, with Mal’s plans. Except Wash had never, himself, been that casualty.

He hoped fervently that today would not be the day that changed.

Wash looked out into the black, at the mesoplanet where Serenity had last been. If he could get beyond it, with sufficient lead time, he might be able to get to one of the shuttles and get around the horizon, or find a nice hiding spot on the surface. How much lead time would he need? Four minutes, he estimated, would be enough – barely.

“Okay, baby,” he said to the ship, “hold together for me.”

He hadn’t been on a trajectory to take advantage of the small planet’s gravity, since that hadn’t been his original destination, but he changed course now to do that, managing to pull fractionally more speed out of Lemon. Still nothing like Serenity could do, and nothing like what he needed right now, but more than he’d had.

He checked his monitors. Polyphemus was going to overtake him. Wash watched her inexorable approach on his screen, and worried. The destroyer was too fast, and he had too far to go to safety.


Aboard Polyphemus, Coles watched the firefly on his monitor and wondered which ship he’d netted. He’d never actually gotten close enough to Serenity to be able to tell for sure, and he hadn’t paid enough attention to the decoy ship he’d used on Beaumonde to be able to identify it, either. It had already been in place when he’d arrived, and he’d abandoned it upon leaving, expecting never to see it again.

He’d been underestimating Reynolds, then.

Coles was determined never to make that mistake again.

But by that reasoning, he had to assume that the ship he’d cornered was the decoy ship, and not Serenity. Which put him in a bit of a bind, as far as leaving his options open.

”Here’s my proposal,” Reynolds had said in the recording. ”You pick up Serenity at these coordinates – or a ship that looks like her, anyway; one you might recognize. She’ll be a ghost ship, with six bodies aboard -- me and my crew. On the bridge, there’ll be a sealed envelope for you. It will have DNA and other identifying samples, collected by my doctor, who as you know is very capable, so no fears on that score. You can use those to show positive ID on the bodies. When you’re asked how it is that we’re all dead, just say your deep-cover agent found an opportunity to execute his standing orders and notify you. And he’s not there because he’s gone on to his next assignment, or been extracted or some such. I know there are people who know Van Soren died, but my guess is, that information will be buried so deeply to protect the guilty that no one will ever make the connection. Anyway, I’m sure you can finesse it so it works. Van Soren was your agent, after all. And I can put him on camera for you somewhere, later, if you need it,” Reynolds had said with a smirk.

So Coles had shown up early, and caught a ship. Probably the decoy ship. And if the ship Polyphemus was rapidly overtaking was the firefly from Beaumonde, and not Serenity, the only living soul aboard her would be Washburne.

He might just have to be sacrificed to the cause, Coles reflected. Coles’s cause, and Reynolds’s both.


“They’re heading this way,” River said.

“I don’t need to be psychic to know that,” Mal snapped.

“We need to draw them off,” Zoe suggested, her voice strained.

“Not with Serenity,” Mal said. He wasn’t ready to give up on his plan just yet. “We need a distraction. Distress beacon or something.”

“Coles won’t fall for that again,” Zoe said.

“No.” Mal thought hard. How had Coles found them? He hadn’t come directly from Sihnon – not to end up here, on that trajectory. He had to have followed them from Whitefall. But how had he known they were there?

The police post. That patrole cruiser, docked alongside. Had there ever been any point on Whitefall when nobody was watching the monitors? Two, actually: when he had sent them hunting bodies, and when he had set them to loading the bodies. At one of those points, somebody had seen Serenity on Whitefall and tipped off Coles. Probably somebody from that post. Which meant Coles knew it was there, too; would know that a distress call from the lawforce post came from a real location. “That police post. He might answer a distress call from them. River, how long would it take us to get there?”

River consulted her instruments, punched some numbers into the navigation program. “Keeping out of sight of Polyphemus, hard burn . . . fifty minutes, maybe less.”

Did Wash have that much time? Could Wash make that much time? One thing was sure: Mal didn’t want to sit around watching helplessly while Polyphemus took Lemon into custody with Wash aboard.

Mal grabbed the intercom handset. “Inara, come to the bridge. Kaylee, Jayne, Simon – meet me in the cargo bay!”

When Inara appeared, Mal pulled River out of the pilot’s chair. “Inara, you’re going to fly Serenity.”

“I’m – what? Mal! Are you out of your mind?” she protested, as he shoved her into the still-warm seat.

“Don’t worry, you don’t have to do that much,” Mal said. His plan was still taking shape in his mind. “River’s going to set the autopilot; we’ll rendezvous with you beyond the police post. All you have to do is sit here and keep an eye on things, and not run into any big hard things, like, oh, planets. River, show her what she needs to know.”

“I don’t find it comforting to think that I won’t have to do anything unless there’s an emergency,” Inara said.

But Mal was talking to River, now. “Once you’ve set the –“ he stopped. River had gone deathly white, and her dark eyes were as wide as saucers.

She’d caught his plan right out of his head. She knew what he meant to do.

He held her gaze. Can you do this? Is this too much to ask?

“Scary monsters,” River breathed. But she swallowed, and transferred her terror-stricken gaze to Inara. “I’ll show you,” she said.

Mal touched Zoe’s arm, and they headed for the cargo bay.


“No way,” Jayne said, backing up into the doorway of the med bay as though he might make a break for it. “No gorram way. I’m not doing it.”

“I’ll go first,” Zoe said calmly. She pulled herself onto the exam table and laid back.

Simon looked unhappily at Zoe, then Mal. “Are you sure about this?”

“I’m sure there’s no time to argue,” Mal said.

Simon’s face twisted with deep distaste as he pulled the hastily-mounted scanner over Zoe’s face. “First, let me make sure I can undo it.”

“Just faces,” Mal ordered, when Simon seemed set to scan Zoe’s whole body. “No time for more.”

“Small mercies,” Simon muttered, pushing the scanner away and bringing the microsurg array over Zoe’s face. He held up a plastic eye shield: two small black egg-shaped cups joined by a nosepiece.

Zoe took the eyeshield and put it on. “Do it.”

Grimly, Simon turned on the microsurg equipment. It misted Zoe’s face with an anesthetic solution. Then the cutting beams, barely visible, came on.

“Unrecognizable,” Mal said. “She has to be unrecognizable.”

Simon ignored him, working alongside the microsurg array to peel back the skin of Zoe’s scalp, and around her lips, adding piercings, making her horrific. When she stood, Jayne backed clear into the corridor.

“No gorram way,” he said, barely audible. “You ain’t making me into some abomination.”

“Yes, I will,” Mal said. “We go blazing into that police post, putting our faces all over their security vids, no way will we ever be free men again, and I am tired of running. Coles is going to take my bribe, because it’s what he wants more than anything, but if we show our gorram faces somewhere else while he’s supposedly nabbing us, he can’t. And he’s going to give Wash a chance to get out, because he can’t leave some little police post to be ravaged by reavers.” He fixed Jayne with a hard-eyed glare. “You will do this.”

River appeared, carrying an armload of wicked-looking blades – knives from the kitchen, hatchets from the fire cabinet, a wide-bladed sword Mal had never seen before. She had also procured cudgels from somewhere.

“Reavers don’t use guns,” she said, when they looked at her. She laid the blades on a stack of boxes, and they could see that she had also changed her clothes. The outfit she wore was worn and bullet-ripped leather – an old outfit of Zoe’s, pulled from the slop chest.

“No,” Simon said. “Mal. No.”

“Shuttle holds four,” Mal said. “I got four fighters to put on it.”

Simon shook his head, unable to speak.

River walked over to her brother. Her face was still bloodless, and her hands were visibly shaking. “Wash spoke up for us,” she said. “Right from the start, and always. Right now he may be doing even more than that. Unless we act.” She sat on the exam table, pulled herself up, reclined. “It’s not permanent.”

Zoe laid the eyeshields over River’s eyes.

“She’s my sister,” Simon said weakly, pleading with Mal. “She’s just a kid.” A kid who could take out a bar full of rough men; a kid who had butchered an army of reavers single-handed. But they all knew that. And they all knew she was still just a kid.

Mal gave him a crooked smile. You have no idea just how many kids I’ve sent to fight. To die. And most of ‘em not half so well prepared as River is. But what he said was, “Well, you ain’t done me yet. Once you done River, you can take it all out on my face.”

Simon bit his lip, and started on River.


Friday, April 6, 2007 7:18 AM


le gasp! Wash is going to get away right!? RIGHT!?
That's really creepy, Simon maikn' them all look Reaverish. Ew.

I hope they're all going to be all right. This story is most definately not good for my nerves.

Friday, April 6, 2007 8:32 AM


Joss killed Wash. How could I do less?

Friday, April 6, 2007 6:03 PM


Cruel, Nauti, cruel...

...but then, when does Joss ever do the same thing twice?

Or, for that matter, when does he do exactly what we expect him to do?

Never mind, absolutely LOVING this story, more soon please, pretty please with strawberries on it?


Saturday, April 7, 2007 11:42 AM


that first sentece, "Serenity quickly outdistanced the obdurate Lemon, in spite of Wash’s efforts, cutting everything except his own wrists in an effort to coax more speed from her", was great. I liked the rest of it too, but that sentence structure really sticks out in my mind.

Sunday, April 8, 2007 6:33 PM


Mackon, I would be thrilled if you did!

Monday, April 9, 2007 2:54 AM


Um, if there's a way out of this where you get to keep writing Wash along with the rest, could you urge your muse fast burn in that direction? It'd be a service to the readership, eh?

Well done, scary monsters and all.

Thursday, April 12, 2007 2:58 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER this is just utterly Whedonesque in its completely insane but cunning plan, nauticalgal! Cuz it's only one step up from decorating Serenity like a Reaver vessel to disguising the crew as Reavers to fool the Alliance...

Write more and faster! We need to find out if Wash survives being chased and if the Plan B works right;)


Thursday, April 12, 2007 5:35 PM


Actually, it was already written before I started posting, but it takes me time to copy it and fix all the formatting.

Wash's fate is already determined, and was from the start.

Glad you liked!

Saturday, May 21, 2011 5:55 PM


Insane plan, coming right up.


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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.