The Losing Side, Ch. 63 - The Art of Insanity
Sunday, May 4, 2008

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?


Cole held another sketch book, thick with leather binding. He handed it to Mal wordlessly.

"What's in this one?" asked Mal.

"Stuff – I think you might like to see. I drew them in the protection unit – one of my guards gave me the book."

Mal retreated to his bunk and opened the cover. The first drawing was from inside a small cell with bars across the top half of the door. A guard was standing outside, drawn softly, out of focus. In the foreground in crisp focus were the bars, and into the slot for a meal tray was the book, being extended by a hand with a wedding band on it.

The wall of the cell had writing on it, obviously put there by the guard before the image had been drawn. "Hang in there, kiddo. There's more to life than meets the eye. – Cpl. Hansen."

The rest of the pages were filled with drawings of the prison. Buildings, yards, cells. There were few people in this one, just shadowy outlines and the occasional guard; it was the work of a man alone. There were warm, soft lights coming from housing unit windows, an overhead view of the prison showing the network of fences and yards and gates as a wash of abstract art, a corridor lined with cells that somehow managed to look beautiful, rather than desolate and cold.

Mal sighed, turning the pages and examining the drawings more closely. He recognized many of the places; the hospital, the glossy administration building, the yards, one of the buildings where he’d been taken many times for the initial, pointless interrogations. Potted plants.

The ubiquitous potted plants, yet another misguided notion of a terminally misguided government that thought a body could change the nature of a thing with rules and window dressing. That border planets could be made to resemble the Core with tariffs and laws and smiling politicians whose manners concealed the fact that the only thing that mattered was the money and connections they could make by squeezing the life blood from them who had precious little of it in the first place.

Some were unfamiliar to him. Cody pointed to the section Mal was looking at. “That’s the protection unit. Where I was.” He’d drawn it like a home, which was by turns one of the most touching and chilling concepts Mal could think of.

“You – draw this place like you love it,” said Mal. He traced his finger along the wall of a tiny cell made of concrete and steel, with blankets and pillows piled on a bunk. The cortex screen gave a pleasant glow that reflected off a small locker filled with books and drawing supplies. Three posters were attached neatly to the wall; it could be a child’s bedroom, until a person looked at the bare metal toilet and the bars cutting harshly across the top half of the locked metal door.

“It’s my home now,” said Cody simply. “I can find ways to love parts of it. I have to.”

Mal’s own love was reserved for places that were gone forever; a life that no longer existed. It wouldn’t matter if he was going to be here for eternity; he was incapable of feeling affection for a prison built by those who had destroyed it. Maybe folk with forgiving hearts like Wash and Cody could make that bargain in the name of sanity, but they hadn’t lost what he had.

Cody sat down on the bunk beside Mal, keeping a respectful distance and clearly hoping he wouldn’t be struck. “It wasn’t bad,” he said, reading Mal’s hard expression. “It was safe. Just – small, and it’s kind of lonely only having the guards to talk to.”

“They ever let you out?” asked Mal, his voice tight.

Cody nodded. “They let us take showers and go out in a yard for a while.” He gave the door of the housing unit a wistful look. “I think that’s what I missed the most. People, and being able to go outside and walk around.”

“I’m sorry,” said Mal, turning the pages and looking at the various views, the hallway lined with cell doors, the small exercise yard, drawings of the various guards, Cody himself pressed flat on the little bunk, crying.

Cody shrugged. “I murdered two civilians.” The rest, he left unsaid.

Mal nodded in reluctant agreement. “Where’s this?” he asked, pointing at a page showing a wide hallway lined with cells. Shadowy figures sat inside them, one looking out through the open, barred front.

“Maximum security,” said Cody.

“Huh.” Mal studied the picture some more. He’d seen worse places, but he’d certainly seen better. “Had a friend who was in there for a while. Were you –“

Cody shook his head. “I just – know what it looks like.”

“Oh. Right,” said Mal. An idea flashed into his head. “You know how this joint’s laid out? In detail?” Cody nodded. “You know of any way to get out?” asked Mal.

“No,” said Cody. “I mean, I know the exits and stuff, but there really isn’t any way to do it without getting caught.” His expression changed, a flash of horror crossing his face. “Sergeant – don’t do it. Whatever you do, don’t try to escape.”

“Why not?” asked Mal.

“Just – do – don’t,” pled Cody. “Promise me?” He looked truly desperate that Mal heed his advice; too desperate.

Mal raised his eyebrows. “Because you don’t think it’s possible, or because you’ve got some sort of psychic foretelling of doom thing goin’ on?

Cody looked utterly trapped, and he suddenly snatched the book out of Mal’s hands. “Shouldn’t have showed you.” He put it in his locker and almost ran from the building.


"That – was the most terrifying thing that's ever happened to me," said Lang.

"Lucky you," snapped Mal. Lang’s face froze in hurt. “I mean –"

"Look, jackass. I came to thank you for saving my life, and taking a rutting risk to do it. I found it very touching." Lang spun and started walking away.

"Hey," called Mal. There was just enough snow un-melted to the leeward side of a post for him to grab a handful of snow and toss it at Lang, careful not to use enough force for it to be mistaken for assault. "You all right?'

The line between hating the Alliance and misdirecting that hate at the good-hearted people who so naively assumed they were on the side of all that was shiny was a hard one to straddle. His attempt to verbally slap some sense into Khiloh had failed miserably; why should he hope it would be any different with this one?

Lang nodded, smiling hesitantly as he brushed the snow away. "Yes. I – I am."

"I'm glad. Truly," said Mal. A body had to live that kind of loss to understand it. And that, he wasn’t cruel enough to ask of a pleasant young man who’d never even seen combat.

Lang ventured a small grin before kneeling and packing a ball of snow to hurl back at him. For a fraction of a minute they became two human beings, unencumbered by roles and tensions. Two kids who still knew how to love the challenge of a snowball fight.

It never would have lasted regardless, but the game was interrupted by the harsh sound of the section gate opening. Before so much as three seconds had passed, Mal had backed away from the gate and Lang was standing up straight, his bearing utterly official. That was the scene the two unfamiliar officers saw, and all emotions vanished from inside when Mal saw them headed for his yard.

At one time he would have felt fear, but he had forgotten how to feel anything at these moments. The guards assigned to their yard were safe, all of them. Infernally decent men rife with open minds and good intentions. These were strangers, faces the shade of blank that could mean they simply didn’t give a good gorram, or could just as easily be covering for malice.

He met the lead officer’s eyes, and the man stared right through him. Bad sign. A kind human being, even a bored or careless one, offered some flicker of reassurance in a situation like this. All it took was a split-second softening of expression, something he’d seen a hundred times in the blank-faced officers he’d so often dealt with before the nice-guy squad took over. It didn’t require sympathy, or liking. Just human communication at its most basic level.

“Get Patton out here,” the guard ordered with utter lack of emotion. Lang hit the intercom and Cody emerged as ordered. They dismissed Lang, and removed Cody from the yard, with Mal watching closely. Cody seemed unafraid, standing calmly for the search and allowing himself to be handcuffed without a flinch.

There was no undue roughness on the part of the guards, and Mal walked inside trying to tell himself there was nothing at all amiss.


They found him when they returned from dinner. Cody was lying on his bunk, his face blank. He avoided their eyes and didn’t say a word to any of the concerned men who asked if he was okay, where he’d been, whether he’d been hurt. Mal waited for the commotion to settle down and approached with his own question.

“Anything we can do?”

Cody shook his head, not looking at Mal. He was lying on his side, half curled up like a depressed puppy, and his face was deathly pale. “If you’re being hurt – reckon I know some people who might be able to help.”

“They didn’t hurt me,” he said, calm. “Thanks though.” He closed his eyes. “Gonna sleep now.”

Mal frowned, glancing at the clock on the cortex screen. “It’s not – we just got back from dinner, what kind of bedtime is this?”

Something horribly intense flashed across Cody’s face in the seconds before he replied; Mal couldn’t place it for terror, anger, or even madness. Maybe a bit of all three. “Mine.” He growled out the word like it was intended as a lethal weapon.

“All righty then,” said Mal, standing. “Never mind with the trying to help.”


Simms awoke in fear, some instinct alerted by Mal's rhythmic breathing below him and a shadowy stillness nearby. He opened his eyes, frozen in place. Cody was standing with his eyes fixed on Mal, his head cocked at an odd angle. Simms stopped breathing when he realized that Cody had an invisible gun trained directly at Mal's head and he was sighting down the barrel.

Cody heard the change in Simms' breathing and stepped forward, catlike, still focused on Mal. Chilled, Simms launched himself at Cody, blankets and all, landing on him hard from the top bunk. The two landed painfully in a heap, and Mal was awake in a flash, hitting the light switch and blinding them all.

Simms rolled to his feet, gasping and hoping Mal couldn't see how he was shaking inside. Cody wasn't moving, just lying there – "I've never hurt anybody," he said, kicking himself as soon as the words left his mouth. Did I kill him? Was he going to –

Mal was exploring Cody's limp form with his fingers. The boy started to stir, and rolled over on his side. "Reckon he's okay," said the Sergeant. "A mite stunned, maybe."

"He was holding a gun on you, Sir. In the air –" he gestured with his hands " – a fake one, right at your head."

"That's – unsettling," said Mal. Cody opened his eyes, and Mal raised his eyebrows. "What, I'm the target of your homicidal urges now? Got a drawing of me fixin' to die in that book of yours?'

Cody blinked. "What did I do?" He looked worried.

"Fixin' to shoot me with an invisible gun, 'parrently. Not a thing I take kindly to."

Cody's face paled. "Oh, God." He closed his eyes, unable to speak for a minute. Tears started to trickle down his face. "I – sleepwalk, sir. And – sometimes I..."

"Like to practice killing people?" asked Simms sarcastically.

"He wants to die," said Cody, opening his eyes.

"I most decidedly do not," retorted Mal, indignant and resisting the urge to pat down the little hairs standing up on the back of his neck. "An even less do I need a creepy little creature like you thinkin' he's got some angel-of-death-wish on me."

Cody blinked again, looking startled. "Don't – what?"

Mal and Simms stared at each other. "Holy mother of Buddha, he's insane," commented Cole. Like the others, he was now awake and watching.

Cody looked at Mal in desperate appeal. "I'm not insane, I promise. I – ask them about my record, I've never raised a finger against anyone here. They – think I have brain damage. I forget things. I do weird stuff. I can see places I've never been and I sleepwalk. But I'm not going to hurt any of you."

Mal studied him, conflicted. "Do I need to put you under watch at night?"

"No, sir. You can do it if you want, but I'd hate to keep people up." For the first time, a hint of a smile crossed his face. "Doubt that'd help my approval rating in here any."

Mal sighed. "All right. But if you lay a hand on me in my sleep, I may just kill you. And if you go after any of these boys, I surely will."

"Okay." He said it with simple acceptance. "So you're not throwing me out."

"No. Not yet."

"Thank you." And with that, Cody went to his bunk.



Sunday, May 4, 2008 2:23 AM


Cody needs help, but I think Mal is going to provide it. Yet another thing/person for him to look after so he doesn't have to think about his own predicament. Mal needs some light at the end of the tunnel. But excellent work.

Sunday, May 4, 2008 3:13 AM


Very interesting. Is Cody an Alliance experiment like River, or is this how Mal decides to shelter River? Very interesting. Very interesting take on how Cody was mentally institutionalized, but Mal could never be.

Your characterizations always ring true. You always let your characters grow as human beings - no matter what. Looking forward to what's in store next!

Sunday, May 4, 2008 4:48 AM


Excellent work! Cody does need help but I'm unsure if he's always been insane or it was brought on by the war. Like Jane, I think Mal's going to do something to help Cody.

Sunday, May 4, 2008 6:08 AM


I'm torn on my feelings about Cody and mighty suspicious about what happened to him when those guards took him. Are they indoctrinating him to kill? Maybe to take Mal out one night and then claim plausible deniability because the young man is unstable? That's the sort of evil crazy *goushi* I would expect of the almighty not-so-shiny Alliance. If I were Mal and the others I would keep one eye on Cody at all times, just to be on the safe side. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, May 5, 2008 1:33 PM


I'm always happy to see a new chapter of this story posted, and this one was as very well-written, and engrossing as ever. Your writing and characterizations are a sheer pleasure to read.

However, this sounds like a major sub-plot taking shape here. I find myself anxious to get on with the main story--Mal, Wash, and Zoe getting through this post-war fix and on to their new lives--rather than tracking through an entirely new storyline. I am not, mind you, wanting to see this story end! I am just wanting to spend the time in the main theme and with the main characters at this point.

But, however you intend to go with this, and however long you want to take doing so, I'm on-board with you! Wonderful story.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008 12:49 AM


i think i ran out of gushing comments a long way away - but i'll just say thaht te plots are getting me very intrigued! everything else, (like y'know the uh, words!)top notch as ever:)


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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?

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