BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - DRAMA

JETFLAIR

The Losing Side, Ch. 65 - Trouble in Paradise
Monday, May 26, 2008

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.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1406    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

The small hospital waiting room for the unstable actually did have padded walls, but what disturbed Mal was the contoured chair bolted to the floor, and the chilling multitude of straps sprouting from it.

“If you’re fixing to put me in that contraption –“

“Wouldn’t think of it,” said Daniels, removing the handcuffs. There was no place to sit besides the chair, which none of them were inclined to go near.

"Not fair, bein’ surrounded by a crack team of the world's nicest prison guards. Makes it hard to uphold my war-criminal-ly standards of behavior," said Mal, breaking the tense silence. Thank you for not shoving me into that god-awful chair, and for not beating me to a pulp when I gave you every excuse. For forgiving.

"I'm sure we could arrange to get Lambert back," said Lang with a cheeky grin. The slight redness of his cheeks was telling; he clearly liked being called one of the world's nicest guards, and he recognized the meaning behind Mal’s words. "There could be a cage fight," he suggested.

Mal's eyes sparkled. “Ain’t every fight in here technically a cage fight?"

Daniels chuckled. "If you're cranky about the crack team, you'll have to make your grievances to Lee. He's determined to make sure nobody who even contemplated having a mean streak two former lifetimes ago gets near you. Quite touching, the way he had our great grandparent's cats interrogated just to see if we were fit to pull a guard detail."

"Suppose I should lodge an official complaint?" asked Mal. "Guards are too rutting nice, make ‘em meaner?"

Daniels burst out laughing, and Lang followed suit in the manner of the desperately tense. The room, and most particularly the lurking, almost sentient form of that chair, was giving them all the creeps, though none were inclined to admit it. After a moment's reflection, he pulled out a pen and a scrap of paper, handing them to Mal. "Write that. I'll give it to Lee, he'll love it."

Holding the paper against the padded wall, Mal printed neatly and signed it. Sergeant Malcolm Reynolds. He handed it back to Daniels with a grin. Lee, with his lurking streak of black humor, would enjoy it.

"Are – you really gonna give that to Lee?" asked Lang, unbelieving.

"Yep," said Daniels. He was smiling, but quickly grew serious. “He’s not going to be happy with any of us, you know.”

They were interrupted by the opening of the door and the appearance of the cautious faces of Dr. Morgan, Dr. Taylor, and Kelli. “Looks like unhinged types rate the A-team,” commented Mal by way of greeting.

They ignored his words but watched him closely as Dr. Morgan spoke to Daniels. “Does he need to be in here?”

“No,” said Daniels.

Three pairs of eyes turned to Mal, seeing every bruise, scrape, and flicker of expression and body language. Mal stood, simply letting them look. Perhaps because they were civilians, he valued their tentative mutual trust.

Dr. Morgan spoke again. “So – he attacked someone? Was it provoked, or….”

“Let’s talk outside,” said Daniels, stepping out and waving Lang along with him. He glanced back at Mal before closing the door, and winked.

When they returned, it was with open expressions. He walked with them to a treatment room and sat on the bed, where they made no move to restrain him as they went about scanning him and attaching sensors and shining lights in his eyes. The trust was intact, and he didn’t flinch from their unnerving tests.

"Are you okay?" asked Dr. Taylor.

Mal looked at the three of them, trying to conjure up words. These were nice people, caring and moral people. And here he sat on the outside, the one being punished by folk who didn't want him to suffer.

"Oh, just shiny," he replied. Kelli walked to his side and started rubbing his back softly. Dr. Morgan sat down on a high chair nearby, troubled.

“I’m not a psychologist,” he said, twiddling his satin-finished silver pen between two fingers and tapping his leg with it. “I don’t suppose it matters. Doesn’t take any degree at all to know what’s going on here.” He raised his head and looked at Mal. “You’re more stable than I would be, I’ll say that much. So I’m just going to ask you how we can help.”

“Let me out?” suggested Mal. “Overthrow the Alliance? Roll politicians in batter, deep-fry until crispy, serve with lemon juice?”

Dr. Morgan gained several points with Mal by responding, unblinking and poker-faced. “I’ve had fried rat before. Doesn’t taste very good.”

Mal grinned, looking down at his toes. “What’re my options? Drugs, telling a shrink how woeful my lot in life is, padded cells, flogging to exorcise the demons….”

The doctor chuckled. “Pretty much,” he admitted with a wry smile. “The truth is we haven’t come up with a viable way to erase trauma, or make a person okay with horrible circumstances. The most we can do it try to dull the pain.”

Mal sighed. “Reckon I know how today looked.” He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to suss out how to explain this. “But if you treat – trauma, you’ll be missing the point that this was me finding a way to cope.”

He looked up, examining Dr. Morgan’s face. He was listening, and seemed not to be disregarding Mal’s words as the excuses of a lunatic, so Mal continued carefully. “If you take away how it is I figure out to stay sane in here, I really will go nuts.”

“So in other words, leave me the xie wei alone?” queried the doctor, raising one amused eyebrow. Mal nodded. Dr. Morgan tossed the pen on the counter, planting his hands squarely on his knees. “Okay. But I’ll warn you right now, if coping for you means lashing out, especially at staff, you’re going to catch yourself very neatly in a self-fulfilling prophesy. You hate small cells, chains, drugs, and getting beat up, so find a way to cope that won’t land you in your worst nightmares, okay?”

“Okay,” said Mal, casting him a grateful look. He hadn’t in particular anticipated actually being listened to. “Can I ask something?” he asked. “Something not aimed at you, per se? Just what shade of miserable are you after? You cry and condemn them that do it when I’m tortured. You comfort me when I'm depressed, soothe my hurts and always the rutting caring.”

Mal took a deep breath, his own outburst surprising him. He eyed the doctor, not wanting to attack him for his understanding, but the man appeared unruffled. “But prison's fine. Handcuff me, march me around with eyes down, take away friends – I can have nightmares every night, but it tweaks your sense of compassion if I'm sad about it, so just what appropriately civilized shade of unhappy do you got your sights on?"

There was a long period of silence. Finally Dr. Morgan decided not to brave it. “I can’t – answer that question. Not even for myself.”

Mal inclined his head forward and closed his eyes. He held still long enough to notice the familiar aches that followed tangling with cranky Alliance guards, and the wordless attentions of Dr. Taylor and the nurse doing what they were so familiar with: tending to his various pains with a sort of simple caring that soothed the soul as much as the body.

"You know what it is – ta' have decent people deem you in need of punishing for a thing you believed in as much as– as much as you believed in breathing? Thought people had the right to be free, so the civilized society locks me up?"

“No.” Dr. Morgan sighed and gave Mal a brief, unreadable glance. “You know one reason I went into medicine? Black and white ethics. Here’s a patient, treat him. It may break your heart, but –“ he shrugged.

"Thanks for tryin'," said Mal. He meant it. He should have known they didn’t have answers any more than he did.

"Sergeant – my concern is that you don't seem to realize the helpless position you're in, or how much harm some people will willingly do you if you give them the excuse."

"You couldn't get much more wrong," said Mal, blinking. “I’m pretty much the expert in that field.”

Dr. Morgan shook his head. "No. Even after that first attack, you came at us with every insult known to man. You were dependent on us to keep you alive, to keep you from being in horrendous pain, and to emerge something other than crippled, and you told me every day to go jump in a vat of acid and light myself on fire. We're just twisted enough to love you for that, most guards aren't. You could –"

"Get myself hurt?" retorted Mal, raising his eyebrows. "Here's the thing. A decent man won't do it, even if I tell him to jump in an acid bath and light 'imself on fire. Someone wants to hurt me, he's gonna string me up no matter what I do. Might as well speak my mind.”

Dr. Taylor finished his quiet work examining and treating Mal while the others talked, something Mal was perfectly content to let the browncoat doctor tend to. He used a gloved hand to dab gel on the long-suffering scrape on Mal’s arm, and on a smaller abrasion on his cheek, removed the gloves, and gave him a friendly nudge on the arm.

“Overall, definitely not one of your worse beatings,” he said with a trace of a wry smile.

“They went easy on me,” Mal agreed. “Wait a minute – what are you still doing here? Shouldn’t they have let you –“

Dr. Taylor held up his arm and pulled back his sleeve. There was no band on his wrist. “They did. I got a job offer, and accepted it.” He glanced down, slightly embarrassed by what he was about to say. “I got no intention of leaving you guys, even if it means working for – um -” he glanced apologetically and with obvious affection at Dr. Morgan, “- the enemy.”

Mal’s lips twitched in a smile that reached his eyes more than it did his face. “Good man.”

~~~~

“What am I, a wei su xìng tourist attraction?” asked Wash, feeling sheepish as he looked up at the slender, attractive young hostess who had found him in his hiding spot.

“You’re off duty until tomorrow, right?” she asked, ignoring the question for the moment. When Wash nodded, she pressed a festive cocktail adorned with miniature paper parasols and plastic coconuts into his hand. He sipped it gratefully, realizing a moment later that the sips were more like gulps.

“Thank you,” he said, grateful for her lack of talkativeness. To all appearances, he was tucked into a pocket of paradise. On the other side of the screen just in front of his face was a large blue pool surrounded by fake but convincing sandy beaches, occupied by equally fake (and equally convincing) tans and breasts. The room was ringed with the backdrop Wash was lounging behind, a photo-luminescent screen displaying a panoramic tropical paradise that changed subtly throughout the day, rotating through dawn, the sun of midday, and a sunset of spectacular beauty. The sounds of soft waves, a light breeze, and playful gulls completed the ambiance.

At Wash’s back, on the other side of the small utility space behind the screen, was a broad window showing the very real paradise of space, its stars stretching out further than the mind could imagine. Wash was the chief pilot, technically ranked just under the captain, but right now another of the five pilots who took rotating shifts at the helm of the luxury cruiser was on duty.

He was ostensibly enjoying his off hours immersed in the relaxation offered by the Lyaeus and its many luxuries. In reality, he was hiding from the excited stares and giggles of over-pampered Core tourists whilst resisting the very, remarkably pressing urge to strangle the captain. Or perhaps, to inflict a more public and humiliating death.

“That wasn’t a very nice thing of him to spring on you,” she said in a milky, cultured voice entirely free of any Asian inflection one might expect from someone with her stereotypically stunning Japanese-schoolgirl features. Wash was certain that if there was a hostess on the Lyaeus who was less than perfectly poised and attractive, he hadn’t seen her. His estimation of the hosts left him surprised that someone as humble-looking as himself was allowed to fly the thing.

He stroked the ticklish beginnings of a mustache that were emerging on his upper lip, and wondered if he could find a black goatee in one of the gift shops, and if so whether it would keep the tourists from recognizing him on his off-hours. “Do you think I have the authority to have the captain publicly whipped?” Wash asked, musing.

She laughed. “I strongly doubt it. But I’m sure there are several people on the crew who would pay you good money to try.”

He grinned. “I’m already making good money. This – this would be more like a public service sort of thing.” He reluctantly drained the last of the drink, sorry to see it go. In lieu of Captain Winston’s painful death, he wouldn’t mind several more of the same to ease the sting.

He’d walked into the formal reception that was the Captain’s Ball to be very publicly introduced by their slick captain as the rebel pilot Hoban Washburne, the roguish Independent pilot who terrorized the skies before being shot down by the powerful Alliance.

Wash closed his eyes, just as he’d closed his ears to the rest of the increasingly overblown theatrics. Even that hadn’t been enough to shelter him from the horde of enthralled tourists who stared at him, basking in the vicarious thrill of asking him to tell stories of his battles, and the dark days as a POW, and whether he would sign a little something. How many people had he killed? How big (translation: how tiny, dark, and terrifying) was his cell? Had he ever been (whisper of fascinated dread) tortured? Were those horrid Independents really as bloodthirsty as they had heard? Heads of their enemies on spikes, and that sort of thing? Could they come up to the bridge and watch him fly the ship? Had he been a smuggler before the war, or even better, a pirate? Surely after seven years in prison, he had a desperate, burning need for female companionship?

Blessed escape from the throng came in the form of a very drunk woman bedecked in what might well have been real gold and what were certainly not real Asian tattoos running in a vertical line right down her cleavage. She draped her perfumed arm around him and whispered a thankfully unintelligible invitation into his ear seconds before vomiting profusely down the entire front of his starched tuxedo. Vomit had never seemed so - welcome.

“We’re all whores, love,” said the hostess with a friendly sort of bluntness. “Put on the show, give the wealthy their thrills, and peel off the grime when you’re alone at the end of the day.” In an exaggerated move, she nudged the starched uniform so that it pushed her breasts to attention, cupped her bobbed hair with her hands until it was the personification of pert cuteness, and batted her eyelashes.

Wash laughed. “I don’t have the abs for it.”

She studied him critically. “An eyepatch and some stubble should do the trick, then,” she said with perfectly dry inflection. She stood. “I should get back to work. Welcome to paradise, then.”

~~~~~

They took Mal back to the housing unit. And an hour later, they took him out again and marched him up to the mouth of a small cell. It was only then that Daniels spoke, reassuring. “It’s temporary. You aren’t being punished.”

“What the –“ Mal tried to turn and confront Daniels but the guard removing his handcuffs grabbed his arms and held him in place.

“Put up with it, son,” Daniels warned. The guard released his arms and pushed him into the cell.

The building looked familiar from Cody’s drawings. Unless he was much mistaken he was in protective solitary confinement, but unlike Cody’s, the cell door was a blank wall of metal. The part of him who had been conscious and suffering during his ordeal in solitary confinement was terrified. It’s temporary. You aren’t being punished. Those reassuring words conveyed some important bits of information, but how about why?

“Why?” He screamed the question at the just-closed door. Every other person in the gorram place might have an excuse, but Daniels, a former prisoner, knew good and well how unnerving this was – hell, his reassuring expression had said as much, but reassurance was a gorram poor substitute for a simple explanation. He kicked furiously at the cell door.

Mal wasn’t certain how much time had passed in his assault on the door, or how he came to be standing in the middle of the tiny room, his heart racing, his vision blurred, and blood covering his knuckles. All around him, he could see a valley lighting up with fire, but he couldn’t move or shoot even as the kid beside him fell to a bullet.

The color was gone from the world. “They’re dead. They’re all dead.” His own voice sounded foreign in the wasteland.

“I take exception to that, sir,” said Zoe, snapping him out of his trance as she awoke. A branch cracked in the distance and he tried to raise his gun, but the chains around his wrists held fast, and he screamed as blackness and pain surrounded him.

He was on the floor, gasping. It was light, and warm, and his heartbeat slowly returned to normal. “Protection unit, huh?” he muttered softly. “Doesn’t protect so well against demons. Have to have words with someone ‘bout that.”

Mal hauled himself to his feet and sat on the bunk. It was comfortable, the mattress covered with a soft blanket. He lay down and put his head on the pillow with a sigh, busying himself with wiping the blood away from his knuckles. Beat up and bloody was almost a comforting state these days. If you could still fight, you hadn’t lost yet. Right?

He closed his eyes, drifting easily into the time-passing state of relaxing almost-sleep that he and the rest of the prisoners spent so much time in. You were conscious, mostly, or so you thought until you realized you’d been holding a riveting conversation with a bright blue cat.

There was a soft knock on the door, the beep and click of the lock releasing, and Khiloh’s familiar voice. “Mal?”

“What are you doing here?” asked Mal, sitting up. “More to the point, what am I doing here?”

The door closed, locking Khiloh in with Mal. He was unarmed, his duty belt removed. His jaw was set tightly. “Do you have any idea how rutting terrifying it is to show up at work and get called into Lee’s office?”

“Do you have any idea how rutting terrifying it is to be stuffed into a cell and left there with no explanation?” Khiloh’s eyes focused fully on Mal for the first time, taking in the torn skin on his knuckles before spotting the blood on the door.

Khiloh leaned back against the concrete wall of the cell and drew in a deep breath. “Look. We have very clear, very specific orders from Lee to make sure your record stays clean no matter what. It took some fancy footwork for Sergeant Daniels to do that today.”

He shifted his weight, his eyes searching Mal’s skin further and finding bruises and blood he didn’t want to see. He looked away and drew a deep breath. “Gorramit, Mal!”

“My life, not yours,” said Mal shortly. “How come you’re delivering the inevitable lecture? Why not Daniels, or Lee?”

Khiloh sighed and slid down the wall opposite the bunk until he was sitting on the floor, knees pulled up to his chest. “According to Lee, he wants me to do it because if he did, he might succumb to the temptation to beat the crap out of you. His words. And because he thinks I’m probably the only guard here you might actually trust, and if me or Daniels can’t get you to keep your act together, he’s going to bury you in the deepest hole he can find.” Khiloh swallowed uneasily. “Also his words. He also threatened to throw us in there with you if we didn’t get you to play the model prisoner, but that’s the only part I don’t think he meant.”

Khiloh paused for breath, and it was only then that Mal noticed the young guard’s hands were shaking. “This is a big deal for you, isn’t it?” asked Mal.

He nodded. “I – I think you’re in danger.” In response to Mal’s raised eyebrow, he drew a deep breath. “I’ve worked here long enough to sense when there’s something dangerous going on, and I – Lee wasn’t just mad because you took a swing at a guard, I think he’s got a lot more up his sleeve.”

“Shiny,” said Mal. “Just what I need, more people who have it out for me for no apparent reason. Line starts at the red counter, take a number.” He ran a hand through his hair, exploring the short growth that was finally making him look like someone he recognized again. “You thinking I’m in danger from Lee? Guards? Prisoners? Psychotic barbers?”

Khiloh shook his head. “I dunno. Not – Lee hand-picked all of us who work your yard, and I know he probably feels bad about what happened to you, but I’ve never heard of him going to that kinda trouble for one guy. Ever. He doesn’t call guys like me and Daniels up to his office over some low-level clash with a prisoner. I’m not-“

Mal halted the nervous rush of words with an up-thrown hand. “You get the feeling Lee’s tryin’ to –“

Khiloh shook his head. “You know that kind of pissed people get when they’re scared for you? That was Lee.” He noticed his fingers were digging into his palms and pressed them flat against the floor, trying to relax. “Guards doesn’t make a lot of sense either. Daniels and the other guys are – they’re the best people I’ve ever worked with, ever. And the guys on the other yards really don’t seem bad either. When they let everyone go they mostly kept the guys who didn’t have a grudge against the browncoats.”

Mal thought for a while. Lee wasn’t overly sentimental, and hadn’t even flinched at the sight of him after Gunderson finished his dirty work. Mal didn’t think for a second that the notion of him getting bruised up a little by humane guards when he happened to deserve it would throw Lee into fits of concern. Something was up.

“You said he wanted you guys to keep my record clean?” It seemed an odd priority.

Khiloh nodded. “That’s why – nothing’s happening to you today. No reports, no disciplinary action, the whole thing just never happened.”

“They been transferring problem guys to other prisons?” suggested Mal. “Worse ones?”

“Not that I’ve heard,” said Khiloh.

Mal sighed and considered the remaining possibility. Other prisoners. A not quite right in the head boy who trained a gun on him in his sleep, and kept getting mysteriously removed, then returned shaken, miserable, and clinging to the guards for support.

“Khiloh – you ever heard of any sort of brainwashing happening here? Rumors, dark suspicions in the back of the mind, items of that nature?”

The logical discussion of possibilities was calming Khiloh down; his hands no longer shook, and he leaned against the wall, relaxing. “No,” he said finally. “What was done to Wash in his interrogation, holding him in solitary for weeks, is about the worst I’ve heard of. This is a pretty clean operation.” He looked quizzically at Mal. “You thinking about Cody?”

Mal nodded. “Know anything?”

“Not a thing.” Khiloh sighed and shifted position. “Dunno where they take him, or why. But I just don’t see him as a threat. He’s a gentle, compliant guy. If you ask me, he shot those people because he couldn’t handle defying his sergeant. If – if they wanted to train a killer, be a lot easier to pick someone who doesn’t feel so bad about what he did.”

“You’ve got a point.” Mal stretched and groaned, more from the mental strain than from the ache that went through him when he moved. “Okay. Given as it’s so yao jin to Lee, I’ll endeavor to be the model prisoner, an’ I’ll plant an extra eyeball in my back to watch out for trouble. He’s not a guy I’m keen on pissing off.”

Khiloh met his eyes keenly. “Yeah.” He hesitated, not breaking eye contact with Mal. “You ask me – there’s a reason he had you put in this cell beyond just the privacy.” His eyes darted to the blood drying on the door where Mal had attacked it. “He was pretty mad at you, an’ – I’ll bet he knew it would freak you out.” “Tell ‘im I’d prefer a fist to the face next time, will you?”

Khiloh rolled his eyes. “What is it with you and violence?”

Khiloh couldn’t stop glancing at Mal’s hands, and Mal couldn’t either. It disturbed him. He’d not only hurt himself, he’d been barely aware of it. Mal stood and moved to the door, looking at the marks left by a stranger. To do that – a man had to be disconnected from reality. Wash had dreamed himself into a place where he could be content, at least. What did it say that his created reality was one where he beat his fists to a pulp fighting a thing that would never yield?

“How’s a man supposed ta’ fight without fighting?” he mused.

Khiloh stood and walked to his side. “Maybe by redefining what winning means?” he suggested. “Seems like right now winning isn’t how much you can hurt the other guys as it is keeping the other guy from turning you into someone else.”

Mal blinked, and spoke slowly. “That’s – what you do, isn’t it? Keep ‘em from changing you about?”

Khiloh rapped sharply on the door, signaling for another guard to come let them out. “Yep.”

“Reckon I’ll keep tryin’ to remember who I am, then,” said Mal dryly. “Bound to come to me one ‘a these days.”

COMMENTS

Monday, May 26, 2008 4:41 AM

KATESFRIEND


Some very interesting and thoughtful stuff in here and some fascinating explanations of what makes Mal - the Survivor - tick. You've put a lot of thought into getting into Mal's head, to explain how he got his quirky attitude and his motivations for surviving and overcoming his PTSD. And I think you did a great job with this summation of his thoughts here. Putting all the broken pieces together through all the chapters, you now almost have a Mal we recognize from the series. Great job -hope you're proud of yourself - you should be!

Monday, May 26, 2008 1:04 PM

KATESFRIEND


P.S. Just took a second read at your subplot about Cody and mind control and the unknown people messing with his brain. Very creepy. No wonder Mal took River and Simon in in this verse.

Monday, May 26, 2008 1:34 PM

AMDOBELL


This was fabulous. Katesfriends said it best. Can't wait for more! Did smile at poor Wash though putting up with that idiot of a Captain on the cruise liner. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, May 26, 2008 3:37 PM

WOONSOCKET


This has been great. Very interesting watching the learning curve along with some interesting questions about ethics and prisons.

Monday, May 26, 2008 4:24 PM

NCBROWNCOAT


very interesting stuff in this chapter. I can't wait to see what you have in store for Ma now.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008 11:12 PM

WYTCHCROFT


lovin it:)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 8:48 AM

UPPERSON


Don't know how I missed this for so long!

You have something really good going here. Very interesting chapter.

I will keep a better eye out for your next post! :)

Friday, June 27, 2008 3:07 PM

GUILDSISTER


An incredibly thought-provoking look at kindness and cruelty, sanity and insanity, you've painted for us here. The part about shades of unhappy was truly an amazing thought to put forth, definitely a thing to ponder.

Oh... and had to love the fried rats exchange!


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