The Road to Haven: Chapter 3: Girders of Babel
Friday, June 6, 2008

Last chapter for today. Wouldn't want to be flooding the BSR, would we? Still us, still crazy after all these years...


Chapter three: Girders of Babel

The first surprise is the light - triggered by their movements, sure, but it feels like visitors were expected. Mal has been picturing a derelict, dark and broken - but the walls run smooth, a bright vaulted space. A sense of dislocation, for this clean neutral space speaks of absence. There is nothing to show that people have ever walked these corridors - but gravity pulls their feet to the floor and Jayne's boot leaves a dark scuff. Mal checks the colour patch on his wrist, then real cautious, cracks the seal on his helmet.

Even before the first breath of air strokes his nostrils, Mal smells the memories. Seems impossible - and no doubt some Wash or other would point out that it WAS impossible - but all the same, this air that has been scrubbed and filtered so many times - become purely the idea of air - reeks of memories.

Flings him with that first breath - in a flash back years, back a life - back to a claustrophobic and excited first billet at an Independent blockade post. More than a life away now - back at the early end of the war, when people - children - like him kicked through the mess of dumped bags, heavy boots, trinkets of home and grabbed whatever bunk space could be found. Lay down bone-weary but wired tight, lay down and steamed with the cramped and mighty adventure of it all. Later there was restlessness, high hopes, and boredom adding to the stew. Later still there was fear.

Yep... Mal knew that funk well enough and possible or not - despite the orderly nothing of the surroundings, the lack of a single personalised trace - it fills his nostrils now .

Maybe everyone here died too.

Dead folks got the drop on us before - never again. Mal can see it writ clear on Jayne's face. Cobb is twitchy, but there ain’t even shadows to start at - not in this bright and eerie-ass place. Reminds Jayne of hospitals - or them sky jails the Alliance seems so sweet on.‘Cept he don’t even remember a hospital that felt this... Never knew clean could be - creepy. Hoists his gun a little higher.

This ain’t the first derelict they’ve come across. But they are well clear of Reaver space here, hell, well clear of anywhere and gone. This place has air and light and power, still travelling after all these years. Somehow that’s the worst thing of all.

Kaylee has not taken her helmet off - a gesture Mal has noticed, turns to her now, says,

"You'll be wanting to go play Doctor with the Doctor?" (Jayne guffaws loudly, - Kaylee's blush is visible clear through the glass of her EVA helmet - but so too is a very determined look. ) "You do that then," Mal nods, "Like to need you gettin' Serenity right sided again."

Kaylee blinks.

"You can do that, l'il Kaylee." Mal adds with confidence, provoking a grin from the woman. "Tell Wash I want my ship back."

"Sure Cap'n." She's already turning away, only too glad to leave. Mal watches her go.

"Damn." Noakes comes out with it suddenly - "She was as pretty as new boots."

"Oh, she's cherry blossom," Mal agrees. "Can't say the same for us. Now, are we are going places?"

Noakes sighs. He moves across to a large block, almost a small obelisk, with a wide grill on the face, and there is something in him that makes Mal look twice. There's intent and purpose there, not the quick greediness of a scavenger. Ain’t but a thought away to come up quick and sudden behind the man.

“And do you want to be tellin’ us exactly what we are going to be walking into, before we do?”


Kaylee’s so keen to get back into the homely confines of Serenity, she don’t notice the figure, splayed like a quiet starfish over her head. River gently folds herself down from the ceiling, graceful even in the suit, and tilts her head. Feels the pull on her, obeys...

No maps for these territories. Beyond the realms of human knowledge, only electronic eyes have seen these storms, metal birds riding a solar wind, messengers ahead of our coming, their siren call across the void to mark our way.


“This was an early exploration vessel, one of the advance ships, sent out before the Exodus. They were pathfinders, hell, you might call ‘em the torch-bearers. Left the trail lit up like Christmas for the big ark-ships to follow. Only I guess nobody ever caught up with this one...”

One spark of light in the void, a mote in God’s eye, a pearl of wisdom in blackest night, a stone that yet carries life within it. We are the Word in the Darkness. Beat upon by wings of night, the fear and ignorance that thrive in dark places, and what is darker than the reaches of unbeing we travel?

“...This is the Endeavour. The lost ship. One of the great bogeys of the spaceways. Gentlemen, we are going to solve one of the mysteries of the early times...”

“That’s all well and good, but what exactly was this thing carrying that’s worth a damn?”

“Knowledge, Captain. This ship was built and launched from Earth-That-Was.” Noakes’ old hand touches the wall with a kind of reverence. “And somewhere in this place, there will be a central computer. We’ve lost such a lot over the years, do you realise that? The Core Worlds have handed over their liberty for security, exchanged progress for stability...”

“You wear brown during the War, Noakes?”

It’s a pointed question – but Book’s already gorram sure what the answer will be. I’m just following my own footsteps through a dream…

“He wore white.” Book says quietly. “Didn’t you - Professor Noakes.”

“Been a long time since I had call to use that title.” Noakes gives Book a beady look. “Ain’t all of us using the names and titles we were born with.”

Mal, though mindful of the last run-in he had with science gone wrong, has known Noakes for years. The transition from crazy old coot to cool man of science is proving a difficult leap. But the gnarled hands are sure as they work across the console.

“Back in the day...” a grim smile, “back when we all had lives, there were some of us who believed that we could make a difference, restore things that were lost. Machines that could be sent into places you wouldn’t send a human.”

Mal thinks on it, nods.

“Like the hunter-seekers we had for mine-fields.”

“I’m talking about machines that did more than go where the operator sent them. Artificial intelligence. Machines that could make decisions.” Mouth twists in disgust. “Only corporation that would give us a grant was Rossum-Tyrell.”

“The love-bot makers?” Yeah, Jayne would know that.

“The same.” A snort. “A real case of make love, not war. And then of course the Guild weighed in, all sorts of pressure, about ‘counterfeiting humanity‘. But then, all through history, it’s been the same. So much cheaper to use people. Because with the right tools you can programme people, too. Propaganda. The mystique of the fighting man.” Sideways glance. “Religion.”

"Well, that's fascinating history," Mal's attention is, as ever, on the practical. Ain’t the time to be dancing with shaky legs. "Let's get to dealing with the here and now." Eyes the blank wall. “You think you can get an inward hatch open?"

"Can't but try." Noakes is keen to agree. “What do you normally use to get through locked doors, Captain?”

“Jayne.” Mal admits. “But I’m thinking you might want to be using something a little more subtle.”


River stands by the doorway, but what she sees is not the curved metal and rivets, but...

I have looked into the mouth of darkness, and there spoke the tongues of angels.

....- spindles of metal, tiny hollows, alcoves, tubes leading to tubes and into the dark. So much metal, like a taste on the back of her tongue - like a child licking batteries. She sways against - part of a wall - can't tell, can't be sure... but the feel of the metal, its thickness - in fact all around her, the air pressure, the weight, the mass, the density, the space - (filled once with flesh and breath and light) - the dark... all these she can measure, quantify, calculating exact all the equations of madness that this place contains. Like a hard hand across her mouth - a physical impact. She was tired - she was frightened - and yet and yet and yet... now? Still walking, feeling, exploring.

“... that's my story... blank pages... diaries, logs and files decayed - check again, no manual on this one..." Intoning with every step. "No dolls here..." and no dressing up, no need to perform... that should be freedom - should taste of freedom, not the coppery on her tongue, right now, but - "I miss the dolls..." paradox and true. On Serenity - each twist and curve - each cabin and bunk - that's how she finds her way, marks her path, taking one doll out from inside another - leaving a doll as ensign to her passage, breadcrumbs through the forest, dolls within dolls... :

This one, child tiny, for Simon, the smallest doll that could be contained - bar the last, the near invisible, the most secret "Shhh! We don't tell"... and the biggest doll for Jayne - tall, fierce with demon eyes, coal black all Baba Yaga - and so he's afraid... Next, on down to Kaylee; "This doll, is your sister - she's beautiful and you should be afraid too - crazy sister like that..." And the blank doll for Zoe - "Not a child, not your child", blank faced totemic, nothing but cargo, truly - "haul me off to some planet soon as ordered..." Bright and crazy doll for the boy-man, who has the best toy of all, colours of childhood still in his eyes as he flies... ..and the best and the brightest doll for last - Yes... keep that coy determined doll for the Captain - huh, leave it in the cockpit, he knows... "wrapped around my finger soon enough - made safe." Missing - missed - forgot - left some dolls behind - Inara took hers, middle doll wrapped in muslin and taken back to Sihnon or some Companion Moon... and the Shepherd... what doll for him? The innocent - the martyr - the virgin - what to suit? "I don't give a hump if you're innocent or not!" so what then? Which doll does he require? What key to unlock the number of the Priest?


“You were a scientist?”

Noakes rubs slow fingers against the damp of his neckerchief, glancing up at Jayne’s disbelief with a sly look. "That ain’t no secret – that’s just a long time ago... Brownies never made the most of their available resources..." an edge of bitterness creeping into his tone, "And I ain’t purple minded so - here we are."

"Here? Where the good gorram is here anyhow?" Jayne slams his hand to his thigh impatiently. "You got us into this - no two ways ‘bout that!"

Noakes eyes the big man worriedly and Shepherd Book moves swift to placate the riled Cobb.

"Perhaps it was providence Jayne..." He looks the man in the eye, his expression mild.

"You mean like fate?" Jayne sounds sceptical.

"Fate's just a word, Jayne. Let's see what we find..."

Noakes nods eagerly.

"Could be all kinds, treasure and such - you said it yourself, Cobb."

Jayne growls - but he knows the truth of that, so, a shrug. "Hell, gotta be someone watching our backs Preacher."

(River’s small figure ghosts behind the men. There is a Presence here. It hides beyond sight, but the feel of it is a hundred needles upon the skin...)

"I'm glad it's you, Jayne," Book smiles, patting him again on the arm.

“Well, ain’t this just a sunny Sunday’s worth of gladness,” scathes an irritated and restless Mal. “But way I hear tell – Sunday’s a day of rest – are we resting here?!”

Noakes wriggles deft away from both men, a fistful of wiring uncoiling from the ‘obelisk’ through his fingers as he does so - plugs the loose trailing ends into the wall. Huh.

“You want to feel that, Captain?”

Mal puts a hand out to the section nearest of wall.

“Spongy,” he says with some surprise, “What is that – rubber?”

The only reply is a flash of eyebrows as Noakes connects a few cables, maybe a sigh too – only that weren’t…

Jian ta de gui!

“Pick a door Captain.”

There are doors right enough. Doors all over. Doors everywhere.


For Kaylee, ‘door’ means re-entering Serenity through the turned around airlock, not so hard – entryway being designed for a ship’s routine spin – but the Cargo Bay itself, just a mess of fun. Boxes and crates – even with Serenity’s paltry take of late, always some shipment, supplies, small payments, personals – left luggage. Tools, lot of ‘em. Steam hammer, screwdrivers, torches, drills, a heap of brittle teeth set in the mouth of the new defined area looking to bite the unwary.

Oh ,sure, there’s a path cleared by Jayne and Mal but in the hectic rush to the mystery ship, Kaylee never did notice how hard a path it was, still littered and uncertain and - basically not the floor.

Good news for now; Mule ain’t busted free, straps have held. Upside down won’t drop the vehicle much. Bad news coming; Serenity slips any more, another lurch leaves her sideways… mule’s like to pitch engine over fork - being hit by a mule just ain’t heartening to think on.

Well ,then don’t. Got a mind full of distractions – try some of them instead.

Hell, that don’t help much – biggest distraction of all’s laid up in sick-bay and can’t do a thing for him till we lay hands on some med-packs…

Ain’t reassuring to hear the groan from the ship as Kaylee forces herself forward one foot at a time.


Stood outside the Med-bay, Wash is trying to gather his thoughts.. This is the place known to passengers as the Common Area. Crew don’t call it nothing but ‘upstairs’.

Should be calm… why am I not calm? Hell, Zoë seems ok, considering, you know – concussion (not so sure of Simon though – little pasty). Also there’s the whole not currently listening to the scarifying radio up on the bridge. Yep – got that going on… and to get back to, uh – that actually being not so good – but still…

Hey c’mon buddy, keep with the positive!

Look around, it’s not so bad. Well, ok – it’s pretty bad but...

Common area’s a wide space, that’s a bonus, fair simple to step around the up-turned table, the chairs, supplies and the like burst from the latrine door open above – trail of white paper, soft explosion of shaving cream.

Could be a worry though – we got four bars of soap lurking somewhere about. Oh – yeah, a mighty danger – I’m scared of soap now? Not buying it, fella.

Also, one shirt, a single ear-ring from a client of Inara, a drawing – River’s, an upset box of pastels, a blade of Jayne’s. Crumpled maps, Ariel or Bellerophon maybe, couple of palm-tops, a silver wrist-band mighta been Saffron’s… some pieces of a word game, a ball and a tumbled set of jacks, glinting under the weak lights.

Watching them slide now around the unevenly angled ceiling/floor – not reassuring. Feeling the rumble and shudder through the iron and nickel, the sudden unpredictable tilt - that’s worse.

But the real bad – the thing to send him shivering – is… just a feeling… a trace of sensation… it’s just in my head a buzzing in the undertow of his thoughts – a static interruption – it’s just the magnetic field – a shimmering haze on his mind’s horizon…


Silent fires across the neural networks – white heat travelling down the wires – a thousand, thousand, thousand, thousand combinations of instantaneous thought connection – too much to contain and too much to express, except as fire.

But folk’ll see things in fire – human nature since the cave dwellers huddled together in the rain lashed mountains, since the roaming tribes camped on the night cold plains, since there were hunters in the fetid swamps and up on the bilious ice floes, human nature to blow into the smoke and the spark, the ashes and embers and to see the living shapes of flame drawn visions, to cast bones before the incendiary theatre – seeing stories, histories and prophecies dream. So it is now – people feel the fire and they see – things…


Friday, June 6, 2008 8:56 PM


Wow! this has me hooked...more please!!

Keep flying ;)

Saturday, June 7, 2008 10:00 AM


Agree with Kimber. I think it has great plot and is got me wanting to read more.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 3:38 PM


You two work well together! It's seamless. I love it.

Monday, June 16, 2008 4:01 PM


like a child licking batteries... I'm just curious, is that something you've done?

Noakes and the derelict, interesting

enjoying Mal's flashback life


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