BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

SPACEANJL

The Road to Haven: Chapter Five: Only Connect
Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A very old ship, a very nervous crew and a very pissed off Captain.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 1834    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

chapter five: Only Connect

There is hunger in the eyes of Noakes, too – Jayne can see that plain enough… but hunger for what, though?…

Something we don’t want, I’ll lay coin on that…

Cobb stands suspicious behind the crouching man - the old timer feeling the walls, swooping like a vulture as his red edged eyes catch sight of a near invisible seal. Still ain’t stopped yammering to his self… Never something to make a man like Jayne feel easy minded. Catches another half sentence as Noakes turns from inspecting the seal. The old coot is beckoning to Jayne to pry the seal apart – but there’s no connection with what Cobb hears – and Noakes ain’t looking him in the eye neither.

...called ourselves the Shakespeare Boys…

“What?” Jayne’s question provokes only a scowl.

“What ‘what’? – I say something?” Noakes spits. “Gorram ear snoops! Tchah!” waves his fingers as if warding off a sudden cloud of gnats. Truth is he’s fending off unexpected memories – the ghosts of times gone.

Looks around again at the gleaming vista around him – hell, no wonder he’s reminded of…that he sees...that he hears...

“...and a Shakespeare fan, right?”

“Sure am.”

That breaks the hostility of the crowded room around him - a little. Since the formation – the gathering – of those in the development unit, it had been almost a case-study in power-relations, the in-fighting for dominance – the fast and fickle allegiances and the hierarchies, the hates. The Shakespeare group was meant to be a way around that as well as a pressure valve against the Military and those Corporations running with them. More and more and midnight oil or no - seemed everything jumping off the drawing board just made their masters mad – fury was expressed with threats to funding, closure of projects, redundancy… shame.

Unsurprising maybe… this enormous facility hid out on the blue moon of Circe 451 and nick-named Prospero, at first – then simply The Island. Yeah, this was the factory alright, housing all the teams; from Track 1 – practical frontline arms manufacture through to Track 17 (his own) Tech reclamation and on. The man talking to him was Track 23 – Intelligence and Social Prediction. Lastly there was that milk faced bastard Smiler and his kind over at Track 29; Robotics – Miniaturisation - toys.

Yep, all the teams - in one giant complex, under one vast roof; they called it The Hut. This was way back - before the great divide turned really ugly - and he knew he didn't want purple as his colour.

And they were at least talking to each other now – cross pollinating in a cautious, overly defensive way – but cross pollinating all the same.

“How goes the Globe program?”

The voice of the man from Track 23 was as warm and compelling as his eyes. And he was one of the few scientists here didn't make him feel old.

“Pretty good – should have a self generating environment running real soon – I’ve based it on those few descriptions I could find.”

A seedy laugh as round faced Smiler butts in. “You’ve been in that thing for weeks! Talk about escapism - we have a bet over at 29. People think you’ve smuggled a girl into the theatre! Ha, ha, ha!”

Say nothing. Let the floor absorb your anger.

“Should be able to see the first play in a couple of weeks; Coriolanus, one of my favourites. Do, do you have a preference?” Nervous – looks up at the man from 23.

“Oh, well – there are so many. Measure for Measure I suppose – I like the ‘difficult’ works, they demand something more from the reader.”

“Well...I could change it…”

“No, no – I rather like the wait. And I’m sure Coriolanus will be suitably rewarding. Alone, I did it – boy. ” The man’s gaze was becoming uncomfortably penetrating, “Not exactly extolling the virtues of teamwork…”

Nothing to say to that…

… so the words he hears now cannot possibly be coming from him.

That I receive the general food at first Which you do live upon; and fit it is, Because I am the store-house and the shop Of the whole body…

And Shepherd Book, so far from Noakes - cannot possibly be hearing those words as they beat against his inner ear.

I send it through the rivers of your blood…

I send it through

rivers…

blood…

Then, on a sudden, a voice from the real world, sharp with the irritation that perpetually simmers beneath the surface.

“Shepherd? On your wanderings, you seen a certain little lost lamb?”

“The child is with me, Captain.”

Something in his tone don’t sit too well to Mal’s mind.

“Well, then, you’d both best be heading back.”

“We’re not quite done here, Captain…” And there are promises to keep...

“Don’t recall Doc’s sister being a part of this.”

“Oh, I beg to differ, Captain.” Gently, firmly, he turns the ear piece off, “Come, child.”

And miles to go before I sleep...

.....

Noakes has quit muttering – the seal opened and Jayne having dragged him through. No muttering – just a single breathless yell. “Gone!” It has the quality of a curse. “Every last ruttin’ one.” “What?” Jayne looks around the vaulted space. Nothin’ but an empty hangar. Ain’t that a shiny surprise. “The big ‘bots. The mining kit, the rigs...everything.” Noakes kicks the wall, hops a moment. Pauses, foot still in the air. “Unless...”

Jayne sighs, flicks a channel open. “Mal? We got the usual whole lotta nothin’ here.” “We got ourselves another problem.” Mal’s voice is tense, even by his standards. “River done took it into her head to go visiting. Preacher found her, now he’s got a notion to go wandering with the girl.”

“To look for what?”

”Dead folk.”

“We ain’t seen a one.” Jayne thinks. “Noakes says all the tech stuff here got dumped...”

“Not dumped. They packed it up and sent it...” Noakes is intent on a screen. “...so, just maybe the rest of the crew went with it.” “Could be so - but since the Shepherd and the girl ain’t taking their calls, we’re gonna have to find them on foot, I‘m coming back from Serenity for them.” Jayne can hear the angry coming over loud and clear. “You better work your way up towards me.” Mal adds.

“What do I get out of this, a merit badge?” Jayne grumbles, but he shoulders his gun, paces down the corridor. Li’l Miss Tapped wanderin’ off into this hoodoo box was one thing, like as not she’d find herself some imaginary friends to play with, but Shepherd acting crazy was a whole other worry.

.....

Something in Serenity’s air, or the temperature or the clutter or hell, who knows why but now it’s Wash’s turn to be busy getting back to where he once belonged...and never wanted to revisit.

“You nervous, Hobe?” That name being just one of the many reasons why.

“Only always.”

“That ain’t all truth – and you know it. Get you in the air and you cool out but good.”

Sat in the corner of the hot and crowded bar, adrenaline and alcohol swirling like smoke. A palace of cheap and easy pleasures, also poker and a natty line in shirts. Yeah Mal, that was my war.

Cluster of voices coming back through the drift – like the fragments from the damn radio. Young voices and cocksure – early tour of duty for some and for others a high octane adventure – their faces forming out of the past. Wash has tried so hard to forget all of them – and here they are again, looking through him, eyes hunting for tomorrows headline – and their names underneath. Fame.

“Good fame though,” says someone in a drunken slur. “Reporters got that thing – we have, uh…”

“Gravitas…” Wash offers helpfully.

“Yeah – that’s right.”

“Gravitas boots. We walk tall in ‘em – ha ha ha.” Jokes – even then – all about the jokes.

“You got that right, buddy.” Wash’s humour makes no dent on the inebriated guys around him. “You might be hearing Brownies crow a lot ‘bout Independence. Only one tribe, and that is,” the voice slowing now for emphasis, the man lurches forward across the table, “– that is the photo-journalist.”

“Damn straight.” The other agrees. Shot glasses kiss together.

“For real?” Wash leans back in the sweaty plastic of the seat, lazy eyelids as he looks at the taut eager faces. “Only I heard you were – you know, in bed with the military.”

“Embedded, jackass.”

“Inbredded?”

“Why you -”

“Don’t let him rile you - Hobe, play nicely now.”

“You guys – you’re too easy!”

“Can you handle the not so easy?” A new voice – and an interrupting shadow across the table, under the lights and the slow moving fans. Wash looks up – he knows that face, the calm of it and the bleak, eyes that stare further than any belonging to the young-guns haggling for Wash’s services, stare clean through today and its attendant heroisms and horrors, beyond tomorrow and on into nothing at all. Every part-time flyer and any reporter worth a damn would recognise that countenance, it has loomed so often from the cortex screen and out of the connex news.

“You must be Mike Paget…”

“Well that’s as maybe. What’s for certain is I need a skilled pilot, heard you’re it.”

“It?” Wash cracks his knuckles, “Hell, no IT about, uh, it. I’m the man.”

“You up for the job?”

“You see anyone else here called The Only Flyer Good Enough To Get You Where You Want?”

A nod then and he turns to go - Mike Paget, yeah, Death himself…

And grinning like a gorram Huo-Tze . Wash had gone dancing after.

Mike was long gone now, falling burned and blinded from the heavens, in a horror that had left Wash behind wires, throwing shadow puppets on the wall for entertainment...

...just shadows on the wall, is all...

"You think - he’s really gonna hurt her?" Kaylee says suddenly. "Not River… Preacher wouldn't do that - would he? I mean being a Shepherd an’ all..."

Wash snaps back to the chaos of the now – the upside down, the flickering screens, the cables and tools, Serenity. Wash snaps backs to the chaos of the now – and he can’t think of a single reassuring response.

Kaylee tries again, "Got to be a way out don't involve hurting each other..."

Wash looks at her solemnly.

"You mean in here? Or down there?"

...............

Dashing through the anonymous maze of empty store rooms and cabins, Book has the oddly passive River by her wrist - dragging her behind him through hatchway after hatchway into the next suite of cubby-holed rooms. He’s sure he let go for a moment - an instant in which the girl could have screamed, run, fainted or fallen - but no, she follows after like a sleepwalker, entranced.

“C’mon now Shepherd, Book tells himself, you're still going slow, Reynolds won't be.

There - an alcove, near missed - Book flings the door aside with the manual handle, bundles the girl through, turns and locks it. For a moment the two simply breathe within the darkness, long rasping breaths - and gradually the lights come up and electricity flickers into the cabin.

Cabin - which cabin?

Casting his eyes about, Book can see the familiar objects, the drab fixed furnishings -but there is a difference this time. Maps, papers...

Radio Room.

"Sit" he commands the Tam girl. She does as instructed while he turns his attention to the wall with the radio. The whole wall is taken up with circuits and junction boxes, trailing wires, ticker tape and headphone cable - so primitive looking. Perhaps an emergency back-up, not linked to a main computer - something therefore that need not be not sleek or portable... No, too crude still - lash-up looks handmade and the room just feels too private. This was one man's doing.... The force with which plugs have been rammed into sockets, the fossil drips of solder hang from the wires… all the visible evidence of an obsessive but amateur interest. Lot more than a hobby though... a private obsession – the only personal element glimpsed in this scoured and sterile place…

Keeping one eye on River - curled as she is now into the cushion, withdrawing into the fluttering of her hair and dress - Book lifts a dangling ear-piece and listens in to it. A swirl of static flashes and rumbles - an electric gurgling… The ship? A planet? The music of the spheres? A long dead relay station - broadcasting nothing now but the radio of ghosts?

Or is there more?

The Shepherd's eyes scan the work-surface beneath him, the many papers - the frantic scribbles on them, desperate looking. The writing cramped and spidery, the letters fused and disordered the spacing wayward and irregular. Loss of oxygen could be… maybe.

Or is there more?

Is this a transcription room of some kind? Had the man here been listening to the Heavens in truth? Had he been listening to God? Had he been talking for Him?

It is always in the lonely places that men think they hear the voice of God. The stark killing purity of the desert, high fastness of rock. Why should the depths of space be different? Sailing that strange sea, remote beyond all human measure, what might a man come to believe?

.......

“Captain?”

Mal is clambering out of the EVA suit when he hears the Shepherd’s voice. He grabs at his communicator.

“You seeing your way to an ending yet?”

“No, Captain – that is not what I see. I see an opportunity.”

“For what now?”

“Redemption of sorts…” The Shepherd is talking to Mal but his attention is on the still figure of River. “And what about you Captain, what do you see?”

…walls of mud, the grasping fingers of the dead, the tramping of ghosts, lost legion patrols these corridors, the faces of accusation and betrayal as the green tracer fire unpeels the night sky, how many lie in unquiet burial in the shadow of the valley of death, yet I will fear -

“Nothing. Just what passes for the norm, Shepherd. You think today should be special?”

“Are you even interested in my reasons, Captain?”

“Not much – and I don’t see you being so reasonable right now.”

“Man needs a purpose, Mal – without one he shrinks a little on the inside… you swing between the Here and the - next Here. Isn’t that so? What does that make you?”

“A survivor.” (makes me sound like a gorram hammock) “But sermons don’t motivate me overmuch, Shepherd. Whatever purpose you’re thinking on, this is a bad choice.”

“I don’t see it as a choice, Captain. Just a road I’m walking.”

“Paved with good intentions no doubt – sure the Tam girl would agree on that.”

“River has always known. She sensed it, connected with the truth of my future. She tried to tell me…”

“Oh, you think? Girl’s like to say anything - don’t mean it should be listened to. And right now – she’ll say what she thinks you want to hear. She’s had a fair schooling in that.”

"But you're perfectly prepared to use this child yourself..."

"Everyone on my Boat gotta have a use, Preacher..."

"Found that out for myself.” Book bites back the taste of his bile. “You really don’t have a notion how obscene that was to me…" The Shepherd sees again the church, where he stood at last in the pulpit to preach as he knew he ought – as he was ready now to do. He remembers the church – the empty church, the swathes of sunlight through the windows, the sound of the bell outside, the babble of the townsfolk – the alarm as Mal and the crew carried off their robbery with violence, a bitter lesson for the Shepherd. “Proved myself fair useful, I’d say…”

He had stood in the silence for a long moment, trying to quell the building rage, to feel the peace that should be his, to find comfort. His head bowed. The bandaged pages of his bible open on the lectern before him. “A child shall -- deliver-- unto you… the Promised Land…”

“...Wouldn’t you agree Captain?”

"Seems I recall you're actually leaving... so...” Mal, forever unrepentant, “Anyway, girl won't be pressured into service - she goes along if she wants, when she can."

Even if the Doc gets ticklish. Which, being him, is a surety.

"I see..."

Book is suddenly less sure of himself. Mal presses the point;

"Yet you're still looking to compel the child... that's a dark road, you go down it, Shepherd."

"Hmm," a thoughtful pause, "I'll take that under advisement, Captain – but River stays with me for now."

Like hell! Mal draws his pistol, heading off again down a corridor. Done talking.

.....

Haring round a corner, Mal is brought up short by Jayne’s glowering form.

"Don't see why you gotta get so fussed up, Mal."

Jayne stands in Reynolds's path – Captain’s been moving at a lick, breathing’s harsh, there’s sweat on his brow and a dark pattern through the crimson of his shirt.

"Fussed about? Got two of my crew in the med, one lost and another panicked dumb. Got a ship needs righting - And a preacher off my boat is holding a gun to the head of a girl... You aim to get in my way, Jayne?"

Cobb braces himself. "Only if you try to go through me, Mal - you ain’t thinking clear, gorram it!"

"Get - out - of - my - way. Clear enough?"

Mal makes an unhurried movement forward, Jayne steps back - but his gun is up.

"Well," says Mal, "here we are. Again."

Cobb don’t reply to that – he’s thinking - never something he enjoys but seems like I always gotta be the one...

"Preacher's a good man.”

"Oh you figure that exactly how?" Mal – exasperated.

"Coz he ain’t me," Jayne points out slowly, "and he ain’t you either. Gorram it Mal - he's a Shepherd!"

"And that makes a difference? Just a man with the drop on one of my crew is all."

"What - so now the crazy girl's crew? Seem to remember how she was cargo - never was too clear on why you had to keep her as a passenger - but crew? " When he gets mad, the veins at Jayne's temple tap like restless fingers at his skull - they are doing it now as he eyeballs the stubborn Captain.

Mal is stubborn – and no slouch himself at eyeballing.

"Not something you're qualified to talk on Jayne - since you tried to sell them out, sell me out..."

Cobb's gun was not wavering.

"Old news Mal - you know it, I know it."

"Oh - and you wouldn't do the same again?"

"The question is why the hump don't you Mal? Making us all on a limb - and, how many jobs untaken on account you got some noble urge... You 'noble' enough to go against the Shepherd?"

Mal’s taken aback but hell if he’s gonna let Jayne know.

"Shepherd's lost it -Jayne. Preacher's a full-blooded crazy now."

Gorram! Mal can be so dumb!

"Who ain’t in this place, Mal? You? Me? The ruttin' girl?"

"You -" Mal waves a fist, but is forced to admit, "you have a point there..."

Jayne nods, already forgot what point exactly, but of course he’s right.

"So what now," Reynolds is saying, "you got a plan?"

"Nope. Just the 'ain’t gonna shoot the Shepherd' part. Well, not right off anyways."

Mal sighs. "You think I haven't tried to reason with him?"

Jayne looks at the frustrated Captain, brow furrowed, pistol in hand, blood red shirt in sweaty disarray.

"You ain’t seeming so reasonable right now Mal."

Mal follows Cobb's gaze, looks down at himself. Oh.

"Fine. Go do… whatever, yourself," almost a laugh. "Go fix the Preacher, Jayne."

Cobb actually does nothing for a moment - there’s still some fire in his eyes. Finally starts moving back down the corridor, keeps his eye and his gun on Reynolds.

"Guess I will at that."

"Jayne?" Mal calls as the man nears the fork at the end. "Not long, that's all you get. And wasting more of my crew on this go-se ain’t making me warm to the Shepherd any."

Jayne nods, ducking round the corner and away.

.........................................

....Huntin’. Ever since he was tall enough to tote his grandfather’s old rifle. Huntin’ is what he’s good at. Something about pitting yourself against the cunning of animals - they don’t lie or taunt. Man gets to respect ‘em, learn from ‘em, even. Hell, when you’ve tracked a wounded wolf over mountains in the dead of winter, tracking a firefly leaking fuel over half a planet ain’t no deal.

Still thinks on that wolf sometimes, though he ain’t given much to thinking of the past. (Too much to regret, too much he ain’t proud of.) Critter was mortal wounded, but it had put up a helluva chase. Folks he was with was all for leaving it - couldn’t eat it, an’ it was gonna die anyhow, shot through like that. But Jayne...hell, it din’t seem right to leave a creature like that to bleed out. So he’d gone after it, given it a clean ending and a grave. Blame foolishness, but...

Something, back of those yellow eyes, something proud and unflinching, even wounded and cornered...reminds him something powerful of Mal.

......

“This is the dark ages!” Wash, all red faced and flummoxed. “Ok – pass me a sword and we’ll get down to it, wind feels right and there may be a good pig for supper later. Oh sure, tools, how ‘bout my trusty rabbit’s foot here. I have some sticks. I could wave ‘em around some. People call my sticks the magic sticks. See? See? The waving?”

Kaylee smiles at his stack blowing frustration – truth being she shares much of it, but actually… Clunk! Shoving the power-hose home she waits expectant. Wash’s eyes are caught by a fast flow of data.

“OK… good! This’ll really work! Yeah, this is gonna work… This’ll work, right?” Eyes pleading, he looks to Kaylee.

“Cross my wires hope to fly!” She smiles.

Wash’s smile back slips a little, as something sparks, another screen begins to scroll, and the radio begins to swoop and howl.

COMMENTS

Wednesday, June 18, 2008 10:38 AM

ANGELLEMARCS


And you all say I'm good with my imagination. Wonderful and creepy stuff. Way too good!!

Sunday, June 22, 2008 3:39 PM

STINKINGROSE


I'm getting a little confoozled with the flashbacks, but I'm still with ya! Just wondering where the head trips are taking us....
Good stuff!


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