Storm Front--Part XIII--War Counsel
Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Marcus has a talk with Mal, and Adam tries to reach out to his father.


Marcus walked onto the bridge of the Hit or Miss to relieve Pierre. “Any luck with deciphering the transmission?” he asked hopefully.

Pierre stretched and stood, relinquishing the pilot’s chair to his Captain. “Not so far,” he said tiredly. “I don’t think the program is sophisticated enough to handle this one. It’s been running all night, and it keeps coming up with exactly nothing.”

Marcus sighed. “Thanks for trying, anyway. Might be we need to get Murdocke on it. Sometimes he can find a window, if not a doorway.”

Pierre nodded. “S’what I was thinking.”

Marcus smiled. “Anything else I need to know before you go?”

“Nothing,” Pierre said. “Everything’s been quiet. Spent the night waiting for an Alliance cruiser to show up, but so far, we’re clear.”

“Well, at least there’s that,” Marcus said, folding his long frame into the seat. “Sleep well.”

“I intend to,” Pierre said, heading out the door.

Marcus stared out into the Black, thinking it a minor miracle that it was currently devoid of Alliance ships. He’d watched the news on the Cortex before coming to the bridge, and the reports coming from the Skyplex were vague at best. Apparently the government had managed to manipulate the media yet again, and the story said next to nothing about the shooting of innocent civilians on the Skyplex. There had been the briefest mention of the slain doctor, but surprisingly, there was no mention at all of Jim’s escape. Marcus could only assume that the Alliance had no wish to explain what Jim was doing in their cell in the first place. Taken together, the omissions in the report were far more troubling to Marcus than what the report had actually said.

Hearing a footfall behind him, he looked around to see Mal standing in the doorway. “Permission to come in?” Mal asked, smiling.

“Come ahead,” Marcus said, indicating the co-pilot’s chair.

“Any news from River this morning?” Mal asked, settling down with a sigh.

“None so far,” Marcus replied. “Would have thought you’d have been in touch with her already this morning.”

Mal looked out at the Black for a long moment. “I conjure we need to keep communication down to a minimum. Assuming that nobody saw us board this ship, it won’t be a good thing for the Alliance to intercept any waves between ships. Would bring the hounds baying, I expect.”

Marcus nodded. “True enough, I suppose. But there has been no sign that we’re being followed, at least not yet.” He paused for a moment, not sure how to broach the subject on his mind. “Mal, is there something you’re not telling me, something that maybe I need to know?” He looked intently at the older man, willing him to answer plainly.

Mal cocked one eyebrow and smiled winningly. “Why do you ask?”

Marcus sighed, disappointed with his answer. “You seem….distracted. Not quite yourself. And it’s fair obvious to me that your crew is a little worried as well.”

Mal sighed. “Guess I’ve got a lot on my mind,” he admitted. “I mean, think about it, Marcus. How likely is it that me and mine are ever gonna have another moment’s peace, now that Jim’s a fugitive? Zoe’s been with me a gorram long time, and I’ll be damned if I’ll turn them out to fend off the wolves by themselves.” He paused, looking out the transparency. “And even if I did, do you think that the Alliance would ever believe that I didn’t know where they are?”

Marcus took a sip of coffee from the mug he’d placed on the console, trying to give his friend the benefit of the doubt. “So, what are you gonna do?”

Mal leaned forward, staring intently into the younger Captain’s eyes. “I’m gonna quit running,” he said. “Gonna see to it that my children don’t have to hide from their government, don’t have to cower on Rim worlds all their lives.”

“And how exactly are you going to do that?” Marcus asked.

Mal drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “With your help, I hope,” he said. “That’s why I came to find you this morning, truth be told.”

“What is it you want me to do?” Marcus asked curiously.

“I want you to help me find the new Independents,” Mal said.

Marcus sat back in his chair, taken aback by the bold statement. “Are you sure there even are ‘new Independents’?” he asked.

“You said yourself you’d heard rumors,” Mal replied evenly. “And every Rim world Serenity’s been on in the past year has been seething with the possibility. And some one somewhere is orchestrating the so-called ‘terrorist attacks’ on Alliance facilities.”

Marcus looked at him sharply. “You’re certain of that?” he asked. “Because I haven’t seen any evidence of it other than some sketchy reports on the Cortex.”

“I’m certain enough,” Mal replied grimly. “I have a contact or two that confirmed some things for me.”

“Is that who you were talking to on the bridge yesterday after you talked to River?” Marcus asked, watching intently for Mal’s reaction.

For just a moment, something ugly flickered behind Mal’s eyes, but it was gone as quickly as it had appeared. “Didn’t know I had an audience,” he said, his voice a little tight.

“Answer the question, Mal. Is that who you were talking to?” Marcus pressed.

“Yes,” Mal said reluctantly. “I didn’t want to get you involved with this particular contact, or I would have told you earlier. He’s not the most….trusting of folks. Doesn’t like to leave loose ends. It’s taken me a gorram long time to gain his trust enough to get any useful information from him. But he’s valuable to me.”

“Then why do you need me?” Marcus asked reasonably.

“Because you’re somebody I can trust,” Mal replied without hesitation. “Someone who will tell me up front what I need to know. And you travel the Rim worlds, have your own contacts. You’re bound to be able to come up with some information that would be useful.”

“Useful, huh?” Marcus said. “You mean to start a war, don’t you?”

“I mean to end one,” Mal said firmly. “You and I both know the Alliance is never gonna rest until all the worlds spinning are firmly under their heels. I’ve been trying to ignore it ever since Serenity Valley, but I tell you now, I’m done ignoring it. There are folks out there, Marcus, folks like you and me. Folks that would take up arms and fight for their freedom, if they had a leadership to turn to.”

“And you intend to be that leader?” Marcus asked, his throat dry and his pulse hammering at his temples.

“If that’s what it takes,” Mal replied, holding his gaze.

“What about your family?” Marcus asked. “What are going to do with them whilst you go off to fight this hypothetical war?”

“They’re coming with me,” Mal said, a hint of asperity in his voice. “Can you think of a safe place for them, once things get underway? Anywhere I leave them, they’ll be vulnerable. And don’t think for a moment that the Alliance wouldn’t use them to get to me.”

“Oh, I have no doubt of that,” Marcus replied, thinking privately that the man to whom he was talking sounded a galaxy away from the friend he knew. “Just can’t imagine how you can hope to win a fight against the Alliance, dragging your family along.”

“We can win,” Mal said, leaning forward in his chair with enthusiasm. “We can. With the right information, we can gather an army. And we can join forces with these folks who are throwing stones at the Alliance now, and turn random acts of sabotage and rebellion into a systematic, sustained attack on a regime that needs to go, and go now. Dong ma?”

Marcus looked at Mal for a long moment, silent. “Can’t say the thought of having a shot at the Alliance isn’t tempting,” he said softly. “You know as well as I do what they’ve done to me and mine. But this isn’t something to be entered into lightly, Mal. Could be the end of everything, and it’s a sure bet that you’ll lose at least something that you can’t afford to lose even if you succeed. I think you need to think about it long and hard before you go forward.”

“I’m done thinking about it,” Mal replied flatly. “Thinking about it ain’t keeping my people safe. Just look at what almost happened to Jim. And then there’s Simon lying in there in your infirmary. And what about my wife? You think for a minute that she could walk into an Alliance facility without fear of being a guinea pig for their experiments again? And Adam. If they knew about Adam, really knew what he can do, there’s nowhere in the ‘verse he’d be safe. So, I’m done thinking. I intend to act. Question is, are you with me?”

“Mal,” Marcus said, sighing heavily. “You really expect me to give you an answer right this minute?”

Mal smiled thinly. “Was hoping that you would,” he said, letting his disappointment show. “Was hoping that you could see the necessity of it. But,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “I can understand needing some time to think about it. None of your people have been targeted yet. And after all, it ain’t a game we’d be playing, and the stakes are undeniably high.”

Marcus nodded. “Best I can tell you is that I’ll think about it, Mal.”

Mal inclined his head and stood to leave. “Just don’t think about it too long, Marcus. You’d be a tremendous asset to me, but if you can’t see your way clear to get involved, know this. I will be going through with this plan with or without your help. And one way or another, you will have to choose which side you’re on, when the time comes.”

With those dire words, Mal walked quietly off the bridge, leaving Marcus to stare after him, lost in tumultuous thought.


Commander Liang of the Alliance cruiser Cortes sat at his desk reviewing the priority communiqué that had just come through. He sat for a moment, contemplating the unusual nature of his mission. Answering directly to the Chairman of the Senate Oversight Committee was unusual in itself, and the orders he had just received were somewhat baffling. Opening a secure channel to the Senator, he sat a little straighter in his chair when Michaels appeared on the screen.

“I take it you received my communiqué,” Michaels began without preamble.

“I did,” Liang answered. “Though I am somewhat confused by your orders.”

Michaels scowled impatiently. “What don’t you understand?” he asked shortly.

Liang decided that he would be ill-advised to press the issue too far. “If we have the location of the two vessels, why not simply apprehend them and bring an end to this?”

Michaels’ frown deepened. “Are you questioning a direct order from the Oversight Committee, Commander?”

“No,” Liang said quickly, though truthfully he supposed he had been doing just that. “I just wish to be clear on my assignment.”

“Then let me clear it up for you,” Michaels sneered. “For reasons that you need not know to do your job effectively, these vessels need to be left intact. However, it is imperative that they know that the Alliance is well aware of where they are, and what they are doing. To that end, you are to follow them at a discreet distance, allowing them to become aware of your presence gradually. Then, you are to fire across their bows, indicating that they are to surrender immediately and be boarded. However, stay far enough back that they will see the possibility of outrunning your guns. And when they bolt, as they inevitably will, let them go and shadow them, occasionally allowing them to see you. At no time, however, should you actually board these vessels or fire directly on them. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes sir,” Liang replied crisply. Though he could not imagine what the purpose of such an exercise would be, he knew enough to follow his orders without further question.

“Good,” Michael said, allowing himself a small, thin smile. “The coordinates will be sent to you shortly. And Commander, do not screw this up. Dong ma?”

“Yes sir,” Liang said as he watched the screen fade to black.


River sat on the edge of Adam’s bed cross-legged. “I want you to try to do something for me, baby mine,” she said softly, watching him scrub the sleep from his eyes with his fists. His hair stuck up at odd angles, so much like his father’s that River’s heart ached with the sight of it.

“What is it, Mama?” he asked, yawning and stretching in his little flannel pajamas.

“I want you to try to find your Daddy,” River replied, careful to keep her thoughts under firm check, knowing as she did that he would instinctively reach into her mind for answers.

“Why?” he asked, scrunching up his face. “I thought he was with Mr. Marcus. Why can’t we just wave him?”

River smiled in what she hoped was a convincing manner. “I just want to see if you can talk to him in another way.”

“Like a test, you mean?” Adam said, warming to the idea. “’Cause I’ve been working on my control, just like you said to do.”

“I’m sure you have,” River said encouragingly. “And now I want to see it in action. Try to find Daddy, and describe what you see.”

Adam nodded and became very still, concentrating on what was going on inside his head and filtering out external things. River watched him closely, her own mind seeking out his with the lightest of touches, eavesdropping on his efforts. They sat for a long time, transfixed by the effort of reaching out to Mal. Finally, Adam shuddered and his eyes popped open.

River looked at him in concern. “What did you see?” she asked, trying to keep her voice steady.

Adam frowned. “It was all fuzzy, like when you first get up in the morning and your eyes are stuck together with goo. Couldn’t make out a lot, but….”

“But what?” River prodded gently.

“Mama, I don’t think Daddy is with Mr. Marcus, ‘less they’re not on Mr. Marcus’ ship.”

“Why do you say that?” she asked, her heart hammering wildly.

“’Cause it’s all grey where Daddy is,” Adam replied. “And he’s wearing a funny kinda’ clothes. All one piece, kinda’ like Miss Kaylee’s coveralls, but with a number on the pocket. And he’s alone. Mr. Marcus isn’t there.”

River concentrated on drawing breath normally. “Could you see the number on his pocket?” she asked.

Adam shook his head. “Too fuzzy,” he said. Looking up into her eyes, he continued, “Did I do all right, Mama?”

River enfolded him in her arms. “You did just fine, Adam,” she said, kissing his forehead tenderly.

Adam smiled and snuggled closer to his mother. “Then, can I eat breakfast now?” he asked, suddenly ravenously hungry as growing boys usually are.

“Of course,” River said, reluctantly letting him go. “I’ll be along in a minute.”

As Adam hopped from the bed and headed toward the galley, River processed the information grimly, wondering what there was in what Adam had seen that she could possibly use to pinpoint her husband’s location.


To be continued


Wednesday, September 17, 2008 1:35 AM


Oh, you are devious! Setting fake Mal up as the leader of the Independents is a stoke of genius. Not only would the Alliance know every plan but fake Mal would lead them to inevitable defeat, expose the leaders and the crew (and especially River, Adam and Hannah) would end up in Alliance hands too.

But it seems that fake Mal is about to be found out thanks to Adam and all the uncharacteristic mistakes he's making.

I can't wait to see how this plays out!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008 1:38 AM


The plot thickens as the Alliance stirs the proverbial pot. So Mal is the dupe to find the rebellion and Marcus doesn't realize he's with non Mal. And Adam is smarter than anybody realizes. Very interesting. Marcus should be convinced that non Mal is crazy for even thinking of dragging his family into a war.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008 2:29 AM


I'm not sure it's intended to get as far as Mal leading a rebellion to defeat. Once faux-Mal, with his reputation from the war, had made contact, the Alliance could scoop up all the ringleaders without getting many of their own men killed. Stop it before it even starts. The higher ups know he's already under suspicion, and this determination to fight a war will only make it stronger. Good stuff!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008 8:19 AM


Wow. Everything's coming together now! :)
I always love it when that happens! :)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008 8:49 AM


Jane you put it much better than I did.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008 11:30 AM


I am curious to see what Marcus does with what not-Mal has told him. Sounds as if the crew of the Hit and Miss will become the enemy if they don't side with him, and I can't wait for Murdocke to dig out the encoded message. At last River finally asks Adam to peek to find his daddy and she gets the first bit of information that our dear Captain is anywhere but where he should be. All coming together nicely now though I wish Adam had been able to send his daddy a message to give him hope. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, September 17, 2008 3:17 PM


Ah thinks make more sense now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008 4:32 PM


What a crazy arc, slumming! I'm following it impatiently. And I think Marcus is getting a clue about the un-Malness of Mal, here...



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'Til Death Parts Us--Part VI
Co-written by Midnight Obsidian. For Marcus and Elizabeth, the moment has arrived, and Mal gives the ceremony his best shot.

'Til Death Parts Us--Part V
Co-written by Midnight Obsidian. The Hit or Miss crew’s plans for Marcus swing into effect.

'Til Death Parts Us--Part IV
Co-written by Midnight Obsidian. The search is on for Anya, and Adam faces the music.

'Til Death Parts Us--Part III
Co-written by Midnight Obsidian. Anya makes an inadvisable deal with Adam, and complications ensue.
Note: Thanks, ebfiddler, for suggesting that we include a small reminder note about the timeline of this story. At this point in this version of the ‘verse, we are about 10 to 11 years past the BDM, for those who keep track of such things. My, how time flies when you’re having fun! :)

'Til Death Parts Us--Part II
Co-written by Midnight Obsidian. Anya asks a favor of Mal, and Marcus plans a job.

'Til Death Parts Us--Part I
Co-written by the ever-talented Midnight Obsidian. Takes place shortly after the events of “Fractured” and “Aftermath” in a continuing Mal/River storyline that began a million years ago with “Voices”.
Summary: Life goes on for the crews of Serenity and the Hit or Miss, as everyone prepares for the long-awaited wedding.

Bad...In the Latin
Set within the timeline of the series. Stream of consciousness study. River contemplates her new environment. I'm kinda' rusty, so here's to hoping I have remembered a little something about writing!

Love Letters
One-shot set anytime within scope of the Mal/River storyline.

Aftermath--Part IV--Mal
Conclusion. Mal deals with the aftereffects of his time spent with the madman.

Aftermath--Part III--Marcus
Follows the events of “Fractured” in a continuing Mal/River storyline. Marcus re-evaluates his choices.