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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Mal returns from Cornelius to Pity.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1007 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Returning from Cornelius, the nerves that Mal felt about facing Inara were putting him through a subtle sort of suffering that he was barely equipped to deal with. His usual courses of action were closed to him: propelling himself into some risky situation where suffering of the feeling type was likely to be overtaken by the physical kind; marching around the ship issuing unnecessary orders, stopping off in her shuttle to take a few normalizing breaths; fighting with her.
He’d tried all of those. Plenty of times. They led in a circular path to the place where he was now. Without her. Reaching again for the capture that had sustained him through her absence.
That man doesn’t know what he wants.
Well, he sure did now. Wanted her. Wanted to stop behaving in the way that ended up with him being without her.
Even now, he was trying to act different. Even though she wasn’t there to see it. She’d appreciate the way he was struggling not to succumb to that habit, of taking his troubles out on whoever he happened to come across on Serenity; the way he was making a very conscious effort to show his face on the bridge, in the mess, wherever he’d have the chance to show that – hey, look, I’m not marching around the ship doing that stuff I sometimes do…
“Hang back,” Colonel Tug ordered, as the comms officer reported on Serenity’s descent towards the planet in front of them. “Wait until the signal indicates they’re in the settlement.”
The team that surrounded Colonel Tug on the bridge of the lead carrier were all younger than him. They were the junior officers - mostly from the Oxenstern - that had survived the Reaver attack and many of them had been promoted to fill the shoes of men far more experienced. They seemed like good soldiers; but as far as Tug was concerned they were an unknown quantity.
If any of them had passed out round about the same decade as him, shared a few missions, known the same superiors – if he’d known any of them better he might have noticed the flicker of looks exchanged between them, fathomed just how much discomfort their military training was concealing right now, in the aftermath of his order.
Because they had – they had passed out within a couple years of each other, shared a few missions, known the same superiors. Lost the same superiors: among them the commander of the Oxenstern, whose excellent qualities had earned the affectionate loyalty of his men to the extent that hitting the settlements pinpointed by the Operative seemed okay. The shock of the Reaver attack and their shared experiences prior to it – all of this made them close, made them interpret the decision to pursue the Firefly as a way of vindicating the destruction of the Oxenstern and the death of her commander.
The most senior of them, Major Yan, had reasoned that catching the girl would make sense not only of their own losses but also the fact of having hit those settlements. Then those people wouldn’t have been killed for nothing; he and his fellow Oxensterners wouldn’t have killed them for nothing.
Yan had thought that Colonel Tug was of the same mind. But the order he’d just given – “Hang back. Wait until the signal indicates they’re in the settlement” – made him realize that he saw the mission quite differently.
And the look that he’d caught from Boxer, Kaloy and Mori made it clear that they realized too.
He knew he was an asshole. He knew he was. Would be the simplest thing to ask Kaylee: where was Inara staying in Pity when we left for Cornelius? But for the life of him he couldn’t. God knows how much Inara had shared with Kaylee about what had taken place between them; most likely it was everything. And no matter what he’d promised himself about how things were going to be different – about how he was going to be different - he was still the gorram captain of Serenity. He’d be a fool to sit lacing fingers and weeping with Kaylee about what had happened with Inara. Best to keep her out of it; and that went for all of them.
So, after they’d made a safe landing and unloaded a couple crates of stuff that the people on Cornelius had wanted delivered, he searched out Susan not just to make his report on how things were going there but also to, casually, ask her where Inara might be found.
They were sitting over coffee in the store. It came up all on its own: how it was a shame Dr Ronson, the settlement’s medical man, wasn’t there, how he normally acted as a courier between Pity and the Core, how he’d wanted to wait for Serenity’s return so that he’d be up to date about how the new settlement was faring but he’d wanted to accompany Inara –
Accompany Inara where?
Say again. Inara had gone to Sihnon?
Yes she’d been planning to travel on her own but she’d taken a turn for the worse fallen concussed Dr Ronson doctor brought forward his own trip concerned everyone concerned determined to go no delay –
Then River had come into the store, marched – wasn’t any other way of describing it – marched up to him, saluted weirdly – wasn’t any other way for a mind-reading, civilian, female teenager to salute – and announced: “King Rat is here. Sir.”
Somehow they found a moment when they could all meet together, in the narrow space that connected the bridge with the rest of the carrier. Boxer stood in one doorway, Mori in the other, ready to signal them to break up if Colonel Tug approached.
“What the fuck,” whispered Boxer. “We haven’t got to attack that settlement.”
Mori whispered quickly, looking from Boxer to Kaloy to Yan. “As far as the mission goes, until the aftermath of the Reaver attack, we were under the Operative’s direct command. With Colonel Tug as the intermediary. The Operative abdicated his command and Colonel Tug stepped in. Our mission was to catch the girl. To do whatever was necessary to catch the girl.”
“Whatever’s necessary” – Boxer hissed.
“We could have already taken that Firefly,” Kaloy whispered furiously. “Still could, without touching anything else. How’s it going to look, we take it into our own hands to take out another civilian settlement” –
It was Yan’s turn to interrupt. “For Christ’s sake! No-one cares! We’re on our own! You get that, don’t you? And if we’re on our own, we do it the way we think it should be done!”
“The Colonel’s lost it, man,” Boxer whispered, still glancing to left and right around the doorway. “Worked with the Operative, now he’s acting like one.”
Yan was about to admonish him, when red lights flashed and an alarm sounded. The attack was under way. The men split up, running to their stations.
In one agonized surge of remorse and regret, Mal’s feelings provided answers to all of the questions he had about Inara’s departure for the Core: why had she left Pity? – because of him; why had she returned to Sihnon and certain jeopardy? – because of him; why was it that when she had literally taken a fall all her friends had been elsewhere? – because of him.
And why was it – being as all of the settlers were of the youthful, Core-bred type – why was it that she had taken her leave with just one of these types?
Had to be because of him.
He didn’t know if it was a mercy or a misery to have to push these thoughts away and deal with River’s announcement.
Then, when his next thought was that he had to find Zoe, that she had to be there to hear what River had to say, and he remembered that she was gone too - then he knew that it was a misery.
He got to his feet and looked down at River, his face very close to hers in order to fully hold her attention and ensure that he took in any meaning-clarifying nuances in her voice or expression.
“This King Rat any kin to the rat we had on Meridian?” he asked.
River had talked about a rat then, while Serenity was still in the repair yard, just before the Operative had disappeared: had over a couple days gone from whiney to insistent to frantic about it – and, suddenly, to huddled, silent.
“Blood relatives,” she said. “Sir.”
Mal pushed a hand through his hair: all he needed right now was something for his pain to latch on to to transform it into rage, and River’s calling him ‘sir’ seemed to fit the bill real nicely.
He tried to smile away the angry tension in his body. “No need to call me that River.”
“But we have ourselves a military situation. Not just Dogger and I. We have the military situation. Under control. But we all have the situation” – she gestured to indicate the store, the rest of the settlement. “We’re under attack.”
Mal looked around. “What? Where?”
“From the sky.”
“Who’s King Rat?” Mal demanded.
“When the big one gets close to the little one it makes it squeak very loud. Like on Meridian. The big one was close then.” She stopped suddenly, swallowed, continued through gritted teeth. “I can’t explain these things. I can’t explain!”
“Dogger knows,” Mal said carefully, putting out his hands to her steadyingly, not wanting to lose her to her distress.
“Yes. It’s his function.”
“His function. What’s his function?”
As though reciting, River replied: “Defence: terrain, munitions, personnel, communications” -
Mal interrupted. “Like you? He’s been trained like you?”
“I attack; he defends.”
“And how come he knows there’s an attack coming?
“On the radio; he heard it on the radio. Not the rat squeaking. People. Talking.”
“Well, go ahead then,” he said, damming a bristling impatience behind a wall of what he hoped came over as kindly approachability. “What people?”
Again, lifting her gaze upwards and to the left, River seemed to recite: “Link carriers, two, specification A40V-2FJ, function shuttling personnel and material between fleet vessels, armaments single defensive cannon mounted aft” –
“How many?” Mal growled, all kindliness and approachability gone.
“Two,” River repeated.
“No, how many vessels in total, and when are they going to get here?”
“They’re breaking atmosphere,” River replied, blinking. “Two link carriers, five ASREVs, one longer-range patrol ship.”
Susan, almost speechless with horror, was hovering just behind River and just within Mal’s range of vision. “Is she” – she swallowed, “is she right?”
“You can bet” – Mal began, only to be interrupted by a sharp cry from outside the store.
Dogger rushed in and pointed at River.
“He says we have to go. To the mine. Everyone has to go to the mine. Simon and Kaylee have gone to the mine. Everyone else has to go too.”
Mal turned to Susan for clarification.
Susan looked from Dogger to River to Mal. “He means the bicarium mine.”
“You have one of those?”
Susan was leaving the store and Mal made to follow her. River put out a hand.
“But Captain Reynolds is to stay here. With the bomb.”
“You got a bomb too?” Mal said to no one in particular as he left the store and looked up for the first sign of the Alliance vessels. On the ground were the settlers, all of them out of their houses: most of them running, stumbling, away from Pity; those who weren’t, including Jayne, grouped around the settlement’s bicarium chamber and preparing their firearms.
“Serenity,” said River tonelessly, coming up behind Mal, with Dogger one step after her.
He turned to look at both of them. “Serenity?”
“Serenity is the bomb,” River intoned again.
Even as she said it, even as he formulated a response, he remembered using Serenity to ignite the bicarium on Cornelius and he knew what she meant.
Just then there was another shout: Jayne, Thomas and a few of the other settlers who had been arming themselves were running towards Mal. The armed men and women seemed to be following Jayne; at least when they reached Mal they allowed him to stand forward from them.
“Jesus Christ, Mal,” said Jayne. “You seen the state of these weapons?” He gestured almost disgustedly with Vera towards the settlers, each of whom was clutching an antiquated rifle.
And now it was Mal who was leader; Jayne was looking to him for a solution. And it was as though Inara was there; as though all of the words that had cut into him so deeply were being uttered again.
You know that there are some things that are – inexcusable…you are reckless…you are reckless. And that has consequences. For the people around you…You can not act as though you are free to play with your life any more. I need you…You impose your will when you want to. You intimidate everyone when it suits you…You’ve got to think about it all differently this time…
But where was she? She’d left, and he needed her. How was he supposed to think differently, when she wasn’t there? Would it be a different kind of thinking to do what River was suggesting, to turn Serenity into a bomb and to blow himself up along with his ship?
Only trouble was then he’d never see her again.
Feeling the desperation of every moment that passed without action, Mal addressed himself to both Jayne and the settlers.
“Seems Dogger’s got the background we need to deal with whatever’s coming. Listen to him.”
“He don’t even speak,” said Jayne, more disgusted than before.
“I speak for him!” said River, in the tones of a protective older sibling.
“Ain’t got time for this,” Mal said. “He’s already got everybody off to the mine. Simon and Kaylee included I’m hoping. Best kind of defence there is. And he knows exactly what’s heading our way and what we’ve got to do.” He had turned towards Serenity. “What I got to do.” He took a stride towards his ship and called over his shoulder: “He’ll know where to position you. Just do what he says.”
River stayed with Dogger in order to express his instructions to the settlement's meagre defenders; Mal strode on, breaking into a run when he felt tears pricking at his eyes. Surprising, but not so, considering.
“’Cause I am a feeling man,” he said out loud.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 12:26 PM
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 2:50 PM
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 2:52 PM
Wednesday, December 16, 2009 12:58 PM
Wednesday, December 16, 2009 1:20 PM
Friday, December 18, 2009 5:12 AM
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