The Bouncing Ball Ch 17
Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Another chapter.... thanks from Jane and I for your comments and for reading... Book explains.


Chapter 17

It felt ... odd. There really wasn't any other way to put it, at least to Mal. He sat in his normal chair at the head of the table, looking down, but he'd never thought to see that old man again, least of all in his old seat, the rest of the crew clustered around him. The only two hanging back a little were Declan and Hank, but he supposed that was to be expected, although he had to admit to some surprise that Freya hadn't joined them. What was more odd, though, was the fact that knowing Batha was under the table was giving him a sense of support. Book was gazing at the others, going from face to face, reminding himself of long lost friends. At Jayne's expression he had to smile. "No, you're not dreaming," he said, then added, "And yes, Kaylee, you can touch me one more time." The young mechanic wasted to no time at the invitation and grabbed his hand between hers, squeezing until he winced. "Sorry." "No. Don't ever be sorry," he said gently. "I just can't believe it." "Yes, it is hard ..." His gaze slid to Mal. "Harder for some, I think." "And who were you meaning, exactly?" Mal asked, not wanting to give in to the general welcome like the others. "The list is quite long." Book shrugged. "I shouldn't be here, I know. Here, I'm dead, and in my world you all are." He sighed. "It's ... good to see you." Jayne stirred. "Don't feel like a corpse." "Jayne ..." Zoe said warningly. "Just saying I don't feel like I'm dead." "There are many 'verses," Book said. "And I can assure you, in this one, you're alive." "Nice to know," Jayne grunted. Book's face became more serious. "But what Cat did was interfere with the timeline. She was to save you and return, not become part of the crew." "Look," Hank put in, "I know I ain't part of this, but it seems to be that they're kinda indistinguishable." "Especially when she says she's not been able to do it before," Declan added. Kaylee looked confused. "Save us?" "Save Mal." Book looked at Declan and shook his head. "You're not even supposed to be here." "Well, I am," Declan said defiantly. "And you need to realise something. I'm not about to let you hurt Cat." Book smiled faintly. "I'm not here to hurt Cat." "Then why are you here?" Mal asked, cutting across the conversation. Batha growled under the table even as Book responded. "To make sure this world continues on the path destiny set out for it." 'Warned Cat not share ... and now ... you do.' Mal's lips thinned. "Batha, don't you try and stop him talking." The panther ignored him, still 'speaking' to Book but allowing the rest to hear. 'You care for only you. I care for Cat. Everyone hate her and now God man gets to be hero.' Her tail hit the underside of the table as she slid out. 'Go find Cat.' "She's kinda busy," Mal pointed out, but far gentler than he'd intended. 'Don't care.' She padded up the steps out of the kitchen, but paused once she was in the shadows and laid down, putting her head in Freya's lap. "You knew I was here?" Freya asked, barely vocalising, sitting on the cold deck and leaning against the bulkhead. 'Felt you. Need me.' 'Do I?' 'Yes. God man liar.' She pushed her nose against Freya's hand. 'Crying okay. Cat does lots.' Freya just nodded, tears coursing down her cheeks.


In the kitchen Mal was still trying to come to terms with this new development. "Look, Shepherd ..." He stopped. "Damn it, are you a Shepherd at all?" "I have a past like you, Mal," Book said. "You still a Sergeant?" "Point taken. But what do you want me to call you?" "I don't mind. But Book will do." "Fine. Book." Mal took a deep breath. "Okay, Book ... I can't say I'm unhappy ab out folks saving my life, but that smacks of interference. And I've had enough of that, from the Alliance on down. You care to explain how you're different?" Kaylee's face fell, and she said, her tone wheedling, "Captain ..." He looked at her. "No, Kaylee. This I need to hear." Book squeezed her hand. "Mal's correct, Kaylee. He has a right to question me." Everyone looked at Mal. "Are you likely to answer truthfully?" he asked. "As truthfully as I can." Mal had to smile, but it was only a twist of the lips. "Now, you see, that don't quite ring right. That's what I kinda expect from a Preacher man ... not from you." "Still don't believe, Mal?" "Let's just say being a heathen and a doubter has served me well over the last years." He ignored the gold cross burning against his chest under his shirt. The tension in the room had climbed steadily, but it was now Declan who said, "Cat seems to trust him, and since I'm already an outsider, I'll believe him for the sake of all our sanities." Kaylee nodded firmly. "I agree." Zoe added, "Hear him out, sir." "Please, Cap'n." Mal stared at his mechanic. "You too?" Jayne shifted in his chair. "I kinda wanna know too." Sighing heavily, Mal gave in. "Seems like my crew's being mutinous, so ... okay. Go ahead. What can you tell me about this pile of goushi that's been happening this past week?" Book let go of Kaylee's hands so he could clasp his own in front of him. "It all comes down to a war ... more importantly, the Second War where the Independents win." Declan swallowed. "The war that killed my Dad." "Cat mentioned that," Mal said softly. "Sorry, kid." Hank held up a tentative hand. "And isn't a war we win a good thing?" "I suppose she did," Book said, responding to Declan. "Your father and Mal here started it." Hank sat back, trying to disappear into his chair. "Okay, maybe not, then." Book turned his calm gaze on the pilot. "The war was truly a good thing, as it destroyed not only the Alliance, but the Academy as well." "How?" Mal wanted to know. "I mean, how did we start it?" Declan answered. "My father blew up an ammunition plant, and Mal ... you ... whichever the hell one ... he helped set the charges." Zoe looked at her captain. "Why doesn't that surprise me, sir?" "It does me." Mal shrugged. "I can't see me getting involved." Declan half smiled. "My Dad was pretty convincing." Book went on, "It started out little. Attacks on Alliance vessels ... on their soldiers ... then the factories ..." "You mean ..." Kaylee could hardly finish. "Like ... terrorism?" Outside Freya whispered, "History is writen by the victors ..." But only Batha heard, and she growled in sympathy. Book shook his head. "They tried to keep the innocents from the fire. It was the Academy that started taking children." "Children?" Kaylee squeaked, her mind instantly going to her own offspring down in the lower quarters even as the colour fled her cheeks. Batha, in the corridor, whispered, Keep cubs safe. Continuing, Book said, "From their beds, their schools, the hospitals, anywhere they found a child who was even mildly talented." "Hwoon dahn ..." Jayne breathed. "Mal told Cat to stop it and they would make sure she was covered ... they would keep the Alliance busy." Hank, his kind heart breaking at the mere thought, said, "But ... why?" Declan said, "Because young are easier to control." "Dear God in heaven ..." Kaylee could barely speak. "You mean .. make 'em like River?" 'Worse.' Freya, breathless ... "No ..." "Make them like Reavers," Declan went on, his tone dead. "Like monsters without brains." Jayne tugged Kaylee into his arms, comforting her somewhat awkwardly, but needing the physical contact himself. The young jumper spoke again. "Who would imagine a little boy like Ethan or a little girl like Bethie was a monster set to kill?" Like Cat ... with no Captain man. Book put in, "No-one would be able to stop them since bullets wouldn't do any damage ... just like Cat." Hank was a white as a sheet. "That's ... horrific." Zoe, her back as straight as a ramrod but her own face pale, whispered, "War ..." "... is hell," Declan finished. Mal spoke over them. "So Cat went to destroy the Academy ... and me and this 'Ski didn't go to help?" "You had other fish to fry," Book said. "And Cat was successful, except the Alliance didn't take their own defeat well. They rebounded and returned to an old base where they began to build an engine." "An engine?" "The Dynex engine." Declan looked shocked. "Thought those were just rumours." Mal, on the other hand, shook his head. "You've lost me, Preacher." "I think ..." Hank stirred. "Maybe ..." Zoe turned to him. "Baby?" Licking dry lips, Declan said before the pilot could, "It's an engine ... rumoured to be able to split time and space." Hank nodded. "I read about it, least the theory. Long time ago. Nobody could make it work." "Why'd they want to?" Jayne asked. Book answered. "To change the outcome of different 'verses." "How?" Kaylee wanted to know. "Stop the war and create the ultimate Empire." She shook her head. "I meant the engine. How's it supposed to work?" Despite himself, Mal couldn't help but feel a little swell of amusement. His mei-mei might be looking at the end of the world, but she'd still be wondering how the machinery was going to make it happen. Still ... "That ain't exactly of the utmost importance right now, Kaylee." Book, however, said, "A chemical that burns so hot the resulting explosion splits atoms. For the rest you would have to ask my pilot." She sat up. "That ain't possible. Not unless you have the power of a sun behind you. And even then -" "Kaylee." The young woman glanced at Mal and subsided. Then Hank asked, "What pilot?" Book very carefully didn't look at Zoe, concentrating on the man. "His name is Rex. And he's not important right now." Batha almost chuckled. 'Don't let him hear.' 'Who?' Freya asked, resting her head back on the cold metal. 'Rex ... Dino man.' There was a brief mental image of a Hawaiian shirt ... Freya sat up so quickly she almost got whiplash. Dino ... "You mean Wash?" 'Mouth run away,' Batha grumbled. 'Sshh.' She gave a feline sigh. 'Cat won't be happy.' 'Are you saying Wash is alive?' 'Not supposed to tell.' The huge black cat sighed. 'Rex Wash Wash Rex.' 'How can he be? They buried him ...' 'Different 'verse, same man.' 'And was he ... Zoe?' 'Not him who died.' Freya swallowed. 'Thank you, Batha.' 'Still not supposed to tell.' She fondled the panther's ear, eliciting a purr. 'Tell Cat I made you.' 'Not believe you. No-one make me tell.' 'Then we don't tell anyone that I know.' She smiled a little, rubbing at her cheek. 'Unless we want to blame Bethie. 'Cat will know. Still, she know you safe. And Princess no blame.' Batha paused. 'Cat might yell. Yell at me better.' 'I can take care of myself.' Batha put her cheek on Freya's belly. 'Not just you.' Freya chuckled, instantly suppressed. 'Does everyone know?' The panther purred. 'Not cubs.' Book, in the meantime, was still speaking. "I can't go into details about the piloting. In essence I don't know anything about it." "What about Cat?" Declan asked. "What about her?" "Why her? And why not just go back in time to her own 'verse?" Then he stopped as he realised what he had said. "It isn't allowed, son." "Why not?" This from Mal, his arms firmly crossed. To his surprise it was Kaylee who answered. "'Cause there have to be rules, Cap. Like faster'n light travel. Have to be rules." Book smiled. "Thank you, Kaylee." He looked back at Declan. "If that was the case, then everyone would return to right wrongs." "Except that doesn't mean she can't do it, just that she's not allowed to," Hank suggested. 'Wants to go back.' Even Batha's mental voice was wistful. 'Would die for just a moment.' 'To her husband.' 'Her mate.' Freya sighed, wanting to reach out and touch Mal, but stopping herself. 'I understand that.' 'Better than anyone, me thinks.' In the kitchen, everyone was looking at Serenity's pilot. "Hank, you don't know that," Zoe said. "Besides," Book said, "Cat has more important things to do." Mal's eyes narrowed slightly, even though his tone was still conversational. "Sounds to me like you're using her." Declan huffed but stayed silent. But Jayne's hand caressed Binky's handle even as Zoe touched her Mare's Leg. This Mal they knew of old. So did Book. "She is well aware of the risks, Mal. She does it because she understands it's for the greater good." Liar. Batha? No choice ... nothing else to do. "And the greater good is ... what, me?" Mal scoffed. "Book, I'm just a man trying to keep my family together on the raggedy edge ... nothing more'n that." Book sighed. "And you need to keep believing that." "Even thought it tears others apart," Declan commented, but only quietly. Mal ignored him, saying to Book, "Or .. what?" "It is your belief in family that makes you such a dangerous force, and it is that which makes everything fall into place." Focus ... has to be one. Batha half closed her eyes as Freya continued to rub her ears. I don't understand. You will. One day. Jayne, on the other hand, said, "Hell, I always thought I was the centre of the 'verse!" While the others glared at him, Book merely said, "You're a strong part of it, Jayne, but the spark must come from Mal." "And my Dad?" This time Declan spoke up, filling the warm room. "What about him? Shouldn't he be here?" "I'm sorry, son." Book's eyes saddened. "Your father was killed by the Alliance during the first war." "No. You're not." "Hell, I am," Mal said unexpectedly. Batha sighed. Cat knows. Cried hard. "It don't make it better," Declan said. Mal understood. "Although I'd kinda like to know what colour he wore." "Always brown," the young man asserted. "Never any other." "As it happens, yes," Book agreed. Batha, on the hand, flicked her tail, remembering certain events differently. 'Reaver chow right ... always rebel.' Declan shrugged. "Don't matter the 'verse." 'Always making trouble ...' Mal asked, surprisingly diffidently, "Did I ... know him? I don't remember if I did." "You didn't meet until Cat and he crossed your path. He almost died to save you from the Academy." "I ..." No. Don't get sidetracked, Mal told himself. "That was there. Not here. What about here?" The young man looked surprised. "I ... I don't know." "He dragged you from the wreckage of a bunker, but you were passed out. When you came to, he had been shot in the head by a sniper keeping you safe," Book put in, keeping his voice soft. Mal went pale. "There was a feller ... on New Lafayette ... just afore we pulled out and headed to Hera ..." He remembered someone, just a shape, hands tugging him from the dirt, telling him the medic was coming, that he was going to be okay ... Declan was shaking his head. "No. My dad was never part of the first war. Just an innocent that tried hard to rescue those in need." "Rescued me," Mal said quietly. Zoe, her eyes never moving from Declan's face, knew they were both right, because she knew now why she recognised the boy, because she'd known the man, even when Mal didn't. "What happened to 'im?" Jayne growled. "'Cause the man you're talking about ... he ain't no innocent. Something musta changed." Declan nodded. "In my 'verse, his whole family was slaughtered by the Alliance." 'Dog too,' Batha added, unheard. "Here too," Book put in. "Things don't change that much." Dog tags ... Freya thought. 'Yes.' Back in the kitchen, Declan was working himself up. "So Mal is saved, but my father is killed. Don't seem very fair." "Life ain't," Jayne said. Book added, "Cat was given the choice." 'LIAR.' Batha growled so loudly Freya could feel it reverberating throughout her body. 'No choice. Only Captain man, never Reaver.' 'Then why's he doing this?' Freya wanted to know. Declan spoke. "I don't believe you. What good did it do?" 'Greater good,' Batha spat. 'Always greater good.' "Too many lines can confuse the fisherman," Book replied. Mal closed his eyes briefly. "Okay, now I know it's you." Declan wasn't to be diverted. "So you chose Mal because he meant something to you." 'Reaver chow smarter than I thought.' 'So all this could have been to save 'Ski?' Freya wanted to know. Batha looked up into her face. 'Can't tell future. But nice to have choice.' Back in the kitchen, Zoe's hand was inching towards her gun. "Son, there's so many things you can't know," Book said quietly. Mal wondered who was going to draw first, so he defused the situation by saying, "As tear-jerking as this is, there's still a lot of questions I need answering." "I figured that." Book looked oddly grateful. "Like ... what now?" "I can't tell the future." "But you must have some idea. Else why are you here?" "To provide proof." "Well, so far, that's sadly lacking." 'Need to destroy machine,' Batha hummed. Kaylee, meanwhile, was ready to defend her friend. "But Cap, he's here!" "Does seem to prove something," Jayne put in, albeit reluctantly. "Sir, I have to agree," Zoe said. "I understand your lack of faith," Book went on. "It was always hard for you to believe." Declan shook his head. "I actually side with Mal." "Thanks," said the man in question. "I think." "Don't mention it." "But I still don't know why." 'Don't have to believe. Just have to survive.' Freya lifted the panther's head like she'd seen Cat do, even as her heart was starting to race. Batha, what are you talking about? Book was speaking. "If the war doesn't begin, the only children will be the monsters and mind control zombies." Mal's forehead furrowed. "So we've got to stop a war? Or start one?" "Without the war," Declan said slowly, finally beginning to understand, "the Alliance will still take the children ... except it will happen quietly." "Son, the Alliance can't do a gorram thing quietly." Mal was thinking. 'Academy can.'The panther rumbled. Book was gazing at him. "Ask your wife about things that happen quietly." Mal felt his usual guilt at what he could never have stopped happening to Freya fill him, and he lashed out, his voice sharp, hard. "What the hell do you know about her?" "I know enough." Now it was Mal who felt the urge to shoot someone, and he knew that all he needed was just a push, and the Preacher would be lying on his back, a hole neatly drilled between his eyes. "Sir." Zoe spoke quietly. He glanced at his first mate. "He died, Zo, before I ... before Frey. He can't have known her." "There are more things in heaven and earth ..." Book said, his tone conciliatory. Mal stared at the old man. "Are you saying -" "I'm merely saying that you have to understand. And believe. This is for the greater good." Mal didn't speak, his lips tight together. In the corridor Freya wrapped her arms around her still flat belly. 'If her children, even those unborn, were in danger ...' Batha nudged her gently. 'Not get while I am here.' 'Is this ... all of this ... because I'm pregnant?' 'No.' Freya finally smiled. 'I'm glad of that.' 'But still protect the cubs. All of them. Even Reaver chow.' Freya had to laugh at her reluctance, and stroked the purring panther. 'My little duan wa zei.' 'Not thief. Left on table.' 'Thank you.' 'Princess say finders keepers.' 'Was Bethie involved in ... you know, never mind. Mal will be pleased. Probably not a good idea to ask how Batha had got down into the bunk, either.' 'Secret,' Batha sniggered. 'Like suspenders.' 'Suspenders? Batha, you haven't ...' The cat put her paw on her new friend's leg. 'Read your mind. Memories.' Freya's mind immediately pulled up the time Mal told her how he'd first started wearing that particular item of clothing, back home on Shadow ... 'Oh.' 'Not read all,' Batha added. 'Doors closed still closed'. 'Thank you.' 'But talking good.' 'Maybe.' In the kitchen the silence had stretched molecule thin, and it would only take someone saying something out of place to snap it entirely. "Ain't letting 'em take Cat," Jayne said, his voice so low it made the stuff on the table vibrate. "So we're going to war?" "Looks like maybe we are," Mal said slowly, releasing the breath that he hadn't been aware he was holding. "What's the target?" Hank licked dry lips. "I mean, we can't just fly around being ... whatever." "I conjure Badger's gonna be the answer to that." "That turd?" Jayne shook his head. "He's only ever been out for himself." "And you haven't?" Jayne glared at his captain. "Didn't think we were talking about me." Mal closed his eyes briefly. "No. No, we weren't. And I apologise." "Okay," Hank said slowly. "Who are you, and what've you done with Mal?" "Dear," Zoe warned, but Mal surprised them. He chuckled. "I know it don't happen often, so make a note of it in your diary." He looked at his crew. "There's been more'n a few times I've felt like I've been led around by a ring through my nose - and no, I'm not gonna get one, Jayne - only this time I feel like maybe I'm blindfolded as well. And it makes me ... antsy." "You?" Hank grinned. "We'd never've guessed." "And I sometimes've been known to take it out on other people," Mal went on, ignoring his pilot. "I think you've grown," Book said admiringly. "I conjure it's what having a family does to you." Mal shook his head. "But it doesn't get me past feeling like there's another boot to drop yet." Book opened his mouth to say something, but the comm squawked loudly. "Mal." It was Cat. He crossed to the wall unit. "What?" "Simon needs your help." "He's got you and River." "And if you don't get your pigu down here right now, he's gonna lose Badger." Without another word Mal ran out of the kitchen, taking the back stairs down to the infirmary, thereby missing Freya and Batha scrambling to their feet.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011 7:29 AM


OOohhh, I really don't like this Book at all, he comes across as twisty and manipulative and like Bantha I don't trust him. If, as he says, it was wrong for Cat to cross from her 'verse into this one then the same must apply to 'Book'. Also, when 'Book' talks about it being "for the greater good" I got a chill up my spine. Makes me think of the Operative when he talked about "to build a better world". I'm thinking there's a correlation and like Mal am waiting for the other boot or shoe to drop. Very shiny chappie as ever! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:05 PM


Awesome chapter.

- 'Ski


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