Eidolon (Chapter 9)
Friday, July 15, 2011

Their surroundings were no less hot even for the shade and mist dripping from the hardy ferns. Oh, she had a headache. Climate control, she encouraged herself faintly. The shuttles have climate control. (Heat)


She followed the quiet murmurs through the excavated halls, trailing her hand along the sandy walls and trying to settle her feelings. Not thinking about Mal was best, not thinking about the fluttering that resulted whenever something like civility passed between them. That wouldn't last, it never did.

Unfortunately, without any other distraction, her anxiety from when she had woken up returned. Her dreams the night before had been troubled, a product of unfamiliar surroundings. She forced some confidence into her steps, focused on her teachings, the sensuality of her heightened senses, the feeling of the earth under her fingers. She had never been afraid of the dark and she certainly wasn't about to start now.

"Kaylee?" she called, and the two voices went quiet for a moment that her nerves drummed up again. The muttering started anew, and she was able to catch something that sounded like 'don't go, stay' and 'cant, capn already formed a search party.' Some fabric rustled, one of the two gave a low groan, and they fell quiet again for a suspicious amount of time. "Méi méi?" she tried again, uncertain.

"Be right out!" her friend finally answered, and Inara had a fairly good idea that she had interrupted something she hadn't wanted to. Regardless, Kaylee skipped out into the hallway with no complaints and her usual sunniness, pulling up one of the straps of her coveralls. "Ain't doin' engine diagnostics on an empty stomach," she announced, tugging at Inara's arm.

A short trip revealing that the tunnels underneath the sandstone domes on the surface were all connected, and they emerged into a large hall under a vaulted ceiling, lit by eyelets carved geometrically into the cupola. This was where all the villagers were, Inara realized, bustling around intricately woven rugs laid across the floor for sitting and a buffet of homemade bread and cereal grains out on what appeared to normally serve as an altar.

With the air of a young companion-in-training preparing for her first lesson in self defense, Kaylee put up her hair in a work style, armed herself with her most cheerful weapon, then joined the fray. Eventually, her smile won her a place next to an ancient looking woman in impressively embroidered robes, the two of them chatting like routine as they gathered up their breakfast. They kept casting speculative glances her direction that made Inara wonder just what they might be discussing. A stuttering young man noticed her and offered her his place by them.

"Gramma Hani says you oughta get something for the captain," the girl suggested, offering a small brick of pressed millet. She was barely audible over the ambient noise, but lowered her voice obligingly when Inara waved her down. "Won't come here himself, and then he can't stay mad."

Oh weeping Buddha, Kaylee had found an ally for her matchmaking efforts. Inara felt herself shake her head, even as she realized what pure optimism had missed. Had he looked thinner, more ragged than usual? Mal didn't do misery half way. "He'll just think that I want something from him," Inara sighed. "That I'm using my wiles on him, whatever that means."

"Means he's just bein' bossy," the mechanic answered, rolling her eyes at the man. "Back for my first few when I got on, used to call him 'Skipper.' He'd yell somethin' fierce about it, then he started calling me méi méi. Said it was payback, but we both knew better." She grinned, and shook the protein treat at Inara encouragingly. "Gotta keep at him, but he likes you. I can tell."

Inara smiled kindly and didn't have the heart to argue. From what she had heard, Mal had become more tolerant of Kaylee's shows of affection less than the result of persistence and more because he had reduced her to tears on several occasions.

The quinoa bar thankfully returned to its pile and Kaylee gathered up her armful to head out to the mule, leaving Inara within reach of the table. She began to contemplate her own breakfast, when she realized Kaylee's aged friend was still watching her.

"You must be Inara." A creaking salutation, but warm and not unpleasant. Inara had little time to worry about what conditions her name had been mentioned to the matriarch under as the woman continued. "She's a good child, she means well."

"She's a dear," the companion agreed affectionately, and with something like wistfulness. "If her dreams ever came true, we'd only have to dread the day they ended." Inara picked up one of the bars, lingered for a moment over a second.

When she pulled her hand away still empty, the old woman was looking up at the ceiling, her eyes distant with memory. "My husband was much like your captain. We married in this very temple," she reminisced, and swept her hand across the array of little buildings beyond the sandstone interior. "We assisted in carving out most of the homes in Jordan, saw an entire generation grow up."

They watched the morning activity, the preparations for heading out into the pasture, the murmur of conversation of the chores and wedding gossip from the night before. "My husband just wanted us all safe. He had his share of charities and troubles, he'd lost his family to fighting when he was young, couldn't say no to either after."

Yes, unless something changed, that would be Mal someday, shot down because he was too noble for a thief, too bitter to stop fighting his old battles. She had touched on the thought more than she liked, in times when she was worried he wouldn't come back, when she burned incense and prayed to channel guān yīn to his aid.

She wanted to save him from self destruction, so much that it was like resisting the pull of a dying star and tearing into pieces, like wanting to throw herself into the abyss after him. A futile gesture, it would destroy them both, if she wasn't the very instrument to hasten him along to that fate.

"He's still here," Grandmother Hani affirmed - I know, Inara almost replied, but for the distraction of a few children nudging their way around her to get at the food on the table. "The life we shared didn't end. It's all around us, in what we built together. He's never really left me."

Then the old woman smiled mistily and apologized for her ramblings, and Inara made her decision. "Not at all, thank you," she answered politely, distractedly. "I should go."

- - - - - His right hand might be calm as a summers morning, but watching time waste and the grasslands sway under the warming sun was rapidly damaging his. What was taking so gorramn long? If he found out Inara had waited around while Kaylee gave the doc a special see-you-later, he was going to make them walk.

It was Zoë who first spotted anyone, as usual – saved his life more times than he could count that way – and she alerted him with a hard nudge and a nod that betrayed some impatience of her own. He rose from the leather upholstery, and so did his voice, and he wrapped his fists around the mule carriage railing.

"I wanted gone fifteen minutes ago, you two stop to powder your noses... or... Hey." Both of the girls came bearing an impressive bundle of vittles and an unimpressed look for his temper. About then, his body reminded him that he hadnt had much to eat the night before, or even the past few weeks. "Bring anything for me?" he asked, trying to get a better look at the food they were carrying.

His méi méi just scoffed at him, though it was more of a laugh, and stood on tip-toes to push her plunder into the back seat before climbing up after. She tucked in almost immediately, goading and feigning innocence, grinning like a pink Cheshire Cat as she chewed.

He was calculating the distance to lunge at the pile and make off with whatever he could when Zoë cleared her throat. "Sir."

Oh. Right. Elegant as she was, Inara wasn't going to be able to get herself into the mule wearing that dress she'd borrowed, not without putting on a show. He hoped Kaylee remembered to supply their guest some bloomers and swiftly quashed the contrary vote, glancing over the side and down.

Two dark pools under long lashes captured him, looking up at him, guarded, like she'd just been thinking on the same thing. She shifted everything under one arm, raised one dainty hand to fit in his as he helped her up the first step and steadied her as she ascended the rest. Her eyes were on him the entire time.

She stopped when she reached him, on that last ledge, close enough that her shoulder was brushing against his side. He should let her go, drop her hand and step aside so she could take her seat, but he'd forgotten how to move. Her gaze flicked down to his fingers, back up in confusion and curiosity. He felt his first mate and mechanic watching intently.

Mal tried to force some levity. "Whoa there. You have to pay the toll now, and I'm hungry."

Her lips parted to release an annoyed breath, then she smiled back, a bit too sweetly. "I think you've found your true calling. Do we need to find a bridge for you to crawl under and some small children for you to scare?" She pushed him aside, pulling her hand free to thrust his folded up coat and something edible at him as she took her seat. Zoë just shook her head and throttled up to take them out of town.

- - - - - She'd just managed to get Kaylee to stop giggling when they came to a stop; the fans propelling the hovermule would no longer be able to muffle their voices from an obnoxious captain who would find their conversation far too interesting. The scenery had changed around them, from wide open grassy plains humming with insects baking as the sun warmed to a sandy wash, carved through the middle of a hanging rock garden.

And no less hot even for the shade and mist dripping from the hardy ferns. Oh, she had a headache. Climate control, she encouraged herself faintly. The shuttles have climate control. Oddly, there were no shuttles in their immediate proximity, but Mal seemed to be disembarking, and she stood to follow.

He was talking, shrugging on his coat despite the heat, saying something to Zoë about suitable boots, something to Kaylee, defending why they hadn't left the shuttles on the plains. Easy pickings for other scavengers and thieves. Had to hide them, up in the mountains.

Up past... That? That steep rock fall blocking off the rest of the gully? She stared up at it, the path seeming to get longer as she looked, seeming to tunnel against and through and over the cliff walls slick with spring water. He said her name, like from a distance, then again, and she turned her head and moved instinctively towards the sound.

She didn't remember falling, or him catching her.

When consciousness returned she was in a very dark place, the oppressive gloom weighing down on her like a leaden blanket, deadening her senses and smothering her. She felt paralyzed, terrified, wanted to scream but she couldn't.

Kaylees voice broke through the waking nightmare, shaken and worried. "Is she gonna be all right?"

The relief that blossomed through her broke the spell, and she gasped, and felt a pair of warm hands around hers, helping her to sit up, as they had helped her into the carriage of the mule. She gulped down air, trying to calm herself and her racing heart beat. "I'm all right," she murmured automatically, vaguely aware she was repeating herself over and over. "I'm fine."

"What happened?" His voice, no nonsense.

"Ah-" She cast her thoughts back, to the dizziness she felt before. No, please no. Anything but that. She quickly thought up another explanation. "Just the heat," she supplied, shrugging one shoulder and feigning embarrassment. She could see them better now, Kaylee beaming at her, all fears immediately assuaged.

Mal was smiling as well, though thinly and not nearly so trusting. "Well, there's a trifle. Kaylee, go an' finish up your diagnostic. I got this handled."

Like a dash of sunshine, the mechanic scampered off to her duties. "Shí a! Chàng rĕ, captain!" she chirped.

As Kaylee disappeared through the hatch nearby into a mass of fluttering green leaves, Inara finally had enough light to recognize the inside of one of Serenity's shuttles. More specifically, this was her old shuttle, now empty but for a bowl of incense and a familiar tattered old army blanket beside it.

Mal stood also, and began rummaging around in the refresher station. He emerged with a glass of water for her, and sat down across from her, watching her with something like an accusation.

"Speaking of handling, please tell me you didn't carry me here," she responded in kind, her voice and expression flat.

Another not-smile. "Almost fractured my other shoulder. This going to be some kind of habit? Falling on me?"

"You wish," she purred, taunting, then took a sip of her drink. Actually, she was a little thirsty. That was nice of him. She didn't want him to be nice. She didn't want him hurting himself because of her. "I was perfectly capable of walking here on my own, so next time, I'd appreciate a little less presumption. Also if you wouldn't parade me around naked in front of total strangers..."

He shifted and glared, all pretenses at playfulness gone. "What was I s'posed to do?" he argued. "You show up outta nowhere-"

"You could keep your hands to yourself-"

"You were unconscious-"

"Oh, great excuse-"

"You needed help-"

"No, Mal," she snapped back. "You needed! You needed to feel like a hero, and you needed to be in control!" She felt her eyes start to sting, and pushed back the tears furiously. "But you don't get to leave me behind, and then act like you care-"

"Act!" he was pure outrage now. "Let's talk about acting!"

"-Like you have any sort of privilege!" she finished.

The dust settled between them. Mal went quiet, his gaze falling to the floor, away from her.

After a long silence, he spoke again, low. "Three weeks ago," he explained, "I got a wave from Ariel, some core world medical institute. Canned response form someone filled out on their lunchbreak." He slowly forced himself to meet her eyes. "They said you were dead."

Then he looked away again, so impossibly zhĕn lĕng qīn hán stoic. She reached for his hand for the second time in only a few hours, but he was rolling to his feet to switch on the cortex terminal, the same she had used so many times to distract herself from him.

Her personal cortex access and accounts. She should be angry about that, but in the face of his admission, her will to fight with him had dissolved. And there was something wrong about the notification, something beyond the apparent, so she stood as well, wanting to see for herself.

They didn't get past the log-in. "Ni tā mā de," Mal swore, and she paled as he turned and marched out of the shuttle, his coat swishing behind him. "Kaylee! We gotta go, mă shàng!"


Friday, July 15, 2011 1:43 PM


Cliffhanger. Fortunately, there aren't many of these.

Friday, July 15, 2011 3:17 PM


Exciting cliffhanger!
Painful watching Mal and Inara not quite connecting. Good work.
I especially enjoyed the description of Gramma Hani.

Friday, July 15, 2011 3:22 PM


A truce never lasts long between them.

I've had some ideas about a possibility later on that we might see this village again, though I haven't decided yet whether to go with that or some other options.

Sunday, July 17, 2011 2:34 PM


could only read the first part. but I like millet-cakes. and weeping buddhas.

your dialogue is improving.


Sunday, July 17, 2011 4:19 PM


I hope so...


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Eidolon (Epilogue)
Someday, she knew they would visit the graves of Serenity Valley and not hear the howl of the ghosts. Someday, they would walk across the green prairie of a restored world and watch the rain. (Glimpses)

Eidolon (Chapter 40)
Clouds were blossoming in the distance, promising rain for the city later. The crew of Serenity and the badlands around Eavesdown Docks to the south would probably see only a harsh windstorm. Two different worlds, she mused, caught between them. (Deliverance)

Eidolon (Chapter 39)
The question seemed to hit her hard. In the mirrors of her eyes, he saw himself, forced to see her lose more ground every day. Hurt more, because of him. Saw her watching him back as she pulled him out of a nightmare. (Try)

The Gift
They don't have much. But they have each other. (Just a little holiday story from the Firefly verse. Belongs to Joss)

Eidolon (Chapter 38)
The girl processed that response. "He brought the medicine? He saved us?" Inara nodded, considering her own inclusion in the question. (Renewed)

Eidolon (Chapter 37)
A wind clear and sweet stirred the air, humming as a shimmering, ever-shifting blaze of color flashed from one horizon to another. The breeze carried with it a distant song, rising over the hills and through the vales like a soulful hymn from his childhood. (Flight)

Eidolon (Chapter 36)
"I cut the strings. They were never yours anyway.”(Liberation)

Eidolon (Chapter 35)
A few twists of a little turnscrew and the mechanic was stripping wires and rerouting circuits in moments. (Break)

Eidolon (Chapter 34)
Stars scattered in the night, coalesced from the stellar dust from a far away sun and others that came before. A spark, scintillating into a network, a stream, like the lights and streets of a city. (Cascade)

Eidolon (Chapter 33)
"Put me back in that place," River said, "Little bluebird singing in a cage, puppet on broken strings." (Capture)