Eidolon (Chapter 10)
Saturday, July 23, 2011

What they were was stuck and more stuck and spinning their wheels was going to get them nowhere fast, seeing how their ride didn't have any. (Anchors)


The first breath of air was the worst, like coming to life only to drown again, choking on water still in the lungs. The amniotic seal popped and the last of the fluid drained away.

"Lucy? Are you all right?" She fell forward bonelessly out of the cell and caught herself on the curved barrier, still sputtering and bedraggled. Cho was hovering over her, his almond eyes wide under black a black fringe of bangs.

She smiled up at him. "Better than," she answered, and started wringing out coils of copper hair, dripping a puddle at her feet onto the brightly lit pristine white floor. "Except for the last part, that was actually somewhat relaxing."

He shook his head, the perfect image of amused skepticism. "Pì huà."

"No really," she insisted, reaching for her white coat and shoving her hands through the sleeves. "Like sensory deprivation therapy or something." The hiss of hydraulics as a security door slid open and shut drew her attention back to the floor level, and she sighed, rolling her eyes. "Speaking of which, here come The Machines."

Cho leaned out, frowning in dislike down at the two blonde men. "Think I'll take my chances in there."

"Wha-" she spun back, but he was already making his escape. "You can't just leave me to deal with them! They're creepy!" she objected. Creepy nothing. They were cold, calculating, expressionless, and their arrival aboard the I.A.V. Ratched had generally made everyone uneasy, even the captain. Identical black suits… And why did they have to wear gloves all the time, anyway?

He smirked and climbed into the capsule. "Bet I can last longer than you did." He crossed his arms, daring her.

She narrowed blue eyes, then slapped the controls. He grinned, membrane closing again around the opening and backlights flicking on as the fluid began bubbling around his ankles. "You still have to check out that virtual reality simulator I downloaded from the cortex," she grumbled. He couldn't hear her anyway, just waved, as the breathable liquid slowly lifted his feet from the floor and rose up over his head.

"Doctor Alair. This section of the containment area is restricted."

Agent Brown and Jones. She turned towards them sharply. "There's something wrong with this pod," she informed them, pointing over her shoulder. "I'd like to have maintenance check it over."

The two men looked at each other. "Glitch?" asked one. Agent Jones, perhaps, not that it mattered.

"I'll ask headquarters," replied his counterpart. "Sialia's been slipping."

A beeping noise interrupted them, and she checked her handheld. Bluebirds sing. Neurons spark. The two agents receded into insignificance. "Excuse me," she brushed by them, "another shipment of the new test drugs has arrived."

Dr. Alair floated by the pods lining the walkway, several levels of them stacked on top of each other, most occupied by inmates deemed too dangerous for social integration, sentenced to permanent hibernation. She didn't look at any of them, as though unaware of them. Lucy studied each of their faces, curious and piteous, wondering if they could dream.

- - - - - "Landlock." Zoë was matter of fact as ever in defiance of the gravity of the situation.

Jayne took a lean against the mule. Plenty of worry gathered around the captain and first mate for the chatter, and none of it worth listening to. What they were was stuck and more stuck and spinning their wheels was going to get them nowhere fast, seeing how their ride didn't have any.

Heat around them was the kind sapped at a man until his only option was to find some shade and lay down. Even the grass was all nodding and flies were buzzing lazy-like. Only advantage here was the Doc looking all mouse-eyed and even that was losing its appeal. "But… How did they find us?" the kid asked. Jayne didn't like the wary glance sent his way.

"They didn't," the captain cut in flatly, like a breeze stirred then died. The man had been haunting around Inara like a damn schoolboy to help her down from her seat, only she was having none of that.

Well, so long as that was settled, but for good measure, Jayne gave the boy a sneer. Uppity xiăo guī tóu frowned back, then Mal caught the doctor's eye, nodded towards the curly haired distraction – see to her.

"Called an Antlion," Zoë explained. "Back when the Alliance first tried to declare the Rim and Border colonies, they offered charitable aid to sweeten the deal. Only thing is, they wanted us to pay for it – in resources, land, labour, and taxes." They were starting to head underground now, which suited him just fine. Didn't go too far, though, and he claimed some wall for himself just away from the direct heat, spitting distance from outside. "No one wanted the supplies, Alliance wouldn't take 'em back, so the three main Independent worlds had themselves a great big bonfire. This was how they retaliated. Martial law, governors, and this."

He didn't see what this had to do with them being stuck, and snorted. "Don't sound scary."

River started jabbering. "Worm execution. Can't fly away. Catches you in its teeth and drags you – "

"Still don't sound scary," Jayne snapped. She ignored him and trailed after the petticoat and her brother down the tunnels.

"But that shuts down everything, don't it?" Kaylee wondered. Oh hell. He didn't mind so much the zháo mo mechanic talk, what with all he heard from his pa's factory work and all. She was one of the few people he'd ever met didn't generally annoy him that he hadn't paid first. Last gorramn thing he wanted to hear was her awing and jawing over Mal's latest luck-gone-wrong.

"Everything ain't purple," the former dust devil concurred. "Nav systems, local cortex, infects a node and just spreads. Took out most of our air support whenever we got hit, forced us to use radio."

Wasn't any looks, not even any of that silent talking between the two browncoats. Nope. Something they weren't telling him. "That all?"

Now something tense, the soldier asking for a go ahead. "Only ever been used planet-wide once," Zoë added reluctantly. "Just around the start of the war, before they were trying bombardment."

He took a moment to think that over. Nothing. "So?" They all stared back at him, blank, the Kaylee smiled at him like some poor stray wasn't housebroken, and Zoë's chin kind of lifted like he'd just told her he'd found a landmine. Mal just started to walk away, done with him. He was getting tired of all the attitude he got, everyone always looking down on him. Why didn't he get out yesterday, or even weeks ago, while he still could? "What's the plan, anyhow? Stay here 'til they find us?"

The captain stopped and tried to stare him down. "No," Mal said. "We stay, there's a good chance Serenity gets impounded. And by staying, we put these folks at risk. I won't see them punished for their kindness." They all thought on another safe haven for a moment, then he continued walking away, líng zi coat doing that swishy thing. "Get packing."

- - - - - The single eyelet in the makeshift guest room and clinic hadn't allowed enough light for an examination, but even with the oil lamp Inara thought everything was still very dark. River had curled up beside her, grim and silent, while Simon balanced her hands on top of his, resisting while she pressed down.

Dear Simon. He was exactly her client type – kind, sensitive, thoughtful, undemanding, smart, witty, not annoying… If she ever had the option, she might have married a man like him, who she could share the burden of her secret with, who would help her face what was coming, who could be strong for her. Someone who would be her good friend and associate, who she would care for long after their engagement. Someone who wouldn't abandon her to die alone, like her father had left her mother. But it was different now. She could only imagine one man anymore, and she hated that her heart had so foolishly and selfishly decided on someone who was already so broken.

"You seem to be all right for now," the doctor finally pronounced, and pulled up the bedside ottoman. "No tremors. But without running a scan, I can't tell for certain how far you've progressed, or how fast."

She knew what that meant. The companion had taken a nursing course during training in case a client ever suffered a heart attack or stroke during an engagement, and so she knew a very little about medicine. They needed a neuroimager. Core technology.

Simon squeezed her hands sympathetically, full of apology. "Kaylee tells me the infirmary is a mess, but very little was actually broken in the crash. I do still have some of your medicine stored aboard Serenity, if it comes to that." He shrugged, then smiled. "And if you ever want to play dead, which comes up more than you might expect out here, it's very useful when combined with byphodine."

She frowned. "You didn't hit another hospital while I was away, did you?" She missed everything the last time, for which she was grateful, as the heist was almost a complete disaster.

"Not yet," Simon answered, struggling himself with the ethics of betraying an institution dedicated to helping the sick and injured. He had told her before that the job had been worth it for his sister, and the hospital resupplied before anyone even noticed, but he hoped that they would never try that again. "But then, you never can tell what insanity the captain might get mixed up in next."

"They're called plans," Mal objected, pushing aside the curtain. "Never do seem to stay that way, though." He was watching her, and seemed to find her exasperated eyeroll at his intrusion some reassurance that she was indeed feeling better. Then he looked at their hands, still joined, and something bitter flashed across his features before he could hide it again. "Well. If the two of you wanted alone time, could've just asked."

Simon dropped her hand and shifted, genuinely uncomfortable. He made to excuse himself. "I'll just…"

"Belay that," Mal interrupted, ignoring Inara's glare and taking up his hands-on-gunbelt captain's announcement stance. "Got more for you to hear. Seems an Alliance cruiser has gone and parked itself in orbit. Prison ship, former POW camp called the Ratched, or 'the Wretched' by those with more'n a passing familiarity. I'd say you just call it 'Bad News.'" He gave them a hard look. "You three are staying here while we reconnoiter, as long as it takes. Can't risk you and your sister, doc, and I still don't know if anyone's on the lookout for you, ambassador. So you're going to get plenty of time to spend together."

He pushed aside the drapery with some violence, leaving her to follow him. Well, she certainly wasn't feeling dizzy anymore. She caught up without any mishaps; Mal had been stopped by Zoë, who looked only slightly less defiant than she had once, on Haven. "Sir. Ain't her fault we're in this mess."

A pause. "No," he agreed, and Inara remembered his sadness and bitterness around the dinner table, almost a month ago.

"It was Niska," the darker soldier continued, but her eyes were like sparking flint, fixed on him with barely restrained accusation. "Just like it was the Alliance killed my husband. What they do, on that ship up there, makes me want to go in and torch that city to the ground as a mercy." And then the unthinkable: Zoë hesitated. "But them and Kaylee," she gestured towards the room behind him, "they ain't seen war. Not like us."

Mal crossed his arms, mirroring her defiance. "We're flying blinder than usual here, Zoë. We've got to see what's coming at us."

The widow looked away, struggling with her grief, but far from finished. "He was right," Zoë said finally. "All this violence, it's only gotten us one thing. I wanted to leave today. Too peaceful, I thought. Have to get busy dying again. Like a damn fool."

His voice was harsh, impatient. "Stay then. I don't have time for this."

The moment that passed almost seemed to reel from the shock, but Zoë merely stood taller, hardening into stone. "Is that an order? Sir?" Her voice was like ice.

Almost ten years, counting on his second in command to back him up, and now this. Inara felt her heart pound in her throat. "Mal." He was still staring his first mate down. "I want to go with you." Let me be your anchor.

He finally acknowledged her offer, sighed and shook his head. River was just visible past the veil, watching them. "See what I mean about the plans?" he asked her.

"Yúbèn gŏudàn de pì yăn," the teenager grumbled back moodily.

"Mal, I know someone who can tell us what's happening," Inara explained patiently. "I have money, I have contacts, I even have an insurance policy I took out on Serenity, and I can talk to the Alliance to get us out of here."

His gaze burned into her, sizing her up. "Whole lotta good that does when you've been reported dead." He left her standing in the hallway without another word, but she exchanged a look with Zoë and she realized, belatedly, that he hadn't said no.


Saturday, July 23, 2011 4:27 PM


I have to admit that the Ratched here is heavily inspired by the prison ship in Screw The Alliance's Unfinished Business. Hopefully, though, I've presented some new ideas here, and it won't seem like a complete rip-off.

Next chapter has some fun and excitement. :D

Sunday, July 24, 2011 3:22 AM


I don't like Mal and Zoe being at odds, feels all wrong somehow but good to see that Inara is busy thinking of how she can help, dead or not. I like Simon's comments and feel a chill just thinking about the Ratched. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Sunday, July 24, 2011 7:33 AM


There are some nice crew moments in this one B.

If you read Better Days, you’ll see it has some interesting Mal and Zoe tension, over Zoe’s back story.

Plus, Zoe’s not a mindless robot; I don’t think Mal would respect her if she didn’t at least challenge him once in a while.

Sunday, July 24, 2011 9:37 AM


The Mal and Zoe situation here is a little complicated. Despite the fire-forged friendship, they're different in a lot of ways - Mal is unorthodox, reckless, and impulsive; Zoe is coolheaded, stealthy, and by the book. Zoe is loyal and always a professional, but she will on occasion question orders, and sometimes she thinks that Mal is being too dangerous, and losing Wash has her reevaluating some things as well.

Inara steps up here, which is nice. And I'm glad that both the Ratched AND the hands of blue are suitably creepy.


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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)