Eidolon (Chapter 12)
Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Without light, all things returned to the darkness, that dead nothing place the poets eloquated about after the bombs dropped and the world was void. "That's me," Mal answered. He'd seen it, knew it, was it, had let too much of it in. (Gateway)


For those who would serve the Alliance, peace and stability are the foundations of order, just as vital as food, air, water, shelter and medical care. One cannot endure without the other. An absence of order is a disturbance, and interferes with the basic necessities of life.

Order obligates control, and so were created the parliament, the judiciary, the military, the very Alliance itself. The Alliance exists in the service of all citizens of the 'verse, and by extension, all humankind.

To do the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people, it is therefore essential to maintain this order at any cost, to protect the security and safety of the interests of the government. For services rendered in return, all citizens ultimately owe their loyalty to the Alliance. Their loyalty must be tested, and become stronger by the testing, never weaker, never broken, lest they become a danger to those they serve.

There will always be another test, and failure means death. Those who would betray the Alliance had rejected life, and must be made to reflect this.

He could recite it effortlessly. They all could.

This was what it was to be an Operative, one of the men and women who gave their lives and very identities for the Alliance. To exist outside the rule of law, the last line of defense between order and chaos, with only the command of parliament to save them from falling to the other side.

Was it what the young prospective was thinking as he stepped down the stairs into the circle of moonlight? As they watched each other, from across the flat expanse that would become their arena, salted by blood? Was he thinking about how he had failed his mission, the man he'd been sent to kill to prove his allegiance dead by another's hand? Was he wondering why the man who was his real test had the same face, the same skin, the same voice?

It was silent. Not even the parting of air marked the curve of their blades, a shadow dance, each already gone when the deadly steel passed through where they had been. They had the same moves, the same knowledge. A pattern of neurons nurtured the same way, grown and not trained.

All but for one very important memory.

Pain flared in his side, just above his hip. His younger self didn't even smile in triumph at drawing first blood as he pressed the advantage, the katana sinking deeper into his abdomen. This was only how it was supposed to go, only what was inevitable.

The headbutt had surprised him, he remembered, even though the first man to use the move against him was unskilled, more of a tavern brawler and also the only person to ever best an Operative. This time, it broke his nose, and as he doubled over, the follow up punch to the chest broke his sternum.

He pulled the sword out in one smooth motion, to accompany the upward thrown elbow that this time shattered his jaw and sent him sprawling. A few seconds, the last time, had almost lost the fight for the other man, but an Operative was fluid, with no wasted time or motion. He brought his other hand up to the hilt, and stabbed downwards.

- - - - - "Reynolds," the slaver grinned, blowing rotten, vodka-pickled breath through bad teeth while the three flunkies hung back hesitantly.

Two torches sputtered. Not for the captain anyway - his shine was long gone - and not Jayne, because there were matchsticks that were brighter. But them, the girls, chased by the night or radiant from it.

Without light, all things returned to the darkness, that dead nothing place the poets eloquated about after the bombs dropped and the world was void. "That's me," Mal answered. He'd seen it, knew it, was it, had let too much of it in. And to hell with that. He wasn't about to let the darkness take Kaylee and Inara, too. Not after what he'd gone through already, not after he thought he'd lost them.

"You wear the name proudly," the man appraised, stepping back to clear the line of fire. Something foreign and pretentious and befitting the bleached hair slipped into his local accent. "You shouldn't."

Jayne lowered his head and his voice, throwing a look around the alley and sizing up the four rifles arrayed against them. "So... Now what?"

Couldn't decide if that was snark or a genuine request. There was an odd note of calm surety and complete trust in the question, as though the other man was depending on him for a plan to get them away alive. He preferred the former take, too many ghosts of soldiers in the other. "Workin' on it," the captain muttered distractedly, hands raised nonchalantly, still cloaked from boots to neck.

"You come here, you kill, you steal, and they call you hero." The slaver's wolfish smile had fallen away, thankfully, for something openly hostile. "Come here and mess up my home. How many dead, Reynolds? How many because of you?"

"Why?" the former sergeant growled. "You writin' a bio? Or are these a rare breed of immortals you're running?"

Serenity's mercenary just looked confused, but the slaver erupted, getting more of a whiff of the insult than a taste. "I'm the law on this world, or was until you brought that goat-humping fleet down on us!"

The sonic rifles. Gou shi. The Alliance only started using them after the war, switching over to non-lethal tech to keep folks in line. These were standard issue, even.

Gorramn. Fed.

Not the first time he'd faced one, Mal reminded himself. Not the first time his crew had been held at gun point, and against worse odds. Six men came for revenge one time, Jayne had boasted, and now the whole damn 'verse had it in for the rest of them. Just had to keep their heads and make an opportunity. Make them angry, agitate a mistake. Fact that they weren't dead already was a positive.

Then the bastard gave an order and they were raising the kayos, and Mal changed his mind. Given the choice, he would've preferred a bullet. Non-lethal tech still hit like a sledge hammer and felt like a concussion.

The wave knocked him off his feet, almost into the line of ragged slaves cowering to the side, who scattered and parted as best they could shackled together. Into the stone wall of the narrow alley, and he staggered against it, propped himself up on unsteady legs.

Jayne also dropped hard, but bounced back up, neck bulging, roaring like an angry bull and charging the dumb kid who'd hit him. This time, the boss brought his gun up.

The captain was cursing himself, overridding his leaden arms with pure adrenalin, thinking the lummox had got himself killed, thinking he was about to lose another one. His hand fell on an empty ankle chain hanging from the links strung between the workers. The cold metal lashed out, slithering through the air, catching the flickering torchfire before biting into the slaver's jaw with a painful crack.

Jayne's flattened guard gurgled around the boot that had him pinned down by the throat. A better man might've had pity for boys weren't soldiers.

The alley held its breath to watch, but the slaver boss wasn't getting up after that, not if Mal had has druthers. He moved, leveraged himself away from the wall as the world spun, shunting away the pain that stabbed between his eyes as he scooped up the Fed's loose rifle. Before they knew it, it was two guns on two guns instead of just a shǎguā in a dress and a yī duī ròu without enough brains for a sonic hit to jostle.

Then the crowd surged forward to have their say in the standoff, emboldened by the prospect of freedom. Click click clickety click. The unwary guard frantically squeezed the trigger as they grabbed him, his empty chamber recycling uselessly. Probably the last insult in the boy's short life, the ultimate betrayal from an employer who didn't trust him with a loaded gun, lest their blond boss end up fragged or their merchandise get damaged. All for show, to keep their victims in line. The boy struggled, dropping his weapon to claw at the chain around his neck.

The last guard, after a moment of reflection, shot a kayo at his friend to spare him, then raised his hands. But too late, the mercenary returned fire, and the low hum of the other sonic rifle hit him and knocked the final boy cold.

Mal waved at the few empty chains in the slave lines. "Truss 'em up," he ordered.

Jayne grinned unpleasantly, hauled the kid he had been standing on up. "No, no, wait!" the kid choked out, begging. "He said... He'll kill our families-!"

"Niska's dead," Mal asserted, only vaguely aware of the objection, cut short by the dull thump. He was having himself a staring match with the dots peppering his eyesight, but just past them, he saw the slaves truly for the first time, their eyes wide as they cowered back. All of them marked for trade, the women and children marked different than most of the men. The flare of anger he felt this time was for them.

He remembered the unconscious slaver laying at his feet, and raised the assault rifle. "And fair soon this piece of space trash won't be able to touch 'em, either."

A trio of quick bursts emptied into the slaver boss. Looked a little like one of Inara's clients, actually, the one from Alliance special ops that sucker-punched him, took him into custody, and tried to beat a confession of terrorism out of him for a couple hours. Probably the goddawful hair. For certain the slaver was uglier. Kind of face a couple bullet holes could only improve, really. Just one more life snuffed out by his hand.

Something shifted by his ankle, and he found Jayne searching the body already. "Couldn't even let the body cool a little?" he thought, annoyed. He'd seen dead men blown near in half, who'd come back alive when someone went for their rations.

Then the mercenary handed him a key chain, shrugging uncomfortably. "What? You were gonna ask for 'em anyway, weren'tcha?"

The darkness lifted a little. Every now and then, Mal was glad Jayne Cobb was on his crew. He nodded, something like thanks. "Right."

The big man grunted, looking like the kayo was catching up to him. "Found his wallet, too." The mercenary bent back over, not sick enough to stop looting.

Kind of wished there weren't two of him at the moment. The last gorramn thing Mal wanted to see doubled was Jayne's ass.

"Right," he repeated, more to himself, and tossed the keys to the slaves, to one who had a mistrustful, determined expression. He put his captain voice on. "Gonna be someone come lookin' any time now, and it's best they find this place empty. Any of you know a safe house in the city, you get those irons off and you head there straightaway, soon as you're clear."

A thought occurred to him, and he frowned. Why were they even out here, in this back alley with only four guns on them, and not somewhere more secure?

"Hey, listen," Jayne said, head cocked to the side like a dog. "You hear that?"

The sound of distant overland transports, with another delivery or maybe a pickup. Just the thing if someone wanted to cram in lots of people and didn't care much about comfort, and on the outer planets, a favourite for this kind of business.

"I remember," murmured River, unearthly from somewhere near his elbow. They both jumped. No, she wasn't there. She better not be there.

After some looking he found it, a small comm device, crackled loud enough to be heard from the small bulge it made from the inside pocket of his coat. "What?" he asked.

"It was when she was wandering in childhood gardens, and you were between everything. And nothing. Drinking the black." Her voice had that misty, clouded quality it took on when she was having a bad day. "Your feet were up on the console. The words wouldn't go straight. I couldn't make them."

He exchanged a look with Jayne, who spun a finger around an ear, and started making preparations for their ambush. "We got trouble riding up on us, so..."

"I remember," she continued, insistent. "You think you're already dead. You're not."

Well, if that was all... "Thanks for the reminder," he told her impatiently.

"Because both of you are going to die. Soon. You went through the gate." He could imagine her piercing eyes, distant, seeing what couldn't be seen. "Kaylee has thought about Simon thirty-three times since she left. Simon has thought of her twice." Scorn, near ranting now. "And neither of you will admit it, and she's running out of time."

He felt something icy quench his veins, and River paused, as though listening.

"Have to go. Zoe and Simon are having a baby."

The comm clicked once, and went silent. He stared at it, holding it out away from him, hand outstretched, palm up, as far as possible. "What the hell?" Jayne blurted, eyes wide.

God's wrath rumbled closer on sand-treaded wheels. Another shared look, and they scrambled into position.


Thursday, August 11, 2011 3:57 AM


Wow! Exciting action. Now just what does River mean in the last part of this? Can't wait to read the next development.

Thursday, August 11, 2011 6:41 AM


Oh River, always a source of amusing and lighthearted conversation.

For the record, she really doesn't get a whole lot clearer for the rest of the story. There's passages from her point of view that people have told me really make their heads hurt. I actually take that as a compliment.

Though she does eventually get up to some interesting stuff. Instead of tarrying around being a veritable fountain of eerie foreshadowing.

Friday, August 12, 2011 9:11 AM


Very nice Byte!

Very blood and gutsy……Yeah River at times makes my head hurt, but everyone knows her words can’t be written off as just senseless chatter, at least Mal should know better than to just write the young Tam’s muttering off.

Interesting to see what happens next…..


Saturday, August 13, 2011 4:03 AM


Loved Mal and Jayne overcoming the four slavers and giving the slaves a chance to free themselves but not happy with what seems to be the imminent arrival of more bad guys. Wish River picked now to have a lucid moment. Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Saturday, August 13, 2011 5:35 AM


Mal beats the slaver boss with the man's own slave chains. I thought that was poetic justice.

Friday, September 30, 2011 8:15 AM


Got into the habit of trying to decipher what River is talking about. Every time I think I know, I'm wrong. But it certainly keeps me on my mental toes.


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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)