Eidolon (Chapter 18)
Sunday, October 2, 2011

She felt the exact moment Mal's already well-formed suspicions became concrete certainty. "Don't," she pleaded, even as she heard him firing up the shuttle engines for a fly-by and some daring getaway, cursing as he struggled with the start up sequence as usual. (Realization)


Inara prided herself on her ability to feel at home in any situation, from the Sihnon New Year's Ball in the Palace of the Eternal Thousand Lotus Petals to the dark corner of unnamed bars out on the border and rim. Perhaps her time on Serenity had changed her; surely she had admired more majestic and extravagant decor in the riches of her homeworld, the shining lights and culture of the core.

Yet the lavish display of wealth for the welcoming reception seemed ostentatious to her. The interior of the Councilor's estate was Londinium style, a neo-Victorian with expensive pastel prints and imported wood carving. To further divorce this world from the reality outside, baroque colonnades clashed with the arabic arcades of the exterior, and armed security guards patrolled the hallways. Amid all of this: bondage, indenture, excesses of wealth of the worst kind.

There was the Councilor out on the terrace, in a conservative black dress with blond hair styled high and adorned in pearls to stand out from the white gossamer of her attendants. There was a brown-haired marine in navy greys with two silver rank bars on his sleeves, the apparent leader of the taskforce assigned to Ezra, bringing with him civilization through suppressive artillery fire.

What might her other clients have hidden? How common were functions for the military like this catered by slave girls? How many others were there, silent and invisible and suffering? Two of the students during her stay at the Training House had been raped by Alliance soldiers from an otherwise reputable core regiment. Her call for help had been answered by the Operative, who had threatened more of the same if she refused to cooperate.

That a crime of this magnitude could happen with any degree of regularity was almost unthinkable, and thoroughly unacceptable.

She had agreed to the dangers of this infiltration hoping to find some way to help. Her decision wasn't about Mal, much as he wanted to believe she was just being contrary. When he couldn't dissuade her, he had insisted that he accompany her, despite any warrants for his arrest or garrisons, and she couldn't decide if he was being chivalrous or extra annoying. Ultimately they had compromised and she was now walking around with a hidden radio and his voice in her ear like a devil on her shoulder.

Thankfully he hadn't spoken yet, and probably wouldn't for the risk of discovery. His silent company would have been comforting if she wasn't worried about Kaylee, about whether Mal's reticence was awkward or stony disapproval. Even his breathing was distracting. She could almost feel him behind her, a soft exhalation over her skin, right there against her neck.

A shout broke through Inara's thoughts, high and warbling in the manner of Chinese Opera. "Enough of this tedious work, which fritters away the patience of the audience!" She heard laughter answer the outcry, and glanced from the east-wing balcony down towards the soldiers seated in the councilor's garden.

Judith had spared no expense on her party; an elephant had been outfitted with a covered houdah carriage to ferry arriving guests across the grounds from their transports, and she had hired a troupe of Paquin performers specializing in classic theatre from Earth-That-Was for the evening's diversion. It seemed to be a fairly effective tactic so far. Most of the attention was on the colourfully lit stage that had somehow been folded out of a modified shuttle, rather than on herself and the servants. Inara wondered how long the respite would last.

The stage director bowed to everyone in attendance, choir girls and dancers warming up behind him, trailing silk streamers from elaborate costumes. He was a positively ancient looking man, gnarled and hunched in resplendent emerald robes with a long white mustache and bejeweled cane. "Let me most reverently salute the honorable gentlemen and ladies," he called out to the local high society clustered around the balustrade with their simmer wine, "and announce our intention to produce a drama called The Little Clay Cart."

He continued on to thank his host, the councilor Judith Larrol and her family, as well as her esteemed guests, Captain Teram Baker of the I.A.V. Ratched and the men and women of the 503rd. In the midst of the polite applause, Inara heard her sentry exhale sharply. "There's a companion in this show gets strangled by an evil duke."

She blinked, surprised to hear him talking to her almost as much as his choice of conversation. "You've seen this play before?" she asked, curious, and honestly somewhat impressed. Another facet of Malcolm Reynolds, another mystery to puzzle over; his obvious education, insight, and occasional unexpected and startling refinement. And yet, she thought, with some mixture of exasperated affection, only he could see a melodrama about a pauper and his courtesan paramour and take it as a commentary on the dangers of her profession.

Of course, he assumed she was being critical. "And ruin your low opinion of my schooling? Can't have that." She could imagine his satiric smile, decidedly unfriendly, and then subsequently abandoned to gravity. "But I do know a message when I hear one. Keep your eyes open," he cautioned.

Mal was more right than he realized. A shiver of anxiety crept up her spine at the famous introduction: "So here King Shudraka the tale imparts - Of love's pure festival in these two hearts - Of prudent acts, a lawsuit's wrong and hate - A rascal's nature, and the course of fate."

No one seemed to have noticed their conversation, not even the plain clothed and rough looking private security stationed around the building. She gathered a tray of drained wine glasses to bus inside, feeling overexposed. She was more grateful than ever to the Guild, not just for the protection, but the traditional period of training she spent assigned to her house and teachers as a handmaiden.

The other girls from the rings had somewhat harder earned experience. Even in the Councilor's household, there was little comfort to be found from the dreary servant's quarters in the basement, ragged blankets and cots and rat-eaten mattresses arranged around bare grey walls. Some of the girls would not hold eye contact, others had a blank, distant stare, and the most damaged, the youngest in particular, recoiled and cried at the slightest touch. She could see the bite of shackles on their wrists and ankles. She knew what had caused the star-shaped marks over their hearts.

Her hands shook in anger as she set down her tray and plunged the goblets into the sudsy water of the metal dishwashing basin, as she retrieved fresh goblets and a bottle of spirits to take back upstairs. She forced a placid smile back on as she mingled with the party, refilling drinks and observing how all the servants were routinely ignored except for glaring and verbal abuse. In the background, a courtier and the duke Sansthānaka were chasing Vasantasenā, demanding her services.

A crowd had gathered around the Councilor and her guest; merchants concerned about the impact of the blockade on business and admirers of the soldiers seeking marriage as a way off world into core society.

"Nice old Mr. Niska has done business with my family for years, he always had the sweetest peppermints for me. I do hope you catch that Malcolm Reynolds," a pouting debutante in honeyed ringlets and a periwinkle gown declared. Inara couldn't quite place the disconcerting adjective with the torture-happy monster Mal had protected Kaylee from.

Judith just smiled with a knowing condescension. "The man won't be able to hide for long, dear."

Her mind was buzzing with a horrible sense of betrayal as she retreated to an empty space along the banister to think. Judith already knew the Alliance was looking for Mal, and it almost sounded like his capture was the primary condition to lift the travel embargo. Councilor Larrol had always been ambitious, and by helping capture a high profile target she would make governor almost certainly. And there had to be others, looking for a reward or simply for convenience.

The girls were hostages and she was the bait. It was happening all over again. "Women? I kill hundreds of them," Sansthānaka boasted from the stage.

She felt the exact moment Mal's already well-formed suspicions became concrete certainty. "Don't," she pleaded, even as she heard him firing up the shuttle engines for a fly-by and some daring getaway, cursing as he struggled with the start up sequence as usual. She'd leap from the balcony to his waiting arms, and then they'd be killed by close range laser-fire. "The crew needs you Mal." Her eyes searched the other landing pad off in the darkness and wanted it to be only the deepening starlight making her feel so wistful.

"The crew has Zoë," he answered, with a finality that caught her breath. Why did he have to be so reckless, so careless with his own life? It frightened her, but she couldn't ignore what it meant.

She had thought he had been acting, hiding his hurt - or trying - like always, the big tough soldier with the sensitive soul. A courtesan was friend to every youth, as common as a road-side flower. Her body has a price in truth, her beauty has a dower. She thought he would never forgive her.

All that mattered to him really was her safety. Not the past, not her profession. Just her.

They'd pushed each other away, foolishly trying to protect each other with unkind words neither meant nor believed. A swordfight at dawn, a desperate defense against an Operative. She'd offered her life for his. He'd faced death for her.

If she had to take on an army to keep him from harm, then so be it.

When one of the guards posted nearby pulled her inside with an unpleasant grin, calling her a slave and spouting nonsense about knowing her place and serving her masters, the thug almost withered under her glare. She threw his hands off with a snap and knocked his head against the wall with a high kick, her skirts billowing around her legs like the radiance of a mandala.

For a moment she felt something very near pity as she studied the unconscious man where he laid, crumpled in the space behind a column. She heard her friend Sheydra's voice, teasing but also reproachful, that her training and control were slipping, that she thought and acted too much like Mal.

She was only doing what was right. Besides, she'd always had a little bit of spirit, and it was satisfying sometimes to just let loose or even get herself into and out of trouble. If the slavers had some plans for a waylay, well then. High time to get unruly.


Sunday, October 2, 2011 1:14 PM


Been working on something this weekend, so my usual stuff kind of took a backseat. I've caught up with everyone's postings now. :)

Sunday, October 2, 2011 6:32 PM


Oh, now. This is good. I mean the writing, not what is about to happen to our BDHs. Your description of the Councillor's house, with its imported style misplaced on Ezra, is fantastic. Really gives a sense of how disconnected the rulers are from the populace. I liked the line, "Even his breathing was distracting." I can see Inara being distracted in that way. I'm not familiar with the Clay Cart, so I looked it up. Seems very apropos. "Another facet of Malcolm Reynolds, another mystery to puzzle over; his obvious education, insight, and occasional unexpected and startling refinement." I also think he is much better educated than he generally lets on, and think this is a mystery worth exploring. I am wondering about the significance of the Councillor's first name of Judith. I really like Inara's moment of realization: "All that mattered to him really was her safety. Not the past, not her profession. Just her." and then "High time to get unruly."--She aims to misbehave! Awesome set up. Looking forward to seeing the action in the next chapter.

Sunday, October 2, 2011 7:01 PM


I'm impressed and gratified you did look it up. How much out there was there?

There's symbolism like everywhere in this story. Throw a rock and you'll hit Shakespeare.

Mal really is smarter than he lets on, some sources have him as smart as Inara, he just applies it in different and riskier ways. But he's pretty good at reading people, probably something that catches Inara off guard. He knows something is up with her, but unfortunately for both of them, he's mistaken about what. Also, I like to write him with this whole warrior poet vibe.

The moment of realization is an important one I think, because ultimately I think their relationship really isn't so much Inara's profession. At this moment, Mal happens to let show a little what's really important to him with her, the moment she needs help he drops all the the nonsense he's brooding about with Inara and Simon and her clients.

Ultimately, none of it changes how he actually feels. And it does set up for the chance for both of them to be heroes.

Monday, October 3, 2011 3:10 AM


I liked how you describe how Inara and Mal try 'to protect each other with unkind words neither meant or believed' and cheered at the end when Inara decided it was 'high time to get unruly'. Oh yes, the bad guys have seen nothing yet! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 3:58 AM


Very good chapter, I agree with Amdobell about the end, very shiny!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 5:33 AM


I try to let every character have a chance to do something cool. Some of the characters' moments are coming up later.

Thursday, January 5, 2012 12:08 PM


Such a good chapter: the way you intersperse the play with the narrative is masterful!

And ooohhhh! suspense!


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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)