Eidolon (Chapter 27)
Saturday, February 4, 2012

So that was how he ended up at the back of a murky pit of a saloon, waiting to take down a gorramn tank. (Cunning)


As Zoë left him and went back out into the sunlight, he felt like he was watching himself from a distance, ringing numb and in a stupor. Dust motes drifted through rays of light from cuts in the sandy walls. Life went on around him. He glanced up towards the cross, illuminated high above the crowded chapel, one of the three schools of worship that used the room. Abandoned. Funny how that was. He could be in a crowd or surrounded by his crew, and still be set apart.

The sounds of the hall started to fade back in, and he dragged his eyes away, the room seeming darker than before. He made his way through. Nothing he wasn't used to.

People were still stuffing themselves in; all the settlements were gathering so as to wave the Alliance with their intention to lay down arms, soon as the Cortex link was back up. He wanted to be gone before too many refugees started to recognize him, or worse, concoct new tall tales to share. Just his luck, when he passed through the door he had to go by some of the villagers who'd taken them in after the crash. Their patriarch gave him a kind, almost pitying smile, that told him he'd let too much Malcolm Reynolds show and not enough Mal.

Wasn't God going to help them, his crew, nor Inara. Not the Alliance they were begging forgiveness, not even the hopes they had pinned on the shadow behind the stories they were telling about him. None of his efforts had been for them. He wasn't any kind of champion, least of all theirs. But he'd do what he had to.

He ignored their prayers and blessings, left the church for the hellish beige swelter of the plaza. There was Zoë, back at the wheel of the mule, as though she were about to drive off without him. Jayne and Kaylee were sill there, hanging around waiting with a few of the rebels he'd already met, his smiling mechanic trying and failing to make awkward small talk, and Jayne glowering, arms-crossed, and impatient whether it was desert midday or not.

Two willowy long faced blondes by the names of June and Lena Tol sized him up as he approached, distrustful. They looked out of place wearing local skirts in bright green and blue, holding a couple of heavy rifles, but they had hardness and competence enough to put off anyone with any Jayne-like ideas. But the mercenary was glaring at Iris Katsumi instead, tiny girl with short black hair and almond eyes who had taken them captive a few nights ago with a stun rifle. If she was intimidated at all by the bruiser she was hiding it under a good show of curiosity.

This world wanted a fable, the Illiad was as good as any. Give Omar something to talk about besides parables and belief. He stood before them and took them in, and supposed after Zoe took Kaylee back to repair Serenity this would be his team. "You still got that roller you stole before?" Mal asked, in lieu of greeting.

So that was how he ended up at the back of a murky pit of a saloon, waiting to take down a gorramn tank.

The bar happened to be handy alongside a patrol route and most of the patrons were spacer dregs. Like themselves, and already irritable, also like themselves. Behind the counter was a bald man, shirtless and pot-bellied, with a shotgun in the crook of his arm and as concerned about any imminent violence as the battered walls were. Good recipe for his purposes, thanks in no small part to the blockade, temperament, and the heat.

At this time of day there was no escape. Taking shelter just trapped all the sweat and misery indoors. He was nursing a warm beer tasted like it'd been squeezed out of the bartender's apron, looking for the right spark, when a conversation from across the room erupted. Two jackasses by the loophole bickering over their tab, slurring, red in the face, and with two days worth of stubble, discussing the finer points of whether somebody could owe some-other-body for not busting any of their teeth. The usual kind of exchange for an establishment of this high standing. Mal nodded to Jayne, then left some platinum. They'd do. He grabbed his coat from the booth.

The bar, half sensing some entertainment and half hungover yelling for the men to shut their yaps were already watching when the soldier and the mercenary approached the brewing fisticuffs. It took Mal catching an alcohol-slowed punch for the drunks to notice they had a crowd. "What's your problem?" snapped the brawler, fixing for another fight. Mal, for his part, guessed it was the other man's head-wear. Hat like that would make anybody ornery. Like a muskrat mated with roadkill skunk. He glanced at Jayne, who knew every type of offensive and was looking to enjoy the one they had in mind. Yep. Definitely the second worst looking hat he'd ever seen.

"Word of advice," Mal offered. "Don't forget to tip."

For a moment, they were confused, until his thug overturned their table and they both went heels up. Mal stepped over the nearer man despite all the cursing and a few kicks aimed at his ankles, righted a vacated chair while Jayne fixed the settings, then they took their places. The fallen two scrambled to their feet, enraged by the casual display, when one of them spotted his coat and it registered through the haze. "You're that Malcolm Reynolds," he realized.

Scattered laughter at the sudden upheaval went dead quiet. He rolled his eyes, shook his head at all these people. About time. "Yeah," Mal replied, feigning disbelief and mockery. He waved at the brute in the goatee. "And this here's the hero of Canton, the man they call Jayne."

The mercenary smirked. "It's funny 'cause it's true."

Their audience was muttering, pulling out handsets, the wanted posters, cortex links to check. Mal could say with relative certainty who he was, and by the sound of it, everyone else was figuring it out as well. He could hear their back and forth about whether to turn him in.

"There's a bounty on your head," the man continued, as if Mal didn't know. His friend joined in and pulled a pistol on them.

A dagger, out of nowhere and expertly thrown imbedded itself in the barrel of the revolver. He quickly found the culprit, a stern and very large man, darker even than Zoë, covered in metal studs and tattoos who nodded to him. Jayne was already moving, picking up the would-be gunman and tossing him outside. Mal wrapped a hand around the other man's head, knocked off his hat, then smashed his face into the ledge.

The whole room was quickly turning into fist-hammering, person throwing, glass shattering chaos; those fighting over collecting on him, and those joining in for the hell of it. A swordsman dressed fancier than the rest of the patrons in crimson robes ran at him hollering and waving around a fencing sword; he tripped an attacker charging from the other direction, who barreled into the man's legs and they both fell hard into a table. The bartender had raised his double-barrel and was yelling for everyone to get out, and Jayne grabbed a chair, slung the guy attached into a wall, and began to clear a path to the door without much trouble. Mal thought that was maybe a good idea, except most of them were gunning for him. And going for their sidearms.

He ended up ducking the other way as the first shot exploded a tankard by him, spraying the wall, and then he was hit, though not by a bullet. After he shrugged off whoever was hanging from around his shoulders - the sha gua was wearing that hat again? - he threw them towards a thick batch of rowdy. A waitress got the man across the face with a serving tray and a satisfying clang of metal.

"Hey Mal!" he heard Jayne calling from outside, "Still alive in there or 'm I gonna haul your carcass out?"

Almost in answer he found himself propelled through the hole in the wall, and it occurred to him that he had far too much experience with that kind of fun. He stood, brushing himself off, then almost immediately was back on the ground when the first casualty Jayne had taken out of the fight chose that moment to get back in. He looked up, happened to see the blade of the swordfighter stabbing down at him and rolled out of the way. The other scrapper spat out a blue streak and began trying to pull his sleeve free while the swashbuckler tried to recover his sabre.

The brawl inside the bar was starting to boil out into the street when the Alliance roller came crashing along the avenue. For a moment Mal blinked, and was back in Du Khang, drawing the enemy towards their choke point. Daring them at the top of his lungs to kill him like they had his friends and family.

An ultimatum came on over the loudspeaker, with a warning burst from the gat-laser. A radiant red wave swept the street, streaking over his head, and after that just about everyone but him and Jayne were scattering.

He laid there for a while, catching his breath and bruised. Someone had hit him with mug at some point, the alcohol stinging as it seeped into his new cuts. A pair of Alliance marines unloaded themselves from the AFV, hauled him up, one of them was reaching for the headset in his helmet to call in his capture when one of the blondes came up from behind the tank and tossed a flashbang down the top-hatch. The soldiers turned, and she lobbed another at them.

By the time the thunderous light faded, the three girls had the gunner and driver out and the entire firesquad all tied up. One of the blondes gave him an even less impressed look than she usually had, but then he was more dirt and blood at the moment than human. Probably Lena, though she was hard to tell apart from her twin. "Are all your plans this bad, or was that some kind of cry for help?" she asked. "I can't decide if you're stupid, insane, or if you just have the worst luck I've ever seen." Mal didn't think he could rightfully answer one way or another, let alone dignify that with a response. It was a fair question, though. First time he'd met these people, he's also been in a bad way, and not just because he had a whole bunch of slavers shooting at him. "Stupid it is," she concluded.

- - - - - They rumbled into base when dusk was blazing rose and periwinkle, among hulking shadows of machinery and fire from the sunset spilling out on the ground. After the attack they were feeling tense, hadn't spoken much to each other. They were all crowded in and they were now short a uniform. That was the kind of thing that would get them in trouble. All they could do was sneak into one of the tents and try to take one off the many companies on base, hope that in the dark none of the officers would notice.

The tank settled, engine clunking as it turned over to a stop, sand scrapping a little in the hydrogen combustion turbine. Once they were all powered down, Jayne busted the comm array with the butt of a rifle as the two taller girls climbed out and gave the all clear. Mal got up from his seat, standing over the four men, tied up, gagged, and stripped down to the skivvies. They glared back. He checked the knots on one, who struggled but made no headway in loosening his bonds. Good enough. He shrugged at them, not quite apologetic. "Thanks for the ride," he said. "I'll leave a note so someone'll let you out before mornin'."

The Alliance soldiers all wriggled around at that, screaming at him in muffled and incoherent anger. He went up the ladder after the last girl and Jayne, and quickly shut the hatch behind him, cutting off a stream of likely unflattering rants and death threats.

Iris held a finger up for silence, then pointed at the cluster of desert camo across the open grounds. Jayne opened his mouth anyway the moment they started walking, shaking his head like he'd been dazed from a knock to the skull. "So wait," he said, slowly, trying to make sense of things. "Zoë?"

He'd never have believed he'd see Zoë become a mother. Before Wash, she'd been harder than him, still was in some ways. Not an ounce of the sentimental in her. But then he'd never figured her for the loving wife or marriage sort, and she'd been both with Wash. "Yeah," he agreed, somewhat overwhelmed by the idea himself.

Some sense of panic in him had wanted to yell at her what was she thinking, or maybe shake some sense into her. A toddler, out in the black on Serenity, with all the gunfights and sharp corners and break downs? Around Jayne? Around him? And that all was much later. He couldn't imagine anything could slow Zoë down, not even balance issues or twenty or so extra pounds. As a soldier under his command, she'd probably carted around loads heavier, and that never stopped her from covering his sorry hide. But even the healthiest of women could die in childbirth.

A smarter part of him knew just how much she needed this. More than that, she was right, about the sacrifices they'd made, about Wash's legacy. The risks he took, all of it could be in vain.

He wondered sometimes how things might've turned out, the few times they'd come into money, like after they'd sold that antique gun and retrofitted Serenity and bought the new hovermule, or that time they'd had to go treasure hunting for a pay-off and it had been more than anyone expected. They could have retired, lived well. But the past had come back to bite them, as usual; an Alliance special ops had gone after Serenity after hearing a report about Zoë's days as a Dust Devil. He'd given up all that money as a bribe in return for their safety.

He could've taken jail, the show trial, the trumped charges, the prison time. But truth be told, he had been afraid, had seen the future laid out before him harsh and lonely. He'd betrayed his own crew, held them all back for his own sake, and now the Shepherd was gone, and now Zoë's child would never know a father.

She'd moved on with her life, something he'd never managed, something he rarely ever let himself think about. He had to respect that. Even when it meant she was moving on from him and their past and their soldiering days, and didn't need him anymore. Better alive, and him alone, then dead.

Jayne was still talking. "She gonna get all enormous?" he complained. "Lose her figure?" There was some manner of disappointment in his tone about the last part, earning the troll an annoyed look from the three other women.

That was his second in command the mercenary was talking about. "Zoë has never once failed in the line of duty, and I don't expect that to change. That's all that matters." Mal rebuked. They came to a stop outside and around back of one of the field tents. "Also, wouldn't exactly go around talkin' shape nor size. She's already inclined to strangle you."

The caveats were enough to shut him up for a few seconds, but he soon spoke again, with some genuine fear. "We already got one crazy running around. What if she gets all... hormonal?" Jayne's voice hushed on the terrifying word, and he hugged his big gun closer.

Mal shrugged blithely, and lifted a corner of the tent flap. "Run for your life and hope she don't waddle too fast." He crawled under the canvas panel, emerging at the end of a line of cots.

The soldier laying on the nearest gurney was staring up at him. His nerves all jumped, but the man didn't move beyond the steady rise and fall of his chest. The others joined the captain, each startling in turn. Jayne waved a hand in front of the marine's wide open eyes, before one of the blondes caught his wrist and squeezed like she was going to break each of his meaty fingers. Mal took in their surroundings, and frowned.

They were all like that. Every single person in the tent. There was a pile of fliers scattered over the nearest crate - All soldiers showing any signs of reaction must be brought to the infirmary, followed by a list of symptoms in tiny print.

About then, they heard a noise, like someone shifting, and ducked back down into the shadows. There was an Alliance medic towards the front of the tent, going down the rows of injured. He stopped at each soldier, crouched, gave an injection. As they watched, the treated soldiers would suddenly jolt, flailing out, and the doctor would catch their limbs, lean down and say something to calm the patient. After a few tests, raising arms, legs, curling and uncurling fingers, some mark would be made on a clip board, and the soldier would sit up, gather their effects, and walk out.

Mal stole one of the nearby papers and they silently withdrew.

- - - - - Across the breathless expanse, the I.A.V. Ratched grew from a black spot into imposing spires against the lit backdrop of Ezra. Like a hole consuming the interdicted world.

The cortex was silent about his movements, as expected. This was a game of cat and mouse. With one rogue Operative and another left dead for them to find, they had to catch him before any more damage could be done. They would track him by the stolen identity, lure him into a false sense of security, and never admit he was at large. His mission was to secure his objectives then get out before he could be recognized as an imposter.

After he sent out his docking request, and allowed the automatic systems to take over, he pulled up the confidential files for the teenage test subjects on board. When the ships connected with a distant echo and a chime from the console, he stood to meet whoever or whatever awaited him on the other side of the airlock.


Saturday, February 4, 2012 5:29 PM


"You still got that roller you stole before?" Mal asked, in lieu of greeting. So that was how he ended up at the back of a murky pit of a saloon, waiting to take down a gorramn tank. -- I just get such a kick out this transition. Somehow it just seems so *Mal*. Of course this leads to the situation that has one of the fighting women asking if he's stupid, insane, or unlucky -- and concluding "Stupid it is."

I like the description of the heat. It's just palpable: "At this time of day there was no escape. Taking shelter just trapped all the sweat and misery indoors."

The description of the hat absolutely cracked me up. "Hat like that would make anybody ornery. Like a muskrat mated with roadkill skunk. He glanced at Jayne, who knew every type of offensive and was looking to enjoy the one they had in mind. Yep. Definitely the second worst looking hat he'd ever seen."

"Mal could say with relative certainty who he was" --wry little commentary there.

Loved the description of the brawl; I could picture the filming of this very vividly.

And then the shocking moment when they discover the catatonic soldiers in the tent, the pamphlet describing the symptoms, the medic administering the antidote -- and Mal making the connections.

Altogether an excellent chapter, with action a-plenty and a number of important plot developments.

Saturday, February 4, 2012 6:51 PM


The brawl was a lot of fun to write. And the scene in the infirmary tent, I've been looking forward to that. Every little piece in the puzzle, and getting very close to the full picture.

Monday, February 13, 2012 4:23 PM


I like this. The beginning is so very sad, echoes of the surrender at Serenity Valley. Then the beautifully, hilariously described bar fight lifts the mood, gritty and exhilarating! And what Mal sees about the Alliance soldiers, ooooh! I also like the little bitty bit at the end, I've been waiting for another glimpse of that thread :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 11:10 AM


"He was nursing a warm beer tasted like it'd been squeezed out of the bartender's apron". Oh my God, you've turned into Raymond Chandler!

Sinister SciFi ending though. Brilliant, as usual.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 11:27 AM


Oh hey, comments. :)

GR: Yes, the Operative is now in the vicinity. All the players are in place...

Aliasse: Haha, hard boiled narrative NOIR for you!


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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)